I introduced a new cross-community contact scheme in September last year which provides additional annual resources of £200,000 to assist schools, colleges, youth groups and reconciliation bodies in the organisation of new cross-community activities for young people under 19. So far 120 applications have been received, of which 52 are from the schools sector, involving a total of 131 different schools.
While I warmly welcome this initiative, may I ask whether my hon. Friend agrees that if we can get the two communities to mix when they are youngsters there is a chance that they might mix when they are adults and thus stop the tearing and ripping at each other that has been taking place for centuries?
I agree with what my hon. Friend says and I am heartened by my belief that an increasing number of people in the Province feel similarly.
Is the Minister aware that encouraging the setting up of so-called integrated schools would only contribute to the breaking down and closing of schools within the maintained and controlled sectors? Is he further aware that such action would not result in the cross-community relations that he would wish to see achieved and that pupils who would be attracted towards integrated education will integrate themselves naturally in their daily lives? Does the Minister not feel that it would be better to deploy existing education resources for the encouragement of cross-community activities in existing schools where there is already a co-operative effort towards that end?
The hon. Gentleman will know that I have done precisely what he urged in the last part of his question and have devoted increased effort and resources to trying to improve cross-community contacts in existing schools. He will also know that I and my predecessors have always said that we would seek to educate the children of Northern Ireland according to the wishes of their parents, and there are many parents — an increasing number, I believe—who would like to see their children educated in circumstances that are different from the traditional ones that have pertained in Northern Ireland for the past 65 years.
The Education Reform Bill is, of course, going through the House at the present time. Could my hon. Friend give some indication of the extent to which, in relation to the curriculum which children in Northern Ireland are experiencing, there is a deliberate attempt to ensure that they are taught on a non-sectarian basis? Surely that would be a great help for the future.