India and Human Trafficking – Question in Parliament

Lord Alton of Liverpool (Crossbench)

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the announcement that India has ratified the United Nations protocol on human trafficking.

Lord Howell of Guildford (Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Conservative)

We warmly welcome the recent announcement that the Government of India have ratified the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime and its three protocols, including the protocol on human trafficking. We hope that this will provide additional momentum to the Government of India’s efforts to fight human trafficking and to ensure that the provisions of the protocol are enforced effectively.

We support co-operation between UK and Indian enforcement agencies in a range of areas and will continue to engage the Indian authorities on measures to combat human trafficking and illegal immigration, including offering UK experience and expertise where appropriate.

The UK Government are committed to working with international partners to address the problem of human trafficking. The issue was raised with the Government of India at the last EU-India Human Rights dialogue, held on 22 March 2011. The EU is currently funding three major anti-trafficking projects in India (and neighbouring countries) with local partners through the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR). Our high commission in New Delhi is involved in a pilot project to improve the exchange of information between agencies dealing with the prevention of trafficking and the rehabilitation of victims of commercial sexual exploitation in India. The Department for International Development is currently developing a new regional programme aiming to reduce human trafficking across the south Asia region, including in India.

The Legacy of Malcolm Muggeridge

Malcolm Muggeridge, who died, aged 82, in 1990, eight years after becoming a Catholic, was a great controversialist, consummate broadcaster and brilliant wordsmith.  Like G.K.Chesterton, before him, he lived by his pen – both as a working journalist and as an author.  But, with the advent of television Muggeridge became one of the first great masters of multi-media, immediately grasping the power of this new medium.

I met him in the 1980s and recall the story he told about his time he went to Biafra to cover the 1967-1970 War between Nigeria and Biafra, when as many and as 2 million people died. It was the first time war and its consequences was brought  by TV into our living rooms. I can remember being deeply affected and, as a teenager organising an all-night sponsored walk around our school playing fields to raise cash for some of the victims whose haunting plight dominated each day’s news headlines.

When Muggeridge retold this story he reflected on one incident which had brought home to him how easily the media could itself become the message; that, in the rush for news footage, both journalist and viewer can become cynical and anaesthetised to the realities of what we are watching.

He said that at one location, where he was filming, some political prisoners were brought forward to be executed.  The men were lined up and the firing squad made ready.  As the Officer in charge ordered his men to take aim and fire, Muggeridge said that one of the cameramen called out for the execution to be temporarily halted. His battery was dead. The execution was delayed while a new battery was put in place. The Commanding Officer then resumed the execution.

Muggeridge astutely predicted that “some future generation will discuss as to wherein lay the greatest barbarism?  On the part of the executioners?  On the part of the viewers?”  Some wise person might opt for the cameras.”

Muggeridge knew the power of the media for good or ill – and the temptation to manipulate it for your own ends.

Brought up as up as a Socialist –  he was a Fabian devotee of the eugenicists, Sidney and Beatrice Webb.   One Fabian Tract warned that in Great Britain children are being freely born to the Irish Roman Catholics and the Polish, Russian and German Jews, the thriftless and irresponsible. . . . This can hardly result in anything but national deterioration or this country falling to the Irish and the Jews.”

Muggeridge eventually came to despise this racism and advocacy of eugenics, describing it as “pursuing truth through facts and arriving at fantasy, seeking deliverance through power and arriving at servitude.”

Like many of that generation he was initially captivated by Russian Communism but bravely renounced his political beliefs when he saw the enormity of Stalin’s crimes.  Horrified by the gullibility of the western intelligentsia, the liberal elites, and how they had used their access to the newspapers to promote Communism, he wrote that “In the beginning was the Lie and the Lie was made news and dwelt among us, graceless and false.”

Needless-to-say, because of his apostasy Muggeridge made many enemies among his erstwhile fellow travellers. They derided him with the moniker “Saint Mugg” – knowing that he carried a lot of personal baggage – and ridiculing the gap between private failings and public utterances. Fortunately, for the rest of us, this didn’t shut him up, although he did tell me that he felt like one of “the walking wounded.”

He could easily have avoided issues like abortion – knowing he would fall foul of some holier-than-thou Inquisitor. Yet he courageously spoke out, arguing that it had only taken a generation for “a crime against humanity to be regarded as an act of medical compassion.”  On another occasion he remarked that “our generation, needing a Saviour more, perhaps, than any that has ever existed, would be too humane to allow one to be born”; and he observed that “when a society doesn’t want children…then it’s on the downward path.”

In 1978 he also perceptively predicted that while those who had lived through the Nuremberg Trials were still alive it would halt what he said would become an irresistible pressure to legalise euthanasia. The Judges at the Trials had calculated that 275,000 people had been euthanized by the Nazis.

Muggeridge said that with the passage of time this would all be forgotten and that Governments would come to see the killing of the terminally ill, the sick, the senile, and disabled people, as a way of dealing with the costs involved of caring for them. Once again he concluded: “It takes just over thirty years in our humane society to transform a war crime into an act of compassion.”

He would, therefore, not have been surprised to hear Baroness Warnock’s contention that “If you’re demented, you’re wasting people’s lives – your family’s lives – and you’re wasting the resources of the National Health Service…Maybe it has to come down to saying: ‘Okay, they can stay alive but the family will have to pay for it.’ Otherwise it will be an awful drain on public resources.”

Nor would he have been surprised to have read the recent report in The Independent that, in India, some 12 million girls have been aborted simply because their parents wanted a boy. Worldwide The Economist estimates that 100 million girls have now been the victims of gendercide – a logical conclusion of the pro-choice farrago.

Muggeridge knew India well – he had taught there after leaving Cambridge. Much later, in 1969, he made the documentary that ultimately led him to become a Catholic.  “Something Beautiful for God” was the story of Mother Teresa’s work in Calcutta and during the filming of which he believed a miracle occurred. He published a book by the same name and wrote:

   “If the eugenicist’s wish were ever to be realized – the sick and the old, and the mad all who were infirm and less than complete and smooth-working, would be painlessly eliminated, leaving only the beauty queens and the athletes, the Mensa IQ’s, and the prize winners, to be our human family. That we should go on suffering would be, they would surmise, an outrage; and a deity that still allowed it to continue would be a monster… If this came to pass, along the ice-bound corridors of cash, God really would be dead.” Men he said would have no more status than machines.

Above all Muggeridge would not have been surprised to see the co-ordinated way in which the BBC and media have been manipulated to promote what he called “the great liberal death wish.”

Saint Mugg he may not have been but thank God for Malcolm Muggeridge, great Englishman, warts and all.

The Malcolm Muggeridge Society web site lists his publications and provides access to some of his recordings and broadcasts:

The 1985 House of Commons Debate on the Anglo Irish Agreement

Anglo-Irish Agreement

HC Deb 26 November 1985 vol 87 cc747-828 747

770 5.20 pm

§ Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)During the course of this debate it seems that we have been tilting at a number of imaginary windmills. Some speakers have referred to the breaking of the Union while others have talked about the creation of a united Ireland. It is quite clear to anyone who has taken the trouble to read the proposals that neither of these issues is contained within the agreement. Repeatedly arguments have ben put up to defeat issues that are not within the agreement.

The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), the leader of the Ulster Unionist part, talked about the possibility of a high-powered initiative for federation which he said was in the 1979 briefing notes sent out by Conservative central office. I personally believe in confederation as an approach. Confederation would enable the Irish of the north who are Catholics to look towards Dublin, whilst the Irish of the north who are Protestants or unionists would look towards London. However, this agreement is no more about confederation than it is about breaking the Union or the creation of a united Ireland.

The agreement is a genuine attempt by the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach to break the straitjacket that has become Northern Ireland. The Hillsborough agreement represents the outcome of months of effort by politicians and civil servants who have made a genuine effort to reconcile the two traditions in Ireland. Like the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow), I have had the privilege of spending time in Northern Ireland and the Republic, most recently as part of a Liberal-SDP commission under Lord Donaldson. In July, we published our report entitled “What future for Northern Ireland?” Many of the ideas promoted in that report are contained in the agreement. However, we would have gone further on issues such as the Anglo-Irish parliamentary tier. I was pleased when the Prime Minister said earlier that it is something that the House and the Dail could consider further. A parliamentary tier would help to compliment those initiatives which have been taken in this agreement.

We recognise the Hillsborough agreement as an honest and brave attempt to wrench the initiative from the men of violence and to take a few, albeit faltering, steps away from the bigotry and hatred which have led to 2,500 deaths during the past 16 years, 24,000 injuries, and some £11 million-worth of damage in Ulster caused through acts of political violence. We welcome the initiative because it marks an important change in the attitude of the two Governments towards one another.

Some years ago the brave non-sectarian Alliance party in Northern Ireland said: positive development of Anglo-Irish relations could lead to the growth of mutual trust and respect in place of bitterness and recrimination which has bedevilled Anglo-Irish relations for too long. Hillsborough is a step along that road.

This agreement is the bulwark against Sinn Fein. If it fails, it will give credence to the lie that violence alone can bring progress. It will lead to the enticement of more young men and women into violent organisation and violent actions. This agreement is a courageous step by the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach to challenge and defeat that lie.

Those who choose to distort and lie about the content of this agreement will be taking the side of violence to sustain their tribalistic and sectarian positions, deliberately 771 keeping alive divisions for their own selfish political ends. The Nobel peace prize winner, Solzhenitsyn, understood the nature of violence. He said: Violence can only be concealed by the lie. Anyone who has once proclaimed that violence is his method is inevitably forced to choose the lie as his guiding principle. The way forward in Northern Ireland is through mutual respect, mutual forgiveness for past injuries and wounds and building up the common ground.

During the Donaldson commission inquiry, I visited the Maze prison where I met a young man, Liam McAnoy. That young man, brought up on the Falls Road, at the age of 18 joined the official IRA, and he committed a murder. He has since renounced violence and 12 years later I had the privilege to meet him. Since then we have corresponded.

The hon. Member for Eastbourne spoke earlier about people who had written to him and who had genuine fears about what might happen in Northern Ireland. Liam McAnoy, who has been consigned to the Maze for an act which he bitterly and sincerely regrets, can now see what needs to be done in Northern Ireland if we are to avoid more bitterness and hatred. In a letter to me he says:

Justice requires, just as peace demands, the pacific coexistence of both communities in mutual acceptance and respect and in equality of rights. Violence and talk of civil war makes the attainment of co-existence more difficult. The creation of that justice requires the establishment of bodies such as the Intergovernmental Conference which must win the respect of the Protestant and Catholic communities alike. The founder of the Corrymeela Community, the right Reverend Dr. Ray Davey, in a sermon at Westminster abbey in March 1980, signalled the other prerequisites for peace in Northern Ireland. He said: Truth demands that we be willing to look at another’s point of view when it is opposed to ours and to try to understand it. Liberals believe that this requires a moderation which is the only hope of reconciliation.

In the spirit of trying to understand another point of view it is incumbent on all the people of Great Britain, especially the English people, to try to understand the fears and anxieties of the unionists. This agreement was made in secrecy, largely without consultation, without information and without consent. While Dublin—I make no complaint about this—kept the SDLP in the picture, the British Government chose not to involve the Northern Ireland parties in the Hillsborough process. Assemblyman John Cushnahan, the Alliance leader, whom I met here last Friday, told me that many people in Northern Ireland are gravely dissatisfied with the way the agreement was made. We agree with him. Their condition, which is a fair one, is that the secrecy must now end. At the minimum, agendas and conclusions reached by the Intergovernmental Conference must be published. If that does not happen, every matter pursued by the Secretary of State will be represented by some unionists as deriving from the Republic through the deliberations of the Intergovernmental Conference.

Unionists may be tempted to shout treachery and no surrender and to retreat behind historical images of the siege of Londonderry. The unionists claim to be law-abiding members of the Union. How will that square with the erection of shutters and barricades and the repudiation of an agreement endorsed by two democratically elected Parliaments? The remarks by the hon. Member for Upper 772 Bann (Mr. McCusker) were out of accord with the unionist tradition which has always pledged itself to constitutionality. This morning, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel) said: The so-called loyalists in Northern Ireland must look again at their definition of loyalty, which means nothing if it does not include support for the authority of the Westminster Parliament. To threaten unconstitutional action even before Parliament has had a chance to debate the proposals will be the action of disloyalists and would only harden the belief of the British people that the unionists are quite incorrigible.

§ Mr. MolyneauxWould the hon. Gentleman accept that at the rally on Saturday in Belfast, when passions were running somewhat high, the main cheer came for the portion of my speech when I said: Violence is no part of our campaign”? I was speaking on behalf of my colleagues on this Bench and of my colleagues who represent the Democratic Unionist party.

§ Mr. AltonI am glad to hear the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley say that. It is in complete sympathy with everything that I have heard him say in my six years here. I was distressed to hear the comments of one of his colleagues. I hope that we shall talk, as we have during this debate, about how Parliaments and elected Members can reconcile the two traditions. That is the only way to defeat the people who murder and maim to achieve their political objectives.

We appreciate the suffering of unionists, especially during the past 16 years. As many right hon. and hon. Members have said, they are a keen and proud people, but they should remember that we on this side of the water have also suffered. Many of our constituents who were members of Her Majesty’s forces have been murdered in the Province. The financial burden has been heavy, and there has been a not inconsiderable loss of civil liberties in Britain because of the tragedy of Northern Ireland.

We in the United Kingdom do not regard the Republic as our enemy. There is a special relationship between us. Many millions of Irish people live and work in Britain and many thousands of British people live and work in Ireland. We are closely integrated. The unionists have a right to be upset by the triumphalism and the talk of victors and vanquished, of which some Catholic clergymen, alas, and politicians have been guilty.

As an English Catholic, I regret the continued intransigence of the Catholic Church on issues such as mixed and inter-Church marriages and integrated Christian education. Like the right hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Prior), I regret that the SDLP has so far made no gesture to the unionist community about whether it will participate in the Assembly. I hope that the leader of the SDLP will be able to say something about that later.

§ Mr. John Hume (Foyle)The hon. Gentleman should listen to me more often.

§ Mr. AltonI listen regularly to the hon. Gentleman and admire much of what he stands for. The SDLP should now drop its veto on the Northern Ireland Assembly and commit itself to partnership in government in the North. It should also encourage more Catholics to join the Royal Ulster Constabulary. When I was in Northern Ireland earlier this year and met Sir John Hermon, I was intensely worried by the RUC’s difficulty in encouraging more Roman Catholics to join, although there has been some improvement this year.

773 A MORI poll, conducted in 1981, showed that 70 per cent. of Protestants and 62 per cent. of Catholics would accept Northern Ireland remaining as part of the United Kingdom, but with its own Assembly and guarantees for Catholics. My right hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) earlier this year said:

What is needed is a partnership at the level of a devolved government”. If the Government use the Northern Ireland (Constitution) Act 1973 as a framework for devolving power, the guarantees that the Catholic community in the North should be able to expect would be missing. I hope that the Secretary of State will be clearer about the power-sharing proposals and that the SDLP’s lingering doubts will be removed. Partnership in government is the best way to remove the alienation of the north’s Catholics—of finally extinguishing the Bunsen burner that has kept the cauldron smouldering.

Those of us who heard Noel Dorr, the Irish ambassador in London, speak here last night will have noted that he stressed the alienation of the Roman Catholic community in Northern Ireland. The agreement is about removing that alienation. That is why it is worthy of support.

For unionists, the incentive for being involved in such a partnership is that it will reduce the influence held by Dublin. If political leaders refuse to provide their people with the leadership that they are entitled to expect, the people must be prepared to change those leaders, whether they be unionist or nationalist. The Government should ensure that a copy of the agreement is sent to every household in Northern Ireland. It is not good enough to be told that it has appeared in some Belfast newspapers. If unionist politicians now try to wreck the agreement by forcing by-elections—and I desperately hope that they will reconsider such action—the Government should be prepared to consider holding those elections under a system of proportional representation, as currently applies to local government, Assembly and European Parliament elections. That would turn the elections into a far more convincing test of public opinion and enable the Government to reach over the heads of sectarian leaders.

There is something in the agreement for everyone. For unionists, there is a double guarantee of their right to self-determination within the Six Counties. There is an acceptance of their identity by Dublin and an acceptance that it will be registered publicly at the United Nations. There is to be no Executive rule and no joint authority, both of which are anathema to unionists. There is also the Republic’s commitment to ratify the European convention on the suppression of terrorism. There is the promise of better cross-border co-operation and improved security—progress on extradition and trials in another jurisdiction.

For nationalists, there is a recognition of their identity, respect for their democratic aspirations and for their symbols, culture, sports and repeal of offensive legislation such as the Flags and Emblems (Display) Act 1954. There is a chance to be partners in government and of parity of esteem and equality of opportunity.

For all, there is an opportunity of better human rights for individuals and groups and a framework for greater cooperation between our two countries. There is the opportunity for more common services to be developed and the chance in the longer term of parliamentary cooperation and a permanent body to oversee the 774 Intergovernmental Conference. There really is something in this agreement for everyone, and I hope that moderate Unionist politicians will re-examine it in that light.

The alliance report, which we published in July, said: the status quo in Northern Ireland is not an option. That view has been echoed time and again today. The Irish and British Governments have acted boldly in an attempt to shift the status quo. They deserve broad support. Perhaps a small window has opened in Northern Ireland. If men and women of ill will now slam it shut, the violence and despair that will inevitably follow will be upon their heads.

The debate had been introduced by the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher MP.

Anglo-Irish Agreement

HC Deb 26 November 1985 vol 87 cc747-828 747

§ Mr. SpeakerWe now come to the important debate on the Anglo-Irish agreement. I have not selected either of the amendments on the Order Paper.

3.33 pm

§ The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)I beg to move,

That this House approves the Anglo-Irish Agreement (Cmnd. 9657) signed on 15th November by the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach, Dr. Garret FitzGerald. Since 1969, nearly 2,500 people have lost their lives in Northern Ireland as a result of terrorism, more than 750 of them members of the security forces. As the House is only too well aware, there has also been further loss of life among the armed forces, police and civilians in the remainder of the United Kingdom, including three of our colleagues in this House.

That is the stark background to today’s debate and it takes us immediately to the historic divisions between the two communities in Northern Ireland, which we cannot ignore.

Whatever the differences that may emerge in our debate, I believe that we shall all be united in our determination to end the violence and to bring to justice those who are guilty. We shall all be united in our deep sympathy for the thousands of families whose lives have been darkened by the shadow of the gunman and the bomber; and we shall all be united in our admiration and gratitude for the men and women of the security forces in Northern Ireland and, indeed, from all parts of Great Britain, so many of whom have paid the price of protecting us with their own lives.

But it is apparent that any initiative, however modest, to bring the people of Northern Ireland closer together to beat the terrorists raises emotions and fears rooted deep in the past. I understand those fears, although I do not believe them to be justified.

Faced with all that we have seen in the past 16 years, it was not enough for the Government to rely solely upon the security forces, valiant though they are, to contain and resist the tide of violence. Let me make it clear that there can be no such thing as an acceptable level of violence, whether in Northern Ireland or elsewhere in the United Kingdom. The Government owe a duty to the security forces and to all the law-abiding people of Northern Ireland, Protestant and Catholic alike, to do everything within their power to stamp out terrorism—not by giving in to the terrorist, not by giving him a single inch. Indeed, the fact that the terrorists have condemned the agreement is a demonstration that we have done no such thing.

The fight against terrorism is greatly weakened if the community is divided against itself, and it is greatly strengthened if all people committed to democracy and the rule of law can join together against the men of violence. That, the Government felt, required a further attempt to reconcile the two communities in Northern Ireland.

The Unionist community, firmly loyal to the Crown and to the United Kingdom, represent a proud tradition of devotion to the Union which everyone in these islands should respect, and which this agreement does respect. They have a right to feel secure about Northern Ireland’s position as part of the United Kingdom. This agreement, by reinforcing the principle of consent, should make them 748 feel more secure, not only today but in the future. Unionists have the assurance that neither an Irish Government, nor of course a British Government, will try to impose new constitutional arrangements upon them against their will.

The nationalist community think of themselves as Irish in terms of their identity, their social and cultural traditions and their political aspirations. The House can respect their identity too and acknowledge their aspirations, even though we may not see the prospect of their fulfilment.

The only lasting way to put an end to the violence and achieve the peace and stability in Northern Ireland is reconciliations between these two communities. That is the goal of this agreement.

I now draw the attention of the House to what I consider to be the most significant points of the agreement. The preamble sets out the commitment of the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic to work for reconciliation; our utter and total rejection of violence; our recognition and respect for the separate identities in Northern Ireland; and our acceptance of the right of each to pursue its aspirations by peaceful means. These principles reflect the hopes of both communities.

Article 1 of the agreement makes it abundantly clear that there is no threat whatsoever to Unionists’ heartfelt desire to remain part of the United Kingdom. It provides, in a formally binding international accord, a recognition by the Irish Government that the status of Northern Ireland will remain unchanged as long as that is the wish of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland. It recognises also that the present wish of a majority is for no change in that status. There can be no better reply to the fears that have been expressed in the House than this explicit recognition of the legitimacy of the Unionist position.

Article 2 of the agreement acknowledges in a practical and strictly defined way the concern that the Irish Republic has with matters relating to Northern Ireland. In the past, that concern has sometimes been expressed in critical or negative terms which did not help the cause of harmony between the communities in Northern Ireland. Article 2, therefore, establishes an Intergovernmental Conference. This will have no executive authority either now or in the future. It will consider on a regular basis political, security and legal matters, including the administration of justice, as well as cross-border co-operation on security, economic and cultural matters.

This co-operation will not be a one-way street. The Irish Government will be able to put forward views and proposals on certain matters affecting Northern Ireland. We for our part shall be able to pursue issues of concern to all peace-loving people in Northern Ireland. Notably cooperation in the fight against terrorism—co-operation which goes beyond the borders of Northern Ireland. The matters within the scope of the conference are spelled out in greater detail in articles 4 to 9 of the agreement. I should like to draw the House’s attention to three particular points about these articles. First, if devolution is restored, those matters that become the responsibility of the devolved Government will no longer be within the purview of the intergovernmental conference. We hope that the agreement will encourage the constitutional representatives of both communities to come together to form a local administration acceptable to both. This hope has been specifically endorsed by the Irish Government. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern 749 Ireland will be exploring with the constitutional parties how best to make progress. Meantime, the Assembly continues in being, with all its statutory responsibilities.

Secondly, article 8, which deals with legal matters, says that consideration will be given to the possibility of establishing mixed courts. Let me say straightaway that we have absolute confidence in the judiciary in Northern Ireland. Indeed, the integrity and courage which they have shown in recent years in maintaining high standards of judicial impartiality have been outstanding.

We know the difficulties which would be involved in mixed courts both in Northern Ireland and in the republic. We recognise the reservations which are held by the legal profession. We see no easy or early way through these difficulties. That is why, although we are prepared to consider in good faith the possibility of them at some future time, we have made it clear that we are under no commitment to introduce them.

Thirdly, I draw the House’s attention to the proposals for improved security co-operation in article 9. This provides for a programme of work to be undertaken by the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Commissioner of the Garda to improve co-operation in such matters as threat assessment, exchange of information, technical co-operation, training of personnel and operational resources.

The really vital element in this programme is fuller and faster exchange of information, especially pre-emptive intelligence which helps to prevent acts of terrorism.

These are specific measures which I believe will lead to real improvements in security—improvements which will be welcome above all to those men and women who live in the border areas and who have been subjected to so many merciless attacks designed to drive them from their homes and farms.

That improvement should be further reinforced by the Irish Government’s intention to accede to the European convention on the suppression of terrorism.

The convention’s purpose is to ensure that those who commit terrorist offences should be brought to justice and that any offences involving the use of explosives or firearms should not be regarded as political.

Irish accession should greatly increase our prospects of securing extradition from the republic of persons accused or convicted or terrorist crimes. This will be a major and a welcome step forward in the war against terrorism.

I draw the House’s attention to the reference in article 12 to the possible establishment of an Anglo-Irish interparliamentary body. Both we and the Irish Government felt that this was a matter for our Parliaments themselves rather than for Governments to pursue. I hope that contacts will be established through the usual channels to consider how discussions on an interparliamentary body can most effectively be taken forward.

I have tried to explain to the House the most significant points of the agreement. In view of some of the mistaken claims about it, I want also to say something about what is not in the agreement. The agreement does not affect the status of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom. It does not set us on some imagined slippery slope to Irish unity, and it is nonsense to claim that it might.

The effect of article 1 is to confirm the provision in section 1 of the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 that Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom as long as a majority there so wish. That again is a 750 recognition of reality. The guarantee for the majority lies in the fact that it is a majority. That fundamental point is reinforced by this agreement.

§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)I have listened carefully to the right hon. Lady. Can she explain why the Irish Government signed the agreement?

§ The Prime MinisterI believe that the Irish Government signed the agreement because they share with us its objectives: to try to defeat the men of violence and to try to achieve peace and stability for all the people who live, and who will continue to live, in Northern Ireland. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to read it, all of this is set out fully in the preamble to the agreement.

Second, I want to make it clear that the agreement does not detract from British sovereignty in Northern Ireland—or, for that matter, from Irish sovereignty in the republic. We, the United Kingdom Government, accountable to Parliament, remain responsible for the government of Northern Ireland. Yes, we will listen to the views of the Irish Government. Yes, we will make determined efforts to resolve differences. But at the end of the day decisions north of the border will continue to be made by the United Kingdom Government anc south of the border by the Irish Government. This is a fundamental point. There can be no misunderstanding.

Third, I want to dispel the absurd notion that the Government will listen to the views of the republic on Northern Ireland matters, but not to the views of our own unionist community.

There are already many ways in which the majority community in Northern Ireland can and do put their views to the Government. The right hon. and hon. Members of this House who represent the unionist parties are themselves an important channel. Another is the Northern Ireland Assembly, an important and experienced body which could be used to improve the arrangements for consultation. Yet another is the many representations that unionists make to Ministers. The unionist voice is clearly heard and will continue to be heard.

If the Anglo-Irish agreement is to bring about a real improvement in the daily lives of the two communities in Northern Ireland, it must be matched by a detennined effort on the part of all law-abiding citizens to defeat the men of violence. And that effort must rest on clear and consistent principles of justice, equity and fairness. For if democracy is the rule of the majority, the other side of the coin is fairness and respect for the minority, for all are citizens of the United Kingdom.

On the economic front, we will continue to pay special attention to Northern Ireland’s needs. During direct rule, spending on economic and social programmes has risen since 1972–73 by 50 per cent. in real terms to £3,600 million last year. That amounts to nearly £2,500 a head, far more than in any other part of the United Kingdom. Spending on that scale shows the high priority given by successive Governments to the needs of Northern Ireland and its people. Our concern will continue.

On security, our efforts will also continue. Thanks to the magnificent work of our policemen and soldiers, we have already made some progress, but we still have much to do. I believe that our security forces can take new heart from the promise of greater security co-operation that will flow from the agreement.

In commending this agreement to the House, I should like first to pay tribute to Dr. Fitzgerald, who has worked 751 honestly and sincerely for an agreement to bring reassurance to both communities and a real prospect of peace and stability.

Second, I say to the members of both communities in Northern Ireland that, if Parliament approves the agreement, the Government will steadfastly implement it. This House represents all the people of the United Kingdom and its decisions are binding on all of them. We shall not give way to threats or to violence from any quarter. We shall look to the co-operation of all men and women of good will who want a better future for Northern Ireland and for their families.

§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)Before my right hon. Friend leaves the point about the accountability of Parliament, will she say whether there will be any opportunity for Parliament to know about the deliberations of the Anglo-Irish conference? Will its deliberations be made public anywhere, or debated?

§ The Prime MinisterIt is not expected that everything that is said in the intergovernmental conference will be made public. I am giving consideration to how we can report to the House, for obvious reasons. We attend many intergovernmental conferences in Europe and elsewhere and usually report to the House about those that we attend. I am giving urgent consideration to this matter because I realise that there is concern about it.

Finally, I address myself once more to those among the unionist community who have openly expressed their fears and worries about this agreement. Far from representing any threat to the union of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom, the agreement reinforces the union, and that should bring reassurance and confidence to the unionist majority. It clearly recognises—as it should—the validity of their great tradition, and it holds out the prospect of greater success in the struggle against terrorism from which the majority have suffered so much. As one who believes in the union. I urge the unionists to take advantage of the chance offered by the agreement.

We embarked on this agreement because we were not prepared to see the two communities for ever locked into the tragedies and antagonisms of the past. The younger generation, above all, has a right to expect more than that. The price of new hope is persistent endeavour. That is what we ask, and ask equally of all.

The Plight of Tibetan Monks at Kirti Monastery

Lord Alton of Liverpool (Crossbench)

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of allegations of human rights violations of Tibetan Monks by Chinese authorities at Kirti Monastery, Sichuan, reported in The Economist on 24 April; whether they have made representations to the People’s Republic of China on this matter; and, if so, what was their response.

Lord Howell of Guildford (Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Conservative)We are deeply concerned by recent reports of violence at the Kirti Monastery. We have raised these concerns both with the Chinese embassy in London and with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) in Beijing, asking for information and calling for restraint. The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my honourable friend Mr Browne has written to the Chinese ambassador raising his concerns at recent human rights developments in China, including the situation at Kirti Monastery. The letter calls on all parties to exercise restraint, so that violence is avoided and human rights are respected. Our embassy in Beijing has also written to the MFA’s special representative on human rights along the same lines.

We remain committed to engagement with China on human rights. Long-term stability in Tibet and Tibetan regions can only be achieved through respect for human rights and genuine autonomy for Tibet within the framework of the Chinese constitution. Meaningful dialogue between the Dalai Lama‘s representatives and the Chinese authorities is the best way to make this happen.

Thomas a Kempis and The Imitation of Christ

   What did Pope John Paul I, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Edith Cavell, Dag Hammarskjold, Jose Rizal, and the fictional Maggie Tulliver all have in common? Put another way, if you were marooned on Roy Plomley’s mythical desert island, and told that you could take The Bible and Shakespeare as companions, what one other book might you choose?

Edith Cavell

Edith Cavell

Jose Rizal

Jose Rizal

The fictional Maggie Tulliver

The fictional Maggie Tulliver

    The answer and common denominator to both these questions is “The Imitation of Christ” written in the fifteenth century by Thomas a Kempis, who died in 1471. It is the most widely read devotional book after the Bible. There are over 2000 counted editions – over 1000 of which are preserved in the British Museum.

Thomas a Kempis

Thomas a Kempis

Although, surprisingly, Thomas a Kempis has never made Blessed, canonised, or declared a Doctor of the Church, he has had an amazing impact on the lives of singular and diverse men and women.  Many have found inspiration and consolation in the writings of this self effacing German monk. The stories speak for themselves.

   Jose Rizal was the Filipino polymath and national hero, who, in 1896, aged 35, while awaiting execution by Spanish soldiers, read the book before his execution at Intramuros prison in Manila.

 In 1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer had the book in his cell the night before the Nazis led him, naked, into the execution yard where he was hanged with thin wire by strangulation.

   It was the only book found in the case of Dag Hammarskjold, the Swedish diplomat who became Secretary General of the United Nations and died, in 1961, when his Douglas DC-6 crashed in Zambia.

  Hammarskjold famously said that “In our age, the road to holiness necessarily passes through the world of action…. He who wills adventure will experience it—according to the measure of his courage. He who wills sacrifice will be sacrificed—according to the measure of his purity of heart.”


Dag Hammarskjold

Dag Hammarskjold7
One hundred years earlier,  Mary Ann Evans, writing under the male pseudonym, George Eliot,  published her “Mill on the Floss”. Maggie Tulliver is the principal protagonist.  In her loneliness, the fictional Maggie Tulliver, receives no consolation from Byron or Scott but stumbles on a threadbare copy of an old book and, as she reads, it is “as if she had been wakened in the night by a strain of solemn music telling of beings whose souls had been astir while hers was in a stupor.”  In stumbling on  “The Imitation” Tulliver enters a period of intense spirituality and renounces the world.

  During World War One the book was special, too, for Edith Cavell, a British nurse and devout Anglican, who helped 200 allied soldiers escape from German occupied Belgium. Cavell was captured, sentenced to death, and shot by firing squad. She was quoted as saying, “I can’t stop while there are lives to be saved”. On the day of her execution she inscribed a message to the man she loved in her copy of Thomas a Kempis’ classic.

   Closer to our own times, in 1978,  it was reported that “The Imitation” was the book which Pope John Paul I (Albino Luciani) had been reading in the Vatican at the time of his death; and it was the book which my friend James Mawdsley asked for when he was imprisoned for more than a year by the Burmese military junta.

James Mawdsley - who suffered imprisonment in Burma for demonstrating against military rule and for the rights of the ethnic minorities

James Mawdsley – who suffered imprisonment in Burma for demonstrating against military rule and for the rights of the ethnic minorities

“The Imitation” was also admired by St.Ignatius of Loyola, by St.Thomas More, and by the Trappist monk, Thomas Merton.  The slave trader, John Newton, composer of Amazing Grace, and the great John Wesley both said that “The Imitation” had influenced their decision to become Christians.

   Although Thomas’ own existence was away from the frenetic busyness of life, yet he understood the besetting temptations and foibles of life. As a monk,  he delighted in devotional exercise, composing spiritual works and painstakingly copying the Bible – a task he undertook on four occasions.  He was insistent that “If, however, you seek Jesus in all things, you will surely find Him.”  


   He wrote “The Imitation” in Latin while living in the Netherlands – although, in keeping with emphasis he placed on humility and the anonymity which he craved (we should “love to be unknown”), he wrote the book without proclaiming his authorship.   He insists: “Do not ask, “Who said this? But pay attention to what is said.”

     In times of trouble I have always found Thomas a Kempis a great comfort and refuge. Not only does he understand our capacity for great failure but he is always restorative. He is not self righteously judgemental, narrow or bigoted, hectoring the weaker brethren. He is an encourager who proclaims the authentic Christian creed of love:

“Love is a mighty power,
a great and complete good.
Love alone lightens every burden, and makes rough places smooth.
It bears every hardship as though it were nothing, and renders
all bitterness sweet and acceptable.”

“Nothing is sweeter than love,
Nothing stronger,
Nothing higher,
Nothing wider,
Nothing more pleasant,
Nothing fuller or better in heaven or earth; for love is born of God”

Although he believes that ultimately “man proposes, but God disposes” this is not to be read as an excuse for shrugging off our responsibility to act.


  Thomas a Kempis tells us to put our love into action, not to throw in the towel at the first obstacle, but to persist in what we do: “At the Day of Judgement we shall not be asked what we have read, but what we have done…..Those who love stay awake when duty calls, wake up from sleep when someone needs help; those who love keep burning, no matter what, like a lighted torch. Those who love take on anything, complete goals, bring plans to fruition … But those who do not love faint and lie down on the job.”

“The Imitation” teaches us how to form our character and teaches us to have a passionate love for the man made in God’s image. In contradiction of our contemporary temptation to denigrate and belittle others he says “It is great maturity and wisdom to think nothing of ourselves, and to think always well and highly of others.”

   At its conclusion,  “The Imitation” moves from the mystic dialogues, advice on the inner life and spiritual consolation to hard-wired practical advice about how to sustain our faith, particularly by becoming regular recipients of the Sacrament, enabling us to enter into full unity with Christ and to feel His Real Presence in our lives.

  From this snap shot, you can see why Thomas a Kempis has inspired so many – and why you shouldn’t wait until you are marooned on a desert island to read it.

You can listen to the first part of “The Imitation”. It can be downloaded free at


The State Visit of Queen Elizabeth II to Ireland, May 2011

The State Visit of Queen Elizabeth II to Ireland, May 2011



   The defining moment of the State Visit by Her Majesty the Queen to Ireland was her bowed head  in Dublin’s Garden of Remembrance  as she laid a wreath  to the men and women who fought and died for Irish freedom.

  Situated in Parnell Square, where the Irish Volunteers were founded in 1913, and where several of the leaders of the 1916 Rising were held overnight before being taken to Kilmainham Gaol, the Garden was opened in 1966 by President Eamon de Valera, to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising – in which he had been a Commander.

 The Garden’s focal point is Oisin Kelly’s statue of the Children of Lir, which symbolises rebirth and resurrection. Perhaps, after the ceremony on May 17th, we can add the third R of reconciliation.

   Certainly that moment fulfilled the hope expressed in the poem of Liam Mac Uistin, “We Saw a Vision”, composed in the aisling, or forward-looking style, and written on the stone wall of the Garden’s monument:

In the darkness of despair we saw a vision, We lit the light of hope, And it was not extinguished. In the desert of discouragement we saw a vision, We planted the tree of valour, And it blossomed.

In the winter of bondage we saw a vision, We melted the snow of lethargy, And the river of resurrection flowed from it.

We sent our vision aswim like a swan on the river, The vision became a reality, Winter became summer, Bondage became freedom, And this we left to you as your inheritance.

O generation of freedom remember us, The generation of the vision.

   In The Book of Proverbs  Solomon expressed the belief that “where there is no vision, the people perish”.  In the disfigured history of Ireland there has been precious little vision and too much violence.

   As The Times  newspaper  rightly commented:   “In Ireland, British actions brought little glory and sometimes much shame on the metropolitan power.”

   It was in this context that the Queen remarked:  “with the benefit of historical hindsight, we can all see things which we would wish had been done differently, or not done at all.”   The remarkable African-American writer, Maya Angelou, captured the same thought when she wrote:

“History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage need not be lived again.” 

  The Queen displayed her deep Christian belief in forgiveness and  the need to heal history by both her visit to the Garden of Remembrance and to Croke Park, where, in 1921, British soldiers opened fire on the crowds at a Gaelic Football match, killing 14 civilians.

   This first Bloody Sunday paved the way, in 1972, in Derry, for that other Bloody Sunday; and  then, in 1998, for the Omagh bombing – when the Real IRA killed  28 people – including nine children, one just18 months old – and for all the other atrocities inflicted by both sides.

   Time spent at Dublin’s War Memorial Gardens, emphasised a different loss of life – as the Queen paid tribute to the 50,000 Irishmen who died during World War One serving in the British forces.  Our history is intertwined and shared – and continues to be.

   Around 800,000 Irish born people reside in Great Britain and another 1.4 million – including my own -claim Irish descent.

   Worldwide, 80 million people, including more than 40 million Americans, claim Irish blood – including President Obama (or should it now be O’Bama? ), whose visit this week to Moneygall   in County Offaly  will underline the emigration of his great-great-great grandfather, Falmouth Kearney, 161 years ago. 

    The exodus of 3 million Irish people during the 1840s and 1850s (and the deaths of one million others) was caused by another dark moment in our collective history:  the potato famine, the great starvation:  

    As they fled, an estimated 100,000 died in the British port of Liverpool of famine related disease.   In one desperate week in the parish of St. Mary’s, there were 166 burials of Irish Catholics; 105 were children.

   For too long, Ireland has been trapped in the suffering and visceral hatred of its own history.

    Now, as President Mary McAleese rightly said, that nightmare past has been replaced by a more hopeful vision: “while we cannot change the past, we have chosen to change the future.”

   And the faultless success of this first State Visit was in no small part due to these two remarkable women – the President and the Queen.   

    I first met Mary McAleese when she was a member of the Catholic Church Episcopal Delegation to the New Ireland Forum in 1984 and, subsequently, during her time as a legal academic at Queen’s University,  Belfast.  In 1998 I hosted her visit to my university in Liverpool, where she gave a Roscoe Lecture and unveiled Liverpool’s first famine memorial.

   She and her family have known the sharp end of suffering having been burned out of their Belfast home by Loyalists. Since becoming Ireland’s eighth President in 1997 she and  Martin, her husband, have served Ireland with great distinction.

  The other remarkable woman at the centre of the State visit has also experienced personal heartbreak and pain.

   In 1979 the IRA murdered Lord Louis Mountbatten, the Queen’s uncle by marriage, and other members of his family.  They were among the 3,526 of the Queen’s subjects to have died following the start of the “Troubles” in 1969 and the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.  During the same period 47,000 people were injured and nearly 20,000 people were charged with paramilitary offences.

 But at least two others should also be remembered in paving the way for this evocative and historic denouement..

   Just as the Queen’s visit began, the death was reported of Dr.Garet Fitzgerald, aged 85.  As Taoiseach he was credited with liberalising Ireland and beginning the peace process.  We met from time to time at British-Irish Association meetings – and in 1985 he and Margaret Thatcher signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

    I was Liberal Irish Affairs Spokesman during that period and in the Commons insisted that “the only way forward is through mutual respect, mutual forgiveness for past injuries and wounds and building up the common good.”

   In our report “What Future for Northern Ireland”, published the same year, Shirley Williams, myself and others, argued for the defeat of terrorism by the political measures of devolved power sharing and the painstaking building of new British-Irish relationships.  

   But above all, there was one intervention which undoubtedly paved the way for what we have just witnessed.

    In 1979, accompanied by Cardinal Cahal Daly, Pope John Paul II went to Drogheda and “on my bended knees” he begged the IRA and other paramilitaries to lay down their bombs and rifles and to pursue the path of peaceful coexistence.

   That was the auspicious day on which history began to be healed and when all things – including power sharing by former combatants and a State Visit by the British Monarch – began to be possible.