Education and Libraries (Northern Ireland)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:12 pm on 26th October 1993.

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Photo of Mr Harry Barnes Mr Harry Barnes , North East Derbyshire 8:12 pm, 26th October 1993

Everyone is supposed to be interested in Northern Ireland at the moment. The media, newspapers and television are full of Northern Ireland concerns. Northern Ireland politicians and anybody who has a word of interest to speak on Northern Ireland are eagerly being interviewed.

Education is supposed to be a matter of major concern. Many people in the Labour party have educational backgrounds. When I came to the House, I found that, initially, it was impossible to get on the Education Reform Bill Committee, because there were so many hon. Members with educational backgrounds from which to pick. We are now dealing with Northern Ireland and education issues. We should have a massive concern for those matters, as they are not issues of minor significance. We are dealing with competitive arrangements, education' and libraries, the issuing of contracts and funding arrangements, some of which arise from earlier legislation that has passed through the House. There are many items with which we should concern ourselves.

Some hon. Members present tonight represent constituencies in Northern Ireland. Other hon. Members are here on duty. They are doing their duty well, from the Front Benches and other positions, but Back Benchers are absent. Some hon. Members are here as Whips. There are hon. Members here as Parliamentary Private Secretaries. There is only one hon. Member present, as far as I can see, from the Back Benches who is not associated with Northern Ireland. We are supposed to be in a situation where Northern Ireland is of overwhelming consideration.

We have seen 100 per cent. attendance from the Democratic Unionist party. We have had the entire Popular Unionist party here—we always have 0 per cent. or 100 per cent. We have seen nearly half of the Ulster Unionist party. We have not seen anybody from the Social Democratic Labour party—my sister party. It is supposed to be involved with social and economic affairs, but it is not here on this occasion.

I attempted to speak in last Friday's debate on Northern Ireland issues. I had to settle for three interventions and a point of order. I have come tonight to listen to what is taking place. I am no expert in terms of all the details that are contained in the measure. I came to find things out, because I have an interest in education and Northern Ireland. The opportunity is here for me to speak, whereas there was no opportunity on Friday. We are in a quite disgraceful situation as far as Northern Ireland is concerned. We should be concerned about the issues.

The procedures of the House, in which Northern Ireland issues are marginalised—the Order in Council procedure—means that we do not deal with the matters properly. There is no encouragement for people to be here. Should not people be here to try to change the situation and push for changes because they have an interest in Northern Ireland and educational matters?