David Maclean, the Home Office minister whose outspoken remarks on moral teaching provoked a demand for an explanation from Lambeth Palace, yesterday said he had not been commenting on the issues raised by the murder of James Bulger, the Liverpool toddler.
In a letter to Lambeth Palace, Mr Maclean said: 'My remarks were made in the context of the Children's Society report about persistent juvenile offenders. The report contained many recommendations about what should be done with these young people, but not one of them touched on the importance of teaching children the difference between right and wrong.
'I made my remarks in that context and not in the context of the James Bulger case.' He said he agreed with the Archbishop of York, who also sought on BBC radio to heal the rift. 'We all have to examine our respective responsibilities in the aftermath of the dreadful events in the Bulger case to see whether there is anything more we can do,' Mr Maclean wrote.
Downing Street also sought to avoid the aftermath of the Bulger case turning into a confrontation between Church and State.
The Prime Minister's office said John Major was aware of Mr Mac lean's remarks and the context in which they were made. That was seen as a clear signal that while Mr Maclean, a right-winger, may have irritated the Government, it was not a sackable offence.
Government sources made it clear ministers would continue to espouse the 'back to basics' theme adopted by the Prime Minister to revive Tory morale for the new term of Parliament.
Peter Lilley, the Secretary of State for Social Security, praised the Church for its moral teaching.
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