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

I certainly would. If the Labour party was seeking not to involve itself in that, I would offer myself as someone who could be involved in that Committee. I should say to the Democratic Unionist party, and to other Ulster Unionists, that I should like to see their involvement in the British-Irish parliamentary body, because we would then have a cross-fertilisation on education in matters dealt with by that body and matters that could be dealt with by the Select Committee.

Education could not be a more important matter for us to discuss in the context of the situation in Ireland. The problems within Ireland—for example, the role of the Catholic Church in education—spill over into Northern Ireland. Teacher training colleges do not have a fair share of the communities because there is a Catholic teacher training college, and the state provision tends to be Protestant. Those are matters with which we should concern ourselves.

The leader of the DUP concentrated some of his remarks on article 47 which was about complaints relating to religious education and collective worship. In so doing, he mentioned the position of education for mutual understanding in Northern Ireland.

Perhaps I need more information about education for mutual understanding, but it seems to me that the Government are attempting a fruitful and worthwhile activity in that area so that there is understanding in education about the two traditions that exist, which spill over a great deal into education matters. But the hon. Gentleman suggested that the opt-out should apply also to education for mutual understanding. As I see it, education for mutual understanding is not just a matter of religious education; it concerns the cultural traditions that exist in Northern Ireland and is a matter of great social importance. Such education should be opted into rather than opted out of, because if it is conducted correctly, people will begin to understand each other's traditions and wish to share in and draw from them. I hope that the Minister will elaborate on that matter in his reply and help me to understand the hon. Gentleman's position.

Education and Northern Ireland are both matters with which we should concern ourselves. I hope that the message will percolate beyond these Benches and beyond the pages of Hansard and will be heard by hon. Members who are not present tonight, some of whom have very high profiles on Northern Ireland issues and some of whom were here last Friday. I will not mention their names, because I did not put letters on the board asking them to be here, but I hope that in future they will attend debates such as this. I am talking about people who have ideas about the role of Gerry Adams, about talks and other issues and who should have been here tonight to contribute, in interventions if the opportunity did not arise for them to do so in speeches.