Author: David Alton
The recent decision to award Malala Yousafzai the Nobel Peace Prize was a good one for women and a good one for Pakistan but the decision to sentence Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian, to death was a bad one for all women, all minorities, people of all faiths, and Pakistan. The brutal killing of a well known Ahmadi Muslim, Latif Aalam Butt, in Attock on Thursday, underlines the importance of Pakistan returning again to Mohammed Ali Jinah’s belief in a society which respects and safeguards its minorities.
The story of these two women, and the death of Latif Aalam Butt, undeline the growing Islamisation of Pakistani society and the Talibanization of a country which was founded on principles of tolerance and co-existence.
The original death sentence imposed in November 2010 on Asia Bibi was because of alleged blasphemy.
Her appeal, heard this week, was heard in the court of Justice Anwar-ul-Haq along with Justice Syed Shahbaz Ali Rizvi, with a large number of lawyers were present from both sides. Asia Bibi’s team of lawyers comprised of Sardar Tahir Khalil Sandhu, Chaudhry Naeem Shakir and Advocate S. K. Chaudhry.
A large number religious clerics including Qari Saleem who had initially brought forward the complaint against Asia Bibi were present in the court. Members of radical Islamic militant organizations were also present inside and outside the court premises creating an extremely tense atmosphere.
The Cecil & Iris Chaudhry Foundation (CICF) is an independent, non-government, non-profit organization, dedicated to the eradication of injustice in society by advocating on behalf of the under-privileged, under represented and marginalized groups within Pakistan. They report that:
“The Lahore High Court dismissed the appeal filed by the defense and upheld the November 2010 verdict of the sessions court, and maintained the death penalty for Asia Bibi.
The Defense filed its written arguments exposing that the witnesses lacked credibility and the apparent construction of false accusations.
The court however held valid and credible the allegations of the two Muslim women who apparently witnessed the alleged blasphemy committed by Asia Bibi.
The verdict has been termed “a victory of Islam” by the Islamic Clerics who celebrated by congratulating each other and chanting religious slogans outside the Lahore High Court.
The appeal will now be taken to the Supreme Court the third and final level of Justice in Pakistan.
The Advocacy and Legal Aid team of The Cecil & Iris Chaudhry Foundation (CICF) were present in the court during the proceedings.
Expressing disappointment and concern over the verdict Ms. Michelle Chaudhry President of The Cecil & Iris Chaudhry Foundation (CICF) stated “We are disappointed and terribly upset over the decision of the Lahore High Court; it is an undoubted fact that in blasphemy cases the judges come under severe pressure and face life threatening circumstances which more than often cause them to be biased in their judgment; however we still have hope as we turn to the Supreme Court of Pakistan for Justice. We remain optimistic that the rule of law will prevail and Justice will be done. For now that is our only hope.”
The Cecil & Iris Chaudhry Foundation (CICF) may be reached at email@example.com
Pakistan is sliding toward extremism by Farahnaz Ispahani and Nina Shea, Special to CNN:
Recall also that :
Shahbaz Bhatti, the former Minority Affairs Minister, and Salman Taseer, Punjab’s former governor, were both outspoken critics of the blasphemy conviction of Christian mother Asia Bibi, and both were gunned down in 2011.
The blasphemy law was originally introduced to appease extremists, but has instead stimulated an appetite for more. No Christian supports blasphemy but laws like these are not appropriate as a way of discouraging blasphemy.
Shahbaz Bhatti correctly observed that: “This law is creating disharmony and intolerance in our society.” The law legitimizes and arouses religious passions. Thatv is why Pakistan should repeal it. Let them show compassion to Asia Bibi and remove a law that allows cases like hers to reach the courts in the first place.She has already spent four harrowing years on death row – much in solitary confinement. Five earlier hearings had been cancelled and there has been intimidation of lawyers and judges.
All who care for justice and who oppose the execution of Asia Bibi should write to the Pakistan Ambassador and to the Chief Justice, Nasirul Mulk, calling for the Supreme Court to quickly arrange a review of this case, and the sentence, and to ensure Asia Bibi’s safety and care while she continues to languish in prison.
Parliamentary Questions and Interventions – Autumn 2014: Pay Day Loans Advertising, EBOLA, Iraqi Refugees – and using Afghanistan’s British tent city for Iraqi refugees – , South Sudan and other issues
To see all of the questions tabled recently click on:
Pay Day Loan Advertising Aimed At Children
Moved by Lord Alton of Liverpool
102: After Clause 86, insert the following new Clause—
Promotional activities by sellers in the high cost consumer credit market
Where a lender in the high cost consumer credit market is selling a service which may only be purchased by a consumer aged 18 years or more, public communications about that service, including promotional material and any promotional activities, shall not be targeted at people below the age of 18.”
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, in moving Amendment 102 I am returning to an issue which I raised at Second Reading. I tabled this amendment just before the Summer Recess, which seems a long time ago, but it has lost none of its topicality or, I would argue, its importance.
Amendment 102 is designed to address promotional activities by sellers in the high cost consumer credit market, an issue that I know is of widespread concern in your Lordships’ House and outside it. My amendment complements those which follow in this group and which I also support. It requires anyone selling their
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services in the high cost consumer credit market to behave in a specific way: that is, they must ensure that if their service is only purchasable by a consumer aged 18 years or over, it must be communicated in a responsible way such that any promotional material or activity is not targeted at people below the age of 18. In simple terms, the aim of my amendment is to ensure that children are protected from advertising for high cost loans which is both ill suited for children and corrosive in the impact it has upon parents and families as a whole.
This amendment should be seen as part of a suite of measures, alongside Amendments 105B and 105C, to protect vulnerable consumers, although I find the term “consumer” sometimes makes it easier for us to forget that these consumers are families, many of whom are struggling already without the added pressure of intrusive and inappropriate advertising. Debt is an awful blight on families and communities that often are struggling to survive. Certainly in neighbourhoods in the city I once had the privilege to represent in another place—the City of Liverpool—I encountered this frequently over the years. Debt destroys relationships and it can trap large numbers of people.
Sad to say, we are not doing enough, or anything like enough, to educate the generations who will follow us about the management of money. When payday loans are increasingly seen as a normal means of money management then we have a serious problem. This is not scaremongering. In September, the Children’s Society published a report entitled Playday not Payday, which I commend to all noble Lords. Among the headline findings from the report, which I am sure many other noble Lords will refer to in supporting amendments, it states that 61% of parents surveyed believe that seeing payday loan advertisements makes children assume that these are a normal way to manage money. In addition, 72% of children aged 13 to 17 said that they had seen at least one payday loan advertisement in the preceding week; more than two-thirds—68%—said that they had seen at least one on television.
The Children’s Society and the StepChange Debt Charity have provided some very useful information for today’s debate. For instance, in a note circulated to noble Lords, they make the point that 80% of payday loan ads are shown before the watershed. Their research found that more than half of children said that they had seen payday loan ads often or all the time, with 21% saying their school taught them about debt and money management—but therefore that four out of five do not. Playday not Payday discovered that more than half of children aged 13 to 17 recognised at least three payday loan companies, with 93% recognising at least one such company. Some 74% of parents thought that payday loan ads should be banned from television and radio before the watershed, and one-third of children aged 13 to 17 described payday loan ads as fun, tempting or exciting; those children were considerably more likely to say that they would use a payday loan. The Children’s Society says:
“Far from being an inevitable knock-on effect of successful marketing to adults, there is evidence to suggest that children exposed to particularly suggestive loan adverts are then asking and pressuring their parents to take out a loan to pay for things which they have not been allowed”.
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Its polling found that parents who had used a payday loan in the past were significantly more likely to say that their children had suggested that they take out a payday loan.
Another organisation, Christians Against Poverty—CAP—a national charity seeking to lift people out of debt and poverty by providing debt help and money management courses, found in a 2013 survey that 20% of its clients had taken out payday loans. When taking out the loan, 61% were asked nothing about their income, 85% nothing about expenditure and 63% nothing about their work status; 77% used their payday loan to buy food.
At Second Reading I referred to The Debt Trap: Exposing the Impact of Problem Debt onChildren, another Children’s Society report, published in May this year. I want to remind noble Lords of some of the report’s findings. Families trapped in problem debt are more than twice as likely to argue about money problems, leading to stress on family relationships and causing emotional distress for children. Evidence suggests that problem debt can lead to children facing difficulty in school. Problem debt can also have a profound impact on children’s ability to engage in social activities.
I am not trying to browbeat the Committee but to drive home how important it is that we do something about the current situation. Children—who certainly consume what they see even if they are not able to purchase the service—are not an acceptable market for payday loan advertising. Additionally, these children will one day be consumers in the sense that they will be able to purchase the services they have been exposed to, once they reach the age of 18. The recent Children’s Society report to which I referred earlier would seem to indicate that the normalisation of payday loans as a means of borrowing is already beginning to happen, with 30% of parents aged 18 to 24 describing them as an acceptable means of managing day-to-day expenses—significantly more than older parents.
Developing responsible attitudes towards money must begin at an early age but this becomes much more difficult when a rising generation of younger parents are already influenced by the lure of high-cost credit. My amendment aims to begin the process of nullifying that problem by requiring a greater degree of responsibility from high-cost credit lenders to advertise conscientiously, ensuring that their service is not targeted at those aged 18 or under.
In other contexts, there are strict rules on how goods and services are marketed to children and young people so that they are protected from unfair pressure to buy products and are not encouraged to engage in dangerous behaviour. Alcohol advertising, for example, cannot be shown around children’s programmes—rightly—or on channels likely to have a particular appeal to children; nor are gambling advertisements that are seen to appeal to young people permitted. I put it to the Minister that this is a logical inconsistency in the current approach. The desire to avoid the normalisation of potentially harmful behaviours is
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evident in the way in which alcohol is advertised, yet a similar, measured approach is not being taken with regard to payday loans. I think it should be.
I understand that the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice is currently conducting a review into the compliance of adverts for short-term loans and is due to report its findings this month. While I welcome this, and while the Government have pointed to the Advertising Standards Authority and Financial Conduct Authority as sufficiently robust arbiters which may ban irresponsible rule-breaking advertising, there is a broader point here. Ad hoc regulation or advert-specific banning simply does not send a strong enough message. My amendment meets this challenge by placing in statute a responsibility on high-cost credit lenders to target their advertising appropriately.
As recently as last week, the Work and Pensions Secretary expressed concern that:
“Too many children suffer poor outcomes due to the instability of their families”.
I am quite sure that the Minister and the Government are serious and concerned about the well-being of children, parents and families. My amendment provides an opportunity today for us to get our house in order in relation to payday loan advertising. I look forward to the debate that will follow and hope that the Minister will be in a position to accept my amendment, or at least the principle that underlies it, and say how the Government see this problem and how they will address the concerns that I have raised in my remarks. I beg to move.
Default-on and ISPs not Covered by the Agreement
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, in the very best parliamentary traditions, my noble friend has been persistent, dogged, assiduous and determined. I have been privileged to support her on earlier occasions when she raised this issue. I will speak briefly in support of her excellent amendment today.
All of us, especially those with teenage children, know how important the arguments are that she has advanced to the Committee today. Her three basic arguments are incontrovertible. First, it cannot be right to say on the one hand that default-on is an important protection for children and yet to settle for an arrangement where over 10% of households are serviced by ISPs that are not party to the agreement and where some are completely opposed to that form of protection. Those ISPs that object simply will not introduce a protection unless they are obliged to do so by law.
That recalls an argument I had in the 1990s, when a Member of another place had promoted legislation to protect children from video violence. During a meeting with the then Home Secretary and his civil servants, I was pretty shocked to hear one of them say, “Really, this legislation will affect only a small number of people”, as though those people who were not protected did not really matter. My noble friend made the point that 10% of children will not be covered by the current arrangements. Can the Minister say, when she comes to reply, how many families that means and how many children the Government estimate that 10% represents? If there was only one uncovered household left in this country with children in it, surely it would be our duty to protect those children.
Secondly, it cannot be right that we settle for a form of age verification that is not age verification at all. Anyone seeking to opt in to access adult content and to disable adult content filters must obviously be age verified before doing so, as mandated by this amendment.
Finally, if we care about children and protecting them, we must afford them protection through the law, backed by sanctions. As my noble friend said, it is absurd to have protections offline but not online; there has to be some logical consistency in the way we view these issues. If this issue is important—and it clearly is—we must bite the bullet and place the obligations on ISPs and mobile phone operators to provide default adult content filters that can be lifted subject to prior expeditious age verification on a statutory footing. We do not allow a child to buy an 18-rated DVD offline, so why do we afford them less protection online?
I suspect that when the noble Baroness comes to reply, she will suggest that the Government are doing enough already because they are planning to introduce regulations that will simply require websites live-streaming R18-type content online to do so behind robust age verification. I very much welcome that, but I suggest that it is no substitute for Amendment 104 because they largely deal with different things. First, unless the Government have widened their proposals, the
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requirement relates only to R18 video on demand content and not all adult content, which could be 18-rated video on demand or indeed the vast majority of adult content that is not video on demand but photographs and articles. Secondly, it relates only to R18 video on demand content that is live-streamed from the United Kingdom. Of course, the vast majority of the content accessed in this country is from outside the United Kingdom and will be outside the scope of their proposed regulations.
I very much look forward to the regulations being laid, but they are no reason not to back Amendment 104. The amendment is vital because we do not live in a world where all online adult content, or even most online adult content, comes in the form of video on demand live-streamed from sites based in the United Kingdom. The basic issue is: do the 10% really matter? Does protection matter? If it does, the Government will surely accept this amendment.
EBOLA: November 6th 2014
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, in her powerful opening speech the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, referred to the tragic legacy of the number of orphans who will be left in these west African countries as a result of the Ebola epidemic. Last week I attended an international conference which highlighted the plight of the world’s orphans. The number of orphans worldwide is already estimated to be around 150 million and, compounded by HIV/AIDS, we know that many of those are in Africa. If the WHO’s estimate is correct that more than 1 million people in west Africa will die from Ebola, and that by Christmas there will be 10,000 Ebola orphans, the noble Baroness,
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Lady Kinnock, is right to have made this a key question in her remarks. I hope that when the Minister comes to reply, she will tell us how we can develop a long-term plan for the care of those orphans.
I would like to ask the Minister a number of other questions, some of which I have raised previously with the Government. How have they responded to the motion on Ebola passed by the BMA last month, especially its call for the provision of more protective clothing and the training of staff? Is she in discussion with the BBC World Service to see how it can sustain and expand its excellent African initiative to disseminate public health information about the disease? Can the Minister also tell us—I have raised this point with her on the Floor of the House before—what response the Prime Minister received from the 27 European leaders to whom he wrote asking them to step up their donations after it was revealed that the Swedish furniture manufacturer, IKEA, had given a bigger donation than the Governments of Spain, Norway and Luxembourg combined? Can she say whether the first part of the 700-bed facility which we are constructing in Sierra Leone opened on schedule at the end of last month; and when the rest of the facility will be functional? Are they keeping under review the use of merchantmen and cruise ships as potential hospital ships capable of providing immediate beds and isolation? Is she truly satisfied that British personnel can be cared for adequately in west Africa rather than being flown home, should they contract the virus? Given its successful use in the case of the British nurse flown home after being infected with Ebola, are there sufficient supplies of ZMAP available to immediately treat others, or are those supplies exhausted?
Among all the things that can be said about Ebola, it represents a major setback to development. I hope the Government will reconsider their opposition to putting universal healthcare at the heart of global development, for without such provision the festering conditions in places such as Monrovia and Freetown are a perfect breeding ground for the further spread of epidemics of this kind.
ATOS Healthcare and Disability Benefits
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Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, in his reply to the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, the Minister said that the new contract between Maximus and the DWP had now been signed. In view of the phenomenal sums of public money which are involved in this, can the Minister tell us when that contract will be placed in the public domain, whether it will be possible properly to scrutinise it and whether it will be possible for the public to see the operating systems and all the other issues involved, in contrast to way in which the Atos Healthcare contract was administered?
Lord Freud: Details of the new contract will be published on Contracts Finder by the end of November.
Question 22 Oct 2014 : Column 634
Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the international response to Ebola.
Baroness Northover (LD): My Lords, the UK has been at the forefront of responding to the Ebola outbreak. We are leading the international response in Sierra Leone with more than £125 million in assistance committed already. We are urging our international partners to scale up their support for the worst-affected nations and to contribute to the UN trust fund.
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, in the light of disclosure that the Swedish furniture manufacturer, IKEA, has provided more funds than Spain, Luxembourg and Norway combined in responding to the Ebola crisis, will the Minister tell us what response the Prime Minister has had from the letter that he sent to 27 European leaders last week asking them to increase their contribution to match that of the generous response of the United Kingdom? Will the Government raise with the international community the possibility of providing hospital ships to relieve the acute shortage of beds in west Africa? Will the brave British personnel risking their lives routinely every day be flown home for treatment should they be unfortunate enough to contract the virus?
Baroness Northover: The Government are extremely active at the moment in seeking assistance internationally. The European Council is coming up and the Prime Minister will attend. He has sought €1 billion from European countries. All embassies across Europe are very active in seeking funds for this extremely important and pressing crisis. The key thing about hospital ships
is to make sure that there is capacity in Sierra Leone rather than seeing capacity as being offshore. In terms of being flown home, as my noble friend Lord Howe said the other day, sometimes it is not in the best interests of a patient to be flown home. The important thing is to make sure that if we have medical staff working there they are supported there if that is judged to be clinically the most effective way to look after them.
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Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, does not the handful of cases to which the noble Earl has just referred contrast very sharply with the prediction that 1 million people may die in West Africa? Given the fetid conditions and grinding poverty in places such as Monrovia and Freetown, does he not agree that this public health epidemic has been brought about because of the conditions that we have allowed to fester for so long?
Would the noble Earl not agree that the WHO was very slow in responding when this was first identified? Does he not also agree that an immediate problem is the disposal of corpses, which carry the risks of contagion? Furthermore, when will the 700 beds in Sierra Leone to which he alluded actually come on line?
Earl Howe: My Lords, I believe that the WHO itself has acknowledged that its response could have been swifter. It is easy to say this in hindsight, but I am sure that the noble Lord’s view on that is shared by others. Nevertheless, the WHO has not been slow in rallying support for efforts in the three countries affected. It is now working energetically with many developed countries to provide support, and I would not wish to criticise the WHO in those respects.
On the disposal of corpses, the noble Lord makes an important point. We know that many cases of Ebola in the three countries have arisen as a result of people being in contact with the corpses of people who have died from the disease. That has been as a consequence of the cultural traditions in those countries, which are very hard to displace or persuade people not to follow. It is nevertheless part of our effort in Sierra Leone that we should inform people there that their burial customs need to be set to one side for the duration of the epidemic. This is a very difficult thing to do, for understandable reasons, but that is the effort we are making and it is bearing fruit.
As to the programme for building 700 beds, I do not have a precise date to give the noble Lord but if I receive advice before the end of this debate, I shall tell him.
To answer the earlier question of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, I shall write to him with further details, but the 700-bed facility is under construction now. The first facility as part of that will be open by the end of October in Kerry Town.
EBOLA October 15th 2014
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB):
My Lords, has the Minister seen the comments of the director-general of the World Health Organisation, Dr Margaret Chan? She said that this is,
“unquestionably the most severe acute public health emergency in modern times … I have never seen a health event threaten the very survival of societies and governments … I have never seen an infectious disease contribute so strongly to potential state failure”,
“the whole world is put at risk”.
Will the Minister detail to the House the ways in which this country, admirable though our efforts in Sierra Leone are with the provision of 700 beds, is bringing together the international community to fight a disease that is already predicted to take the lives of 1 million people in west Africa?
The noble Lord is right, and so is Margaret Chan. The noble Lord will no doubt be reassured to know that the Foreign Secretary is chairing a COBRA meeting on EU co-operation this afternoon—in fact, as we speak. It is extremely important to get that international engagement. The Prime Minister will chair another meeting of COBRA tomorrow at 3 pm. We have sought to galvanise international reaction to this. As the noble Lord said, it is absolutely critical that we do so.
Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the remarks of Dr Margaret Chan, Director General of the World Health Organisation, about the ebola outbreak; and what is their current assessment of the projected number of fatalities in West Africa. [ DfID ] HL2103
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB):
My Lords, in her reply, the Minister mentioned the importance of an inclusive Government in Baghdad. Given the number of Sunni Muslims who have been antagonised by the kinds of policies that have been pursued in the past, can she say what more is being done to prevent them becoming a fertile breeding ground for IS? Will she say a word also about the position of the Yazidis, Christian minorities and others, who are without adequate accommodation as the winter months now approach?
Baroness Anelay of St Johns:
My Lords, there are two different strands there; I will refer to the humanitarian effort first. Clearly, as winter draws in fast, the humanitarian effort has to be directed at preventing people from dying of hypothermia. It is a most serious matter. I know that DfID has clearly worked hard on that, and, I understand, so have our partners. I discussed those matters with the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross when I was in Geneva last month. With regard to the way in which minorities have suffered in the existing crisis, it is clear that life in the whole area for Christians and other minorities is deeply distressing. We certainly discussed repeatedly with the Government of Iraq how that might be resolved. I can say to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that when Foreign Office Ministers visit the region, they always meet the Christian communities to discuss their concerns. My honourable friend Mr Ellwood, in his visit at the end of August, specifically raised the persecution of Christians with the then Foreign Minister Zebari and other senior officials. It is something that we take very seriously.
The Archbishop of Canterbury:
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her last answer, which was very reassuring. However, given that the terrible events in Iraq and Syria are the result of a global phenomenon of ideology, what steps are the Government taking to support other areas such as Nigeria, Kenya, Somalia, Pakistan and Sudan where similar problems need to be either prevented, mitigated or contained?
Baroness Anelay of St Johns:
My Lords, this is a matter that I discussed this very morning with a group set up by my noble friend Lady Warsi at the Foreign Office. She did most important work; the group is considering freedom of religion or belief. I can say firmly not only that this is one of the six priorities for this Government, but, as when my noble friend Lady Warsi led on this, it is a personal priority for me to ensure that throughout government and throughout our discussions, we consider exactly those points. It is not just a matter of looking at one area but of considering how a breaking down of religion or belief around the world can undermine the very societies in which people need to have security.
Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress has been made so far by the International Humanitarian Partnership with establishing the proposed three camps, each to house 15,000 persons, for refugees who have fled from the fighting in Iraq; how that progress compares with the anticipated schedule; how many refugees are believed to be in need of shelter; which ethnic or religious groups are being assisted in those camps by the International Humanitarian Partnership; and what assessment they have made of what is likely to happen to those who are not provided for by those camps. [ DfID ] HL1961
Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of a report by Human Rights Watch that Islamic State is detaining Yezidi men, women and children from Iraq in Iraq and Syria; and what they know about their situation. [FCO] HL2002
Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the report by Human Rights Watch that Islamic State has removed Yezidi boys and made them convert to Islam and is holding captive civilians from other religious and ethnic minorities, including Christians and Shia Shabaks and Turkmen. [FCO] HL2003
Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the safety of Christian and Yezidi refugees in the Kurdish region in Iraq and the likelihood of an IS-led genocide against them. [ DfID ] HL2074
Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with other European Union member states about scaling up the resettlement programme for refugees displaced by fighting in Syria and Iraq; and what is their policy in regard to applications for asylum from displaced Yezidis and Christians from those countries. [HO] HL2075
Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have considered relocating tented facilities from Afghanistan to the Kurdish regional area to house displaced refugees; and what discussions they have had with the Kurdish authorities about providing adequate shelter for refugees during the winter months. [ DfID ] HL2076
15 October (29 October)
Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what consideration they are giving to the future of the tented camp used by British Forces in Kandahar; whether Agility and those involved in its disposal have been instructed to examine urgent humanitarian uses to which it could be put; whether any discussions have taken place with non-governmental organisations willing to purchase it; whether commercial interests will be given priority; and what plans they have for assistance to be given by the Department for International Development to enable the camp to be transported for use by refugees in the Kurdish region of Iraq. [ DfID ] HL2102
Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the risks of clinical trials of mitochondrial replacement therapy; and what safeguards will be put in place in such trials. [DH] HL1962
Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they are engaged in or supporting any action to help protect women at risk of sexual violence as a result of the ongoing conflict in South Sudan.[HL1870]
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Anelay of St Johns) (Con): South Sudan has endorsed the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict and as an endorsing country participated in the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict in London in June. We continue to press the Government of South Sudan to act on the commitments it has made to design and implement a national action plan against sexual violence.
The UK remains closely engaged with the South Sudan non-government organisation (NGO) Forum and associated NGOs to help protect women and girls from sexual violence. Foreign and Commonwealth Office Ministers have stressed to the South Sudanese government the need for a comprehensive investigation into human rights abuses in South Sudan, including cases of sexual violence. At this year’s UN General Assembly in New York in September, the Minister for Africa, my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East (Mr Duddridge), and the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Sexual Violence in Conflict, co-hosted an event to mark a year since the launch of the Declaration, at which he encouraged all 155 member states who have now endorsed the Declaration to deliver on the practical and political commitments they have made to end the use of rape and sexual violence as a tactic of war.
Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to encourage women to participate in the peace process in South Sudan, and to ensure that women from all sections of society are represented.[HL1871]
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: The UK continues to underline the need for the Intergovernmental Authority on Development-led South Sudan peace process to be inclusive and represent the people of South Sudan, especially women. We raised this issue on 24 September at the UN Human Rights Council, and emphasised the importance of the participation of women in the peace process, in line with UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security.
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Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will ensure that the recommendations of the Oxfam Report From Crisis to Catastrophe, food security in South Sudan, published on 6 October, are implemented. [ DfID ] HL1964
Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the Oxfam Report From Crisis to Catastrophe, food security in South Sudan; and, in particular, how they will (1) assist the humanitarian efforts to create better conditions in United Nations camps, (2) improve co-ordination and delivery of aid to where people are, particularly in hard-to-reach areas, (3) ensure that diverse and sustainable interventions are made, building on local systems, and (4) improve management and planning to prevent future delays. [ DfID ] HL1965
Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress is being made in South Sudan to ensure that all parties to the conflict and all armed groups (1) end violence and respect all agreements signed to date, including the Cessation of Hostilities and humanitarian agreements; (2) stop attacks against civilians, their homes and livelihoods, and end the forced recruitment of children; (3) guarantee protection of and respect for humanitarian staff; and (4) guarantee safe and unhindered access for humanitarian aid. [ DfID ] HL1966
REFUGEES AND MIGRANTS IN PERIL…
Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of Amnesty International’s report Lives adrift: Refugees and migrants in peril in the Central Mediterranean. [HO] HL1998
Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to halt the killing and displacement of people, and the destruction of churches, in the Nigerian states of Borno and Adamawa by Boko Haram; what is their assessment of the amount of territory which has been seized by Boko Haram; and what is their assessment of how many people have been killed or displaced and how many churches destroyed. [FCO] HL1999
Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they plan to emulate the United States Justice Department’s “Kleptocracy Initiative” in which assets are seized from corrupt foreign officials and politicians living in the United States. [HO] HL2001
Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government, with reference to the letter from Lord Faulks to Lord Alton of Liverpool on 18 September and the High Court judgment on 2 October that the review under section 48 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 about mesothelioma proceedings was not lawful, whether they intend to initiate a further review; if so, how it will differ from the last review; and what will be the timetable for it. [ MoJ ] HL2000
Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government how many claims for compensation have so far been generated under the terms of the Mesothelioma Act 2014; how that number compares with predicted numbers of claims; what, if any, underspend against budget has resulted; and whether they intend to allocate any underspend for research into finding cures for mesothelioma. [DWP] HL2104
North Korea – Looking to the Far Horizon” – Keynote Address by David Alton: Korea Security Conference: University of Central Lancashire. October 16th 2014.
Keynote Address by David Alton (Professor Lord Alton of Liverpool): “North Korea – Looking to the Far Horizon”
This is a timely moment to consider the situation on the Korean Peninsula. From the Ebola crisis in West Africa to the horrific events in the Middle East, there are significant global events which have crowded out consideration of North Korea. But we should always beware of what has been described as benign neglect.
That simply opens the door to further provocation and destabilisation.
Given the 3 million deaths the last time there was a war on the Korean Peninsula it’s in humanity’s interests to use every opportunity to exert pressure and to promote dialogue – what President Park’s administration have described as “Trustpolitik”.
In Parliament, over the past decade, I have promoted what I have described as “constructive, critical engagement – Helsinki with a Korean face.” As recently as last night I chaired a two hour seminar in Parliament at which we heard from Dr.John Swenson-Wright, Andrea Berger and Martin Uden about North Korea’s weapons programmes, sanctions evasions and the response of the international community ( see http://appgnk.org/ ).
They addressed, as your conference will address, what is the threat posed to the world and its own people by North Korea’s nuclear and conventional arms?
Seemingly not bound by international law and treaties, North Korea is not a party to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty or the Chemical Weapons Convention, is a suspected violator of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention and is not a member of the Missile Technology Control Regime. In terms of its nuclear weapons programme, North Korea has conducted three nuclear weapons tests – 2006, 2009, 2013 – and continues to test short and medium range ballistic missiles, plus a series of short range rockets. What does this all mean for security in East Asia, how does North Korea so successfully evade sanctions and what can the international community do in response?
Those will be key issues for you to discuss, but you will not be surprised that I want to concentrate my remarks on the question of human rights.
Although I have been, and remain, a firm advocate of engagement with North Korea, I want to state firmly, at the outset, that this should never be confused with appeasement or lead to quietism about the appalling neglect by the regime of its people, abuse of its own citizens, or as indifference to the security threat which the regime represents to the region and beyond. Indeed, all of these challenges are the very reasons why we must engage at a political, diplomatic, military, humanitarian, and academic level.
As a parliamentarian, who has visited the country on four occasions, and having chaired the parliamentary All Party Group on North Korea for the past decade, I know that the way in which parliamentarians engage is bound to be different from that of other players – not least those in the Academy.
Our roles may be different but our objectives should be the same.
When there is intelligent moral leadership from both academia and politicians, it can be the catalyst for change.
Certainly, no parliamentarian worth their salt, or nation which cherishes the values proclaimed in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, should ever bury their convictions for the sake of a quiet life.
When universities engage in complex questions – which revolve around citizenship, human rights, security, sustainability, the common good and what constitutes a just peace – they can foster a deeper understanding and the Academy can provide invaluable empirical evidence, learned opinion and valued advice – especially in the context of “business diplomacy”, cultural exchanges, and academic discussions, which should all aim to spread knowledge, ideas, aspiration and hope.
In this context, I strongly welcome the decision of the University of Central Lancashire (UCLAN) to appoint Professor Hazel Smith as Director of the university’s new International Institute of Korean Studies. Over many years, Hazel’s in-country experience and unrivalled knowledge of the nutritional and food needs of North Korea have been invaluable to policy makers and to non-governmental organisation. We have been privileged to have her speak to our Parliamentary Committee.
Inevitably, though, in dealing with the world’s most closed society, many of us who claim knowledge of North Korea can merely speculate.
This is why the diaspora of 25,000 North Koreans now living in the Republic of Korea, and several hundred among us here in the UK, have become such an important resource.
With information now flowing in and out of the country the diaspora have become a game-changer.
Theirs are unmediated, authentic voices, giving rare insights into a totalitarian State which offers the world a Master Course in indoctrination, obfuscation and dissimulation and which, until recently, was able to shelter behind its wall of silence.
What we have learned from the many testimonies is that within the regime there is a paranoid schizophrenia – a system which feeds off mutualised fear and shared guilt; systematic dysfunction between the leader and the led; and deep seated generational abuse. This is a grisly fantasy world characterised by an emotional weakness, made manifest in a pugnacious militarism. The truly powerful do not need to constantly boast about military power or flaunt their brutality: only the weak.
Yet, we also need to understand that this manifestation emerged in a country which was colonised, shamed and itself brutalised – and that a fervent nationalism and fear of outsiders has led to loyalty and even a willingness to die for a corrupt of oppressive regime It is this belief which falsely convinces its rulers that they can cheat history.
The mistake which is sometimes made is to believe that to understand North Korea, and to engage with North Korea, you have to deal with the regime alone.
What those who have escaped from North Korea have done is to provide a treasure house of first- hand information – bravely telling their stories and challenging a sixty year old status quo.
Those now in exile include members of the country’s elite.
I recently provided a platform for Jang Jin Sung – author of “Dear Leader” – and a former high ranking member of the regime – to speak in Parliament about the internal workings and power structures.
Rarely have we heard from such high ranking exiles, giving unprecedented insights into a regime which, following the execution of Kim Jong Un’s uncle, Chang Song-thaek, may well be in the throes of a blood-letting purge and power struggle .
Many escapees believe that Chang Song-thaek had to be killed because he knew that North Korea had to come to terms with the rest of the world and finally come in from the cold.
Chang had questioned an ideology which has paralysed economic development, incarcerated hundreds of thousands of its citizens, and which has conferred pariah status on the country. His execution became the most high profile of a succession of killings, symptomatic of an unsustainable system which routinely murders and imprisons its own people. From Stalin to Ceaușescu we know that such regimes finally exceed their shelf life.
Chang was killed because he had begun to be seen as a potential alternative.
Perceived as the power behind the throne, he was close to China and admiring of its reform programme. China’s anger at his killing sits alongside their barely concealed increasing contempt for an “ally” which routinely aborts North Korean babies, fathered by Chinese men, and thus regarded as a contamination of the Korean blood line. If this is how you regard you friends how do you perceive your enemies?
The recent deepening of relations between Seoul and Beijing and the attempts by North Korea to improve its relationship with Tokyo and Washington are part of this same narrative.
Chang’s execution – some unsubstantiated reports but, significantly, published in China, allege that he was thrown to the dogs; the purges; the reign of terror; the falsifying of history; the show trials; the network of gulags; the estimated 400,000 people who have died in the prison camps in the last 30 years; and the attempt to obliterate religious belief and all political dissent; all bear all the hallmarks of a regime which has carefully studied, admires and imitates the visceral brutality of Joseph Stalin.
The authoritarian dynastic regime in North Korea ruthlessly crushes dissent and through “guilt by association” , collective punishment and the execution of men like Chang, is trying to ensure that there is no Liu Xiabo, Kim Dae Jung, Lech Walesa, or Aung San Suu Kyi able to become a focal point for opposition.
Instead, North Korea is the first country in history to be ruled by ghosts: Kim IL Sung is Eternal President. Kim Jong IL is Eternal General Secretary of the Workers Party. But no country can survive indefinitely as a necropolis – bathing in the blood of its own people.
The harbinger of the changes which will inevitably come are the witness statements and first- hand accounts of those who have escaped. We must listen to them with great care and prepare them for tomorrow’s world.
A defining moment occurred earlier this year with the launch of the United Nations Commission of Inquiry Report into human rights violations in North Korea – which were described by the Commission as “without parallel”.
Mr. Justice Kirby, the highly respected Australian Judge, who chaired the Commission, and his fellow Commissioners, say in their 400-page report that North Korea’s crimes against humanity are sui generis: “the gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world”
The COI specifically compared the country’s egregious violations of human rights with those of the totalitarian regimes of the 1930s and has called for their referral to the International Criminal Court.
Despite its angry protestations, the country’s leadership should fearfully reflect that, if it fails to change, as for instance Burma is doing, a day of reckoning will one day come – as at Nuremberg and at The Hague.
If you were to bench-mark the findings of the recent United Nations Commission of Inquiry into the abuse of human rights in North Korea, against the thirty articles set out in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it would be difficult to find a single article which Kim Jong-un’s regime does not breach
In an editorial, The Times says that “The condition of the people of North Korea ranks among the great tragedies of the past century. The despotism that consigns them to that state is one of its greatest crimes”.
The COI builds on the eight reports of Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn, written for the UN while he was Special Rapporteur on Human rights in North Korea, in which he says the abuses are “both systematic and pervasive” and “egregious and endemic”, and he concluded that “it is incumbent upon the national authorities and the international community to address the impunity factor which has enabled such violations to exist and/or persist for a long time”
His successor as United Nations special rapporteur, Mr Darusman, said, following the publication of the COI Report: “There is no turning back; it cannot be ‘business as usual’. It now remains to be seen whether the UK and other nations implement the recommendations and that it serves as a plan of action and not simply an academic text gathering dust on a shelf.
The reason why we cannot ignore these egregious violations of human rights is illustrated graphically by the story of one young man.
In September of this year, Shin Dong Hyok was again in the UK, where he has previously given evidence before my Committee.
Shin was born in Camp 14 – where many political prisoners are held – and as a child he was forced to watch as his mother and brother were publicly executed.
Shin spent the first 23 years of his life in Camp 14, one of five sprawling prison camps in the mountains of North Korea, about fifty five miles north of Pyongyang. No one born in Camp 14 or any other political prison camp – “the absolute control zone” – had previously escaped from North Korea. These are places where the hard labour, the malnutrition, or freezing conditions, minus 20 Celsius in winter, will often end your life before the firing squad does.
His story is powerfully and movingly documented in the book, “Escape from Camp14.” But Shin’s story is not unique. He is one of thousands who have escaped from North Korea, breaking the regime’s wall of silence.
The regime has responded to these escapes and testimonies by threatening severe punishment for prison guards, former inmates and nearby communities if they disclose information about the camps. We, in turn, should respond by using high-precision satellite imagery to monitor the camps and by ensuring that the testimony of escapees can be used in future trials; not least because this might concentrate the minds of prison guards who have been told to massacre inmates in the event of the regime collapsing. They need to know that they will be held accountable. We owe this to those who have been opponents of the regime and whose fate has too often been ignored.
I think here of women like Hea Woo.
In March, following the publication of the COI Report, my All-Party Group held a hearing addressed by Hea Woo. She gave a graphic and powerful account of her time inside a the camp -where torture and beatings are routine, and where prisoners were so hungry they were reduced to eating rats, snakes, or even searching for grains in cow dung. She said that in such places “the dignity of human life counted for nothing. The guards told us that we are not human beings, we are just prisoners, so we don’t have any right to love. We were just animals. Even if people died there, they didn’t let the family members outside know”
Voices like Hae Woo’s are a radical counter point to a regime which, when it speaks, does so with a mixture of braggadocio and blackmail – alternating between threats to blow us to kingdom come and demands that we stay quiet about gulags which incarcerate around 200,000 of its own people.
Their insights provide us with first-hand accounts on which the Academy must devote time to analyse and understand.
Among the stories we have heard from escapees are a description of the emergence of the Jangmadang, – the Market Generation -begun in desperation as the Soviet Union collapsed in the 1990s and famine ensued.
Their stories of personal resilience, and of how reliance on a black market has challenged the State, has led to considerable contact with the world beyond their borders. Although there are a new wave of border controls this will be a difficult process to reverse.
Instead of seeing their country as “paradise”, with “nothing to envy” North Koreans increasingly know the truth – that the economies of North and South Korea contrast more sharply than any other two neighbouring countries. This is the clinching argument in defining the “legitimacy” question of whether the North or South is the true Korea.
The South, with only twice the population of the North, has an economy that is forty times that of the North. South Korea has the fourth largest economy in Asia, it is the 12th or 13th largest economy in the world. The South is a member of the G-20. The North ranks in the midst of countries of sub-Saharan Africa in terms of its economy.
School children in North Korea are 3 to 8 cm shorter than their counterparts in South Korea with stunted growth and malnutrition affecting around 45% of North Korean children under the age of five.
By comparison, whether it is South Korean pop music, media, construction companies, host to the Olympics, or provider of the UN Secretary General, the dynamism of the Republic of Korea can hardly be concealed.
And, by contrast, the North’s ham-fisted attempts to create a spectacle around a retired American basketball player, who once played for the Detroit Pistons, while simultaneously excoriating the international community, on whom it depends for medicines and food because it can’t grow sufficient food to feed its people or attend to their sickness, is risible.
The result is that the only way the North can assert its legitimacy is through crude militarism – recently demonstrated during the visit of Pope Francis to South Korea when the North fired three missiles into the sea just before his arrival in South Korea and another two soon after.
But North Korea’s mask is slipping.
Every North Korean who travels to China, a country which, only three decades ago, was poorer than theirs, also gives the lie to the propaganda which they have been force fed. Between 2009 and 2013 the economic situation continued to worsen and will inevitably drive change and reform. North Korea is reported to have experienced its worst spring drought in 30 years and, in some provinces, food shortages are expected. State administered rations are reported to have dipped to low levels. Kim Jong Eun has blamed the country’s weather forecasters
It’s not just the weather forecasts that people are beginning to doubt.
There is an increasing desire to know what is happening in the world outside. Escapees say that significant numbers risk imprisonment and even execution to watch South Korean television programmes smuggled in with cell phones and radios from China.
Try as they may the information genie cannot be put back in the bottle. Up to 50% of escapees make contact with their families
All of which, should convince the BBC to begin long overdue BBC World Service transmissions to the Korean Peninsula and for the UK to honour its obligations under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and which insists that citizens have a right to access news and information.
The Russian Service of the BBC began broadcasting to the Soviet Union in 1946 and quickly established a reputation with Soviet listeners, millions of whom listened despite jamming: Gorbachev later said he had been a long term listener.
Breaking the information blockade should be a central pillar of our approach with North Korea but there is something equally important.
I strongly believe that, as well as analysing what they have to tell us, the Academy should be taking a deep interest in those who have risked their lives in making dangerous journeys across China and through countries such as Laos, to obtain their freedom. They are tomorrow’s leaders.
Some of those who have escaped and are now studying at our universities and learning about the rule of law, democratic governance, the nature of free market economies, and the role of the State in promoting the Common Good, will be among tomorrow’s leaders in North Korea.
One such escapee, Timothy, made his way to my university in Liverpool – Liverpool John Moores University – where I am Director of their Roscoe Foundation for Citizenship. During the 1990s famine, when over a million people are thought to have died from starvation, Timothy had been left on the streets as a street child.
Many North Koreans were orphaned during the famine (the Arduous March), between 1994 and 1997 . It claimed millions of lives. Children were the most adversely affected. The World Health Organisation reported death rates for children at 93 of every 1000, while those of infants were cited at 23 of every thousand.
The famine led to hundreds of thousands living on the streets as “street swallows”. Timothy saw all of his friends die of hunger and he described how these abandoned children, known as Kotjebi, subsisted by begging and by eating wild vegetables, bark and grass roots.
Having escaped he was repatriated from China and tortured. He escaped again and eventually made it to Seoul where the UK arranged asylum.
Having arrived in the north of England, Timothy enlisted to help on a soup kitchen because he told me, he knew what it was like to be hungry.
He taught himself English and, while working to support himself, he took the necessary foundation courses and is now a student at one of our northern universities, studying politics and international affairs.
Timothy’s courage and determination reminds us of the Korean qualities which we should greatly admire and support in any way we can. I wonder what he will do for his country one day.
Last month I was with the Prime Minister of a Central European country. I first met him and his friend, now one of that country’s Ministers, when they were both students at the University of Oxford.
They came from dissident families who had opposed totalitarianism and, with the help of the British authorities, they were given the opportunity to study to a high level in the UK.
The British officials who gave them that opportunity did not confuse engagement with an obnoxious regime with the importance of supporting forces for change and especially promoting and supporting human rights discourse.
We should recall Solzhenitsyn’s observation that “someone that you have deprived of everything is no longer in your power. He is once again entirely free” and that is undoubtedly the case with those who bravely risk so much. The Academy should be investing far more in developing leadership skills among those who have escaped.
The failure to be ready for change is graphically illustrated by anarchy unleashed by the Arab Spring. Things can change more rapidly than we might imagine and we must be ready. That was the story of 1989. But it was also the story of South Korea and the bravery of men like Kim Dae Jung, the opposition leader who spent six years imprisoned in the South by the military regime.
I am always struck, when I read these words of Kim Dae Jung, that they might be the words of a captive held today in one of the North’s prison camps:
“The intention was to make me go insane. I could hear someone moaning in a room next to me. I was stripped naked and forced to wear worn-out military fatigues. I was threatened with torture.”
Kim Dae Jung would subsequently be awarded the Nobel Prize and become President of what is now one of the world’s most vibrant democracies. But recall the description given by his widow, lee Hee Ho, of what South Korea was like three decades ago.
She said it was a “truly an Orwellian world of illegal brutality –acting as if they would never have to answer to history of God for their barbarity.”
She described how supporters of democracy were “Deprived of any clothing they were mercilessly pummelled with wooden bats, deprived of sleep, and had water poured into their nostrils while hanging upside down like so much beef hanging from hooks in the slaughter house. Listening to these stories of horror, my body shuddered with indescribable indignation and sorrow.”
Now consider how fundamentally that world has changed – and changed for the better. In Europe, think of Germany; think of the Soviet satellite countries.
We should never forget the lessons of the Cold War and the Helsinki Process, how divergent ideologies were pitted against one another and how, in defeating communist ideology, we combined wisdom with strength, self-restraint with a dogged patience and how worldwide alliances were formed between dissidents, religious leaders, democrats, academicians, and human rights activists.
Recall that it was Academician Andrei Sakharov, a celebrated nuclear physicist, who fearlessly challenged the Soviet system, declaring “Our country, like every modern state, needs profound democratic reforms. It needs political and ideological pluralism, a mixed economy and protection of human rights and the opening up of society.”
Can we doubt that a similar yearning exists among people in North Korea? For 60 years, the Korean peninsula has longed for a lasting settlement based on justice, peace, reconciliation, coexistence and mutual respect. Instead its people have experienced suffering, division and threats.
Whatever outside observers may think of the ideology or the system in North Korea, they should not confuse this with an unthinking hatred of North Korean people.
They are a fine people who deserve much better. They deserve a liberalised economy, the implementation of the UN Conventions to which the DPRK has already committed itself, the development of an independent judiciary, a just penal system, an open society and freedom from fear. Above all, they deserve peace –and this I believe will only happen when we tenaciously pursue a robust and different strategy from that pursued hitherto.
Our objective should be to engage and to foster change; not to isolate and not to appease. We must encourage China to share a global attitude; to broker a Beijing Peace Conference so that the technical state of War with the United States and South Korea can be formally concluded. The Obama Administration still has time to open an embassy in Pyongyang – just as the U.S. did throughout the former Soviet empire and to recognise that in a United Korea, the presence of an American military presence in the north of the country would not be acceptable, either to the indigenous population or to China.
Facing the challenge of North Korea is an urgent diplomatic and political problem but it is also a moral obligation – and the history of the twentieth century is littered with too many examples of the consequences when the world played safe rather than facing up to moral problems posed by States that perceived themselves as unchangeable.
If we truly believe in the pursuit of peace and progress, that every life is unique, and that the human rights and human dignity of every human being are of infinite value, we must fix our eyes on the far horizon and patiently follow the maps which will take us there.
David Alton – Lord Alton of Liverpool – is Professor of Citizenship at Liverpool John Moores University and is Co-Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea. His book, “Building Bridges – is there hope for North Korea?” was published last year by Lion and is available on Kindle. www.davidalton.net
Question in the Lords on 3% Mesothelioma Levy – Liverpool conference on Mesothelioma and the Law – reply from Lord Freud
Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the reply by Lord Faulks on 9 December 2014 (HL Deb, col 1710), what evidence they have for the assertion that a lack of good research proposals is deterring research into mesothelioma and that there are no problems concerning availability of funding. HL3669
†Tuesday 9 December at 2.30pm
†*Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government, following the decision of the High Court that the consultation on mesothelioma legal fees was unlawful, and the lack of new funding for mesothelioma research, what is their policy with regard to combatting mesothelioma and supporting victims.
Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool
To ask Her Majesty’s Government, following the decision of the High Court that the consultation on mesothelioma legal fees was unlawful, and the lack of new funding for mesothelioma research, what is their policy with regard to combating mesothelioma and supporting victims.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Faulks) (Con): The Government take the plight of mesothelioma sufferers seriously and are determined to improve their position. We have introduced significant changes through the diffuse mesothelioma payment scheme, established under the 2014 Act. By October 2014 the scheme had made 131 payments, resulting in £16.5 million being paid to sufferers or their families. The Government fully recognise the need to stimulate an increase in the level of research activity and continue actively to pursue measures to achieve this.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Does he recall that, during the passage of the Mesothelioma Act 2014, Ministers said that the levy on the insurance industry would be set at 3%? They said:
“Three percent. is 3% and we have no intention of moving away from it”.—[Official Report, Commons, Mesothelioma Bill [Lords] Committee, 12/12/13; col. 117.]
Why then has it now been set at 2.2%, representing a shortfall of more than £11 million? That money could have been generated and used to undertake sustainable research into a killer disease which will take the lives of another 60,000 British people. This is according to figures which the Government themselves have issued.
Lord Faulks: As the noble Lord will know, the Government responded to the amendment which he tabled during passage of the Act by saying that they were committed as a priority to helping to encourage research by the National Institute for Health Research. We set up a partnership of patients and carers to identify a top 10 list of questions for researchers to answer. The results were published yesterday, as he may know. We now feel that we have identified the questions and funding will be available if there are appropriate applicants. The problem with research is no longer—indeed, it never was—funding, but finding really conceivably successful applications.
Lord German (LD): My Lords, both the House of Commons Justice Committee and the judgment of the High Court concerning the issue of legal fees in mesothelioma cases are critical of the way that the government review was carried out. It was found to be premature and did not follow the rules of the LASPO Act. We know that the incidence of this disease will peak and then fall away over the years, as the 30 year-old Acts concerning asbestos are put into place and have an effect. Given that there will be a withering on the
9 Dec 2014 : Column 1711
vine of the numbers suffering this fatal disease, is it not now the time for this legal fees issue to be left alone and kept as it is, rather than coming back to it again and putting people through increased risk and increased delay?
Lord Faulks: My noble friend is right. We expect the peak to start declining and perhaps come more or less to an end in 2024. There is to be a review. There is no immediate timing for it but my noble friend is right in that the status quo is acceptable to the claimants. They are to receive damages. Research will continue, as I indicated, and the pre-LASPO regime for legal support will continue. This will ensure that lawyers are paid adequately, and we are told that they will not take cases unless they are paid adequately. The review will go on.
Lord Giddens (Lab): My Lords, I watched a member of my family die of this dreadful disease. There are massive advances in medical technology which make it possible, in principle, to find a cure. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has indicated, that could mean saving the lives of some 50,000 people. To do this we are going to need an integrated research strategy, with the Government in the lead, co-ordinating with industries and with universities. Where is this strategy? The Government’s approach seems far too piecemeal and far too limited to do the job that is needed.
Lord Faulks: As I indicated, the strategy is to ensure that the right questions are posed so as to elicit appropriate applications. The funding is very much there, but there is no point in having it unless it is directed towards research which can feasibly produce the result which, I am sure, everybody in this House wants to achieve.
Lord Wigley (PC): My Lords, will the Minister go further on that? There needs to be a certainty that the money is there but the top-level researchers also need to be aware of it so that the money and the level of the research capability are brought together. Is the Minister confident that that certainty now exists? What can be done to make sure that the best researchers in the land are aware of it and can get engaged with this problem?
Lord Faulks: I can do no better than quote what Professor Dame Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer and chief scientific adviser, said yesterday. She thanked all those who provided information and said:
“With their help I believe we have built a genuine consensus—and a real impetus. I hope the research community will now respond by generating new research proposals that will provide robust evidence to help people with mesothelioma”.
The Lord Bishop of Chester: My Lords, I encourage the Minister to answer the first part of the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, about why the percentage of the precept was reduced from the promised 3% to 2.2%.
Lord Faulks: The position with insurers is that they have provided money. I will have to write to both noble Lords and the right reverend Prelate about what has happened to that particular sum. The question of
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the use of research funds is difficult. We think that research funds should be spent in the most effective way, and we think that publicly funding research is much more appropriate than hypothecating against insurers’ particular sums.
Lord McKenzie of Luton (Lab): My Lords, would the Minister accept that throughout our deliberations on the Mesothelioma Bill the focus was on a 3% levy? It was 3% because the insurance industry insisted that beyond that it would have to be passed to consumers. By implication, if the levy is now 2.2%, presumably that falls into the pocket of the insurance companies at a time when compensation is not being paid at a 100% level, and, as has been asserted, there is insufficient funding for research.
Lord Faulks: It is absolutely not the case that there is insufficient funding for research. As I have said more than once, the case is that, at the moment, there is not a suitable number of applications for research. The funding is very much there. As to any question of insurers making some profit out of this, I will look into that. It is contrary to what the Government wish to achieve.
Lord Howarth of Newport (Lab): My Lords, when the noble Lord, Lord Freud, brought in the mesothelioma legislation he did so undoubtedly in good faith. Yet, sufferers from this terrible industrial disease have now been failed not only by employers and insurers but by the Government themselves. Has the Lord Chancellor authorised the noble Lord to apologise on behalf of the Government for his decision to take up to 25% of compensation awards for costs—conduct which has been ruled by judicial review in the High Court to be unlawful? The noble Lord still has not explained to the House why the Government have failed to honour their commitment, given in terms by the Minister, Mike Penning, to set the levy on employer’s liability insurance at 3% of gross written premiums, which would have enabled better compensation and more funding for sustained research.
Lord Faulks: Compensation is full at the moment, as the noble Lord knows. I reject the allegation that the Government have done nothing. Not only are they promoting research; they have also, with their Big Tent meeting in June, encouraged much greater co-operation between lawyers acting for claimants to ensure that medical employment records are swiftly obtained. What is most important is that these claimants obtain compensation quickly and at as high a level as they can
Asbestos and the Law Conference 2014
Mesothelioma Research Funding – Professor Lord Alton of Liverpool
Extracts from remarks made by David Alton at a conference organised by the Merseyside Asbestos Victims Support Group, at the Maritime Museum, Albert Dock, Friday October 10th 2014.
Thanks were expressed by David Alton to John Flanagan of the Merseyside Asbestos Victims Support Group and to the British Lung Foundation for their consistent work on behalf of those who are affected by mesothelioma
Mesothelioma is an occupationally-related disease. Simply put, men and women went to work and they were negligently exposed to asbestos when it was known that asbestos caused great harm. In 1965, the Newhouse Thompson report provided shocking evidence that a brief exposure to asbestos could result in mesothelioma fifty five years after first exposure.
Yet, scandalously, and with utter contempt for life and health, men and women continued to be exposed to asbestos with little or no protection for decades after the Report was made public. Nearly 40,000 people have died from mesothelioma from past exposure to asbestos, and some 56,000 will suffer from mesothelioma years to come. The UK has the highest incidence of mesothelioma world-wide. Society owes a great debt to those who went to work, often in hard, heavy industry, and built the economy of this country, only to suffer terrible consequences.
Although we must continue to insist on proper and commensurate support for those families blighted by the curse of this disease – and I have forced votes in Parliament to highlight this – I have also been critical of the lamentable and paltry sums of money which have gone into finding the causes and cures for mesothelioma; and this must be a partnership between Government, the industry, and the research community..
So when, last year, the Government introduced the Mesothelioma Bill in the House of Lords to set up a payment scheme, funded by insurers, for mesothelioma sufferers who could not trace their insurers I determined that something must be done to secure funding for mesothelioma research.
The case for funding
• Over the last several years there has been growing political support for the need for the insurance industry to fund mesothelioma research. The Government’s duty to intervene to make this a reality has been well established.
• Last year’s amendment to the Mesothelioma Bill that if successful would have secured a sustainable and fair future funding system by charging a small levy on insurance firms. Sadly, this was defeated by seven votes.
• As a result of my amendment to the Mesothelioma Bill and the large cross party support it received. The Government agreed to talk to the Association of British Insurers to see whether a voluntary funding agreement could be reached, but no commitments have yet been made. To keep the pressure on Government, I held a short debate in the House of Lords on 16th January. During this debate the Health Minister, Earl Howe, announced that the ABI had written to him committing to provide £250,000 of new funding for the BLF to invest in mesothelioma research, and agreeing to attend talks discuss long term funding options.
• This funding was very welcome; however it is not a long term solution. Continued talks with the ABI and the British Lung Foundation have broken down. This has led me to believe that the only possible way to secure a long term sustainable funding scheme, and to stop the procrastination, is to put the insurance companies’ responsibility on a statutory footing. Sustainability is the key to ensuring effective research work.
• It is estimated that there are 150 insurance firms active in the Employers’ Liability Insurance market, and a small contribution from each could raise a vital £1.5 million each year for mesothelioma research. These small payments would make a huge difference to the future of mesothelioma research in the UK, and could potentially lead to a cure which would save tens of thousands of lives.
• Not only is funding Mesothelioma research the right thing to do for the thousands of people who are set to lose their lives. It makes financial sense for Insurers. If insurers were to fund mesothelioma research they would reduce their liability for compensation and their money would go towards a cure not courtroom challenges.
• Funding in research has produced impressive progress: new researchers from other areas of therapy have started taking an interest in mesothelioma, bringing with them new expertise and insights.
• Recent findings from British Lung Foundation funded research grants have been encouraging. One revealed that attaching a drug called “TRAIL” to stem cells can lead to the killing off of mesothelioma cancer cells. The study was performed, by BLF grant holder Dr Elizabeth Sage, in mice and whilst much work is needed to progress this to human trials with adult stem cells, the results are promising. These are the types of advancements we see when funding is made readily available for mesothelioma and yet it is truly shocking that this is funding we must still fight for.
• Another British Lung Foundation grant holder, Peter Campbell, is conducting research into identifying which genes are the most important targets of mutations in mesothelioma. He is sequencing the DNA for all 20,000 genes in the human genome from 75 mesothelioma samples and comparing this sequence to normal blood samples from the same patients. He hopes that identifying these genes will form the basis of new diagnostic methods, new information for predicting a patient’s outcome and, ultimately, new treatments for this devastating cancer.
• It is Mr Campbell’s belief that “Only by understanding its basic biology will we be able to develop a new generation of drugs targeted at the specific abnormalities of mesothelioma cells. This requires sustained investment at all levels of mesothelioma research, from basic genetics and cell biology through drug development to clinical trials.”
• Dr Robert Rintoul who works at MesobanK, Europe’s first mesothelioma tissue bank that was created to collect and store biological tissue from mesothelioma patients for use in research; and to identify the genetic architecture of the disease, underlines the importance of research. Not only for the UK which is dramatically affected by this disease but the rest of the world, he says “asbestos is still being used in an unsafe and unregulated way. Although the number of cases of mesothelioma in the UK will fall over the next 30 years, there will be continue to be an epidemic of the disease globally and the lessons that we learn today about the biology of the disease will be used by doctors the world over in years to come”.
And what are we currently doing in the UK?
• A report conducted by the OHE and the Science Policy Research Unit of the University of Sussex found that 7% of all cancer papers produced in 2011 were from the UK, it emphasised the global importance of medical research in the UK. This British commitment to excellence in the field of medical research is something I am deeply proud of and wish to continue to see. However, what was most stark about the findings is that a cut in research by a research funder can cause a disproportionate fall in research activity. It found that a 1% cut in research can see a drop of 1.3% in research productivity.
• I have tabled numerous parliamentary questions on this issue and when I asked about funding for mesothelioma research in 2014-2015 the Health Minister, Earl Howe, told me the number was “not available”. There is no guarantee that funding will be available, this uncertainty is dangerous and why legislation is required.
• Unless we change the way we fund mesothelioma research we risk stagnation and endanger potential life changing breakthroughs. Currently, we rely on inconsistent donations from insurers and charitable donations. This unreliable approach to funding jeopardises ongoing research. This is why we must secure statutory funding for our promising mesothelioma research.
Let me say a word about how we take the campaign forward
• There is not long left of this Parliament for the Government to act. I believe we must do all we can, to put pressure on the Government to bring forward a legislative solution and to commit opposition parties, MPs and individual candidates to commit themselves to supporting funding provision for mesothelioma research.
• I have tabled a Private Members bill in the House of Lords and would welcome the chance for the issue to be discussed again on the floor of the House.
• I know that in the British Lung Foundation has written to all parliamentarians urging them to write to the Minister, and so far over 20 MPs and peers have taken action – including the former head of the British Navy, Admiral Lord West, who has pledged his full support to the campaign. On top of this, an Early Day Motion tabled by Tracey Crouch MP, has over 80 signatures.
• Last month, I was lucky enough to go and visit the British Lung Foundation helpline based here in Liverpool. Whilst there I met many dedicated individuals all committed to supporting people living with lung disease, their families and carers. After talking to the operators and the nurses and hearing about the calls they receive I am even more certain in my conviction that research must continue. The work the British Lung Foundation do in supporting patients is admirable but support is not a cure and a cure can only be found through substantial, innovative and well-funded research.
• To allow this issue to rest or be pushed aside would be another injustice to mesothelioma patients. We didn’t protect them from asbestos in the past and without funding we cannot protect them from this fatal disease in the future. Compassion and mercy motivate us to tackle the pain in the world; but justice challenges us to eradicate its cause.
Let us be clear. We are not asking for the World. Just small sums from the insurance industry would make a huge difference to the future of mesothelioma research in the UK and could potentially lead to cures, saving tens of thousands of lives. There are an estimated 150 insurance firms: a small contribution from each could raise a vital £1.5 million each year for research.
Are levies on industries unheard of? No. Here is a list of just some of them:
The Gambling Act levy
The Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act levy The HGV Road Users Act levy The Fossil Fuel levy The Gas Levy Act 1981 The levy on the pig industry to eradicate Aujeskey’s disease
There is no reason in principle why an employers’ liability insurance levy should not be supported.
There’s an old saying that the best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago; the second best time is now.
Clearly, it would have been better if, twenty or even forty years ago, significant resources had been put into finding the cause and cures for mesothelioma but the second best time is now – – certainly not twenty or another forty years from now.
The seriousness of the situation was revealed earlier this year when The Independent newspaper reported that fresh figures from the Health and Safety Executive showed a 10% increase in mesothelioma cases, due largely to a greater number of male deaths aged 65 and over. The British Lung Foundation say the numbers will continue to rise until 2020. The newspaper reported the demands of scientists and doctors for more money to be urgently pumped into research.
The playwright, Arthur Miller, in Death of a Salesman, urges us to look at his central character, Willy Loman, and the playwright’s plea is that we pay attention “he’s a human being and a terrible thing is happening to him.” Terrible things happen to those who contract mesothelioma and we should all pay much greater attention to them
Nelson Mandela once said: “Our human compassion binds is the one to the other – not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.”
Research into mesothelioma represents the only hope for the future for those who contract this lethal disease and so we must urgently commit far greater resources to provide hope to the more than 50,000 of our countrymen who will otherwise die from this harrowing and devastating disease if we fail to act.
1. The need to increase funding for mesothelioma research
Mesothelioma is an invasive type of lung cancer, primarily caused by prior exposure to asbestos. There is currently no cure – patients often experience complex debilitating symptoms and most die within 12 months of diagnosis.
The UK has the highest rate of the disease in the world. Annual numbers of related deaths are increasing and have quadrupled over the last 30 years. This year it is estimated that 2,500 people will die of the disease in the UK, and during the next 30 years around 60,000 people will die unless new treatments are found.
Relatively little is spent on mesothelioma research in the UK measured against other cancers of comparable mortality. For example, in 2012 (the most recent year for which data is available), the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) reported that £1.2m was invested in mesothelioma research by its partners. This is significantly lower than the £9.9m and £5.3m spent respectively on skin cancer/melanoma and myeloma, two cancers that kill a similar number of people each year. For melanoma, £3,700 is invested per death; for mesothelioma it is only £480.
Data released by the Department of Health and Department of Business, Innovation and Skills in response to parliamentary questions also suggests that statutory investment in mesothelioma research is low.
2. Mesothelioma Act 2014
The Government’s Mesothelioma Bill was introduced in the summer of 2013 to set up a scheme ensuring that victims of mesothelioma unable to trace a liable insurance company could claim compensation from a common fund supported by a levy on insurance firms.
During the Bill’s passage, Lord Alton of Liverpool tabled an amendment which would have secured long-term research funding by charging a small additional levy on participating insurance firms. It is estimated that there are 150 insurance firms active in the Employers’ Liability Insurance market, and the amendment had the potential to raise around £1.5 million each year for mesothelioma research. It was narrowly defeated in two votes – one in the Lords and one in the Commons.
The Bill received Royal Assent on 30th January 2014. In response to parliamentary debate during the Bill’s passage, the Government agreed to talk to the Association of British Insurers (ABI) to see whether a voluntary agreement would be possible. A meeting has subsequently taken place, but no firm commitments have resulted. The Government has also committed to raising the profile of mesothelioma research through various means.
Although these commitments are welcome, they do not address the real issue: the need to put funding for mesothelioma research on a sustainable footing in order to guarantee continued progress towards identifying a cure and treatments for this disease.
3. Mesothelioma research funding shortfall
In 2010, the British Lung Foundation and four leading insurance firms reached an agreement under which they collectively granted £1 million a year for three years to invest predominantly in mesothelioma research (a small share was used for asbestos-awareness campaigns). This agreement was facilitated by the Department of Health.
The results have been impressive: research specialists have started taking an interest in the disease, bringing new expertise and insights with them. Europe’s first mesothelioma tissue bank has been created to collect and store biological tissue from mesothelioma patients for use in research, and a trans-Atlantic collaboration to map the genetic architecture of the disease is now being funded – a crucial first step to finding a cure.
This shows that investment in mesothelioma research is worthwhile. However, all the original funding has now been allocated and no solution to provide future sustainable funding has been agreed. Insurance industry leaders have argued that it is unrealistic to ask a small number of firms to be responsible for 100% of the insurance industry’s contribution to mesothelioma research going forward, and that any long-term funding solution needs to see this responsibility shared more widely.
It remains a significant concern that funding will not be forthcoming unless there is legislation to put the industry’s duty to contribute on a statutory footing.
To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many claims for compensation have so far been generated under the terms of the Mesothelioma Act 2014; how that number compares with predicted numbers of claims; what, if any, underspend against budget has resulted; and whether they intend to allocate any underspend for research into finding cures for mesothelioma.[HL2104]
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Freud) (Con): The Scheme began taking applications in April 2014, and began making payments on 1 July 2014. As of 30 September 2014 the Scheme had received 173 applications. During the first year of operation we had forecasted around 900 applications to the Scheme.
The DMPS is funded by a levy on the insurance industry. The levy is intended to cover the cost of the Scheme in any one year, and we are not expecting to generate any under spend. Any under spend would be returned to HM Treasury.
Anthony Doerr’s All The Light We Cannot See is set during the Second World War. It beautifully links the destiny of a blind French girl and a gifted German orphan.
Doerr uses radio waves and a diamond held in a Parisian museum, reminiscent of Wilkie Collins’ Moonstone, as the props around which he weaves this well- crafted story.
All The Light We Cannot See poignantly explores the affecting horror of war on all it touches through the convergent lives of the principal characters and those close to them.
As the story crosses a war torn continent, and spans the generations, it’s impossible not to continue reading, so strong is the desire to know how it will all end.
“The Myth of the Undeserving Poor” by Martin Charlesworth and Natalie Williams, Keynote Address at the launch of the “The Myth of the Undeserving Poor” at Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, 4.30pm Tuesday October 21st
Genuine poverty is an enduring problem in the UK. It has remained stubbornly persistent in the face of many proposed political solutions in recent years. The financial crisis of 2007-08 brought the issue to the forefront of the political agenda. A powerful combination of economic contraction, inflationary pressures on household living costs, entrenched indebtedness, a reduction in local authority capacity and radical welfare reforms led to major challenges for the poorest and most needy sections of the population. Real poverty came starkly to our attention. We entered the era of “foodbank Britain” with the dramatic rise of church-sponsored foodbanks as the symbolic frontline of a new battle with poverty. Not far from here, as they step from the platform to the train at Embankment tube station, passengers are frequently told to “mind the gap.” In a country where the gaps have been getting bigger, it’s advice which policy makers, campaigners, Government, charities, churches and civil society need to take to heart. The widening gap between the destitute and the very wealthy risks social cohesion. It was no surprise to me that the poorest in scotland vote to leave the United Kingdom and that a city like Glasgow, with significant poverty, voted Yes by a majority. As well as risking the cohesion of our country a failure to recognise and tackle poverty also offends basic principles of justice, fairness and decency. The injustice is compounded when we either blame those who are poor for their own condition or delude our-selves into believing that poverty is an illusion. I have often pointed out that we may live in the world’s fifth richest country but because we fail to mind the gap most people have little or no experience of the wealth which that implies. Instead, too many people’s experience of the fifth richest country in the world is of Food Bank Britain, Sharp Elbowed Britain, Rip-Off Britain and Devil Take The Hindmost Britain. In too many places we have seen the emergence of a new class of people who are outside society: workless, broken, lost to ambition and social improvement and with no stake in society – and easily exploited and manipulated by those who have extreme agendas. When you ask the question “who owns Britain?” we all know it’s not the people who have fallen through the gap – they have no ownership of our common society or our common destiny. In the face of this, the creative and energetic response of the church and other faith groups to the recent economic difficulties has been dramatic. During the last few years we have seen the birth of the “community franchising” movement in which strategic and effective methodologies for tackling specific areas of social action have been reproduced rapidly and effectively across the nation. The speedy growth of such “community franchises” as Street Pastors, Community Money Advice, Christians Against Poverty and the Trussell Trust are prominent examples – but many more – over 40, are developing quickly. This process is set to continue for some time to come. I was brought up in the tradition of Catholic social teaching, which has always been suspicious of anything which over emphasises crude individualism or unnecessary State domination. Hence, it has opposed both collectivisation and command economies whilst simultaneously criticising unbridled market forces. It has proclaimed the importance of subsidiarity; of community, (the most basic community being the family); of a lively civil society; of solidarity; and the sharing of what we have been given. Between the rocks and hard places of individualism and collectivism the Church has rooted its social teaching and it proclamation of the Common Good in the inviolate and sacred dignity of the human person (“from the womb to the tomb”) insisting that each person is made in God’s image. This transcendent relationship, between man and his Maker, requires those who have power, or who exercise it, to show infinite respect for the human person – and this expresses itself in a profound belief in the sanctity and the intrinsic worth of every human life; in a preference for the poor; in a requirement to use our talents and resources through servant leadership; in an emphasis on duties and mutual obligations rather than the flaccid language of autonomy, claimed rights and entitlements; through a cultivation of the Virtues described by both Aristotle and Aquinas; in a willingness to share what we hold in common; and to be good stewards of what God has entrusted to us. The Common Good is not a slogan or a manifesto. Rather, it is the scaffold around which we can hang a Christian contribution to public life and to the building of a more just and compassionate society. It also represents a good starting point in engaging with other faith traditions and with secular society, with political parties and individual politicians and policy makers, and in opening the door to the fullness of Christianity. The ability of Catholic social teaching and Christian engagement to transform society will inevitably be influenced by the ground into which the seed falls. We can too easily see the glass half empty rather than the glass half full. When we take the trouble to look we can see a great outpouring for the common good already underway. Look carefully, and with different lens, and what you will see is a remarkable amount of social capital and social vision unleashed by the churches through the harnessing of volunteerism on a grand scale into social action projects. Jubilee+ research estimated that in 2012 there were a staggering 98 million hours of volunteering for church-based social action– a 36% increase in 2 years. This work in our communities across the UK has already had a major impact on government perceptions of the church. New avenues for working together and the sharing of resources have emerged. Localism and financial cutbacks have also led many local authorities into meaningful partnerships with churches on the ground in their areas. And yet there is now another factor which has emerged suddenly into the public discussion of poverty – a new, or perhaps renewed, stigmatization of sections of the poor. The “myth of the undeserving poor” has been reborn. The media has been the primary source of this untimely and unwelcome narrative. It seems that chavs, scroungers and benefits cheats have become central players in the media narrative on poverty in the UK. Politicians have sometimes also jumped on the bandwagon. The Jubilee+ team works as a capacity building network for church based social action. They see the challenges of enduring poverty at the sharp end. They are working alongside churches and community franchisors. They have been active in researching the scale and impact of church-based social action. They have also been examining the bigger media narratives which have been emerging. The authors of the “The Myth of the Undeserving Poor” book, Martin Charlesworth and Natalie Williams, have written boldly and passionately about this. They have analysed the emerging media narratives. They have looked again at the history of tackling poverty in the UK. They have analysed both the theology and the practice of the current upsurge of church-based social action. Most searchingly of all, they have challenged the “myth of the undeserving poor”. They argue, rather, that both church and society respond best to poverty when we do not allow ourselves to be imprisoned by dubious and highly subjective moral judgements concerning the poorest in our society. I commend this publication to help challenge the thinking of not only people of faith but also the media and policy makers. David Alton – Professor Lord Alton of Liverpool – October 2014. “C.S.Lewis At The BBC – Messages Of Hope In The Darkness Of War”, Justin Phillips. Published by Harper Collins. After Justin Phillips died, on Boxing Day 2000, it fell to his widow, Gillian, his daughter Laura, and to his publisher, James Catford, to bring this book to completion. The result, C.S.Lewis At The BBC – Messages of Hope In The Darkness of War is a magnificent achievement. Phillips was brilliantly placed to produce this book – having spent most of his life as a broadcaster with the BBC. A former producer of Radio Four’s Today programme, I wonder what this deeply committed Christian would have made of the appointment of the non-believing Alan Bookbinder as head of religion and ethics at the BBC; or the manner in which his old programme now deals with the church. Phillips would probably have counselled us not to shoot the messenger because we don’t like the message. He would have reminded us, as he does in this book, how the media may be used as a powerful force for good, and with love he would have unfolded the story of the Christian roots of Britain’s public radio broadcasters – and encouraged us to reclaim that tradition. Every day, Phillips, Like James Welch and Eric Fenn, the principal players who brought C.S.Lewis to the BBC to broadcast to a nation at war, walked past Eric Gill’s sculpture of The Sower in the entrance of Broadcasting House, which bore the Latin inscription for “God gives the increase.” They would have passed the Latin dedication on the building proclaiming that “This temple of the Arts and Muses is dedicated to Almighty God by the first Governors of Broadcasting in the year 1931, Sir John Reith being Director-General. It is their prayer that good seed sown may bring forth a good harvest and that the people, inclining their ear to whatsoever things are beautiful and honest and of good report, may tread the path of wisdom and righteousness.” The dedication – like the BBC motto, Quaecumque (“whatsoever”) are inspired by St.Paul’s letter to the Philippians (4:8). As Britain braced itself during 1940 for the aerial bombardment of its cities it needed all the steely resolve and idealism that these high sounding phrases implied. Dr.James Welch, then the BBC’s Director of Religion, knew that bewildered people, dreading the arrival of telegrams heralding the loss of loved ones or the drone of German bombers, needed explanations about where God was in all of this. In 1941, an Oxford academic, C.S.Lewis, published The Problem of Pain . Welch had never met Lewis (and perhaps, just as important, he had never heard him speak either). Yet, he asked him to consider making a series of broadcasts, grappling with the tragedy of war, the inexplicable loss of loved ones, and to speak as a layman about how the Christian faith inspired him. The talks which followed – and which were organised by the BBC’s Eric Fenn – would ultimately form the basis of Lewis’s Mere Christianity . According to Phillips at the heart of Lewis’ approach is the belief that “we can’t shake off the idea we know how to behave but in practice don’t do so. We break the Law of Nature. Realising this is in fact the basis for all clear thinking.” In turn Lewis provokes, encourages, enlightens, and inspires us to turn to God. In advance of his broadcasts Leiws shared his scripts with four people. One was Dom.Bede Griffiths, the Catholic priest who, as Richard Griffiths, an Oxford undergraduate, had challenged his English tutor’s atheism. This deep desire to stay close to orthodox Christianity is why the broadcasts and books which followed have captivated Catholics and evangelicals alike. Phillips draws out Lewis’ friendship with Sister Penelope, an Anglican nun, and his belief in regular personal confession. He records Dorothy L.Sayers’ battles with the BBC over the broadcast of The Man Born To Be King – and Lewis’ words of encouragement. He touches on Lewis’ close relationship with J.R.R.Tolkien and the other Inkings. And there are countless vignettes which shed light on Lewis’ kindness and generosity. I was especially touched by Jill Freud’s recollections of Lewis’ wartime hospitality; by his decision to get the BBC to send his fees to clergy widows; by the recollection of Kenneth Tynan’s (a onetime student of Lewis) who said Lewis was “Johnsonian without the bullying and Chestertonian without the facetiousness“; and by Walter Hooper ( literary advisor to the Lewis Estate), who recalls his conversation with Pope John Paul II. The Pope said Lewis knew what his apostolate, his divine calling, was – “and he did it”. The BBC has only a few recordings of Lewis’ original broadcasts but what there are, along with the broadcasts of his Cosmic Trilogy (ital), The Screwtape Letters (ital) and the Narnian Chronicles (ital) should be re-broadcast as a tribute to one of the great figures of the twentieth century. Perhaps it says something about how the BBC has changed since the days of Welch and Fenn, and even Phillips, that instead of celebrating Lewis this Christmas we were being served up extra helpings of Philip Pullman. This avowed atheist has described Lewis’ writings as the most “ugly and poisonous” things he has ever read: “it’s propaganda in the service of a life-hating ideology.” He said that his own writings are an attempt to destroy the legacy and influence of Lewis. Heaven preserve us and our children from this. Phillips’ posthumous book is a reminder of how much we owe C.S.Lewis and that as his legacy is now attacked we need to cherish and uphold.
Some Books Worth Reading….
No Greatness Without Goodness by Randy Lewis
I would really recommend No Greatness Without Goodness by Randy Lewis. He was Senior Vice President of Logistics at Walgreens in the US and transformed their employment policies resulting in 10% of the workforce being people with disabilities. It’s. Truly inspiring read. Lewis effectively and bravely demolished the myth that a profitable company which actively recruited disabled people would be placed at a commercial disadvantage, unable to properly serve its customers, and outpaced by its competitors. Randy Lewis’ motto “what’s the use of having power if you don’t use it to do good?” is clearly one which we should all take to heart.
Now that Walgreens has bought the High Street chemist, Boots, I wonder whether the new, amalgamated, company will be adopting the same demanding criteria as Walgreens U.S.? This would set a U.K. gold standard and…
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Hear the latest Roscoe Lecture:
Last night (October 1st) John Fleming, Executive Vice President Europe of Ford Motor Company, flew into Liverpool from Detroit to give last night’s Roscoe Lecture. The title of the lecture was ‘An idealist is a person who helps other people to be prosperous’. How does that apply in the 21st century?’
It was Henry Ford who originally provided this definition of an idealist and last night, John Fleming, gave an overview of how Henry Ford’s values contunue to inform the outloook of this global corporation.
Born in Liverpool, John Fleming told his audience at St George’s Hall, that “Liverpool is a fabulous city to come back to” and the pride he feels at how it has been built into the place it is today. He then took the audience through the evolution of Ford and the changes the company has faced to improve over the years. This included a look at how Henry Ford changed manufacturing processes and improved conditions for workers, giving everyone the chance to be prosperous. John led the audience through the principles of Henry Ford and how his thinking still applies to the company, but also society, today.
For a full review of last night’s Roscoe Lecture, see:
And to hear the full lecture and view the power-point presentation, see:
In the audience last night was Ken Medlock, who gave last month’s Roscoe Lecture. Mr.Medlock is 100 years old and, like John Fleming, an engineer by background. See:
Make sure your reserve your place at the forthcoming Roscoe Lectures
All lectures are free and everyone is welcome to attend.
The next Roscoe Lecture will be presented by Baroness Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, United Nations. She will discuss the The role of the United Nations in a world riven by conflict, poverty and hunger at the Adelphi Hotel on Thursday 16 October at 4.00pm.
Thursday 13 November, 2pm Bill Sergeant & Tony Wainwright “Two Stories of Heroism – Chavasse and the Liverpool PALS” Venue TBC
Tuesday 2 December, 5pm Baroness Helena Kennedy QC “The Search for Justice in an Unjust World” St George’s Hall
Thursday 5 or 12 March, 5pm Professor the Lord Peter Hennessy – author and academic “Watching Prime Ministers” St George’s Hall
Wednesday 6 May, 6pm Mr Michael Morpurgo, Author “Fact and Fiction – where the ideas came from for my novels” Liverpool Philharmonic Hall
Date TBC Most Revd Justin Welby “Belief and non-belief – learning to live together, respectfully and with tolerance” – Spring/Autumn 2015 including conferment of Honorary Fellowship TBC
TBC, Autumn 2015 Rear Admiral the Lord Alan West
TBC, Autumn 2015 Archbishop Malcolm McMahon
For tickets or further details contact Mrs.Barbara Mace at firstname.lastname@example.org
The world watches Hong Kong’s umbrella protests with apprehension tinged with hope
Anyone who loves China and the people of China will be watching events in Hong Kong with a combination of apprehension, fear and hope.
The apprehension and the fear is based on what happened in Tiananmen Square a quarter of a century ago ago but the hope must be that wiser leaders in Beijing today will not resort to brute force.
Hong Kong’s dynamic economy has been the model for China’s spectacular economic improvements it should now become the model for democratic change. Hong Kong’s success is inextricably bound up with the liberties, political and religious freedoms enjoyed by its citizens. Crush them and Hong Kong’s vibrancy would be destroyed. Embrace them, and it will enable China to develop in harmony and unity.
The Washington Post
U.S. should send signal to China in support of Hong Kong democracy movement
By Editorial Board September 30 at 8:24 PM
IT’S HARD not to be inspired by the images of crowds in the centre of Hong Kong peacefully demonstrating in favor of democracy, their unlikely symbol not a clenched fist but an open umbrella. But it’s also difficult not to remember the similar mass demonstrations that filled Beijing’s Tiananmen Square 25 years ago and how those ended. The pessimistic consensus in and outside China is that the Communist party leadership of Xi Jinping, which has adopted a hard line against political dissent, is likely to forcibly crush this protest movement if it persists, just as the last one was crushed.
Beijing, however, has not acted yet; police in Hong Kong backed off on Monday and Tuesday after their use of tear gas over the weekend brought more people to the streets. Chinese authorities probably are weighing the risks of allowing the street occupations to continue against those of initiating a crackdown. That makes this a crucial moment for the United States to send a clear message to Mr. Xi: that repression is unacceptable and will damage China’s relations with the democratic world.
Unfortunately, the Obama administration’s response so far has been gallingly timid. White House and State Department spokesmen have carefully avoided offering explicit support for the demonstrators’ demands for free elections for the city’s leader, rather than a managed choice among nominees approved by Beijing. They have urged the demonstrators to be peaceful, though only the police have resorted to violence.
As a supporter of the 1984 agreement under which Hong Kong was transferred from British to Chinese rule, the United States has an obligation to speak up when China violates the spirit of its promise to allow an elected government – as it clearly has. Yet the U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong went so far as to declare that “we do not take sides in the discussion of Hong Kong’s political development, nor do we support any particular individuals or groups involved in it.”
Even more concerning is U.S. nonchalance about a possible crackdown. Asked about speculation that Chinese military units stationed in Hong Kong could be used against the protesters, the State Department’s spokesman said Monday that “I have not seen that potential at this point in time. I can check with our team to see if that’s a concern we have.”
State would do well to check with Chinese dissidents such as Yang Jianli, Teng Biao and Hu Jia, who know the regime’s capacity for repression all too well. In an oped published by the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, the three men pointed out that Chinese officials “have threatened repeatedly that Hong Kong-based units of China’s People’s Liberation Army will use force to suppress peaceful demonstrations,” adding, “this tragic outcome is becoming more likely.”
After the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, President George H.W. Bush and Congress imposed tough sanctions on China, though Mr. Bush soon backed down. Since then China has grown into a major power that is more resistant to outside pressure. The United States cannot protect Hong Kong’s democracy movement if Mr. Xi decides to crush it. But it can and should support its demand for genuine democracy and let China know that the use of force would have consequences for U.S.-Chinese relations.
ARCHBISHOP TUTU: ALL WHO BELIEVE IN DEMOCRACY SHOULD SUPPORT THE PEOPLE OF HONG KONG
Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu on Wednesday released the following statement with respect to pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong:
“I salute the courage of the hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong citizens who have participated in mass demonstrations in the territory in recent days to assert peacefully their right to have a say in the election of their leaders. They are taking action not for themselves, but for their broader family, their community.
“Their struggle is one that all who believe in the principles of democracy and justice should support.
“Periods of societal transition are exciting because of the opportunities they present. With its handover from Britain to China in 1997, Hong Kong embarked on a 50-year transitory journey towards universal suffrage.
“The foundation stone of the handover agreement was promulgation of the Hong Kong Basic Law, which gives legal effect to what is known as the “one country, two systems” arrangement. The Basic Law guarantees Hong Kong residents the rights to freedom of speech and association, and the freedoms to gather and to demonstrate.
“Peaceful demonstrations present opportunities for various points of view to be ventilated, and for parties to demonstrate their commitment to the principles of freedom of expression, dialogue and rule of law.
“The scenes that have been filling our television screens and email inboxes reflect differences of opinion that have emerged over the route that should be taken to complete Hong Kong’s journey to democracy. Its people, led by the youth, are adamant that Beijing has no right, in terms of the handover agreement, to decide who should take over as the new chief executive of the territory in 2017.
“The firing of teargas at demonstrators, as happened on Sunday, was a bitter blow to what many still hope will be a peaceful, inclusive and dignified transformation process.
“I pray that the voices of the people of Hong Kong will never be stifled. And I pray for a compassionate and just government in Beijing that does not fear the will of its people.”
Parliament Debates The Government’s Call for Military Action Against ISIS
Links to today’s debates:
At the beginning of this month it was reported that since this calamitous conflict began in Syria, in March 2011,the number of dead had topped 150,000, with 6.2 million internally displaced people – a number without parallel in any other country – and nearly 11 million people in need.
More than two million Syrians have now fled, marking a nearly 10-fold increase from a year ago. Earlier this month the UNHCR said: “Syria is haemorrhaging women, children and men who cross borders often with little more than the clothes on their backs”
In the past 12 months, around 1.8 million people have flooded out of Syria, and an average of 5,000 continue to cross into neighbouring countries each day. In August, UNHCR said that the number of Syrian children living as refugees has exceeded one million. This week alone 130,000 displaced Syrian Kurds have flooded into Turkey. In addition, thanks to ISIS, there are 1.8m people displaced in Iraq.
I first visited Syria in 1980 and arrived in Damascus on the day on which war broke out between Iran and Iraq—a war that claimed a million lives. In the decades which have followed disfiguring violence and war have shaped events in the region, leaving in its wake a bitter trail of orphaned children, widowed mothers, hoards of suffering displaced people, refugees and broken towns and cities.
It is hard to imagine that a campaign of aerial bombardment in Syria will make that dire situation any better.
Indeed, as we attack ISIS command centres, their insurgents will hide themselves in civilian settings and every time a Cruise missile hits the wrong target and kills non-combatants it will radicalise and recruit yet more fighters to their cause.
However brave and better armed the Kurdish Peshmerga and Free Syrian Army may be – and we had better hope that this time the arms we provide do not fall in to the hands of ISIS – endless air strikes and drone warfare will not achieve our objectives. We must also be wary of the danger of assuming, especially in the case of countries like Iran, that the old proverb “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” is true.
Military force alone will not kill the religious ideology that created and sustains ISIS, Boko Haram, the Al Nursa Front, al Qaeda, Al Shabaab, Hezbollah and the countless mutations which are committed to violence to achieve their ends.
By definition, military action cannot kill ideas or beliefs so our central task must be to convince Muslim majority societies, that their own interests demand toleration of minorities and the equality and freedom of people of other faiths.
It illustrates the size of this challenge that when an Afghan graduate student submitted a research paper arguing, from the Koran, that Islam supports the equality of men and women, his professors reported him to the police.
After being charged with blasphemy he was convicted and given a death sentence. This and beheadings, crucifixions, rapes and enslavement, all underline the scale of the battle for hearts and minds in which we have to be engaged.
Until these societies move toward pluralism, encourage religious freedom and respect diversity, they will not enjoy the peace, stability, internal security, and economic growth, for which all people crave.
But, in the immediate situation in which we now find ourselves, we could do a lot worse that revisiting the initiative taken by Sir John Major in 1991 during the mass exodus in the first Gulf War.
The UN-mandated safe-haven and the subsequent no-fly zone enabled Kurdish refugees to return to their homes and to establish a de-facto autonomous region, which continued until the fall of the Saddam regime in 2003, and which in recent weeks has once again become a vital place of refuge for Iraq’s minorities.
If, once again, we established a no-fly zone along the Turkish-Syrian border or, ultimately right across Syria, it would at least provide air cover to the FSA, the Iraqi army, and the Peshmerga as they seek to reclaim territory – the size of the UK – which has been needlessly and foreseeably lost to the Islamic State who, with an estimated 10,000 fighters, have been allowed to strike with deadly impunity. Their caliphate has now been imitated by the equally deadly Boko Haram in northern Nigeria.
One other thing we must urgently do is to dry up the sources of ISIS revenue.
On June 17th I asked the Government about the sources of funding which ISIS have received allowing them “to build up an amazing military capability” with the then Minister responding that she was “not sure about any direct funding”.
On July 23rd, in an article in The Times I urged the West to press the Gulf States to end funding for ISIS.
It is said that they garner £600,000 a day from selling oil on the black market. The sale of antiquities – some 8000 years old – and ransom money is estimated to give them a daily income of £1.2 million. We must ruthlessly follow the trail of money and expose those who are financing the orgy of killing.
Last week, Sabah Mikhail Brakho, the chairman of Iraq’s Beth Nahrain National Union, called on the Gulf States to stop funding ISIS.
He said “Financing for ISIS comes from the Arab Gulf countries, whether through governments or individuals. This is sometimes done openly, such as by Qatar, and sometimes secretly, such as by Saudi Arabia, as well as by a number of Kuwaiti individuals,”
Earlier this month Western press and intelligence reports indicated that states such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait, are the main supporters of Jihadist groups in the region.
The Daily Telegraph reported that Qatar’s Aspire Sports Academy hosted a number of religious lectures during Ramadan that were attended by Islamist preachers known for their extremism or links with terrorism.
They included Sheikh Mohammed Arifi who encouraged Muslims to swell the ranks of militant groups in Syria: “We will not overcome humiliation except by jihad,” he said.
Although he was subsequently prevented from entering Britain, on July 14 he gave a lecture at the Aspire Festival in Doha, where he was honoured by two members of the Qatari royal family. The festival was also attended by Nabil Wadhi, sponsor of the Major Kuwaiti Campaign to support 12,000 Islamic fighters in Syria. This campaign claims that it could collect millions of dollars to buy anti-aircraft missiles and was also planning to buy thermal missiles.
The Islamic State has been years in the making and it is a crisis which we should have averted.
In a House of Lords debate back on February 27th I referred to the “Afghanisation” of Syria, and pressed the Government for more clarity about the indiscriminating way in which support had been given to so-called opposition groups, largely at war with one another; and the need to hold the Assad regime to account for its use of chemical weapons; the Sarin gas which has been used against civilians in the suburbs of Damascus; the barrel bombs which have rained down on Aleppo.
In singling out ISIS during that debate I asked for the Government’s assessment of the areas which they controlled, their use of suicide bombers, the radicalisation of recruits, citing the example of an engineering student from the University of Liverpool who had been killed in military action, and argued that “vast tracts falling under the control of dangerous jihadist groups, would hardly represent progress.”
Earlier that week I had sent the Government a report from the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict which described how Jihadi humanitarian assistance teams appeared to be facilitating the entry of fighters, via Turkey.
I hope Parliament will be told the numbers of Britons involved with ISIS and the flow of money into their coffers.
I would also like to hear something about the plight of the region’s minorities –
In February, in arguing that the situation had been exacerbated by the flow of arms into Syria, I warned of the dangers posed to the region’s minorities whom ISIS required to pay tribute, to convert or to leave and asked “what we are doing to provide direct help to these beleaguered minorities”.
As long ago as 2008 and 2010 I raised concerns in the House of Lords House about the Yazidis and the “assassinations and kidnappings” which they faced.
In the debate in February I quoted the account of a Christian, Basman Kassouha, who described how ISIS had “stormed my house, giving me one hour to evacuate or else they will kill me … I’m heartbroken. I’ve lost everything”.
I cited evidence of genocide from Bishop Elias Sleman who said that “Christians are increasingly targeted in horrible and unspeakable massacres” and asked that we carefully collate such accounts for a day of reckoning.
I asked in February that we use our voice in the Security Council to refer these atrocities to the International Criminal Court and said that failure to do so would bring “great dishonour on this country.”
I ask, again, what have we done to plead for the rule of international law; and, if the ICC cannot be used, for the creation of a Regional Court in which perpetrators of atrocities which the Prime Minister described on Wednesday as “literally medieval in character” are brought to justice.
What are we doing to ensure that the Government of Iraq will have a clear objective to enable communities who have lived in Iraq for almost 2000 years to do so again and to exercise their full rights and to discharge their duties as citizens?
And what of the Yazids and Christians who have fled to the Kurdish region? What more can we do to help them? Time is not on our side. The harsh Iraqi winter is approaching. Social tensions between Kurds and Arabs, between local governments and migrants will grow and erupt if they are not headed off.
The UK Government has generously given £23 million but the government needs to set out how they are working with international partners to ensure sustained funding for the humanitarian crisis, and efficiency of delivery.
The Foreign Affairs Committee’s inquiry into The UK’s response to Extremism and Instability in North and West Africa delivered a salutary warning. Of the intervention in Libya in 2011 it said “considerable resources were expended ensuring that military goals were successfully achieved (for which the Government deserves credit), but there was a failure to anticipate, and therefore mitigate, the regional fallout from the intervention, which has been enormous and, in some cases, disastrous”
Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results. In other words, following military action will the same thing happen again?
Back in February 1 quoted a Dutch priest, Father Franz Van der Lugt, trapped in the old city of Homs who said, “Our city has become a lawless jungle”. He had insisted that “We love life, we want to live. And we do not want to sink in a sea of pain and suffering.”
On April 7th it was reported that Fr.Van der Lugt had been murdered by Jihadists.
The night before the February debate, Mosul had fallen to ISIS and 120,000 Christians were reported to have fled to the Plains of Nineveh. I asked what we were doing to protect them.
Our total failure to provide protection was illustrated by crucifixions, kidnappings and beheading of Christians carried out by ISIS and which I raised in the House of Lords on June 11th. I quoted The Times who said we cannot be “spectators at this carnage”.
Those Muslims who have spoken out or defied ISIS have suffered a similar fate.
The head of Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs, Professor Dr Mehmet Gormez, told the World Islamic Scholars Peace, Moderation and Common Sense Initiative, that globally 1,000 Muslims are being killed each day – 90 per cent of their killers are also Muslims.
In combatting the Islamic State the US and the West will argue that we are part of a coalition which includes Sunni Muslim States but, as we all know, it is much easier to take military action than it is to end conflict. For the sake of all the innocent people who are caught up in this violence, we need to understand, and grapple with, ideas and beliefs which militate against peaceful co-existence and not place all our faith in a campaign of aerial bombardment.
It seems extraordinary that in a year when, through our Roscoe Lectures and at various public ceremonies, we have been commemorating the outbreak of one of the most deadly conflicts in the history of mankind, with over 37 million military and civilian casualties, including 16 million fatalities, that we are also able to celebrate another anniversary, from that same year, 1914: an anniversary and a birthday which saw the beginning of a new life.
Today, Ken Medlock is here, as a centenarian, celebrating 100 years of a life well lived, reminding us that even in the darkest moments of history the creation of new life represents a moment of hope.
Ken regularly attends our Roscoe Lecture series and has been a wonderful supporter of the Roscoe Foundation for Citizenship. Where better to mark Ken’s centenary than here in the Roscoe Room of Liverpool John Moores University.
George Kenneth Medlock OBE, JP, DL, MIMechE, Companion of CMI was born on September the 10th 1914 and brought up in the working class valleys of the Peak District, Derbyshire, during the era of the printing and textile trades.
He spent his early years in the small village of Birch Vale where his father worked for the Calico Printers Associations (CPA) printing works and where his mother had been a weaver.
Like all children in the village, Ken attended the local Council School but at the age of 10 he was enrolled as a fee paying scholar at New Mills Secondary School.
Despite his parents and teachers expectations for him to go further down the Grammar School education route, Ken was determined to be an engineer.
So at the age of 14 he left school and started a 7-year apprenticeship as a mechanic at the printing works in Birch Vale, whilst attending evening classes at the Manchester College of Technology. After achieving his qualifications and now a member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineering (MIMechE) Ken moved on to work in the CPA’s Engineering Department.
In 1938, with the demise of the printing and textile industry, Ken applied for and attained a position with the Cooperative Wholesale Society’s (CWS) Engineering Department. He became Chief Engineer for CWS Newcastle Region in 1946, returning to Manchester as Chief Engineer in 1951.
Ken was appointed a Director in 1960 and then in 1967 he was appointed Deputy CEO responsible for the Non Food Division. He played a pivotal role in the re-organisation of the CWS and it was also during this time that Ken was appointed as Chairman of John Wisden & Co, Publishers of Wisden Cricketers’ Almanac (1960-1970).
In 1971 Ken resigned his post with Cooperative Wholesale Society to take up a new challenge as CEO and Secretary of the Birkenhead and District Cooperative Society where he served until 1975.
In 1972 Ken was one of the prime movers behind the establishment of Radio City in Liverpool.
It was the year I was elected to the City Council and the year Ken and I first met.
In 1973 he became Chairman of Radio City – a post he held until 1985. During his term at Radio City Ken was invited to join the Merseyside Chamber of Commerce (now known as the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce) and starting as Vice Chairman (shared) in 1982, he was then appointed as Vice Chairman in 1984 and subsequently Chairman from 1986 to 1988.
During his time at Merseyside Chamber of Commerce Ken was asked to become involved with various Voluntary Housing Associations where he served from 1978 until 1998 on a number of modernisation projects.
For some of that period I served as chairman of the city’s Housing Committee and once again our paths crossed and then, again, between 1985 and 1992 when, as a Liverpool MP, I met Ken in his role with INWARD and the North West Regional Development Agency (1985-1992).
In 1988 Ken was invited to join the North West Channel Tunnel Steering Group where he continued his involvement until 2005.
Throughout his life Ken has been involved in supporting a variety of Charities including Merseyside Kidney Research, Life Education Centres and children-related Charities, and he also played a major part in the Granada Television’s role in the ITV Telethon in 1988 and also in that year in Manchester’s bid to host the Olympic Games.
Throughout his long life his parent’s values and work ethic have played a large part in shaping Ken’s own values and approach to his life and work.
This has led to his many subsequent achievements, marked in 1989 by the award of an OBE by Her Majesty the Queen. In addition, in 1955, Ken was appointed a Justice of the Peace and has served as a Deputy Lieutenant of Merseyside.
But no short account of his long life would be complete without a reference to Edna Medlock.
Ken and Edna married in 1939 and have three sons, eight grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. These wonderful soul mates have been married for three quarters of a century.
They both went to the same school in Derbyshire. Edna says “He was two classes above me. I just saw this little lad; he had lovely brown eyes and dark hair…. He was nice looking.”
As Edna was telling this to a Liverpool Echo reporter, Ken interrupted and said:
“My word! That’s the first time you have ever said that to me in my life time.”
Their first date was a trip to the cinema, a film titled Mrs Dale’s Diary: Evergreen.
Edna reminiscences how they would sit downstairs rather than upstairs as it was cheaper because they were saving for their future. The total cost was sixpence for downstairs rather than a shilling.
He became friends with Edna’s brother as the boys all played cricket. From then on he hardly left her family home.
“He was around the house so often that one day I had to turn Dennis, my other date, down! He kept stopping after that until I agreed I would go out with him.”
It was on an evening stroll when Ken popped the question and Edna did not hesitate to say yes. They would be married in 1939 at Mills Providence Congregational Church, in Derbyshire.
Ken proposed on a Monday evening, they bought their house on the Thursday and their furniture on the Saturday.
“We just took getting married for granted. As war was declared all our plans were swept aside; we tried to have a normal a life as possible.”
The war came close to their home with German bombs hitting a local hospital close to Edna’s parents’ but they escaped unharmed. Some neighbours were not so lucky and a girl, who was playing the piano was killed as well as a man in nearby allotments.
More than seventy years later Ken says: “Our love has lasted forever. As you grow older you need each other more, I could never manage without Edna, nor could she without me.”
When, in 2012, Ken Medlock published his autobiography, “A Good Innings”, the Daily Telegraph’s Radio Critic, and Merseysider, Gillian Reynolds, said ‘This is the story of a remarkable man. It’s also an informal, valuable and utterly compelling social history of the past century.’
His autobiography provides us with a rare and candid insight into his working and personal life; his involvement and influence in the Cooperative Movement; at Radio City; at INWARD and through the Voluntary Housing Associations and his charitable work. Ken’s autobiography provides a wonderful window into the challenges and the people he has met along the way. Outside of his work we see the love and respect for his family and of course, as indicated in the title of this book, his undying passion for his beloved cricket.
In Ken’s own words this is not so much an autobiography but ‘… a chronicle based upon opportunity.’
I have no doubt that we are today celebrating the birthday of a truly remarkable man and in wishing him many many happy returns it gives us the opportunity here at Liverpool John Moores University to salute Ken’s example as a great citizen of this community, to thank him for all he has achieved, and to welcome him and Edna here to our Roscoe Room where his name will be added to the role of honour of those who have delivered this university’s Roscoe Lectures.
A sample of the Roscoe Lectures held over the past decade may be accessed now via I Tunes. They may be reached by the following link and details of those available appear in the list below:
LJMU Roscoe Lectures
The LJMU Roscoe Foundation for Citizenship aims to promote the development of ethical students and an ethos of citizenship in the wider community.
Through the Roscoe Lectures, LJMU is able to give people from different walks of life the opportunity to exchange ideas, forge connections and hopefully gain greater understanding in a time of increasing diversity and change.
Forthcoming lectures include lectures by (Baroness) Helena Kennedy QC, Jhn Flemming, Bill Sergeant, (Baroness) Valerie Amos, Michael Murpurgo and (Lord) Peter Hennesy.
Tickets are free and available from Mrs.Barbara Mace at email@example.com