Non-Denominational Education

Oral Answers to Questions — Northern Ireland – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 29th July 1976.

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Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Opposition Whip (Commons) 12:00 am, 29th July 1976

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what recent representations he has received from and what meeting he has arranged with educational organisations about the ending of sectarian segregation in education.

Photo of Mr George Rodgers Mr George Rodgers , Chorley

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will hold consultations with a view to extending the provision of education on a non-denominational basis in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Mr Nigel Fisher Mr Nigel Fisher , Kingston upon Thames Surbiton

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he proposes to convene a conference of interested parties to identify whether and by what means shared schools could be made available in Northern Ireland to those parents who wish this for their children.

Photo of Mr Roland Moyle Mr Roland Moyle , Lewisham East

It is not the intention of the Government to deprive parents of the right to have their children educated in accordance with their religious choice. A proposal for shared school governing bodies was made by Mr. Basil McIvor, Minister for Education in the power-sharing Executive, in May 1974. Consultation on this proposal subsequently did not reveal sufficient support to warrant legislation. I have noted a recent renewal of interest in similar proposals to these put forward by Mr. McIvor and I am at present reviewing how these might be further considered.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Opposition Whip (Commons)

Does the Minister stick to the view that he firmly expressed about a year ago, that comprehensive reorganisation should be undertaken in Northern Ireland, and that this upheaval should take place without any move towards practical desegregation at local level where it is desired and sought by local parents? Is he prepared to take a fairly flexible view, or to contemplate with equanimity a major educational upheaval on the issue of selection but with no change in the direction of desegregation, where it is sought?

Photo of Mr Roland Moyle Mr Roland Moyle , Lewisham East

The two issues of comprehensive or secondary reorganisation and desegregation are entirely separate. The consultative document was issued on the basis that the majority of Catholic parents will want to send their children to Catholic schools and the majority of non-Catholic parents will want to send their children to non-Catholic schools. I have not sought to depart from the existing arrangement in that respect.

Photo of Mr George Rodgers Mr George Rodgers , Chorley

Is my hon. Friend aware that, while recognising that religious tuition should be freely available in Northern Ireland, many of us believe that educational apartheid can lead to mistrust and even conflict, and that that may be one of the roots of the problem? Will he seriously examine any possibility of improving the situation by bringing children closer together?

Photo of Mr Roland Moyle Mr Roland Moyle , Lewisham East

Where there is a desire for children of both sects to go to the same school, there is provision in existing arrangements whereby that can be achieved. There would have to be general agreement across the sectarian divide for non-sectarian proposals to make a contribution to the future of Northern Ireland.

Photo of Mr Nigel Fisher Mr Nigel Fisher , Kingston upon Thames Surbiton

May I remind the hon. Gentleman that the idea of experiments, at any rate, in shared schooling was not only accepted by Mr. Faulkner's Executive in 1974 but has since been welcomed by the General Synod of the Church of Ireland, and by many of the Catholic laity. I do not know about the church hierarchy. When does he think that it may be possible to convene the conference that the Secretary of State has undertaken to hold?

Photo of Mr Roland Moyle Mr Roland Moyle , Lewisham East

I have not yet decided that the conference is the appropriate way to go ahead. That is a suggestion, amongst many others, that I am considering.

I am afraid that my consultations about 18 months ago did not reveal undiluted enthusiasm for shared schooling. However, have noticed renewed interest. I shall see what I can do to assess whether there is a basis for moving forward.

Photo of Mr David James Mr David James , North Dorset

Will the Minister ensure that he is not deterred in any such negotiations by the hostility of the ever, I have noticed renewed interest. I Roman Catholic hierarchy? I speak as a Roman Catholic.

Photo of Mr Roland Moyle Mr Roland Moyle , Lewisham East

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's contribution. I shall consider all contributions and make my judgment on the basis of them as I see them.

Photo of Mr John Farr Mr John Farr , Harborough

Is the Minister aware that before much progress can be made in this direction a number of entrenched positions will have to be abandoned, not least that of the Roman Catholic Church, which insists that the children of mixed marriages must be brought up as Roman Catholics?

Photo of Mr Roland Moyle Mr Roland Moyle , Lewisham East

That last point lies outside the scope of the original Question.

Photo of Mr James Kilfedder Mr James Kilfedder , North Down

Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office have been ready to condemn the wide gap between the two communities in Northern Ireland and have repeated that condemnation as often as they can. Surely, by refusing to get rid of segregation in education, they are abdicating their responsibility in this matter.

Photo of Mr Roland Moyle Mr Roland Moyle , Lewisham East

The hon. Gentleman has got it all wrong. What we are seeking to do in Northern Ireland is no more than appertains in the rest of the United Kingdom. If there is a desire for mixing between people of various religious persuasions, there are a number of school-organised out-of-school activities in which a great deal of mixing takes place.