Young writers collect 2003 Robin McNair Prizes

 LONDON - first posted 25 November 2003 - 670 words

Teenage pupils were at the Westminster parliament building today to collect cash prizes which they won by writing essays about the status of early embryos.

The Robin McNair Prize commemorates one of Britain's leading fighter pilots in the second world war. After the war Squadron Leader McNair fought for the rights of the unborn through his membership of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC). The competition is jointly sponsored by the SPUC Educational Research Trust and the McNair family.

The first prize was presented by Mr Alistair Burt MP, parliamentary private secretary to Mr Michael Howard, the Conservative leader, and a member of the Evangelical Alliance's council. Mr Burt said: "As a war-hero, Squadron Leader McNair was daily encountering matters of life and death which is perhaps why, after the war, he was so devoted to the pro-life cause. Our modern society desperately needs to re-acquaint itself with these vital issues, though I expect that change won't come from my generation but rather from the generation to which today's prize-winners belong. I congratulate them, as well as the McNair family for inspiring this award."

John Smeaton, SPUC's national director, paid tribute to Mr Burt's work in the 1980s when he worked to oppose the legalisation of embryo research.

Mr Gerald Soane, grand president of the Catenian Association, presented the second prize. He said: "Our organisation is very pleased to be associated once more with the Robin McNair Prize. Many of our members have teenage children and we welcome SPUC's educational work. The young need to be informed about moral issues, and not just from an amoral, worldly standpoint."

Mr Duncan McNair, son of the late squadron leader, said: "Our family is pleased to associate my father's name with this initiative to educate school pupils in crucial moral matters. I have been hugely impressed with the quality of the entries, particularly the winners' essays which matched the high standard shown by previous years' winners. We wish these young people every success in their future studies and hope that the Robin McNair Prize will be another positive entry on their university applications and CVs."

Judges for this year's competition included Mr Gary Streeter, Conservative MP for Devon south west, and Countess Josephine Quintavalle, founder of Comment on Reproductive Ethics. Countess Quintavalle said: "I was very impressed to see how these young people grappled with such important moral issues and wrote about them in such a clear and interesting way." Mr Streeter presented the prizes last year.

The first prize of £250 was won by Miss Helen Price, aged 19, of Railway Terrace, Penrhiwceiber, Mountain Ash, Rhondda Cynon Taf, who is studying mathematics at Swansea university. She used to attend Mountain Ash Comprehensive School and plans to put the money towards the cost of a computer for her studies.

Second prize of £150 was awarded to Miss Rachel Howard, nearly 17, of Ryehill Avenue, Chesterfield, Derbyshire, who is in the lower sixth form at Repton School, Derby, and used to attend St Elphin's School, Darley Dale, Matlock, Derbyshire. She had to cut her first draft of 2,500 words so that it did not exceed the competition's limit. Miss Howard did most of the writing in a single day but then edited the work over the succeeding weeks. She is taking four A levels and may read geography at university.

Third prize of £100 was won by Miss Rachel Irvine, 16, of Oakgrove Integrated College, Gransha Park, Londonderry, County Derry.

The winners' schools will also receive £250, £150 and £100 respectively.

Miss Price and Miss Howard attended the ceremony, as did Mr David Church, head of religious studies at Miss Price's school. The ceremony was in the Attlee Suite of Portcullis House which is one of the parliamentary buildings at Westminster.

Details of the competition, which is now in its fourth year, can be found at Essays are of between 1,000 and 1,500 words and the topics change from year to year.

Source: SPUC

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