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Wednesday, 13 March, 2002, 17:13 GMT
Assinder's Question Time Verdict
Michaelangelos' Creation
Darwin versus creation dominated question time
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By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent

Everyone knows Tony Blair is a devout Christian with Roman Catholic tendencies - but the question now gripping Westminster is whether the prime minister believes in the Creation.

Does the nation's leader really believe Darwin's theory of evolution is no better than the biblical notion that God created life, the universe and everything in six days - with a seventh day off to recover?

Prime Minister Tony Blair
Blair is deeply religious
He certainly left room for doubt when he was put on the spot during question time by Liberal Democrat Jenny Tonge.

Until she dropped her bombshell it had been a particularly unenlightening question time.

Plodding session

Iain Duncan Smith and Charles Kennedy had done their best to attack the prime minister over crime and the police - thousands of whom were besieging parliament in protest at the government's plans.

And both had scored hits. But overall, this had been a pretty plodding session.

Then, out of the blue as it were, Ms Tonge raised the serious issue of a school in the north-east of England which is, apparently, teaching the two "theories" alongside each other.

This is a practice that is common in some US states and has caused huge controversy.

Liberal Democrat MP Jenny Tonge
Tonge raised faith teaching
And Ms Tonge wanted to know exactly what the prime minister thought of it taking root here.

This was clearly going to be a tricky one for the deeply religious prime minister. But few would have guessed just how awkward it would have made him.

Good results

First off, he claimed the stories may have been exaggerated.

Then he appeared to give his blessing to the practice.

He was all in favour of diversity in education, which could only be a good thing, he said.

And, he added, this particular school was getting good results.

By now, the rights and wrongs of such teaching had gone out of the window and the only thing anybody wanted to know was exactly what the prime minister's view was.

And there is a serious side to all this. Many people are deeply worried that, by encouraging faith schools, the prime minister is also encouraging sectarianism and the placing of faith before science.

Others believe it is only right that those with strongly held beliefs are allowed to educate their children in the way they wish.

It is an argument that has not yet been joined but, thanks to the prime minister's question time performance, is now set to become a major talking point.

See also:

13 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Police rally against reforms
13 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Police reform row tests Blunkett
22 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Q&A: Police reform white paper
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