Education (Northern Ireland)

– in the House of Commons at 7:25 pm on 5 February 1987.

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Photo of Dr Brian Mawhinney Dr Brian Mawhinney Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Northern Ireland Office) 7:25, 5 February 1987

I beg to move, That the draft Education (Northern Ireland) Order 1987, which was laid before this House on 14th January, be approved.

The main purpose of the draft order is to implement the Government's decision to transfer responsibility for the education of mentally handicapped children in Northern Ireland from the Department of Health and Social Services to the Department of Education. A consultative document was widely distributed to statutory and voluntary bodies in both the health and personal social services and education sectors, to trade unions, political parties, parents' groups and individuals who had shown an interest in the subject. The document was also referred to the Northern Ireland Assembly for consideration.

Having given careful consideration to the responses, the Government agreed with the substantial body of opinion, including that of the Assembly, that mentally handicapped children should be given the statutory right to education. The Government concluded that the most appropriate way of meeting the needs of these children was to bring them into the statutory education system. It is intended that the transfer of the responsibility will take effect from 1 April this year.

The most immediate and significant change will be that from that date mentally handicapped children will no longer be determined to be unsuitable for education in schools. Instead, they will be treated as pupils with special educational needs and will be entitled to receive full-time education. This order will bring the law on special education in Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the United Kingdom. The provision of health and social services for the mentally handicapped. will remain the responsibility of the DHSS and the health and social services boards.

I shall now deal with the provision of the draft order concerning the transfer of responsibility. Article 3 provides for the repeal of those parts of the Education and Library (Northern Ireland) Order 1986, the principal order, which requires the education and library boards to determine mentally handicapped children as unsuitable for education at school, and for the repeal of the remaining parts of the Mental Health Act (Northern Ireland) 1961, under which care and supervision is presently provided for such children. It also makes consequential amendments to article 133(2) of the 1980 order, which excludes mentally handicapped children from the powers and duties imposed by that order.

Schedule 1 contains transitional provisions relating to the children and the transfer of staff and property. Paragraph 2 provides that children who hitherto have been determined as unsuitable for education at school will be regarded as having special educational needs which require education and library boards to determine the special educational provisions that should be made for them. It was originally proposed that boards should be allowed a period of 12 months from the date of the transfer to prepare the formal record of special educational provisions to be made to meet the needs of each of these children. However, during the consultation period on the draft order, representations were received that this would not allow sufficient time for boards to carry out this taslk for all the children concerned. The Government accept that the transfer of responsibility will mean an increased workload for the special education departments of boards, so I have decided to respond to the representations by increasing the period from 12 months to two years.

Paragraph 3 of the schedule provides for the transfer of staff from the employment of health and social services boards to the employment of education and library boards. The staff involved are those employed wholly or mainly with mentally handicapped children and includes teachers, child care and ancillary staff. It is the Government's intention that they shall be transferred on terms and conditions of employment not less favourable than those enjoyed prior to the transfer and, in the unlikely event that someone should be worse off after the transfer, that compensation shall be paid. I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members will agree that where Government impose such a change on staff they should be adequately protected.

The transfer of property, including school buildings and equipment, to the ownership of education and library boards is provided for in paragraph 4. Not all of the school buildings will be transferring permanently because some are on hospital sites and others are not considered suitable for long-term use as schools. In those cases, the premises will continue to be used as a school until alternative accommodation is provided by education and library boards.

Paragraph 5 of the schedule will enable the existing special care schools to be recognised as controlled special schools with effect from 1 April, without education and library boards having to follow all the procedures required for school development proposals by article 14 of the principal order.

The Government have always recognised that the education service would require additional finance to take on that responsibility. I have already made some £1·7 million available to the education and library boards in the current financial year. That has enabled them to place an order for 50 new purpose-built buses, to provide temporary classrooms, to do other minor works immediately at some schools to facilitate the separation of children and adults and to reduce class size and it has enabled them to place orders for additional equipment and teaching resources to enhance the provisions available to the schools.

For 1987–88, provision has been made for additional recurrent funds of almost £3 million. That will enable the schools to employ additional teaching and other staff and for home tuition to be provided for children who are unable to attend school. It has also enabled the education and library boards to employ additional administrative and professional staff and generally to enhance the provisions made for the children.

Provision has also been made for a new capital programme that will allow the education and library boards to make a start on replacing or improving the existing buildings. A total of £2 million has been provided for 1987–88.

The remaining provisions of the order make a number of miscellaneous changes to the 1986 order which do not arise from the transfer of responsibility for mentally handicapped children but which are also important. Article 4 is concerned with proposals for the establishment, amalgamation or closure of schools and places a duty on the education and library boards or other body making the proposals to implement it if it has been approved by my Department. The approved proposal can be modified subsequently by my Department in response to a request by the board or other body.

Article 5 gives my Department specific power to make regulations regarding the operation of schools and sets out the provisions that may be included in such regulations.

Article 6 gives my Department powers to prescribe in regulations requirements which call for certain arrangements regarding the pupils for whom provision is to be made in special schools to be subject to my Department's approval. There is similar provision in the Education Act 1981.

The purpose of article 7 is to require that school registers should contain information about all the pupils in a school, not just those of compulsory school age as at present.

Article 8 enables my Department to make regulations concerning the eligibility of persons to be employed as teachers. It also re-enacts the existing provision relating to the making of regulations about the terms and conditions of the employment of teachers.

Article 9 gives my Department similar powers in regard to making regulations about the employment of non-teaching staff.

Article 10 removes the existing requirement that education and library boards should give caretakers and groundsmen six month's notice to recover possession of their residences on termination of their employment.

Article 11 enables an education and library board to permit other persons to use the board's spare computer capacity on agreed terms. That provision follows similar provision to district councils in Northern Ireland under the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order 1985.

Article 12 removes the requirement on my Department to produce an annual report. My Department will, of course, continue to produce occasional reports on issues of particular interest and to publish its regular statistical bulletins.

The purpose of Article 13 is to remove the requirement that my Department should make regulations governing its powers to pay grants to certain voluntary schools in respect of the provision of milk, meals and other refreshments. The grants will continue to be paid using the existing powers relating to the payment of grant to voluntary schools rather than the present regulations.

Article 14 replaces managers of a grant-aided school with, "Boards of Governors" in the provision in the principal order relating to the production of documents in evidence in legal proceedings.

Article 15 will enable an education and library board to seek a direction from the Department where the naming of a school selected by a parent in a school attendance order would be in conflict with the board's policy.

Article 16 and schedule 2 repeal provisions that are spent or have become unnecessary with the passage of time or because of other provisons in the order.

Articles 4 to 9 and 12 are in line with corresponding education law in Britain.

If hon. Members wish to raise any points, I shall do my best to reply at the end of the debate, subject to the leave of the House.

The order is concerned with a major step forward in the provision of education for a small but very important group of our children, and I commend it to the House.

Photo of Mr Enoch Powell Mr Enoch Powell , South Down 7:36, 5 February 1987

I intervene in the debate principally for one reason, namely, the acute anxiety that is evidently still felt in Northern Ireland among members of the staff who will be transferred under these arrangements to the employment of the education and library boards. In that light, no doubt like other hon. Members, I have studied carefully the provisions of schedule 1 and I hope that it will be possible before the end of the debate for the Minister to give a form of assurance that will go far to removing the anxieties currently felt by those affected.

The provisions for the transfer of staff in paragraph 3 of the schedule are of two sorts. First, there is the scheme governing the transfer and then there are the regulations governing the compensation, where compensation falls to be paid. Over the regulations there will be some, although limited, future control because, of course, the reference in paragraph 9 to "negative resolution", as the aficionados of this type of legislation are well aware, does not mean what it says. Nevertheless, there is a convention whereby the Government, upon the request of the Opposition, provide time for the consideration of regulations that would otherwise be subject to what we call a prayer. Therefore, we are not entirely saying goodbye to the provisions that will be made for compensation. However, unless I am mistaken, there is no such future look that we are going to get at the provisions governed by the making of a scheme. That is why it is appropriate that the Minister should be able, on this occasion, before we take leave of the order, to give some assurances.

Paragraph 3 (3) states: as long as a transferred officer is engaged in duties reasonably comparable to those in which he was engaged immediately before 1st April 1987, the scale of his . remuneration; and the other terms and conditions of his employment must be taken as a whole not less favourable". That seems to be all right so far as it goes. However, many of those employed under the health boards in the education— it is education— of the mentally handicapped have been looking forward to a career in that service and they have been trained to a standard fully equal to that of their colleagues in the ordinary education service though for a specialised purpose. It is far from clear from what has been said by the Minister so far or from a study of the terms of the schedule that those persons may not find themselves at a disadvantage in future competitive appointments compared with those who have come up through the odinary channels of the education service.

The Minister ought to be prepared to give to the House this evening some reassurance that the career prospects— I apologise if I am not making the proposition in precisely and exactly the correct terms, but that is a general term and I hope it is well understood— of those who will be transferred will not be less favourable than they had reason to expect under their former conditions of employment. That is a request which I hope the Minister will be able to discharge because I have satisfied myself that the anxiety which is felt is widespread and very real and is something with which we ought to deal.

That having been said, I will not pass up the opportunity of expressing my anxiety about the act of policy which, through this order, is being transferred or imitated or duplicated in Northern Ireland from Great Britain.

It was an attractive, indeed a noble, proposition that the education of the mentally handicapped was education and a real part of education and should be so regarded, and that those who suffered from mental handicap should be educated within the same educational service as their more fortunate contemporaries. That was a very natural and attractive proposition, and legislation has been framed now on both sides of the Irish sea to give effect to it. As so often, it is our experience in Northern Ireland, since we come late to ditto-ing legislation on the mainland, that when people are already beginning to have doubts as to the soundness of what has happened on the mainland, we in Northern Ireland are still in the full flush of enthusiasm. The classic example of that was that we caught up with the bright new idea of new towns just when new towns were going out of fashion in Great Britain, with disastrous consequences in a place called Craigavon; but I will not enter into that.

Photo of Mr John Hume Mr John Hume , Foyle

We told them so in advance.

Photo of Mr Enoch Powell Mr Enoch Powell , South Down

Yes, they were told so. Very often these mistakes are made by Governments which have been told so; but the power of fashion in its heyday is almost irresistible. There is an element of fashion in play in what we are doing here. We must not be surprised if in years to come those parents and others who have welcomed the prospect of mentally handicapped children having their special educational needs dealt with within the education service experience a degree of disappointment.

There are two problems. The first is that those with special educational needs—and I noted carefully what the Minister said about the need for additional resources— are going to be competing for attention with their more fortunate contemporaries. This is in the nature of things. even in large centres of population, and will be especially so in the rural areas where, of necessity, educational establishments are fairly small. We are placing those with special educational needs in a setting in which they will be competing for attention and for resources with those who do not have special educational needs. It is far from certain that in that competition they will come off best or gain the valuation of their special needs that they might have looked forward to under the old regime.

The second problem is that mental handicap brings with it very special requirements on the part of those who teach and train and calls for special endowments on the part of the persons who are selected—it is usually self-selected—for that task. I remember from 25 years ago as Minister of Health, when the Ministry of Health was responsible here in England and Wales, how immensely struck I was by the capabilities, hopefulness and— the word is unavoidable—dedication of those in the Health Service who were dealing with the mentally handicapped.

One fears that with the merging of the provision for those special needs into the general education service something of that special enthusiasm and dedication will inevitably he lost. This is not a moment perhaps for these forebodings to cloud our minds but I could not leave the opportunity without expressing them. I know that I am not alone in entertaining them, amongst those who have dedicated themselves especially to interest in the mentally handicapped. In saying that I have in mind especially my right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) who, as is generally known in Northern Ireland, long before he became a politician and a Member of Parliament was closely involved in the care of the mentally handicapped in his own area.

There are two parts to this order which have no necessary connection with one another. I have been dealing with that part which concerns the mentally handicapped; but the greater part of the order, in terms of volume if not necessarily of importance, is concerned with certain amendments to the principal legislation, the order of 1986. Over these the Minister glided with a well-tuned brief, indicating the contents of each of the paragraphs and articles as he touched upon them. One or two of them deserve to be looked at more carefully.

In doing so one is constantly reminded — and I apologise if I return to a theme which is perhaps not entirely unfamiliar to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, since you seem to be the one unchanging feature in the scene of Northern Ireland legislation by Order in Council — that if these amendments were being made by a Bill, as they would be in Great Britain. we would be attending to what is happening in a very different way and very much more specifically and jealously than we are able to do in the ambit of this debate on the order.

I was struck by article 5, the regulations which can be made "As to carrying on of grant-aided schools". My eye fell upon paragraph 17A(2)(d) dealing with regulations with respect to the curriculum and time-table to be followed in such schools"; and enabling the Department to prohibit the use in such schools of any book or other teaching material of which the Department does not approve It may be that coming events are casting their shadow before, but there are those of us who are disturbed at what we hear as to the intention in England and Wales that the Secretary of State for Education and a Government Department shall lay down in precise detail the contents of the curriculum and the timetable of the schools— what has commonly, though not necessarily accurately, come to be regarded as the French method.

If that is what lies behind these two subparagraphs of I 7A(2), then I have to say that I fear the worst from this new development in education policy. I really do fear the consequences of an education department taking upon itself by regulation the laying down of the curriculum and the timetable for all the schools under its control. While I can see the grounds on which a Department might want to prohibit the use in schools of a particular book— indeed I have seen books of which one could wish to see the use prohibited— I am far from sure that a prohibition issuing from a central Department is the right way to achieve that desirable end. I note with dismay—and perhaps some of these words will reach the Province to which this order applies— that provision is being made under this article for regulations which will enable the Department to lay down curriculum and timetable arid to prohibit books or teaching material in the grant-aided schools in Northern Ireland. I hope the Minister will be able to say something about that.

I pass over article 8 Regulations as to employment of teachers with one observation only because I think that there is either an error or a misprint. It appears in new article 70(2)(e)prohibiting or restricting the employment or further employment of teachers on medical grounds, in cases of misconduct and on educational grounds. My submission—perhaps it is not too late for a verbal correction, if that is all that is necessary—is that the word "and" in the last phrase should be "or". Otherwise it will only be possible to prohibit or restrict the employment of teachers if medical grounds, misconduct and educational grounds are all available in the same case. No doubt the Minister will have that looked at.

I come to something rather more disturbing in article 10. There has not yet been an opportunity for a representative of Her Majesty's Opposition to intervene in the debate, but I cannot think that they will have acquiesced with equanimity in the removal of the safeguard of a six months' notice-to-quit from caretakers, groundsmen and so on, while retaining that protection for teachers—an instance of class discrimination which I should not have thought would attract the support of the occupants of the Opposition Front Bench. There are no Opposition occupants of any other Benches at the moment.

It may be awkward to have a caretaker or a groundsman working out the six months' notice if one wants to get hold of the premises in which he is residing, but I cannot see that the same difficulty does not largely apply to a teacher who is occupying a similar residence. Nor does it seem to me that it will be easier for a groundsman or a caretaker to find other accommodation than it would be for a teacher to find other accommodation. Is the introduction of that discrimination really justified? And is it worth withdrawing this protection from caretakers, groundsmen and so on for the convenience of securing a summary eviction?

I say that with the more warmth because I am at the moment concerned with the fate of a lady who was the warden of a youth hostel in my constituency who, for health reasons, had to relinquish that post and has still not been satisfactorily rehoused after a lapse of many months. We are talking about real personal problems as we slide over the amending articles of the order. So to that article, too, I hope that the Minister will give attention when he replies.

Photo of Mr John Hume Mr John Hume , Foyle 7:52, 5 February 1987

I welcome the order because it is, in the words of the Minister, a major step forward, even though it is long overdue. When I first entered public life in Northern Ireland in the old Stormont Parliament in 1969 one of the first issues that I raised was the resentment felt that the mentally handicapped were being educated not within the education system but within the Health Service, which placed upon them a sort of official stigma that they were uneducable. I am glad that, 18 years later, it has finally been accepted that they should be entitled to be educated in exactly the same system as all other children and therefore be subject to the same advantages, such as books and transport, which they have been denied up to now.

In addition, I rise to echo what the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) said about the anxiety that exists among the staff of the special care service in Northern Ireland that some of them may lose out because of the change. I have spoken privately to the Minister about this and I hope that he will clarify the order to ensure that no members of the special care service should lose from the changeover. I am referring specifically to those who were trained in Muckamore. It has been suggested that those who were would in some way lose recognition of years of service because of the changeover. That would be a complete injustice. If that is so, it must be an oversight, not deliberate, and I hope that the Minister will be able to clarify that.

That is all that I have to say on the subject, other than to reiterate my welcome for the order, which I believe will receive a widespread welcome within Northern Ireland.

Photo of Mr David Alton Mr David Alton , Liverpool Mossley Hill 7:54, 5 February 1987

I want to echo some of the remarks that have already been made tonight. Not long after the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) was fighting his battle in Stormont, I found myself as a member of the Liverpool city council's education committee serving on the sub-committee which dealt with children with special needs. During the years that I served on that sub-committee I saw the need to integrate the education service with the special provision for those with handicaps and special needs. Indeed, when I went on to teach for six years, I worked with children with handicaps and maladjustments.

The analogy made by the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) between the abominations of new towns and overspill areas and the imposition of what were purely fashionable ideas was a fair point to make, but I suspect that rather more thought has gone into this. The Education Act 1981 has proved to be successful in Great Britain, and some of the misgivings which he has suggested tonight are probably without foundation. However, I support what he said about the concern that the order gives about transitional arrangements. It would be strange if there were not such concerns at a time when change is taking place.

I also strongly support what the right hon. Gentleman said about the imposition of a curriculum by any centralised authority, whether it be by Government or by local education authorities. There is much to be said for schools having a fair amount of control over what goes on in their establishments. That is why it is important that the governing bodies of schools and parents should be better involved and the 1985 legislation went some way to ensuring that in Great Britain.

Will the Minister answer some specific questions? To what extent is the order merely a book transition, moving responsibility from the health authorities to the education authorities? How many more children will be integrated into normal state schools rather than being educated in separate institutions? Will the Minister give the House some figures tonight for the number of children currently in special education in Northern Ireland? Does he think that the £3 million which is being made available will be enough, and will the time between now and 1 April be sufficient for the order to be implemented successfully?

Article 5 has already been referred to. According to the noble Lord Lyell, who spoke for the Government in the other place, those prohibition powers have never been invoked in the past 10 years. If that is the case, should not the Government be considering whether they might be removed altogether?

Finally, I want simply to make an observation. Integration is a word which comes up when talking about children with special needs. It is significant that handicapped and maladjusted children, Catholic and Protestant, are usually educated together. Surely we can learn something from that. If special education can be integrated, surely there is much to be said for moving away from the old sectarian system of education in Northern Ireland. If normal schools can learn from the education of people with special needs, perhaps the sectarian barriers can be broken down.

Photo of Stuart Bell Stuart Bell , Middlesbrough 7:59, 5 February 1987

I welcome to our debates on Northern Ireland the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton). I think that it is the first time that he has addressed the House as the spokesman for the alliance on Northern Ireland matters. He will find that we have graceful debates at a high level, and that those who participate in them, even though their numbers might be few, have a great deal of experience. I congratulate the Minister on the felicitous way in which he presented the order.

We welcome the order. As the Minister said, it removes the duty of an education and library board to determine whether children are unsuitable for education at school. The second thrust of the order will remove the powers of a health and social services board to provide supervision and training for children requiring special care. The upshot of this is that the responsibility for the education of mentally handicapped children in Northern Ireland is removed from the Department of Health and Social Security to the Department of Education. That means that mentally handicapped children will no longer be considered unsuitable for school and that the law on special education in Northern Ireland will be brought into line with that in the rest of the United Kingdom.

The hon. Member for Mossley Hill spoke about integration. We wholeheartedly support the principles of integration. I noted with interest the points made by the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell). He said that there were now doubts on the mainland about the fact that in the past there had been imitation and duplication of legislation that affected Northern Ireland after it had affected the mainland. It has taken a long time to establish the principles of integration in education on the mainland. Up to now the resources and the political will to put the principles effectively into practice have not existed. I may come hack to that point later.

All the evidence available to my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) in his capacity as shadow Secretary of State for Education suggests that the aims of education for children and young people with disabilities and with significant difficulties are the same as those for all children and young people. In a recent speech to the annual conference of the National Bureau for Handicapped Students my hon. Friend said: It follows that handicapped and non handicapped pupils ought to be educated in a common setting as far as is possible. The integration of the whole community is, I believe, not only in the best interests of the handicapped. It is also in the best interests of all. It has taken us a long time properly to establish the principles of integration. I can well understand the difficulties in attitudes, in the complexities of bureaucracy and of events not keeping pace with the times. On the mainland at least local education authorities have been rate-capped, penalised and, some might say, victimised and have not been able to relate the special needs of handicapped and disabled children to the ability of the education authorities to meet them. I hope that that point is not too semantic or lost on the House, but it is true nevertheless.

In the case of Northern Ireland, I am grateful to the Minister for telling us that an additional £3 million in resources will be made available over a three-year period and that there is to be a capital programme to enable education and library boards to make a start on replacing or improving existing buildings. The hon. Member for Mossley Hill spoke about the £3 million and put a question to the Minister about it.

The question is often asked, "How long is a piece of string?" The questions that we ask are: "Is the £3 million of additional resources, however welcome, enough? On what criteria has the figure been reached? Has it been reached on the basis of need and the requirement of mentally handicapped children? Will the capital programme be sufficient?" Perhaps only people with specialist knowledge of the subject will be able to answer those questions, but if the Minister has the answers no doubt he will wish to share them with the House. We all welcome capital programmes in Northern Ireland, and none is more welcome than a programme which deals with the needs of mentally handicapped children who require patience, time, skill and attention to make up for their disabilities—if anything can make up for them.

Integration into normal schools does not arise from the order. Initially, mentally handicapped children covered by the order will continue to be educated in separate schools. As I understand it, the principle of integration applies to children with special education needs being educated in ordinary schools for which resources have always been available. Integration in Northern Ireland to the tune of about 40 per cent. was achieved even before the principle was written into law. Some distinction appears to be drawn between children with special educational needs and those who are mentally handicapped, although in practice they may amount to the same thing. The Warnock report represented a substantial shift in attitudes towards special education on the mainland. Perhaps the committee's most important conclusion was that up to one in five children would require some form of special education. As my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North said, the observation that handicap was not confined to a small minority but was a much wider phenomenon gave an additional and decisive impetus to the movement towards integration.

The Minister told the House that the order corresponds to the provisions on the mainland. The Education Act 1981 was the legislative expression of that movement towards integration. Article 6 of the order is a direct take from section 12 of the Education Act 1981 which deals with regulations about special schools. The order brings the legislation about the education of mentally handicapped children into line with that on the mainland.

My next point will be familiar to the House and to those who follow our debates— including the participants. Some Opposition Members believe in an Ireland united by consent and democracy and by peaceful means. We often make the point that, until that happens, it is as well for Northern Ireland to have, as far as possible and within the context of its own regional distinctiveness, legislation equivalent to that on the mainland. For that reason we welcome the order.

A wide spectrum of statutory and voluntary bodies in health and personal social services and education as well as trade unions, political parties, parents groups and individuals were consulted about the terms of the order. The order might be negatived, but it cannot be altered. However, as a result of representations, a change has been made in schedule 1, paragraph 2(3). The House will welcome even that slight change.

We regret that, whilst the order was at one time referred to the Northern Ireland Assembly, that Assembly no longer exists. That is not the fault of the Government, still less the fault of the Opposition, but it is a matter for regret that in Northern Ireland there is no elected body able to make its own contribution to local democracy. The Opposition are committed to looking at all structures of local government, and when we return to office we will take account of the views of all those who wish to make submissions. We will look at devolution, administrative or otherwise, so that in one constitutional form or another the people of Northern Ireland might have restored to them a measure of local democracy and a sense of self government of which they are now deprived.

We are committed to altering the procedures of the House so that orders of the sort that we are now debating would become Bills or would certainly be subjected to study in Committee and altered, and the views of elected representatives taken into account.

I thank the right hon. Member for South Down for his reference to article 10 which deals with recovery of possession of residences provided for caretakers and groundsmen. The National Union of Public Employees will welcome his reference to that and to the fact that six months' notice could be given to the occupants. That is a matter of some concern to us. I surmise that there may be differences in the role of a caretaker as opposed to that of a teacher. Nevertheless, we look upon this matter with some anxiety. We shall look to the Minister for some reassurance on that point and on the security of tenure of caretakers, groundsmen and so on.

I trust that the House has held its breath sufficiently long to listen to my short speech on the order. We commend it to the House. With the serried ranks behind me, I assure the Minister that we shall not oppose it.

Photo of Dr Brian Mawhinney Dr Brian Mawhinney Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Northern Ireland Office) 8:09, 5 February 1987

I thank the hon. Members for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell), for Liverpool. Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) and for Foyle (Mr. Hume) for the welcome that they have given to the order. Although the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) expressed some reservations about it, I was encouraged that he did not voice any opposition to it. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will accept that, although I have no responsibility for Craigavon—I make no comment about it—I am proud to represent a successful new town in Peterborough. The Government's legislation in that regard has not been negative.

The right hon. Gentleman raised the legitimate and important question whether the commitment that I have given the House in respect of the terms of transfer for individual people—that there should be no disadvantage to them—could be extended to apply to career prospects. Although he did not define those words, we understand what he meant. I assure the right hon. Gentleman, as far as it is possible for me to do so, that the career prospects of transferred staff will not be adversely affected.—[Interruption.] They will not be financially disadvantaged at all. That is my commitment. If, for any reason, they should find themselves disadvantaged, compensation will be paid. As I said, it is right that, if the Government require a change, they should see that people are adequately protected.

The right hon. Member for South Down referred to the delay in introducing this order with respect to what has happened in Britain. I remind him that this is the third occasion when a consultation procedure has been embarked upon. It was first raised in the Province in 1971. The majority of those who responded at the time decided that the balance of advantage lay in the service remaining within the health sector. It was raised again and considered in 1976 as part of a consultative exercise on services for the mentally handicapped. At that time, also a minority of respondents took the view that special care schools should be transferred to the education sector, and the Government accepted the view of the majority that the status quo should be maintained.

Although the right hon. Member for South Down was right to say that there has been a delay, it has not been because of any dilatory approach by the Government to this matter in the Province, but it has reflected the majority view of those who not only are involved but have expertise in these matters within the Province. That is the case with the order. I remind the House that there was a large measure of agreement in the consultation process with respect to the order that the time was appropriate for a change to be made from the health sector to the education sector.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the competition for resources within the education budget. As far as possible, the Government are committed to seeing that the resources necessary to maintain, protect and develop this service in the education sector will be provided and will continue to be provided. It is fair to point out that in the health sector there was competition for resources—by definition almost, that is the case—but there is no attempt in this change to weaken the claim on resources for this important sector.

I join in the right hon. Gentleman's tribute to the dedication of the staff in this area. I assure him and the House that nothing in this move is intended in any way to make life more difficult for the dedicated professionals involved.

The right hon. Gentleman moved on to three other specific matters. He addressed article 5. Article 5 does not change the existing position in which responsibility for the curricular of schools rests with school managers and, particularly, principals. He was right to say that the article provides an enabling power for regulations which, if necessary, may lay down broad curricular principles within which schools might operate. I do not have any plans at present to make such changes. In any event, if the Government were to contemplate any such change, I assure him and the House that there would be wide consultation before any such changes were introduced.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to article 8. Frankly, the advice that I have received is that we shall have to take legal advice on whether it should be "and" or "or", but the intention is as he defined it.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to article 10 and caretakers. Teachers occupy education and library board residences as tenants of the board, and so are entitled to receive notice to quit. Caretakers are given possession of residences by virtue of their employment and are not entitled to receive notices to quit on termination of such employment. An important part of a resident caretaker's responsibility is that he should be resident. He should be available on site, day and night, to secure school premises. When his employment ends, the education and library boards require possession of the residence for his successor and should not have to wait six months to recover it. I am advised that the legal status of caretakers is the same in England and in Northern Ireland, but in England it derives from the common law.

The hon. Member for Foyle referred to those who, some time ago, transferred to the education system. I mentioned the fact that it was some time ago because it is not relevant to the order. Anybody affected by the order will have the protections that I have already spelt out to the House.

The hon. Member for Mossley Hill asked three questions, one of which was asked again in a slightly different form by the hon. Member for Middlesbrough. I am advised that about 1,400 children are involved.

Photo of Mr John Hume Mr John Hume , Foyle

If a member of the special care service who was trained in Muckamore and is at present in a scale 2 post is transferred to another post, will he retain his grade 2 level? From representations made to me, I understand that, if such people are transferred within the system at present, they are eligible only for scale 1 posts, and suffer as a result.

Photo of Dr Brian Mawhinney Dr Brian Mawhinney Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Northern Ireland Office)

My understanding is that, some time ago, some teachers chose to move from the health service into the education service. They understood the arrangements. This order does not apply to them. Anyone who is required to move under the order will not find himself at a disadvantage as a consequence.

I understand that about 1,400 children are involved in this move.

As to the provisions and prohibitions in article 5, it is a considerable time since the existing power was last used. It has certainly not been exercised in the last 10 years. That is not to say that that power should not be available to the Department. However, I hope that the hon. Member for Foyle is pleased to hear that this power is not frequently resorted to by the Department.

Photo of Mr Enoch Powell Mr Enoch Powell , South Down

If these powers are already in existence, will the Minister explain why they have to be written into the principal order by this order?

Photo of Dr Brian Mawhinney Dr Brian Mawhinney Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Northern Ireland Office)

Because it is felt that it is appropriate that these matters should be brought together to clarify the Department's responsibility for these matters.

The third question that the hon. Member for Foyle asked me was echoed by the hon. Member for Middlesbrough. He asked whether there will be sufficient money. I stress that the Government are making available additional resources. The hon. Member for Middlesbrough will be pleased to note that the £3 million to which I referred is not for three years; it is for the first year. That expenditure will continue, which should encourage the hon. Member for Mossley Hill.

As for the £2 million of captial expenditure, a great deal of planning will be required before we know exactly what will be needed for the capital programme. The £2 million will enable the boards to make a start, but it is not suggested that it will be sufficient to meet the capital provision that will be required as a consequence of this order.

I think that I have answered all the questions that have been asked. I am grateful for the welcome that this important order has received. It covers a small but very significant and important group of children in the Province, and I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,That the draft Education (Northern Ireland) Order 1987, which was laid before this House on 14th January, be approved.