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In December 2005, Ms Angela Smith, the then Minister with responsibility for education, published the draft order and simultaneously released the results of a consultation on admissions arrangements which was completed six months ago. While the figures do not appear in the document, the Minister admitted that at least 90 per cent of the responses to the consultation supported academic selection. The Government therefore have deliberately chosen to ignore the outcome of every public consultation and test of opinion on the issue over a period of more than three years and instead seek to impose a policy against the will of the people.

At no time have the people of Northern Ireland had an opportunity to influence the pattern of education reform through their elected representatives. A majority of locally elected politicians oppose this order, which would not pass if our local Assembly were functioning. There are obviously different perspectives on why the Northern Ireland Assembly is not functioning, but it is safe to say that it would be inconceivable for a Government, having promised the people their say, to impose such huge changes in any other part of the United Kingdom against the will of the people and a majority of elected representatives in that area.

In England, the issue is handled with great sensitivity, as highlighted by a statement by the Department for Education and Skills. It states:

I simply say to noble Lords that the Government have no argument on why they have accorded this right to the people of England while denying it to the people of Northern Ireland. I therefore ask for your support on this amendment. I beg to move.

Moved, as an amendment to the Motion, to leave out all the words after “That” and insert “this House declines to approve the Education (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 until the people of Northern Ireland have been given the opportunity to approve the proposals contained therein in a manner analogous to the procedures followed in regard to similar proposed changes in England”.—(Lord Rogan.)

Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Rogan. First, I thank the Minister for laying the Government’s case before us in his customary manner—very clear and very precise. For once, on Northern Ireland business, there

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are many things in the Minister’s opening statement with which I do not agree. It is rare that the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and I disagree over fundamental matters concerning Northern Ireland. My main dissent concerns admissions and academic selection. As the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, has made clear, this issue has been around a long time. I believe, and I am cynical enough to think, that we are debating it in this manner today, with a possible Division ahead, only because the right honourable Peter Hain, the Secretary of State, has said that he wants this as a tool for negotiation to force the parties together or else to hand a present to the last Minister of Education in the Stormont Assembly.

During the progress of the Education and Inspections Bill, the Government have rightly declared and defended a commitment to supporting high standards in schools. We fully support them in this and hope that they will see it through to the end. They have already seen off an attempt from their Back Benches to abolish all academic selection by 2009, and instead, as has already been said, are giving parents the choice, through a ballot, over whether their school remains selective or not.

That is the right way to do it: to focus on the achievements of each individual school and its relationship with the community it serves. Why then are they not pursuing the same well judged policy in Northern Ireland? This order will abolish academic selection forcibly, and yet it is being promoted by the same Government who voted against the Back-Bench amendment—their own Back-Bench amendment—I mentioned earlier in the Education and Inspections Bill. Although it has been heartening to see the Government rise above old political knee-jerk ideology in the education Bill, it is the more discouraging to see them return to the same discredited theories when they legislate for Northern Ireland.

Why is this the case? The same arguments work equally well, if not better, when related to Northern Ireland. The schools system in Northern Ireland has shown itself more than capable of producing not just equal results to England and Wales, but better. In 2003-04 some 60 per cent of all pupils in Northern Ireland achieved five or more GCSEs at grade C or above. The system is clearly capable of maintaining those educational high standards. In another place, the Government explained that they are worried not only about allowing capable students to excel themselves, but are also concerned to ensure that no child is allowed to drop out of the system in the pursuit of higher grades for others. This must always be guarded against, yet the figures show that here again the Northern Irish system is better at doing this than that of England and Wales. Some 3 per cent of Northern Irish children fail to get any GCSEs above grade C, and while that is of course still too high, it is better than the 4 per cent in England and the worrying 7 per cent in Wales.

The existing system in Northern Ireland does not fail children, either in providing a good education for as many as possible or in allowing students to achieve a high standard. Why are we risking the system with summary execution? If the Government are really concerned about the 3 per cent of children who fail to

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get any GCSEs above grade C, would they not be better off looking at the continuing culture of organised crime and paramilitarism in the poorest areas of Northern Ireland than attacking a system that has served Northern Irish communities well despite incredible odds? It is both counterproductive and hypocritical.

We know that for years children in many families in Northern Ireland have been deprived of a proper and fair education, and those standards have been poor with a high rate of illiteracy, especially in the Shankill Road. But those of us who have been there—and I have accompanied the noble Baroness, Lady Blood, and others in the past to see the schools on the so-called Peace Line—have seen the appalling challenge parents face in trying to get their children to school at all, let alone that of teachers trying to teach the children. For more than 20 to 30 years they did not know whether a bomb was going to come through the window. That is why there is a divide in the standard of education in Northern Ireland. That is why so many children in the poorer areas have not had a chance to receive a fine education. We tried very hard to put a part of the University of Ulster in Springvale at the back of the Shankill, and I backed that proposal hard with the millennium group and others. The Government refused it: not enough money.

It is not just the contents of this order that Members on these Benches oppose, it is the very nature of how it is being imposed. The Government’s summary of responses to the consultation of this order lists those who support the prohibition on academic selection. But hidden away near the end, they are forced to admit that it was opposed by the majority of the public. Public feeling towards academic selection has been the subject of so many consultations and reviews that it is extraordinary that the Government still seem to be in doubt about it. The Household Response consultation in 2002 showed that 64 per cent of the public support academic selection, more than twice the number who oppose it. We have already heard about a poll by the Belfast Telegraph last year which showed that two-thirds of the public support academic selection, and yet another poll taken in February this year showed over 90 per cent support for it.

To go ahead with something which is clearly so unwelcome and so sensitive in an undemocratic way to a large, if not a majority, swathe of those who will have to suffer the consequences is arrogant in the extreme. The Government showed clearly their commitment to being a “listening Government” when the then Education Minister, Angela Smith, was reported in the Belfast Telegraph as dismissing the consultation response with the words, “not a referendum”. It appears that the Government have no interest in listening to the public unless they say the right thing. One might wonder why on earth they bothered having the consultations at all.

As a nod to the concept of democracy, the Government have conceded a proviso that the power to ban academic selection in the order will not come into force if the devolved institutions are restored on 24 November. That is something we fought for in this House and argued with the Government in the corridors. But they

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think that they are turning it to their own benefit: they are going to use it as a sledgehammer to hit the unionists with in order to force them back into government with Sinn Fein. But if that does not happen, the ban will automatically come in the day after. Continuing with the ban after conceding this proviso is extraordinary. The Government are simply engaged in a crude exercise to blackmail unionists into a power-sharing Government. “Form a Government with Sinn Fein by 24 November”, they say, “or the ban on academic selection comes into force the day after”. They should know by now that the people of Ulster do not yield to bullying.

8 pm

Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, I support the order and oppose the amendment proposed bythe noble Lord, Lord Rogan. I thank the Minister for setting out the proposals in this order. It is a very difficult issue and I know that views are sincerely held. But there are two desires: one is to make certain that there is no selection in secondary education. It is a desire of the Government and that of Members on these Benches. The second desire is to have devolved decision-making. Given that there are 20 minutes left for debate, I have to say that this is not the way to discuss the merits of comprehensive education and the whole business of secondary education provision in Northern Ireland. There has to be a better way of dealing with major issues like this.

It should be dealt with in Stormont, of course. The new Stormont Government were set up by the Good Friday agreement in 1998 and supported by a referendum on 23 May, which is now more than eight years ago. Considerable efforts have been made to get it up and running by 24 November, but if that date sees no success, during the eight and a half years since the agreement the Assembly will have functioned properly for only two-and-a-half years. Devolution would give Northern Ireland the opportunity to create successes or, in my view, to make mistakes. But we are without devolution at present and the issue is whether difficult or controversial decisions be made now.

The order delivers a neat way of going forward. On the one hand would be the ending of the 11-plus. It appears that the test in itself has few friends. One suggestion is to bring in a child-friendly form of selection, which perhaps is not that controversial, but the major element is ending selection unless it is stopped by a new Stormont Assembly. I have been opposed to selective schools all my life and happily it is Liberal Democrat policy, but if the Assembly is restored, that is the opportunity and challenge of devolution.

Who is in favour of selection? The people in favour of it are those closely associated with grammar schools and two of the political parties, the UUP and the DUP. As always, no one is shouting the odds for the preservation of secondary modern schools—we have not had that for the past 30 or 40 years in England. Who is supporting the comprehensive schools? It appears to be many of the educational professionals, many of the unions and many of the political groups—Sinn Fein, the SDLP, the PUP Alliance. What is proposed is a unionist solution because comprehensive education is the norm in England, Scotland and Wales. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, refers

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only to the change in the rump of grammar schools that are left in England, not to the totality of schools.

If devolution is re-established, it will be a major success. If that happens and the comprehensive education argument fails, many staunch supporters of educational change will need to campaign, and I wish them well if that happens. If devolution is not re-established, selection will cease, but, sadly, devolution could be years and years away.

We have been invited to talk about our personal experience; mine is quite strange. I attended a primary school in Yorkshire and sat the 11-plus in February 1953. I can even remember some of the questions. In April 1953, the whole of my intake was sent off to the secondary modern school because we were to be replaced by four or five year-olds. When we got to the secondary modern school, the staff did not know what to do with us—they had not had a group of primary school pupils in their final year—so they called us “remove”. In May 1953, I was stood in the assembly hall when the results were announced by the head teacher of that school—the headmaster we called him in those days—and he read out the names. Happily mine was one of them, but I saw in that place the reaction to the change that was going to affect lives. I went from that assembly into a class and the woman who was teaching that class said, “I’ve listened to what the head said in the hall and anyone who is any good is going”. What a thing to say to those young children. Now whether or not that should have been said, that is what happens when you have selection. My Lords, support the order.

Lord Baker of Dorking: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may ask him a question. He wishes to abolish grammar schools in Northern Ireland—that is a position to take—so why is it that he has not supported policies to abolish grammar schools which are run by Liberal councils and which have been run by them in the past? Is it now the Liberal policy to abolish those grammar schools in England?

Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, we have devolution in England in terms of those serving in local government. I have no notice of this in any specific local authority. I know what I did in the 25 years that I served as a local councillor and I know what successes I achieved in those circumstances.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, before the debate continues, perhaps I may draw to your Lordships’ notice that this debate is not strictly time limited. However, dinner-hour business normally takes about an hour in order to comply with the other business of the House. I have been asked to draw that to your attention; the answer is in your Lordships’ hands.

8.15 pm

Baroness Blood: My Lords, I oppose the amendment of my noble friend Lord Rogan but not because I do not understand his intention in moving it. It would be great if this issue could be left to our own Northern Ireland Assembly, and I speak as one who truly believes in the Assembly. Indeed, during the referendum I actively campaigned for a yes vote. I pay tribute to the

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noble Lord, Lord Trimble, who is in his place, for his courage and foresight in the work that he and his party did at that time.

But, in opposing the amendment, my fear is that the education question could be set back for a very long time. Some of the information that has been sent out opposing the education order states that cross-community support would not be given. Meanwhile, the education of children and young people in Northern Ireland is simply put on the back burner—for how long, no one knows. I ask your Lordships to oppose the amendment.

Lord Mawhinney: My Lords, I start by declaring two interests: first, I am the proud product of a Northern Ireland grammar school; secondly, and perhaps more relevantly, I was the Minister who brought the last major education reform order for Northern Ireland to the House when the Minister and I were Members of another place. He will recall that that education order protected the grammar schools and established the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools. The Catholic bishops, who were as concerned as I was about standards in some of the maintained schools in the Catholic tradition, wanted stronger powers to raise standards in those schools, and Parliament gave them those powers.

The order introduced a new curriculum and a cross-community aspect to that curriculum. I was interested in what the Minister said about flexibility. What he actually meant was that the focus of that new curriculum is to be diluted. That is not in the educational interests of Northern Ireland’s children. The order also set up new curriculum and examination authorities precisely to drive ahead the quality of education for all the children of Northern Ireland and, if I may be permitted a personal comment, it also included the one piece of legislation of which, in 11 and a half years as a Minister, I am most proud: it put the option of integrated education on the statute book. There was one integrated school in Northern Ireland when that order was brought forward; today there are 50 or so, going on 60. That is a consequence of the far-sighted decision-making of this House. I remind the Minister that his party voted against that reform order.

The Minister has referred to entitlement in the context of it being a whole new exciting dimension, where schools in Northern Ireland, by implication, for the first time will be able to work together, to collaborate and, on the wonderful horizon, to collaborate with further education colleges. The Minister does not appear to be aware that that has been going on in Northern Ireland for years and years—and it does not need an education reform order today to put it in place.

However, I take some comfort from the fact that in the 1970s, the previous Labour Government also decided to abolish grammar schools and put comprehensive education in place. When we took office in 1979, there had been no delivery. It seems to be a constant theme of Labour Governments. I hope that history will repeat itself.

The Minister said something that I would not have been surprised to hear from his right honourable

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friend the Secretary of State. But I would have expected better of the Minister; he knows that I hold him in high regard, and have done so for many years. He said—and I quote him as accurately as my memory will permit—that if education was the most important thing in Northern Ireland, devolution would be back in place by the middle of November.

I was one of only two Ministers who served in Northern Ireland for more than six years, and I bore the brunt of the attempts by extremists at both ends of the political spectrum to kill me and my colleagues and to disrupt democratic government. This Minister—the noble Lord, Lord Rooker—implied that if education is the most important thing, devolution will be back in place. He and I know, and the House knows, that security, democratic government and accountability are all more important to all the people of Northern Ireland than is education. As a former Education Minister in Northern Ireland and a product of the system—I am a graduate of the primary university in Northern Ireland—I think I can speak with some authority, having borne the brunt and been the first Minister who started the peace process in the Province.

Incidentally, speaking of the peace process, the Government keep on using the Good Friday agreement as a reason for introducing policy. I remind the Minister that this piece of legislation would fail to meet the terms of the Good Friday agreement because the agreement requires that on contentious issues—which this is—there must be overwhelming support from both sides of the community. This legislation fails to meet the terms of the Good Friday agreement. It is educational dumbing down, if not something worse. I am sorry that the Government are using intimidatory tactics. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, on his speech and I, for one, will support the amendment.

Lord Quirk: My Lords, I wanted to ask the Minister a question before he sat down, but he sat down too quickly. He will understand that many of us here tonight are neither enthusiasts for the 11-plus nor against it. Some of us are concerned rather with consistency between the education system here and the education system we have the power to impose on Northern Ireland.

I recognise that grammar schools in Northern Ireland are a very different kettle of fish from grammar schools in the UK, where they are a minority. But the Minister mentioned the new specialist schools. They are not a minority in this country; they have become the majority. We are passing through this House a Bill which will give such schools the right to recruit up to 10 per cent of their intake on aptitude, but in the order, aptitude and ability are bracketed together as equally taboo. Can the Minister clarify whether, as a result of the order, specialist schools in Northern Ireland will therefore be treated differently from those in the UK?

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: My Lords, I have been at Westminster for the past 23 years, and here I have sought to uphold democracy. For 23 years before that I was a school teacher—I was a school principal for 16 of those years. This Order in Council is the

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negation of 46 years of my life and the destruction of the very principles of democracy that we in this House have been charged to defend.

I have the greatest respect for the Minister; it gives me no pleasure to say that he is no longer in Northern Ireland. I have sympathy with him in so far as he has been briefed to present his case based on one wrong premise after another. Bluntly, his case is wrong; if the premise is wrong, the argument is wrong and the conclusion is inevitably wrong.

The Government have allotted us 60 minutes in which to dismantle and destroy an educational tradition that has been a bulwark against poverty and ignorance and withstood the ravages of more than30 years of terrorism. That happened despite a parents’ petition that was, on Thursday last, presented in another place by Kate Hoey MP; despite a pupils’ petition—I have it in my hand—with several thousand signatures from an active group Pupils for Choice; and despite a public opinion poll on this order in the Belfast Telegraph where 90 per cent voted against. Is this rea1ly democracy at work? Are we going to sanction such educational vandalism that flies in direct opposition to parents representing the present, to pupils who signal the future and the experience of people such as Kate Hoey and me who have been past beneficiaries?

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