Proposal for a Draft Special Educational Needs and Disability (Northern Ireland) Order 2004

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Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East) (DUP): Will the Minister join me in condemning the bloody and brutal murder this week of a man on his way to work in my constituency? He will be aware that the police believe that the organisation responsible for that murder has a representative in the Northern Ireland Assembly. What action is he going to take?

Mr. Pearson: I join the hon. Gentleman in utterly condemning the cowardly and brutal attack that resulted in the murder of Brian Stewart. The police are investigating the matter. Intelligence suggests that the act might have been conducted by the UVF, but we are not in a position to say that with any degree of certainty. However, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the police are investigating the matter and that they will take appropriate action.

Mr. Iain Luke (Dundee, East) (Lab): The Minister will be aware that the Second Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation agreed last Thursday to reduce the allowances and wages paid to the members of organisations in Northern Ireland, particularly those with links to paramilitary groups. Do the Government have any intention of bringing forward sanctions that would allow similar steps to be taken in the House?

Mr. Pearson: The question of sanctions in the House is a matter for the House. It is not a matter for me as a Northern Ireland Minister. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the IMC report gave

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the Secretary of State two options for taking sanctions against those involved. He took one of those options. We believe that it was the right thing to do, but there can be no equivalence between the level of violence and the sanctions taken by Government. We need to see a complete end to paramilitary activity, and we need to ensure that all involved in politics in Northern Ireland are completely clean of such activity.

Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP): In his first response to the hon. Member for South Antrim (David Burnside), the Minister talked about links between paramilitary organisations and political spokespersons. Can he not be a bit more explicit? It is not just a question of links; in some cases they are part and parcel of the exact same organisation. To follow the point made by the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Luke), is it not absolutely incongruous to have sanctions applied in Northern Ireland while nothing is being done about the special privileges given to members of Sinn Fein in this House? Is it not time that a signal was sent out that when sanctions are applied in Northern Ireland as far as Assembly parties are concerned, Sinn Fein should also have sanctions applied as far as this House is concerned? The special privileges and qualifications that were granted recently should be withdrawn forthwith.

Mr. Pearson: The sanctions taken by the House are clearly a matter for the House, not for me. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that there are links between paramilitary organisations and political parties; we all know that. The IMC report stated that clearly and graphically. In the future, we obviously need to bring about a situation in which those links are not present because there is no longer any paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland. That is what we need to focus our attention on, and that is what we will be doing as a Government. The hon. Gentleman will have other avenues through which he can bring up the issue of sanctions that might be taken by the House.

Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury) (Con): I agree with the Minister about the importance of the IMC's analysis. As he said, the Government have implemented the IMC's particularly limited recommendation. However, he will recall that the IMC also said plainly that had a devolved Assembly been sitting, it would have recommended sanctions up to and including exclusion from the Government of Northern Ireland. Is not the logic of the Minister's condemnation of paramilitary activity today that the Government should commit themselves, in line with the IMC conclusion, to the idea that while such paramilitary activity continues in Northern Ireland, those parties that have close links with paramilitaries should not expect to participate in devolved government?

Mr. Pearson: Clearly, we are trying to reach a situation in which all political parties in Northern Ireland are completely clean of any links to paramilitary organisations and all paramilitary activity has ceased. That is the position that I think everybody would like to see in Northern Ireland. It is

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unacceptable that political parties have links to paramilitarism, and exert significant influence over it. It is unacceptable whether it involves links with republican paramilitaries or loyalist paramilitaries. As a Government, we do not tolerate either.

The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the specific circumstances of the IMC report, what it recommended and how we followed that through. We need a restored, stable, peaceful, inclusive Government in Northern Ireland. That is what we all want to see. I believe that the negotiations and the dialogue that is continuing, even during the European election campaign, will bear fruit. People in Northern Ireland want to see their local politicians back in government and they want to see those politicians making the decision to sever all links with paramilitary organisations. That is what we have to achieve, and it is the task ahead of us.

School Building Programme

3. Lady Hermon (North Down): If he will make a statement on the criteria used when deciding which schools to include in the recently announced building programme for Northern Ireland. [173491]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Barry Gardiner): It is always a pleasure to engage with the hon. Lady. I am particularly relieved to see her in her place today, because the last time I rose to speak in a Northern Ireland Grand Committee, she promptly walked out on me. I am relieved to see that it was nothing personal.

A new starts contenders list was published in March. Contenders for funding are required to have met certain criteria, including having an economic appraisal approved. Each school on the list is assessed on the physical condition of the existing building, its suitability for teaching and learning and the number of temporary classrooms. The schemes announced at this stage have been assessed as having an educational need priority and can also be afforded from the resources currently available.

Lady Hermon: Since my colleagues and I took what I might call early retirement from the previous sitting of the Northern Ireland Grand Committee, I take this opportunity to congratulate the Minister on his appointment to the Northern Ireland Office; he is most welcome.

Now that I reflect on the Minister's reply to my question, I am taken by the fact that the word ''Costello'' never crossed his lips. Will he assure me that the Costello report never entered his head in the application of the criteria, particularly to Bangor grammar school's application for new build in the current round in my constituency?

Mr. Gardiner: I thank the hon. Lady for her kind remarks.

I can give her the assurance that she asked for. The essential criteria were need and affordability. The schools were prioritised in accordance with perceived need.

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I know that Bangor grammar school is particularly dear to the hon. Lady's heart. I am well aware that the fabric of the school is inadequate and that the report that was prepared recommended that an entirely new school be built on the site. I pay tribute to the teachers and staff. They have worked in small classrooms, and I understand that it is particularly difficult for them to provide science lessons; yet they have achieved startlingly good results with 68 per cent. of children—well above the average—achieving three A-levels at grades A to C. I know that those teachers work in difficult conditions. I am sure that the hon. Lady knows that the programme of refurbishment and renewal in Northern Ireland schools is not at an end.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann) (UUP): Has the Minister considered the implications of the Costello report for future school building? The report contained a scheme for back-door comprehensivisation which was rejected by 64 per cent. of the people of Northern Ireland in the Department's consultation exercise. If that discredited and rejected report is implemented it will have huge implications for school building, will it not? Changing to a comprehensive structure will mean amalgamating schools and building schools that are larger than the existing ones. Has the Minister considered that, or will he do the sensible thing and bin the report?

Mr. Gardiner: The right hon. Gentleman is simply wrong in saying that an implication of the Costello report is an inevitable effect on the fabric of schools. The entitlement framework that the report advances involves making the relevant provision by co-operation between different schools and further education colleges. Therefore the consequences that he outlined for the fabric of buildings are not inevitable. [Interruption.]

The right hon. Gentleman, who might want to listen to the answer to his question, rather than talking over it, will also appreciate that a huge demographic shift is already taking place in Northern Ireland, affecting the number of pupils going into post-primary education. Account must be taken of that whether or not Costello is implemented. In the Adjournment debate we shall have the opportunity to discuss the implications of Costello more fully. I welcome that opportunity, and look forward to the discussion. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to join us for it.

Mr. Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP): I welcome the capital programme. Several schools in my constituency have benefited from it significantly this year. We have corresponded on the issue of Dromore central primary school and the Minister is aware of my concern that several children have been refused places this year because of a lack of accommodation. I am in discussion with the Southern education and library board about the issue, but I would welcome the Minister's assistance so that agreement can be reached on providing temporary accommodation until the new school building is in place.

The current primary school building is just across the road from Dromore high school, which had been pressing for some time for sixth-form provision in what is one of the fastest growing towns in Northern

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Ireland. Will the Minister consider the possibility of Dromore high school utilising the primary school building as a sixth-form centre once the primary school vacates it?

 
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