HC Deb 11 February 2004 vol 417 cc1403-4
6. Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) (Lab)

Whether the religious education core syllabus for grant-aided schools in Northern Ireland seeks to ensure that children understand both Catholic and Protestant versions of Christianity; and if he will make a statement. [153160]

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Jane Kennedy)

The current core syllabus for religious education was developed jointly by the four main churches. It accounts for around half of teaching time in this subject. Schools can augment the core syllabus in accordance with their own ethos. The syllabus is currently being reviewed by a working party, whose advice I expect to receive shortly.

Mr. Allen

Will my right hon. Friend do everything possible to undermine the religious bigotry that exists in schools in Northern Ireland, and give young people the broadest possible understanding of both religious and secular value systems, so that the inter-generational problems that we see in Northern Ireland can begin to be tackled where it really counts—at home and in the early years at school?

Jane Kennedy

I agree with the broad thrust of my hon. Friend's comments. It is already open to schools to provide opportunities for pupils to look at the beliefs of other Christian denominations and at other world religions, and I encourage them to do so.

David Burnside (South Antrim) (UUP)

The Minister could help with this problem a great deal. If I were a young man applying to become a police officer in Northern Ireland, I would be referred to as a non-Catholic, not a Protestant, so could the Minister give a commitment that all future legislation in Northern Ireland will refer to Protestants who are members of the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church and that all those who are not Protestants will be referred to correctly as Roman Catholics?

Jane Kennedy

No, I am not prepared to give any such assurance.