HL Deb 14 December 1989 vol 513 cc1434-61

5.27 p.m.

Lord Skelmersdale rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 23rd November be approved.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, for very many years the education service in Northern Ireland has maintained, through the dedication of its teachers, high standards of academic achievement. It has initiated curriculum development of national significance. In a society sometimes afflicted by unrest and mistrust schools have provided the caring context in which children from both communities can be brought closer together both physically and in terms of greater mutual understanding. Education in Northern Ireland has not simply kept going; it has achieved, it has innovated and most importantly it has recognised and accepted the difficult challenge of being part of the process of reconciliation.

Despite the difficulties of the past 20 years, Northern Ireland is no Cinderella in educational achievement. For example, a greater proportion of its young people go into higher education than would be the case for Great Britain as a whole—21.5 per cent. compared with 15.6 per cent. for Great Britain. It also has a higher proportion of school-leavers with A-level qualifications—26 per cent. compared with 19 per cent. in England and Wales.

Where the abilities of its young people and the strength of its educational system are among the Province's greatest assets, we should not seek change for change's sake. Equally we cannot afford to be complacent or to let our justified pride in the high standards achieved by some obscure the need to help all pupils, whatever their background and abilities, to achieve their maximum potential. In an increasingly competitive world education must change if it is to equip our young people with the knowledge and skills they need for the future.

The draft Education Reform (Northern Ireland) Order which I bring before your Lordships today will enhance the educational opportunities available to the children of Northern Ireland and give parents the same degree of choice and influence in their children's education as has been provided by the 1988 Education Reform Act for England and Wales.

However, let me state at the outset that this order is not simply the imposition of a national pattern on a distinctive regional system. The provisions which it contains are the product of an extensive process of consultation and discussion conducted by my ministerial colleague the Under-Secretary with special responsibility for education over a period of some 21 months. As a result of that consultation, significant changes have been made, Moreover, I should like to point out that at each and every stage when it was possible to alter the arrangements they were indeed altered. New provisions have been introduced and others have been adapted more fully to meet the needs and concerns of the people of Northern Ireland. I believe that the order represents a genuine matching of the strengths and the values of the education system in Northern Ireland with a general thrust of national education policy. The order also reflects the Government's commitment to two guiding principles: first, to raise educational standards for all pupils and particularly for those of lesser ability who may at present leave school with little tangible evidence of the time which they have spent there; secondly, to secure greater choice and involvement for parents in the education of their children.

The order will enable these aims to be realised in a number of ways. It introduces new arrangements for the curriculum to be followed by all pupils aged between five and 16 so that every pupil is guaranteed access to a curriculum which is broad balanced and coherent. The order lays down that the curriculum must include six broad areas of study within which pupils will follow a number of compulsory subjects. In addition, noble Lords will note the inclusion of six important educational themes which will be interwoven with the compulsory subjects. These themes are information technology, education for mutual understanding, cultural heritage, health education, economic awareness and careers education.

The order also provides for the assessment of each child's progress at certain stages of their school career. It will give parents more information about their children's progress. It provides parents with access to a wider choice of school by linking admissions to the physical capacity of the school rather than to arbitrary administrative quotas; and as for school governors, the order will also give parents more influence on and responsibility for the conduct of the school and its financial management through the introduction of delegated budgets.

I know that the House will welcome in particular the new arrangements which the order contains for integrated education. It is a theme which has been running through your Lordships' debates on the subject for several years. The new arrangements will make it easier for parents who wish their children to be educated with children of both traditions in Northern Ireland to have those aspirations met. This part of the order has attracted considerable attention and widespread support.

During the consultative process there was overwhelming support for the Government's proposal to introduce grant-maintained integrated schools and many respondents encouraged the Government to extend the provisions further. This we have done by means of three main measures. First, the grant-maintained integrated school remains central to the Government's policy for integrated education but the legislation will now enable these schools to be set up from new as well as by means of transitional procedures.

Secondly, we have retained and strengthened the provisions in the present education law which enable existing schools to acquire controlled integrated status. The existing legislation for controlled integrated schools was introduced in 1978 by the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath. I should like to pay tribute to him at this point for having taken that action. These provisions were in a sense ahead of their time, but the noble Lord will have noted that we have retained them in the order. In keeping with the general principle that parents should have greater involvement in their children's education, the new provisions will make controlled integrated status more accessible by introducing parent-led procedures identical to those for grant-maintained integrated status.

Thirdly, to underpin these initiatives the legislation will also introduce a statutory duty whereby the Department of Education will be required to encourage and facilitate the development of integrated Education. It would be optimistic to suggest that integrated education is the panacea for all Northern Ireland's ills, though most would accept that it has a part to play in overcoming the divisions in Northern Ireland society. But there is no question of government imposing integrated education on anyone. On the contrary, the Government continue to recognise and respect the equal right of parents to choose the form of education for their children and there is no implication that integrated schools are regarded as intrinsically superior.

The order is a major piece of legislation. Indeed, one has only to look at the thickness of the document to appreciate that fact. However, your Lordships will find that three other important features are noteworthy. First, the order provides for the establishment of the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools as a statutory body. The creation of the council arises out of consultation with the Roman Catholic Church authorities and will benefit the management of schools in the Catholic-maintained sector.

Secondly, the education and library boards will be given important additional responsibilities for curriculum support and in-service training which recognise their central role in helping all schools to deliver the new curriculum requirements. Thirdly, the order provides for changes to the management and funding of institutions of further education which will enable colleges to meet more effectively the needs of the communities and the businesses which they serve.

The order we are considering today will have far-reaching effects on the education system in Northern Ireland. Its influence on the quality and variety of education provision in Northern Ireland will extend well into the next century. It is not an exercise that the Government entered upon lightly or conducted without the most painstaking care and attention. Those who contributed to the debate were listened to and, as I said, substantial changes were made. The draft legislation which has emerged is better and stronger for the input from all those with a stake in the future of education. I am honoured to commend the order to the House for approval in the firm conviction that it will make a major contribution to the future wellbeing and prosperity of the young people of Northern Ireland.

I am well aware that there has been extensive discussion since the draft order was published in Northern Ireland. Therefore, I have no doubt that the debate this afternoon will reflect some of the concerns which have been expressed. I must say that I look forward enormously to the debate. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 23rd November be approved.—(Lord Skelmersdale.)

5.38 p.m.

Lord Prys-Davies

My Lords, once again I thank the Minister for explaining the contents of the order which is before the House. It is a long order containing about 167 articles and nine schedules. Indeed, the Minister correctly described it as a "major piece of legislation". I agree that there have been many changes since the first proposals were published. But I must say to the Minister that there is in general much criticism of what has been described as the "inadequacy" of the consultation which attended the preparation of the draft order, although I appreciate that he has described the consultations as having been exhaustive. That criticism is not simply confined to the Ulster Teachers' Union; it is a pretty general criticism.

There is another general point that I should like to make. In common with the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and others, I think that it is necessary to protest that legislation of this magnitude cannot be scrutinised and cannot be amended by Parliament. This point has often been raised during discussions on draft orders. However, it is particularly relevant in the context of this debate.

On 12th October the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Education and Science said that final decisions on education reform were, of course, for Parliament. To the extent that that statement implies—as I think it does—that Parliament would have powers to amend the order, it is a misleading statement. I say that because we know in fact that Parliament can only take one decision; that is, to accept or reject the order in toto.

Therefore we have this situation: Parliament is told by Ministers that there have been meaningful and exhaustive consultations with all concerned; but, at the same time, the impression is given within the Province—and, it came widely to be believed—that the decision would eventually be for Parliament. That is an unsatisfactory position.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said recently that the young people of Northern Ireland are the Province's greatest natural asset. He had good reasons for saying that because Northern Ireland has the highest birth rate in the European Community. Therefore there is and there will remain in the Province a large pool of children and young people seeking improved education and eventually further education and employment.

The Minister made the point that in comparison with England and Wales the Northern Ireland education system serves the gifted child very well indeed. That is welcome of course, but when we study the figures relating to those who leave school with no graded results we find that there is a substantially greater degree of under-achievement in Northern Ireland than in England and Wales. Moreover, while 19 per cent. of those leaving Protestant schools do so without qualifications, the number leaving Catholic schools without qualifications increases to 25 per cent.

The first question to be asked is whether and to what extent the order addresses the problem of under-achievement. The Minister described that as the department's first objective. I understand from those who advise me that it is not clear that the order, which relies so heavily on open enrolment, will achieve that objective. There is an urgent need to remedy the position not only on social and humanitarian grounds, but to ensure that the Province, which is on the periphery of Europe, is properly equipped with a highly educated labour force to enable it to compete successfully with foreign rivals in attracting inward investment on the scale required.

The draft order contains a section dealing with further and higher education. I have looked in this connection at Article 100 in particular. That is a new article which is obviously welcome. It provides that each education board shall ensure, in accordance with arrangements approved by the department, the provision of adequate facilities for further education. I am not certain what is the significance of this reference to the arrangements to be approved by the department, but the position should become clearer when we know something about the criteria which the department will apply. Will the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, indicate this evening what the criteria will be?

I turn briefly to the other end of the spectrum; namely, nursery education upon which the order is silent. Already in Northern Ireland there is an immense gap in this sector. Will the Minister give us an explanation of why nursery education has been omitted from the order? Is it intended to deal with it in a children's order or Bill in due course? If that is so, when will that legislation come along?

There are three matters on which I should like to congratulate the Government. Like most Members of your Lordships' House, I fully support the position taken in relation to integrated schools, which is spelled out in Article 64(1). However, the Minister will know that the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education and the Belfast Charitable Trust for Integrated Education are still troubled about a number of issues. There is concern about the definition, which we cannot amend. Only time will tell whether the department has the definition right.

I should be grateful if the Minister, in his reply to the debate, would confirm three specific points. First, will he confirm that the school governors will not be prohibited from giving preference in the schools enrolment programme to under-represented minorities in order to achieve what is described by my correspondents as a "balanced enrolment", though the department may not be entirely happy with that term.

Secondly, will the Minister confirm that the membership of the board of governors will reflect in equal proportion the two main traditions so that the board of governors will have a genuine commitment to the objectives of integrated education? Thirdly, will the Minister confirm that the Government are satisfied that there is no potential overlap or potential conflict between the theory and practice of an integrated school as embedded in the order and the anti-discrimination provisions of the Northern Ireland (Constitution) Act 1973? I am sure that assurance will be forthcoming, but there is some concern in some quarters. I should be grateful for confirmation of those three specific matters.

The inclusion of education for mutual understanding and cultural heritage in the common curriculum of all schools deserves full praise. The implications of that legislative change could over time be very great indeed. I note the comments of the Ulster teachers, but I urge them to rise to the challenge and look to the future.

Finally, it gives me considerable pleasure to see the place which has been given to the Irish language in the core curriculum. I am happy to acknowledge that on that issue the department listened to the criticism levelled at the omission of the Irish language from the original proposals. That is an immense step forward. It is a pity that there is no reference to the Irish language as such in Article 5(5); one has to read the small print of column 2 of Schedule 1 before one stumbles across the Irish language.

I have had a careful look at the definition of an Irish-speaking school. It is similar to that of a Welsh-speaking school, which was a definition acceptable to your Lordships' House when the Education Reform Bill was before it. However, it would be helpful, for those concerned with the well being of the Irish language if the Minister would explain the significance of the phrase, taught wholly or partly in Irish". I hope that there will be no shortage of suitable teaching material so that the Province can take full advantage of this important legislative change. I am reliably advised that there is one field where the department needs urgently to look closely at what can be done by way of improving the position. I am told that there is a considerable shortage of in-service training courses for teachers of Irish in primary schools. There is a need for such courses and it would be appreciated if the department would have another look at the position and make a positive proposal.

Other Members of your Lordships' House are anxious to take part in the debate, and I shall draw my remarks to a conclusion. Earlier on I should have joined with the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, in paying tribute to the teachers and to their contribution over the years in the Province. I am far from convinced that the order has done all that it could for the needs of the less able students, children of Northern Ireland. But it introduces a number of legislative changes which we welcome. They will be a challenge to the education and library boards which will still have a continuing role to play in Northern Ireland.

Our hope must be that the order will achieve a dual purpose: greater fulfilment for the individual child, while ensuring that he is well equipped for the task of earning his living in a highly competitive world. With those observations, we are pleased to welcome the order.

5.51 p.m.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, I am amazed to find that a document of this size should be a regulation which we cannot amend or, by convention in this House, reject. I wish to ask the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, whether there is any precedent for a document of this kind being presented as a regulation. It is in fact a Bill. There is no question about that. The fact that a great deal of it—though by no means all—is similar to the Education Act passed for England and Wales is no excuse for not having a proper parliamentary debate. It cannot be described as anything other than a Bill.

It is not only in this particular case that one feels it is not possible for Parliament to do its proper job in relation to this important piece of legislation because it comes to us as a regulation. But if it is to be a precedent for the way in which new laws are to be introduced, then it is an extremely important challenge to the rights and responsiblities of Parliament to deal with legislation properly.

As we have understood them in the past, regulations have been relatively minor matters of considerable detail arising out of legislation which has been thoroughly debated in both Houses of Parliament. But this has not. I should be glad, if only for the sake of the record, if the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, would comment on this from a constitutional point of view.

That said, like the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, in some respects I wish to welcome this legislation. I am tempted to say that it is not the first time that the legislation proposed for Northern Ireland has been a considerable improvement on similar legislation for England and Wales. Further, it seems to me that the curriculum requirements are a great deal more acceptable than the curriculum requirements, from my point of view at any rate, in the legislation for England and Wales. It appears to me not only that there has been the introduction into the essential curriculum first studies of the environment and society, secondly creative and expressive studies, and thirdly, language studies. The latter is not related to one language, as it is for England and Wales. But there is also the very interesting Schedule I in which the "contributory"—I think that is the word used—subjects are included.

I thought that when I looked at the 28 contributory subjects this provided what I had always asked for in relation to the English and Welsh legislation. It provided an opportunity for much greater choice and variation according to the interests and needs of the different children being taught. Reading it again, I was not quite sure—and I cannot believe it—that the contributory subjects are not all to be regarded as compulsory. I really cannot believe that under the heading of "Science and Technology", every child is to take science, biology, chemistry, physics, technology and design, craft design and technology, and home economics. If that list is to be compulsory for science and technology subjects, to put it mildly I think that the students will be pretty busy, considering all the other subjects included. The ones listed add up to a total of 28.

I hope that the noble Lord will be able to confirm that there is an element of flexibility. That is what many of us asked for in relation to the 1988 Act and we did not get it. If it is incorporated in this legislation for the Northern Irish programme, it is a very good idea indeed. I congratulate whomever was responsible for it. Perhaps in due course we on this side of the Irish Channel may be able to benefit from it.

I remember acutely some of the arguments we had for example about the arts side. The list in this order under the general heading of "Creative and Expressive Studies" seems to me a far better approach than the more rigid and limited approach reflected in the Act for England and Wales. To that extent, if my interpretation is right, the position for Northern Ireland will be an improvement.

I also wish to agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, said about nursery education, particularly in an area where there is a great deal of social disturbance and deprivation. Nursery education is of the greatest importance. I very much hope that the Minister will be able to tell us that there will be improved and increased provision for nursery education throughout the Province.

I wish particularly to concentrate on a subject to which the noble Lord also made reference. It seems to me to be of the greatest importance and I am sure that everybody in your Lordships' House agrees with that. It is the development of integrated schools. As the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, said, nobody really believes that integrated schools by themselves will cure all the ills of the Province. But it is common sense surely that if boys and girls from early childhood are educated together, there is a much better chance that when they grow up they will not be at daggers drawn between the two communities in the way that they are to a great extent at present. If children from the age of five—if they start school at five in the Province as well as in England and Wales—have been together as school children from that age that must ease the tensions later on when they grow to adulthood. At present the integration happens at the university stage, but that is surely too late to overcome the built-in antagonism about which we know all too much.

I give a great welcome to the Government's support for integrated schools. However there are one or two important questions. As has already been said, a definition would be welcome. Again, whether that can be incorporated in the legislation, I do not know. We cannot put forward any amendments, so there is nothing we can do about it. However, we can press the Government to make sure that it is clearly understood what the term "integrated schools" really means.

There is then the question of the governors and the balanced representation for governors of integrated schools. Is that a statutory right and not just a general wish? Is there a statutory right for balanced representation of the two communities in integrated schools? Surely this makes sense and is a necessary requirement if integrated schools are to be anything other than a pious hope. Under the conditions of Northern Ireland there will be—we know this is so—a great many people who will not wish to see the development and extension of integrated schools. Those schools will need special support. This is a quite different situation to that pertaining anywhere else in the United Kingdom. We must lean over backwards to ensure that there is no way in which the intention behind integrated schooling can be frustrated by the minority or majority of people—I do not know which it is—who will not wish to see this development go ahead.

There is a further difficult question for the Government connected with this matter which is the right of governors to turn down a child who wants to attend a school if that seriously upsets the balance between the two communities within the school. I can see why that is a difficult problem for the Government. I know that under normal circumstances there are two strong arguments against doing what I am now asking the Government to do, which is to give governors the right to turn down a youngster simply because he or she does not belong to the right religious community in order to maintain balanced representation. However, in Northern Ireland we are dealing with an exceptional set of circumstances.

One could say that the right of governors to refuse a child in order to maintain a balanced representation of the youngsters in schools is a form of quota system. I have always been against quotas in normal circumstances. However, the difference is that, if one opposes the idea of quotas in a commercial undertaking, in industry or in a university, one opposes it in an institution of which the primary purpose has nothing to do with equality. The primary purpose is the provision of a university education or the provision of goods or the services that the industry is undertaking. But the primary purpose of an integrated school is to produce integration. Its purpose is also of course to produce education, but integration is what it has been set up to achieve. It seems to me therefore that it is reasonable to require a quota system where the whole objective of an institution is to secure integration. One therefore must take steps to ensure that that primary purpose is maintained and is not undermined.

I am sure that there will be people in the Province who will attempt, the minute that there is an extension of integrated schools, to stop that development and to seize on any loophole in the legislation to ensure that integration does not occur. As regards the rejection of a youngster because it upsets the balance within the school, that is against a principle that we all support, which is the right of a parent to choose the school his child attends. I would expect the Minister to say that the concept of balance cannot be accepted because it goes against the proper principle of parental choice. However, one must use one's common sense in this matter in the situation of Northern Ireland. Parental choice is important but integrated schools are also very important.

I understand that at the moment, of all the schools in Northern Ireland only 0.8 per cent. are integrated and of all the pupils in schools only 0.7 per cent. are in integrated schools. The interference with the rights of parents to decide where their children attend school when there is such a minute proportion of integrated schools seems in reality to be so slight that it should not be used to block not only the establishment but also the opportunity for development of integrated schools. If integrated schools already constituted 40 per cent. of the schools in Northern Ireland and a parent was told that he could not send his child to the school of his choice as it would seriously upset the balance of the school, I can see that in those circumstances there is a real argument that parental choice is being interfered with. But with such a tiny proportion of integrated schools, it surely could be permitted to build restrictions into the legislation so that the development of these schools cannot be sabotaged. I do not think that the Minister could stand up and say that there is no risk of sabotage of integrated schools. But for those of us who believe that in the longer run the real development on a substantial scale of integrated schooling is probably the best hope we have of long-term peace in the Province, that factor must be balanced against the other desirable and proper objectives. I believe we should come down on the side of doing all that we can on a statutory basis in legislation to make sure that integrated schools can increase in number from the minute proportion that they represent today to a proportion that will make a substantial contribution to the education of boys and girls in Northern Ireland.

6 p.m.

Lord Fitt

My Lords, in introducing this measure the Minister said that he regarded it as major legislation. I can certainly confirm that. From my experience in Northern Ireland I can say that this education order is the most important legislation in the education field since the 1947 Act in Northern Ireland. As we know, the 1947 Act followed on from the 1944 Butler Act which was passed here in Westminster. Arising from the introduction of that Act in 1947, some young people in Northern Ireland were able to go to university for the first time. After they had concluded their university education, they considered the conditions which then prevailed in Northern Ireland. It is generally recognised that the beginnings of the civil rights movement dated from that time. Those young people who had received a university education were not prepared to tolerate the conditions under which their parents had lived.

I think it will be understood in this House, given the sad, tragic history of the island of Ireland, and particularly in recent years of Northern Ireland, that people there hold two views on almost every subject under the sun. That is why education is so important. There are two views on the Battle of the Boyne. There are two views on what people here refer to as the glorious and bloodless revolution. It may have been glorious and bloodless in this country but it certainly was not in Ireland where we are living with its consequences. There are two views on the famine. It is only education and the correct teaching and interpretation of history that will go some way to alleviate all the myths and prejudices that prevail in that little island.

The Minister was also correct to say that the introduction of integrated schools is not a panacea for all the problems that beset Northern Ireland. Over many years on both sides of this House I have heard the argument put forward that integrated schools would in some way bring to an end the troubles in Northern Ireland. That is not so. It will help. It is a factor. It will allow young children to sit beside each other in schools and to learn to live with each other, but it will not stop people having deeply held political opinions on religion, on partition and on the whole political situation in Ireland. Those political opinions will remain paramount in the minds of the majority of people in Northern Ireland, irrespective of integrated schools. That is why it is so important for the Government, in taking a major step in their education policy, to get things right.

Sadly, I do not think they have got things right on this occasion. I do not say that because of anything that is contained in the Bill, as I agree with most of what is in it, particularly in the field of integrated education. I was one of the first to associate myself with Lagan College, with Hazlewood and with the other integrated colleges. As one who is still a Catholic, that was not a popular thing to do then or now. However, I believe that the time has now come in Northern Ireland to try to bring education further along the road of integration. There will be massive difficulties because most of the schools in Northern Ireland, particularly the primary schools, are situated in ghettos. All the Catholic schools are situated in West Belfast and most of the Protestant schools are situated in East Belfast or in some other part of the city. So a young boy or girl may, at the behest of his or her parents, have to traverse hostile territory from home to an integrated school in one or other of the ghettos. That will take a tremendous amount of courage on the part of the parents and on the part of the child.

If we are to move forward towards integration, schools may have to be built, at considerable cost to the public purse, in areas which are not classified as Republican, Unionist or Nationalist. Young children attending those schools will experience a great amount of distress, at least in the initial stages.

Why do I say that the Government have got it wrong? We have heard the Minister say that this legislation is the culmination of 18 months of discussions that have taken place with authorities and those concerned with education in the North. If it has taken 18 months of discussions with all the interested parties, why was it necessary to rush the legislation through the other place and this Chamber within 24 hours?

This legislation was dealt with in the Commons in the early hours of this morning and it has been rushed into this House within 24 hours. One would think that it was emergency legislation and dealing with life and limb. There have been occasions—such as in the case of the Prevention of Terrorism Act—when legislation has been pushed through because there was an emergency. In that case people were losing their lives. There has been emergency legislation in other fields. But there was no need to push this order through both Houses in one day so that it cannot be amended.

We have not yet had the privilege of reading the Hansard report of the debate which took place at the other end of the building. However, I understand that all the representatives from Northern Ireland voted against the order. Why did they vote against the order? Sixteen elected representatives from Northern Ireland were present when the order was debated. They expressed their point of view. Their time was limited and they did not have all the time that was necessary to voice either their support or their objections to various aspects of the order.

It may appear to people outside the building that they were 16 bigots from Northern Ireland, all with their own axe to grind—the Catholics wanting to keep Catholic schools and to stop integration, and the Protestants wanting to keep Protestant schools. That is not necessarily so. Those representatives at the other end of the building are anything but bigots. Some of them have vast experience in the field of education, having been schoolteachers before they were elected Members of Parliament. They expressed genuine concerns. I have spoken to some of them today and they have told me that they were not given answers. The order has come here and we shall not be given answers either. Some of those concerns have already been referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear. I think that the Minister should take this opportunity, if the opportunity was not taken at the other end of the building, to answer some of the questions that have been raised.

There are eight integrated schools already in Northern Ireland. The two principal schools are Lagan College and Hazlewood College. They established criteria for themselves—the ratio would be 60:40. Given the circumstances in Northern Ireland I believe that that ratio is reasonable. Why not apply that ratio to all the other integrated schools which are supposed to come into being? Nothing is laid down in the order. It says that the school would be regarded as being integrationist if it was likely to attract reasonable numbers. Why not say 60:40, because the other schools have proved to be a success? If they have been a success with that ratio why not apply it to all the other proposed schools?

I understand that great concern was expressed about the question of the governors. Will any limits be placed on the authority of the governors to decide the integrationist culture attached to the school?

The order is not only about integrated schools, although that is the way in which it has been publicised in Northern Ireland. There are many other very laudable objects set out in the order. I should like to see it become a success. However, I believe that it should be given more time at both ends of the building so that elected representatives could express their concerns. If in the expression of those concerns it seemed that those representatives were unreasonable, that they expressed a bigoted point of view and that they were trying to protect their own interests, whether Catholic or Protestant, regarding those schools, that would be on record. Those who were in the House would be able to hear them. Now that there is television at the other end of the building people would be able to see whether or not their concerns were genuine. I believe that the Government have missed a glorious opportunity, because nobody will read about what happened at the other end of the building at half-past one this morning.

I say this to those who are opposed to integrated education that up to now we have not had integrated education to any great extent. Both Catholic and Protestant schools in Northern Ireland have produced a great many murderers—some are now serving their time in prison but some have not been caught. I believe that it is time that integrated education was given a chance. From that point of view I welcome the order.

6.15 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Bradford

My Lords, I had not intended to speak in this debate. However, I believe that it is probably unique that there is an Ulster Catholic on that side of the House and an Ulster Protestant on this side of the House speaking in the same debate. I should like to say categorically that I agree with every word that the noble Lord has said. I endorse his sentiments and the manner in which he expressed them.

Lord Howie of Troon

My Lords, I should like to join my noble friend Lord Fitt in asking what is the hurry. There might be an emergency but in my recollection the emergency in Northern Ireland has existed since 1969, if not earlier if one considers the historical perspective. The immediate emergency has existed since 1969. I do not believe that this order is an element of that emergency which is of such urgency that it should be rushed through in this way, as my noble friend has said. Education is not a matter of urgency, it is a matter of time. We all know that.

I should like to turn to the general proposition of integration. Clearly it is right that education in Northern Ireland should be integrated rather than segregated. If one opposes integration, one must be in favour of segregation, and that must be wrong.

I speak from my own personal experience. Although I am not a Northern Irishman, I am a South-West Scotsman which in many ways is not very different. Ayrshire, where I come from, is as near to Northern Ireland as a good many parts of Southern Ireland. We in Ayrshire have shared many of the prejudices of the Ulster Scots for many years.

As a youngster of five, six or seven years of age, I went to a school which was next door to the Catholic school. We were segregated by a wall—just like Berlin but it was not so high and one was not shot for trying to get over it. We Presbyterians were on one side of the wall and the Catholics were on the other. My Lords, what do you think we did at playtime? We stoned each other. I have a mark across the bridge of my nose which indicates that the marksmanship of the Catholics was more accurate than I should have liked. Why did we stone each other? We did it because we were segregated. We went home from that little school in Troon to the council estates where we lived next door to each other. We did not stone each other at home. We chased the girls—and sometimes the girls chased us. I fear to say that they did not always catch us. We stoned and abused each other while we were segregated. We did not do it when we were back at home a quarter of a mile way and living next door to each other like ordinary, honest, civilised beings.

Like my noble friend Lord Fitt, I know that the emotional imperatives are much more severe in Northern Ireland than they were in Ayrshire, but we should not forget that about 20 per cent. of the population in Ayrshire were Catholic. They were very well behaved, as indeed we were, but we regarded each other as different because we were segregated. That was part of the education system and was wholly wrong.

Finally, I wish to dissent a little from my noble friend on the Front Bench. I do not think that his honourable and emotionally decent espousal of the Irish language was wholly sensible. We do not want too many peripheral languages nowadays. As a Scotsman, I might say that I do not think we should encourage Gaelic. It is difficult to spell, quite apart from anything else. I do not think that we should espouse those languages. I recall that, when I was a civil engineer long ago and had dealings with power stations in Southern Ireland, the letter head of the Irish Electricity Board, or whatever it was called, was printed in both Irish and English. So the first page of the letter was so taken up by the letter head that there was only room on it for the words, "Dear Sir", or whatever the Irish is for "Dear Sir", and the letter began on the second page.

Those languages should not be discouraged as elements of a cultural identity, but, as part of the modern world, they should be set slightly to one side. I believe that, with the best of intentions, my noble friend has gone slightly overboard in defence of archaism and is making a mistake there. However, in general terms, the idea of integration is wholly to be supported and I hope that the House will support it.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, in general, I welcome the order, but I must immediately say that it should have been taken as a Bill. A long consultation period, as outlined by the Minister in reply to my Starred Question on 25th October and again today, is no substitute for full parliamentary procedure. I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, and with the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, that 201 pages of legislation should not be disposed of in five or six hours of affirmative Motion debate. I raised that point again in the Home Affairs debate on 23rd November and suggested various possible remedies for the future.

I am surprised that the order refers throughout to the Department of Education and occasionally to the head of department, but never to the Minister. That seems constitutionally odd. If it is not possible to refer to the Minister, why does not the order empower the Secretary of State, as do most other Bills?

In welcoming the order, I should like to give special mention to Part VI dealing with integrated education. I am glad that Article 64 puts a duty on the Department of Education to develop and facilitate the integration of schools. I well remember visiting Lagan College when it began with a mere 28 children in a hall borrowed from the Scout movement. It has grown massively since then and is now on its own site with some 700 pupils. In October this year I visited the new integrated primary school in Enniskillen and, I am glad to say, found it bubbling with enthusiasm and initiative.

In the last eight years, 10 integrated schools have been established and more are planned. They represent a new phenomenon and have come about because that was what the parents wanted for their children. The parents came from both main religious traditions and have insisted that both traditions be strongly represented not only among the pupils, but also on the staff and governing bodies. There is thus no question of one side being in the majority. As has been mentioned, the ratios aimed at are within the range of 60:40 either way with allowance within those proportions for non-believers and members of non-Christian religions. If the ratio of pupils tilts in one direction, it will probably be counterbalanced by a different proportion within the staff or governors.

That seems to me to be the ideal situation. All traditions are respected and the main strands of Christian heritage are honoured and also studied, not only in religious education, but also in such subjects as history and geography. All the parents co-operate in parent-teacher associations, transport rotas, fund-raising and in many other ways. The life of the school is thus a learning experience for people of all ages.

Integrated education is not a form of social engineering, neither is it a panacea for all evils. However, I believe that it lays the foundations for a much happier and more harmonious future.

I should have liked to see Her Majesty's Government holding up this model to all parents and to those responsible for the existing, largely segregated schools. Such a course would have provided real choice. I should have preferred a closely defined status for integration which would have asserted the principle of parity at all levels. That could have been combined with open enrolment for all other schools. Such moves, taken together with parents' ballots, could first have led existing schools to diversify their intakes and later to reach fully integrated status.

I accept that such an approach may contain its own difficulties and I welcome the safeguards contained in the order against token integration at a low level and against failure to ensure a properly integrated ethos which fully respects Protestantism, Catholicism and other traditions, where present. Nevertheless, I feel obliged to ask for a number of assurances once the order comes into force. Here I find myself going over some of the ground that has already been covered by Front Bench speakers, but I believe that it is no bad thing to reinforce those points, particularly speaking, as I do, from the Cross Benches.

Can the Minister say that future subordinate legislation, guidelines and schemes of management will not dilute the planned nature of integrated education? Will future admissions criteria allow the safeguarding of planned integration? Will the noble Lord confirm that open enrolment will not prejudice planned integration? Will the department and the boards secure balance among the governors of individual schools when making their appointments? Furthermore—and I do not think that this new point was touched on by anyone—will there be full protection for any staff not willing to teach within the new integrated framework? Can we be reassured that transitional periods—when a school changes from one status to another—will not be unduly prolonged?

Finally, will the Government consider producing a non-statutory guide to the development of integrated education? It would be comparable to the guide to employers produced by the Department of Economic Development in connection with the Fair Employment Act. Such a guide should be produced only after further close consultation with the interested parties.

I have mentioned the assurances that are necessary in order to dot the 'i' s and cross the 't' s on this very lengthy order that we are prevented from examining line by line. I look forward to a sympathetic reply.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Dunleath

My Lords, the Minister has rightly said that this is a very comprehensive order. I knew that the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, was going to speak on the subject of integrated education. However, I had not been expecting other noble Lords and the noble Baroness to cover it. Therefore much of what I would have said has already been stated.

First, I should like to give a general welcome to the provisions of the order which cover integrated education. I should like to thank the Minister for his generous remarks about the 1978 Education (Northern Ireland) Act. On that occasion we may not have won the battle but certainly the war was not lost. The results of educating all children together, which was started a few years before that, are now gradually coming to fruition. For those of us who have been involved from an early stage it is certainly a most gratifying development.

It has been stated more clearly than I can, that the definition of integrated education is important. That may be one area where the order falls short.

The matter of balances in schools was well covered by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear. Lagan College—to which the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, referred—has already been aiming for, and has achieved, a proportion of 50:50 or 40:60 pupils. If that could be achieved throughout the integrated schools it would be ideal. The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, referred to this point. It should be noted that despite the difficulties due to demographic patterns of achieving a balanced attendance—to which the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, referred—a smattering of one tradition among a predominance of the other can be not only unproductive but perhaps counterproductive. I have heard of an instance where a Roman Catholic pupil went to a highly respected, well established school that has always taken pupils of both traditions, but has always had a predominance of Protestants. That young Roman Catholic pupil took the precaution when he went to the school of changing his name from Sean to John. The significance of that will not escape your Lordships. A balance is undoubtedly most important.

Integration does not come about only through educating Protestants and Roman Catholics in the one building. It has to be worked at. It has to evolve. The president of Lagan College said to me, "We could not call ourselves integrated. The proper word would be integrating. It is an ongoing process." All involved should realise that it does not happen overnight.

Having said that, it is most gratifying to see the progress that has been made. I sometimes wish that this progress were more greatly appreciated on this side of the water. I read a press report the other day about an integrated school having been opened in the region of Chelmsford in Essex. A prominent and right reverend person speaking on that occasion said that he felt that this was an example that ought to be followed throughout the country. He then added, "Perhaps in due course even in Northern Ireland.". I wish that that speaker had realised that Lagan College has been established since 1981, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, has said, has built up from 28 pupils to nearly 600 with a waiting list.

There are now eight or nine integrated schools running in Northern Ireland. One or two more are in the course of being established. That is the progress that we have been making and are continuing to make. I hope that noble Lords will not be slow to propagate the constructive and progressive action that is happening in Northern Ireland. It is something of which we can genuinely be proud. I thank the noble Lord for his introduction of the order.

Lord Stallard

My Lords, it gives me no pleasure to detain the House further on this order. However, I would ask those noble Lords who are waiting for the next debate to have patience and tolerance for those people who are interested in the Northern Ireland situation and who have no other opportunity to air those views. It has already been said that it is not an order in the normal sense of the word. It is a fairly massively sized Bill. It is being rushed, steamrollered, through both Houses of Parliaments. As the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, has said, it went through the other place at half past one in the morning and here it has been sandwiched between other very important subjects in which a number of people are extremely interested. It is not a very satisfying procedure. It gives me no great pleasure to know that I shall incur even further the wrath of my noble friend Lord Houghton who has been patiently waiting all day long to speak on his Bill.

Having said that, I am grateful that most of the previous speakers have said much of what I would have said had I spoken earlier. Perhaps I may curtail my remarks.

I come straight to the point. I, too, am interested in integrated education. Those of us who have listened to some of the speeches may have gained the impression that if one were not interested in integrated education then one was interested in segregation—one supported segregation. Another noble Lord has said that integration is the answer. Nobody would disagree. However, to ask, "Do you agree with integrated education?" is almost like asking, "Have you stopped beating your wife?"

There are other propositions. There are reservations. I am sure that the right reverend Prelate and the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, would agree that there are those on both sides of the divide in the six counties who would disagree with them and for very good reasons. I lean very heavily on the submissions of the Catholic bishops who have expressed concern about the move towards integrated education for a number of practical reasons. I hope that it will not mean that those who are 100 per cent. in favour and those on the so-called sideline will not now run for their book of labels to pin labels on those who are taking the opposing view. I hope that they will listen to the submissions made by bishops of the Catholic community.

Most of us who have been involved with the problems in Northern Ireland for many years have discussed on numerous occasions the question of integrated education. It has been a subject for discussion for 50 years to my knowledge, and perhaps longer. It has been a very popular and very attractive concept that if one could only reconcile the two communities at that level, then one would be on the way. We all want reconciliation between the two communities, the two parts of the island, and the English situation.

However, one cannot approach every problem in Ireland and think that it can be cured by an English approach. That does not work because other situations exist in Northern Ireland which are not envisaged. The bishops have expressed those reservations most adequately. I assume that the Minister has read their submission so I shall not quote from it at length. But with reservations, it is an acceptable proposition to everyone.

The biggest reservation is that there is no definition of integrated education. Is it intended merely to get together Catholics and Protestants in the same school? It has been said that integration has not yet been achieved at Lurgan. However, they are moving towards that. It is not merely a question of putting the two sides together and saying, "You are integrated, now get on with it". Neither can one impose such a situation on all the schools.

I do not suppose that we can compare the situation with that which exists here. However, were we to do so it would be interesting to note that in my old constituency in London there are Catholic schools, Anglican schools, a Greek school, a Jewish school, single-sex schools, a Japanese school, an American school, and grant-aided, voluntary and state schools. They all exist together within the one community but there are demands for even more. For example, for a number of reasons there is a demand for separate schools for black people. Therefore, the move is not towards integration here. In the words of the noble Lord, Lord Howie, it would appear that here there is a move towards more segregation. Taking his point to its logical conclusion, people here are demanding more segregation within the system—

Lord Howie of Troon

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for allowing me to intervene. I am sympathetic towards much of what he has said. However, one of my major points was that because we were segregated we threw stones at each other. I do not believe that that is a good idea.

Lord Stallard

My Lords, I accept the noble Lord's explanation. I remind him that I also have long experience of that part of Scotland and therefore his comments are not strange to me. However, I am trying to compare the two situations.

I understand that there are Moslem children in Northern Ireland who are sent here to special Moslem schools. It is not a matter simply of saying, "You and you get together. You are integrated so now get on with it. We will fund you, but if you do not do this you will not receive any funds". Other problems exist which can be overcome. However, we are saying that while we are moving in that direction other issues should be examined.

We know that tremendous steps are being taken by teachers on both Catholic and Protestant sides. In existing schools teachers have made great progress in their efforts to reconcile children within the school, reconcile the system and introduce new teaching material. In my view, that should be funded as an essential step on the way. It is not merely a question of integration or segregation. There is a point in between before we reach the ultimate; there is the area in which we could encourage the reconciliatory moves which the teachers have started. We could ensure that they are essentially funded enabling them to carry on with their work. Then perhaps the result will evolve. As has been said, it is a process of evolution.

The present practical problems are serious. It is not merely an academic matter because there are major implications. The proposals in the order will have major implications for the education budget. The school which becomes integrated will be funded. The school property and so forth will go with it upon integration and more problems will arise. Integration will be carried out by a minority of the parents of existing pupils at the schools. We had the opting-out argument in respect of the English and Welsh legislation. It involves a simple majority not of those who represent all the children at the school but of those who happen to vote in the ballot. A simple majority can take the school out of the Catholic community and into the general community.

In that respect we should recognise another difference which also exists in this country; namely, that in the main Catholics substantially contribute towards and subsidise their education facilities. Many Catholics do not have children at the local school but they pay towards the upkeep of the building and everything that goes with that. It will be said, "If we manage to get a majority of the parents who are there as of now we can take the whole lot out, although others may have paid nothing towards it". The schools have been bought by a Catholic community, more so in Northern Ireland than in London, and is it right, fair and just to lift them out? I assure noble Lords that it will not be seen as justice in some parts of the Catholic community. That should be obvious in the present circumstances.

If a school is taken out, those not in favour of the change will then want to set up an alternative; that is, another Catholic school. They will have to look for a site and for funding but they will come across this kind of opposition. We are setting up such a situation by going down this road. Before doing so there are other roads to go down and we need not rush in headlong to antagonise a large population in such a way.

The bishops welcomed many aspects of the order, including the curriculum, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Seear. They also agreed with parents' choice. But if that means a minority of the parents now involved—it is a transient population—it raises an immediate and practical problem. In a letter to me the bishops stated that they wondered why, for instance, in the Education Reform Act 1988 for England and Wales, Section 89(2) states: No proposals shall be published under this section for the purpose of making a significant change in the religious character of such a school unless the trustees of the school (if any) have given their consent in writing to the change in question". Even that provision is not contained in the order. The existence of the trustees is totally ignored although they are equally important, if not more so, in the Northern Ireland situation. Of course the order makes a significant change. Who would argue that to try to integrate in the way I have described is not a significant change in Northern Ireland? Of course it is, so why have we not applied Section 89(2) of the 1988 England and Wales Act in the same way, thereby giving the trustees a say in the matter? In winding up will the Minister take that point on board?

There is a great deal more to be said but I shall now wind up my speech because we shall have further opportunities to debate the matter—

Lord Howie of Troon

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down will he respond to the following notion. He and I were brought up in the south-west of Scotland where there is a noticeable problem, although less severe than in Northern Ireland. We were part of a segregated education system until the age of 18. We then went to university where we were not segregated and that did not do us the slightest bit of harm. Therefore, what is the difference? Why would it have mattered if we had been unsegregated before we went to university?

Lord Stallard

My Lords, I believe that the noble Lord answered his own question when he said that he agreed that the situation in Scotland was not as bad as that in Northern Ireland. There, there is a different set of circumstances and a different situation. There were instances of non-segregation at primary school level in Scotland. Some children received religious education apart from their lessons in the integrated situation. However, the situation in Northern Ireland is not the same as it was in the West of Scotland. It is much more difficult and complicated. Therefore, the problems are more complex.

Lord Lyell

My Lords, I hope that your Lordships will allow me to take a few moments to reiterate many of the points which have been made. My thoughts on integrated education were beautifully expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath. Indeed, as he pointed out, as long ago as 1978 he and his colleagues set up the framework for much of this particular stratum of legislation in the order this evening.

Throughout the thread of our discussion, we have consistently referred to integration in the schools. However, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, and the Minister would agree that that is a matter for the schools themselves. I believe that the definitions, such as they are, in this order meet the needs of the situation, not just overall in Northern Ireland but in each individual school which might want to take to the integrated path. Northern Ireland is unique and the system of education which we are discussing is unique. It needs to be taken in the Northern Irish context, and in spite of the constraints put upon us by the legislative procedure this evening, I believe that the order brings the benefits which we want for Northern Ireland and, as my noble friend pointed out, this order will carry us on into the next century.

The second matter which I am fascinated by in the order—and indeed the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, drew our attention to this—is on page 166 at Schedule 2 where there is reference to the Irish language. Schedule 2, col. 4 is entitled: Compulsory contributory subjects in key stage 4". Perhaps my noble friend will indicate whether this is a compulsory contributory subject for Ministers since I am deficient in everything but two words of Irish although I am trying to make some efforts in French, German and Italian. However, if one looks at the compulsory contributory subjects in Northern Ireland, then that shows that the standard of education in Northern Ireland covered by the order this evening is unique and praiseworthy.

I also ask my noble friend to write to me on the reason for physical education being classified as "creative and expressive studies", since my physical education was neither of those. He might help me on that matter.

Thirdly, can my noble friend at a later stage give me—and your Lordships—the comparable figures between Great Britain and Northern Ireland? I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, referred to the fact that 25 per cent. of school leavers aged 19 leave the two traditional schools in Northern Ireland without qualifications. Can the Minister at some stage let me know what are the comparable figures for Great Britain—that is, England, Scotland and Wales? With that, I wholeheartedly support the order and wish it well.

Lord Murray of Epping Forest

My Lords, I should like to make one very brief point which is additional to those which have been so very ably put forward this evening, and I promise to be brief. We have been reminded that integrated education in Northern Ireland is a delicate and fragile matter. I welcome the sympathy which the Government and the Minister have shown towards this subject, and for making available additional resources in Northern Ireland for that purpose. They are not enough and we should ask for more; but they have certainly made available some additional resources.

Yet, as the Minister knows, there are still grave worries on the part of the Northern Ireland council and the Belfast Charitable Trust about the proposals within this order. I do not wish to become involved in the argument as to whether they are right or wrong because we cannot amend them and time alone will tell whether or not they are right.

In those circumstances, it seems to me that the request made by the Northern Ireland council is eminently reasonable, and I hope that the Minister will respond positively to it. I refer to the request by the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education that a working party should be established to monitor the effects of open enrolment on integrated schools, and that the Minister should be willing to give an undertaking that he will introduce amending legislation if there is found to be, in practice, a detrimental effect on planned integrated schools. I am sure the Minister shares in the intention underlying this matter. I very much welcome the consultation which has taken place and his assurance that that will continue. Will he go that inch further and assure the bodies concerned with integrated education in Northern Ireland that he will enter into a consultative arrangement of that sort with them for the future?

7 p.m.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I am most grateful to noble Lords who have spoken for their contribution to this important debate. First, I took very much to heart the words of the noble Lords, Lord Prys-Davies and Lord Hylton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, about consultation (which I repeat has been both genuine and extensive) being no substitute for using the Bill procedure for a composite order, as is the one before us. This is not the first time that that problem has been aired in this House.

However, I can only repeat that we all know where the answer really lies. What we are carrying out here in this Parliament in Westminster is an interim project to maintain the statute book for Northern Ireland where it rightly belongs. In order to do that, given the constraints of parliamentary time—and I should say to an extent parliamentary interest—it is necessary to use this rather unconventional legislative method of Order in Council which for Northern Ireland has the distinction of being primary legislation.

My right honourable friend to whom I have put the problem has said on many occasions that he is ready and willing at any time to talk to those people most directly concerned in this—namely, the Members of Parliament for Northern Ireland—about their concerns on the procedures for handling legislation and to consider any constructive proposals. That offer has not yet been taken up but perhaps those of your Lordships who have voiced concern will now encourage them, wherever able to do so, to take up that offer because I repeat that there is a problem. We do not as yet have an agreed solution, which we should love to have.

I now turn to the order itself. It would seem from the speeches which I have heard this evening that in the minds of some noble Lords there seems to remain some doubt, to put it mildly, about aspects of the integrated education provisions of the order. As I supposed in my opening speech, we all agree that integrated education, in the words of 1066 and All That is a good thing. It is right that these provisions should receive our special attention because I believe that they will have a significant influence on how Northern Ireland shapes its future. Therefore, I shall deal first with those provisions and in the course of my remarks I shall seek to address the main concerns which noble Lords have raised.

First, there is the central question of whether the legislation should seek to restrict integrated status to schools which have achieved a balance between Protestant and Catholic pupils in their enrolments. The Government understand and fully accept that enrolments balanced in that way offer ideal opportunities for encouraging equal respect and esteem for both traditions—a matter which the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, clearly holds dear. I can assure noble Lords that we shall expect schools seeking integrated status to strive to achieve a balance where it is feasible to do so within the framework of constitutional constraints. However, it is quite a different proposition to seek to legislate for a balanced enrolment, which is what the noble Lord and, if I may be allowed to call him this, his surprise supporter the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bradford would ask us to do. What though in my turn I would ask them is: What about those geographical areas in the Province where there is not the average 60:40 split; for example, west of Strabane? Are they to be deprived of the opportunity, if they so want it, of integrated education? I believe not. Nonetheless, I wish to stress the central considerations for government in this area.

The first is that the new legislation must not undermine the guarantee provided by existing education law that every grant aided school in Northern Ireland shall be open to pupils of all religious denominations. In particular we have sought to avoid provisions in law which could in effect require schools to engage in discriminatory admissions practices. Those practices in Northern Ireland, as anywhere else in the United Kingdom, would of course be illegal.

Secondly, there are wider considerations of policy to be taken into account. I am sure that your Lordships in supporting integrated education would share the Government's fundamental objective that the aspirations of as many parents as possible for integrated schools for their children should be met. That is the whole object of the exercise. The reality which must be faced in Northern Ireland is that there are very few schools indeed which could hope to achieve and maintain balanced enrolments, and I fear that to introduce such a restrictive statutory requirement would deny the vast majority of schools any real prospect of integrated status.

It is with these main considerations in mind that we have chosen to express the enrolment in the much more flexible term of reasonable numbers. But such flexibility, as has been alleged in certain quarters, does not connote imprecision or weakness. The future of integrated education and its standing and credibility in the community will not be helped by allowing a dilution of the character of integrated schools.

In approving applications for integrated status the Department of Education will apply strict criteria about the management, ethos and control of the school and will wish to be assured that it has a real prospect of being attended by reasonable numbers of children from both communities. I reiterate the categorical assurance that every decision about the acquisition of integrated status by a school will be taken most carefully, with the broader interests of the successful development of integrated education to the fore.

Of course I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, that it is an essential feature of Government's policy that every child should be enabled to benefit from education up to the limits of his or her potential. In so far as there is evidence of particular limitations in provision for any class of school—any sector or any area—that must always be a matter for concern. Indeed it was in part a concern of this nature that led the department, in consultation with the Roman Catholic Church, to make provision for the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools which I remarked on earlier. But for the future the provisions of this order should themselves provide the best possible guarantee of equality of opportunity for all children in all schools.

The order lays on all concerned a positive duty to provide a broad and balanced curriculum throughout all the years of compulsory education. That curriculum is carefully defined and its provision in every school can be carefully monitored. Thus any deficiencies in any school or class of school should be readily identifiable and will have to be remedied. It is important that the formulation of schemes for the funding of schools, and the delegation of financial decisions to boards of governors, take account of the particular needs of individual schools. The House will be aware of the problems facing many schools in areas of major social deprivation. This must be reflected in the support provided, and it will be.

The claim has been made that the prospect of 100 per cent. capital funding for integrated schools—a matter not exactly referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, but it was certainly in the background paper on which he based many of his remarks—will discriminate against Catholic schools because they receive only 85 per cent. capital grants. However, these allegations, I believe, miss the central point that Catholic schools are voluntary schools. As with other types of voluntary school—and this includes Protestant schools—their trustees enjoy the right to appoint an overall majority of the school's governors. The 85 per cent. capital grant rate, which is the same as that payable to voluntary aided schools in England and Wales, recognises the degree of control which trustees retain in the governance of their schools.

In contrast, integrated schools will not be voluntary schools. They will either be controlled integrated schools managed by the education and library boards or grant-maintained integrated schools set up and managed as corporate bodies in their own right. Neither form of integrated school will have an overall majority for any one interest on its board of governors. I reiterate the Government's assurance that they will consider at any time representations that changes should be made to the constitution of boards of governors and the existing grant rate for Catholic schools.

I was interested in the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, of a guide to integrated education and also in the suggestion of another noble Lord—it may have been the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, himself—of future discussions with interested parties as we come to introduce this order. I shall put both those points to my honourable friend in another place. I myself think that it is absolutely axiomatic that further discussions will be required as this order is brought into effect.

The House will also have noticed that the balloting procedures themselves are based on the same principles as the corresponding provision of the Education Reform Act. These include provision for a second ballot to be held if fewer than half the parents who are eligible to vote participate in the first ballot.

The House will further note that provision also appears on the draft order requiring that, in the event of a voluntary school becoming integrated, the Department of Education will consult with the trustees about the possible transfer of property. Again, I give the assurance that if there are good reasons why a property should not transfer, the department will exercise its statutory power to direct that the trustees should continue to hold it.

Specific representations have also been made that the schemes of management for integrated schools and their admissions criteria should be able to include provisions designed to safeguard the integrated nature of these schools. On these points I can tell your Lordships that the Department of Education will indeed be prepared to consider for approval reasonable provisions proposed for inclusion in the scheme of management of an integrated school which are designed to help secure the ethos of the school so long—and this is an important point—as these are consistent with other provisions of the law.

As for admissions criteria, I can confirm that it will be a matter for the governors of each school to draw up the criteria to be applied in selecting pupils for admission to a school, subject again to the necessary proviso that they should not be unlawful. Let me re-emphasise that the Government believe parents should have the right to choose. It would be wrong for the Government to impose integration which would deny other parents their choice. Equally it would be wrong if the Government failed to secure equality of access to integrated education, alongside the options already available for other types of school. The Government are satisfied that this has been achieved in the present order.

Strategic plans for further education are of course a very important point. The order requires, as the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, will have realised, that education and library boards draw up strategic plans for further education in their areas, but these plans will not be subject to approval by the Department of Education. Boards have a statutory responsibility for securing adequate facilities for further education for their areas, and we are content that they are in the best position to plan such provision, taking account of the particular needs of their areas. I know that my honourable friend the Under-Secretary will continue to fight for money for the Department of Education, as he has so successfully done in, I think, the last four years of his appointment.

So far as nursery education is concerned, the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, and others will wish to know that, despite a smaller number of nursery places in Northern Ireland, the overall number of three and four year-olds getting an early start to their education is on a par with England and Wales, which I understand is around 45 per cent. of children of that age. Moreover, the importance that the Government attach to nursery education is seen in the recent release of three new nursery school building projects in Belfast. It will also be important that children in this group receive an education appropriate to their needs and maturity, and do not embark prematurely on formal programmes of study. The Department of Education will be offering advice to schools on the provision to be made. However, the Government have no intention at this time to bring forward legislation relating to nursery education.

Irish speaking has figured in this debate, and it is right that it should. The definition in the draft order provides the necessary flexibility to cover the situation where, for example, pupils enrolling for the first time at an Irish medium school may initially have insufficient knowledge of the Irish language to enable all instruction to be conducted through that medium. The earlier reference to part of a school therefore covers the situation where only some pupils of a school are taught in the medium of Irish. An example of this is the Irish-speaking unit at Steelstown Primary School in Londonderry. In-service training for teachers of Irish will certainly be provided where the need is established. I note and welcome also the noble Lord's support for education for mutual understanding. I too am confident that all teachers will indeed rise to this important challenge.

The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, is quite right, I would suggest, in saying that all the contributory subjects are not compulsory. She is also right that the areas of study concept, if I may call them that, give an element of added flexibility to the curriculum, especially in the last two years of secondary school; that is, pupils in the fourth and fifth forms.

So far as physical education creating a whole person is concerned, I can tell the House that my noble friend Lord Lyell—who I can now reveal to the House is a fitness addict, to say the least—has come to no harm in his skiing activities for your Lordships' House as a result of physical education, I am sure, at school.

Lord Lyell

My Lords, may I just say to my noble friend that I am no stranger to the orthopaedic ward. All four limbs have been repaired during my career in your Lordships' skiing team.

Lord Skelmersdale

I am grateful for my noble friend's clarification on this matter. Be that as it may, I have noted that it has not stopped him from skiing.

The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, spoke eloquently about the need for much greater understanding and appreciation of elements of the common history of Ireland. However, I think we can take that point as read, as the noble Lord is not here.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, asked, among many other things, about staff so far as newly integrated schools are concerned.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, if the noble Lord would give way for a second, may I say that it was the staff of existing schools that I am more concerned with.

Lord Skelmersdale

I understood from the noble Lord's remarks that it was staff at schools which changed their status, and therefore that for one reason or another they may not fit into the new regime. It was that point that I was intending to answer. I can assure the noble Lord that the legislation recognises that staff employed by education and library boards or the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools who are unwilling to transfer may indeed be redeployed. The legislation does not rule out entitlement to compensation in other cases, although, like I am sure the noble Lord, I would hope that this is kept to the absolute minimum because I believe that teachers are a valuable commodity, as I said earlier. Therefore, it should be possible to redeploy them on most occasions.

I do not think that it would be terribly helpful to go back to what I was saying about the comparisons between Great Britain and Northern Ireland in terms of school-leavers. But what I shall do is to consider the point further and, if I may, write to my noble friend Lord Lyell.

I believe that this has been an extremely good debate. It has brought out, and I hope that I have answered, most of the concerns that have been evidenced in recent weeks in Northern Ireland. I referred at the beginning of the debate to the relative strength of the education service in Northern Ireland. Our aim is to preserve all that is best in that service and to build on it for the benefit of all. This order will ensure equality of access for all pupils to a curriculum containing what I know your Lordships will agree are the essentials of a proper, rounded education.

In that connection I am sure than my honourable friend will be absolutely thrilled by the comfort that the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, gave to him in commending a rather different form of curriculum from that which is about to pertain in Great Britain. An education is for the whole of life—this is a point that came out strongly from several noble Lords' speeches. It is an education which in its structures needs to be responsive not only to the need of pupils but to the wishes of parents and which will play its part in fostering community cohesion and peace in Northern Ireland. That is something devoutly to be wished. If this order does nothing else—and I think that it will do a great deal else—I hope that it will be a small step in that desirable direction. I commend the order to your Lordships.

On Question, Motion agreed to.