The Case For The North of England – Parliamentary debate January 12th

The Case For The North of England


Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB) January 12th 2017

My Lords, along with 1 million private sector businesses, some 15 million people call the north of England their home. Compare those 15 million with the populations of sovereign countries: 11 million in Belgium, 5 million in Denmark or the 6 million combined population of the three Baltic countries. However, as we have heard, despite its significant population, and in the absence of devolution, the north does not punch its weight and many, especially those living in deindustrialised rustbelt towns, feel both disaffected and alienated.

Since 1855, when Elizabeth Gaskell published her famous social novel, North and South, the phrase has pointed to disparity, but in our own time austerity cuts have accentuated poverty, exclusion, educational failure, crime and lower life expectancy.

It is a fact that a baby girl born in Manchester can expect to live for 15 fewer years in good health than a baby girl born in the London borough of Richmond. Consider that Londoners currently benefit at the rate of more than £65 per head from investment in cultural infrastructure, compared with less than £5 per head for the populations based outside the capital.


Or take employment. UK employment rates are at an historic high: almost 2.4 million jobs were created between 2006 and 2015, but during the same period, across the north of England just 360,000 jobs were created. For too many workers in the north, wages have failed to increase in line with the national average.

Remedies might include the creation of a northern wealth fund, using new money saved or generated in the north for the north; a pan-northern digital platform; more innovative regeneration; and housing policies determined in the north, where Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, Liverpool and Sheffield will face a shortage of 86,000 homes by 2030.

For me, two leading priorities are transport infrastructure, which has been referred to, and education.

I should like to hear from the Government what progress is being made not only on the direct high-speed east to west line but on reopening and renewing local lines and dealing with gridlocked roads feeding our northern motorways.


Last Sunday, it was reported that two more of the most senior managers of HS2—which is now said to cost some £56 billion—have quit their jobs. Andrew Tyrie MP, chairman of the Commons Treasury Select Committee, questioning its credibility, saying that it risks being “scarcely worth the candle”. It is an argument I set out in this House in October 2015. Compare that £56 billion, which the noble Lord, Lord Beith, mentioned, with infrastructure investment in the north.

Turning to education, my other priority, I am the first from either side of my family to have had the opportunity of higher education, in Liverpool, and I draw the House’s attention to my registered interests. Sadly, significant numbers of bright young people in cities such as Liverpool still do not get the same opportunity that I, and others who were beneficiaries of the post-war education legislation, had. We urgently need to improve life outcomes for children and young people in the north.


Sir Michael Wilshaw, the head of Ofsted, said that the northern powerhouse will “splutter and die” if more is not done to improve performance in the region’s schools. He points out that four in 10 secondary schools in Liverpool are rated as inadequate, and that the number of teenagers gaining good grades is falling. He also said that “politicians need to act” and that,

“We cannot fight for social mobility with political immobility”.

A northern teaching premium to help schools struggling to recruit the highest-calibre teachers, and perhaps a “teach later” programme, might help.

The region’s 23 universities, six of which rank in the top 20 for research excellence nationally, should be empowered to become the drivers for transforming our region’s schools.


The wonderful university of Liverpool John Moores, with its 21,000 students and 2,500 staff, has generated an estimated 2,493 jobs in industries across the north-west of England. By spending £186 million per year, it significantly contributes to the region’s economic and civic life.

Manchester University has its own venture capital fund and has attracted £300 million of private funding to university spin-outs—crucial in creating jobs and leading-edge technology.


The excellent annual Educate North & UK Leadership Awards and their conference celebrate these achievements. The whole sector is desperate not to see that success compromised by Brexit or by the Government’s higher education legislation. The Government must listen carefully to concerns that a dead hand is being placed on those crucial institutions.

I welcome today’s debate and am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for giving us parliamentary time to discuss these important questions.

December and January – Speech on Rohingyas and Burma Questions Raised in Parliament – Pakistan/Sudan/North Korea/ Hong Kong/ Egypt/Saudi Arabia/ Murder in Aleppo/ 25 Killed Outside Cairo’s Coptic Cathedral/ #RedWednesday – Genocide. 2016 ‘Religious Freedom in the World’ report’ launched at Westminster

2.37 pm January 12th 2017

 Speech on Rohingyas and Burma. 

My Lords, even as we meet today for this important debate, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on human rights in Burma, Yanghee Lee, is in Burma. When the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, comes to reply, I would be grateful for her assessment of that visit and the contribution the UK Government are able to make to it. What is her response to the well-documented reports which detail the plight of the Rohingyas and, as we have heard in the debate, point to mass rape, mass displacement and the murder of men, women and children; the burning of houses; and crucially, the denial of access to the affected areas for humanitarian aid.

In a letter to The Guardian on 28 November a number of us, including the noble Baronesses, Lady Kinnock and Lady Nye, and my noble friend Lady Cox, called for the international inquiry which has been referred to during the debate. We said:

“The international community cannot stand idly by while peaceful civilians are mown down by helicopter guns, women are raped and tens of thousands left without homes”.

When I raised these atrocities in a Parliamentary Question, the Minister referred me to the Rakhine Investigation Commission. That commission’s interim report said that there were,

“no cases of malnutrition, due to the area’s favourable fishing and farming conditions … and … no cases of religious persecution”.

That is palpably risible.

Human Rights Watch has described the investigation as little more than a “Myanmar government whitewash mechanism”. Can the Minister tell us whether the Government will support the calls that she has heard throughout this debate for the establishment of a United Nations commission of inquiry so that the truth may come out? Let us recall what the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, said to us about 23 of the world’s most prominent human rights voices, including a dozen Nobel Laureates, calling on the Security Council to end,

“ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity”,

in the Rakhine state.

Just as the emergency in Rakhine requires an urgent response, so does the conflict in Kachin state and the northern Shan states. Kachin camps for initially displaced people have been bombed. On Christmas Eve, following the bombing of a church at Mongkoe, two Kachin Christians, Dumdaw Nawng Lat and Langjaw Gam Seng, simply disappeared, believed to have been abducted as a reprisal for taking journalists to see the bombed church. Have Her Majesty’s Government raised this case and taken action to secure their safe return to their families? How does the Minister respond to Christian Solidarity Worldwide’s campaign to end restrictions on humanitarian aid to Rakhine, Kachin and the northern Shan states, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Nye, referred earlier?

Burma’s courageous cardinal, Charles Bo, whom I had the privilege of hosting in this place last year, said in his Christmas message:

“Just sixty years of history—more than 22 to wars and now three wars going on. In the last sixty years, we have buried thousands in these wars of mutual hatred, displaced millions … Wars have exported our girls to modern forms of slavery … At this very moment, thousands are refugees—they have no home”.

We all have a responsibility to ensure that Burma’s history and present are not its future, and that the hopes of a democratic, federal and peaceful Burma, in which people of all ethnicities and religions have an equal stake, are realised and not dashed.

Along with others, I pay tribute to the extraordinary and phenomenal work that the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, does with the Burma campaign and with the all-party group here in the House, and thank her for giving us the opportunity to raise these important questions on the Floor of your Lordships’ House today.


2.41 pm





Lord Bates, the Department for International Development, has provided the following answer to your written parliamentary question (HL4323):

Question: Lord Alton of Liverpool
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps are being taken to provide assistance to the government of Bangladesh to help meet the humanitarian needs of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. (HL4323)

Tabled on: 21 December 2016

Lord Bates:

The UK Government remains deeply concerned by the current situation in Rakhine and the persecution of the Muslim minority Rohingya community. The UK Government has repeatedly called on the Government of Bangladesh not to return the people seeking refuge back into danger and we continue to offer support through our work with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the World Food Programme. The UK is the largest provider of food aid to the 34,000 Rohingya refugees already living in official camps in Bangladesh. Since 2014 the UK has provided nearly £8 million to address the humanitarian suffering of Rohingya refugees and the vulnerable Bangladeshi communities that host them. UK-funded humanitarian programmes have benefitted 82,000 people in the south east of Bangladesh. Also in Bangladesh we are increasing access to nutrition, health and education services for refugees living in makeshift settlements and the host communities that support them.

The UK Government has also engaged the Government of Burma to urge a restrained security response, an independent investigation into allegations of human rights abuses, and for the immediate resumption of access for humanitarian aid. The Government of Burma has now committed to restoring humanitarian access and investigating allegations of human rights abuses. We will continue to monitor and support the delivery of these commitments.

Date and time of answer: 05 Jan 2017 at 15:41.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Baroness Anelay of St Johns on 14 November (HL2815) and following her meeting with Burma’s Minister of Defence, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Minister of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, how the government of Burma has responded to their call to show restraint and to restore humanitarian aid and other access to Burma’s Rohingya people.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Baroness Anelay of St Johns on 14 November (HL2815) and following her meeting with government of Burma, whether they have made any progress in pressing the government of Burma for a full and transparent international inquiry into the plight of Burma’s Rohingya people.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

The government of Burma has committed to conducting an independent investigation into allegations of human rights violations in Rakhine State by the security forces in response to an attack by armed Rohingya on 9 October. We understand the Burmese Government is now in the process of setting this up, and we will continue to monitor progress closely. The government of Burma has also committed to restoring humanitarian access. While we have seen a limited resumption of aid in some areas, in practice worrying restrictions on humanitarian access remain. We will continue to press the case for unfettered humanitarian access.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Baroness Anelay of St Johns on 14 November (HL2815) and following her meeting with government of Burma, whether they have made any progress in pressing the government of Burma for a full and transparent international inquiry into the plight of Burma’s Rohingya people.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

The government of Burma has committed to conducting an independent investigation into allegations of human rights violations in Rakhine State by the security forces in response to an attack by armed Rohingya on 9 October. We understand the Burmese Government is now in the process of setting this up, and we will continue to monitor progress closely. The government of Burma has also committed to restoring humanitarian access. While we have seen a limited resumption of aid in some areas, in practice worrying restrictions on humanitarian access remain. We will continue to press the case for unfettered humanitarian access.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of reports of an upsurge in violence against Rohingya Muslims by the Burmese military.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

We condemn the attacks on 9 October in northern Rakhine and the killing of nine Burmese Border Guard policemen. Since then, we have become increasingly concerned by emerging reports of human rights violations committed by security forces. The British Ambassador to Burma travelled to Northern Rakhine on 2 November and along with our US and EU partners have pressed the Burmese Government for a full and transparent investigation. I made these concerns clear to the Burmese Government during my visit there last week (9-12 November) when I met the Minister of Defence, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Minister of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement. I reiterated the UK Government‘s call for restraint and the restoration of humanitarian and other access. I also met Rohingya representatives in Rangoon. We welcome Aung San Suu Kyi‘s commitment to a fair and legally compliant investigation and urge the security forces to abide by international norms and commitments. We will continue to monitor developments closely.



Baroness Anelay of St Johns, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has provided the following answer to your written parliamentary question (HL4322):

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the recommendations concerning the initiation of an independent, impartial and effective investigation into alleged violations of international law in northern Rakhine State, contained in the report from Amnesty International We are at breaking point. (HL4322)

Tabled on: 21 December 2016

Baroness Anelay of St Johns:

The Government agrees there should be an independent investigation into allegations of human rights abuses perpetrated by the Burmese military during security operations in northern Rakhine State. I urged the Burmese Government to establish such an investigation when I visited Burma from 9-12 November. We note the creation of the Rakhine Investigation Commission, as well as concerns raised about its composition and impartiality. Now that the investigation is under way we call on the commission to demonstrate the commitments to impartiality made on its behalf by the Burmese Government.

Date and time of answer: 09 Jan 2017 at 15:12.



Subject: Written answer to your QWA HL4321 received from Baroness Anelay of St Johns, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office


Baroness Anelay of St Johns, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has provided the following answer to your written parliamentary question (HL4321):

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the recommendations concerning (1) the cessation of violations of international law, and (2) the need for immediate unhindered access for human rights monitors and journalists, in northern Rakhine State, contained in the report from Amnesty International We are at breaking point. (HL4321)

Tabled on: 21 December 2016

Baroness Anelay of St Johns:

I have lobbied the government of Burma for an immediate resumption of humanitarian access to northern Rakhine State, and pressed for a full and independent investigation into all reports of human rights violations. The Burmese Government has committed to restore access and investigate allegations of violations. While we have seen a limited resumption of aid in some areas, in practice worrying restrictions on humanitarian access remain. Ministers from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development, as well as our Ambassador in Rangoon, continue to call on the Burmese Government and the military to restore access as a matter of urgency.

Date and time of answer: 09 Jan 2017 at 15:12.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has provided the following answer to your written parliamentary question (HL4320):

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the findings on the use of violence by Myanmar security forces against Rohingya since 9 October, contained in the report from Amnesty International We are at breaking point. (HL4320)

Tabled on: 21 December 2016

Baroness Anelay of St Johns:

We are aware of a number of recent reports by human rights organisations, including Amnesty International, indicating that the Burmese military has used violence against the Rohingya during security operations in Rakhine since 9 October. We view these reports with deep concern. I raised our concerns when I visited Burma from 9-12 November, and urged Burmese Government Ministers to establish a full and independent investigation into human rights violations.

Date and time of answer: 09 Jan 2017 at 15:11.


Burma – Ministerial relies on Rohingya – click here:



Lord Bates, the Department for International Development, has provided the following answer to your written parliamentary question (HL4306):

Question: Lord Alton of Liverpool

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Lord Bates on 5 December (HL3360), what consideration was given by the Department for International Development to other international and local assessments of the implementation of the 2006 national curriculum by the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. (HL4306)

Tabled on: 20 December 2016

Lord Bates:

The Department for International Development has taken into consideration a number of reports over recent years which have looked, in part, at implementation of the 2006 national curriculum. These include the November 2011 report from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, ‘Connecting the Dots: Education and Religious Discrimination in Pakistan’. The Department is currently supporting the…

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Defence of Western Values and Civilization in 2017


Western civilization has entered a dangerous period of disarray. It is weakened internally by overindulgence and self-doubt, and besieged by forces hostile to its bedrock values of liberty and tolerance. The West can reverse the decline, though, by resolutely returning to its Christian roots


If Western Christian civilization collapses, a brutal and pitiless world will take its place Western humanism has religious and transcendent sources without which it is incomprehensible to itself. This civilization’s very survival now hangs on its ability to rediscover Christian truth and the values which it represents – and enable that truth to renew its eviscerated politics and tarnished institutions

Published by Geopolitical Intelligence Services

Defence of Western Values and Civilization in 2017  – David Alton   

Every generation faces new challenges – and as Europe gazes at the horrors of Aleppo and Mosul, or considers the challenges posed by resurgent nationalism – we are surely right to think of Flanders, Dresden, and Stalingrad.   



Just one century ago, in humanity’s deadliest conflict, largely played out on Europe’s soil, 17 million lost their lives and another 20 million were wounded.     


In 1919 the Irish Poet, W.B.Yeats, wrote his poem The Second Coming.    


He describes a brutal, disintegrating, and chaotic world in which the falcon, the hunting hawk, loses touch with its keeper.       In place of Christianity, the agnostic Yeats asks “what rough beast, its hour come round at last/ Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?”  

With Western values and Western civilisation caught in a pincer movement between radical Islam and hollowed-out secular liberal institutions, have we, too, lost touch with the keeper?  Are rough beasts slouching towards us, dressed in the garb of new nationalisms?   

In 1919, Yeats foresaw a pitiless much harsher world which will replace Christian civilisation. A world in which “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;     Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.  The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned”    

Looking back at 2016 we see a world of rough beasts, where things are falling apart, and where the centre has failed to hold. From the rhetoric of Donald J.Trump to the rise of new nationalism – expressed by the likes of Marine Le Pen, Nigel Farage, Geert Wilders and Beppe Grillo – the evidence is all around us.

And, like Yeats’ rough beasts, this xenophobia has found its point of entry because the centre failed to understand the depth of disaffection felt by millions of people and has failed to renew itself.

The battle is afoot but it is not yet lost and in 2017 the task of safeguarding civilised values will pass from liberal elites to Angela Merkel and François Fillon – and to their English cousin, once removed, Teresa May. All three are shaped by Christian faith and all three (despite and because of Mrs.Merkel’s handling of mass migration) understand the dangerous levels of alienation.

teresa may.jpg

On becoming British Prime Minister, Mrs.May, a Vicar’s daughter, said she had a “mission to make Britain a country that works for everyone”.


In eschewing class warfare, Marxist economics, and Statist elitism, they are heirs of Konrad Adenauer, Alcide De Gasperi and Robert Schuman, all Christian Democrats winnowed by the horrific events that had calamitously befallen Europe for a second time.


In turn, those post-war leaders had been shaped by the ideals of Jacques Maritain, the French Catholic philosopher. Maritain’s lodestar is captured in the title of one of his greatest works: “The Person and the Common Good” (1947). Maritain reflected that “Western humanism has religious and transcendent sources without which it is incomprehensible to itself…Not only does the democratic state of mind stem from the inspiration of the Gospel, but it cannot exist without it.”

Maritain knew that a radical self-centredness, that elevated the individual or the State, rather than the person made in God’s likeness, would corrupt Europe. He held that we do not need a truth to serve us, we need a truth that we can serve. In these cavalier “post truth” days, the ninth commandment is honoured daily in its breach.

Think of the untruths routinely trotted out in the British referendum campaign or the US election: little wonder that people have lost confidence in the political classes. Discourse has been reduced to personal attacks; argument over ideas to banal sloganeering; complex questions, ranging from migration, refugees, and freedom of movement to xenophobic nationalism and the scapegoating of difference.

Disinformation, propaganda and false news fill the echo chambers of the anti-social media. Worse still, everything has to be said sound bites or in 140 characters – or it isn’t worth saying. This is re-enforced by a media which distorts, dishonours and revels in people’s failings. When we hack down all the trees, from where are the birds supposed to sing in the future? Disillusionment and the breakdown of trust in the political classes has led to voters – from Brexit to Clinton/Trump – making it clear that they do not trust “expert” opinion. 


In the UK, the serial banking failures, such as HBOS and HSBC, the failure of managers to take responsibility for shocking lapses, the phone hacking scandal, the collapse of trust in MPs and many others, all points to why the centre is not holding. Instead of ethical leadership we are confronted by poor governance, lack of accountability, regulation found wanting, insufficient boundaries and the connivance of those in authority, who should have known better. Little wonder folk feel betrayed.


Edmund Burke laid great emphasis on the transmission of values from one generation to the next, talking of a “partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born”.

How many feel part of such a partnership? How many know the story of how Western civilisation was formed? Do we know the price that was paid for what we enjoy? Do we cherish and hold in trust what we have been given? Do we pass on our values and beliefs with a mother’s breast milk? A year after Maritain wrote “The Person and the Common Good” Eleanor Roosevelt helped bring to birth the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In the aftermath of the Holocaust this was a landmark annunciation of what western civilisation believed it stood for. But from what well was this water drawn? Its radical attempt at universal application was rooted in the Pauline injunction that “There is no longer Jew or Greek; there is no longer slave or free; there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one”.

Meanwhile, as angry, intolerant atheists seek to purge all public reference to religious faith, Maritain’s belief that our civilisation has “religious and transcendent sources without which it is incomprehensible to itself” is just as hotly contested.


In the nineteenth century, Émile Durkheim questioned how a society can remain cohesive when traditional social and religious ties can no longer be assumed. Whether, in these years of disillusionment and crisis of civilisation, we can rediscover and defend Christian truth and the values which it represents – and enable that truth to renew our eviscerated politics and tarnished institutions (from banks to legislatures) – is surely the question for our time: especially in a world caught between these twin dangers of radical Islam and hostile atheism. Many atheists work to tear Christianity from the fabric of our societies. But they should be careful about what they wish for – and of what will be lost.   

As The Guardian newspaper correctly observed in May of this year: “The idea that people have some rights just because they are human, and entirely irrespective of merit, certainly isn’t derived from observation of the world. It arose out of Christianity, no matter how much Christians have in practice resisted it. Although human rights have become embedded in our institutions at the same time as religious observance has been in decline, they could become vulnerable in an entirely post-Christian environment where the collective memory slips from the old moorings inherited from Christian ethics.”

Along with the development of human rights the Christian faith has also radically shaped politics, governance, and social activism.  For much of the last seventy years Christian Democracy – whether called by that name or not – has informed the best of our politics.


It defied Nazism and Communism and with its emphasis on social justice, subsidiarity and solidarity, has offered an alternative to unfettered market economics and hedonism. Today it represents the best hope of defeating resurgent nationalism and safeguarding western civilisation. Indeed, for most of the last two millennia Christianity has underpinned the whole edifice of Western culture and, notwithstanding some of the things done in the name of religion, Christianity has been a stabilizing and unifying force, demanding better of us, and safeguarding tradition. Combined with Hellenistic ideals and Roman law, Judaeo-Christian beliefs have shaped our western civilisation.


The Oxford historian, Diarmaid MacCulloch, rightly says that religion is “a force that shaped the English soul” – a sentiment that has applicability throughout Europe.


In November, speaking in Paris, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Rt.Revd.Justin Welby, said: “Values emerge from histories of interaction and are rooted in stories of virtue, above all in Europe the stories of the Judaeo Christian tradition”. 

It is not too great a claim to say that this tradition and the efforts of the Church, both as an intermediary and as an institution, have provided the glue for many of our democracies. At its best the Christian faith gave birth to some of our most important centres of learning, to the upholding of God-given Commandments, to a belief in the dignity of man, to social solidarity, to the cultivation of the virtues, and to the promotion of the common good. In the UK, in the nineteenth century, significant Christian men and women, such as William Wilberforce, in galvanising the opposition to slavery, Lord Shaftesbury, in demanding an end to the exploitation of children in factories, Elizabeth Fry in promoting prison reform, and Cardinal Henry Manning and William Booth, by reaching out to the masses, used their values to shape their deeds and to improve the common lot.


In the twentieth century, Christianity produced the courageous defiance of men like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Claus Graf von Stauffenberg, and Maximillian Kolbe. It gave us the Christian Democratic leaders who reconstructed Western Europe and, later, the dissenting Christians of Eastern Europe – such as John Paul II and Lech Walesa – whose actions ushered in radical change.

john paul IIdietrich-bonhoeffer


By contrast, in the twenty-first century, we are far more likely to say that Christians should remain silent about their faith – or risk ridicule or dismissal from their workplace. And to what does this lead? Instead of upholding the sanctity of every life we are, for instance, far more likely to dismiss a midwife (as happened in Scotland) for refusing to abort a baby; or tell a mother with a Down’s Syndrome child that she should abort it, rather than provide love and practical support; far more like to say to a Dutch alcoholic that he should be euthanized rather than help him conquer his addiction.

Paradoxically, the liberal elites who promote eugenics and are so hostile to religious beliefs, drive people – many of whom live in the “rust belt” urban communities of Europe and who refuse to accept this paradigm – into the hands of the very forces they claim to avowedly oppose. And in these circumstances, as Yeats foresaw, “the centre will not hold.”


As these neo-pagan values take a grip, and attempts are made to deliberately de-Christianise Europe, we step into the unknown. Perhaps not entirely the unknown. Marx, after all, denounced the opiate of religion while Lenin said that to even postulate the existence of God was “an unspeakable abomination and a detestable plague”. Nietzsche pronounced God’s funeral rites: “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? ….Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?”

Those Marxist-Leninist societies shaped on God’s funeral pyre are hardly a hopeful indicator of life without Christianity or God. Nor are the attempt to make men into gods rather than by cultivating a relationship between God and humanity or by building a bridge between faith and reason.

The obligate, symbiotic nature of the relationship between society and Christianity is well illustrated by Einstein’s famous maxim about science and religion: “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”  Today we are more likely to echo Christopher Hitchens:  “One must state it plainly. Religion comes from the period of human prehistory…To ‘choose’ dogma and faith over doubt and experience is to throw out the ripening vintage and to reach greedily for the Kool-Aid…. God did not create man in his own image. Evidently, it was quite the other way about.”


Yet, many people instinctively see the burial of God as a loss – both to us as individuals and to society as a whole. They comprehend the truth of the remark in Dostoyevsky’s great novel The Brothers Karamazov that “If God does not exist, everything is permitted.” Whilst, to make a point, that may be over-stating the case, it has a certain resonance today – especially in the virtual world of the internet – where you can incite hatred and promote everything from suicide sites to bomb making.

With our failure to mind the gaps in society this is spawning a crisis of confidence and a crisis of values. The hollowing out of our institutions and our loss of identity is leading to a crisis of civilisation. All around us we can hear the distress calls but too often we stay silent rather than jeopardise our economic or political interests. And into this crisis of Western Values now steps radical Islam and Jihadism. Inspired by Judaeo-Christian ideals, the thirty articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is emblematic of what the West stands for. Smell the coffee, its values are not the values of the Islamists or Jihadists.

In 1948 Saudi Arabia declined to sign the Declaration stating that it was incompatible with Sharia law –detecting both its Judaeo-Christian inspiration and its acceptability to a secular world. Countries like Pakistan (influenced by its far sighted leader, Muhammad Ali Jinnah) and Iran did sign.


M.A.Jinnah – Pakistan’s Founder, who called for a State which respected and protected its minorities and gave them equal rights.

But by 1982 Iran’s representative to the United Nations, Said Rajaie-Khorassani, said the Declaration was “a secular understanding of the Judaeo-Christian tradition” which Muslims could not implement without being in conflict with Sharia. 

So, despite the conflict between Sunnis and Shias, Saudi Arabia and Iran, here is something that unites them. And what kind of world does this create? Last year Iran’s brutal theocratic regime executed 1,000 people. Iran’s values can be characterised by executions, stonings, torture, restrictions, arrest, conviction, imprisonment, harassment, interrogation, solitary confinement, floggings, and by the denial of political, social and religious freedoms. Hundreds of human rights defenders and political prisoners continue to be detained in Iran.


Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee, a young female Iranian author and human rights activist is languishing in jail having been given a six year prison sentence for writing an unpublished novel about stoning. A Christian Pastor, Youcef Nadarkhani, and three others, have been arrested on charges of action against national security. Three of them face charges related to consumption of alcohol for drinking wine during a communion service.

They were each sentenced to 80 lashes—a barbaric and inhumane punishment. Iranian theocracy and Saudi Wahhabism both threaten western civilisation and values today. Their ideologies underpin every Islamist group, with devastating consequences for millions of people worldwide.  In Saudi, Wahhabism determines the value placed on a woman’s evidence in a Sharia court; refuses to accept a person’s right to change their religious beliefs (or to be atheists); uses barbaric punishments; publically flogs and beheads citizens.  Honour killings, enslavement, arranged marriages, and such like, that follow in its wake, are all incompatible with western values.


These practices also run counter to the beliefs of many Muslims and Islamic supremacism is not, of course, the only way of interpreting Islam – and is rejected by millions of Muslims. Yet it does lead to jihadist violence. Yet, instead of understanding the catastrophic consequences of Saudi’s spending of almost $100 billion on exporting global Wahhabism, we go on feeding the crocodiles.

The idea that ISIS, Boko Haram, and the rest, are nothing to do with Wahhabi Islam is a blatant lie. Yet we are wilfully ignoring this axis and are told that great progress is being made because Saudi Arabia might one day let women drive a car and may remove some of its hate mongering from school text books.

Even more dangerously, we continue to naively suggest that Saudi is our key counterterrorism ally. Recall that fifteen of the nineteen jihadists involved in the slaughter of 9/11 were Saudis. Here is a Janus face that feigns moderation when talking to the west but promotes fundamentalism; that says it opposes terror while exporting its ideology.

Saudi warns the West that we will be far worse off if Jihadists take control of their wealth and oil but then does precious little to challenge or reform the precepts that give rise to this threat.   What is driving this foolishness? Here’s one clue.


Britain alone, in the period since the conflict in the Yemen began, has sold £3.3 billion of arms to Saudi. This is a world in which everything has a price and where values count for nothing. 2017 will continue to throw these contested views into sharp relief.

Western civilisation is clearly under threat from those who, by force, wish to promote Islamist supremacism. That in turn threatens our values of mutual respect, coexistence, democracy, diversity, equality, human rights, and the rule of secular law. To defeat this threat we urgently need to remember who we are and what made us who we are. And, in the presence of Yeats’ rough beasts, and a centre that has not held, we might pause and reflect for a moment on how things will turn out unless, in our generation, we learn to defend our Western values and our civilisation.

Professor David Alton is an Independent Crossbench Peer

Tolkien: Faith and Fiction – Liverpool Hope University Lecture marking the fiftieth anniversary of J.R.R.Tolkien’s involvement in the translation of the Jerusalem Bible and the link between his faith and his fiction. Accompanying presentation slides and full text may be viewed here. Now includes Youtube audio link.

You can follow the lecture with the link to the power point presentation slides at:



lord-of-the-ringsTolkien: Faith and Fiction

click here to view the power point presentation which accompanies the following lecture:

faith-in-the-work-of-tolkien – view full powerpoint presentation accompanying the lecture

tolkien-faith-and-fiction-liverpool-2016 Text

 Liverpool Hope University, November 2016.

David Alton, Lord Alton of Liverpool.


This year, 2016, marks 50 years since, in 1966, the English edition of the Jerusalem Bible was published.


The translation was undertaken here at Hope, at what was Christ’s College, my old College. The work was led by the brilliant scripture scholar, Fr.Alexander Jones.

J.R.R.Tolkien was one of those who contributed to the translation and it includes his translation of the Book of Jonah and an acknowledgement of his role.

Fr.Henry Wansborough OSB said “It was the first translation of the whole Bible into modern English to appear. It was an iconic presentation of the best of Catholic biblical scholarship in the previous half century.”

When, in 1969…

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Church Silence, The Nazis, And the BBC.


The BBC and A Question of Truth

David Alton

In a significant finding, the British Broadcasting Corporation has conceded that in their main evening news bulletin, seen by millions, it falsely described the Church as being ‘silent’ in the face of Nazism and that it has not reported correctly on the Church’s opposition to Hitler.

The finding was made by the BBC’s internal watchdog after Fr.Leo Chamberlain and I jointly lodged a complaint. Fr.Chamberlain, a Benedictine, is a historian and former headmaster of Ampleforth College.

The broadcast was made last July during a visit to Auschwitz by Pope Francis. The reporter stated as fact that Silence was the response of the Catholic Church when Nazi Germany demonised Jewish people and then attempted to eradicate Jews from Europe”. 


After several unsuccessful attempts to seek a correction we felt that we had no choice but to make a formal complaint to the Editorial Complaints Unit (ECU). We presented a dossier of material – all of it publically available to any reporter.

Having studied this, the ECU said that, in their judgment, the news report had not given “ due weight to public statements by successive Popes or the efforts made on the instructions of Pius XII to rescue Jews from Nazi persecution, and perpetuated a view which is at odds with the balance of evidence.”


Ironically, part of the BBC report came from St Maximilian Kolbe’s cell at Auschwitz. St Maximilian, was executed after taking the place of another prisoner. He had been arrested for publishing a denunciation of the Nazis in his magazine, Knight, which had a circulation of around one million people. Hardly silence, then.


Nor was silence the response of the 6,066 Poles (overwhelmingly Catholic) who have been officially recognised in Israel as Righteous Among the Nations, for their role in saving the lives of Polish Jews.

One charitable interpretation of the Auschwitz report was that it was a sloppy, lazy, throw-away remark – indicative of the sort of religious illiteracy that can cause so much offence; and part of a blurring between the straightforward reporting of news and the desire to add some melodrama to spice it up. Don’t let facts or truth spoil a good story.

Less charitably, the BBC report may be seen as the simply latest example of a long running attempt to rewrite history.

To put this falsification right the BBC should now commission a documentary examining where the rewriting of history had its genesis.


They should start with The Deputy, published in 1963, by the German writer, Rolf Hochhuth and which set out to trash the reputation of Pope Pius XII and the Catholic Church.

As Fr.Chamberlain points out, Hochhuth was an unknown figure from East Germany who was increasingly seen as an instrument of KGB disinformation. The umbrella tip murder, in London of a Soviet dissident, the poisoning of  Litvinenko  with polonium; the attempted assassination of St John Paul II by a Bulgarian agent working for the KGB; and the increasingly accepted revelations in 1978 of General Ion Pacepa, Romanian Securitate and defector, are hardly the stuff of paranoid conspiracy theories.


Pacepa stated that reports that General Ivan Agayants, Chief of the KGB’s disinformation department, created the outline for the book characterizing the Pope as a Nazi sympathizer.


The Soviet leader, Nikita Khruschev, authorised Operation Seat 12 as a Cold War disinformation campaign designed to discredit the moral authority of the Vatican. Of Pius XII, Operation Seat 12 said “Dead men cannot defend themselves.”


The Cold War may be over but fortunately, careful and objective research does provide plenty of evidence in the case for the defence.


Dr.John Frain, an academic, and one time constituent of mine, provided a meticulous account in his book “The Cross And The Third Reich – Catholic Resistance In The Nazi Era”, for which I wrote the introduction.


Here are the stories of Erich Klausner, the General Secretary of Germany’s Catholic Action, who was shot dead; Adelbert Prost, Director of the Catholic Youth Sports Association, also murdered; Fritz Gerlich, a Catholic journalist murdered at Dachau (known as “the priests’ camp “because 2,670 priests from around 20 countries were held there: 600 died at Dachau and another 325 died during “transport of invalids”.


We are reminded of the arrest of Catholic politicians, the suppression of Catholic political activity, the confiscation of church property and the suppression of over 200 Catholic publications.


In 1931 there were around 21,000 Catholic priests in Germany and over 8,000 of them, one third, clashed with the Reich and several hundred were eliminated by the Reich.


As Dr.Frain once said to me: “how can any of these facts ever be made to sound like complicity?”


Page after page of his book refutes the libel that the Church was silent, docile or indifferent when confronted with Nazism.


Of the cottage industry of detractors which has grown up around Pius XII recall that it was Rabbi David Dalin who describes such books as “Best sellers made out of bad history”.


Rabbi Dalin says that “The truth about Pius XII must be restored.”

Pinchas Lapide

Pinchas Lapide, an historian and Israeli consul, said that Pius XII “was instrumental in saving at least 700,000, but probably as many as 860,000 Jews from certain death at Nazi hands.”


After the War, Pius was thanked by survivors of the Holocaust and tributes included one from Israel’s first President, Chaim Weizmann and Isaac Herzog, Chief Rabbi of Israel. Rome’s Chief Rabbi, Israel Zolli, became a Catholic and took the Pope’s name as a tribute to him.


At the time of his death, in 1958, Golda Meir said “When fearful martyrdom came to our people in the decade of Nazi terror, the voice of the Pope was raised for the victims.” The Jewish Chronicle recorded: “Confronted by the monstrous cruelties of Nazism, Fascism and Communism, he repeatedly proclaimed the virtues of humanity and compassion…many hundreds of fugitive Jews found sanctuary in the Vatican by the Nazis. Such actions will always be remembered.”


One of the most telling refutations of Vatican indifference to the rise of Nazism and the appalling events of the Holocaust came from Albert Einstein who had escaped from Nazi Germany. In 1940 he said: “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 unreservedly.”


Some may not be able to bring themselves to Einstein’s conclusion – but they – and especially the BBC and other broadcasters – should at least examine the whole story rather than endlessly repeat the one they may wish to be true.


The BBC has always seen itself as an upholder of truth. The report that it has now judged to have been false came from the very place where Maximillian Kolbe was executed. He had written that “No one in the world can change truth, and beyond the hecatombs of the extermination camps, of what use are the victories on the battlefield if we are defeated in our innermost personal selves”.


In this “post truth” era perhaps every broadcaster and reporter should have Fr.Kolbe’s words placed above their desks.




Alfred Delp



For speaking in open opposition to Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime from his position as Rector of St George Church in Munich, Alfred Delp (1907–1945) was arrested and condemned to die. The words that emerged from the prison cell of this condemned Jesuit priest, in letters and meditations smuggled out of the prison or distributed to other prisoners, exhort readers to maintain their Christian faith through action. This, Delp points out, is the only remedy against future reigns of terror. Knowing that his execution was imminent, Delp revealed through his writings his struggles and fears, his quest for true peace and trust in the will of God, and his great confidence in the virtue of defending the right even in the face of death.  Delp’s words serve as an inspiration and guide to Christians today not only to find a deeper relationship with their Maker, but also to display fruits of this relationship in their daily lives. This Advent reflection appears at






Iran Today – Executions, Stonings, Torture, Restrictions, Arrest, Conviction, Imprisonment, Harassment, Interrogation, Solitary Confinement, Floggings, Denial of Political, Social and Religious Freedoms – all raised during Parliamentary Debate.


To read to full debate, go to:

Speech made in the House of Lords….

 4.48 pm December 8th 2016
Human Rights Violations in Iran

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)

My Lords, my noble friend Lady Afshar has set the scene powerfully and eloquently for today’s important debate, not least because her own deep personal experiences and knowledge of Iran equip her so admirably to do so.

On 17 November, a symposium was held in your Lordships’ House, looking at the human rights situation in Iran. It was organised by the National Council of Resistance of Iran. During that symposium, I pointed out, as my noble friend has just done, that Iran had been one of the 48 countries that voted for the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights—although notably, not least in the light of the Foreign Secretary’s recent speech, Saudi Arabia did not. But, by 1982, Iran’s representative to the United Nations, Said Rajaie-Khorassani, said that Iran had come to see the declaration as a,

“secular understanding of the Judaeo-Christian tradition”,

which Iran could not implement without being in conflict with sharia law.

Today, Iran is in breach of most of the declaration’s 30 articles. But here is the hopeful thing: many Iranians do not want these egregious violations of human rights to continue. A 10-point manifesto published by the NCRI’s president, Maryam Rajavi, sets out a programme which would transform Iran.

Maryam Rajavi

In it she states her commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to other international instruments. She calls for the abolition of the death penalty, the creation of a modern legal system and the independence of judges. The manifesto says:

“Cruel and degrading punishments will have no place in the future Iran”.

Madam Rajavi would end Tehran’s funding of Hamas, Hezbollah and other militant groups and is committed to peaceful coexistence, relations with all countries and respect for the United Nations charter.

All this matters because it is clear that this ancient nation, a cradle of civilisation, should not be caricatured as being wedded to the fanaticism, intolerance and hatred promoted by many of Iran’s present leaders. An Iran that upheld respect for difference and promoted toleration, democracy, diversity, equality, human rights and the rule of secular law would be an Iran respected and honoured throughout the world. Instead of which, let us be clear about the nature of a brutal regime, which last year executed 1,000 people.

The Home Office country guidance published in March is a damning indictment. It says:

“Human rights defenders in detention are subject harassment, interrogation, solitary confinement, denied access to adequate medical treatment, face and torture … Freedom of speech is limited … and those critical of the government may be subject to arrest, harassment, monitoring, detention, unfair trials, death threats and torture”.

A Foreign and Commonwealth Office report notes that:

“Hundreds of human rights defenders and political prisoners continued to be … detained in Iran”.

In February 2015, the United Nations Secretary-General reported that:

“Human rights defenders, lawyers, students and women’s rights activists, journalists and trade unionists … continue to face restrictions, arrest, conviction and imprisonment for exercising their rights to freedom of association and freedom of expression and opinion”.
Just over a week ago the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, pointed to what he called “the unspeakable suffering” of the country’s children, with 10,000 children now dead in Syria

In October, Ban Ki-moon delivered a further damning assessment, highlighting the “alarming rate” of executions, and saying that little progress had been made under President Hassan Rouhani. The US State Department’s annual report on human rights practices notes:

“The law limits freedom of speech, including by members of the press”,

and that individuals were not permitted to,

“criticize publicly the country’s system of government, supreme leader, or official religion”.

Freedom House says in its 2016 annual report:

“The judicial system is used as a tool to silence critics and opposition members”.

The position of LGBT and women’s rights activists, who are treated as “enemies of the state”, is downright appalling. In August, it was reported that the Iranian authorities had intensified their repression of women’s rights activists in the country, carrying out a series of harsh interrogations and likening any collective initiative relating to women’s rights to criminal activity. Women in Iran are subject to pervasive discrimination in both law and practice, including in areas concerning marriage, divorce, child custody, freedom of movement, employment and access to political office. Women and girls are inadequately protected against domestic and other violence, including early and forced marriage and marital rape. Compulsory “veiling”—hijab—laws empower police and paramilitary forces to regularly target women, including through harassment, violence and imprisonment.


In October, the Independent reported on the case of Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee, a young female Iranian author and human rights activist who has been jailed for six years for writing an unpublished novel about stoning.


Then there is the case of Maryam Akbari Monfared, who is serving a 15-year sentence in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison. She is being denied access to medical treatment and is facing reprisals after filing a formal complaint that seeks an official investigation into the mass killings of political prisoners, including her siblings, in the summer of 1988, evidence of which has been seen by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Simultaneously, the human rights defender Mansoureh Behkish is facing trumped-up national security charges for peacefully defending the right to truth and justice concerning those mass killings of political prisoners, including her siblings and brother-in-law.

Think, too, about the massive violations of Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: the right to believe, not to believe or to change your belief. On 30 November, a group of 19 human rights organisations called on the international community and United Nations to particularly protect the rights of Christians in Iran. This reinforces the findings of the Westminster all-party inquiry into Article 18 issues in Iran, in which I participated last year. After taking evidence and witness statements, the committee concluded:

“Sadly, we have been disappointed that”,

Hassan Rouhani’s,

“positive promises and moderate language have not translated into any meaningful improvement”.

Many of the report’s recommendations apply to Iran’s other suffering religious minorities, such as the Baha’is, Sufi dervishes and Sunni Muslims.

That the situation has not improved in the intervening 12 months is illustrated by the cases of Ramiel Bet Tamraz, Mohamad Dehnay, Amin Nader Afshar, Hadi Askary and Amir Sina Dasht.



During the summer they went fishing and to have a picnic with their wives and friends. Security officials from the Ministry of Intelligence and Security raided the picnic and arrested the five men, detaining them in the notorious Evin prison. One is an ethnic Assyrian but the other men are Iranian converts from Islam, and it is believed that their arrest and detention relates to their Christian faith. Vast sums of money are required for bail and two of them remain incarcerated awaiting trial, unable to raise the bail money.
Take also the case of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani and three others, all arrested on charges of action against national security. Three of them face charges related to consumption of alcohol for drinking wine during a communion service. After a court hearing on 10 September, they were each sentenced to 80 lashes—a barbaric and inhumane punishment. Their appeal hearing is scheduled for 9 February.

Take, too, the position of Baha’is. Repression against them has accelerated in the past few months, not least during the celebration of their religious festivals. The Iranian state has recalibrated its long-standing tactics in pursuit of its ideological goal of extirpating a viable Baha’i community in the land of its birth through economic means. Can the Minister comment when she comes to reply on the closure of Baha’i businesses and on the hate crimes that led in September, in an appalling act of violence, to Farhang Amiri, aged 63, being murdered outside his home. A Baha’i, he was stabbed to death by two men, who admitted they had attacked him because of his religious beliefs.

Finally, what about the case that my noble friend raised, of the Iranian-British charity worker, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. In September, the Iranian regime sentenced her, as we heard, to five years’ imprisonment. On 6 September, I raised her case on the Floor of your Lordships’ House. Indeed, many other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Beith, who is in his seat, the noble Lords, Lord Cotter, Lord Bruce and Lord Campbell, have also made representations on her behalf. I ask again today about her physical and mental health and that of her little daughter and, as my noble friend Lady Afshar asked, about consular access. Can the Minister tell us what progress we are making in securing her release and say something more generally about the position of dual nationals in Iran?

To conclude, contrary to promises of reforms and a more open society made by Hassan Rouhani when he took over the presidency almost four years ago, the human rights situation in Iran continues to deteriorate on very many fronts. Britain has restored diplomatic relations with Iran. My noble friend’s question enables us to ask today: how are we using that leverage, and what priority are we giving, to promote human rights in this deeply repressive country?