Thursday 8 May 2008

Lord Tebbit presents our student essay prizes

Today I was at the Houses of Parliament for the presentation of the Robin McNair Prize. This annual competition is jointly sponsored by the SPUC Education and Research Trust and the family of the late Squadron Leader McNair, one of Britain’s leading fighter pilots in the second world war and an SPUC member. Contestants aged 14 to 18 write essays on bioethical issues.

Rt Hon Lord Tebbit, the former Conservative minister and party-chairman, was today presenting the 2006 and 2007 awards. The winning students had written about abortion, cloning and the rights of the disabled.

Young prizewinners and others pictured at today's McNair awards, from left to right: Mr Tony Kieran, chairman of the SPUC Education and Research Trust, Tanya Stockting, Patrick McNair, Mr Duncan McNair, Sarah Appleton, Lord Tebbit, Thomas Woloshyn, Miriam Cantwell and myself.

Lord Tebbit spoke about his political career during which he had sometimes had to take a stand on controversial issues. He was gravely concerned about moral relativism in public life. The House of Lords had debated the Human Fertilisation and Embryology bill fully and well, but he feared that the Commons would rush it through. It was important to keep defending matters of principle because, where some led, others would follow. He praised the winning essays. The authors had plainly grappled with the issues at stake.

Lord Tebbit voted with the pro-life lobby on 25 occasions since entering parliament in 1990, and made a good contribution to the parliamentary debate on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology bill. Not only had Lord Tebbit pressed ministers to define hybrid embryos, but he had stood up to the IVF “technologists”, such as Lord Winston, insisting that, on the moral use of technology, every member of the House of Lords has an equal standing in expressing a view.

In recalling Squadron Leader McNair, I spoke of G K Chesterton's description of his brother who had "the courage of the forum and of the field." A war-hero, Robin McNair also defended the unborn in the public sphere. Lord Tebbit, who was presenting the prizes, shared those same qualities – showing valour as an RAF pilot and telling the truth in politics.

Mr Duncan McNair, youngest son of Squadron Leader McNair, pointed out that this was the eighth year in which the prize had been awarded. There had been a record number of entrants in the 2007 competition. His father had been among those who had campaigned against the passage of the 1967 Abortion Act. Squadron Leader McNair had also worked to help displaced persons and other members of society who had suffered. Although a military man, he showed compassion.

Mr Duncan McNair feared a new dark age in which human life was increasingly at risk. Also praising the successful entries, he said that, with talent, also came the responsibility to ensure that these issues were debated and understood. He wished the prizewinners every success in life.

Our website has more details of the winners and more pictures.