Draft Budget (Northern Ireland) Order 2004

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Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): I associate myself with the remarks made by the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) about the highly concerning events surrounding the attempted abduction last week. I am pleased that the Minister is consulting on the resurrection of the Assembly process and the funding of political parties. Does the Minister agree with me that, since the situation has been resolved south of the border in the Republic of Ireland, there is no reason in principle why the rules governing the funding of political parties should not apply to Northern Ireland?

Mr. Spellar: That is undoubtedly a view that the hon. Gentleman's party will put to us, and other parties will put their views about the derogation from standard procedures in the United Kingdom. As the hon. Gentleman rightly points out, since that legislation was enacted here, there has been similar legislation in the Republic of Ireland. We will have to take account of not only the views of the political

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parties, but the changed legal environment in the two jurisdictions, and the potential sources and sources of funding to political parties. We will then draw a conclusion and produce new regulations in the light of the fact that current regulations expire in February 2005. Practically, that consultation process and the drawing up of regulations will bring us close to that date, and we await the response from political parties in Northern Ireland and Westminster to that consultation.

Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): The Minister will be aware of the litany of terrorist activity over recent years: the so-called punishment beatings, the importation of arms, and terrorist shootings and kidnappings culminating in the latest incident, which was the subject of his reply at the weekend. Given that that is the case, and I hope that the Minister accepts that, it is extremely unlikely that such activity will cease between now and April—the Minister has suggested that the Government will review matters between now and April, which is only five weeks away. What pressure do Her Majesty's Government intend to apply to the terrorists who carry out those actions and to the political affiliates involved in the talks—and we are not talking about stunts, but about action against them.

The Chairman: Order. I appeal for slightly shorter questions. We have a number to get through.

Mr. Spellar: Thank you, Mr. Cran. I hope that we can find a different term from ''punishment beatings'', because that phrase does not convey the full horror of the action. We are talking about maiming and torture. That is borne out even more by the horrific events in Ardoyne, and the considerable number of suicides in that area. As I indicated, we believe that there can be no political advance while such activity continues, particularly that highlighted at the end of last week. Most of the actions that the hon. Gentleman asks for with regard to the physical activities are very much the province of the police and of police action. We commend the rapid police response at the end of last week, which brought the matter into public focus.

With regard to the talks, there is not such an easy mechanism as there was, for example, in the earlier talks. The hon. Gentleman may remember that there was a procedure for dealing with infractions, which was applied to two of the parties. Equally, there is a procedure with regard to an assembly that is up and running. Despite that, we recognise that there is a significant problem; no doubt that will be discussed at some length by the various parties and the Government in next week's discussions. We recognise that problem, and we shall address it then. In parallel, we shall refer the matter to the IMC.

David Burnside (South Antrim) (UUP): Can the Minister be clear that there can be no political advance while those activities continue? If they continue, does it mean that there will be no devolution at Stormont, and that there will be no voluntary coalition of the democratic parties without Sinn Fein? Is that what the Minister is saying? Is that the IRA-Sinn Fein veto?

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Mr. Spellar: The question of what advance can take place and what form of government can be created—a voluntary coalition or other mechanisms for a devolved Administration in Northern Ireland—are matters that we are continually exploring with the various political parties. That requires the agreement of those—

David Burnside: Of Sinn Fein.

Mr. Spellar: Of various political parties, but not necessarily with one party holding a veto. Those discussions will continue. We are keen that the administration of the affairs of Northern Ireland should be returned to a devolved Administration. We are engaging with the various parties, and various suggestions are emanating from parties as to how that could be achieved, absent allowing for a veto from one political party. It is clear that we are not yet there. We have some way to go, but we will continue to work to that end.

Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): The Minister could have been clearer in what he said about the reference to the monitoring commission. He was in a meeting with me this week and he clearly heard the Foreign Secretary of the Irish Republic say that they were not putting this incident up for consideration by itself, but were bundling them all together—there would be no report on one incident alone. They would all be reported on together at the end of May. Where will we be at the end of May? In what other murders will the IRA have taken part?

Mr. Spellar: I do not recall anyone having said that it would be at the end of May. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right when he says that the incident is to be included within the overall report by the IMC, but it is clear also that it is a significant incident, both in itself—the organisation and sophistication of the attack is clear from the charges that have been laid—and in its implications for the ongoing talks and therefore progress to a devolved Assembly and Executive. The significance of the event is clear; it will undoubtedly be taken into account by the IMC.

Non-denominational Education

4. Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough) (Lab): Will the Minister make a statement on the progress of non-denominational education in Northern Ireland?[155710]

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Jane Kennedy): There are at present 50 grant-aided integrated schools in Northern Ireland, made up of 33 grant-maintained integrated schools—that is those begun as an entirely new school—and 17 controlled integrated schools or those transformed from a different kind of school. They have a total enrolment of over 16,000 pupils, which is almost 5 per cent of all pupils. This compares to 23 integrated schools and just over 3,900 pupils in 1993–94. I have recently approved a number of proposals to increase the number of schools and places in the integrated sector.

Helen Jackson: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for the reply. It is a truism in Northern Ireland that we understand it will take a generation or more to relieve some of the sectarian bitterness that has built

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up over the last decades. Therefore, schooling and approaching that culture when children are young are important. Are there further ways that she has considered to extend the acceptability in Northern Ireland of integrated education? Has she any plans to mount a conference, symposia or seminar to involve all the political parties and educational bodies in discussions about how to move forward?

Jane Kennedy: My hon. Friend takes a keen interest in these matters. The question of a conference has been raised by the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education, which is one of the organisations that we fund to promote integrated education in Northern Ireland. We are not looking at new ways of promoting integrated education, but we are redoubling our efforts—not just in the Department of Education, but across other Departments as well—to look at ways in which we can use cross-community efforts to overcome the very severe divide that we see not across the whole of Northern Ireland, but very much in some areas.

2.52 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

3.2 pm

On resuming—

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South) (UUP): The question refers to non-denominational education in Northern Ireland. There is probably more denominational education in England and Scotland than in Northern Ireland. Am I right in saying that some of the schools that are now integrated were state schools that sought the benefits of grants because they were having difficulty in continuing as state schools? The concept of multi-denominational education might need to be examined and explained because even in the so-called integrated schools, there is denominational education.

Jane Kennedy: The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. We took non-denominational education in the question to mean education in integrated schools, and my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Helen Jackson) did not say that we had read that wrongly. As the hon. Gentleman said, all schools are theoretically open to all denominations, but historically, controlled schools have been attended generally, but not entirely, by Protestants, while Catholic maintained schools have been attended generally, but again not entirely, by Roman Catholics.

I made the point to my hon. Friend that the integrated schools sector is not the only means of addressing the cross-community differences that we see in most but not all parts of Northern Ireland. We are constantly reviewing our efforts to overcome the differences that divide the society, and we look at them with a 360° approach. Integrated education is an important part of that programme, but it is not the only one.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Hull, North) (Lab): First, can my right hon. Friend confirm that the right of the parent is paramount in the schools that their children go to and that the Government follow that line in accordance with our international and domestic

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undertakings? Secondly, will she state what progress has been made in bringing up to date the policies and programme of education for mutual understanding? Thirdly, can she confirm that, in choice of schools, the same assistance will be given to the parents who want their children to be educated through the medium of the Irish language as will be given to others?

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