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The importance of learning and appreciating history cannot be underestimated. To quote the revered historian, Anthony Seldon:

I commend the Bill to the House.

12.42 pm

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): I take the view that politicians should be very careful about laying down what should be taught in history, and particularly what should be taught in schools. Only today I read in a newspaper that Russian teachers have been told that they should be very careful over what is being taught to school pupils about the communist period. One person associated with the Russian Prime Minister said:

Clearly, Russian history teachers are being sharply told what should and should not be taught.

If we are to have lessons in British history, a number of points that the hon. Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) raised should be emphasised. I would not necessarily disagree with his view that this country has a proud history and I see no reason why school pupils should not be told about it. I imagine most of them are. However, other aspects of our history should also, in my view, be told. School children should be told, for example, about what happened in 1381, but the hon. Gentleman did not mention that. This was the first revolt by ordinary people in this country and it took place over a poll tax— [Interruption.] It was the peasants’ uprising, led by John Ball and Wat Tyler— [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The Bill’s promoter was heard in silence, so we should also allow the hon. Member opposing it to be properly heard.

Mr. Winnick: That was an important aspect of British history, when ordinary people decided that they were going to revolt against a poll tax rather earlier than our more recent disagreements over a similar tax. What about the Levellers and the Diggers, following the civil war? Then, again, ordinary people took the view that the abolition of the monarchy should be followed by a system in which they could vote and take decisions, which would otherwise have been impossible—and was impossible for a long time to come after the civil war. However, there was not a single mention from the hon. Gentleman of the Levellers and the Diggers—a very important aspect of British history. For that matter, I would also like to see some recognition in the House of Commons of those who fought in those days for elementary rights.

What about the Great Reform Act? Not a single mention was made by the hon. Gentleman of the agitation of the people of this country that they should have the right to vote. Before the Great Reform Act of 1831— [Interruption.] I do not know why Conservative Members are getting so excited. Before the Reform Act of 1831, only a very small number were able to vote. The overwhelming majority of people had no vote at all and the agitation—the reform—that led to the House of Commons becoming more representative is surely an aspect of history that should be taught and that we
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should be pleased about. There was no mention either of Peterloo in 1819, when a number of people were killed demonstrating in Manchester, some four years after the end of the war against Napoleon, so the hon. Gentleman is being very selective.

Another topic in British history was not mentioned—the Tolpuddle martyrs. In 1834, six people in a small village in Dorset were convicted of a criminal offence and deported to Australia. Why no mention of the Tolpuddle martyrs? Is the hon. Gentleman aware of what happened or ashamed of it?

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): It is history. What about 1832?

Mr. Winnick: The Tolpuddle martyrs were in 1834.

As I said at the beginning of my speech, my view is that we, as politicians in a democracy, should be careful about not laying down what should or should not be taught in schools. The hon. Member for Romford has a strong view; so do I. The more we leave history to the professionals and do not intervene, the better. That is the proper way to go about matters.

I oppose the Bill, but I do not consider it, or at least what the hon. Gentleman himself has said, of such major concern that he should divide the House. The House has a busy day ahead, and if he wants permission to proceed with his Bill, which will not get anywhere, so be it.

Question put and agreed to.


That Andrew Rosindell, Angela Watkinson, David Simpson, Mr. Mark Lancaster, Andrew Selous, Mr. Gerald Howarth, Mr. David Evennett, Mr. Frank Field, Joan Ryan, David Cairns, Mr. David Jones and Mr. Henry Bellingham present the Bill.

Andrew Rosindell accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 16 October and to be printed (Bill 71).

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Northern Ireland Bill (Allocation of Time)

Mr. Speaker: I inform the House that I have selected amendment (a), which stands in the name of the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone).

12.49 pm

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Shaun Woodward): I beg to move,

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Mr. Woodward: It might help if I briefly spell out why we have tabled the motion and the parliamentary timetable for the Bill. Members on both sides of the House have expressed concern about the timetable. I would like to explain why we are taking weeks rather than months to take the Bill through Parliament to Royal Assent.

The Government committed at St. Andrews that when the Assembly was ready to ask for the transfer of policing and justice powers, the necessary enabling legislation would be in place. We had envisaged that it would take up to a year to see sufficient confidence built to realise stage 2. However, 18 months have passed before the political environment has felt confident enough even to begin the process.

On 18 November 2008, the First Minister and Deputy First Minister wrote to the Assembly and Executive Review Committee to say that they had reached agreement on a way forward to the completion of devolution. In January this year, the committee reported on its deliberations on the devolution of policing and justice powers, and the Assembly agreed the report on a cross-community vote. The elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland, having gone through their Assembly and Executive Review Committee, have asked that we give legislative form to their agreements of November and January. In that sense, the Bill not only enjoys confidence, but has “Made in Northern Ireland” stamped firmly on it.

This is not the legislation that will affect the transfer of power. It is, however, important in that it makes a series of changes to departmental models, and deals with arrangements for the appointment of a Justice Minister and arrangements for the judiciary. It is for the people of Northern Ireland, through their Assembly, to decide when to ask for the transfer of powers. The triple lock set out in the Northern Ireland Act 1988 remains firmly in place. We made a commitment to be ready to play our part, and that is why it is necessary to have this legislation in place now and to expedite its path. That is not for the convenience of the Government; it is in order to ensure that when the Assembly asks, we are ready. That is why I am asking the House to expedite the arrangements without undue delay.

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I am very aware that this is not the first occasion on which we have asked for the passage of Northern Ireland legislation to be made a matter of urgency, and, along with my predecessors as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, I continue to be grateful to the House for its indulgence. It has helped to spur Northern Ireland to its transformation from violence to peace and from inequality to partnership in power, truly building the environment for a shared future. I ask again for the co-operation and support of the House in expediting this legislation, thereby enabling those who are elected in Northern Ireland to take control of their destiny and, at a time of their choosing, accept responsibility for the policing and justice powers that currently reside in the hands of the Secretary of State.

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