I beg to move.
That the draft Education (Northern Ireland) Order 1978, which was laid before this House on 6th June be approved.
This is the second occasion on which this draft order has come before the House and it is therefore not necessary for me to attempt to give a full explanation of all of its provisions, especially as many of its proposals are minor. Instead I shall concentrate on points which hon. Members raised in the previous debate.
Several hon. Members asked about article 3, which deals with committees of boards. The purpose of article 3 is to allow boards to appoint advisory committees which do not have to be composed entirely of board members. Under existing legislation boards may already appoint committees for any particular field of work, but these must be composed entirely of board members except in the case of teaching appointment committees, which have their own statutory composition and functions. Under the existing legislation, these committees may in turn appoint advisory sub-committees, and the sub-committees may have outsiders appointed to them.
The value of expert advice from people with special knowledge of a particular subject is obvious, and the existing arrangements are intended to permit that. However, the existing arrangements are deficient in one respect: they do not permit a board itself to appoint an advisory committee which would report directly to it rather than to a committee of the board. This can sometimes be inconvenient—for example, if the subject under consideration is one with which a board wishes to deal itself and not delegate to a committee. Article 3 of the draft order simply overcomes this deficiency.
The concept of outside members on advisory committees is by no means new, as this is already part of the 1972 order. All that the new provision would do is to enable a board itself to appoint an advisory committee—something which committees of boards have always been able to do. It is good sense for a board to be able to make the same arrangements for specialist advice as a committee of that board already can.
I would also emphasise that the committees envisaged under article 3 would be purely advisory bodies. Under the present arrangements, board functions can be discharged only by the board itself or by committees which consist entirely of board members. Article 3 would not affect this in any way, and the principle that only board members can take decisions in the name of the board will not be altered in any way.
It was also asked whether outside members of such advisory committees would receive any payment. The answer is that they would not. They would be entitled to have any out-of-pocket expenses reimbursed, but they would not receive any attendance allowance or anything of that sort. Only board members are entitled to any payments of that kind.
Several hon. Members were concerned about article 10, which would enable education and library boards to acquire by compulsion land which is needed for the purposes of both maintained schools and voluntary grammar schools. I fear that there has been some misunderstanding about this provision, and I am glad to have this opportunity to set the record straight.
It may be helpful if I again summarise the scope of article 10. It would enable education and library boards compulsorily to acquire land which is needed for the purposes of maintained schools and most voluntary grammar schools, in much the same way as they can already vest land for their own purposes, if need be. The schools concerned, first, are all maintained schools and, secondly, those voluntary grammar schools that have agreed to have representatives of the Department of Education or the area education and library boards on their governing bodies. It is a long-established principle that the highest level of public assistance is available only to those schools that have public representation on their governing bodies, and the same principle applies, perhaps even more strongly, when it is a question of compulsory purchase powers.
The question was asked in the previous debate why it was felt that such powers were needed in Northern Ireland at this stage when they did not previously exist. One reason the powers are being sought is that the voluntary school authorities have on occasions experienced great difficulty in obtaining much-needed sites. In Northern Ireland voluntary schools are a major and integral part of the education system, and it is obviously important that land which they legitimately require should be available to them, even if, as a last resort, compulsory purchase powers must be used to obtain it.
I do not think that I can attempt to identify any particular instances where such powers might be required. In fact, I think it would be quite wrong of me to try to speak of any particular school or piece of land. If I were to do so, and if that case did eventually reach the stage where a compulsory purchase order was being sought, it might very well be felt that the case had been prejudged. It is very important that nothing I may say tonight should give the impression that any objections or appeals would not be considered very fully and fairly alongside the needs of the school. In a matter such as this the ultimate decision must be reached with an entitrely open mind, and must be seen to be so.
It may, however, be helpful if I give more details of the type of case where compulsory purchase powers might be appropriate. It can sometimes happen that an existing school is deficient in some respect which can be made good only if more land is obtained. I have in mind that the school may have increased its enrolment and the original site may now be inadequate, or it may perhaps lack playing fields.
If attempts to purchase suitable land prove fruitless, the school might well wish to suggest to the relevant education and library board that compulsory purchase should be considered. I can tell hon. Members that there are voluntary schools in Northern Ireland that find themselves in such circumstances.
Perhaps I may move on a little further so that I can complete the picture.
It can also happen that voluntary school authorities can find it difficult, or even impossible, to purchase a suitable site for a new school. Sites may well exist, but the owners may be quite unwilling to part with them. These, too, are circumstances in which it might be suggested that it would be appropriate to use compulsory purchase powers. Again I can tell hon. Members that such cases do in fact exist. There are some existing voluntary schools which have been built on inadequate sites, and some nursery schools not built at all, for lack of land. The problem of competing interests is of course intractable, but the possibility of compulsory purchase means at least that a conflict of interest can be put to arbitration and settled impartially.
I am talking about both. The hon. Gentleman probably missed it when I said that. Controlled schools at present have the power, maintained and voluntary schools do not.
I should not wish to give the impression that every case in which compulsory purchase powers are used is contentious. This is not at all the case. It can happen that, irrespective of the land owner's having agreed to part with land for school building purposes, this has been frustrated by a doubtful title to land or some other legal technicality. In these circumstances compulsory purchase may be the only practical solution and will be as welcome to the owner as to the purchaser.
I hope that the explanation I have given will allay any doubts which hon. Members may have felt and that they will understand the reasons why I cannot be any more specific. In giving the examples I have quoted I have also been guided by our experiences with controlled schools, where compulsory purchase powers have of course been available for many years.
I would also point out that similar powers have existed in England and Wales for a long time. This in itself is an indication that the needs of the voluntary school sectors are every bit as deserving of consideration as are the needs of the controlled sector. I think that it is only reasonable that voluntary schools in Northern Ireland should, in this respect, have broad parity of treatment with their counterparts in England and Wales and with controlled schools in Northern Ireland. This is all that article 10 proposes.
At the same time, I would fully share the view that compulsory purchase powers must be used cautiously and that the rights of the original owner of the land must be fully protected. Under article 10, before land could be compulsorily acquired for a voluntary school both the area board and the Department of Education would have to be satisfied that the land was needed. In the event of any dispute over the proposed compulsory purchase the same statutory procedures would be followed as if the land were being sought by an area board for its own use, including provision for a local inquiry by an independent penson in appropriate cases.
In the event of the land ceasing to be needed by the voluntary school concened, the intention is that the land should revert to the board, which would be responsible for deciding what further use should be made of it. Both the acquisition and the disposal of the land would thus be controlled not by the voluntary school itself but by a public body. Before any such land would be disposed of, the former owner should be given the opportunity to buy it back at its current market value.
During the previous debate on this draft order the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) correctly pointed out that article 10 does not specifically deal with the rights of the former owner to re-purchase the land in the events of its ceasing to be required. As he also pointed out, it is not in fact usual to attempt to make specific provision for this. But it has long been understood that if land which was acquired compulsorily is to be disposed, the former owner of the land should be given an opportunity to re-purchase it if he so wishes. This would certainly apply in a case such as that which we are now considering. This is why article 10 makes it clear that the terms of transfer of the land to the voluntary school authorities may provide for the land to revert to the board if it ceases to be needed by the school. This would enable the board to ensure that the rights of the former owner were not overlooked.
The Minister referred to surplus land being disposed of when it is no longer required. Does that mean when it is no longer required for education purposes or when it is no longer required for any other purpose, because the Minister will be aware that there is often the practice in such cases of ascertaining whether other Departments of Government have a requirement for the land before it is offered, in the way he has explained, to the former owner?
I think that is quite true. In winding up the debate I shall give a more precise answer, but off the top of my head I think that I would be thinking in terms of the spirit in which I have referred to the sort of transactions which would take place, that is, where land is no longer required for education purposes the former owner would be the first to be offered the land.
Finally, I should like to make it clear that there is no question of this particular provision having been introduced quietly or at the last moment. In fact, the reverse is the case. Consultations on the principle of whether vesting powers should be available on behalf of voluntary schools were initiated as long ago as 1975, when a consultative letter was sent to a wide range of education and other interests in Northern Ireland. The great majority of the comments received on the proposal were in principle in favour of compulsory purchase powers being made available.
During the consultative period on the draft order itself, several comments were received on points of detail on article 10. The draft order and a detail explanatory document were, of course, sent in the usual way to every Northern Ireland Member of Parliament on 17th January 1978. No individual or body which commented on the draft said that he was opposed in principle to the idea of compulsory purchase powers being made available—nobody.
I hope that the explanation I have given of the provisions of article 10, of the reasons why it is needed and of the way in which it will be used, will have allayed any doubts that hon. Members may have had.
Are Members of Parliament required to tell Ministers by correspondence that they object, rather than use their position in the House of Commons to register their objection? It is entirely against British constitutional procedures that Ministers write and say to us that we must say "Yes" or "No" to their correspondence.
That is not true in Northern Ireland, and it is certainly not true in the United Kingdom. White Papers and drafts are issued on all manner of things and it is quite common for Members of Parliament, in Northern Ireland. Great Britain or United Kingdom matters, to make comments before legislation is finally made known. Indeed, on this issue the right hon. Gentleman and every hon. Member from Northern Ireland had four, five, six months in which to make their comments known before legislation was brought forward.
I have to take the hon. Gentleman's word for that, but he certainly did not reiterate it when the draft proposal was issued on 17th January this year. He remained strangely quiet from 17th January onwards. If the hon. Gentleman felt that strongly about it, that was the time to make his objection known.
I have spent a considerable time on this particular provision of the draft order because it is one which attracted most attention during the earlier debate. If there are any other points which hon. Members wish to have clarified, I shall be very happy to seek to clarify them.
The failure of the Government to secure approval for this order on 20th June had led us on this side of the House to examine it again in much closer detail and consider what we believe to be its real purposes.
It may be just as well that the Minister has had to reintroduce the order, since that will enable us to ask more questions. We shall wait to see what the Minister says in reply. I was not present at the last debate on 20th June, but I note what the Minister said on that occasion:
We do not see this order as being in any way controversial we are doing nothing more than establishing equity between the voluntary and State sectors."—[Official Report, 20th June 1978; Vol. 952, c. 425.]
That is father too modest a description of this order. It give considerable additional powers to the boards over the voluntary schools in particular. This is clear from the explanatory memorandum.
We bear in mind the declared aim of the Conservative Party to bring these boards under democratic control in future, if we get that opportunity. Therefore, we bear in mind the question of local government powers in particular.
We should also look at the background against which this order is being introduced. As I said in the debate on the No. 2 appropriation order on 7th July,
The Government appear to be determined to impose a uniform system of comprehensive secondary education on the province of Northern Ireland."—[Official Report, 7th July, 1978; Vol 953, c. 875.]
They have refused to reconsider the policy on which they embarked in 1976, and no one has denied that on their behalf in any of the debates in the last few months.
Since the first debate on this order on 20th June my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davidson) have spoken to Ulster parents in Belfast and have stated the Conservative position there. When I spoke about this on 7th July, I referred to the 57 voluntary schools—the grammar schools—and their opposition to Lord Melchett's proposals. I said then that a Conservative Government would not exercise any compulsion or browbeating on either the boards or the voluntary schools. I asked the Government to reconsider the whole position in view of the unpopularity of these proposals in the Province. I believe this to be the context in which we are debating this order.
Vigorous opposition is growing in Northern Ireland, from both sides of the community as the Minister well knows. The Government have seriously misjudged the state of feeling in the Province. Some of the articles in the order appear innocuous but others could be designed to facilitate the introduction of comprehensive education without the need for further legislation.
Some of the articles are not controversial, but others are extremely important. I instance article 3, which the Minister has described, where the area education boards may appoint committees for various purposes such as teaching appointments or reorganisation proposals. The hon. Member said that under the 1972 order all members of such committees must be board members. Under this article the board may appoint non-board members to the committees. What he did not explain was why that will be necessary. It could be a simple administrative improvement, as he suggested.
However, when one looks at these articles with a slightly suspicious eye, bearing in mind the Government's declared intention and policy in Northern Ireland on reorganisation, the article could be used to introduce people who are not board members to committees in order to influence area boards towards reorganisation. This may well be the case. The article could be used to appoint only those in favour of the Government's plan. The more I examine its implications, the more cautious I become of the exact purpose of this supposedly non-controversial order.
Article 5 is a major amendment. It amends several articles in the 1972 order and introduces an important new one. Its effect is to change the present procedure whereby an area board may only change the nature of or close schools within an overall development plan. Now, under the new order, it may open, close, or change individual schools not as part of an overall plan, but on a school-by-school basis. I believe this to be very important.
This is a procedure laid down for changing schools similar to that used in England and Wales, publication of notices, and so forth, and approval by the Minister. But article 5 provides that where a school has ceased to be maintained, whether by choice of the governors or by the action of the Government —and that is the operative word—the school will pay to the Government such money as the Government demand as the refund of public money spent on the school.
Previously, under the 1972 order, such repayment was only where the school chose to opt out. Now it could occur when it is closed or changed by action of the board under a new article, article 11. It is a different situation and is not a non-controversial position. It makes is very much simpler for the Government to force comprehensive change school by school and it affords a sanction by repayment of funds for those unwilling to oblige the Government by going comprehensive.
It throws up the weakness in the argument of so many Opposition Members when the hon. Gentleman speaks of forcing comprehensive change school by school. Does he not realise that, by definition, there is no such thing as change of secondary education towards a comprehensive system school by school? It is the system for the area that is comprehensive and not the individual school. I hope that at long last we can get that into the head of the Opposition.
That is not the position under this order. It could be done school by school, and we should like to hear from the Minister whether that is the case. I do not find the hon. Gentleman's intervention very relevant. Article 5 could be essential to the Government's reorganisation plans. That is its purpose.
Article 6 changes the rules for awarding scholarships and also controls the award of places at non-maintained schools. What does that mean? Does it mean that it could be used to prevent free places at any remaining grammar schools? That is a relevant question and the Minister should say whether the provision applies to remaining grammar schools.
The Minister properly gave a full account of article 10, which is an important provision. It extends the compulsory purchase power which the boards already have for the controlled schools to voluntary grammar schools. They have that power under article 95 of the 1972 order. Such compulsory purchase of adjacent land would be for playing fields or for extending school premises.
It is interesting that the article refers to the voluntary grammar schools as if the Government wanted to help the grammar schools. I do not know whether that is the purpose. Is that what it means? For example, if such an operation were to expand a grammar school, could it be in preparation for a change to its becoming a comprehensive school? That might well be the purpose of this article.
In exchange for the compulsory purchase order, the area board, it appears, takes places on the school's governing body. It is important that the Voluntary Schools Association in Northern Ireland has specifically rejected this article. Therefore, we are entitled to ask the Minister to give a full explanation of that. If one reads the explanatory note, it sounds a great deal more innocuous. It simply refers to power to put people on the boards. But I do not believe the position to be as innocuous as that note suggests.
Article 11 is complex. It is concerned with building grants to voluntary schools but, more importantly, with the repayment of such grants should the school cease to be maintained. It ties in, as the Minister said, with article 5. If a voluntary school of its own free will chooses to revert to independent status, one could argue that the article might be reasonable for the school to pay back public money spent on the school. I accept that position.
But suppose the school is in difficulties and does not agree with the area board; what happens if it has a pistol at its head and it is told to reorganise as a comprehensive or go independent? If it goes independent, it must pay back all the money that has been spent on the school. The practical fact is a Hobson's choice: it must go comprehensive. To make it worse, the article asks for repayment at today's prices.
Instead of saying that it is a joke, as I heard him say just now, the hon. Gentleman should realise that it is not a joke. There is very strong opposition to that provision throughout the Province. It is not a joke at all, and it was foolish of him to say as loudly as he did that it was. I do not think that parents in Northern Ireland will consider that to be the position. I have no comments to make on the other articles.
On 20th June, when the debate was adjourned, the hon. Gentleman, like me, was not present. He has admitted that and I admit it. Looking at the debate, we see that the arguments were adduced not by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell)—I exclude him from this—but by the hon. Members for Antrim North (Rev. Ian Paisley) and Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder). Their arguments were based entirely on the religious argument. They based their argument solely and simply on a detestation, which they have every right to have, of the Roman Catholic faith.
I have the report of the debate here: one has only to read it. Anyway, I am asking the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) about this matter, because I want the Tory Party's view. The hon. Gentleman has every right to argue about comprehensive education and so on. That is understandable. That is a fair political point. I am now asking a straight question and may we have a straight answer from the Tory Front Bench? Do the Tory Opposition agree with the arguments adduced by those two Ulster Members? The right hon. Member for Down, South is not involved. If the hon. Member for Abingdon says "No", will he say so openly so that we may know that he is not trying to waffle his way through on an argument about comprehensive education and the rest? Will he say whether he agrees with those hon. Members? If he does agree, will he have a chat with his hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison), because we should like his views?
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it right for a right hon. Member to stand up in this House and to say that in a speech that I made in this place there was detestation of any faith when the only mention that I made in that speech was:
It should be made clear that the majority of the schools we are dealing with are Roman Catholic voluntary schools.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Let us get it straight. The hon. Gentleman has a right to challenge me if I say something that he did not say in a speech. That is a very fair point of order. But may I point out and get on the record that in column 419—hope that the Tory Front Bench is listening—the hon. Member for Antrim, North is reported as having said:
A major religious issue is involved which we, as a House, need to face. I find it very disturbing that this matter has been almost skated over."—[Official Report, 20th June 1978; Vol. 952, c. 418–19.]
Is that not clear? Everyone knows the hon. Gentleman's attitude. I am asking the Tory Front Bench to get up and say how the Opposition really feel.
It is not for me to talk about the religions aspects of the matter. It is for those hon. Members from Northern Ireland to whom the right hon. Gentleman referred to speak for themselves. I am analysing these articles in the order on behalf of the Conservative Party, and I have done so. The religious matters raised by the right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) will no doubt be dealt with by the hon. Members concerned.
In view of the activities of Lord Melchett over the past two years, I want to know what the Government's real motives are. We shall await the Minister's comments with some anxiety as a result of the intervention by the right hon. Member for Bermondsey.
Of course, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have been a Member of the House for a long time. I simply said out loud, and obviously it was heard, that I thought that Members of the Conservative Front Bench would have the courage and decency to dissociate themselves from what was, I thought, a religious argument, because if they did not do so they would be cowards and humbugs. I did say that, but if that is incorrect or not the right thing to say, I humbly withdraw it.
As the Minister well knows—and he has referred to it earlier—the one reservation that my right hon. and hon. Friends and I have about the order is article 10. I do not run away from that argument. Right hon. and hon. Members on the Labour Benches should remember the conflict which exists in Northern Ireland between these two groupings and the irritation and the friction which can easily come about, which this House should not try to ignore. They do not ignore it when it suits their purpose. When they try to argue the special case for Northern Ireland and proportional representation for Europe for Northern Ireland, they do not run away from the difficulty of facing up to the real problems as they see them that exist there. Therefore, when I touch upon the real problem, the religious difficulties and the frictions which they bring about, I make no apology for that.
The Minister knows that we faced up to this in February when we wrote on 21st February to hise noble Friend saying that we had reservations about article 10. We pointed out our concern and we tried to say that historically this was a matter which was likely to bring about controversy in Northern Ireland, and we asked for reassurances. My right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), quite properly, raised aspects of this matter in the debate on 20th June.
The assurances which we received at the time from the noble Lord dealt mainly with an explanation of the appeals procedure against the vesting. Apart from a bare comment that compulsory purchase powers should be used with caution, he said very little about what we consider to be a very sensitive issue, and certainly gave no indication that either he or his Department were taking the attitude towards it that we think should be taken.
Article 10 deals with the compulsory acquisition of land for purposes of maintained schools or voluntary grammar schools. I did not mishear the hon. Gentleman when I asked him whether he was speaking about voluntary schools or maintained schools. Throughout his speech on this occasion, and in the past, he talked about voluntary schools.
What is the situation? On inquiry since 20th June—and I regret that this information was not made available to Northern Ireland Members well prior to 20th June—one discovers that the voluntary schools referred to in article 10, the voluntary grammar schools, do not want these powers. They have expressed the view very forcefully to the Minister that the desire for these powers did not originate with them. The Minister has in
his possession a letter dated 10th March 1978 in which the Association of Voluntary Grammar Schools stated:
We wish it to be understood that it is not we who are pressing for this new power.
That association of governing bodies of voluntary grammar schools covers voluntary grammar schools controlled by the Roman Catholic Church and various Churches within the Protestant demonations.
Therefore, in terms of article 10, we are not dealing with the voluntary schools. The voluntary grammar schools covered by the article do not want these powers. They have put that in writing. When a deputation from the association of those voluntary grammer schools went to the Department of Education, its members were told that this was "not a live issue" for voluntary grammar schools. They are left wondering why they have been included. They were also told that the article really refers to maintained primary schools.
In a letter written to me by one of its officers, the association states:
We are very well aware of the dangers inherent in the compulsory acquisition of land and cannot imagine any of our 57 school choosing to run headlong into such troubles.
So the issue tonight is maintained primary schools.
If that is so, why did the Minister make his remarkable statement on 20th June and some of the comments he has made tonight? On 20th June he said:
The voluntary school sector in Northern Ireland is a very important one, and it is obviously undesirable that a voluntary school's legitimate requirements can be frustrated by an inability to acquire land."—[Official Report, 20th June 1978; Vol. 952, c. 414.]
Does the hon. Gentleman not know that there is a difference between voluntary schools and maintained schools? Does he not know that the voluntary grammar schools do not want this power? Or is he deliberately considering maintained primary schools to be in reality voluntary primary schools? If he is doing that—and we have to consider that he is doing so deliberately, because he was reading a prepared brief—we might as well dispense with the charade of the maintained schools and refer to them all as voluntary primary schools.
I am trying to choose my words carefully. I am sure that any fair-minded person in this House or in Northern Ireland would say that if there is any primary school in Northern Ireland that is suffering from gross overcrowding and all the attendant problems and where every reasonable attempt has been made by negotiation to acquire essential land to provide extra classrooms, or perhaps an extension of canteen facilities or toilet facilities, no one would stand in the way of that school acquiring that land for such purposes.
We were told at the beginning of the week that the birth rate in Northern Ireland last year was the lowest in the history of the Province. It has dropped consistently over the past 15 years. The primary schools have no "bulge" of children going through them. The area education boards tell us that enrolments in primary schools in both the State sector and the voluntary maintained sector are down. Enrolments in all types of primary school are going down. Except in areas like West Belfast—and not even in every part of West Belfast, because it would not apply to Shankill Road or Sandy Row, for example—there is over-provision of primary school places. We are facing redundancy and unemployment among primary school teachers; there has been a cut back in the number of training places for teachers in primary schools. So we have to ask ourselves what many people are asking—what is this power required for now?
I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree, against the background that he has stated, that, nevertheless, there are instances, and I can think of some in my constituency, where, as a result of local movements, although the total enrolments in an area are down, there is an increased pressure on an individual school. That can happen consistently with a fall in total enrolments.
I hope that I covered that when I said that if there are places where pressure has built up, no one would want to deny that community the opportunity of essential extensions.
What is this power required for? Is it to obtain essential ground for building the sort of extensions that I have described, or is it to enable schools and other bodies to go empire building? Is it to enable voluntary schools and others to acquire playing fields, perhaps not adjacent to the schools, but some way from the schools?
If we were talking about grammar and other secondary schools, which have a massive requirement for recreational space, I could understand the argument, but I taught in primary schools in Northern Ireland and I could name many State primary schools that will never have playing fields because the State has decided that they cannot be afforded. Are there to be State schools without playing fields while the State tells voluntary schools that they can have the power to wrest land from unwilling sellers? Those are the questions that must be asked. They are the questions with which we have to live in our constituencies.
Are we or are we not talking about essential building? If we are, I want the Minister to tell me so. I come from an area of Craigavon where compulsory purchase sterilised 6,000 acres of prime agricultural land. I represent an agricultural constituency. Will the powers in the order be used to sterilise more good agricultural land? Will land be taken for a playing field that will be used by a primary school for perhaps one hour a week? That is what is feared in Northern Ireland. If the Minister can assure us that the power is for essential purposes and that no one will have his birthright taken from him for no good reason, I shall be reassured.
I do not accept the parity arguments—parity between the State and the Church in Northern Ireland or between here and Northern Ireland. Labour Members do not use the parity argument on other occasions. They say that there must be power sharing in Northern Ireland because we are different. Do not let them come to me and say that we must have parity in this area. When they give us parity on everything, they can use the parity argument on this order. I believe that the State should have a right to purchase compulsorily, but I do not believe that the right should be given to schools, whether they are Presbyterian, Church of Ireland, Roman Catholic, or otherwise.
I cannot understand all the details of some of the other provisions of the order, but there is a feeling in Northern Ireland that parts of the order will be used to further the Government's intention to force comprehensive education on the Province. In defence of the Government, it must be said that they have claimed consistently in the House that it is not their intention to coerce the people of Northern Ireland. If that is so, may we also have an assurance that there is nothing in the order that will be used to coerce them?
On 20th June, the hon, Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) said:
I do not know why, at this late hour, vesting powers will be given to these voluntary schools. Why is it that we are able to carry on for so long without such powers and then suddenly we are to have powers? In certain areas there would be great opposition to the expansion of certain of these schools.
Those words could have a sinister connotation.
We need to face that fact tonight. There is no use our talking only about voluntary schools. A major religious issue is involved which we, as a House, need to face."— [Official Report, 20th June 1978; Vol. 952, c. 419.]
All 10 Unionist Members here tonight will vote against the order because they do not want a change made in the law which would prevent the building or extension of Roman Catholic schools.
The hon. Member for Armagh castigates the Labour Party for introducing proportional representation for the European elections. The Labour Party has nothing to apologise for. The Unionists used the same argument about the Employment Protection Act—that there was no religious discrimination in Northern Ireland. Yet we in Northern Ireland know the attitude taken against Roman Catholic schools, the Roman Catholic minority and the Roman Catholic religion since the inception of the Northern Ireland State.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will not want to mislead the House. I am sure that he has not read my speech, but if he did he would see that I oppose the whole idea of sectarian education. I am all for the abolition of schools connected with religion or under the aegis of Churches. I have always taken that stand since I have been in the House.
The hon. Gentleman will not want to mislead the House. I will not make the same point as the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder), since I respect the right of conscience in these matters. The majority of voluntary schools are Protestant. The hon. Gentleman should not dismiss this as a Protestant-Catholic argument. He should keep the sectarian issue out of the debate, because it is not strictly relevant.
There are 18 articles and two schedules in the order, and the hon. Member for Armagh, who led for the Unionist Party, made it clear that the Unionists were terribly worried about article 10, although they would accept the two schedules. Let us not mince words: the opposition to the order and the reason that it did not pass before are based on article 10.
The Minister said that he knew of instances where the Catholic authorities in Northern Ireland had been refused or had found themselves unable to acquire land for educational purposes because of a provision written into a will 100 or 200 years ago. I know of a case in North Belfast where the Roman Catholic authorities have tried to acquire a school but legally are prevented from doing so because of conditions laid down in a will that in no circumstances should the land ever be bought by a Roman Catholic. This is the reason why there is such opposition to the order from Northern Ireland Unionist Members.
I believe the order to be essential. I also support the arguments for comprehensive schools. We can accept the attitude of Northern Ireland Unionists. We can even accept their bigotry, because we know what motivates them. But we cannot accept the attitude of the hon. Member for Abingdon, who does not have the courage to say that he is trying to play the Orange card on this issue, as he and his Leader have been doing in recent months, because they believe that the Unionist vote from Northern Ireland may be necessary if a certain event occurs in the near future.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) said, let the Tory Opposition say honestly why they oppose the order. It is to gain the votes of Northern Ireland Unionists.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for giving way, because it enables me to explain what is not clear to hon. Gentlemen opposite, which is that the criticism made from the official Opposition Front Bench of article 10 arises because the extension of the compulsory purchase power to voluntary grammar schools might, in our opinion, be used to expand a grammar school in preparation for changing it to a comprehensive school.
If the Minister can remove this apprehension—this fear—from our minds, no one will be happier than I. But that is the criticism that we make. That is the possible interpretation. We see in article 10 a possible threat to voluntary grammar schools—Catholic as well as the other kind.
I am sure that it has occurred to my hon. Friend to ask the hon. Member for Epping Forest to say whether the Opposition are in favour of compulsory purchase for voluntary and maintained schools on a parity with other schools in the Province. That is the simple question. It is not a fear of comprehensive education. Do the Opposition accept the principle of compulsory purchase?
I am glad that my hon. Friend has intervened. He has posed certain questions which I believe are directed at the Opposition Front Bench, not at Unionist Members. The attempt to absolve the Conservative Opposition of any bias on this issue has failed. I understand that the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) may have some connection with voluntary schools in Northern Ireland. If that is so, he has certainly failed to show his concern tonight. When the votes are counted here tonight, the Conservative Opposition should show us where they stand. If they go into the Lobby with Northern Ireland Members, the electorate in Northern Ireland will be under no illusions what their intentions are.
I shall be brief so that the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) can take part in this debate, if he succeeds in catching your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This debate would not be taking place but for the fact that the hon. Member and I were the only two hon. Members to challenge the order. It is surprising that the Chamber is packed tonight. We have had a strong speech from the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker), but there was silence on 20th June when we were informed by one of the Whips that the Unionist group had agreed that the order would go through on the nod. The order was put in at the end of a series of Northern Ireland orders so that it would pass unnoticed through the House. I would like some credit, some praise from Labour Members. Instead there has been arrogance and ignorance.
I am proud to be identified with Ulster when I hear such nonsense from the Labour Benches. I do not accept what the Under-Secretary said in his opening remarks when he castigated hon. Members for not making representations to him when a letter about the draft order was sent to them. There is no power to amend a draft order. Northern Ireland is in a second class position within the United Kingdom, under a type of colonial direct rule.
I cannot be party to this present procedure whereby an hon. Member is supposed to make representation and to act as an adviser to an Under-Secretary or any other Minister in the Northern Ireland Office. The more the Under-Secretary complains about what is happening—about the fact, for example, that we challenged this order and made sure that it did not get through on 20th June—the more pleasure I get, because I hope that the day will soon come when we can bring this scandalous system of government of Northern Ireland to an end. Then, perhaps, the Under-Secretary will be able to go back to his constituents and look after them. The people of Northern Ireland are not being properly looked after at the moment. Since the order failed to be approved on 20th June because there were fewer than 40 Members taking part in the Division. On the last time out—to use a racing phrase. permissible. as I think the Secretary of State is obviously playing an irresponsible game with Ulster's education—I have made inquiries among members of the education and library boards. In no case was their intent specifically drawn to the real intention and purpose of article 10. When it was mentioned at all in the meetings of the education boards it was always put to member that a voluntary grammar school might need to take over adjoining land or property for expansion but that the power would be exercised only rarely. However, care was taken not to mention that the main purpose of the article was to facilitate the furtherance of sectarian education by enabling maintained schools—not just voluntary grammar schools which do not wish to have this power—to expand by getting the Department of Education to vest adjoining property by compulsory purchase against the wishes of the owner of the land or property.
In educational matters—I interrupted the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) to emphasise the point; I did not bother to interrupt the former Chief Whip of the Labour Party because it was pointless to do so—I have always been a staunch advocate of ending religious apartheid between schools. Surely we can have religious neutrality to allow boys and girls from the earliest possible age, including nursery school age, to be educated together and to grow up together. I deplored the decision of the former Conservative Administration to encourage the development of sectarian-based nursery schools—a policy which I regret to say the present Secretary of State has done nothing to change, and a good deal to support. I am totally opposed to sectarianism in education. I want to see youngsters growing up together. I wish to goodness that those hon. Gentlemen on the Government Benches who are so voluble in this House would seek to end sectarian education in Northern Ireland. That would help. That would be the great leap forward. Instead of that we hear nothing but words of prejudice which the hon. Gentleman is all too able to offer this House.
The great drawback to the recent Act on integrated schools in Northern Ireland is that its provisions deliberately accept that both religions should be involved in the management of such schools. That is the recent measure that started in the House of Lords. I want to see a religiously neutral system without formal Church representation but with access by the clergy to the schools for the purpose of religious instruction of a voluntary nature.
I do not think that this order will help the situation. I fear that article 10 is an abject surrender to those reactionary forces who are intent on the maintenance of sectarian education in Northern Ireland and for whom no political trick is too base or too low to be employed in the cause of separate denominational schools. If it is true, as the Minister alleged, that some denominational schools are having difficulty in acquiring adjoining property for expansion, the courageous course, the prudent course, the decent course, the radical and right course is to tell them that they will have to do the best they can with their own resources, but not to rely upon the State compulsorily to vest land on their behalf. Of course these schools will seek more land and more property, because the money is to come not out of their pockets but out of the pockets of the taxpayer. Therefore, there is no restriction on their ambitions to expand.
The Under-Secretary of State has given the impression that the power of vesting
land against the wishes of the owner of that land will seldom be exercised. How does he know that the power will be exercised so rarely? Once power is given the floodgates will be opened. I look at what the Minister said during the debate on 20th June. His words clearly contained a threat. He said:
it is obviously undesirable that a voluntary school's legitimate requirements can be frustrated by an inability to acquire land."—[Official Report, 20th June 1978: Vol. 952, c. 414.]
In my opinion, those words have an ominous ring. They have the ring of the worlds of another little dictator who was making allegedly justifiable demands in Europe in 1938 and 1939. "A school's legitimate requirements can be frustrated", and therefore they must have this power.
I applaud the hon. Gentleman's stance against sectarian education. It is a viewpoint which I hold and have done for a very long time. But does he not realise that his stance in the context of his voting in the way that he is about to vote, I believe—
—is bound to be construed, in the present situation in Northern Ireland, as being that of a bigoted majority community against a minority community? By no stretch of the imagination can it be construed as the nonsectarian approach that he claims. Does he realise that the Tory Party is here playing the card, bedevilling the issue without any integrity of thought, in order to play up to the Ulster Unionists, thereby intensifying and deepening the terrible circumstances of Northern Ireland? Does he not concede, as one who is honest and believes in non-sectarian education, that he should think over what I have said?
I am grateful for that intervention because it enables me to explain the history of education in Ireland. In the debate last month I made the important point that at no time since the inception of the national system of education in Ireland in 1832 had any Government agreed to the compulsory acquisition of land for the benefit of a religious organisation. The right to purchase, land compulsorily has never been extended to a non-State school, body or institution in Northern or Southern Ireland. I want that position maintained.
After so many decades and administrations, good and bad, in Ireland this pernicious law is now being introduced. I ask Labour Members many of whom can be most reasonable, to reconsider their position and to join us in voting against the compulsory acquisition of land, which will only add to the trouble in Northern Ireland. Article 10 may introduce the sort of hatred and controversy of which we in Northern Ireland have had enough.
The Under-Secretary said that if appropriate a local inquiry can be appointed. Let me quote a case from my constituency. Where a public inquiry was granted. The Lesnevin training school was set up against the wishes of the local people in Newtownards. The Government official pledged to the inspector who conducted the inquiry that the school would be there for only three years and be closed by 1976. In 1977 the Government officials applied to make that school permanent. That is the value of a public inquiry, and of a pledge from the Government.
I ask the House to reject the order.
This has been a very sad debate because it causes one to wonder what various Governments have tired to do since 1968. It is sad, too, because all the old sores have reappeared, starting with the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), and continuing with the speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), and the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker).
The debate should show the Conservatives the danger and the folly of their proposals to return powers to local government, particularly if those powers should include education. We see the difficulties that could and would arise. It should also be a salutary lesson to my hon. Friends the Ministers as to the prospects of increasing the number of parliamentary B Specials with the possibility of increasing the number of seats in Northern Ireland, because the difficulties of the past are not being overcome. They are being resurrected in the most basic way. The attitude is "what we have we hold. We will not have Catholic children playing on Protestant land"—or Methodist children playing on Catholic land, or Protestant children playing on Catholic land. That is the basis of the argument.
The attitude is "If it is a toilet or an extra class room or something of that nature, that is fine, but we cannot have playing fields, we cannot have anything which might affect the basic position of land holding." I understand that, because I am part of that same tradition myself. The hon. Member for Armagh agrees with me. He understands the point that I am making. He made it himself. What I am suggesting is that we have a very long way to go still on this matter—
When the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) made his point about article 10—I do not know whether he will be with us for the rest of the evening—he used the most specious of arguments to try to get round this problem.
He said that they could support the Ulster Unionists by using the anti-comprehensive argument. Out of the wording of these articles, the Conservatives have conjured up ideas, impressions and meanings which are just not there. Somehow my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State was mean, base, tricky—some sort of deceitful scamp. I ask hon. Members to look at my hon. Friend. He is clearly none of those things. Is Lord Melchett—the playboy of the Six Counties—any of those things? Certainly not! Can he in any way be considered in that sort of context?
The purpose of the order is simply to provide a bit of equity. The hon. Member for Armagh understands the problem as I understand it. Surely we can come together on this issue of the educational facilities, the play facilities, of our children, Catholic or Protestant, maintained or voluntary, so that they may have what is needed. I have always admired the logic of the hon. Member, while frequently not agreeing with his premises. When he reads his speech, I ask him to think out what he said about the position of the schools in which he taught. They did not have these facilities. I put it to him that the power existed to get those facilities, whether that power was used or not. It could have been done under the power of the area boards, which is all that article 10 is offering. Surely, if we are to get over the past, we should give that same power to the voluntary and maintained schools.
It is to be regretted that tonight the ceiling on time was not lifted and an opportunity given to hon. Members from Northern Ireland and other hon. Members to discuss the draft order thoroughly. I told the Whips "This is a matter not to be put under the carpet but to be fully ventilated". I know that the Minister has to reply to the debate, and other hon. Members from Northern Ireland no doubt want to make known their stand after what has been said. It is an ill service to the people of Northern Ireland and to this House that it is not prepared to discuss issues.
I raised the issue in our last debate, and the former Chief Whip of the Labour Party, the right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), who has now left us, said that my speech and that of the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) were filled with detestation of the Roman Catholic faith. I challenge him to show me any criticism of the Roman Catholic faith in either speech. We are dealing with an issue, and the issue is in regard to maintained schools, which are Roman Catholic schools.
A Labour Back Bencher said that one could not bring in comprehensive education school by school. He was only showing his own ignorance of what is happening, for that is exactly what is happening in Northern Ireland. It is board by board that the attempt is being made to bring in comprehensive education, and school by school, because certain schools in the boards have refused They happen to be voluntary grammar schools.
Let it be made clear that there are two types of education in Northern Ireland. There is State education, and there are maintained schools, which are Roman Catholic schools. There may be one or two Protestant maintained schools left in the primary sector, but there are not very many.
We are dealing tonight with two propositions—voluntary grammar schools, the majority of which are Protestant, and maintained schools, the vast majority of which are Roman Catholic. But the voluntary grammar schools have said that they do not want what is proposed. I want to know why they are linked with the other schools in the proposals before us. If they did not want it, why were they not left out? I know the reason. It is that the Government wanted to argue that they were giving this to all schools, and that the grammar schools were automatically linked with it.
The Minister said that there was no opposition to the proposals. Opposition was given to his Department from the beginning, and it was strongly voiced in Northern Ireland. In fact, the Department of Education sent a document round the various education authorites about these proposals. I noticed that the hon. Gentleman did not tell us how many associations objected. He did not list them.
Unfortunately, some of those voicing strong opinions tonight against what was said in the last debate were not present then. If they had been, they would have had an opportunity to speak there and then, and it ill becomes them to criticise Members from Northern Ireland who voiced their opposition in the proper manner.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) said that we were B Specials—
Knowing what has been said about the B Specials in the House, and having listened to the lying, scandalous statements made about them in the House, that they killed innocent Roman Catholics, when we know that in the Province of Northern Ireland since direct rule has come in more people have been killed than were ever killed in the so-called 50 years of misrule—
I shall return to the order. I want to deal with it. This is where the matter should be discussed, but it should not be a debate of hour and a half. It is an important matter. The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) talked about its largeness. Other matters were raised in the last debate. There was the matter of the Gaelic Athletic Association, which is now forgotten, and the Sports Council.
The Minister spoke about playgrounds. The playgrounds in the maintained schools are not used exclusively by the children who attend the schools. In the evenings, not only school property but other property is used for church functions. At the present time a push is being made by the GAA. We know the rules of the GAA—rules which discriminate against members of the Army and of the RUC. It seems to me that an attempt can be made through this order to get ground compulsorily, to be used not by the children by whom it is supposed to be used but used afterwards for other functions, including GAA functions, as happens on school playgrounds at present. Certainly the people whom I represent are not prepared to see their money used to buy playgrounds which will not be used exclusively by the children of those schools, but will be used for these other functions.
These are very important matters. If the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) can name one school which is stuck for proper school facilities, I shall be glad to lend my weight in order to see that that school gets proper facilities. But I shall not lend my weight, or the weight of the people whom I represent, to the compulsory buying of property which will be used not for that specific educational purpose but for other purposes. That is the main argument tonight, and there is no use this House trying to make attacks on anyone's individual and religious standing.
I am a Protestant. I have no apology to make for my Protestantism, and I have no apology to make for the principles of Protestantism. If hon. Members want to attack the Protestant people of Northern Ireland, let me tell them that those people will not surrender their faith or be brow-beaten by this House or any other House. I want to make that perfectly clear. I shall not sit quietly in this House. I shall defend what the people sent me here to defend, and this House had better know that.
It seems that in this House those hon. Members from Ulster who are Protestants can be attacked. They can be called any name which can be thought up. But it also seems that they are not allowed to defend themselves. In fact, we have been told tonight that the Protestant people of Northern Ireland should not be rightly represented in this House. One hon. Member has told us that we should be disfranchised. Talk about discrimination! That hon. Gentleman does not want more Northern Ireland Members. Why? Because those hon. Members would say things which were unpalatable to him.
I thought that this House believed in democracy. I thought that this House believed that people who are elected have a right to speak. I have not tried to hide the matter in any way. I have made my position absolutely and perfectly clear. I am sorry that we have not had time to discuss the order properly. There are provisions in it relating to other matters, such as the nominated committees. I am totally opposed to such committees having the power to form other committees. I know what they are being formed for. They are being formed to advise on how to bring in comprehensive education.
I know that the Minister needs time to reply. We should have had a longer debate on this issue so that everyones might have taken part and so that we could have had a thorough discussion. But this Order in Council business muzzles Members from Northern Ireland from expressing their wishes in a full, frank and free manner.
I shall take only one minute. I do not intervene in order to say anything hurtful to the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley). I have no desire to bandy words with him. I know where he stands, and I think that he knows where I stand. I leave it at that.
I did read the report of the debate on 20th June. The speeches were quite illuminating. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) made an extremely good speech in which he asked fundamental questions, particularly with regard to the Crichel Down rules and the question of land being restored to its proper owners. That was absolutely right—first class.
The speeches made by the hon. Member for Antrim, North and the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) I found offensive. In the light of what my hon. Friend the Minister has said, we should forget all the religious arguments, cant and all that row. That, by the way, was decided in the Education Act 1944. The kind of education system we have this side of the Irish Sea was decided a long time ago.
People in Northern Ireland—be they Protestant, Catholic, or whatever—who want land for schools and want to apply for a compulsory purchase order are unable to do it alone. They must go to area boards, and then there may be appeals. They may have to go through the whole procedure. No one is suggesting—except the hon. Member for Down, North, in his wild fantasies—that people can do exactly what they want because they have a particular religious view.
It is regrettable that this debate has taken place in a totally inappropriate atmosphere—an atmosphere set by the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave). He made a thoroughly squalid speech. I wish I had longer than three minutes to reply to the tone and content of what he said. He is responsible for the tone of the whole debate.
The truth is that we are talking about a simple matter of equity. That is all. If this applied to anywhere else than Northern Ireland, it would be treated as a thoroughly innocuous matter. But tonight, set off by the hon. Member for Abingdon, we descended into the pit of despair. Anybody who reads Hansard the day after tomorrow will surely come to this view.
We should have had a thoroughly reasoned argument about the ability of schools to vest land which they require, either for building or other purposes. This ability has existed in the rest of the United Kingdom since 1944. That is 34 years ago—almost half a century.
The hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) made what was probably the only reasoned argument from the Opposition Benches tonight. He said that some elements were opposed to article 10. I am afraid they are very few and far between. Fifty-one organisations were contacted, and sent details of what was proposed, and only three were opposed to them. The vast majority of opinion in Northern Ireland, inside and outside government, were in favour of our proposals. The hon. Member asked what purposes the land would be used for. I have spelt that out on two occasions. We are talking only about land that will be required—
|Division No. 3061]||AYES||[2.13 a.m.>|
|Archer, Peter||Carter, Ray||Cox, Thomas (Tooting)|
|Bstes, Alf||Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)||Cryer, Bob|
|Bishop, E. S.||Coleman, Donald||Davidson, Arthur|
|Booth, Rt Hon Albert||Concannon, Rt Hon J. D.||Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)|
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)||McDonald, Dr. Oonagh||Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)|
|Dormand, J. D.||MacFarquhar, Roderick||Skinner, Dennis|
|Ellis, John (Brlgg & Scun)||Maclennan, Robert||Smith, Rt Hon John (N Lanarkshire)|
|English, Michael||McNamara, Kevin||Snape, Peter|
|Evans, John (Newton)||Mallalleu, J. p. w.||Spearing, Nigel|
|Fitt, Gerald (Belfast W)||Marks, Kenneth||Strang, Gavin|
|Flannery, Martin||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)|
|Foot, Rr Hon Michael||Mellish, Rt Hon Robert||Tinn, James|
|Fowler, Jerry (The Wrekin)||Morton, George||Ward, Michael|
|Freud, Clement||Moyle, Rt Hon Roland||Watkinson, John|
|Graham, Ted||Newens, Stanley||Wellbeloved, James|
|Hardy, Peter||Noble, Mike||Williams, Alan Lee (Homch'ch)|
|Harrison, Col Sir Harwood (Eye)||Ogden, Eric||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Huckfleld, Les||O'Halloran, Michael||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Kinnock, Neil||Palmer, Arthur|
|Lamond, James||Pavitt, Laurie||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Latham, Arthur (Paddington)||Richardson, Miss Jo||Mr. James Hamilton and|
|Luard, Evan||Roderick, Caerwyn||Mr. A. W. Stallard.|
|Craig, Rt Hon William (Belfast E)|
|TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Mr. James Kilfedder and|
|Rev. Ian Paisley.|
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should like to ask for your ruling. Is it in order for a Member of this House to stand at the door when hon. Members are voting and to pass remarks on how they vote? The right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), the former Government Chief Whip, stood at the door tonight—I was a Teller—and made remarks to two of my colleagues, the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig) and the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. Dunlop), as they voted. I should like a ruling on that matter.