For 18 years David Alton was a Member of the House of Commons and today is an Independent Crossbench Life Peer. He began his career as a teacher and, in 1972, while still a student, he was elected to Liverpool City Council as Britain’s youngest City Councillor. In 1979 he became the youngest member of the House of Commons and, in 1997, and when he stood down from the Commons, he was appointed a Life Peer. His motto on his Coat of Arms is taken from the Book of Deuteronomy: Choose Life.
Born David Patrick Paul Alton, son of Frederick and Bridget Alton. His father served in the Eighth Army, the Essex Regiment, and was a “Desert Rat,” subsequently working all his life for the Ford Motor Company. His mother was an Irish-speaking immigrant from the West of Ireland, whose own parents died in quick succession, probably of meningitis…see: https://davidalton.net/2011/06/03/the-west-of-ireland-maamtrasna-murders-1/
London, UK, 1951 of British and Irish parents. Holds British and Irish citizenship.
Edmund Campion School, Essex; Christ College Liverpool (achieved academic distinctions); St. Andrews University, Scotland (fellowship): Professor of Citizenship, Liverpool John Moores University (1997-2016); Hon.Professor at Yanbian University, China. Visiting Professor Liverpool Hope University.
Married to Elizabeth Bell, with four children and three grandchildren. Resident in Lancashire, UK.
Qualified as a teacher in 1972, working in socially disadvantaged neighbourhoods, teaching immigrant children and later children with special needs.
He became involved in politics as a teenager and at 17 years of age was elected as chairman of his town’s branch of Young Liberals. In his Student Union he successfully proposed a campaign against apartheid and became active in community politics, choosing to live in a neighbourhood where half the homes had no inside sanitation and had been designated as a slum clearance area. While still a student, aged 21, in 1972 he was elected to Liverpool City Council for the Low Hill (and Smithdown from 1973) Ward and became the city’s Housing Chairman and Deputy Leader.
David Alton was elected as Member of Parliament for Liverpool Edge Hill at a by-election in 1979 for the former Liberal Party (the party of Gladstone:https://davidalton.net/2012/02/18/gladstone-lecture-liverpool-son-of-liverpool-scourge-of-tyrants/ ), when he became the “Baby of the House” – the youngest member – achieving a record swing of 36.8% and 64% of the vote.
He won the seat the day after the Callaghan Government was defeated in a vote of confidence and the 1979 General Election being called. He became the shortest lived MP, a Member for less than a week, and made his Maiden Speech within three hours of taking his seat. Five weeks later he was re-elected and went on to serve as a Liverpool MP for 18 years, before standing down in 1997. He was the only new member of a Parliamentary Party of 11 MPs. He campaigned on the slogan “Everyone Knows Someone Whose Been Helped by David Alton.”
He was his Party’s spokesman on Home Affairs, Northern Ireland, Overseas Development and the Environment, and served as Chief Whip, Chairman of the Party’s Policy Committee and national President of the National League of Young Liberals.
From 1979 to 1988 he served at various times as spokesman on the environment, overseas aid,home affairs, Northern Ireland and as Chief Whip. He was Chairman of his party’s Policy Committee and its Candidates Committee.
He is known for his strongly pro-life position on abortion, and in 1987 he resigned as Chief Whip to campaign for his unsuccessful private member’s bill which aimed to stop late abortions. The Bill achieved a record 296 votes and a majority of 45 in the House of Commons – and never lost a vote at any stage – but was filibustered by opponents.
He served on the House of Commons Privileges Committee and was one of the MPs asked to investigate the Cash for Questions scandal.
In 1990, with Ken Hargreaves MP, he co-founded the nonpartisan Movement for Christian Democracy which emerged from the Epiphany Group which he had convened the previous year. It published its Westminster Declaration based on six principles: social justice, respect for life, active compassion, empowerment and good stewardship.
In 1992, after his Party moved from a “conscience” position on abortion to making the issue a matter of party policy (on the same day on which a motion was passed calling, among other things, for protection of goldfish sold in amusement arcades and funfairs) he announced that he would not contest again on the party’s platform. In 1997 he stood down from the House of Commons, and from party politics, and was nominated by the Prime Minister, Sir John Major, to the House of Lords, where he sits as an Independent Life Peer, speaking regularly on human rights and religious liberty issues.
During his time in both Houses of Parliament he has participated in numerous campaigns, successfully moving amendments against gratuitously violent videos; to remove Easter and Christmas from the Sunday Trading legislation; and to provide redress and support for victims of mesothelioma.https://davidalton.net/2016/10/28/debate-on-mesothelioma-october-27th-2016-40000-british-people-have-died-of-this-fatal-disease-and-continue-to-do-so-pressure-continues-for-a-national-mesothelioma-research-centre/
He was one of the six MPs who first called for the televised broadcasting of Parliament; one of the officers of the parliamentary committee that opposed anti-personnel land mines; one of the six signatories of the Motion that challenged the safety of the convictions of the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four; and one of the four Peers who moved the “Dubs amendment” to provide sanctuary in the UK for unaccompanied refugee children.
In the Commons he questioned the safety of the Hillsborough football ground before the tragedy that claimed 96 lives on April 15th 1989 and he gave evidence to the Hillsborough Inquiry: https://davidalton.net/2016/04/26/the-hillsborough-independent-panels-investigation-and-correspondence-from-1989-with-the-police-complaints-authority/
He has introduced Private Members Bills in Parliament on the rights of private tenants; minimum housing standards; victims of violent crime; the upper time limit for abortion; the right to establish housing co-operatives; the right to establish directly elected neighbourhood councils; the re-export of arms; a Bill to require research into the causes and cures for mesothelioma; and a Bill to create new mechanisms to bring to justice those responsible for genocide or crimes against humanity.
Lord Alton is Founder and co-chairman of the British-DPRK All-Party Parliamentary Group, and visited Pyongyang on four occasions, including in October 2010 when he had talks with leaders of the North Korean government including Choe Thae Bok, chairman of the Supreme People’s Assembly, the country’s rubber-stamp parliament and when he protested about human rights violations in that country, raising specific cases with their Ministers. He details his experiences in his book, written with Rob Chidley,”Bulding Bridges: Is there Hope For North Korea?” (Lion 2013) one of eleven books he has authored.
In March 2017, as a member of the Sages Group (to which he was appointed in 2016), he spoke at a forum of the 34th Session of the UN Human Rights Council, alongside His Honour Judge Michael Kirby (chairman of the UN Commission of Inquiry into North Korea) and Dr.Marzuki Darusman, former UN Special Rapporteur on North Korea, and called for the regime’s leaders to be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court:https://davidalton.net/2017/07/14/house-of-lords-debate-on-the-security-and-human-rights-challenges-posed-by-north-korea-july-13th-2017-and-a-call-to-downgrade-the-uks-diplomatic-presence-in-response-to-the-launch-of-inter-cont/
He also successfully campaigned for the creation of BBC World Service broadcasts to the Korean Peninsula.
He was listed as one of the top ten most active Peers by the BBC
and profiled in their series, Political Lives:
Human Rights Work
In 1987, with Danny Smith, he launched the human rights group, Jubilee Campaign, which led to campaigns, visits and reports on the plight of Jewish and Christian dissidents in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe: http://www.jubileecampaign.co.uk/ On several occasions had trees planted in his name in Israel in recognition of his work for Soviet Jews.
Throughout the 1990s, and subsequently, he has continued his campaigns for human rights and the sanctity of human life.
Lord Alton campaigned against the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008, opposing the creation and use of animal human hybrid stem cells for medical purposes and in Parliament has spoken against designer babies, gender and eugenic abortions, and euthanasia.
In 2008, he spoke out against the British Olympic Association when it forced athletes to sign an agreement forbidding them from criticising China’s human rights record before or during the 2008 Summer Olympics. and has been a leading opponent of China’s one-child coercive abortion policy, successfully campaigning for Chen Guang Chen, the blind Chinese human rights activist, imprisoned for four years for opposing the policy, to leave China. Lord Alton presented him with the Westminster Award for Human Rights, Human Life and Human Dignity at Parliament. In 2018 and 2019 he has raised the plight of Chinese Muslim Uighurs and the coercive harvesting of organs in China.
Throughout 2016 and 2017 he spoke in Parliament, moved amendments and a promoted Private Members Bill on Genocide, chaired hearings and collected evidence, detailing the genocide against Syrian and Iraqi Christians, Yazidis and other minorities. Until 2019 he served on the Board of Aid to the Church In Need, a charity which helps those affected by the genocide. https://davidalton.net/2015/07/05/stop-killing-christians-persecution-of-christians-around-the-globe-to-be-debated-in-the-house-of-lords-on-july-16th-and-what-franz-werfels-novel-the-forty-days-of-musa-dagh-and-the-armenian-ge/
In 2016 he instigated “Red Wednesday” – a day of action to draw attention to those who art persecuted for their religion or belief https://davidalton.net/2016/10/18/parliament-hears-first-hand-accounts-about-the-situation-in-aleppo-and-in-pakistan-wednesday-november-23rd-has-been-declared-red-wednesday-when-westminster-abbey-and-westminster-cathedral-will/
In Parliament, he is co-Chairman of the All Party Groups on North Korea and Pakistan Minorities.
He is Secretary and a past Chairman of the All Party Group on Sudan and South Sudan, visited the South during the civil war and visited Darfur. He has regularly highlighted the atrocities committed there, including a 2016 letter to The Times about the alleged use of chemical weapons in Darfur.
He serves as Vice Chairman of the All Party Groups on Egypt, Tibet, Eritrea, Haiti, and Uganda and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Democracy in Burma; and is Vice Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hormone Pregnancy Tests which was established to investigate and highlight the use of the drug ‘Primodos’. He was a Founder of the All Party Group on Freedom of Religion or Belief. He is a Patron of the London-based rights group Save the Congo!
In 2016 he was appointed as one of the “Sages” International Advisory Group on North Korea’s Human Rights
In 2015 he visited a detention centre in South East Asia where fleeing Pakistani Christians and Ahmadis are being held; subsequently chaired an in Inquiry into their fate; and in 2018 undertook a fact finding human rights visit to Pakistan. During 2018 he has also been part of an Inquiry into the treatment of Pakistan’s Ahmadis and spoken on the persecution of Egypt’s Coptic community at a conference in Washington DC.
During 2018 he has initiated a debate in the House of Lords about the increasing level of violence in Nigeria and secured a further debate on the ineffectual response to genocide.
During a debate he initiated on genocide he said that through questions and intervention in the House he had raised the plight of Yazidis and Christians in northern Iraq on 65 occasions, since 26 November 2008; the plight of Rohingya Muslims in 58 interventions since July 2006; and 204 questions or interventions about Darfur since 2003; and that the failure to prevent genocide meant that “never again happens all over again.”
In 2018 he also chaired a hearing on Eritrean religious minorities and refugees and subsequently opened an exhibition on Eritrea in London; he launched a campaign and published a letter in The Times opposing the use of Chinese corpses in an exhibition; he visited Pakistan and raised human rights cases and visited slum areas which are home to the country’s persecuted minorities.
In November 2018 he visited Pakistan, travelling to Lahore and Islamabad, and raised the case of Asia Bibi the plight of minorities. In Washington he spoke at a meeting in Congress about the persecution of Copts and in New York at a Summit on the infringements to Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Outside of Parliament
In 1997 he was appointed as Professor of Citizenship at Liverpool John Moores University and established the hugely successful Roscoe Foundation for Citizenship: http://www.ljmu.ac.uk/roscoe/ He retired from this role in 2016.
The Roscoe Lectures became the biggest continuous spoken word events in the UK, with audiences averaging 1000 people. The lecture series explores citizenship and lectures have been given by commentators including the 14th Dalai Lama and Prince Charles.
In June 2016 David chaired the last of over 140 Roscoe Lectures and after twenty years he retired as Professor of Citizenship. In July 2016 he was made a Fellow of Liverpool John Moores University .
He also established the University’s Good Citizenship Awards that have been awarded in around 800 schools in the North West. David Alton explains the background to the Awards at
and the background to the Roscoe Lectures at
In 2012 he was made an honorary professor at Yanbian University in China and delivered a lecture there on the power of education: https://davidalton.net/2012/10/01/yanbian-university-of-science-and-technology-lecture-september-2012-turning-dreams-into-realities/
In 2017 he was appointed as a Visiting Professor at Liverpool Hope University with a mandate to examine the causes of conflict and their resolution.
National Portrait Gallery photograph.
In 1987 he published “What Kind of Country?” – the first of eleven books.
What Kind of Country? Marshall Pickering 1987
Whose choice anyway? Marshall Pickering 1988
Faith in Britain Hodder & Stoughton 1991
Signs of Contradiction Hodder & Stoughton 1996
Life After Death Christian Democrat Press 1997
Citizen Virtues Harper Collins 1999
Citizen 21 Harper Collins 2001
Pilgrim Ways St Pauls Publishing 2001Passion and Pain (with Michele Lombardo) and accompanying DVD of TV series 2003
Euthanasia: Getting To The Heart of The Matter (with Martin Foley) 2005
Abortion: Getting To The Heart of The Matter (with Martin Foley) 2005
Building Bridges – Is there hope for North Korea? (with Rob Chidley). published by Lion, 2013.
He has also authored several reports on human rights in countries such as North Korea, Burma, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Brazil, Sudan/Darfur, Tibet and Rwanda – all of which he has visited. He entered Burma’s Karen State illegally on two occasions and subsequently presented evidence to an American Congressional Committee detailing crimes against humanity. Details of his reports and speeches on human rights and religious liberties are available on this web site.
2010 Report: Sudan On The Brink
Tibet Report, 2009 http://www.davidalton.com/2009/11/FINAL_PDF_Tibet_Report.pdf
North Korea Report: 2009: http://www.davidalton.com/2009/03/DPRK_2009_VISIT.doc
North Korea Report: 2003 http://www.davidalton.com/nkfinalreport.html
Darfur Report: 2004: http://www.davidalton.com/darfurreport.html
Congo Report 2004: http://www.davidalton.com/congoreport.html
Rwanda report 2004: http://www.davidalton.com/rwandareport.html
Vietnam and Religious Liberties, 2004: http://www.davidalton.com/2007/11/Vietnam%20and%20Religious%20Liberty.html
Dignitas Humanae and Its contribution to international religious freedom (the Review of Faith and International Affairs): 2006: http://www.davidalton.com/spchdignitatis.html
Building Bridges Not Walls: 2010 Report on the case for constructive but critical engagement in North Korea, following a visit to North Korea by David Alton and Baroness Caroline Cox:
David Alton is a Patron, Trustee, President, or Vice President of a number of voluntary organisations: they include – Trustee Arise Foundation (2016- ); Trustee ACN (2014-19); Vice President, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (1997-); Former Trustee and Vice President CRISIS (1980-); Patron of the International Young Leaders Network (2013-) and Patron, Karen Aid (2000-2018) ; Chair (2013-19) Christian Heritage Centre charity and is a Patron of Asylum Link Merseyside (2006-) and Hong Kong Watch (2018-)
Among the international awards he has received are the Michael Bell Memorial Award for Initiatives for Life, the Korean Mystery of Life Award presented by the Cardinal Archbishop of Seoul , and the Good Samaritan Advocates International Award for human rights work. In 2005 he was created a Knight Commander of the Military Order of Constantine and St. George in recognition of his work for inter-faith and ecumenical dialogue.
In 2008 he was made a Knight Commander of the Order of St Gregory in recognition of his work for human rights and religious liberty. In 2012 he was awarded an honorary professorship by China’s Yanbian University of Science and Technology. In 2014 he was given an award for his human rights work by the Coptic community and in 2016 was made an honorary fellow of Liverpool John Moores University for his work on citizenship.
In August 2016, at a ceremony in Rome, he was given the St.Thomas More Religious Freedom Award for his commitment to Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. in 2017 he was awarded the Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit by Janos Ader, President of Hungary, in recognition of his work in promoting freedom of religion and belief, human rights and for helping to strengthen the ties between the two countries (https://davidalton.net/2017/01/19/hungarian-award-following-becket-week-and-work-on-freedom-of-religion-or-belief/)
House of Lords: 0207 219 3551
Postal address: House of Lords, London SW1A OPW.
Parliamentary Speeches and Interventions: 1979 – 2005
- Liverpool Edge Hill March 29, 1979 – June 9, 1983
- Liverpool Mossley Hill June 9, 1983 – March 8, 1988
- Liverpool Mossley Hill March 8, 1988 – May 1, 1997
Titles in Lords
- Baron Alton (Lord Alton of Liverpool, of Mossley Hill in Liverpool) 1997 –
First recorded, on April 3, 1979 FINANCE BILL Commons
Last recorded on this site , on March 17, 2005 Mental Capacity Bill Lords. For later contributions (2005-present) visit www.theyworkforyou.com and see http://www.publicwhip.org.uk/mp.php?mpn=Lord_Alton_of_Liverpool&mpc=Lords&house=lords. Information presented on this page was prepared from the XML source files, together with information from the History of Parliament Trust, the work of Leigh Rayment and public sources. The means by which names are recognised means that errors may remain in the data presented.
Citation: on receipt of LJMU Fellowship, 2016:
13/07/2016 | LJMU News release | Distributed by Public on 13/07/2016 15:39
Ambassador Fellowship: Professor The Lord David Alton
13th July 2016 | Written by Corporate Communications
Presented by: Jim Davies, High Sheriff of Merseyside
Honourable Pro-Chancellor, I have pleasure in presenting Professor the Lord David Alton for the award of an Ambassador Fellowship from Liverpool John Moores University.
We propose Lord Alton in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the civic life of the city of Liverpool over more than four decades and at the University over the last two decades through the Roscoe Lecture Series and its associated Good Citizenship Awards.
David has never been one to shy away from a challenge – whether as the local councillor for Low Hill and Smithdown, where he was elected while still a student, as the MP for Edge Hill and Mossley Hill – the youngest member of the House of Commons – or as a human rights campaigner speaking on behalf of people in countries such as Burma, Tibet or North Korea – all of which he has visited.
But even he admits that establishing a public lecture series in 1997 after he stepped down from the House of Commons was a gamble and there was some scepticism about whether they would have any appeal.
Few, let alone David himself, would have predicted that nearly 20 years later the University would have given over 140 lectures to audiences averaging around 1,000 people per event.
David named the lecture series after one of his heroes, the 19th century polymath William Roscoe – one of the founders of the small institute which has evolved into this university.
Like David, Roscoe had the courage of his convictions, he was willing to defy the odds and follow his conscience, such as voting against slavery while MP for Liverpool in 1807 despite widespread public opposition.
I have no doubt that Roscoe would be proud that the lecture series that now bears his name has helped to change, not just the opinions of people attending talks, but also wider perceptions of the city itself.
Launched in the aftermath of the Toxteth riots, de-industrialisation, huge unemployment and the Militant era, the lectures have helped to promote the need for tolerance, respect, for more co-operative politics, and for people to work together for the good of the city. The lectures have given a platform to industrialists, scientists, Cabinet Ministers, heads of state, football managers, comedians, campaigners and even members of the Royal family, to share their views and join with the people of Liverpool to debate the issues that really matter to the city.
Through the Roscoe Lectures, David has enabled the University to tackle a wide range of issues head on through public debate. Many have explored the lighter side of life, such as the role of humour in times of trouble, by comedian Ken Dodd, while others have examined the darker side of humanity, with harrowing but essential lectures by survivors of the Holocaust and the genocide in Rwanda. Such true life testimonies demonstrate powerfully what can happen when you lose the freedoms we enjoy and sometimes take too much for granted. In the aftermath of the 2005 London bombings, David helped orchestrate a mini-series called Learning to Live Together, with lectures from speakers representing the Jewish, Muslim and Christian faiths.
That’s what’s so powerful about the Roscoe Lectures, they bring people of all ages, backgrounds and occupations together and by doing so, help promote the dignity of difference and the importance of being tolerant.
Throughout his time at the University, David has championed good citizenship and celebrated the important role that young people play in civic life across the region. LJMU now presents Good Citizenship Awards in around 800 schools and colleges across the region as well as within the University itself. From caring for disabled parents to raising money for good causes, the inspirational winners of these awards are the antithesis of the negative stereotypes of young people often peddled by the media and should fill us with hope for the future.
David is often heard saying ‘if you want to change the world you have to change your country, if you want to change your country you have to change your community, if you want to change your community, you have to change your family, and if you want to change your family you have to change yourself.’
Through his work at the University he has demonstrated how we can all play a part in changing our community, our city, and ourselves for the better.
As David prepares to retire from LJMU, he leaves a legacy of hope and a vision of a tolerant society, predicated on respect for others and freedom of speech, an ideal which is more important than ever given the turbulent and often violent times in which we live today.
Thus, it is with great pleasure that I present Professor the Lord David Alton, this most distinguished citizen of Liverpool, for an Ambassador Fellowship from Liverpool John Moores University.