Pope Francis, in the Central African Republic – diplomat extraordinaire


Question for Short Debate: December 10th 2015

Asked by Baroness Berridge⁠

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they plan to take to tackle the rise in religiously-identified conflicts and violence, in the light of the recent visit by Pope Francis to the Central African Republic.

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB):⁠

My Lords, I, too, welcome this debate and I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving us the opportunity to discuss the suffering being experienced in the Central African Republic, one of the five poorest countries in Africa and a country of which she has first-hand knowledge. Undoubtedly, Pope Francis has shone a light into one of the darkest corners of the world, explaining that the purpose of his visit to that maimed and disfigured country was to bring its mutilated people “consolation and hope.”


Since 2013, CAR has been the scene of chronic violence and unending upheaval, as the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, has reminded us.


Although religious leaders in CAR have insisted that the conflict is ethnic and political, the fighting has divided the country on religious lines, with mostly Muslim rebel forces fighting mainly Christian militias.


In the context of intensified violence this autumn, perhaps the Minister can give his own assessment of the effectiveness of the UN peacekeeping force, to which reference has been made, and how its work can be made more effective.


Given CAR’s divisions, how fitting it was that the Pontiff went to both the cathedral and the mosque in Bangui and urged both sides to put down the weapons of war and to work for justice.

pope francis in Bangui

At the cathedral, he symbolically opened the first door of mercy in what he has proclaimed this week to be a year of mercy.


Without this combination of justice and mercy, we will see no progress in the fiefdoms dominated by war lords and their militias.


During his visit, Pope Francis trenchantly admonished those who “seek revenge” and warned of “the spiral of endless retaliation”.


In April 2014, the interreligious platform of Catholics, Evangelicals and Muslims committed itself to promote co-existence and mutual respect in CAR. Its leaders were presented with a basket of eggs, symbolising the fragility of the peace process.


Welcome local initiatives and a project giving women the opportunity to take part in conflict resolution have subsequently been initiated.


Social cohesion, dialogue and mediation will be key if ever CAR is to move beyond conflict. Without it, there can be no stability, no development and no prosperity. Perhaps the Minister can tell us what more we can do to support conflict resolution.


Given the importance of harnessing religious communities, recognised at the 2014 Wilton Park conference on religion, foreign policy and development, I hope that the Minister can tell us what programmes the Government are supporting which engage with faith communities—but not just as a functional network of delivery agents for social projects— and how DfID will harness the faith communities in places like CAR.


Will the Government closely examine what the Civil Society Partnership Review has to say about faith communities?


The voices of faith leaders should be amplified at all levels by giving them platforms, communications and travel support, so that they can hold national leaders to account, remonstrate with and lead local communities and engage in international debates about their countries.


Returning specifically to CAR, those courageous few working in this dangerous field say that there are no recognisable government or state structures, and that at this critical juncture there is a need for long-term, predictable funding for at least three years to begin to find sustainable solutions to the crisis, including building state infrastructure, establishing essential services and addressing underlying vulnerabilities.


Restoring stability in CAR is not a nine-month programme.


We also need to do much more to stop the obscene flow of weapons from countries in the northern hemisphere into countries like CAR, where children are recruited and turned into killers. AK47s become the weapons of mass destruction.


When he replies, I hope the Minister will make reference to the provision of housing for returning refugees and meeting desperate humanitarian needs.


As the noble Lord, Lord McFall, has reminded us, Pope Francis has said that he sees the Church as “a field hospital after battle”. That metaphor could not have a more appropriate application than in the Central African Republic. He also said, when speaking to the United Nations General Assembly in September of this year, that “solemn commitments” which were not followed up on—often, sadly, a feature of United Nations initiatives—could ultimately do more harm than good.


What a tragedy it would be if his own initiative in pushing open a door in CAR were not now followed through with determination by the international community.


Pope Francis – diplomat extraordinaire

Pope Francis and St.Ignatius

Pope Francis,

diplomat extraordinaire


Article for Geopolitical Information Service: November 26th 2015




GIS editors’ note: This essay is in some respects

different from reports and cautious assessments

that we typically publish in our service. GIS expert

David Alton, Lord Alton of Liverpool, presents a

well-informed but also passionate account of how

Pope Francis and the Holy See’s globally networked

diplomacy have strived to inject more humanity,

more stability and more hope into today’s world.

For reading convenience, we have divided this

epic narrative into two consecutive parts, both

published here today. The author is a crossbench

member of the House of Lords. Previously he served

in the House of Commons. He is Professor of

Citizenship at Liverpool John Moores University.

He is also an author; his most recent book was about North Korea.


 Pope Francis 1



Whether navigating the Barque of Peter through the rough waters of international politics – or the even rougher waters of Church politics – Pope Francis is proving to be far more skilful and more adept than many of his detractors anticipated. In part, this is because he knows his own mind and refuses to be manipulated. If Francis has become a diplomat extraordinaire, confidently walking the world stage, and if we may be witnessing a golden age of Church diplomacy, it is also thanks to the shrewd appointments that he has made.


PART 1: World’s Listening Post


Instead of surrounding himself with courtiers, with their

incestuous and often self-serving connections, Francis

has made appointments on the basis of merit and ability.

Chief among his most important choices is his extraordinarily able and experienced secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin.


cardinal paolin


Parolin has served in Africa, the Americas and Europe. In

Asia, he undertook delicate missions to Vietnam and

North Korea, leading to the formalising of diplomatic

relations with Vietnam, and in 2005 he re-established

direct contact with Beijing. The cardinal has been decisive

in pushing to the top of the Holy See’s agenda issues

such as the plight of the persecuted Christians of the

Middle East; one of the biggest migrations of refugees

since the Second World War; the proliferation of nuclear

weapons; the implications of the consumption of the world’s

finite resources and its effect on the world’s poor.


Those antagonists who have demanded that the Holy See

be removed from its non-member status at the United

Nations should consider for a moment what the

consequences would be if this distinctive voice was

side-lined or silenced.


Those secularists who are dismissive or sceptical about the role of Vatican statecraft have a poor grasp of history and little feel for a future where an understanding of religion is a prerequisite in understanding global forces.


Holy See


Since March 2013, Jorge Mario Bergoglio has held office

as the 266th pope and as temporal head of the tiny Vatican

City State, established under the Lateran Pacts of 1929.

This state covers a mere 44 hectares and is home to just

800 people, but size is not the key to statehood or

sovereignty – think of Liechtenstein, Palau, or Tuvalu –

and, even less so, to importance.


On his election, Pope Francis foremost became the

spiritual leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.


On becoming Pontiff and Bishop of Rome he assumed

authority for the Holy See – which has its roots in apostolic

times. For diplomatic purposes, the Vatican acts and

speaks for the whole Church. It is a common error to view

the Holy See against the cut of the Renaissance costumes

of the Vatican’s Swiss Guards rather than against the

challenging issues that dominate the agendas of the

world’s great capitals. Think less Ruritania and more

Washington, Beijing, Moscow and London.


Today, the Holy See is one of the world’s most reliable

‘listening posts,’ with its worldwide presence of nuncios

and links to Catholic ecclesiastical and lay organisations it

has eyes and ears everywhere – also in dark and

dangerous places. All too often, where states have failed

and the international community has little presence, the

Church is there, getting help to where it is needed most.

Western governments frequently use Church institutions to

guarantee the transmission of aid or to verify intelligence.


The Holy See, on whose behalf Pope Francis and Cardinal

Parolin speak, has diplomatic relations with 178 states and

a history of diplomatic engagement that stretches back

1,600 years. It does not seek to impose its beliefs on

anyone but cherishes – as all of us who believe in free

speech should – its right to voice a distinctive and

important point of view. (Indeed, the alternative, of

remaining silent, when the barbarians come knocking at

the door, is a far more worrying prospect.)


Focus on the Neglected


The vitality and relevance of the Holy See’s voice has been

particularly evident over the past couple of months – with

visits by Pope Francis to Latin America, to Cuba, to the

United Nations and to the United States Congress. And as

these words are published, the pontiff is making his 11th

overseas visit – this time to Africa: to the unstable Central

African Republic (CAR), to Kenya and to Uganda. The

challenge of ‘learning to live together’ along with the

pressures of globalisation and poverty will be high on his


How could it be otherwise, in a country like CAR, a war

zone with an estimated per capita GDP of a paltry US$600,

or in Kenya, which has recently been rent by Islamist

terror groups? In April 2015, al-Shabaab Islamists stormed

Kenya’s Garissa University College, murdered 147 people

and injured 79 others; they took 700 hostages, freed

Muslims and killed those who identified themselves as



True to form, Pope Francis has asked the planners of his

future visit to the Caribbean that priority be given to those

islands which are the most impoverished and left on the

margins. No doubt Caribbean islands such as Dominica –

with 80 per cent of its population Catholic and hit by the

decline in banana production and significant poverty – will

be on that list.


Never forget that Francis is a Jesuit, inspired by the founder of the Society of Jesus, St.Ignatius of Loyola who said, ‘If our church is not marked by caring for the poor, the oppressed, the hungry, we are guilty of heresy.’

 pope francis and the poor

Always, when shaping his diplomatic priorities, Pope

Francis looks to those who are most likely to have been

forgotten. It is that consideration which has led to the

reshaping of the College of Cardinals – the ones who will

elect his successor – by faces and voices from the



A notable example of this was the appointment

of Burma’s formidable Archbishop of Rangoon, Charles

Bo, as Myanmar’s first cardinal, and cardinals from Haiti,

Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso.


History Lessons


The clue to these appointments and priorities is to be

found in Francis’ spiritual DNA, in his calling to the Society

of Jesus, and in the events of the 79 years which his life



Born in 1936, in Argentina’s Buenos Aires, Francis

epitomises a break with a European-dominated papacy.

Coming from Latin America, where 40 per cent of the

world’s Catholics live, he has markedly different political

priorities from many of the curial cardinals. Having lived

through violence and dictatorship, he is acutely aware of

the criticism levelled at the Church when it has appeared

not to have been sufficiently outspoken.


A defining moment for popes, and the Holy See, was the

role it is perceived to have played during the rise of

National Socialism in Germany. In 1935, as Hitler’s

ambitions became increasingly apparent, Pierre Laval, the

French Foreign Minister, anxious to gain the support of

French Roman Catholics, made a doomed attempt to

persuade Joseph Stalin to stop persecuting Christians.

This was in the hope that a common front could be

assembled between French Communists and Catholics.


With famous derision, Stalin responded, ‘The pope! How

many divisions has he got?’ The emphatic answer would

come in 1989 in the role played by Karol Wojtyla – Pope

Saint John Paul II – in vanquishing Communist

totalitarianism in Eastern Europe.


Yet, in the 1930s, Stalin was looking at a powerless

papacy which appeared to have become imprisoned in the

Vatican and diminished in its ability to exert effective



At a distance of 70 or 80 years, subsequent generations

often damn the Church for its seemingly ineffectual

response to the rise of the Third Reich, anti-Semitism, the

industrial killing at Auschwitz and the other death camps.

Yet, it wasn’t through a failure to speak out.


Brave Stance


As early as 1928, the Vatican issued a ‘binding

condemnation’ of ‘that hate which is now called anti-

Semitism.’ In 1929 a German bishop, Johannes Gfollner of

Linz, warned against ‘the false prophets’ of Nazism and

told the Catholic faithful: ‘Close your ears and do not join

their associations, close your doors and do not let their

newspapers into your homes, close your hands and do not

support their endeavours in elections.’


In 1930, the Bishop of Mainz declared Nazism and

Catholicism to be irreconcilable; in 1933, the bishops of

Cologne, Upper Rhine and Paderborn said they would

deny the sacraments to anyone involved in parties hostile

to Christianity; and the bishops of Bavaria condemned

Nazi racism and the eugenic ideology with its scorn for the

sanctity of life of the unborn and support for euthanasia.


In 1937 Pope Pius XI condemned events in Germany

stating: ‘Seldom has there been a persecution so heavy,

so terrifying, so grievous and lamentable in its far-reaching

effects. It is a persecution that spares neither force, nor

oppression, nor threats, nor even subterfuge of intrigue

and the fabrication of false facts.’ In 1938 he said that no

Christian could be anti-Semitic because, ‘spiritually, we

are all Semites.’


But as the Church spoke out, the Vatican also started to

count the cost: Erich Klausner, the general secretary of

Germany’s Catholic Action, was shot dead; Adelbert Prost,

director of the Catholic Youth Sports Association, was

murdered; Fritz Gerlich, a Catholic journalist was murdered

at Dachau – known as ‘the priest’s camp’ because of the

2,670 priests from around 20 countries who were held

there. Six hundred Catholic priests died at Dachau and

another 325 died during the ‘transport of invalids.’ Catholic

politicians were arrested, Catholic political activity was

suppressed; Church property was confiscated and over

200 Catholic publications muffled. Albert Einstein, who

had escaped from Nazi Germany, said in 1940 that, ‘only

the Church stood squarely across the path of Hitler’s

campaign for suppressing the truth … I am forced thus to

confess that what I once despised I now praise



Bishop von Galen – the Lion of Munster – displayed such

courage and bravery that one of the most influential Nazis,

Martin Bormann, demanded his execution. Von Galen

knew that the Church might not have armed divisions but

it had something else. He described the National Socialists

as ‘the hammer’ and the Church as ‘the anvil,’ concluding

that ‘the anvil is harder than the hammer.’


New Impulses


The Holocaust, the Second World War, the criticisms

levelled at Pius XII, and the subsequent Cold War

experiences have shaped 21st century Vatican diplomacy.

Now, Pope Francis has added his own southern

hemisphere experiences to the mix.

Those experiences and that metaphor of the hammer –

and certainly the sickle – may well have been in the mind

of Pope Francis when, in September, he visited Cuba and

met the Castro brothers, Fidel and Raul.


Cuba’s enforced Marxist-Leninist Communism has led to

extraordinary suffering and appalling persecution of the

country’s Christians. Once Fidel Castro enshrined atheism

into the country’s constitution, religious believers were

incarcerated in forced labour camps and the Church was

subjected to violent persecution.


Although, today, there is not freedom of religion in Cuba,

there is the beginning of a new toleration and the anvil has

proved, once again, to be stronger than the hammer or the

sickle. For the first time in half a century, permission has

recently been given for the construction of a cathedral –

and Christmas and Good Friday restored as national

holidays. Churchgoers no longer face official



Sometimes Francis is wrongly portrayed as a Pope who is

unconnected with what has gone before.


In 1962, at the height of the Cuban missile crisis, Pope

Saint John XXIII was credited with providing a face-saving

proposal for Nikita Khrushchev. In visiting Cuba in 2015,

Francis was building on earlier visits by John Paul II and

Benedict XVI. Undoubtedly, though, he does have his own

special way of reaching hearts.


This combination of heart and head probably accounts for why a poll of Cubans found that 70 per cent of the surveyed Cubans had a favourable opinion of the Catholic Church and that 80 percent rated Pope Francis positively, seeing both the pope and the Church as powerful advocates for political and economic change.


PART 2: Game of patience and perseverance


In Cuba, as elsewhere, the pope and the Holy See have

been playing a game of patience and using their worldwide

networks to achieve incremental change. Their patient

view of history measures results in centuries and against

the experiences of two millennia.


Francis has a desire to put himself into the eye of the

storm and he has famously described the Church as ‘a

field hospital’ in the midst of the raging wars and violent

conflicts. This emphasis on finding healing for those

caught up in the world’s enduring conflicts is reflected in

Francis’ pastoral and liturgical priorities – with a Year of

Mercy to commence on December 8 and scheduled to

end in November 2016.

 pope francis field hospital

In the aftermath of the atrocities in Paris, there were calls

for the Year of Mercy to be cancelled, on the assumption

that participating pilgrims in Rome could be at risk. Francis

responded by saying that it was even more important for

the event to go ahead.


First Things First


Francis says: ‘The thing the Church needs most today is

the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the

faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the Church as a

field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously

injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the

level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds.

Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds,

heal the wounds. … And you have to start from the ground



But, in Cuba, and many other hostile theatres, beyond the

sincere desire for the Church to be a field hospital has

been the delicate footwork of Cardinal Parolin, using his

formidable skills and his divisions of diplomats in tolling for

diplomatic outcomes. In Cuba, these efforts have

undoubtedly led to the rapprochement of Cuba and the

United States. In the world of realpolitik these skilful secret

negotiations, plus the pope’s prestige, have enabled

President Barack Obama to see off some of the opposition

from the powerful and hostile expatriate Cuban community

in the US.


Inherent Risks


But engagement also carries risks. For one, it can be

caricatured as appeasement. As it walks its diplomatic

tightrope, the Holy See has to weigh the risks against the

alternative of keeping silent and doing nothing. Opponents

of engagement in Cuba, discounting incremental

improvements, have said that Francis should have been

more vehement in his criticism of Cuba’s one-party system

and more strident in seeking to expedite the opening up of

the country, and insistent on legalising political opposition.

To counter these criticisms, conscious of his own

experiences in Argentina, Francis has encouraged Cuba’s

Catholic Cardinal, Jaime Ortega, to negotiate directly with

the Cuban Government for the release of political



The unjust charge of silence in the face of Nazism does

have echoes in the unfair accusation that while he led the

Church in Argentina, Francis did not do enough to speak

out against the military junta in his own homeland. During

the 1976-1983 dictatorship in Argentina, up to 30,000

people were kidnapped, tortured and became

desaparecidos (‘the disappeared’).


Earlier this year, in Bolivia, Francis shined the spotlight on

South America’s bloody history when he prayed at the site

where, in 1980, the body of a fellow Jesuit priest, Father

Luís Espinal, was found after a death squad kidnapped,

tortured and killed him.


Balancing Act


But even in this context, there was a bear trap awaiting the

pontiff. Evo Morales, Bolivia’s Socialist President who

once described the Church as ‘the main enemy,

presented Francis with a crucifix mounted on a hammer

and sickle. The pope commented, ‘That’s not right,’ only to

be told that the crucifix was a replica of one which had

been made by Father Espinal. In applauding the social and

economic reforms of Mr Morales, Francis was seeking to

focus on those reforms which were in accordance with

Catholic Social Teaching rather than the tenets of Liberation



Balancing a desire for justice and mercy against dealing

directly with unsavoury regimes, and striking a balance

between free markets and command economies, between

unfettered capitalism and oppressive communism, is a

tightrope which John Paul II also walked. Only by taking

the risks associated with such funambulism can one effect



In June 1979, monumental events were triggered by John

Paul’s historic nine-day pilgrimage to Poland. Those nine

days literally changed the world – by igniting a revolution

of conscience and social solidarity. Nearly one third of

Poles took to the streets and, having been given fresh

hope and self-confidence, those millions of people

became the nucleus of Solidarity, the first officially

recognised free trade union in the communist world. The

Berlin Wall would collapse in 1989. Two years later, the

Soviet Union would be dissolved after a drama of

collapsing communist regimes had played out across

Eastern Europe. That’s the jury’s partial answer to the

question of how many divisions a pope has at his



Swallowed by the night


But the question has become more complicated than that,

not the least in Syria and the rest of the Middle East.

The destiny of that region’s Christian communities is

umbilically linked to the future of the countries in which

they live – and to the ideologies competing for power

against one another, and within Islam. The situation has

varied from country to country, but a tragic precedent has

been set. While in the heady days of the Arab Spring talk

revolved around good things – democracy, human rights,

accountability, equal citizenship, and an end to the culture

of impunity and repressive, corrupt forms of government –

now it is all about exodus and survival.

pope francis and persecuted christians


Iraq’s 1987 census reported 1.4 million Christians. Today,

there may be fewer than 250,000. A Christian from Kirkuk,

Iraq, quoted by the Asia News Agency, bitterly observed,

‘The attacks on Christians continue and the world remains

totally silent. It’s as if we have been swallowed up by the


 pope francis and persecuted chrsitians 2

Many of them fled to Syria where more than 200,000

people have been killed in the four and a half year long

civil war. Syria’s conflict is the worst humanitarian disaster

of our time, with more than 11 million people displaced

thus far, half of them children.

pope francis and refugees

Last month Francis urged Catholics in Europe to take

refugee families into their homes as he described his own

anguish, ‘I tell you that those terrible images from recent

days are burned into my mind and heart. There is the

judgement of God, and also the judgement of history,

upon our actions from which there is no escaping.’


Call to world leaders


It is two years since Pope Francis drew attention to the

plight of migrants fleeing the horrors of war and conflict,

when he said Mass for migrants on Italy’s tiny island of

Lampedusa and condemned the ‘global indifference’ to

their plight. The pope threw a wreath in the sea in memory

of the many people who have drowned trying to reach



Francis’ own ancestors emigrated to Argentina from Italy.

His origins give him great sympathy for impoverished

illegal migrants. Speaking on their behalf at the European

Parliament, in Strasbourg, in November 2014, he told the

legislators that they risked turning the Mediterranean into a

‘vast cemetery.’ That year, more than 3,000 people were

fished dead from the sea. Some 2,600 corpses have

already been reclaimed in 2015.


His same passion for the poor and those who ‘are cast off

by society’ was at the heart of his Sept. 25, 2015 address

to the United Nations General Assembly. He urged world

leaders to be good stewards of God’s creation and blamed

environmental degradation on a ‘selfish and boundless

thirst for power and material prosperity’ that causes untold

suffering for the poor.

He insisted that a concern for the environment must sit

alongside an ‘absolute respect for life in all its stages and

dimensions.’ His remarks were wide-ranging, urging action

on drug trafficking, armed conflict, terrorism, education,

inequality, religious freedom, and corruption. Francis has

also admonished the UN’s organisations for ‘ideological

colonisation’ when they attempt to force abortion and

population control measures – often conditional on

receiving development support and aid.


He told the General Assembly that ‘solemn commitments’

which were not followed up on – very often a feature of

United Nations initiatives – could ultimately do more harm

than good. That is certainly not a charge which can be laid

at Francis’ door. He came to the General Assembly having

addressed the American Congress – a third of whose

members are Catholic – and having spoken at the White



Above partisanship


Left and right, Democrat and Republican, were united in

their praise of the pope but they stood no chance to claim

him for their partisan positions. He electrified Congress as

he urged lawmakers to transcend their divisions,

rediscover their ideals, and tackle climate change,

immigration, poverty, while affirming the right to life of the

unborn child and the place of the family. He attacked the

use of capital punishment, which remains legal in 31 US

states, with 3,002 inmates on death row in the US – 746 in

California alone. Francis also passionately attacked the

global arms trade which he said is ‘drenched in blood.’


Underlining that his actions must always match his words,

Francis left Congress to meet the poor and homeless who

live in a parallel world in the shadows of Capitol Hill.

Having raised the question of religious conscience with

President Barack Obama – one which will be decided

upon by America’s Supreme Court – he also made an

unscheduled visit to the city’s Little Sisters of the Poor.


They are caught up in a legal battle with the White House

because of the insistence of the Obama administration

that their hospitals must provide abortion-inducing drugs.

As a matter of conscience, they insist that they cannot be

required to end the life of an unborn child.


In tackling these controversial questions and in taking his

beliefs into the great assemblies, and onto the world’s

streets, Pope Francis has reminded millions of people

what the Church stands for. He has marshalled his

divisions and his battalions, and inspired his foot soldiers.

Whether in democracies or in countries blighted by

oppression, he will have encouraged many to make his

priorities their priorities.


Ignatius of Loyola told his Jesuits to ‘Go forth and set the

world on fire.’

Pope Francis and St.Ignatius



With the skilful help of Pietro, Cardinal Parolin, this first Jesuit pope, and diplomat extraordinaire, seems to have taken Ignatius at his word.



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Mesothelioma – New Bill Given Second Reading – Full debate – Also: Why are servicemen and women excluded from help? – call in the House of Lords for an annual Impact statement to monitor the number of fatalities and progress on research into causes and cures

Mesothelioma (Amendment) Bill [HL] Mesothelioma (Amendment) Bill [HL] Second Reading 10.06 am Moved by Lord Alton of Liverpool That the Bill be now read a second time. Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, I first thank all noble Lords who will speak today, others who have been in touch to indicate their support for a measure which enjoys all-party support and, in particular, the noble Lords, Lord Giddens and Lord Wills, who have given a great deal of their time in recent months as we have endeavoured to promote interest in research into a disease which, according to the Government, will claim a further 60,000 British lives over the next three decades. This represents the highest rate of mesothelioma anywhere in the world. I also thank Penny Woods and her team at the British Lung Foundation for their support for the Bill and the Minister the noble Lord, Lord Prior, and his officials for meeting with the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, and myself yesterday. My noble friend Lord Patel is among a number of noble Lords who cannot be here today but who wish to record their support for the Bill. When your Lordships debated the causes and absence of cures for mesothelioma during the passage of the Mesothelioma Act 2014, my proposal to provide a statutory levy on the insurance industry to fund research was defeated by a slender margin of seven votes—199 to 192. When the same amendment was moved in the Commons, it was defeated by 266 to 226. Several noble Lords and Members of another place agreed entirely with the principle of insurance industry funding for mesothelioma research but expressed a preference for contributions to be secured on a voluntary basis. In both Houses, Ministers gave assurances that 20 Nov 2015 : Column 384 a new voluntary research regime would be established. At that time, just four out of 150 insurance companies were voluntary contributors. Far from stepping up to the plate, that number has been reduced to just two. It is to that issue that I return this morning. Let me begin by saying something about the disease itself. Mesothelioma is an occupationally-related disease. It 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. Simply put, men and women went to work and were negligently exposed to asbestos when it was known that asbestos caused great harm. As long ago as 1965, the Newhouse and Thompson report provided shocking evidence that a brief exposure to asbestos could result in mesothelioma 50 years after 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 that report was made public. Nearly 40,000 British people have died from mesothelioma from past exposures to asbestos and some 60,000 will die from it in the years to come. The UK has the highest incidence of mesothelioma worldwide. Society owes a great debt to those who went to work, often in hard and heavy industries, and built the economy of this country only to suffer terrible consequences. Our partial and overdue response was the very welcome legislation promoted by the Government in 2014, and we must all continue to insist on proper and commensurate support for those families blighted by the curse of this disease. But surely our most important objective must be to find safe ways of eliminating the danger and to find cures for mesothelioma. Sometimes—and wrongly—it is dismissed as a legacy disease which will simply run its course, claiming about 2,500 lives every year. Despite that, the legacy will be with us in this country for at least 30 years. Neither here nor in other countries is this just a legacy disease. It is quite possible that comparable diseases will emerge from other environmental sources. I repeat that we have the highest rate of the disease in the world. Mortality rates are increasing and have more than quadrupled in the past 30 years. Last year, the Independentnewspaper reported that fresh figures from the Health and Safety Executive showed a 10% increase in mesothelioma cases and that the number will continue to rise until at least 2020. There is another mistaken belief that mesothelioma is a disease confined to the tunnellers, masons and manual workers whose cases I first came in contact with 30 years ago as a young Member of Parliament in Liverpool. This occupational disease affects people from diverse and, as we will learn in the course of this debate, unpredictable backgrounds. Members of your Lordships’ House have loved ones who have died of mesothelioma. One noble Lord described the death of his wife, a Minister described the death of his father and another noble Lord described how his sister died after washing the dungarees of her husband. The former First Sea Lord, the noble Lord, Lord West, who is involved in graduation ceremonies at his university in Southampton today but who supports the Bill, described how many of his cohort at Dartmouth had 20 Nov 2015 : Column 385 played snowballs with asbestos and how some had died of mesothelioma in later years. According to the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, more than 2,500 Royal Navy veterans will die from mesothelioma in the next three decades. In parenthesis, let me say that the failure of the 2014 Act to include provision for compensation for our servicemen who die of mesothelioma is a glaring anomaly. The British Legion, the Royal Navy & Royal Marines Charity, the Royal Navy Royal Marines Widows’ Association, the Royal Naval Association and others all support calls for change. A 63 year-old civilian could expect to receive around £180,000 in compensation under the 2014 Act, yet one year’s worth of war pension paid the maximum rate for a non-married naval veteran amounts to just £31,000. Veterans should be offered compensation at least equal to that which the courts and the Government have decided that civilians deserve. The unequal treatment of our service men and women amounts to a serious breach of the Armed Forces covenant, which is supposed to ensure that veterans are not disadvantaged because of their service. I hope that the Government will use the Bill to rectify that anomaly, that injustice. When the Prime Minister was recently questioned about our obligations to our servicemen, he promised to look at the issue again. When the Minister replies, will he tell us whether that promise now stands? He knows, because I told him yesterday, that I raised it directly with the noble Earl, Lord Howe, who is now the Minister responsible in the Ministry of Defence. I have not as yet had a reply, and I hope that the Minister will be able to give information on that issue. That this is not simply a disease of the past is a point underlined by the National Union of Teachers, which states that asbestos remains present in about 86% of schools, leading to an estimated 200 to 300 adult deaths a year. Expert advice given to the House of Commons Select Committee on Education estimates that up to 300 former pupils a year die of the disease following contact with asbestos in schools. Jenny Darby, who is aged 71 and who was a science teacher, has contracted mesothelioma. She says that when the ceiling tiles came off in the classrooms, “the asbestos would come down. I used to stick them back up almost every day”. Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT, says: “There is still no recognition that asbestos is a serious problem for schools. Shamefully, the Government’s most recent survey of school buildings deliberately excluded asbestos”. Will the Minister tell us what progress the asbestos in schools steering group has made in identifying the dangers in our schools? What research are we carrying out to identify the dangers in other public buildings such as hospitals—and, indeed, in buildings such as the one where we are meeting today? What advice based on science do we give about disturbing or removing asbestos? As well as better understanding the causes of mesothelioma, we must do much more to find cures. Apart from preventing great suffering and illness, a breakthrough would remove the need for compensation schemes. It is surely therefore in everyone’s interest to do that. Throughout the debates on the 2014 legislation, 20 Nov 2015 : Column 386 I was highly critical of the paltry sums of money which have gone into mesothelioma research. Relatively little is spent on that research in the UK, measured against other cancers of comparable mortality. For example, in 2014 the National Cancer Research Institute figures showed that just £820,000 was invested in mesothelioma research by its partners. That is significantly lower than the £9.9 million and £5.3 million spent respectively on skin cancer—melanoma and myeloma, two cancers with similar mortality. Per death, £3,700 is invested for melanoma, whereas for mesothelioma it is only £480. Data released by the Department of Health and Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in response to Parliamentary Questions also suggests that statutory investment in mesothelioma research is very low. However, speaking for the Government, the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, said: “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”. I cannot agree with that, but I can agree with the remark 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”.—[Official Report, 9/12/14; col. 1711-2.] There is neither adequate money nor certainty. The noble Lord, Lord Freud, was right when he said: “My feedback from the Department of Health and Sally Davies”— Dame Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer— “is that they are aware that it is odd that so little is spent on this disease”.—[ Official Report , 5/6/13; GC 252.] I pursued this inconsistency with the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, and he wrote to me to say: “In the last five financial years, the MRC and NICR have received just over twenty applications for grants or fellowships that relate to research on mesothelioma. Of these eight applications were successful resulting in an average success rate of 40%”. Are the Government really saying that the other 60% of those applications had no merit, and how does this square with the assertion that there have been insufficient applications? My amendment to the Mesothelioma Act would have secured sustainable and fair funding by charging a small levy on insurance firms. During our debate in 2013, my noble friend Lord Kakkar, from whom we will hear later, said that there had been no strategic approach towards tackling mesothelioma. He told the House about the role of MesobanK and its global significance. He referred to the possible breakthroughs that genetic research would produce, but said that such research would need to be kick-started with adequate funding. Arising from our debate, the Government held talks with the Association of British Insurers to see whether a voluntary funding arrangement could be reached. As I said, there are about 150 insurance companies active in the employers’ liability insurance market, and a small contribution from each could transform mesothelioma research. In January of this year, it was announced that just two of those 20 Nov 2015 : Column 387 companies—Aviva and Zurich—would donate a combined £1 million over two years to the BLF’s mesothelioma research programme. This was two fewer companies than had been involved previously. Although I commend Aviva and Zurich, £500,000 a year for just two years does not come close to addressing the multi-million pound funding deficit experienced by mesothelioma research. It does not deliver sustainable funding; it relies on the good will of two companies, which themselves complain that the load is not being fairly shared, and nor does it deliver the promise made to the House when we voted on a statutory provision. It is unfair and unrealistic to ask two firms to be responsible for 100% of the insurance industry’s contribution to mesothelioma research. Any long-term funding solution needs to see this responsibility shared more widely, which is what this Bill ensures. During the passage of the 2014 Bill, Ministers said that the compensation levy on the insurance industry would be set at 3% of the gross written premium. In fact, what Mr. Penning, the Minister in another place said was: “Three per cent. is 3% and we have no intention of moving away from it”.—[Official Report, Commons, Mesothelioma Public Bill Committee, 12/12/13; col. 117.] This time last year I asked—and I ask it again today—why it has been set at 2.2% when that original 3% undertaking was given by the Government? The effect is to short-change mesothelioma sufferers. What is the shortfall from the insurance industry worth? That was a question that I raised yesterday with the Minister. It certainly will not be a small sum of money. Lastly, what of the research possibilities themselves? The noble Lords, Lord, Giddens and Lord Wills, have met with some of the most outstanding researchers in the field, and I am sure that they will describe in greater detail the possibilities that are opening up and the exciting chance to create a global hub-and-spoke national mesothelioma research institute. That was something that we flagged up with the Minister yesterday. The British Lung Foundation has been able to instigate research projects which have opened up extraordinary possibilities. By working with researchers in other areas of therapy, it has gained new expertise and insights. MesobanK, Europe’s first mesothelioma tissue bank, has been created to collect and store biological tissue for use in research, and work is being funded to identify the genetic architecture of the disease. Dr Peter Campbell, who is conducting research, identifying which genes are the most important targets for mutations in mesothelioma, says: “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”. 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. Meanwhile, Dr Elizabeth Sage has done some promising work, too. I met her with the noble Lords, Lord Giddens, Lord Wills, and Lord Saatchi. She told us that she is the only person working anywhere in the world on an innovatory treatment called TRAIL—a drug linked to stem cells, which can lead to the killing 20 Nov 2015 : Column 388 off of all mesothelioma cancer cells, which may have application in humans with adult stem cells. She told us that it would take £2.5 million to move from the animal stage, with the mice that she has been working on, to clinical trials. That does not seem an outrageous sum of money when measured against the potential outcomes and saving of some of those 60,000 lives to which I referred. To take all of this work forward requires sustained funding, and it is simply not true to suggest that there are not first-class researchers and research projects waiting to be funded. We do not have to accept that another 60,000 British people will die of this disease; we do not have to accept the suffering, human misery and hopelessness which accompanies diagnosis. Mesothelioma research funding is currently so low that the temptation is to undertake work on other diseases where funding is secure and sustained. But we can do something about that. It simply is not good enough to rely on ad hoc contributions from insurers, charitable donations and modest government funding. This unreliable approach jeopardises the possibilities of life-saving breakthroughs. The stark numbers of people that this dreadful disease kills and the wholly inadequate funding that has gone to address and ameliorate it speak for themselves. That is why this Bill is needed. I beg to move. 10.24 am Lord McKenzie of Luton (Lab): My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on this matter. I had planned to speak briefly, but in support of this Bill, which, as the noble Lord says, has cross-party support. I pay tribute to him for the assiduous way in which he has pursued the issue, and the very comprehensive introduction that he has just given us to his Bill. He did that through the various stages of the Mesothelioma Act 2014, and since, and clearly has a powerful coalition of Peers to support him. That Act is an important milestone in helping sufferers of mesothelioma and their dependants. We should continue to give credit to the Government—then the coalition Government—driven very much by the noble Lord, Lord Freud, who had ministerial responsibility. Now is perhaps not the occasion to review how the Act is working in its detail, as it is still in its transitional phase; it is understood that payments under the scheme are being undertaken at 100% of the scheduled amounts for claimants, although the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has raised an important challenge on the current levy amount. At the time of the debate on the Bill, it was clear that 3% was the amount to be contributed, and 3% was somehow magically the level at which it would not have to be included in an uplift on charges by the insurance industry. The Act recognised that, although it is not possible to identify in all circumstances each current insurer that would have written employer liability insurance for the various employers over the years, there was a collective responsibility to contribute to providing compensation when there was a nexus with work—and, along the way, there were the various attempts to improve the tracing of policies. There was also a recognition that insurers should contribute to the medical research to address this terrible condition, either to mitigate their risk or to recognise that the 20 Nov 2015 : Column 389 link to asbestos was known for some time and not all insurance companies have a proud record of preserving employer liability insurance records. The fact is, as we have heard, insurance companies have contributed to resources over the years, and it is on record during the passage of the Mesothelioma Act that the ABI made it clear to us when we were in opposition that it was prepared to match-fund with government research. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, made the important point that ad hoc, one-off contributions are not spreading the burden where it should be, across the industry. We have heard from the noble Lord about how many die from mesothelioma each year. We know that it is caused by exposure to asbestos, that it is a long latency disease and invariably fatal. We should recognise that, notwithstanding this, it is not just a matter of the past; asbestos still abounds, not least, as we have heard, in our schools. The HSE has campaigned vigorously to alert people to the risk, in the Silent Killer campaign, and there are strong regulations in place. But we know that some will still want to cut corners. The cause of mesothelioma has not gone away. When the issue was debated on Report on the Mesothelioma Bill, the argument was advanced on behalf of the Government that it was not a question of money, that what was holding back progress on research into mesothelioma was a lack of high-quality research applications, and that there is a long-standing and widely accepted principle that the use of medical research funds should be determined not just by the importance of the topic but by the quality of the research and its value for money. There are those contributing today who understand these issues far better than I do, but it seems to me that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, is not arguing to support mesothelioma research whatever the quality; his Bill does not seek some override of the established principles, but is about getting extra sources of funding. On Report on 17 July 2013, the then Health Minister, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, set down four steps, which we have heard about today, designed to encourage the bringing forward of high-quality research applications. These were: “First, the National Institute for Health Research will ask the James Lind Alliance to establish one of its priority-setting partnerships. This will bring together patients, carers and clinicians to identify and prioritise unanswered questions about treatment for mesothelioma and related diseases. It will help target future research, and, incidentally, will be another good example of where patients, the public and professionals are brought into the decision-making process on health. Secondly, the National Institute for Health Research will issue what is called a highlight notice to the research community, indicating its interest in encouraging applications for research funding into mesothelioma and related diseases. This would do exactly what the noble Lord, Lord Alton, wants, and what the noble Lord, Lord Empey, suggested. It would make mesothelioma a priority area. Thirdly, the highlight notice would be accompanied by an offer to potential applicants to make use of the NIHR’s research design service, which helps prospective applicants to develop competitive research proposals … Finally, the NIHR is currently in discussion with the MRC and Cancer Research UK about convening a meeting to bring together researchers to develop new research proposals in this area”.—[Official Report, 17/7/2013; col. 786.] 20 Nov 2015 : Column 390 Will the Minister give the House an update on those four areas? What progress has been made? To what extent has this in practice stimulated high-quality applications? Today, I received in the post a communication from the Asbestos Victims’ Support Group Forum outlining the challenges asbestos victims still face which we should clearly help them address. Supporting this Bill sponsored by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, will help to ensure that the future may hold some hope for those afflicted by this terrible disease. 10.31 am Lord Avebury (LD): My Lords, I, too, begin by congratulating my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on his masterly presentation of the case for the Bill, and on the assiduity with which he has pursued compensation for mesothelioma sufferers over a great many years with determination and thoroughness. I know how many hours he has spent on this and how many more hours he is likely to spend on it in future, but if we get this Bill through, it will be a major advance in securing compensation for sufferers of this horrible disease. I started work on mesothelioma 40 years ago with the late Nancy Tait, whose husband died an agonising death from mesothelioma. She formed the Society for the Prevention of Asbestosis and Industrial Diseases, which lobbied hard for tighter controls on asbestos, and she fought for the rights of victims to adequate compensation. We published a pamphlet entitled Asbestos Kills, but the use of the material continued here in the UK long after it was banned in other countries of the developed world. That explains why the UK was the country with the highest age-adjusted death rate from 1994 to 2008, with 17.8 deaths per million. The Health and Safety Executive expects the death rate to peak in 2018, after which it will slowly decline, but because there can be a delay of several decades between exposure to asbestos and the onset of mesothelioma, the disease may well be claiming hundreds of lives a year in the decade 2050-60. To put it another way, over the next 30 years, 30,000 deaths are expected from this horrible disease unless new and effective treatments are developed. At the moment, there is no cure for mesothelioma, and funding for research is woefully inadequate and uncertain. There are said to be government grants of £1.2 million a year, and last January the insurance companies Aviva and Zurich announced one-off funding of another £1 million, but there is no continuity, no assurance that in the years to come there will be even the same level of funding as there is in 2015, with the obvious result that cancer researchers starting out on a career will look for projects in other areas. That may explain the paucity of really high-quality applications coming forward. Cancer Research UK says it is looking to invest more in rarer cancers, and it would be useful if the Minister could say what has emerged so far from the strategy published in May last year. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, reminded us, in 2014 a mere £860,000 was spent on mesothelioma research—a miserable amount compared, say, with the £9.9 million 20 Nov 2015 : Column 391 spent on skin cancer or the £5.5 million spent on melanoma, which are cancers with similar mortality. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, has been tireless in his attempts to put this right over the years, and I warmly support his latest efforts in this Bill. In addition to the amounts active insurers are required to pay to fund the diffuse mesothelioma compensation scheme, he proposes, as he did in the summer of 2013, that the levy be increased by an amount not exceeding 1% of the compensation payments to fund mesothelioma research. This is supported by the British Lung Foundation, which points out that by improving outcomes and thereby reducing compensation payouts, insurers would stand to benefit from the research. The BLF tells me that the insurance industry is expecting to pay out more than £12 billion under the existing scheme over the years. A fraction of this enormous amount invested in high-quality research could revolutionise our understanding of mesothelioma and lead to significant improvements in the treatment and management of the condition. Your Lordships may recall that when we last debated this matter in 2013 there was widespread support for the basic principle of insurer-funded research, and of course we are extremely grateful to the two companies that contributed voluntarily to start the process. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, reminded us, there are another 148 insurers active in the employers’ liability market that would contribute if this Bill were passed. Zurich announced a few weeks ago that it was walking away from its £5.6 billion bid for UK insurer RSA. The amounts active insurers would be asked to pay under this Bill are insignificant in comparison with their assets, but they could transform the outlook for mesothelioma patients and their families. 10.37 am Baroness Finlay of Llandaff (CB): My Lords, like others, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Alton on his tireless work in this area and on his perseverance in trying to improve the outlook for the future. I shall concentrate on mesothelioma not as an epidemic of today but as one that is looming because of the problem in our schools. The need for research is ever more pressing as time goes on. It has been estimated that more than three-quarters of our schools—my noble friend Lord Alton referred to 87% of schools—have asbestos in place. We know that deaths from workplace exposure are more common among healthcare workers, teachers, telephone engineers, shop workers, finance workers and so on. It is estimated that about 20 deaths a year occur among teachers. In healthcare, we are not sure of the exact number of deaths. When I was a junior doctor the lagging was hanging off the pipes in the basement of Westminster Hospital, just across the road from here, and in other hospitals in London in which I worked. To go to cardiac arrests, we would literally run through the dust and sometimes hit our heads on bits of lagging that were hanging down. Everyone was oblivious to the dangers. The problem is that we have asbestos in our schools and that means children are being exposed. Other countries have decided to have a phased removal—for example, Australia has already implemented that—and 20 Nov 2015 : Column 392 the European Parliament has called for the removal of asbestos from all public buildings by 2028. The Committee on Carcinogenicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment reported that, “it is not possible to say whether children are intrinsically more susceptible to asbestos-related injury. However, it is well recognised … that, due to the increased life expectancy of children compared to adults, there is an increased lifetime risk of mesothelioma as a result of the long latency period of the disease … for a given dose of asbestos the lifetime risk of developing mesothelioma is predicted to be about 3.5 times greater for a child first exposed at age 5 compared to an adult first exposed at age 25 and about 5 times greater when compared to an adult first exposed at age 30 … we conclude that exposure of children to asbestos is likely to render them more vulnerable to developing mesothelioma than exposure of adults to an equivalent asbestos dose”. The current advice with regard to asbestos is that it should remain undisturbed, and indeed that seems sensible. However, there does not seem to have been a comprehensive assessment of what happens in our schools when children’s chairs and desks scrape along the walls and a little shower of asbestos dust comes into the classroom; or when windows or doors are slammed, not because of children behaving badly but simply because the school is a building with lots of boisterous children in it. Assessments have been done when buildings have been empty. There is an urgent need for research into why some people develop mesothelioma and others do not, and for long-term epidemiological studies, which take money and investment, to understand what is going on in the long term so that we can plan for it if the numbers are going to go up hugely. In my own field, I have made a plea for us to undertake some research into why mesothelioma causes so much pain, and why it appears to be relatively difficult to manage with straightforward analgesics. In my own hospital, the Velindre Cancer Centre, Dr Jason Lester is doing some innovative research on tumour-associated antigens and their expression on the surface of tumour cells, but that research is not cheap—it cannot be done on a shoestring—and needs dedicated cell lines. The Asbestos in Schools Steering Group was set up by the Department for Education in 2012. What is its position with regard to academies and free schools in relation to their responsibilities for managing asbestos, and where are the levers that the Department for Education has for managing it? I understand that the Health and Safety Executive produces guidelines for how asbestos should be managed, but the responsibility seems to lie with those who are running the schools themselves. For us in Wales, this has revealed what you could call the “devolution crack” because no one seems to be taking clear responsibility for schools in Wales. In the Senedd on 28 January this year, the First Minister said: “The responsibility lies with the Health and Safety Executive; that is quite clear”. He went on to say that, “in terms of ensuring that the responsibilities are progressed, that is also a responsibility of the environmental health officers”. However, that appears to be at odds with Answers that have been given in this House. When the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, was Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Wales Office, she answered a Written 20 Nov 2015 : Column 393 Question last year from my noble friend Lord Wigley about responsibility in Wales by saying: “The Health and Safety Executive has responsibility for regulations and guidance as it applies to the management and control of asbestos in all workplaces in Great Britain, including schools. However, within this framework, the development of policies for the management and control of asbestos in schools is a matter for the Welsh Government”.—[Official Report, 14/1/14, col. WA 11.] Your Lordships might think that that would be the end of it and it should all sit with Wales, but I suggest that in the long term the devolution crack that has been demonstrated will affect NHS England just as much as NHS Wales. Wales is a net exporter of young people, particularly into the professions, and a net importer of older people. We have a lot of older people coming to spend their last years in nursing homes, particularly in north Wales and along the coastal strips. So Wales may have a problem today but unless there is joint working between those responsible, and unless Wales is invited to join in and share expertise on these committees, we are not going to solve the problem in the long term for the next generation. I also suggest that the confusion over this has been evident in the complaint that was taken to the Parliamentary Ombudsman by Annette Brooke on behalf of the Asbestos in Schools group regarding the conduct of the Health and Safety Executive following the closure of Cwmcarn High School in 2012, the outcome of which is awaited. This Bill is very important for the future, not only for the health of the whole of our nation—England and Wales joined together—but because it is important to plan expenditure and demand, and to plan how we are going to manage what may be a looming epidemic among our schoolchildren that we have not even begun to take notice of yet. 10.45 am Lord Winston (Lab): My Lords, it is a pleasure to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on introducing the Bill. I agree completely that this is a terrible condition that causes massive injury to a number of people. I want to take a slightly different tack during this debate; I would like to put the disease into some focus. I was first aware of mesothelioma in the 1960s as a medical student. I worked with a very great physician, the late Donald Hunter, who was probably the first person really to identify industrial diseases as a major issue in medicine. He was very prominent in the field of lung disease—pneumoconiosis in miners, for example. He also had further interests in a whole range of things; he even changed the way that diamond drills were used in South Africa to reduce the dust that would cause lung disease in miners. Some noble Lords might remember that around 1998 I made a television programme about an Irish individual called Herbie, whom we filmed dying. It was a unique film that was part of “The Human Body”. It was massively criticised before it was shown because it was the first time that anyone had filmed a death on television. We filmed Herbie over the best part of two years. It was an amazing experience for me. He was dying of mesothelioma. Interestingly, 20 Nov 2015 : Column 394 while of course I bow completely to what the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, points out about the pain, the pain from his abdominal mesothelioma was quite well controlled by pretty heavy amounts of morphine-like drugs. Extraordinarily, the fact that we filmed him for so long probably extended his life. Amazingly, he lived for at least a year or two longer than was expected by his physicians. We all went to the funeral and filmed that as well, and it was a very moving moment. The value of that was partly to show someone dying from a disease of this sort but also to recognise that there is not necessarily a need to have such fear about death, a very important issue on which I think the noble Baroness will understand where we were coming from. Once the film had been shown, it did not receive any more aggressive comments in the press; it was recognised as being quite important. Mesothelioma is an extraordinary disease. I shall try to make it understandable. Our lungs, or rather the pleural cavity in which our lungs are contained, are lined by a lining that covers the heart and the contents of the abdomen, including the bowel. The tumours arise from this lining. Unfortunately, unlike epithelial cancers—most cancers are on epithelial tissues—cancers that arise from these embryological tissues have always been much more resistant to treatment. They include tissues that grow from the bone, such as sarcoma, although I think that that is now changing a bit in its impact. None the less, there is no doubt that these conditions are recognised as being astonishingly hard to deal with. There is no doubt that mesothelioma is primarily caused by exposure to asbestos, almost invariably in the lung and probably in the abdomen as well. It is true that about one-fifth of patients claim never to have been in contact with asbestos but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, eloquently points out, it is obvious why that might not be so. It is also interesting that the epidemic, as it has been called, that we have at the moment may be on the decrease as asbestos—particularly blue and brown asbestos, the most dangerous forms—is controlled and regulated. Sadly, however, we have not done nearly enough, so the pleas for much better understanding of what we must do in public and private places go without question. I will declare two interests. First, I am still a research academic at Imperial College, and my most recent project grant has a cancer edge to it, although it is not on one of these cancers. It has not yet been awarded—I may not get the money—but I hope that it will be funded in due course. The other reason for declaring an interest is that many years ago I was a trustee of Cancer Research UK and before that the Imperial Cancer Research Fund. I emphasise to your Lordships that Cancer Research UK raises between £300 million and £400 million a year for cancer research. It also has a number of notable scientists; for example, there are at least two Nobel prize-winners I can think of immediately: one is Paul Nurse, and the other of course is the recent Nobel prize-winner, Tom Lindahl. They both look at cells—cell development, cell cycle, cell division, and what interrupts them. I make it very clear that that kind of research these Nobel prize-winners have done, which is typical of many people in cell biology, has a profound effect on our understanding 20 Nov 2015 : Column 395 of all cancers. Their research is not focused on mesothelioma, but it does not mean to say that it is any less relevant. It is very important to understand that an understanding of how cells work is as important as any specific, targeted approach to a particular condition. There is always a slight risk of targeting one or two particular diseases at the expense of other diseases. We have to be aware of this, particularly when perhaps smaller charities are involved in targeting a particular disease because of an interest group. Cancer Research UK says very clearly that it is very happy to help smaller charities and help fund research where it is properly peer-reviewed, to improve and increase their impact. However, it is also very clear that Cancer Research UK, which is our main cancer research organisation in this country, has not ignored mesothelioma. On the contrary, if you look at its website, you will see very clearly that it is involved with a number of research projects. I will delineate some of the areas, because it is very relevant to this debate. First, Cancer Research UK has been very clearly interested in the past in seeing whether there might be causes other than asbestos; for example, a viral cause. There is probably not a genetic cause either, but there may be a genetic predisposition to how you react to the tumour once it is being treated. One of the problems with mesothelioma is that it is very difficult to diagnose and often appears late. That patient, Herbie, for example, was diagnosed very late, and when I was active in surgery years ago I opened the abdomen of someone in pain to find that they had a mesothelioma, although there had been no suggestion beforehand that there would be a mesothelioma in that particular patient. Therefore one of the approaches that Cancer Research UK is trying to achieve is slightly earlier diagnosis. In particular, there are two promising compounds: one is osteopontin and the other is the serum mesothelin-related protein, both of which are secreted by these tumours. Unfortunately, one of the problems is that both these markers are secreted by other tumours as well, including, for example, ovarian cancer. Getting a specific marker is a difficulty, but research will continue. There is no question that in the field of treatment there is a great deal of research. I have a list here, which I have written down, of the number of chemotherapeutic agents which have been looked at. In recent years I can count at least 10 or 11: raltitrexed, gemcitabine, mitomycin, vinorelbine, irinotecan, vinflunine, and there are various combinations of those therapies with other well-known mitotoxic agents. These have included trials; I do not quite understand the figures for funding which have been put round the Chamber, because of course clinical trials, which are often multi-centred, are extremely expensive to carry out, and whether those are included in the figures which are being bandied about is very questionable. The noble Lord, Lord Prior, may have something to say about that issue. We would like to see more trials, and they are expensive, but I do not know whether they are included in the total cost of the research into mesothelioma that is being quoted. Other treatments have been researched: of course there is surgery, pleurodesis, and there are now attempts to try to reduce the tumour inside the lung membranes. 20 Nov 2015 : Column 396 However, some of the more promising therapies which are being actively looked at by Cancer Research UK are biological therapy and immunotherapy. So far, none of these drugs works particularly well. At least 12 have been looked at; there is some promise, and there is no question but that used in combination they may improve. However, these remain, like so many other of these tumours of similar embryological origin that are not mesotheliomas, quite resistant to treatment, just as they become resistant to therapy. Incidentally, photodynamic therapy has been tried. I do not want to go on at great length about research, but I will talk about three trials that Cancer Research UK is doing at the moment to emphasise the wide range of stuff that is going on. One is some work with HSV1716, which is a virus that acts against dividing cancer cells. It comes from the herpes virus, if I remember correctly. Therefore that is a very good example of where we might make a breakthrough in treatment. Then there is a different strand of research with ADI-PEG 20, which in combination with other drugs such as cisplatin affects a particular amino acid in the chain of cell division. The amino acid that is of particular importance here is arginine. If that can be inhibited, the cancer cells do not multiply. That has been specifically targeted for the treatment of mesothelioma. A compound, GSK3052230, developed by GSK, is I think about to enter phase 3 trials very shortly. That attacks the FGFR1 gene, and therefore stops cancer cells growing. It is therefore important to emphasise that we are doing research in this country. Whether we are doing enough remains for other people to decide. However, it is important to recognise that these cancers are very resistant to all sorts of treatment, which is one of the reasons why they are so emotionally as well as physically painful. I also suggest that we have heard so many times before about how it has been decided by Governments to put massive funding towards a particular biological project. I think President Nixon said, “We’ll put funds into conquering cancer”, and that was a total failure. We need to understand that of course there need to be targeted funds, but there also needs to be an understanding of the basic mechanisms. That is definitely going on with a wide range of cancers, some of which will affect mesothelial cancer research as well as lung cancer, bowel cancer and testicular cancer research. It is very important to understand that it is not just about simply focusing on one disease which is of terrible significance, not least because it is almost invariably fatal. 10.58 am Lord Kakkar (CB): My Lords, I, too, join noble Lords in thanking and congratulating my noble friend Lord Alton of Liverpool on introducing the Second Reading of his important Private Member’s Bill, and in so doing I declare my own interest as professor of surgery at University College London, an institution with a very active research interest and base in many different cancers. There is no doubt, as we have heard in this debate, that mesothelioma represents an important burden of disease for our country—there were some 2,500 deaths from mesothelioma in 2013—but also, going forward, 20 Nov 2015 : Column 397 it represents a substantial burden of disease in the years to come, with a predicted 56,000 deaths in the period 2014-2044. We have also heard that mesothelioma represents a particularly nasty form of disease with a very peculiar natural history, potentially seen to develop over many decades in an unpredictable fashion, where there is no therapeutic intervention today that can offer a chance of a cure, where diagnosis is often late, and where palliative care, although advancing, still does not provide patients with any meaningful hope of long-term survival. Under these circumstances, it was quite right for my noble friend to have put forward amendments in Committee and on Report, when the Mesothelioma Act 2014 was passing through your Lordships’ House. I was interested in my noble friend’s proposition on that occasion because there is evidence that the research base on mesothelioma is limited. With a disease that we understand so little about, it seemed intuitive that, using the opportunity of mechanisms made available by the Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme, an additional levy might provide a base for enhanced research funding in this area. This is important because, without such funding, it is impossible for many researchers to make the long-term commitment to create a group and study a disease over many years or decades, to ensure that advances in understanding are made available. The noble Lord, Lord Winston, made important points in this area. This is not only a question of research into the specific disease of mesothelioma, but of ensuring that understanding generated in other areas of cancer research, and cell biology more broadly, can be applied to it. There is now an increasing emphasis on understanding that, if we are going to improve outcomes for patients with a variety of different cancers, and other chronic long-term conditions, we need to move away from a generalised approach to managing disease towards personalised, precision medicine: understanding, at a molecular and cellular level, the mutations driving a particular cancer, such as mesothelioma, then developing biological therapies to target them. The problem at the moment is there is an insufficient molecular characterisation of mesothelioma, to ensure that this disease can avail itself of all the other advances taking place in research generally. On 17 July 2013, when the Mesothelioma Act was debated on Report, as recorded in col. 786 of vol. 747 of the Official Report, the then Minister, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, answered a number of points. As we have already heard, it was argued then that the correct approach was not to ensure more funding for mesothelioma research but that other mechanisms be used to stimulate more research proposals, which would then be funded if they were of sufficient quality. That seemed a reasonable argument. We have heard the four principal mechanisms that were suggested: first, that the National Institute of Health Research convene a workshop of the principal funding charities, such as Cancer Research UK, the Medical Research Council and others—I understand that that took place in May 2014; secondly, that a highlight notice be published by the National Institute for Health Research, identifying this as a priority area for research—this happened in 20 Nov 2015 : Column 398 September 2014; thirdly, that a priority-setting partnership be convened—the James Lind Alliance did this with a variety of stakeholder groups in December 2014. Fourthly, it was suggested that the National Institute for Health Research make its research design service available to help researchers come forward with research studies which were properly designed from a methodological point of view and so would enjoy a greater chance of research funding. What progress has been made in each of those areas; what were the outcomes of those four specific initiatives? In that same debate, in 2013, we heard that MRC funding for mesothelioma had increased from £0.8 million in the financial year 2009-10 to some £2.4 million in 2011-12. Has the increase in Medical Research Council support for mesothelioma research continued on that upward trajectory, or has funding fallen back? How many more applications have been received by the funding councils, by the National Institute for Health Research or the research charities, as a result of the four specific initiatives that were offered to your Lordship’s House at the time of that debate? It would be very reassuring if there were evidence that there have been more high-quality applications; that more groups are coming together to study mesothelioma; and that there is greater collaboration between those dedicated groups and other groups working on more fundamental areas of cancer biology, or other tumours that share a similar characteristic and biology to mesothelioma, such as some of the sarcomas. If that has not happened, the assumption that by facilitating this type of conversation we would see more research is not going to deliver the kick-start in activity that we require. It may therefore be important to revisit the question of a specific levy, providing more funding and greater incentive and reassurance for researchers to come together and focus on this area. Ultimately, research is about helping patients, and large numbers of our fellow citizens will suffer from mesothelioma in the years to come. If we can provide greater hope that they might have a better quality of life or, indeed, be cured of this disease, through an enhanced research effort, then we should proceed along those lines. 11.06 am Lord Ribeiro (Con): My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for introducing the Bill, and my erudite medical colleagues for their lectures and exposition on the research which supports work on mesothelioma. I confess to being a bit of a cowboy movie fan. One of my idols was Steve McQueen, whom noble Lords may remember in “Bullitt”, “The Great Escape” and “The Magnificent Seven”. The noble Lord mentioned Navy workers and the involvement of the noble Lord, Lord West, and others in this. Steve McQueen enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 1947. In those days, warships coming out of the war were covered in asbestos. It was in every single compartment: the roofs, eating messes, everywhere. He was also required to strip out asbestos from the old ships. He died, at the height of his acting career, at the age of 50 of abdominal mesothelioma. We do not know exactly when he contracted the disease—it could have been at any time, but it was presumably between 20 Nov 2015 : Column 399 1947 and 1950 when he was in the Navy. He was also very interested in racing cars and in those days they had asbestos masks in case of fire. It is most likely that it took 30 years before the disease was diagnosed in December 1979. He died less than a year later, in 1980, aged 50. He had malignant mesothelioma of the perineum, to which the noble Lord, Lord Winston, referred earlier. He tried desperately to find a cure, going to Mexico and other countries to do so, but sadly he died. His death was a huge shock to those of us who admired his acting skills, and it raised the profile of the disease of mesothelioma. It is a shame that you need such icons to bring people to understand how deadly such a condition is. As a surgeon, I had very little experience of mesothelioma. I did a cardiothoracic job in which most of the time would be spent draining fluid from around the lungs, because this condition would compress the lungs as it spread around the pleural cavity and cause all sorts of problems. Unlike peritoneal problems due to tuberculosis, where we would strip off the pleura and try to stop any further fluid collecting, with mesothelioma, whatever you did made very little difference. All we could do was effectively to palliate. So my experience of the disease was very limited. Curiously enough, we still see advertisements featuring Steve McQueen, with him advertising watches or driving a Ford Mustang. His image is still there. But the condition that he died from is not as well known as it should be. I would hate people to think that, just because this was something that happened before restrictions came into being, we will not see more of this condition. A projected figure of 60,000 deaths has been given but, as the years go by, although there may be a slight fall, I predict that there will be many more. It is also important to remember that it is not just in this country that the deaths will occur. Many countries do not have the regulations or restrictions on the use of asbestos that we have. It is important that we take a lead in trying to discover the causes of mesothelioma and getting to the bottom of how to treat it in order to benefit not only us but many people overseas. I do not know how many noble Lords have accepted the offer of a tour of the basement of the House. If they have not, I suggest that they do, as they will find evidence of asbestos in this building that they will not believe. We are all likely to be exposed to it. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, mentioned her time as a medical student. When I was a medical student, I worked in a hospital where we would walk through underground tunnels with asbestos pipes along the sides. The hospital porters would push the patients on trolleys down those tunnels, bang into the asbestos and bits would fly off. As medical students, we often had a game of rugby as we went flying through the tunnels and, again, chunks of asbestos would come off. To my knowledge, one medical student who never worked in the industry subsequently died of mesothelioma. I can only assume that that was associated with exposure to the asbestos. We have it right beneath us in this building and we should all be very aware of it. Noble Lords will remember the valiant attempt by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, to introduce his amendment the last time round. On that occasion, the Government suggested that a more voluntary approach was the 20 Nov 2015 : Column 400 way forward, with contributions being made on a voluntary basis, but the noble Lord demonstrated clearly that that has not come about. At that time, four insurance companies were bearing the burden of providing payments to sufferers of the disease. That number is now down to two—Aviva and Zurich, which have both contributed £1 million towards research, but only for two years. There are 150 other insurance firms actively involved in employers’ liability which have yet to step forward. It should not be the responsibility of two insurance companies to shoulder the burden of this condition, and it is extremely important that we find a way through this. I know that charities are able to raise huge amounts of money towards the treatment of cancer. We are all well aware of breast cancer—it is visible and we all know of people who have been affected by it. Hundreds of millions of pounds are spent on research into breast cancer and other cancers. Mesothelioma is an insidious condition that has a sinister outcome, yet very little research has been done into it. Perhaps it is not a very sexy area for researchers to go into. I am afraid that most people do medical research because they wish to explore a particular area for which they have a passion. If we are to generate the necessary funding for this disease, it is important that we stimulate more people to take an interest in it. There are questions to be asked. Why does a wife who launders the clothing of her husband, who works in an area with asbestos, contract and die of asbestosis whereas her husband does not? Why can some people survive for up to 20 years? The current longest survivor is a man who contracted the disease 18 years ago and is still going strong. Why is that? Clearly the answer lies in the genes, and we need to do genetic research. Testa et al in Nature Genetics reported in 2012 research suggesting that people with a germline mutation on their BAP1 gene are at a high risk of developing mesothelioma. We need to follow through such areas of research to try to get the answers. My erudite medical colleagues have explained to the House some of the stages that need to be gone through. I wish to mention the British Lung Foundation, which I worked very closely with when I took through my Private Member’s Bill on banning smoking in cars with children present. It has done a huge amount in supporting the battle against mesothelioma, and it needs to be recognised, acknowledged and supported. As was mentioned, one of its researchers, Dr Peter Campbell, receives a grant for work on identifying the important genes to target for mutations in mesothelioma. Notwithstanding what the noble Lord, Lord Winston, said about the need not just to target one area but to recognise that high-level research may benefit many other conditions and not just mesothelioma, this area needs far more support than we have seen hitherto. On the previous occasion when this matter was debated, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, missed taking through the proposed levy by just seven votes. It was a very narrow vote and he had a lot of support in the House but, unfortunately, it did not go through on that occasion. At that time, the Government assured us that it would be possible to achieve the ends we wanted through a more voluntary approach. To date, 20 Nov 2015 : Column 401 those 150 insurance companies have not stepped up to the plate and we need to do slightly more than rely on that approach. A levy is the missing piece of the puzzle. It is key to essential research into this killer disease, which, as we all know, affects tens of thousands of people. It is important to discover its exact causes and how we can benefit patients in the future. Why does the UK have the unenviable record of the highest mesothelioma mortality rates in the world, and what are we doing wrong that we could do better? I believe that only research can answer these questions. As I said, it cannot be left to charitable organisations to raise the money for such research, and it is important that we find a way of achieving the necessary funding. Winston Churchill once said, “Action today”. I think we have reached the point where we need to move towards “action today”, and I hope the Minister, having listened to the debate and the comments that have been made, will be more inclined to take a harder line on this and to consider finding a way of introducing a levy on the insurance companies. 11.19 am Lord Wills (Lab): My Lords, I, too, rise to support this Bill. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on his persistence in pursuing this issue and on the compelling case that he has made this morning for this Bill. It is a privilege to follow the noble Lord who has just spoken and to have heard all the knowledge and experience that he brings to this debate. Indeed, it is a privilege to have heard all the previous speakers. As your Lordships’ House has heard many times before, and as we have heard again this morning, mesothelioma is a terrible disease. It is remorseless, and it usually kills within 12 to 18 months by gradually strangulating the lungs and heart, bringing severe, constant pain and progressive and dreadful shortness of breath. The strongest painkillers and multiple operations to drain fluid from the chest bring their own side-effects and, unfortunately, as we have already heard this morning, do little to mitigate terrible suffering. This is among the most cruel of all fatal illnesses. As we have heard again this morning, it is all too often inflicted on those who have contracted it through their occupation and all too often through public service. Factory workers, such as those in the railway works in my former constituency, have been disproportionately affected by it. But so too have members of the armed services and teachers. Despite this, for decades, those suffering from mesothelioma, and their families, have been appallingly badly treated by the insurance companies that should have been looking after them and neglected by successive Governments. It has taken decades to force insurance companies to discharge their obligations to pay compensation. In the end, it took legislation, beginning with that introduced by the last Labour Government and then by the coalition Government, to force them to discharge those obligations. I take this opportunity, if I may, once again to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Freud, for all he did to bring the Mesothelioma Act to the statute book. It really was a very considerable step forward. Yet after all the debates, stretching back years, and after all the calls for Governments to act, 20 Nov 2015 : Column 402 there is still no significant progress being made on the adequate resourcing of research into effective treatments for this dreadful illness. The facts are well known, and we have heard them again this morning. So how can it be justifiable that, based on figures from Cancer Research and the National Cancer Research Institute, more than twice as much per sufferer is spent on, for example, breast cancer research than on mesothelioma? There is no good reason for government inaction on this. Given that the groups this illness strikes hardest so often work in the public sector, the Government have surely an ethical obligation to ensure adequately funded research is carried out. It may be felt that because asbestos is no longer used in the UK, the actuarial peak of the incidence of this disease is being reached in this country; that this is a legacy disease and, therefore, significant investment in research is not justified. I have heard this suggested, but waiting for sufferers to die off in excruciating pain is an unacceptable basis for any healthcare system. Moreover, the numbers are significant; we have heard them again this morning. Although these are projections—and given the long gestation period for this illness they could well be underestimates—more than 50,000 people are projected to die in this country alone and many more times that number in the rest of the world. Mesothelioma is a global problem. It affects almost everywhere in the world, including some of the poorest countries in Asia and Africa, countries which are ill-equipped to provide and develop such research on their own. As we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, future generations of children in this country are particularly at risk. The figures vary, but at least 75% of schools in this country are estimated to contain asbestos, and the Health and Safety Executive has conceded that a minority of those schools are not doing all they possibly could to manage it. Teachers, caretakers and other school staff are already dying in their hundreds from mesothelioma, and at an escalating rate. We are likely to see that rate escalate still further given the long gestation period for this illness. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, has already given these figures, but they are so important that they bear repeating: it is estimated that a child of five is more than five times more likely to develop mesothelioma by the age of 80 than their teacher aged 30. It is also thought—although again there is some argument about exactly how this works—that they are at greater risk because their bodies are still developing, which may make their lungs more vulnerable. Hundreds of thousands of sufferers all over the world will go on suffering from this illness for many decades to come, which is why the research that this Bill promotes is so necessary. I, and many other noble Lords, have heard Ministers justify this lack of investment in research on the grounds that no good research proposals come forward. But if that really is the case, and there is some dispute about it, the Government need to do whatever is necessary to create structures and an environment in which such proposals will come forward. That would not compromise the Haldane principle—it is simply what the Government should 20 Nov 2015 : Column 403 be doing. The most important single action that they could take in that respect is to increase the sums of money available for research. The absence of adequate, secure, long-term funding must clearly be a deterrent to talented researchers committing their careers to research in this area. By turning their back on investing adequately in mesothelioma research, the Government are missing an opportunity to build on our leading position in biomedical research and in an area of such global importance. The Government are also missing an opportunity to save taxpayers money. I am sorry to bring money into this debate, but it is a matter that must be of concern to the Government, particularly at the moment. Of course, there is no guarantee that any research will produce results, but the experience of research into other cancers suggests that a combination of money and time, and the extraordinary and rapid progress in interpreting the human genome—the noble Lord, Lord Ribeiro, just mentioned the importance of genetics in this field—and huge progress in the size and power of computers, will produce significant advances in treatment. We have already heard this morning from the distinguished medical Peers who spoke about many of the exciting possibilities opening up. This would help save taxpayers some of the huge sums that are involved in treating mesothelioma sufferers. These are broad-brush estimates, but taking into account the costs of diagnosis, surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, stays in hospital with multiple operations to drain fluid, community care costs, the loss of earnings and so the loss of tax revenue for the one-third of sufferers who will still be of working age at diagnosis, the costs are likely to be upwards of £75,000 per patient. As some 2,500 patients are currently diagnosed in the UK every year, annual costs are likely to exceed at least £185 million. With perhaps up to 70,000 new cases between now and 2050, the total could well rise above £5 billion. There is a clear ethical imperative for the Government to act now on research into this terrible illness. There is a clear humanitarian imperative. There is a clear financial imperative. There is simply no reason for the Government not to act. The Government and their funding agencies could easily find the funds themselves, even in these difficult times: £3 million a year would more than treble the amount currently spent and help fund a national centre to co-ordinate and develop research. This Bill offers an alternative route to funding, through a levy on insurers. It will raise money from all those insurance companies that evaded their obligations for so many years, and it will share the existing burden more equitably between those very few companies that have, so commendably, honoured their obligations and the rest of the insurers. Quite apart from the continuing moral responsibility of that industry as a whole to atone for its historic mistreatment of sufferers of this dreadful disease, the sum of money to significantly improve the research effort on a sustainable basis is a tiny fraction of the overall amounts that those insurers saved for decades, and an even tinier fraction of the sums that they will probably have to continue to pay out for decades to come. Does anyone seriously think 20 Nov 2015 : Column 404 that £3 million a year would trouble an insurance industry that pays out £187 million a day to its customers, which is more than £68 billion a year? Despite all these arguments for action, as we have heard, the Government appear to have done nothing since the noble Lord, Lord Alton, raised this issue in your Lordships House two years ago. Their lack of interest is, I am afraid, demonstrated by the Whitehall reaction to the work that I and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and my noble friend Lord Giddens have done on exploring the possibility of setting up a national mesothelioma institute, which the noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred to in his opening remarks. This would be done on a hub-and-spoke model, involving worldwide collaborations to drive forward research into tackling this terrible disease on a global basis. We made considerable progress with medical researchers and non-governmental organisations and the possibility of significant funding from charitable sources, but the time is now right to involve government. The sums are relatively small, but it needs some limited participation from government. The Department of Health has been supportive; in particular, I pay tribute to the Chief Medical Officer and her officials, who have been extraordinarily helpful and demonstrated great empathy with the need to do something to improve outcomes for those suffering from mesothelioma. But the global dimensions of the problem and the nature of the spending review mean that other Whitehall departments need to take an interest as well. The two other key departments, DfID and the Treasury, have refused to meet us. It is one thing to refuse to do something; it is quite something else to refuse even to meet to discuss doing something to alleviate terrible suffering. It might have been thought that anyone going into public service, in whatever capacity, for whatever reason, might have wanted to spend a few minutes exploring the possibility of helping those suffering so terribly from this illness, but obviously not. To be fair to the DfID officials, I should say that they emailed to say that we could look at their website—next year—to try to identify funding opportunities. In the short time that he has been in your Lordships’ House, the Minister who will reply to this debate has won respect from all sides of the House for his knowledge, for his experience and for his willingness to engage in dialogue, but he has done so perhaps above all for his determination to seek continuing improvements in healthcare. Although he may not be able to commit to support this Bill in its entirety today, I hope that he will at least feel able to recognise that it seeks to put right a long-standing injustice, and that there must now be action to promote research that might bring relief to all those who have suffered from this illness and all those who will suffer in the future. I hope that he will say today that, if this is not exactly the way in which the Government prefer to address the problem, they will find some other way of addressing it and do so now without any further delay. 11.32 am Lord McNally (LD): My Lords, I think that all speakers have paid tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Alton; I will take a slightly different tack. I know 20 Nov 2015 : Column 405 exactly when I first met the noble Lord: it was as we queued to take the oath in the other place for the start of the 1979 Parliament. Instead of heaping more praise on him, let me give a Gypsy’s warning to the Minister: the noble Lord may look like a superannuated choirboy, but he has the tenacity of a seasoned political streetfighter. My noble friend Lord Avebury referred to Nancy Tait, who campaigned for more than 30 years on behalf of asbestos victims after the death of her husband, Bill. In her obituary in the Guardian, she was described as having “genteel bloody-mindedness”. I give the Minister fair warning that there could be no better description of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, when he adopts and champions a cause. If the Minister has a reply that offers sympathetic words but no action, I recommend a rapid rewrite. I mentioned Nancy Tait and her long fight for justice for victims of asbestos, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Wills, has just reminded us, the truth is that neither big business nor successive Governments have a good record in response to public, and particularly worker, exposure to toxic products and substances. The historic London match girls’ strike of 1888 was in part about the dangers of working with phosphorus, which caused severe health conditions such as “phossy jaw”. In the USA in 1917, there was the case of the “radium girls”, who took the United States Radium Corporation to court because their job had been to paint radium on to the watch dials of luminous watches. Fifty years later, Erin Brockovich campaigned against water contamination caused by Pacific Oil & Gas. In this country, we had the long battle of our coal miners for compensation, and an equally long battle to get the tobacco industry to accept culpability for the health damage done by its products. All those campaigns have one thing in common: we are dealing with everyday products—a match, a wristwatch, the water we drink, the coal we burn, the cigarette we smoke, the place where we work, our classroom or a government office. Each time, there is a denial of culpability by companies and slowness of action by government. It has often taken action by a small group or even an individual to change the law. Asbestos is slightly different, although I remember in my childhood thinking of it as having super qualities, not least for its fire resistance—I was probably playing with lead soldiers at the time. My interest in this matter, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, hinted, is that my sister Betty died of mesothelioma in her 70s. Betty was 14 years older than me and had none of the advantages that I had, either of being the baby of the family or of being a beneficiary of the Education Act 1944. She left school at 14 and went to work in the local ICI works, helping to spin asbestos into synthetic fabric for fireproofing. Thirty years later, after raising her family, she went to work at the Ministry of Pensions in Norcross near Blackpool as an office cleaner. She worked in the asbestos-riddled prefabs that were put up just after the war to house the department and was working there when they were demolished. She mentioned at the time that she thought it was rather strange that those who were doing the demolition were wearing protective clothing but that the office cleaners were not. 20 Nov 2015 : Column 406 At the time of Betty’s death, to gain compensation you had to prove where you had been contaminated, who had done it, et cetera, and of course there was no possibility of such proof. Quite frankly, with Betty gone, the family was not looking for compensation. It was a relief to see that kind of dilemma solved by the 2014 Act. Much progress has been made in recent years across the board, in this country and abroad, with countries and Governments accepting responsibility and providing compensation for industrial and workplace illness. However, as we have heard today, there are still in waiting more victims of mesothelioma and more need for compensation. This Bill is a suitable tailpiece that should probably have been in the original Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Ribeiro, quoted Churchill—I think that he slightly misquoted him; I think that Churchill said, “action this day”. I always treat the noble Lord with great respect, since he rescued me when I collapsed at that Dispatch Box about four years ago, and now refer to him as my personal physician. As has been mentioned, there are in waiting many thousands more victims. We have been given by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, a simple and effective way of funding. He has also done something that is equally important, which is to remind us that culpability and responsibility lie not just with the private sector but with government. There is both a moral and a legal responsibility on the part of government to address some of the problems that have been mentioned in relation to public servants. I am pleased to give my support to the Bill. 11.39 am Lord Freyberg (CB): My Lords, I support the Bill and I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on bringing this issue back to Parliament following its narrow defeat in this House in 2013. Like the noble Lord, Lord McNally, my interest in this subject is personal. Just over three years ago, in June 2012, my sister, Annabel Freyberg, a journalist, was diagnosed with mesothelioma. Her diagnosis followed one month after the death of her nine year-old daughter, Blossom, from a particularly virulent cancer, neuroblastoma. The process of her diagnosis was long delayed as the symptoms of her severe lung problems were initially put down to pneumonia and stress. Over the next 18 months there followed a succession of treatments: a course of chemotherapy; attempts to join various drugs trials; and introductions to different specialists who might have been able to operate on the tumour, but, sadly, by then it had progressed too far for this to be possible. On 8 December 2013 she died, aged 52, leaving behind her husband, Andrew, and her 13 year-old son, Otto. Statistically, Annabel is an anomaly—one of only 415 women out of 2,538 people who died of the disease in 2013. Most people with mesothelioma are men in their late 70s who worked in areas such as the building industry and were exposed to asbestos. It is rare for a woman in her early 50s to have the disease. To this day we still have no idea where and when she came into contact with asbestos. However, for many women and their children, the link is all too clear and 20 Nov 2015 : Column 407 especially cruel. As the noble Lord, Lord McNally, and others have said, they are the wives exposed to deadly asbestos fibres while washing their husband’s clothes, or children exposed to asbestos after greeting their fathers from work. One of the troubling aspects of Annabel’s illness, which was highlighted by successive visits to oncologists, was how little research there was into mesothelioma, as with most of the rarer cancers. It is surprising that although the UK has the highest rate of the disease in the world, relatively little is spent on research in the UK, measured against other cancers of comparable mortality. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and others have already mentioned, the British Lung Foundation estimates that in 2014 only £860,000 was invested in mesothelioma research by its partners, compared with £9.9 million for skin cancer. The consequence of this was that many of the trials available to Annabel took place outside the UK. However, the story of consultant anaesthetist Andrew Lawson, who survived seven years with mesothelioma, shows that it does not have to be this way. Given a year to live, he investigated the evidence and took advice from colleagues from all round the world. There followed three operations and six different chemotherapy courses. He signed up for clinical trial gene therapy treatments in Philadelphia and dendritic cell vaccine treatment in Holland. At his own instigation, he was the first mesothelioma patient in the country to have regular treatment with intravenous bisphosphonate after promising results on mice in Western Australia. Of course, none of these is readily available on the NHS and, indeed, most patients are simply not told about such trials or know of such basic research. However, it demonstrates the need to rethink how we carry out our research. The present system of trials is far too slow, too expensive and unsuited for rarer cancers such as mesothelioma. The fastest way to save lives is to see if the drugs for common cancers work on the rarer ones as well, given the shared mechanism of disease across cancer. This is off-label research and until we fix the issue of liability, as advocated by the noble Lord, Lord Saatchi, we will continue to send thousands, like my sister, to an early grave. One promising aspect of my sister’s treatment, however, was an early use of broad-panel molecular diagnostics. There was no facility in the UK at the time to do this and so her tumour sample was sent to America, where her DNA was genotyped. The results were very revealing but, in her case, proved too late for her to benefit. She had started a course of cisplatin, the standard cancer treatment for the disease, to which she had an adverse reaction. The test results, which we received five months later, suggested that that would happen as she was not suited to the drug and should not have been given it. I was pleased to read that in Cancer Research’s strategy paper for 2015-20, Achieving World-Class Cancer Outcomes, a key recommendation is the use of such diagnostics to improve cancer treatment. I hope this will be facilitated, for without it we will give many more patients like my sister expensive, toxic and ultimately futile therapies. More importantly, I hope that the data from such national molecular tests can be gathered into SACT, the national database in Oxford which 20 Nov 2015 : Column 408 tracks cancer outcomes. This will only improve survival rates and provide, if properly managed, a powerful resource for clinical research. I warmly support the Bill and hope that it will have an opportunity to be enacted. 11.46 am Lord Giddens (Lab): My Lords, this has been a terrific debate so far and I congratulate all noble Lords who have contributed to it. I do not usually like to write out my speeches but, for some reason, I made an exception in this case—although I did not write it out but dictated it to a computer and the computer typed it out, which is utterly amazing and relevant to what I am going to say. However, I have noted down so many contributions from other noble Lords that the whole strategy has been completely messed up. I pay tribute to the superannuated choirboy, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for his extraordinary work. I am not sure whether or not that was a compliment, but it will stick with him. I join others in congratulating him on the extraordinary work that he has done to promote the cause of those suffering from this horrible disease. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Wills, for the work he has done alongside us and the British Lung Foundation for being an enormous source of support so far. As other noble Lords have said, it is difficult to calculate with any accuracy the true level of risk of mesothelioma to members of the population. The usual estimates suggest that 60,000 people will die of the disease in the UK by 2025 if appropriate treatments are not found. However, the real number could be considerably higher because, as other noble Lords have said, asbestos is coming to light in buildings and enterprises where its existence was previously unsuspected. I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord Ribeiro, spoke up as he did because we must accept that this is a global issue and that we must contribute to it on a global level. The number of people scheduled to die of the disease in the developing world if we do not find breakthroughs is 1 million, but that is a minimum estimate and it could be several times that. We should make a contribution to research not only in this country but should network with researchers across the rest of the world. As other noble Lords have said, mesothelioma is often seen essentially as a phenomenon of the past. After all, asbestos is no longer used in industry—at least in this country—or in construction. Hence many of the debates about it have concentrated on providing compensation for sufferers who, after all, developed the malady through absolutely no fault of their own. In my view, it is still right and proper to press the industries responsible, plus the insurance industry, to increase the existing levies that have been agreed, and other noble Lords have made this point. My noble friend Lord Wills effectively pointed out that it would save the country money rather than produce extra costs. However, I argue strongly that we should see mesothelioma as a disease that is relevant to our future, not just to the past, and not accept that it is a malady for which there is no possible cure or effective mode of treatment. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, 20 Nov 2015 : Column 409 and my noble friend Lord Winston, I am not a medical expert. However, I have spent the past few years working on the digital revolution and studying its likely impact on the outer edges of medicine. I have said this before in your Lordships’ House: the digital revolution is the greatest, fastest and most global technological revolution we have ever lived through. It is moving vastly faster than the original Industrial Revolution and has amazing potential applications to the frontiers of medicine. For that reason, I think that we are living through what could well be a period of quite unparalleled innovation in medicine and other frontier areas of science more generally. There are three reasons for this and they are all bound up with the digital revolution. The first is that the emergence of hugely powerful supercomputers gives us an opportunity to decode genetic chains in a way that would have been impossible even a few years ago. Secondly, these capacities overlap with major advances in fundamental areas of genetics as such. My noble friend Lord Winston made the point really effectively in the debate, as did the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar. Mesothelioma should no longer be treated as simply an isolated disease. Thirdly, because of the advance of digital technologies and global communications, scientists are able to share data sources in an immediate fashion across the world. Because of the advances in genetics, as I have just mentioned, we have come to see that mesothelioma is not a disease apart. As my noble friend Lord Winston stressed, research into mesothelioma can draw on work from outside the sphere of the illness itself and, crucially, it can contribute to our understanding of other forms of cancer. We have made significant advances in our understanding of the mutations that allow uncontrolled cellular multiplication and spread. Some such mutations are shared in common by a range of tumours, so our understanding of the genetic components in question can in principle be generalised. In the near future, cancers are likely to be identified by their particular mutations rather than by their site of origin—for example, lung cancer and breast cancer. Treatments developed on this basis are already so successful in some areas that they allow for normal life until a person dies of other causes. In the past, we know that at least some talented researchers tended to steer clear of mesothelioma precisely because it was seen as a residual disease. Given the innovations mentioned above, the situation could be very different in the future. Therefore systematic research into mesothelioma could have a crucial impact on medicine going forward. It could be relevant to other environmental diseases because it takes 30 or 40 years to come out. We live in a world in which we are ingesting any number of new substances, so we have to try to have a proactive, preventive strategy for that. Studying mesothelioma could illuminate these areas too. I therefore hope very much that the Minister will investigate the possibility of the Government providing funding to help to establish a national mesothelioma research centre, as other noble Lords have mentioned. I have reason to believe that we can get substantial funding from private sources, so if that could be matched we could get the whole enterprise off the ground. 20 Nov 2015 : Column 410 Everyone else has mentioned Winston Churchill, so I may as well end with a Winston Churchill story, given that I have not spoken for that long. I used to be the head of the London School of Economics, one of whose founders was George Bernard Shaw. He had an acerbic relationship with Winston Churchill. The story goes like this. George Bernard Shaw wrote to Winston Churchill saying, “Dear Winston, here are two tickets for the first night of my new play. Please bring a friend, always assuming you have a friend”. Winston Churchill wrote back saying, “Dear Bernard, I am sorry, I cannot make the first night. Please send me tickets for the second night, always assuming there is a second night”. 11.54 am Lord Cormack (Con): My Lords, exactly what the relevance of that story is to the debate is unknown, but it is one that I have heard in the past and have much enjoyed hearing again. I will begin, as others have, by warmly congratulating the choirboy—not superannuated—because he has a wonderful and youthful enthusiasm, as the noble Lord, Lord McNally, said, and he is doughty campaigner. I am reminded when thinking of campaigners of Sir Walter Raleigh, who made the famous remark that it is not the beginning of a cause for which you should be praised, but for continuing with it to the end, until it is throughly, not thoroughly, finished. I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, is going to give up his campaign until it is indeed throughly finished. The noble Lord outlined graphically the need for this modest measure to supplement the Act that is already on the statute book, and we have heard in the debate a number of moving testimonies, not least from the noble Lords, Lord Freyberg and Lord McNally, whose personal family lives have been tragically affected by this ghastly disease. We have also had something of a medical teach-in because the noble Lord, Lord Winston—I am sorry that he is not in his place; oh, he is in his place. I am so sorry. The trouble with the noble Lord is that he moves; he made his speech from the back and now he is sitting elsewhere. He gave us a treat of a lecture. Then the noble Lord, Lord Kakker, and my noble friend Lord Ribeiro gave us supplements to that lecture. It has been a privilege and is indeed an illustration of the value of your Lordships’ House that we have such expertise in all parts of the Chamber. That has been demonstrated today in a splendid way. I want to address most of my remarks to my noble friend the Minister. Quite rightly, complimentary things have been said about him. He made his mark before he came into the House when he was chairman of the Care Quality Commission. In a sense we are talking about quality care here, but we are not appealing to the Minister to come to the Dispatch Box and agree to large extra expenditure from public funds. What we are asking him to do is recognise that there is a very real problem that we cannot adequately quantify. In her splendid speech, the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, talked about schools. How many five year-olds in this country today might already be stricken by this disease, which perhaps will not manifest itself for many years to come? We all know that in our youth—I am sure 20 Nov 2015 : Column 411 that I speak for most of your Lordships—asbestos was regarded as a good thing. It was a fire retardant material that brought great benefit. But now we know that it is one of the most lethal of killers. Of course the Minister knows that, but we are asking him to recognise that more must be done to combat this evil within our midst, the full and devastating results of which none of us knows. That there should be a levy on insurances is a very sensible suggestion, but I would say to the Minister that that should be just the starting point. There are many substances from which we all benefit in some ways—some we regularly imbibe and others we eschew—that damage the health of the nation. Why should there not be a specific levy for medical research on alcohol, tobacco, petrol or diesel? As my noble friend knows well, I have argued, as have many in your Lordships’ House in various debates on the health service, that we must have a plurality of funding if the National Health Service is going to be the service we need in the years ahead. We have to get away from the sticking-plaster approach that we have often referred to in this Chamber. Here is a wonderful opportunity to begin something by having a specific levy for a particular disease that could then be extended. I commend this to the Minister. When I talk to him about these funding issues, he always indicates the difficulty. Of course we all know there is a difficulty. We all know that there is a degree of cowardice in all political parties when we start talking about charges and compulsory insurance, for example. This is not one of those things the Minister has to fight shy of, because here, we are saying that those who have a degree of culpability should be made to acknowledge that by making a contribution. Of course, that may not have helped the sisters of the noble Lords, Lord McNally and Lord Freyberg, but there will be others in the future whom it might help. We might be able to avoid some of the tragedies about which they movingly spoke, if only we could grasp this particular nettle. I do not want from the Minister the soft answer that turneth away wrath. I want a determined commitment on the part of the Government to recognise the overriding importance of medical scientific research, and to recognise that this is one way properly to meet the needs that we all acknowledge. 12.02 pm Lord Howarth of Newport (Lab): My Lords, I admire the passionate commitment of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and his tenacity, to use the word that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, used about him in his own moving speech. I will only say of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that he is a highly experienced and effective politician. I also applaud and thank the British Lung Foundation for the essential work that it continues to do and I thank noble Lords, particularly my noble friends Lord Giddens and Lord Wills, who have worked alongside the noble Lord, Lord Alton, to try to ensure that we get a better disposition of forces in the field of mesothelioma research. Like other noble Lords, I am scandalised by how little funding has been made available for research into mesothelioma. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, described 20 Nov 2015 : Column 412 it as a paltry amount. My noble friend Lord Winston suggested that it might have been rather more than some of us have hitherto understood. Whatever the case, there has been a lamentable failure to make the progress that we would all have wished to see towards better understanding of the essential nature of this disease—its prevention and diagnosis, its cure, ideally, but otherwise mitigation of the horrible suffering that it causes. As we have been told, the prospect on the best estimates is for not fewer than 60,000 deaths from mesothelioma in this country over the next 30 years and of very many more deaths globally in newly industrialising countries, where health and safety standards are not what they ought to be. I would have thought that this would be an interesting challenge for researchers and that they would have seen important opportunities in this field. But for whatever reasons, it appears that mesothelioma research remains a relatively unfashionable area of research for people to go into. On Report of the Mesothelioma Bill on 7 July 2013, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, the predecessor of the noble Lord, Lord Prior, responding to an amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, to the same effect as his Bill today, pinpointed the issue as being the problem of encouraging sufficient high-quality research applications. I made the same case in that debate and I continue to believe that that is at the heart of the problem. The noble Earl outlined four initiatives that have been rehearsed for us by my noble friend Lord McKenzie of Luton, to whom we owe so much—without his preliminary work, we might not have had the Mesothelioma Act 2014—and the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar. Those were the priority-setting partnership, the highlight notice, the availability of the Research Design Service and the convening by the National Institute for Health Research, the Medical Research Council, and Cancer Research UK of researchers to gather new ideas about how to go forward in this field. As the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, said, it will be extremely interesting if, when the Minister replies to this debate, he is able to tell us about any progress there may have been in consequence of the initiatives promised by his predecessor and how effective they look like being. I continue to think that the problem is not essentially one of lack of publicly provided funding for research. Admittedly, Professor Dame Sally Davies acknowledged to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Medical Research, in a rather confessional moment quite recently, that following the decision by your Lordships’ House to advise the elected Chamber to think again about the appropriateness of cuts to tax credits, she was having nightmares that the Chancellor might turn and rend the budget for medical research. If he were to do so, that would be a grotesque non sequitur, and I do not expect it to happen. I understand why the noble Lord, Lord Alton, charges the Government with inadequate commitment in this area and why he has tabled his Bill, which would impose a supplementary levy on industry. But we should think very carefully before rushing to legislation. It is still relatively early days. The 2014 Act has been on the statute book for only 18 months and we should proceed in this area with caution. The typical structures 20 Nov 2015 : Column 413 that we have for mobilising funding for research in this country are broadly the right ones—the arm’s-length principle, peer review, and quality of proposed research being the criterion for funding. It is true that they do not guarantee perpetuity of funding, but they do produce high-quality research. I continue to think that the issue is how to attract the right applications for funding for research into mesothelioma That brings us to the role of the employers’ liability insurers. I have no hesitation in saying that they have a very strong moral duty in this area. It is one of the great business scandals of the past 50 years that the contracts that should have secured compensation for people who were exposed to asbestos and developed mesothelioma in consequence—contracts written by the employers’ liability insurers—in so many cases somehow evaporated. The documentation could not be found when it became time for people to make their claims. The insurers did not want to face their long-tail obligations, so it was right that the levy was introduced. I would like to see the employers’ liability insurers take upon themselves the responsibility of funding the process, which noble Lords have talked about, of attracting high-quality researchers into this area to develop the strategy initiated by the noble Earl, Lord Howe. They should not make their contribution conditional on the Government matching what they have to put in. They should willingly provide funding to supplement what the publicly funded research councils and the national institute find themselves able to provide for research in this field. They should supplement and, indeed, be willing to surpass what publicly provided funding is made available, just as the medical charities do. Charitable money has been lacking in this area. My noble friend Lord Winston pointed out that some of the major cancer research charities are funding generic, high-level research that will have a very important relevance to mesothelioma. Where more specific disease-related funding is concerned, it has been notably lacking. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, gave us the comparative statistics. Why this should be one can only speculate, but I suspect that it has to do with class. Mesothelioma is perceived as a blue-collar, working-class disease. Its incidence is mostly found in the old industrial areas. Regrettably, it is apparently very much harder to raise charitable money for research in this kind of area. It is one more instance of what has been called the hideous injuries of class. Of course, the National Health Service and publicly funded research exist to overcome these kinds of imbalances and disparities. I want to see the employers’ liability insurers voluntarily create a charitable endowment, but we appear to be very far from a situation in which that is imminently to happen. We have been told that out of 150 employers’ liability insurers, the number willing to make a voluntary contribution has declined from four to two. We are now left with only Aviva and Zurich taking that responsibility. We should certainly congratulate and thank them, and recognise what they are doing. I hope that it will not be futile to appeal to the better nature of others in the industry in this area of the insurance business. They ought to be good citizens 20 Nov 2015 : Column 414 and decent human beings. They ought also to be mindful of their own business interest. If they fail to make a decent contribution to research, they will have to pick up the cost of compensation—unless, somehow, the contracts go missing again in the future; we should be vigilant to make sure that that does not happen. They ought to be concerned about their reputation. They have an opportunity to rehabilitate their reputation and they can certainly afford to do so. I hope that they will be willing to make a major contribution to the cost of establishing the national mesothelioma research centre that other noble Lords have spoken about and which they are trying to establish. We therefore need the whole sector to rise to the moral responsibility that they have and continue to do so. The situation as it is is profoundly unacceptable. There will also need to be continuing determination on the part of the department. There is an imperative for more research and the department must do all it can strategically to encourage the channelling of funds towards research applications and research proposals of the quality needed. However, whether there should be legislation seems to me, as I have said, doubtful. It is relatively early days, but if the insurance sector now fails to rise to this responsibility I put it to the Minister that he and his ministerial colleagues in government really must respond to the challenge that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has set. I would regret the necessity of it because it would be anomalous. It could be argued that it is invidious for government to accept that Parliament should legislate to provide funding for one particular disease. There are so many terrible diseases and areas where research is urgently needed. It would be inconsistent with the way research is, I believe rightly, funded in this country. The challenge is there for the insurers. It is still not too late for them to act voluntarily to provide funding to stimulate the passion among researchers—of which the noble Lord, Lord Ribeiro, spoke—to encourage them to work in this field and to maintain that support, challenge, stimulus and effort over the years to come. Early action is needed. I hope that the industry will respond. If not, I will add my support to the measure proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. 12.15 pm Baroness Murphy (CB): My Lords, I am the last person to speak before the winding-up speeches and the fifth doctor in this debate. Noble Lords will all be highly relieved to know that I will not say anything medical. Unfortunately, I was unable to participate in the debates on the Mesothelioma Bill last year, so I very much wanted to come along and add my personal support for the initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Alton. Everyone has said that he has been tireless; he is not only tireless but energetic and focused in a way that has brought great rewards for people with mesothelioma. I also wanted to add my personal thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Freud, for the work that he did, and we must not forget the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie of Luton, before him, who also made great strides during his time in office. The noble Lord, Lord Prior, the Minister today, will not be surprised to know that we want to see the same from him. 20 Nov 2015 : Column 415 Why am I here today? Like the noble Lords, Lord McNally and Lord Freyberg, I have a personal story. My father died of mesothelioma. I was a young doctor in the 1970s when I first realised that my father had this appalling constricted breathlessness. He had worked as a powerhouse engineer during the war. He supervised the powerhouses for Boots Pure Drug Company, which was a massive manufacturing plant during the war, making not only the pharmaceuticals needed, from antidotes to chloramine to aspirin, but gasmasks on military contracts. As noble Lords know, military gasmasks had the worst sort of asbestos in them during the war. There is no doubt that it was the powerhouse lagging and that factory work that produced the illness that killed my father 35 years later. My mother well remembers him coming home with his overalls drenched in white and grey powder, which she washed, of course. She was darned lucky not to get it. As a result of this illness and because of his early death from this terrible disease, she was widowed for 37 years. It is a terrible thing, as a young doctor, to watch somebody dying of this appalling constriction. As the noble Lord, Lord Ribeiro, said, at the time all they could do was keep taking the fluid off. That was the only way to help him through this terrible time. The mean survival rate has gone up by no more than 2.8 months over the last 30 years. That gives some indication of the desperate need to research. Normally, rather like the noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport, I would not have supported the Bill, but we are now at the point where we are seeing a resistance from the insurers. They are not coming to the table. They are not stepping up to the mark and supporting it. I want to bring home to the Minister what has happened with regard to dementia research because of all the arguments we have heard about why people are not coming forward with good proposals—for example, this is not a fashionable area of research or there are issues about funding. We heard all these arguments in relation to dementia but what made the difference is the point that the noble Lord, Lord Wills, made—namely, there was political focus. Somebody in the Department of Health took an interest in dementia and said that for all kinds of economic and other reasons, and given the seriousness of the disorder, we must focus our efforts on tackling it. Only the Department of Health can get people round a table and ask them, “What are you doing? How can we make this work?”. It does not take a great deal of a Minister’s time to do this. I challenge the Minister to provide a political focus on this issue. He will no doubt tell us how we can tackle the research deficit, but I believe that Ministers need to take an interest in this issue and provide the political focus to make the research happen. Money is important, but providing political support to make the research happen is what is really required. 12.21 pm Lord Campbell-Savours (Lab): My Lords, I wish to speak briefly in the gap. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, I have personal experience of this issue. My father at the age of 19 turned down the opportunity to study marine engineering at Royal Holloway College 20 Nov 2015 : Column 416 to join the Merchant Navy. He joined in 1939 and, by 1943, according to the South Wales press, he was the youngest chief engineer on merchantmen crossing the Atlantic, carrying oil, primarily, I understand, from Galveston to various parts of the world, including ports in the United Kingdom. He died in 1989, having being diagnosed with mesothelioma in 1984. He spent five years being treated, I think in the Brompton Hospital. He had repeated operations on his pleura to try to alleviate all the pain and the difficulty he was experiencing. He left many letters and diaries, in which he explained why he had insisted on working on lagging in the boiler rooms of the SS “Penhale” and the SS “Duke of Sparta”, the two tankers on which he spent much of the war. He explained that he insisted on doing the lagging work himself—of course, he paid the price for it—because he was always uneasy about the use of asbestos but could not quite define it. In the correspondence that he left behind, he expressed his shock over the lack of research that was being conducted in the whole area of cancer treatment. I have read the letters that he wrote to various authorities requesting that additional resources be allocated to that area, not particularly for himself—I will come to that in a minute—but for others. He also complained extensively about the lack of support that was given to those people—in his case it was not so much of a problem—who found it very hard to establish who was commercially liable for compensation given that they were suffering from this disease. His concerns about the research were in part motivated by his regard for the many Chinese crew members on the ships who worked under him when he was chief engineer. It is clear that he worried that they would never receive treatment and, in many cases, would never know what they were suffering from. This was not necessarily the case on the ships on which he served, as he was doing the lagging work, but he was not to know what would happen to the Chinese crew members on other ships in the Merchant Navy, where they were doing a lot of this work. He worried about what was happening to those people. There must have been tens of thousands of Chinese crewmen who served in the Merchant Navy who never knew to the day they died what they had suffered from. They were probably said to have died from something coming under a general cancer heading. I say to those who have gone, and to their relatives, wherever they are in the world, that at least we in the United Kingdom are now treating these matters very seriously. Indeed, the speech of my noble friend Lord Winston was absolutely fascinating. It contained information that many of us had never heard before. I am sure that my father would have been fascinated to hear this debate today. As I say, I hope that additional resources can be found, if only in memory of those who have died in the service of their country. 12.26 pm Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab): My Lords, this has been a very moving debate. We are indebted to all noble Lords who have shared their personal experiences and brought home the distressing nature of this condition to those of us who perhaps were not so aware of that as we should have been. As some noble Lords have 20 Nov 2015 : Column 417 said, this is not just a legacy disease. We can see stretching ahead over the next 30 and 40 years many thousands of people being affected by this distressing condition. That is why we are so indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for his campaign in this area and for bringing this Bill to your Lordships’ House. I also echo the tribute to my noble friend Lord McKenzie for his work in this area over the years. Clearly, the aim of the Bill and our debate concerns research. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Prior, will be able to update us on exactly what is the state of research in the United Kingdom. We have heard, if not conflicting views, a slight divergence of view about how much research is being conducted. My noble friend Lord Winston is a little more optimistic about where we stand than many noble Lords and the briefings we have received. If the noble Lord could update us, that would be very helpful. It would also be helpful if the noble Lord could tell us about the outcome of the work by the NIHR, following previous debates in Parliament, in its efforts to stimulate more research. If he can say that the NIHR is now confident that it can see a pipeline of research coming forward in the next year or two, that would be hugely important to our debate. But if his view is that so far there is less optimism about the number and quality of research projects being undertaken, clearly we need to think very carefully about how to stimulate some more. I agreed with the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, on dementia research. That is an excellent example of the pharmaceutical industry finding it difficult to see a way to fund research projects given the failure of many research projects in the past, and where the Government took the initiative in that area. The result is that we have something that seems to work very successfully. We know that the Chief Medical Officer is a very persuasive, strong champion of research. If she were to make it clear, with the authority of Ministers, that the department wants to stimulate research in this area, and the resources are available, I think one could then expect to see a very strong pipeline of research applications coming through. On funding, the department has consistently said that there is enough money available for the research projects coming forward. But has the Minister picked up the point, which my noble friend Lord Winston raised, that once you put in the clinical trial costs we are talking about potentially many millions of pounds? So while the decision of Aviva and Zurich is to be commended, the kind of money we are talking about here—a combined £1 million over two years, together with whatever the Medical Research Council and other medical charities can come up with—does not really seem sufficient to generate the kind of long-term research projects that we clearly wish to see. The overall performance of the insurance industry has clearly been lamentable and indefensible. At every point, it has had to be cajoled and kicked into doing anything at all, so if the noble Lord, Lord Prior, is still relying on voluntary discussions and agreements with the industry, he will have to show that he is pretty confident of success over the next few months for the noble Lord, Lord Alton, not to pursue his Bill. 20 Nov 2015 : Column 418 The insurance industry has form. The Minister will know from our collective disappointment in relation to the care sector that the industry is very good at warm words, but I am afraid that it sometimes does not follow up with decisive action. I understand the caution from my noble friend Lord Howarth about whether legislation is the right way to go down, but I wonder whether the example of the pharmaceutical industry and the agreement on drugs might be one way to go forward. The negotiations with the Department of Health on the amount of money that the health service gives to pharmaceutical industries, known as the PPRS, is a voluntary agreement. But it is backed up by statute because, if agreement is not reached, in the end the department can impose a settlement. I suspect that this was in the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Alton. If we have a statutory provision, that is a kind of backstop. It would not stop the Government saying, “If you don’t want a statutory levy, then you have to come up with a proper voluntary scheme”. I say to my noble friend that sometimes there is a case for legislation. I hope that the Minister will respond to three or four other points that have come up in debate. On veteran issues, there was a very interesting debate in the Commons yesterday to which his honourable friend Mr Mark Lancaster responded, where the argument came that, “the Ministry of Defence should offer veterans with mesothelioma the option of a lump sum in compensation … broadly comparable to that awarded” to individuals who have no existing employer to sue. The Minister there said last night that the MoD has, “commissioned advice from the Independent Medical Expert Group”. Although, as the Minister said, it is a complex position, it will require, “consideration, and close consultation and engagement with colleagues across Whitehall”. He said that he hopes, “to be in a position to make an announcement as soon as possible”, and, “to update the charities at the forthcoming central advisory committee meeting next month”.—[ Official Report , Commons, 19/11/15; col. 935-36.] Perhaps the Minister might update Members of your Lordships’ House who have taken part in this debate, because the point raised about the veterans is very important. The second point is about schools. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, suggested that the general advice where asbestos is in buildings is essentially to leave it at rest. Does that advice seriously hold when it comes to schools? The problem she raised is that the research which led to that advice may not have been undertaken in schools. I hope that, at the very least, the Minister would be prepared to discuss this with his colleagues in the Department of Health. The third point is about Wales. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, also raised the interrelationship between the HSE, as a UK body, and the Welsh Government’s responsibilities. My noble friend Lord McKenzie and I have wrestled with this issue over the years but, 20 Nov 2015 : Column 419 again, it would be good to know whether the Minister could discuss this with Ministers in the Welsh Assembly Government to see whether there is a gap that needs to be addressed. In conclusion, this has been an extraordinary and very powerful debate and I want to echo a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. Essentially, it is a plea for the Minister to tear up his lines to take. The department will have its answers, but I think that the House is looking for something more. At the very least, it is looking for a sense that the Minister recognises that here we need leadership from Ministers to make something happen. We very much hope that the noble Lord will be able to give it. 12.35 pm The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Prior of Brampton) (Con): My Lords, it is always very dangerous when you are told to tear up your lines to take, however tempting that might be. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, whom I have only met once before, which was quite briefly yesterday, told me that he was a street-fighter so I come here forewarned that he is not as he appears. I suspect that as I stand here, he is sharpening his knife and polishing his knuckledusters to set about me in a few minutes’ time. I thank him, though, for bringing this issue to the House. It has been a fascinating debate. I am by no means an expert in mesothelioma but I feel much better educated about this issue now than I did two hours ago. The debate has been trebly compelling because it has brought together people with authentic and tragic personal experience: the noble Lords, Lord McNally and Lord Freyberg, and the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy—and, right at the end, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours. That personal connection with this terrible disease is very powerful. The debate has brought that together with the clinical and medical academic knowledge of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and the noble Lords, Lord Winston, Lord Kakkar and Lord Ribeiro, which is a very powerful combination. When you add to that the broad knowledge of other noble Lords who have contributed, whose interest in the subject goes back many, many years, it produces a very powerful cocktail. Clearly, mesothelioma is a terrible and devastating condition. There is no cure and, as the noble Lord, Lord Winston, reminded us, it is a very difficult illness to tackle. Uncertainties remain about the best available approaches to diagnosis, treatment and care. It affects thousands of people. In my mind before this debate, I thought of it very much as a legacy disease—one that would gradually wither away. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, commented that many children will be suffering from this disease in 20, 30, 40 or 50 years’ time. As the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, mentioned, this is not just an English disease, although we have a particularly high incidence in this country; it is an international, global illness. The noble Lord mentioned it affecting literally millions of people. It is therefore absolutely right that mesothelioma research has been discussed many times both in this House and in the House of Commons. I suspect that whatever the outcome of today’s debate and when we discuss the matter again in Committee, knowing the 20 Nov 2015 : Column 420 reputation of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, he will never let this sleep. I imagine that we will be hearing from him on many future occasions. I want to talk about two aspects at the beginning. The first is funding. Funding is needed for research—that goes without saying. The four largest insurance companies have previously made a donation of £3 million between them and more recently, as has been pointed out, Zurich and Norwich Union have donated a further £1 million. That has helped to support valuable research into the disease, but a much higher level of funding has come from the Government through the Medical Research Council and the NIHR. Together, those funders spent more than £3 million in 2014-15. The MRC is supporting ongoing research relating to mesothelioma at its toxicology unit. It is also funding one current fellowship. The NIHR is funding three projects through its research programmes, and its clinical research network is recruiting patients to a total of 11 studies. In view of the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Winston, I can highlight that the NIHR is co-funding experimental cancer medicine centres with Cancer Research UK. These centres are supporting studies in mesothelioma. Money is also available through European Union research funding programmes. I am delighted that the University of Leicester is a partner in a successful bid for nearly €6 million for research on immunotherapy to treat malignant mesothelioma. Lord Wills: I thank the Minister for giving way so early in his speech, but these figures are very important. Is he aware that the British Lung Foundation has done its own study on how much money is specifically directed to research into mesothelioma? A lot of the work that he just described may well have implications for mesothelioma, but it is generic. The British Lung Foundation figure specifically for mesothelioma research is £820,000, not the millions he has been talking about. Does he accept those figures in the context of what I have just said? Lord Prior of Brampton: It is hard to know what the right figures are. After this debate, we need to sort out exactly what the figures are. Lord Winston: I hate to disagree with my noble friend, but one problem with mesothelioma research is that Cancer Research UK, for example, puts such funding partly in the box of lung cancer funding—it is a different form of lung cancer. There is a risk that we may be underestimating the amount of money being spent. That always happens when these figures are bandied about. I am not suggesting that we should not be spending more—or less—but it is very difficult to be precise about the figures sometimes cited. Lord Prior of Brampton: We probably cannot today sort out the figures in the way we would like. It will be very difficult to allocate some of the more generic research expenditure. Let us move on from funding, if we can. Lord Giddens: Will the Minister get to work on this and send something back about what the precise figures seem to be in the light of the questions raised? This is a serious issue, so it would be good to get a response from the Government. 20 Nov 2015 : Column 421 Lord Prior of Brampton: Perhaps I can take that away and come back to the House. I think it will be difficult to come up with precise figures, to be honest, because of the difficulty in allocating some of the more generic research to particular areas. I think that we can encapsulate some of the comments made by the noble Lords, Lord Winston and Lord Wills, and come back to the House with a more thought through, considered figure. Lord Alton of Liverpool: I can see that the Minister wants to move on from the issue of funding, but before he does I should point out that the House has been given figures. It is important to record that in our debate, because they are figures that his predecessor, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, gave the House in reply to a Parliamentary Question tabled by my noble friend Lord Wigley, and referred to by my noble friend Lady Finlay earlier. The figures in the reply to Parliamentary Question HL5852 show that funding from the NIHR on, “research centres and units, and research training awards on mesothelioma research”, as the Minister said, in 2006-7 was £0.0 million; in 2007-8 was £0.0 million; in 2008-9 was £0.0 million; in 2009-10 was £0.0 million; in 2010-11 was £0.0 million; in 2011-12 was £0.0 million; in 2012-13 was £0.2 million; and, in 2014, was £0.4 million. Those are the Government’s own figures, which have already been given to Parliament. Lord Prior of Brampton: I think that we are into some definitional issues here, to be honest, from what the noble Lord, Lord Winston, said, and from the figures that I gave earlier, which I am not making up—they are figures that have been given to me. We should come back with some greater clarification and perhaps some closer definition of what the funding figures are. My impression, although it may be wrong, is that the essential problem is not a lack of funding but a lack of sufficient research applications. Of course, I accept that there is a connection between the two, which I shall perhaps come back to in a minute. The MRC received no mesothelioma applications in 2014-15, and only one in the current year. I want to clarify and stress that the work being funded is of high quality, consequent to high-quality applications. In response to questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, and others, the Government have taken measures to stimulate an increase in the level of research activity. Patients, carers, clinicians, academics and funders have worked in partnership with the James Lind Alliance to identify what the priorities in research should be. I imagine that some noble Lords will have read the report by the James Lind Alliance, but for those who have not I can say that, following a survey and a workshop, the top 10 mesothelioma research priorities were announced in December 2014, and the NIHR published a final report from the priority-setting partnership in July. In advance of the identification of research questions by this partnership, the NIHR highlighted to the research community that it wanted to encourage research applications in mesothelioma. The NIHR subsequently invited researchers to apply for research funding, in particular to address the research 20 Nov 2015 : Column 422 questions identified by the partnership. Eight NIHR programmes participated in this themed call. Fifteen individual applications have been received, of which two have been approved for funding to date, two are under review, and 11 have been rejected. Some noble Lords may think that that is a very high level of rejection, but it is broadly consistent with the overall funding rate for applications to NIHR programmes, which is roughly about one in five. In addition, the NIHR Research Design Service continues to be able to help prospective applicants to develop competitive research proposals. This service is well-established and has 10 regional bases across England. It supports researchers to develop and design high-quality proposals for submission to NIHR itself and to other national, peer-reviewed funding competitions for applied health or social care research. The Government are not predisposed to support the Bill, but there is something that we ought to consider—perhaps outside the Chamber. We believe that the existing process for accessing research grants works well; we do not believe that money is the real shortage. It is interesting to note that the Government’s spend on research for medicine is a little over £1 billion—a very significant sum—but the Government are not keen on hypothecated grants for research. However, I have been thinking about this very carefully over the last couple of days, and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, touched on it slightly obliquely at the beginning, but it is an important point. When the 2014 Bill went through Parliament, it was felt by the Department for Work and Pensions that the highest levy that could be taken from the insurers without forcing them to pass it on through higher premiums into industry was 3%. I understand that there is a shortfall between that 3% and the actual level of claims being made. I wonder whether the 1% that is being asked for in this Bill could be funded through the shortfall within the existing levy. That might be an avenue worth exploring. I say that because at the moment the fact that we are relying on two insurance companies is not equitable. Why should Zurich and Norwich Union cough up £1 million when other employers’ liability insurers are not contributing? This needs further discussion, but I wonder whether there is a way through this and whether we could not use the shortfall in the existing levy. Lord Wills: What the Minister has just said is so profoundly important that I want to ask him to clarify it a little further. I moved an amendment to the then Mesothelioma Bill precisely to that effect: if there was this gap between the 3% that the insurers were prepared to pay and the 2.25% that the government actuaries thought would be needed, that would be devoted not to the insurance industry’s profits but to the relief to this terrible illness. At the time, the Minister in this House was quite resistant, but when it was debated in the other place the Minister there was quite clear. We heard the quote from the noble Lord, Lord Alton. Some months ago, when I asked a Parliamentary Question for Written Answer about this point, I recall that the Government said that they were not yet in a position to say whether there was a shortfall. I think I heard the Minister say that he believes there may be 20 Nov 2015 : Column 423 such a shortfall. If he said that, this is profoundly important as a way forward, as he suggests, so I would be grateful if he would clarify that. Lord Prior of Brampton: If there is a shortfall—and there may be a shortfall—given that that levy is raised from the industry on an equitable basis rather than relying upon two or three insurers to do it on a voluntary basis, that strikes me as a better approach. The point has been made that compensation payments are somehow different from funding research, but it strikes me that the two are very closely related. I am just putting it out there for further discussion, and I would like to pursue that discussion with my noble friend Lord Freud, who is probably the expert on our side of the House on this matter and was intimately involved with the Bill which came through the House in 2014. I would like to have that discussion with him and perhaps with the noble Lord, Lord Alton. I have not dealt with the veterans issue or the schools issue. I shall deal with them by letter, if that is all right. They are both extremely important. The situation with the veterans and the MoD is under active consideration by my noble friend Lord Howe. I will write to the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, if she happy with that, setting out the situation on schools in Wales. The instinct of the Government is not to support the Bill, for the reasons I have given, but there may be a way through this which we are able to explore over the next month or two. Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: When he writes to me, will the Minister include in the correspondence the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, who has done a lot of work on schools in Wales? He might want to meet him. Will the Minister clarify who has responsibility for free schools and academies? They are in a different position from maintained schools, yet they often occupy buildings which contain asbestos. Lord Prior of Brampton: I think the answer to that question is that the Health and Safety Executive would have prime responsibility for them. I think the point that the noble Baroness is making is that the local authority no longer has the responsibility it would have over local authority schools. I will look into that issue and write to the noble Baroness. Lord Winston: Before the Minister sits down, and I apologise for prolonging this debate for longer than necessary, does he agree that medical advances in every field are often very serendipitous? The classic example would be the completely unfunded discovery of penicillin when it was first produced, and it was subsequently only mediocrely funded until we had a wartime crisis. In about an hour’s time the Minister will be answering a Question about doctors’ overtime. One of the critical issues that has not been discussed in that debate has been raised by Jeremy Farrar, the director of the Wellcome Trust, who points out that one of the real issues is the problem with young doctors being able to do research in a very generic way, which has all sorts of benefits, including clinical mesothelioma research. That is a fundamental problem. We in this country are very good at medical research and on the whole we 20 Nov 2015 : Column 424 fund it quite well, although obviously we would like to have more funding, but providing the environment for continuing research is essential for what we are discussing in this Second Reading debate. Lord Prior of Brampton: I thank the noble Lord for that comment. We in this country are often highly self-critical but actually we have a remarkable record on research. We have three of the top medical academic institutions in the world in this country: Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial. We have UCLH, King’s and Manchester. We have some extraordinary research organisations in this country. There is, I guess, an issue over quality and quality control. There are an awful lot of clinicians who do research that may not be to the— Lord Giddens: I am sorry to give the Minister such a torrid time, but I hope he recognises that he should look internationally. There are important models in other countries, such as the Pacific Lung Health Centre, which is integrated with the wider lung foundation and has produced significant research. We should not just think nationally; we should look at other models and see how they could be adopted here to deal with the issues that the noble Lord, Lord Winston, rightly raises. As I tried to stress, mesothelioma shares things in common with other cancers and, now that we have got to a deep enough genetic level to be able to understand why some of these processes happen, I think it would be worth while to get some information on what exists elsewhere to see how far it could be applied here. Lord Prior of Brampton: I agree. 12.57 pm Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, this has been at times a deeply moving debate, with some very stirring personal stories being told to your Lordships’ House. It has also been thoughtful, amazingly well informed and, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, said earlier, powerful at times in the way that we have addressed this deeply troubling issue. Some of the contributions, such as that of the noble Lord, Lord Winston, have been slightly above my pay grade, but I shall read them afterwards with great interest, as I know will many people, particularly in the asbestos victim support groups, the British Lung Foundation and others who campaign up and down the country on these issues. I assure the Minister, who has given us what could be a small opening of the door on this question—I will come back to that later—that I brought no knuckle-dusters and I have no knives. Despite the curtain-raiser that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, gave us earlier, the reality is that when he was Minister at the Ministry of Justice he was incredibly helpful on this question when the LASPO legislation was before us. I still bear some of the scars from that period. Yes, I will persist in presenting this, though not just by myself; there are many people, as the noble Lord knows, not the least of whom was the late Member of Parliament, Paul Goggins, who took up this cause so strongly in the other place. As a curtain-raiser to assure the Minister that the issue is not going to go away, I can tell the House that 20 Nov 2015 : Column 425 Paul Goggins’s successor in the other place, Mike Kane MP, will be introducing a comparable Bill in the House of Commons in January. This issue will not go away, and Members of both Houses want progress to be made. It may be that the formula in this particular Bill or the way we have expressed it is not exactly what needs to be done and there may be other ways of doing it, but it is important that something is done about it. That formidable alliance brought a defeat for the Government during the proceedings of LASPO. It was ping-ponged up and down the corridors, and was a very good example of how by concentrating on an issue which had not even been debated at earlier stages in the Commons, your Lordships were able to bring about change. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, said that perhaps the missing tail-piece in the legislation was a commitment to funding. Perhaps, therefore, we are right to keep returning to that issue until something is done about it. The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie of Luton, was very much the godfather of the compensation arrangements that were introduced in the Mesothelioma Act. He reminded us that we are not seeking research whatever the quality, and that we need to make this a priority area. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has been raising this issue for more than 40 years. I always like to think of him as the inspiration for some of the things I try to do in politics. Being just a chip off his block is sufficient. He reminded us that there has been woefully inadequate funding, no continuity, and only a fraction of the necessary resources. My noble friend Lady Finlay, one of five medics of a very distinguished nature who have contributed to our debate today, said that this is an epidemic that is looming—not a historic disease—and, as many noble Lords have said, it has worldwide implications. She reminded us of the risks to our children, a point returned to by the Minister in his reply to the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Winston, told us the story of Herbie, whom he had filmed during his death from mesothelioma, which drew to the public’s attention more about this often unknown and unfamiliar disease. Even the name is difficult for people to get around their tongue, let alone to understand its nature. To shine a light on these things, as we have done in your Lordships’ House today or through the media, is always an important thing to do. The noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, said that this is a particularly nasty disease which we understand so little about. He reminded us of the crossover between this and so many other diseases and of the importance of personalised, precision medicine. He also reminded us of what happened during the debate on the Mesothelioma Act on the issue of precedent. I want to say a word about precedent and levies, because the Minister himself touched on this. I refer to the HGV Road User Levy Act, the Gambling Act levy, the fossil fuel levy, the Gas Levy Act 1981, and the levy on the pig industry to eradicate Aujeszky’s disease. Under Section 24 of the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act the levy board has a power to place a charge on all bookmakers involved in horserace betting, and Parliament requires a levy to be spent for the purpose of improving 20 Nov 2015 : Column 426 the breed of horses. If levies are good enough for dealing with horse breeding or pig disease or indeed in this legislation itself—it is hypothecated legislation and that is the whole point: there is a levy, which the noble Lord referred to, which is to raise money to deal with compensation—we can refer to plenty of precedents if we want to follow this path. The noble Lord, Lord Ribeiro, reminded us of the story of Steve McQueen, which helped to give this whole issue some public profile, but he also said that it should not just fall to two insurance companies to have to deal with this—a point which has been reiterated throughout the debate. He said that the levy could be the missing piece of the puzzle and that only research can answer the questions in that puzzle. The noble Lord, Lord Wills, described this as a terrible and remorseless disease and reminded us of the moral duty of the insurance industry, a point returned to by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, in his contribution. The noble Lord, Lord Wills, said that there is a clear ethical, humanitarian and financial imperative, and talked about the contrast between the £3 million for research and the £68 billion a year paid out by the industry. The noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, and other noble Lords, have referred to their own personal stories, which I found deeply moving. They were a reminder to us all that this disease is not just confined to those who worked in heavy industries in the past. I felt challenged by what he had to say, particularly about the “toxic and ultimately futile” therapies which are currently available. Surely we can do better than that. The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, told us to raise our game and raise our sights. I am always excited when I talk to the noble Lord about the huge possibilities from supercomputers, from the collection of data and the worldwide networking that we can be involved in. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said that I had shown “youthful enthusiasm” in bringing forward this measure. Lord McNally: Only in the Lords— Lord Alton of Liverpool: It is only in the House of Lords that you could possibly be accused of youthful enthusiasm. I think it was Robert Kennedy who said that youth is not a time of life, it is a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination. Your Lordships all have plenty of that, to a very high degree, although the noble Lord, Lord McNally, reminded me that we first met in 1979 as we took the oath. We were both a lot younger then. We have sung in the same choir on many occasions over the years and I was very pleased that we were doing so again. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said that we have a moral duty to future generations. This point was reiterated by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, who referred to what happened to his father and the implications for those who continue to work on our ships, in the Merchant Navy or Royal Navy, today. My noble friend Lady Murphy told us about the 2.8 month survival rate and how nothing had improved from the time that her late father died, leaving a widow of 37 years. I will take that story away and remember it. The contrast with dementia research, to which she and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, referred, is incredibly important. 20 Nov 2015 : Column 427 The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, talked about the case for legislation as a backstop, and I agree that one does not want to resort to it as the first thing. This was the missing tail-piece when we had the chance to legislate, but the only way that parliamentarians can keep issues of this kind before the public, and the Government, is by issuing Bills of this sort. He said that the House is looking for something more. The Minister said that there may be a shortfall within the existing levy and, if so, it might be something we could use towards the research that is so desperately needed. I would be very happy to participate in talks with the noble Lord, and the noble Lord, Lord Freud, and I am sure other noble Lords who have been following this would want to be invited too. There was argument about the figures. I quote from the British Lung Foundation: “Contrary to some claims made previously in the House, the quality of research applications has been very high—indeed the number of applications funded by the British Lung Foundation would have been a third higher, had more funding been available. Although previous BLF and insurer research has made some progress and is a cause for celebration, it is frustrating to think how much further along we’d be towards new, effective treatments had mesothelioma research funding been on a par with funding for other cancers. It is sobering to consider how many lives that might already have cost”. I also asked about the possibility of overestimates, a point referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Winston. On the contribution being made at the moment by the MRC, the BLF says: “We believe this is a significant overestimate. Figures provided to us by the National Cancer Research Institute … this year state that spending by all NCRI partners—which includes both the NIHR and MRC, as well as other major funders of cancer research—totalled just £820,000 over the same period”. There is dispute but these figures have been given by the British Lung Foundation, which is at the very centre of these arguments and follows the issues day by day. I hope the Minister will clarify those questions as we proceed. He has also promised to return to the issues of veterans, which was raised today, and schools. My noble friend Lady Finlay raised the issue of Wales and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, pressed the Minister further for information about that. We look forward to the correspondence which will precede the debate in another place in January. I know that our colleagues there will read the speeches that have been made today with a great deal of interest. I am deeply indebted to all those who have participated and I ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading. Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.



Also see:


Mesothelioma Lump Sum Payments (Conditions and Amounts) (Amendment) Regulations 2015

Motion to Consider

5.27 pm Wednesday February 25th 2015

Moved by

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth

That the Grand Committee do consider the Mesothelioma Lump Sum Payments (Conditions and Amounts) (Amendment) Regulations 2015.

Relevant document: 20th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth (Con):

My Lords, I beg to move that the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the draft Pneumoconiosis etc (Workers’ Compensation) (Payment of Claims) (Amendment) Regulations 2015, and the Mesothelioma Lump Sum Payments (Conditions and Amounts) (Amendment) Regulations 2015. I am required to confirm to the Committee that these provisions are compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, and I am happy to do so.

These two regulations will increase by 1.2% the lump sum amounts payable under the Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’…

View original post 2,634 more words

Debate on Overseas Aid – Is aid to Pakistan challenging intolerance and persecution and helping minorities? Dr.Paul Bhatti addresses members of both Houses of Parliament as persecution of Christians and other minorities continues to be raised in the British Parliament. Parliamentarians paid ribute to the memory of his murdered brother, Shahbaz Bhatti, Minister for Minorities in Pakistan.

19 Nov 2015 : Column 372  7.01 pm  Debate on Overseas Aid – Is aid to Pakistan challenging intolerance  and persecution and helping minorities?


Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, I thank my noble friend for initiating this debate and join others in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Barker of Battle, on his maiden speech today.


19 Nov 2015 : Column 372


In parenthesis, because this has been a theme that has emerged in the course of the debate, all experience shows that if you tackle poverty then population falls naturally. If you launch population control programmes, you may end up with coercive policies such as those in China, where there are now 40 million more men than women and where we have seen gendercide—policies aided and abetted by the West and development programmes.


However, I shall focus my remarks on an issue that I raised two weeks ago with the Minister when she was good enough to meet a small delegation with Fiona Bruce MP and myself.


We expressed particular concern that British aid is not being used effectively to combat the rise of radical Islamist agendas and that, like our refugee policy, this is not being targeted to reach persecuted minorities, such as Yazidis and Christians, who are suffering genocide and crimes against humanity.


All around the world, as we are all too acutely aware, an ideological hatred of difference is driving a systematic campaign of persecution, deportation and exodus, degrading treatment including sexual violence, enslavement, barbaric executions, and attempts to destroy history and culture that is not its own.


I ask your Lordships to think of some of the countries that receive UK aid –  the biggest recipient of which is Pakistan. This year it will receive £405 million, making £1.17 billion since 2011.


How do we ensure that funding for education, for instance, is spent on the right things?


Here the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, and I would agree: think of young Malala, targeted simply because, as a girl, she wanted an education. Think about how the funding is being spent on promoting intolerance in the curriculum.

The Minister will recall some of the examples I gave her, not least in some Saudi textbooks that give children choices about which would be the best way to execute homosexuals. This is feeding and poisoning the minds of young people.


How do we ensure that Pakistan’s beleaguered minorities receive help?


Last week I chaired two days of evidence sessions here in Parliament, where we heard how exactly a year ago a mob of 1,200 people forced two children to watch as their Christian parents were burned alive.


Pakistan has imposed the death penalty on a mother of five, Asia Bibi, for so-called blasphemy. It still has to bring to justice the murderers of Shahbaz Bhatti, the country’s Minister for Minorities who was assassinated; only two nights ago we heard from his brother, Dr Paul Bhatti, who was here in the Palace talking about some of the other excesses committed not just against Christians but against Shias, Hindus and Ahmadis.


This is a country where churchgoers have been murdered in their pews. How is our aid programme making a difference there?


Or take Eritrea, which is in receipt of a $300-million aid programme handed over to the Afwerki regime by the European Union, and to which the UK has contributed. In June the United Nations said that Eritrea is a country which is likely to have carried out gross human rights violations. Some 5,000 people leave Eritrea every month. A total of 350,000 people, 10% of the population, have fled. This is a huge development question. It also leads to an exodus of people via  Mediterranean passages and some also, of course, to some being beheaded by ISIS.


19 Nov 2015 : Column 373


The House of Commons International Development Select Committee is currently conducting an inquiry into the Syrian refugee crisis. It was recently told by a witness that aid is not reaching the Christians or Yazidis because those are too frightened to go into the UN-registered camps.


How does the Minister respond to that?


DfID could usefully become proactive in promoting a debate about Article 18, the right to believe, not to believe or to change your belief.


Think of recent events with secularists in Saudi Arabia or Bangladesh. Look at the link between prosperous societies and those that uphold freedom of religion and belief.


These are crucial questions and should be at the heart of our aid programmes. It may salve our conscience to give money, but it has to be effective.


7.06 pm





Shahbaz Bhatti – Pakistan’s outstanding Minister for Minorities murdered four years ago.

On 17th November Dr Paul Bhatti, brother of the assassinated Pakistani government Minister, Shahbaz Bhatti addressed Members of both Houses and supporters of the charity Aid to the Church In Need,  and led a discussion on persecution issues in Pakistan. Other Speakers included Dr John Newton,Wilson Chaudhry, Rehman Chishti MP, and the Revd Rana Khan.The meeting was an opportunity to commemorate the life of Shahbaz Bhatti, to hear about Aid to the Church in Need’s work and to reflect on the consequences of violence, discrimination and persecution.

shahbaz bhatti posters

Dr.Paul Bhatti said:

Speech in United Kingdom

Dr Paul Jacob Bhatti

House of Commons 17th November 2015: In Westminster Hall with Dr.Bhatti.


It is a real pleasure to be here with you all today to talk about the situation of Religious Minorities in Pakistan.


Since almost the last two decades Pakistan has been facing a series of challenges with religious discrimination and persecution, sectarian violence, economic crisis, political instability and terrorism. Despite anti-terrorism reforms, promotion of religious freedom, support of the international community, and precious sacrifices that have been made, we still facing the cruel and harsh realities of violence against the weak and voiceless people of our community. We are losing precious lives along with their properties. Sadly Pakistan has lost more than 6000 of its law enforcement personal during this war against terrorism including high-ranking military officials. Further, we all have witnessed precious loss of human activists and democracy promoters like Benazir Bhutto, Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, and the attack on a young girl Malala, as well as false accusations of blasphemy against innocent victims. We have seen attacks on churches in Peshawer and Lahore, the incident in Gojra, and the recent act of violence against a poor couple who were thrown into a kiln as they were burnt to death. We have lost 145 of our school children that were gunned down in a military school in Northern Pakistan. The attack in Karachi on the Ismaili community resulted in at least 43 people being killed, and the murder of several innocent people form the Hazara community.


The culmination of these atrocities is beyond comprehension. It has left our entire nation shocked and discouraged raising many questions. Is Pakistan going in a right direction? Do we have a competent leadership to deal with such challenges? Is there an outside power maneuvering all this against Pakistan? Do we a have the right governance or not? What is the root cause of all this? How we can overcome this reality? What is the future of our children in Pakistan?


Pakistan today is facing serious challenges on many different levels and with this in mind our approach has to be different than in the West. We are a nation that has suffered several atrocities after independence: the two wars with India over the disputed region of Kashmir; the previous fall out of the Russian invasion in Afghanistan and the presence of over 3 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan; and recently, being an ally to the Western world in its fight against terrorism and extremism, has created a specific mindset among some people who are continuously destabilizing the country promoting hate, discrimination and terrorism. Pakistan is confronted with internal and cross border terrorism, sectarian violence, religious extremism and discrimination. We have also lost well over

60,000 innocent citizens and as I shared earlier well over 6000 law enforcement personnel, further aggravating the situation of law and order in the nation.


I am convinced that religious freedom and education together can be the solution in the actualization of world peace.


In the context of Pakistan, we need to put all our efforts and support to overcome our major enemies of poverty, illiteracy, terrorism and extremism. Our weapon is love and by peaceful means influencing the future generations through good quality education, building unity in the country through ongoing dialogue and economical reforms jointly.


We can gain inspiration and courage by looking to those who have gone before us who stood for peace, justice and unity at such great cost.


I would take this opportunity to share with you my personal experience how I came in this scenario:

I am a Physician specialized in general and pediatric surgery with a Masters in plastic surgery and have spent most of my personal practice treating the needy patients in my country of Pakistan. In addition to my medical practice, I endeavored to support my late brother, Shahbaz Bhatti and to carry on his mission following his assassination while leaving my home in Islamabad in 2011.


Shahbaz was my younger brother. He dedicated 28 years of his life to vigorously foster the ideals of human equality, interfaith harmony, and mutual love. In his formidable struggle, in practicable terms with real outcomes, he forged a path of love and forgiveness cherishing the idea of interfaith harmony. He was a proactive man. An agent of change led by the Holy Spirit. He fearlessly and actively knit a network of friendships with individual souls reaching from the poorest of the poor to the highest echelons of our country’s Government.  In doing so, he was able to effect huge political changes, bettering the lives of Religious Minorities in Pakistan.


Some of his achievements seem unfathomable in Pakistan, where many seek to impose a radical philosophy.

For example:

  • He created prayer rooms for Christians and other religious minorities in several government institutions in Pakistan.

He spearheaded establishing special quotas for the participation of Religious Minorities in government

  • He established committees for inter-religious dialogue that led to the Pakistani Parliament approving four member seats for Religious Minorities. It is worth mentioning that not many years ago, representation of Religious Minorities in our government was utterly inconceivable.
  • He promoted and fostered relationships between Muslims, Christians and other religious traditions by living out the Sermon on the Mount, the way of Jesus’ teachings in the Gospels. He stayed true to his faith in Jesus Christ to his last breath.
  • Immediately after his death, I was astonished to witness a tidal wave of deep grief and love not only from Christians but also Muslim and Hindu religious leadership, Pakistani politicians, diplomats, international human rights activists, and humanitarians. The Government of Pakistan expressly recognized my brother posthumously by awarding him one of the highest national honors, the “Hal al –e-shujat the “Moon of Courage” National Medal of Honor.
  • I eventually entered the political process to serve my countrymen under unexpected and extraordinary circumstances. I served as a missionary doctor in Pakistan for ten years, never dreaming I would become a Federal Minister working on behalf of Religious Minorities and the underclass in Pakistan. But it had been Shahbaz’ wish from the very beginning and Shahbaz my younger brother never took “no” for an answer.
  • Let me tell you the story of how I got here. When I was working as surgeon in Pakistan as a missionary doctor, I was forced to flee the country with my family after a violent attack on my residence by extremists. One morning, I awoke to find extremists trying to cut the steel security bars on the front windows of my residence. This was unsettling, to say the least.But for my brother, Shahbaz it was one of the most disappointing moments in his life. He tried to convince me not to leave. But the security risk to my family and me made it impossible to practice the profession I so dearly love. I followed my instinct and moved to Italy where I had received my medical and post-graduate training.
  • In a short period of time, God blessed me, and I was able to establish a thriving medical practice, building a new life for my family with a great deal of satisfaction. During this period, my brother and I clashed on opposite poles. He was trying to convince me to return to Pakistan because of the dire and pressing needs of the community, while I was arguing with him that he should move to Europe because his very life was in danger. Shahbaz was no stranger to authentic death threats by men who despised his existence, his religion, and his work on behalf of the helpless.So, as brothers are prone to do, we argued. Looking back, I realize I was arguing from a rational and human perspective with a man whose gaze was fixed on heaven. I was begging him to leave Pakistan. He only responded that he had surrendered his life into Jesus’ hands and would follow Jesus until his last breath.  My last conversation with him of this nature happened a few months before his assassination.  Shabbaz strongly requested me to return home to Pakistan. I told him, “You are calling me to leave paradise for hell.”  He immediately replied, “The road leading to paradise starts in Pakistan.”  This was a dark and terrible time for me.


My pleas with him to leave fell on deaf ears, and I was absolutely convinced I was doing the right thing.

But on March 2nd, 2011, our world turned upside-down.  The news of Shahbaz’ murder shook me to the core. I was devastated, crestfallen, disheartened and furious all at the same time.  Of course I immediately flew to Pakistan to attend my brother’s funeral.  It was my intention to retrieve members of my family and move them to safely in Italy and Canada, and say farewell to Pakistan forever. My conviction, at that moment, was that Pakistan was unworthy of the services of my family.

But when I landed In Islamabad, I found a heartrending situation. There was a sea of people in attendance at his funeral, women, men and children, from all walks of life, politicians, diplomats, Christian, Muslim, and Hindu religious leaders, all desperately crying for Shahbaz, all crying, “Who will take his call for love?”

When I accompanied his body by helicopter to our native village of Khushpur, a throng of young and old people overwhelmed me, crying and sobbing; distraught they had lost their champion for freedom! It was impossible to console them.  They were brokenhearted, struck with grief in the loss of Shahbaz. He was like a father to them; and they were now orphaned.

I was astounded by the lasting power of his sacrificial love, now living in the hearts of the people. I know that in reality, it was the love of God. And in the midst of this vast demonstration, many Muslim leaders were chanting, “Shahbaz your mission will continue! Shabbaz your mission will continue!” And then many of these people turned and looked at me saying, “Now what?”  This was an extraordinary and defining moment for me.

Shortly thereafter, the Government of Pakistan officially solicited me to take Shabbaz’s Federal Ministry seat in the Government. Then the executive committee of his political party, All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA), asked me to take charge and elected me as their Chairman.

I remained incensed with my Government for its inability to protect my brother and stop the people behind his murder. But in this chaotic and intense moment something began to change in my heart. I began reminiscing about Shahbaz from his early childhood until his death. I kept seeing his smiling face, filled with love, forgiveness, and acceptance, in front of me.  It was transformative.  There was a palpable sense of the love of God strengthening him through the difficult phases of his struggles, especially the battle with an ideology wanting to impose hatred, division, and discrimination, on the religious minorities of Pakistan.  That same love of God began to strengthen me.  My resentment against my government began to ebb, and slowly, perhaps with fits and starts, I began to see his murderers through eyes of forgiveness.

I then decided to continue his mission, realizing that though it appears contradictory, forgiveness and love were possibly the ultimate weapons of revenge.

While reflecting on these matters, I also started to think about my mother. She had lived with Shabbaz for the last 10 years of his life, and was deeply affected by his death.  Her life with him primarily consisted of praying together at home, and praying for him when he was away while she waited for his safe return.  Even in her advanced age, she would not let her sleep until he returned home late at night from his governmental duties.  Tragically, she was an ear witness of his murder.  The assassins targeted him as he was leaving her following morning prayers.  He died only a few meters in front of their home.  My mother heard the thunder of bullets killing my brother. Even today, it is impossible for me to imagine her anguish.

I worried that if I proposed my decision to continue Shabbaz’ mission to my mother, she would reject it categorically, and worse, that it would increase her suffering. But as my courage increased, I gathered the nerve to speak with her.  This is the tradition of our family.  Parental blessing and approval is held in high regard.  Initially, when I approached my mother, I was hesitant and timid.  But to my amazement, my mother told me, without hesitating, that Shahbaz’s mission should continue, and I was the right person for the job.

She then told me that it was Shahbaz’ will that I return to Pakistan, and that now it was God’s will, and her wish as well. So it was, there was no one left for me to argue with!

Then she said something remarkable. She told me that she wasn’t angry with Shahbaz’s killers and she was free from a desire for revenge or retaliation against them.  She explained that she had forgiven the killers of my brother.  Later, she reminded me that Shahbaz’s way of life was rooted in forgiveness and love, following the Way of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I was deeply moved and encouraged. More than that, I was being transformed by the love of God. In time, I too forgave my brother’s killers from the bottom of my heart. I was honored and filled with joy in assuming the legacy of my brother.  I desire to continue the work, full of hope and determination, and by the sheer grace of God, to love my brothers as myself, and to love and forgive my enemies.

My heartfelt wish is to continue the mission and vision of Shahbaz. He was a true follower of our Lord Jesus Christ, and it was his unwavering belief on Jinnah’s Pakistan where every citizen can freely follow his/her faith and live with dignity and without fear. It enabled him to dedicate 28 years his life to protect the weak and persecuted minorities of Pakistan. He had his heart fixed on the hope in to see Pakistan a role Model for the world where justice, human equality, and religious freedom are honored and respected. I am committed to continue this struggle even if this ultimate goal requires my sacrifice too.

I am pleased to share with you that I feel and see that Pakistan is changing, Present military and civilian operation against terrorism is bringing fruits: all extremist organizations are banned, most terrorist groups are weakened, killers of my brothers are arrested and one was killed. The people of Pakistan are gradually coming out of oppression and fear, which has dominated them for many years. The Supreme Court recently upheld the death sentence of a police bodyguard who killed Salmaan Tazeer over his support for blasphemy law reform and other verdicts have given us great hope for the future of Jinnah’s Pakistan where everybody can live with peace, dignity and without fear, honoring the faiths of each other.

Recently Pakistani leadership participated in the celebrations of our Hindu brothers and sisters (Divali), giving a statement that there is no discrimination between majority and minority. Of course we welcome such initiatives hoping that this is coming from their hearts and not for any personal gain. We want this Pakistan, without any discrimination among people of diverse faiths, where weak and oppressed feel safe and respected, as the father of our nation Mohmad Ali Jinnah said, we are all citizens and equal citizens of one state. This is the path we are following indicated by Shahbaz to see our beloved country where there’s no discrimination between Majority and religious minorities (Shiites, Sufi Muslims, Isma’ili, Ahmadis, Christians, Sikhs, Hindus, Zoroastrians, Baha’i . . .)

Each of us is on a road, a religious path to a spiritual destination, a place of consequences and accountability for our choices and actions. I believe that God has given us clear eyes, deep and fearless hearts to courageously love and support each other. Herein is the holy key to rid our communities of hatred and discrimination.


Thank you for your kind attention. May God bless you and those you hold close.

Pakistan Zanda o Taibinda bad


Dr Paul Bhatti six

Dr.Paul Bhatti in Westminster Hall, where the first meeting of Parliament took place in 1265, and with the plaque commemorating St.Thomas More – former Speaker and Lord Chancellor, who was tried and sentenced to death in Westminster Hall.



 Dr Paul Bhatti five







Pakistan’s government continues to come under increasing pressure from international watchdogs to re-evaluate its human rights laws and redouble its efforts towards religious freedom. £405 million of UK aid this year has been sent to Pakistan, yet Shias, Ahmadis and Christians—have experienced discrimination and outright persecution. While Pakistan has been receiving this vast sum of money, the response of the state has been at best indifference, and at worst, the complicity of some of its agencies.—————————————————————————————————

Evidence sessions on religious minorities in Pakistan


November 16, 2015


On the 10th and 11th of November, the All Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief held evidence-hearing sessions regarding the persecution of minority groups in Pakistan and difficulties for their being granted asylum in light of UNHCR policy and Home Office Country Guidance.


The hearings took place in the Houses of Parliament and were attended by parliamentarians as well as a wide range of organisations working on religious freedom in Pakistan and witnesses hailing from different Pakistani religious minority groups.


Upon his visit to Bangkok’s UNHCR refugee camp, Lord Alton found that Pakistani Christians’ asylum claims were failing to be taken with adequate seriousness with the belief, using the Home Office February 2015 Country Guidance, that their situations in Pakistan do not put them at ‘a real risk of persecution’. Upon this finding, evidence hearing sessions in Parliament were called to understand the conditions for Christians and other religious groups in Pakistan and when seeking asylum.


The first day of hearings assessed whether religious minorities in Pakistan face discrimination or persecution. We heard several moving accounts of the treatment, which including torture and killing of family and friends faced by Christians, Shias, Ahmadis, Jews, Hindus and Sikhs, forcing many to flee the country. These testimonies corroborated our belief that some minorities in Pakistan are indeed at significant risk of persecution, sometimes with fatal consequences.


Evidence heard also demonstrated that the endemic persecution within Pakistan is not overtly deterred but is enabled by the State through constitutional measures and legislation such as the much maligned Blasphemy Laws. The alarming lack of condemnation of cases of persecution by government officials, combined with a weak judiciary and constabulary has resulted in a dire situation for minority religious groups in Pakistan, sometimes leaving no other alternative but to seek refuge.


The hearings also highlighted the difficulties minorities fleeing Pakistan have encountered when claiming asylum. These include issues surrounding a lack of understanding of the reality on the ground in Pakistan and a specific understanding of what speaking about one’s religious beliefs in Pakistan often entail as well as a worrying trend in interpreter and interviewer biases.


The Chair of the hearings, Lord Alton said: “The evidence with which we presented during these hearings held at Westminster revealed systematic and widespread persecution of religious minorities in Pakistan. We heard harrowing personal accounts from Christians and Ahmadis and others who had watched loved ones murdered in a culture of impunity. We heard the story of Pakistan’s last remaining Jew and we were moved by the bravery and courage of other minority communities who face the same destiny of annihilation. Pakistan is Britain’s biggest recipient of overseas aid – more than £400 million this year alone – but it was impossible to see how our aid policy or our asylum policy have done anything to ease the desperate plight of Pakistan’s beleaguered minorities. We hope that the Report which will emerge from this evidence will force our policy makers, along with those of other Governments, to reassess the way in which we engage with Pakistan.”


Evidence collected at these hearings will be formally collated into a report containing recommendations which will subsequently be launched in Parliament and sent to relevant government bodies and parliamentarians, including members of the International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief in up to 60 countries. Particular recommendations will be provided to the Home Office officials who are in charge of setting country guidance and who attended the hearings as well as those who look at the options that asylum seekers are presented when having to present their story to interviewers. We hope that this report will help bring about tangible change in the UNHCR and the Home Office’s approach towards minorities facing persecution in Pakistan and their pursuit in seeking asylum.




The Parisian altar of King St.Louis and his mother St.Blanche, at Stonyhurst's church of St.Peter.

The Parisian altar of King St.Louis and his mother St.Blanche, at Stonyhurst’s church of St.Peter.

At a  Mass celebrated this morning in Lancashire, at Stonyhurst College – at the conclusion of a two and a half day Mission – there were prayers for the people of Paris who have suffered so grievously over these past twenty four hours. The Mass was celebrated by a former student at the College, Fr.Philip Endean SJ, who lives in Paris, where he teaches. He spoke movingly and poignantly about the suffering which had been inflicted – and he prayed for new initiatives to stem the flow of hatred and division.  The Mass was celebrated on a beautiful new altar, recently donated by the Weld-Blundell family and installed in the church of St.Peter. It had been made in Paris, in the nineteenth century, for an American widow who lived in Paris. On its frontispiece are French saints King St.Louis, King of France and his mother, St.Blanche of Castile. In the centre is Christ, crowned with thorns. The widow had chosen St.Louis and St.Blanche because they were associated with Sainte Chapelle and the Crown of Thorns. This seemed a remarkably poignant place to show solidarity with the suffering people of Paris where so many French families are today experiencing their own crown of thorns. 

De Profundis

Out of the depths I cry to You, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice.
Let Your ears be attentive to my voice in supplication.
If You, O Lord, mark iniquities, Lord, who can stand?
But with You is forgiveness, that You may be revered.
I trust in the Lord; my soul trusts in His word.
My soul waits for the Lord more than sentinels wait for the dawn.
More than sentinels wait for the dawn, let Israel wait for the Lord,
For with the Lord is kindness and with Him is plenteous redemption;
And He will redeem Israel from all their iniquities.

St.Peter's Stonyhurst

St.Peter’s Stonyhurst

The interior of Sainte Chapelle, Paris.

The interior of Sainte Chapelle, Paris.

“Humankind cannot bear very much reality” – T.S. Eliot:  Four Quartets.

Bilateral trade between the United Kingdom and African countries

Bilateral trade between the United Kingdom and African countries

africa and trade 1

The House of Lords today staged a short debate on bilateral trade between the United Kingdom and African countries. 

The 54 countries which comprise the world’s second most populous and second largest continent are a diverse and exciting mixture of nations and cultures. With over 1 billion people – about 15% of the world’s population – living on land which covers over 11 million square miles, Africa is the youngest of the world’s continents, with more than half of its people born in 1991 or later.

Africa continues to face phenomenal challenges – underlined this week by the BBC’s reports from Ethiopia, faced with a new famine. Throughout the continent 100 million people have been pushed into food insecurity. This is often caused by conflict.

There are still 15 African countries involved in war of experiencing post-war conflict or tension. Countries like Eritrea are mired in corruption and its leaders accused of probable crimes against humanity, while Sudan is responsible for genocide against its own people, and terrorist organisations such as Boko Haram and Al-Shabab endlessly murder innocent men, women and children.  

It is little wonder in these circumstances that development is hindered, illiteracy remains far too high, and too many people remain hungry or malnourished?

But, the House of Lords debate invited us to focus simply on bi-lateral trade –  although trade can never be detached from questions of conflict, corruption and governance. Some of the best work on these issues has been done by Saana Consulting, who work as external secretariat of the APPG on Trade Out of Poverty, for the updates on trade figures which they have provided. They make the point that if you:

  • Take Sub Saharan Africa (SSA)– which, with a per capita income of around, $1.25c per day – is the least successful region of the world in reducing poverty. Despite the spectre of war and instability total trade between the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa has increased by nearly 25% from pre-global financial crisis levels up to 2014. Specifically, the UK’s exports to SSA rose by 6% to around US$10 billion, while imports from SSA grew by 47% to US$12 billion.
  • Significantly, the UK’s share of SSA trade with the world has remained unchanged at 3% since pre-crisis levels, as other emerging players increase their share. In particular, China’s share of SSA trade increased from 12% to 18% in the same period.
  • africa and extractive industries

And, extractive industries continue to dominate in SSA exports to the UK. Oil and precious metals make up nearly 80% of the total SSA exports to the UK, while agricultural commodities amount to 11% and exports of motor vehicles, together with machinery & electronic equipment, each only account for 3%. Africa probably holds 90% of the world’s cobalt and platinum; 50% of its gold; 64% of its manganese; 33% of its uranium; 98% of its chromium.

  • But far too often these natural resources have been a curse rather than a blessing. Take the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The International Rescue Committee estimates that 5.4 million people died from conflict-related causes in  the DRC between 1998 and 2007. 
  • If we are serious about promoting bilateral trade it is imperative – and equally serious – that, to prevent future atrocities and excesses, multinational extractive industries, especially, publish the net taxes, royalties and details of other payments which they make to governments with which they have had dealings. 

Africa and gold

So what have been the inhibitors in driving on and scaling up our trading relationships?

Primarily companies identify high costs and risks. African enterprises often lack the capacity to produce for export market standards; and whilst Aid For Trade has achieved some important successes,- including UK funding of £180 million worth of projects in developing countries – projects that are aimed at improving trade facilitation, five years after its birth it has sunk out of view. The new ministerial team urgently needs to refresh the initiative and put in place a follow-on programme.

The Government should consider whether that a follow up programme should include putting in place a Task Force reporting to the Prime Minister to advise the UK government on a successor to AFTi.

The UK needs an up-to-date, whole of Government strategy to accelerate trade and investment in SSA with a clear set of objectives, targets and resources supported across Government – DFID, BIS, FCO and UKTI.

Both Government and business need to understand the opportunities for boosting trade and investment from recent developments in Africa, such as

  • The new customs union and common market established in the East African Community (Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania & Uganda).
  • The EU Economic Partnership Agreements negotiated with East Africa, West Africa and Southern African in 2015 .
  • The COMESA-EAC-SADC Tripartite Free Trade Agreement (a free trade pact to reduce trade barriers signed by representatives from 26 African states in East and Southern Africa in June 2015),
  • The WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement agreed in December 2013, which African countries are already starting to implement.
  • The launch of negotiations on the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement at the AU Summit in Johannesburg in July 2015.

A new UK strategy also needs to take recognition of the way China, India and Brazil have increased their trade and investment footprint in Africa in recent years.

At the government level, the UK can work together with them to finance much-needed trade infrastructure projects, such as the construction of roads and power stations. More business-to-business collaboration can also pay off – for example, British companies have found it easier to establish a presence in Angola through joint ventures with Brazilian companies.[

A new UK strategy should have clearly measurable outcomes and track key indicators year on year, like the value of new UK business investments and the number of jobs created. The strategy should support better knowledge sharing and joint working between the government and British businesses who wish to trade and invest in SSA, as well as between departments. The Task Force could be co-chaired by the Minister, Lord Maude, and a leading British business executive and report to the Prime Minister in mid 2016.

We should also expand the UK Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy programme to more key trade partners in SSA

 Africa and trade 2

Launched in 2012, the Trade Envoy programme aims to strengthen the UK’s existing relations with markets identified by UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) as those with substantial investment opportunities. Currently, within SSA, there are only Trade Envoys responsible for South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya. With Nigeria accounting for nearly a quarter of UK-SSA trade, the Trade Envoys programme needs to expand to Nigeria as well as other fast-growing, high potential markets like Ethiopia and Ghana. And we should establish an annual UK-Africa CEO & Heads of State summit on boosting UK-Africa trade & investment.

The UK Prime Minister should invite UK business executives and ministers with African business executives and heads of states from key markets to an annual summit in the UK to discuss trade opportunities and solution to overcome challenges in investing in SSA. Lessons can be learnt by the UK from similar initiatives such as the 2014 US-Africa Leaders Summit and 2015 German-African Business Summit.

An African friend has pointed us in the direction which we need to go. He says:

  1. The trade opportunities must offer value; that
  2. we need to better understanding the diverse composition of Africa; that 
  3. we need to identify and develop new partners and new channels; that
  4.  the UK must be seen to be genuinely looking out for the interests of Africa – At the moment, Britain is said to be home to most of the stolen funds from Africa by African politicians; that
  5. we must be truly bilateral – trade mustn’t be a one way street; that
  6.  trade should be able to offer primary socio-economic development of Africa particularly in rural communities and agriculture; and that we must
  7. eliminate proxies – with most bilateral trade currently done by proxies without direct contact with the true stakeholders involved.

These seem like admirable and sensible suggestions and how much better it would be to listen to African voices rather than just listening to our own.africa and trade 1

Elections in Burma – letter from the House of Commons Speaker and other parliamentarians, and recent parliamentary questions on the Rohingya, Phyoe Phyoe Aung, and link to September visit to the Karen State and Karen refugee camps

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi at her home in Naypyidaw

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi at her home in Naypyidaw

Aung San Suu Kyi becoming an Honorary fellow of Liverpool John Moores University - conferred in Mr.Speaker's House, Westminster, 2012

Aung San Suu Kyi becoming an Honorary fellow of Liverpool John Moores University – conferred in Mr.Speaker’s House, Westminster, 2012

Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi

Burma’s Elections

Today, a letter has been released, appealing for tolerance in Burma and for the elections to be as free and fair as the flawed constitution will permit has been signed by democratically elected representatives and dignitaries from around the world.

Signatories including the former President of Timor-Leste, Nobel Laureate Jose Ramos-Horta; former Prime Minister of Norway, Kjell Magne Bondevik; the former First Ladies of the Maldives and Timor-Leste; the former Foreign Minister of the Maldives; the daughter of the former President of Indonesia, Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow MP and several members of the UK and European parliaments, have called on the international community to monitor the election and transition that follows.

We, democratically elected representatives from many countries – and others – who support Myanmar at this critically important time, write this appeal to all those involved.

We call firstly for a free and fair election on 8th November, insofar as the current, unreformed constitution permits. A quarter of the members of the new Parliament will still be serving military officers, appointed by the Commander in Chief of the army. This means that amending the constitution is impossible without the consent of the military, since amendments must be approved by three quarters of the Parliament. Nevertheless we welcome the promise of the Myanmar authorities that the seats up for election will be contested fairly, and that the results will be respected.

Secondly, we call for an inclusive election process. Many people have been deprived of their lawful right to vote by reason of ethnicity or religion. This is contrary to the principles of democracy.

Thirdly, we call for tolerance. We are alarmed at the role played in the campaign by the “race and religion” laws, drafted by the Government and adopted by the Parliament. These new laws discriminate against women, place Myanmar in breach of its international obligations, and threaten to worsen the already perilous relationships between faith communities. We call for an election that allows all voices to be heard in a spirit of mutual respect, and expect the Government of Myanmar to honour the separation of religion from politics enshrined in the 2008 Constitution.

We welcome the decision of the Myanmar authorities to invite both domestic and international observers to monitor the election.

We urge the international community to monitor not only the election but also the transition that will follow. The success of the elections can only be judged when it is clear that the will of the people has been respected in the shape of any new government and president.

This is a moment of extraordinary importance for Myanmar. If the current regime respects the wishes of the people on election day and throughout the transition, it will fulfill the promises it has made in recent years.

The following have signed the letter:

David Alton, Lord Alton, United Kingdom

Lalia Ali, Former First Lady, Maldives

John Bercow MP, Speaker of the House of Commons, United Kingdom

Kjell Magne Bondevik, Former Prime Minister, Norway

Fiona Bruce MP, United Kingdom

Olivier Chastel, Chairman of the Mouvement Reformateur, Belgium

Caroline Cox, Baroness Cox, United Kingdom

Nirj Deva MEP, European Parliament

Denis Ducarme MP, Belgium

Ola Elvestuen MP, Norway

Laurie Ferguson MP, Australia

John Glenn MP, United Kingdom

Kirsty Sword Gusmao, former First Lady of Timor-Leste

Roger Haddad MP, Sweden

Glenys Kinnock, Baroness Kinnock, United Kingdom

Jeremy Lefroy MP, United Kingdom

Hans Linde MP, Sweden

Michel Louis MEP, European Parliament

Jose Ramos Horta, Former Head of State, Timor-Leste

Frederique Ries MEP, European Parliament

Kjell Ingolf Ropstad MP, Norway

Philip Ruddock MP, Australia

Paul Scully MP, United Kingdom

Ahmed Shaheed, Former Foreign Minister of the Maldives

Trine Skei Grande MP, Norway

Bard Vegard Solhjell MP, Norway

Gunnar Stalsett, Bishop Emeritus, Hon President of Religions for Peace, Norway

Charles Tannock MEP, European Parliament

Valerie Vaz MP, United Kingdom

Yenny Wahid, National Awakening Party, Indonesia


Also See:




Recent Questions by Lord Alton
Phyoe Phyoe Aung
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have made on behalf of Phyoe Phyoe Aung who is currently detained in Burma.
Answered on: 04 November 2015

We have raised with the Burmese authorities our concerns at the violence which occurred during the student protests at Letpadan Monastery in March, when Phyoe Phyoe Aung and others were arrested. We have called for the Government of Burma to investigate the incident and for all remaining student demonstrators to be released from prison and charges to be dropped. Our Embassy in Rangoon is closely monitoring the cases of the 56 who have been charged, 48 of whom remain in detention, and have attended the most recent trial hearing in Thuyawaddy on 13 October.

oreign and Commonwealth Office
Burma: Religious Freedom
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what support they offer to youth-led civil society initiatives countering hate speech and promoting religious tolerance in Burma.
Answered on: 04 November 2015

We remain deeply concerned about the rise in Burma of hate speech and religious intolerance. We have raised this with the Burmese authorities and will continue to do so, both publicly and in private. We have supported inter-faith dialogue in Burma in recent years through a number of projects to help build relationships and understanding. These have included projects to develop relationships between Burmese youth and different religious communities, and to forge exchanges between activists on religious freedom in Burma and Indonesia.

Unanswered on November 6th 2015:


Asked on: 02 November 2015
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Burma: Rohingya
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the findings in reports by Yale Law School and Queen Mary University of London, and an investigation by Al-Jazeera, as well as research by Fortify Rights, that claim to provide evidence that genocide is being committed against the Rohingya people in Burma.
Asked on: 02 November 2015
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Burma: Rohingya
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will support calls for the establishment of a full, international, independent investigation by the UN into claims of genocide against the Rohingya in Burma.

One Child China – “One Child: the story of China’s Most Radical Experiment” China’s One Child Policy; a law that has claimed 8 million British lives: Amnesty International and its founder, Peter Benenson


January 3rd 2016 –  Sunday Times colour supplement: Extracts from Mei Fong’s book “One Child: the story of China’s Most Radical Experiment” (2016)

One Child China – Part Aldous Huxley, part King Herod. Later, Longer, Fewer became, in the vocabulary of loss, “bare branches” and the children “little emperors.”


China may be the first big country to grow old before it gets rich.


China’s population will be too male, too old and too few for continued prosperity.


There are now 13 million undocumented “non existent” children – second children born without the Communist State’s permission.



In little less than a decade there will be more Chinese bachelors than Saudi Arabians on the planet. By 2050 one in three people in China will be retired. If they formed their own country it would be the third largest in the world – behind only India and China itself.


Shidu is a term for parents who have lost their only child. Each year 76,000 join the 1 million shidu parents. With no progeny, shidu parents have problems getting into nursing homes or buying burial plots. When they do get into a hospice they often die alone.


A coercive Two Child China  (see below) may prove to be little better than a One Child China policy because citizens have been driven to value materialism more than the family and child rearing in China has become a nightmare.


Melamine-tainted milk powder, lead in toys, lung searing pollution and a four fold increase in infertility are all conspiring against bringing children into the world. 

Mei Fong “One Child: the story of China’s Most Radical Experiment” (2016).

Also see…




David Alton reflects on China’s decision to scrap the one child policy only to announce a two child policy…

During the UK visit of China’s President, Xi Jinping, in Parliament I raised the cases of 280 human rights lawyers who, since July 9th, have disappeared or been detained in China– many of them arrested after contesting the illegal destruction of churches or persecution of Christians. And, I asked, yet again – as I have done since 1980 – about China’s coercive one child policy and referred to Chen Guangchen, the barefoot, blind human rights lawyer. In 2006 Chen was imprisoned for four years after exposing and leading protests against the coercive one-child policy. It’s a  policy which has marked China as the world’s only country where it has been illegal to have a brother or a sister.

In 2013, Chen came to Westminster as my guest and received a human rights award and, last month, while President Xi was in London Chen was here, too – taking part in peaceful demonstrations.

This extraordinary, and deeply patriotic man, who has no sight, has seen so clearly what his country’s leaders have been blind to: not only was their policy an outrageous violation of human rights but it has had a disastrous demographic effect. The cruel enforcement of the policy has had one other consequence: in opening the eyes of millions to the nature of the system it will prove to be its undoing.

The extent of the disaster began to seep out from behind the closed doors when, in 2013, an internal Communist Party document exposed the scale of this pernicious policy:  over  40 years some 330m abortions,  196m sterilisations and 403m intrauterine devices inserted into women, often without their consent, had led to a massive imbalance between young men and women. This relentless targeting of girls babies became known as gendercide – indirectly funded by British taxpayers under successive British Governments. Challenge it and you were denounced.

During the 1990s, at one memorable meeting with a Minister in charge of International Development, the air was literally blue with undeleted expletives and four letter words, as I was accused of undermining development policies which I was told relied on population control. During the meeting I had raised the case of Gao Xiao Duan, a former Chinese family planning official, who in 1998, described to a U.S. Congressional Committee the horror of  forced abortions of women, how babies had been murdered during delivery and new-borns drowned in paddy fields by officials.

After this intemperate Ministerial harangue, and during a subsequent visit to Beijing – I met with Communist Party officials. The contrast with our own officials and Minister could not have been greater. Of course, the difference was that many of these officials had suffered too. Hardly anyone in China has been unaffected.

In private some of those Chinese officials quietly encouraged me to go on opposing the one-child policy. I told them that one day Chen Guangchen would be seen as a national hero. Chen’s brave stand had opened minds and given courage to those whom Chesterton, in another context, once described as “the secret people”.

As Chinese micro-bloggers took up Chen’s case and publically questioned the policy, the bloggers began to ask deeper questions, too. They were joined by brave lawyers, increasingly asking why a totalitarian political system be allowed to crush the spirit of a truly great people. The one child policy was seen as being the perfect image of a one party system.

In the absence of a free press, the bloggers – one of whom told me he had five million followers – have opened minds.  By shining a light on horrifying stories, like that of a women who was coercively aborted, and whose seven month unborn baby was then left by her side on her bed, as a warning not to become pregnant again, millions, they have fundamentally questioned the nature of a one party Communist state.

Now, belatedly the Party has recognised that a policy which was justified on economic grounds – and aided and abetted by the West – has turned out to be an economic disaster. In a child-poor country there simply won’t be the children to support those who have retired.  The Chinese have a saying that the best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The same applies to babies and the people those babies grow up to be.

The policy has also distorted the population balance.  There are now 40 million more Chinese men than women, while, globally, the sex-selection abortion of little girls had led to between 100 million and 200 million females now missing in the world – with catastrophic social consequences.

After his return to Beijing from London, President Xi’s Government said it will now relax the ‘One Couple, One Child’ policy. On the face of it this may seem welcome but note that the word is “relax” not “end.”  China will now impose a ‘Two Child’ policy.

Chinese women will still need to obtain a birth permit for the first and second child, and only within marriage. Those violating these strictures may still be dragged from their homes, strapped to tables, and their babies forcibly aborted. Even with a two-child policy, women will still be subject to forced abortion if they get pregnant without a birth permit.

A two-child policy will not end the human rights abuses caused by the one child policy: forced abortion, involuntary sterilization or the sex-selective abortion of baby girls. Be clear, State-coercion and State-control remain at the heart of the policy.

It’s a policy which doesn’t need to be relaxed or modified. It needs to be done away with.

For the future, the key question for China is not the number of children which a family may have but the principle of State interference in the intimate life of a family and the coercion which the State uses to enforce limits.

In London President Xi talked of “the Chinese dream” but while the Communist Party exercises ruthless control over its citizens, imprisons lawyers, crushes free speech, closes or demolishes churches, arrests bishops, or forcibly aborts women, the dream will continue to be the stuff of nightmares.


The following press release was issued this week by two major charitable organisations that work for women and their unborn children, Right To Life and LIFE – marking the 48th anniversary of the passing of the 1967 Abortion Act.

1987 The photographer, Lenart Neilson, gave permission for this picture of the unborn baby at 18 weeks to be used for the Alton Bill campaign. 1 million were printed-1

Right to Life and LIFE have launched the Amnesty Travesty campaign to highlight the toll that abortion has had on Great Britain and they urge Amnesty International to withdraw their campaign to remove the protection of the right to life of the unborn child from the Irish Constitution. Amnesty’s wonderful founder, Peter Benenson, would have been truly shocked to see the life saving work undertaken by Amnesty diverted into the taking of innocent life. Amnesty should

  • Speak-up for the over-8 million who have died in the UK from abortion.
  • Respect and affirm the choice of the people of Northern Ireland to safeguard babies in the womb from abortion.
  • Withdraw their campaign to remove the right to life of the unborn child from Ireland’s constitution.




Full details on the campaign are available from the website www.shamnesty.org

PRESS RELEASE – 23/10/2015

On the 48th anniversary of the Abortion Act 1967

LIFE and Right To Life call for Ireland and Northern Ireland to resist abortion

The national charities LIFE and Right To Life are marking the 48th anniversary of the Abortion Act by calling attention to the 8 million lives lost since 1967, and urging lawmakers in Ireland and Northern Ireland not to compromise their laws and society by bowing to the pressure of the abortion industry and its lobbyists.

We sound a warning of the consequences of such a compromise, following the launch of an expensive campaign by Amnesty International that uses celebrities to attempt to convince Ireland and Northern Ireland to abolish their legal and constitutional protections for unborn children.

Millions of unborn lives have been lost and thousands of women have been psychologically harmed in Great Britain because of the 1967 Act. It paved the way for the emergence of a multi-million pound industry costing the taxpayer over £100 million a year. Since its inception, abortion providers have consistently misinterpreted, abused and broken the law with impunity. The safeguards built into the law have been rendered ineffective, with the CPS refusing to prosecute doctors in some cases.

Those who voted for the Abortion Act could never have envisaged a day when abortions would be performed at the rate of one every three minutes, when nine out of ten babies with Down’s Syndrome would be aborted, when babies would be terminated because they were the ‘wrong’ gender, and when the bodies of aborted babies would be burnt to heat hospitals. This is certainly not a situation that we should want Ireland or indeed any other country to move towards.

Amnesty International, which was born out of the conviction that the human rights of the oppressed and vulnerable should be vocally supported by those who believed in the dignity of all human beings, now perversely campaigns for a human right to end human lives. Specifically the most vulnerable of all: unborn children. Where nations have chosen to resist abortion, Amnesty is spending significant sums of charity funds to pressure them to ensure the platform exists for the termination of babies in the womb. It is ironic that an organisation which in 1977 received the Nobel Peace Prize for its lifesaving work would today be championing ending the very lives that most need the humane advocacy it is meant to provide.

All people of good will, who wish to call Amnesty back to the humane founding principles of their organisation under the late Peter Benenson, can visit the new website of our Amnesty Travesty campaign – www.shamnesty.org – and sign the open letter calling on them to stop pressuring countries into accepting the inhumanity of abortion.

As friends from across the Irish sea, we call on the people and lawmakers of Ireland and Northern Ireland to avoid the tragedy that Great Britain’s abortion laws have engendered, and stand firm against the pressure by Amnesty and similar organisations to compromise their legal safeguards for the most vulnerable of their fellow citizens. In doing so they will protect women, prevent the horrific loss of life experienced in the United Kingdom since 1967, and affirm the dignity and right to life of all members of the human family.


For further media comment please call the LIFE Media Hotline on 07867 744502 and Right To Life on 01732 460911.