Hillsborough – DPP Asked To Expedite Decision; Susan Hemming to take Final Decisions – Jury verdict of unlawful killing: The Hillsborough Independent Panel’s Investigation – and correspondence from 1989 with the Police Complaints Authority and Government Ministers. April 1989 intervention in the House of Commons. April 27th 2016 Statement in the House of Lords; April 29th letter to the Director of the Crown Prosecution Service

 

Dear Mr.Okogwu

 

I would be grateful if you would thank the Director for this response.

 

I do find it astonishing that it will not be possible to decide more quickly – and certainly well before the end of the year.

 

I would have assumed you would have been receiving transcripts of the Inquest throughout the proceedings and would have been assessing them continually – particularly given the potential for some prosecution questions and the need for requisite decisions.

 

Given the extraordinary delays which have blighted the lives of the affected families for nearly three decades I would be grateful if you would convey my further request to expedite the decisions which must be taken.

 

Could you also indicate whether there is any linkage to the work of the continuing Hillsborough Inquiry and whether you will be asking the Inquiry team for sight of their preliminary findings and conclusions before arriving at your own decisions about how best to proceed.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

David Alton

(Lord Alton of Liverpool),

 

Professor of Citizenship, Liverpool John Moores University,

Independent Crossbench Member of the House of Lords.

 

www.davidalton.net     altond@parliament.uk

 

0151 231 3852 (University); 0207 219 3551 (Parliament)

 

  • Hillsborough 3
  • http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm198889/cmhansrd/1989-04-17/Debate-1.htmlColumn 33: House of Commons April 17th 1989 Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill) : In the face of this terrible and wholly avoidable tragedy–many of the fatalities were young children, including a 13-year-old boy from my

    constituency–expressions of condolences and sympathy seem inadequate to sum up the enormity of it for a city that is mourning its dead and is united in its grief.

    A time will come when grief will give way to anger and questions will have to be answered. I should like an assurance from the Home Secretary that it will be made clear why the gate was opened and who took that decision. Why were emergency arrangements so pitifully inadequate? I welcome what the right hon. Gentleman said about the provision of seats in our national stadiums, but will he take urgent action to ensure that those terrible metal cages are put on the scrap heap and people are treated like human beings instead of animals? On 22 March, I wrote to the Minister about the ticket allocation for Saturday’s match. I enclosed a statement from Mr. Peter Robinson, the chief executive of Liverpool football ground, who said : “I made it plain that there was no way I could support the choice of Hillsborough this year with the same ticket allocations applying.”

    When I received a reply dated 11 April from the Minister of Sport, he said that the mater was entirely for the football authorities. In the light of what has happened, will the Home Secretary accept that the Minister should take an interest in this matter? Will he confirm that which the Minister said, that the allocations were made on the basis of police advice? I ask that because there have been conflicting statements in the past 24 hours.

    Liverpool is a city schooled in adversity. However, not since the blitz has it had to face a tragedy on such a shocking scale. I am sure that the House today will wish to express its solidarity with those who grieve and those awaiting news of loved ones, whose lives still lie in the balance.

    Mr. Hurd : All the points raised by the hon. Gentleman are clearly covered by the terms of reference of the inquiry, and Lord Justice Taylor will be able to look into them. I am slightly surprised that he suggests that Ministers should become involved in deciding, match by match, how tickets should be allocated. He is perfectly right in his understanding– these are matters for the football authorities. They consult on them and are guided by the police. I shall repeat my earlier point that, although the matter of total allocation will certainly be looked into, it was not the total allocation, so much as the concentration of that allocation in a part of the Liverpool terrace, which resulted in the terrible damage.

  • ———————————————————————-
  • Hillsborough Statement, House of Lords,  April 27th 2016
  • Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)
  • My Lords, during the 27 years that have elapsed since the Hillsborough disaster, the double spectre of loss and injustice has hung over the people of Liverpool. Among the 96 who died were former constituents of mine, including a child. Those deaths of loved ones were compounded by the denial of criminal negligence, callous indifference, the subversion of our justice system, collective character assassination and demonisation. If the Minister has had a chance to read the material I sent him this morning, including the letter I sent before the game was played at Hillsborough which questioned the safety of the ground, he will realise that there are still many unanswered questions. I would be grateful if he told us more about the timetabling of the continuing inquiry, which is being held with great diligence and meticulousness at Warrington; I have had a chance to visit it and talk to the people about the way they are going about their work. Will he also answer the question which the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, put to him a few moments ago about the further judicial proceedings that will be necessary and the timetabling for decisions? We certainly cannot wait another three decades.
  • Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
  • To take the noble Lord’s last question first, it would certainly be inappropriate for me to straitjacket the CPS in any respect, but the CPS, the two ongoing inquiries and everyone involved in them are fully aware of the sensitive nature of this issue. As we said, there is a responsibility on all involved in these inquiries to make sure that we reach a decision which ensures that justice prevails as soon as is possible and practicable, but it is very much for the CPS to lead on this. I confess that I have not had time to reflect on the detail of the information the noble Lord sent to me this morning, but I certainly will, and look forward to discussing it with him.

————————————————————————–

April 26th 2016: Ninety-six football fans who died as a result of a crush in the 1989 Hillsborough disaster were unlawfully killed, the inquests have concluded.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-36138337

 

The jury decided the match commander Ch Supt David Duckenfield’s actions amounted to “gross negligence” due to a breach of his duty of care to fans.

Police errors also added to a dangerous situation at the FA Cup semi-final.

After a 27-year campaign by victims’ families, the behaviour of Liverpool fans was exonerated.

The jury found they did not contribute to the danger unfolding at the turnstiles at the Leppings Lane end of Sheffield Wednesday’s ground on 15 April 1989.

The jury also concluded

  • Police errors caused a dangerous situation at the turnstiles
  • Failures by commanding officers caused a crush on the terraces
  • There were mistakes in the police control box over the order to open the Leppings Lane end exit gates
  • Defects at the stadium contributed to the disaster
  • There was an error in the safety certification of the Hillsborough stadium
  • South Yorkshire Police and South Yorkshire Ambulance Service delayed declaring a major incident
  • The emergency response was therefore delayed
  • Sheffield Wednesday failed to approve the plans for dedicated turnstiles for each pen
  • There was inadequate signage at the club and misleading information on match tickets

….

 

A statement on behalf of the families said the jury’s conclusions “completely vindicate” the long fight for justice.

 

 

The police response to the increasing crowd outside the Leppings Lane turnstiles at Liverpool’s match against Nottingham Forest was “slow and uncoordinated”, the inquests heard.

The road closure “exacerbated” the situation and there were no filter cordons in place to regulate the movement of spectators.

Attempts to close the perimeter gates were made too late and there were no contingency plans for the “sudden arrival” of a large number of fans, the jury said.

Jurors concluded the commanding officers should have ordered the closing of the tunnel which led directly to the central pens where the fatal crush occurred.

————————————————————————–

See:

https://davidalton.net/2015/05/05/two-columns-from-1989-following-the-hillsborough-disaster/

Also see: https://davidalton.net/2014/04/14/bishop-of-liverpool-and-david-alton-speak-on-the-hillsborough-disaster-2/

 

During a meeting this week, with members of the Hillsborough Independent Panel – http://hillsborough.independent.gov.uk/   –  which was established by the Prime Minister in 2012 , we spent a lot of our time discussing a letter which I had sent to Ministers prior to the match being played and which raised safety concerns about the ground.  The Panel also reminded me about – and showed me copies of the correspondence – which passed between me and the Chairman of the Police Complaints Authority in the days which followed the April 15th, 1989, tragedy at Hillsborough: a day which claimed 96 lives and remains the most serious tragedy in UK sporting history.  The Independent Panel are painstakingly sifting through everything relating to Hillsborough, and deserve our admiration and thanks, but at this distance they have an almost impossible task – a task which should have been undertaken in the same objective and thorough manner twenty five years ago.

Letter to Sir Cecil Clothier, Chairman of the Police Complaints Authority, four days after the Hillsborough Disaster, asking for a him to open an independent Inquiry into attempts by Police spokesmen to blame the fans for their own deaths.

Letter to Sir Cecil Clothier, Chairman of the Police Complaints Authority, four days after the Hillsborough Disaster, asking for him to open an independent Inquiry into attempts by Police spokesmen to blame the fans for their own deaths.

Letter to Sir Cecil Clothier, Chairman of the Police Complaints Authority, on May 17th 1989, contesting the Authority's failure to mount an investigation

Letter to Sir Cecil Clothier, Chairman of the Police Complaints Authority, on May 17th,1989, contesting the Authority’s failure to mount an investigation

Letter from the Chairman of the Police Complaints Authority to the Chief Constable of South Yorkshire saying he had done his best to "deflect" the complaint. Sir Cecil signs the letter  "Spike" - perhaps appropriately as it's a word used by journalists when an editors has decided to withhold a story from publication.

Letter from the Chairman of the Police Complaints Authority to the Chief Constable of South Yorkshire saying he had done his best to “deflect” my complaint. Sir Cecil signs the letter “Spike” – perhaps appropriately as it’s a word used by journalists when an editor has decided to withhold a story from publication.

Hillsoborough Correspondence DA

Moynihan reply to DA & cutting

In the aftermath of the Hillsborough Disaster, I had a protracted correspondence with the Police Complaints Authority, challenging the remarks which had been made by Police Officers and repeated in mass circulation newspapers and the media that Liverpool Football Club fans were responsible for their own deaths and injuries. I called for an Independent Inquiry.  The correspondence has been published by the Hillsborough Independent Review (at http://hillsborough.independent.gov.uk/repository/docs/HOM000021980001.pdf) and it makes for deeply depressing reading.

Among the letters which were sent to me and which went to Sir Cecil Clothier, the Chairman of the Police Complaints Authority, was one from a constituent who was on the Leppings Lane Terrace and who provided a first-hand account of what he saw and experienced.  

The letter is dated April 19th 1989, just four days after the tragedy. He vividly describes what occurred and focuses on the description of events given by police officers to the media, saying those responsible “should be prosecuted for the hurt, distress and wounding caused on Merseyside by his untrue, insensitive, unproven slanderous remarks…”   

In my own letter to Sir Cecil, also dated April 19th, 1989, I asked him to “institute an immediate enquiry into the propriety of the remarks passed yesterday by Police Officers of the South Yorkshire Police Force” and that as the remarks had been made the day after the Home Secretary announced the judicial enquiry and “the solicitor for 30 of the victims’ families had begun proceedings against the Chief Constable and his Force these remarks should never have been made.”

I asked ”By what right did Police Officers make statements calculated to be prejudicial to the reputation of Liverpool Football Club and its supporters, and which seem to be part of a smokescreen of propaganda aimed at diverting attention from the truth.”

Quoting Lord Denning I reminded him that “Be they ever so mighty they are not mightier than the law” and I asked him to establish “how such statements came to be made and on whose authority they were issued.” I copied the letter to the Home Secretary, Douglas Hurd, and asked what guidelines existed for the publication of statements once a judicial inquiry had been announced.

In my next letter to Sir Cecil, five days later, on April 24th I asked his Police Complaints Authority to examine the conduct of the South Yorkshire Police – independently of the Government-established Inquiry by Lord Justice Taylor and the Police Inquiry to be led by the West Midlands Police Force because “you will be regarded as independent of Government and Constabulary, both of whom are clearly involved in having taken crucial decisions, which led to the horrific events at Sheffield.”

Sir Cecil wrote back on the 3rd of May refusing to conduct an investigation  and stated that “ I must say at once there is not the slightest ground for suggesting that an enquiry conducted under the authority of Lord justice Taylor will be other than the most rigorous and independent character.”  He suggested that the complainant would be better off “offering himself as a witness to Lord Justice Taylor’s enquiry, rather than by invoking the complaints procedure which is principally concerned with police discipline.”

The previous day, May 2nd, Sir Cecil wrote to me setting out the procedures for making a complaint and said “I am not sure whether you are making a formal complaint as a member of the public affected by the happenings at Hillsborough or as a Member of Parliament.”

He told me that if it was the latter I should raise my concerns in Parliament.

 I replied on May 8th stating that my complaint was made “as a citizen of Liverpool” who was “deeply aggrieved that these comments were made when two Inquiries had already been established, rendering their comments sub-judice.”

I told him that “Their remarks were prejudiced, contrary to good police practice, insensitive to relatives and damaging to my city. I therefore trust you will feel able to carry out an investigation as to how this could have come about.”

On the 16th of May Sir Cecil once again set out the procedures under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, 1984, and told me “I believe it would be better by far to await the findings of Lord justice Taylor’s inquiry before lodging a complaint about controversial statements by a police officer.”

On the 17th of May I responded that if no action should be taken until after the Inquiry “by the same argument should not the officer who made the offensive comments about Liverpool supporters have kept his comments to himself until after the Inquiry?” 

I asked for him to investigate the South Yorkshire Force because, as the statements had been made anonymously, “there was no one officer to lodge a complaint about.” I told Sir Cecil that I had that day written to Peter Wright, the Chief Constable, lodging a formal complaint.

Among the letters which the Hillsborough Independent Review have also published is one sent on May 25th by Sir Cecil to Chief constable Peter Wright in which he encloses my own letters to him and referring to me he says “It appears that despite my best efforts to deflect him from doing so, he has decided to lodge a formal complaint with you.”

He tells him that he could “satisfy the statutory requirements“if he were simply to “appoint an investigating officer.”  He adds that “I do not think it would satisfy Mr. Alton however, who seems to think that Lord Justice Taylor and Mr. Dear are not sufficiently independent.” Signing his letter with his nickname, Spike, Sir Cecil Clothier copied this note to Lord Justice Taylor and Mr. Dear.   

In that respect he was, of course, right, I was not satisfied – and, more importantly, nor were the families who wanted justice and truth; and twenty five years later they remain convinced that they were lied to and subject to collective character assassination.  

Not as a citizen of Liverpool but as one of its MPs, I had, of course, also been raising the issue in Parliament but had met the same brick walls and prevarication.

Ministers said what had occurred at Hillsborough was a matter for the Chief Constable and for the Taylor Inquiry. In the House of Commons, on April 24th 1989, I asked “at what level the publication of statements on 18 April by South Yorkshire police concerning the conduct of Liverpool fans at the Hillsborough semi-cup final was authorised; if he will publish a copy of that statement and the name of the officer who made it; and if he will make a statement”.
The Minister of State at the Home Office, Douglas Hogg, replied:

“Statements made by officers of the South Yorkshire police are a matter for the chief constable. It would not be helpful for me to publish statements or counter-statements which have been made about the circumstances leading to the tragedy, or to name those who made them. It is for Lord Justice Taylor’s inquiry to establish the facts”.-[Official Report, Commons, 24/4/89; col. 404.]

In the years which followed, I asked why those facts had not been established, why evidence had disappeared, and, in 1998, I asked  what account  Jack Straw, then the Home Secretary, had taken “in deciding against a fresh inquiry into the Hillsborough tragedy, of missing video tapes, changed statements by police officers, conflicting medical evidence and complaints of lack of impartiality in the original coroner’s process and in the granting of immunity from prosecution to police officers upon taking early retirement”. Ministers told me there was “no new evidence.” In 2012 I set out the reasons why this was not so:  https://davidalton.net/2012/12/16/bishop-of-liverpool-and-david-alton-speak-on-the-hillsborough-disaster/

More than two decades later the Prime Minister, David Cameron, in establishing the Hillsborough Independent Review, made it clear that he concurs.  

Mr Cameron told Parliament that the Liverpool fans had “suffered a double injustice”, both in the “failure of the state to protect their loved ones and the indefensible wait to get to the truth”.

What the diligent and painstaking work of the Independent Review team is now attempting to lay bare are not only the errors and deceits which occurred on that bleak day in April 1989 but the wanton and seemingly systematic attempts to delay, to obfuscate, and to refuse to truthfully address the questions which families and witnesses have consistently put to the authorities.

From time immemorial it has always been a tactic of Governments to set up committees in the hope of sending a contentious issue into the long grass and, with the passage of time, and the deaths of many of those who took wrong decisions or failed to do their jobs properly, their hope is that the ensuing reports will simply gather dust.  

G.K.Chesterton, writing about what passes for public accountability and parliamentary scrutiny, once mocked a self-serving process which relied on copious amounts of white-wash. In his “Autobiography: the case against corruption” he writes that “A parliamentary Commission was appointed and reported that everything was very nice; a Minority report was issued which reported that some things were not quite so nice; and political life (if you can call it life) went on as before.”

Those who are privileged to hold high office should understand that for those who died and for those who still bear the emotional scars of Hillsborough life didn’t go on “as before”. We must wish the Hillsborough Independent Panel well as they finally try to do what should have been done 25 years ago.


 

On April 29th 2016 a letter was sent to Alison Saunders, Director of the Crown Prosecution Service asking what the timetable and time scale will be in reaching decisions about what must happen next and whether she will be personally reviewing the findings of the Inquest.  

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Colombia – Trade Deal that threatens indigenous Colombians, Afro-Colombians, Human Rights Advocates, Natural resources and the Environment – “Good for British business and bad for Colombian human rights”

The Bilateral Agreement for the Promotion and Protection of Investments between the United Kingdom and Colombia

Scroll Down For The Full Debate…

Mgr Héctor Fabio Henao, director of CAFOD’s Colombia partner SNPS, came to the UK with two Colombian community leaders. Mélida Guevara and Jesús Alberto Castilla, whose communities have been torn apart by 50 years of internal conflict, visited the UK to tell the government and CAFOD supporters what they can do to help.

Mgr Héctor Fabio Henao, director of CAFOD’s Colombia partner SNPS, came to the UK with two Colombian community leaders. Mélida Guevara and Jesús Alberto Castilla, whose communities have been torn apart by 50 years of internal conflict, visited the UK to tell the government and CAFOD supporters what they can do to help.


colombia and cafod

The Bilateral Agreement for the Promotion and Protection of Investments between the United Kingdom and Colombia

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB):
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, whose knowledge of Latin America is probably unparalleled in your Lordships’ House. She and I are both members of the All-Party Parliamentary Friends of CAFOD, for which I serve as treasurer. A few months ago, with the Labour Member of Parliament, the right honourable Tom Clarke, who chairs that group, I met a group of Colombian human rights advocates, indigenous Colombians and Afro-Colombians, who were in the UK as guests of that charity. CAFOD is also part of the coalition ABColombia, which is an alliance of CAFOD, Christian Aid, Oxfam, SCIAF and Trocaire. I was profoundly moved by the commitment of those who have put their own lives at risk in working for peace and human rights in Colombia, but also shocked by the scale and nature of some of the egregious violations of human rights which they described. I promised them that, if the opportunity arose, I would try to draw Parliament’s attention to the dangers that they faced. Therefore, I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, for moving this Motion today, which gives us the opportunity to raise questions and to do just that.

12.15 pm

Although there has been some improvement in the political and economic situation in Colombia, guerrillas and successor groups to paramilitaries have continued to be involved in significant acts of violence. Human rights defenders, trade unionists, journalists, indigenous and Afro-Colombian leaders and IDP leaders regularly face death threats, intimidation and other abuses.

colombia trade union  rights

Although the Administration of President Juan Manuel Santos have consistently condemned threats and attacks against rights defenders, in a culture of impunity, perpetrators are rarely brought to justice. After decades of internal conflict, with 220,000 people killed, the Government are now in peace talks with the FARC guerrilla group but, with the exception of Syria, Colombia, with a phenomenal 5.7 million displaced people, has the highest number of internally displaced people in the world. As the advocate whom I met explained to me, the displacements have frequently come about as a direct consequence of corporate investment, when land is wanted for agriculture, oil exploration or coal mining.

 Indigenous Colombian children

Indigenous Colombian children

In 2011, the Colombian Government introduced a welcome law to restore to victims some of the 2.2 million hectares of the 6.8 million forcibly taken from them. To date, according to Colombia’s comptroller general, less than 1% of that land has so far been restored. The continuing conflict has also seen some victims, to whom land has been returned, once again violently displaced. According to the Colombian constitutional court, 34 groups of indigenous peoples are currently at risk of extinction. The court identified forced displacement as the major cause. Colombian indigenous peoples’ land is generally in areas rich in natural resources. To safeguard the people and the land, Colombia will need to legislate to protect them from the huge influx of multinational corporations. As I will argue, instead of protection, the UK has created in this trade treaty something that will benefit British businesses but harm exploited and vulnerable people.

It is not just the people who are at risk—it is also the people who try to protect those at risk. What happens to people who challenge rapacious business interests, international conglomerates or the warlords and guerrillas who have profiteered at the expense of the poor? I would like to give the committee an illustration. In May, Colombia’s Senate enacted an important Bill that is a major step in aiding and protecting sexual violence survivors, especially those who are raped or assaulted by guerrillas, paramilitaries, Colombian forces, or others in the context of the country’s decades-long conflict. Colombia’s new law stipulates that sexual violence can constitute a crime against humanity under the standards provided for in international law. But it is indicative of the country’s lawlessness that Ana Angelica Bello, one of the most vocal advocates of this law, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound under circumstances that still remain unclear. Angelica, from rural Colombia, was forced off her land by armed groups. She was raped by men she believed to be former paramilitary as punishment for her subsequent advocacy and activism.

Today’s welcome debate, triggered by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, should ring alarm bells about human rights in Colombia and particularly alert us, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, said, to the dangers faced especially by women such as Angelica and by lawyers and human rights defenders. Professor Sara Chandler, on behalf of the UK members of the International Caravana of Jurists points out that the bilateral investment treaty with Colombia ratified on 10 July is in danger of worsening the situation of human rights’ defenders. She particularly draws attention to an issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, about how we are going to monitor how this treaty works out in practice in future. The Caravana is comprised of international lawyers and includes judges, solicitors, barristers, academics and law students. At the request of its counterparts in Colombia, it has visited the country since 2008 and has gathered first-hand accounts of lawyers who have faced daily threats of violence, kidnapping and death just for undertaking their professional duties. Since January 2012, it has recorded 37 threats directed towards lawyers or human rights defenders operating as legal representatives, with 18 killings during that period. Incidentally, it will be returning to Colombia next month.

Caravana points out that the United Kingdom has significant leverage, as Britain, as we have heard, is second only to the United States in foreign investment in Colombia and that new investment treaties and fair trade agreements such as the BIT offered the opportunity—sadly, not taken—to include safeguards to ensure that British businesses investing in Colombia will never be complicit in serious human rights violations. It also points to the serious imbalance between the significant protection afforded to investors, compared to the lack of protection and resources available to the indigenous people and local communities affected by development, and states that that disparity places the United Kingdom Government in a position of direct inconsistency with their commitments under the United Kingdom action plan Good Business, which implements the Ruggie UN Guiding Principles on Human Rights.

The action plan contains a commitment that,

“agreements facilitating investment overseas by UK or EU companies incorporate the business responsibility to protect human rights, and do not undermine the host country’s ability to meet its international human rights obligations”.

Colombia human rights

The bilateral treaty with Colombia remains, ominously, completely silent about those responsibilities. Why is that? This is one of the first tests of whether the sentiment and rhetoric will be matched by the reality. Therefore, it does not bode well. Are we to be simply what John Ruskin once described as a “money-making mob”?
Specifically, in the peace talks in which the Colombian Government are engaged in, they have committed themselves to the land reforms to which the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, referred. Have the Government discussed what impact the treaty will have on the Colombian Government’s ability to return land and to implement the Havana agreement on land reform? Will the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Livingston of Parkhead, also confirm that the largest UK investments in Colombia are in mining, with all the land requirements which mining entails? Will he also tell the Committee how much of the land violently seized and confiscated in Colombia’s conflict is in areas rich in natural resources and on land owned by indigenous peoples, Afro-Colombians and peasant farmers who are waiting for their land to be restored—the people I referred to at the outset of my remarks? Will he explain to the Committee how restoration is compatible with pursuing Britain’s mining interests, and which will take precedence—as if we do not already have a hint as to the answer? Will he also say how we will guarantee the rights and obligations to which I referred of indigenous peoples in respect of their free, prior and informed consent, their right to self-determination and to their own development, which are guaranteed in United Nations International Labour Organization Convention 169 and the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples?

Are we simply to be a money-making mob, or will the Government insist that human rights which we expect for ourselves will be applied in situations where our monetary clout gives us influence and leverage? It is really unacceptable that we have created a self-serving agreement which incorporates a disparity in providing considerable—some would say, excessive—protection for British investment while the ability of the Colombian state to regulate that investment is restricted. The investor-state dispute settlement provisions could have been used as an opportunity to incorporate human rights provisions and to enable a third party, such as an NGO, to make representations in the dispute process. As things stand, the UK-Colombia BIT has no such safeguard. We could do a lot worse than emulate the EU-Canada free-trade agreement, CETA, which incorporates safeguards affirming the right of states to regulate in pursuance of legitimate public interest objectives.

In another context, the House of Lords EU Committee has expressed doubts about including an investor-state dispute settlement that gives investors the right to challenge measures adopted—in this case, by the UK—in the public interest. The committee recommended that before including an ISDS clause, a number of safeguards should be in place, including to,

“improve transparency around ISDS proceedings, for example by making hearings and documents public, allowing interested third parties to make submissions”.Those safeguards do not seem to form part of the bilateral investment treaty with Colombia.

colombia human rights2

To conclude, I therefore ask the Minister: what plans the Government have to incorporate safeguards to the investor-state dispute settlement provisions in the treaty to enable the UK to ensure that its foreign investments do not make us complicit in serious human rights violations? At the very minimum, will the Government consider creating a system of annual monitoring of the treaty in terms of its human rights impacts and impact on the peace agreements, with the results to be incorporated in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office annual human rights report? What plans are there to incorporate safeguards to the investor-state dispute settlement provision, to ensure that the United Kingdom complies with its human rights obligations and commitments made in Good Business on implementing the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights?

Colombia is listed as one of the countries of concern in the annual FCO human rights report. Instead of promoting policy changes to improve human rights, the bilateral agreement could obstruct Colombia’s ability to promote policies that achieve improvements in human rights. Given the record levels of UK investments in Colombia, there was simply no need for this treaty in the first place. Ministers should give further thought to the consequences of its ratification, along with the ethical implications of its promotion.

colombia map

——————————————————————————————————-
The full debate…

Grand Committee
Wednesday, 30 July 2014.

Arrangement of Business
Announcement
Noon

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Stedman-Scott) (Con): Good afternoon. If there is a Division in the House, the Committee will adjourn for 10 minutes.
The Bilateral Agreement for the Promotion and Protection of Investments between the United Kingdom and Colombia
Motion to Take Note
Noon

Moved by Lord Stevenson of Balmacara

That the Grand Committee takes note of the Bilateral Agreement for the Promotion and Protection of Investments between the United Kingdom and Colombia (Cm 8887). 3rd Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee.

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara (Lab): My Lords, the UK-Colombia bilateral investment treaty, or BIT, is designed to provide important protections to British investments in Colombia. My purpose in raising the issue today is to draw attention to the fact that these protections are controversial. Without putting down this Motion there would have been no chance to discuss these issues, which many people inside and outside Parliament would like to see raised. These concerns include a feeling that the balance of the treaty may be wrong, in that it gives excessive protection to investors while limiting the ability of the host country to regulate the FDI, and a question about whether the treaty deals with business and human rights, in the light of the growing impact of the UN’s generally accepted principles on business and human rights.

However, it is important to note at the start of the debate that UK business does not appear to need this agreement to encourage investment in Colombia. Colombia is one of UKTI’s 20 high-growth markets and the UK is already the second largest foreign investor, much of it in the extractives industry. Between 2009 and 2012, UK exports of goods and services to Colombia rose by 126%, the highest level of any of our major markets. Over the next four years, it has been predicted that Colombia will invest £50 billion in oil and gas and, over the next eight years, around £60 billion in infrastructure.

I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Livingston, for providing some background information about the treaty, which has been very helpful to me in preparing for this debate. From this I note also that he has been active in working on various other things. I

30 July 2014 : Column GC632

think that we all got these documents this morning and it is very good to see them, following a discussion where we felt that more could be done to try to proselytise for TTIP and other work in this area. I am glad to see that these documents have come round. However, the background information supplied suggests that the BIT was actually negotiated during 2008-09 but that ratification has been delayed as the treaty of Lisbon, which transferred exclusive competence for FDI to the European Union, entered into force before the agreed text was signed.

In view of this, some people have argued that the text of the treaty is out of date and should instead reflect the direction of travel as envisaged in more recent treaty negotiations, such as TTIP. It is also the case that during the time that has elapsed since the treaty was negotiated, the UK has embraced the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and is one of the first countries to produce an action plan, which we certainly welcome. However, we accept that the debate on how future BITs should be structured to ensure a satisfactory balance between protection of investments and the right of local Governments to regulate in the public interest is not new. We also accept that the text of the current treaty departs substantially from previous UK practice, although I suspect that some of the changes made are not necessarily going to be made more acceptable as a result.

It is interesting to note that the BIT was ratified by the current Colombian Government in 2013 and that they have subsequently been pressing the UK Government strongly, at both ministerial and official level, to complete their ratification process at the earliest opportunity. This suggests that the Colombian Government view the entry into force of the BIT as positive, bringing benefits to Colombia through helping attract new foreign investment, and have considered that these benefits outweigh the risks of investor claims and impacts on public policy. But in the unlikely event that anyone thinks that these are hypothetical risks, Colombia’s neighbours Ecuador, Peru and Mexico have been the subject of 14, three and 10 claims respectively. I am told that $81.4 million is the average compensation paid to investors over the 83 known ISDS awards in favour of the investor to July 2013. Indeed, last year’s award of $1.17 billion to Occidental from Ecuador was the equivalent of the country’s entire education budget.

I am sure that the Minister will seek to persuade us, when he comes to respond, that despite the time that has elapsed the Government believe that the signed text reflects the current public debate and is fit for purpose in that context. However, some substantial concerns remain and I hope that the debate will help persuade the Government of the need to reflect carefully on whether the treaty correctly balances providing protection for investors and giving the Colombian Government the space they need to regulate in the wider public interests.

Other noble Lords, I am sure, will raise other points around this topic. I will therefore limit myself to two examples. The first is land reform. The treaty includes a form of investor-state dispute mechanism—narrower, as we are told—which will allow Columbia to be sued

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in an international arbitration tribunal. These tribunals take place behind closed doors and grant investors the right to sue democratically elected governments. However, neither the host government nor communities affected by such investments have rights to challenge that investment. As the Minister knows, land issues have been at the heart of the Colombian internal conflict, and nearly 6 million people have been forcibly displaced, so many people think land reform is the key to the peace discussions with FARC, which are currently taking place in Havana.

Will the Minister explain why the treaty will not prove challenging to the Colombian Government in pursuing land reform issues? Will he also reassure us that it will not put at risk implementing the land and victims law passed in 2011, under which land is due to be returned to victims of the recent conflict? Will he also comment on the suggestion that the solution to the problems posed by ISDS mechanisms would be to enact proper domestic legislation to protect FTI investors, as is happening in South Africa?

Secondly, on human rights, because of the long period of gestation of this treaty, it was drafted before the emergence of the UN’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Rightly, the EU is committed to signing treaties only with countries that meet its values of democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights. The Colombian Government have made good efforts to strengthen the rule of law, to condemn human rights violations and take action against illegal land appropriation, and there are now significant legislative and public policy initiatives in the field, which we welcome. However, there is more to come and we need to make sure that we support and get behind these initiatives.

Equally, the UK has made significant commitments recently in its action plan to implement the UN’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. In particular, the UK has undertaken to ensure that,

“agreements facilitating investment overseas … incorporate the business responsibility to respect human rights, and do not undermine the host country’s ability to meet … its international human rights obligations”.

I do not see that wording in the treaty. When the Minister responds, will he point to where the text reflects that sentiment, and explain how the UK will ensure that this treaty does not undermine Colombia’s ability to meet its international human rights obligations?

Will the Government not go further? Given that the situation on the ground is still developing, and bearing in mind our commitment to the UN guiding principles, does the Minister agree that it might be appropriate if he prepared an annual monitoring of the treaty in terms of its human rights impacts, with the results of this monitoring perhaps incorporated into the FCO annual human rights report?

Finally, when this treaty was considered by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, the instrument was drawn to the special attention of the House on the grounds of policy interest. The committee had some reservations about the effectiveness of the protection for the investors because of the way the treaty is worded, and picked up on the difficulties these arrangements may create in relation to the human rights of certain groups within Colombia.

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The committee’s report goes on:

“We have offered the Government the opportunity to respond and, if received, we will publish the response in our next report”.

I checked the other day and no response had yet been submitted. Will the Minister say whether the Government intend to respond to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee and if so, when this might be received? I beg to move.

Baroness Hooper (Con): My Lords, as someone with a strong interest in Latin America and as a member of the European Union Select Committee, it is important to question the Government on this bilateral agreement. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, on having spotted the need and opportunity for this debate, and on setting out the background so clearly.

There are three main areas of concern, which have already been referred to and no doubt will arise in other contributions. First, the treaty excludes important reforms currently being considered at European Union level in relation to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the European Union and the United States, on which the European Union Select Committee has reported. These are designed to mitigate some of the serious problems associated with investor-state dispute settlements.

Secondly, it does not contain human rights obligations on investors in spite of the Government committing to this in our recent national action plan on the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Thirdly, it creates legal uncertainty and could undermine the land reforms referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, which are vital to the peace process in Colombia. In that, the treaty is inconsistent with other areas of government policy which seek to support human rights and peace in Colombia.

However, I would go further. Although this is a general point which could affect all trade treaties, it has particular significance for Colombia. If we think that United Kingdom companies operate to high levels and standards in other areas which have not been emphasised, we should seek to replicate those standards and levels in our international trade treaties. For example, corporate social responsibility could and should be encouraged, and referenced to in these agreements. A company’s involvement in social issues in its neighbourhood and community are well appreciated and are now the norm in the United Kingdom. UK companies equally should feel obliged to follow similar standards in their operations overseas.

By the same token, environmental interests and concerns should be taken into account. I am interested to see that the department’s leaflet referring to the EU-US trade treaty refers to the fact that the high environmental standards and targets which we now have in place in this country are non-negotiable. I believe that in order to encourage that there should be a system of green points for those companies which commit to action in this area. For example, a project in Colombia with which I have become involved focuses on the Media Magdalena valley, an area which during the difficult terrorist periods was completely closed.

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People moved away and, therefore, flora and fauna had a wonderful time getting on without human interference.

Now that the peace process is proceeding, people are beginning to go back. Illegal gold mining is already taking place, which introduces mercury into the river and waterways, and into the food chain for animal life. This project is being co-ordinated by Neil Maddison, head of conservation at Bristol Zoo. Its aim is to help to preserve wildlife, flora and fauna in general, and to encourage people who go back to live in the area and companies which intend to invest in the area to observe the highest possible standards. That does not go quite as far as a national park regime—it falls a little short of that—but it would gain those companies green points. I believe that that very much is the way forward.

This is an important issue and it is a very good opportunity to ask the Government to comment on not only this trade treaty and any possible changes that could be made to it but to further push our high standards in our overseas commitments.

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, whose knowledge of Latin America is probably unparalleled in your Lordships’ House. She and I are both members of the All-Party Parliamentary Friends of CAFOD, for which I serve as treasurer. A few months ago, with the Labour Member of Parliament, the right honourable Tom Clarke, who chairs that group, I met a group of Colombian human rights advocates, indigenous Colombians and Afro-Colombians, who were in the UK as guests of that charity. CAFOD is also part of the coalition ABColombia, which is an alliance of CAFOD, Christian Aid, Oxfam, SCIAF and Trocaire. I was profoundly moved by the commitment of those who have put their own lives at risk in working for peace and human rights in Colombia, but also shocked by the scale and nature of some of the egregious violations of human rights which they described. I promised them that, if the opportunity arose, I would try to draw Parliament’s attention to the dangers that they faced. Therefore, I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, for moving this Motion today, which gives us the opportunity to raise questions and to do just that.
12.15 pm

Although there has been some improvement in the political and economic situation in Colombia, guerrillas and successor groups to paramilitaries have continued to be involved in significant acts of violence. Human rights defenders, trade unionists, journalists, indigenous and Afro-Colombian leaders and IDP leaders regularly face death threats, intimidation and other abuses. Although the Administration of President Juan Manuel Santos have consistently condemned threats and attacks against rights defenders, in a culture of impunity, perpetrators are rarely brought to justice. After decades of internal conflict, with 220,000 people killed, the Government are now in peace talks with the FARC guerrilla group but, with the exception of Syria, Colombia, with a phenomenal 5.7 million displaced people, has the highest number of internally displaced people in the world. As

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the advocate whom I met explained to me, the displacements have frequently come about as a direct consequence of corporate investment, when land is wanted for agriculture, oil exploration or coal mining.

In 2011, the Colombian Government introduced a welcome law to restore to victims some of the 2.2 million hectares of the 6.8 million forcibly taken from them. To date, according to Colombia’s comptroller general, less than 1% of that land has so far been restored. The continuing conflict has also seen some victims, to whom land has been returned, once again violently displaced. According to the Colombian constitutional court, 34 groups of indigenous peoples are currently at risk of extinction. The court identified forced displacement as the major cause. Colombian indigenous peoples’ land is generally in areas rich in natural resources. To safeguard the people and the land, Colombia will need to legislate to protect them from the huge influx of multinational corporations. As I will argue, instead of protection, the UK has created in this trade treaty something that will benefit British businesses but harm exploited and vulnerable people.

It is not just the people who are at risk—it is also the people who try to protect those at risk. What happens to people who challenge rapacious business interests, international conglomerates or the warlords and guerrillas who have profiteered at the expense of the poor? I would like to give the committee an illustration. In May, Colombia’s Senate enacted an important Bill that is a major step in aiding and protecting sexual violence survivors, especially those who are raped or assaulted by guerrillas, paramilitaries, Colombian forces, or others in the context of the country’s decades-long conflict. Colombia’s new law stipulates that sexual violence can constitute a crime against humanity under the standards provided for in international law. But it is indicative of the country’s lawlessness that Ana Angelica Bello, one of the most vocal advocates of this law, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound under circumstances that still remain unclear. Angelica, from rural Colombia, was forced off her land by armed groups. She was raped by men she believed to be former paramilitary as punishment for her subsequent advocacy and activism.

Today’s welcome debate, triggered by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, should ring alarm bells about human rights in Colombia and particularly alert us, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, said, to the dangers faced especially by women such as Angelica and by lawyers and human rights defenders. Professor Sara Chandler, on behalf of the UK members of the International Caravana of Jurists points out that the bilateral investment treaty with Colombia ratified on 10 July is in danger of worsening the situation of human rights’ defenders. She particularly draws attention to an issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, about how we are going to monitor how this treaty works out in practice in future. The Caravana is comprised of international lawyers and includes judges, solicitors, barristers, academics and law students. At the request of its counterparts in Colombia, it has visited the country since 2008 and has gathered first-hand accounts of lawyers who have faced daily threats of violence, kidnapping and death just for undertaking their professional duties. Since January 2012, it has recorded

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37 threats directed towards lawyers or human rights defenders operating as legal representatives, with 18 killings during that period. Incidentally, it will be returning to Colombia next month.

Caravana points out that the United Kingdom has significant leverage, as Britain, as we have heard, is second only to the United States in foreign investment in Colombia and that new investment treaties and fair trade agreements such as the BIT offered the opportunity—sadly, not taken—to include safeguards to ensure that British businesses investing in Colombia will never be complicit in serious human rights violations. It also points to the serious imbalance between the significant protection afforded to investors, compared to the lack of protection and resources available to the indigenous people and local communities affected by development, and states that that disparity places the United Kingdom Government in a position of direct inconsistency with their commitments under the United Kingdom action plan Good Business, which implements the Ruggie UN Guiding Principles on Human Rights.

The action plan contains a commitment that,

“agreements facilitating investment overseas by UK or EU companies incorporate the business responsibility to protect human rights, and do not undermine the host country’s ability to meet its international human rights obligations”.

The bilateral treaty with Colombia remains, ominously, completely silent about those responsibilities. Why is that? This is one of the first tests of whether the sentiment and rhetoric will be matched by the reality. Therefore, it does not bode well. Are we to be simply what John Ruskin once described as a “money-making mob”?

Specifically, in the peace talks in which the Colombian Government are engaged in, they have committed themselves to the land reforms to which the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, referred. Have the Government discussed what impact the treaty will have on the Colombian Government’s ability to return land and to implement the Havana agreement on land reform? Will the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Livingston of Parkhead, also confirm that the largest UK investments in Colombia are in mining, with all the land requirements which mining entails? Will he also tell the Committee how much of the land violently seized and confiscated in Colombia’s conflict is in areas rich in natural resources and on land owned by indigenous peoples, Afro-Colombians and peasant farmers who are waiting for their land to be restored—the people I referred to at the outset of my remarks? Will he explain to the Committee how restoration is compatible with pursuing Britain’s mining interests, and which will take precedence—as if we do not already have a hint as to the answer? Will he also say how we will guarantee the rights and obligations to which I referred of indigenous peoples in respect of their free, prior and informed consent, their right to self-determination and to their own development, which are guaranteed in United Nations International Labour Organization Convention 169 and the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples?

Are we simply to be a money-making mob, or will the Government insist that human rights which we expect for ourselves will be applied in situations where

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our monetary clout gives us influence and leverage? It is really unacceptable that we have created a self-serving agreement which incorporates a disparity in providing considerable—some would say, excessive—protection for British investment while the ability of the Colombian state to regulate that investment is restricted. The investor-state dispute settlement provisions could have been used as an opportunity to incorporate human rights provisions and to enable a third party, such as an NGO, to make representations in the dispute process. As things stand, the UK-Colombia BIT has no such safeguard. We could do a lot worse than emulate the EU-Canada free-trade agreement, CETA, which incorporates safeguards affirming the right of states to regulate in pursuance of legitimate public interest objectives.

In another context, the House of Lords EU Committee has expressed doubts about including an investor-state dispute settlement that gives investors the right to challenge measures adopted—in this case, by the UK—in the public interest. The committee recommended that before including an ISDS clause, a number of safeguards should be in place, including to,

“improve transparency around ISDS proceedings, for example by making hearings and documents public, allowing interested third parties to make submissions”.

Those safeguards do not seem to form part of the bilateral investment treaty with Colombia.

To conclude, I therefore ask the Minister: what plans the Government have to incorporate safeguards to the investor-state dispute settlement provisions in the treaty to enable the UK to ensure that its foreign investments do not make us complicit in serious human rights violations? At the very minimum, will the Government consider creating a system of annual monitoring of the treaty in terms of its human rights impacts and impact on the peace agreements, with the results to be incorporated in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office annual human rights report? What plans are there to incorporate safeguards to the investor-state dispute settlement provision, to ensure that the United Kingdom complies with its human rights obligations and commitments made in Good Business on implementing the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights?

Colombia is listed as one of the countries of concern in the annual FCO human rights report. Instead of promoting policy changes to improve human rights, the bilateral agreement could obstruct Colombia’s ability to promote policies that achieve improvements in human rights. Given the record levels of UK investments in Colombia, there was simply no need for this treaty in the first place. Ministers should give further thought to the consequences of its ratification, along with the ethical implications of its promotion.

Lord Monks (Lab): My Lords, I start by declaring an interest. I am vice-president of Justice for Colombia and play an active role and take an active interest in that country. I also thank my noble friend Lord Stevenson for having the wit to initiate this debate on something that should not go through Parliament quietly in a way that has hitherto been the case. I share the concerns about this treaty expressed by all previous speakers. I am first rather puzzled about why it is so necessary, especially in view of the EU-Colombia trade talks

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which have been going on. In a previous life, when I was general-secretary of the European trade unions in Brussels, I was involved in making sure that social and environmental concerns were properly covered in that arrangement.

This rather more liberal agreement—liberal in the economic sense—sits oddly with the EU trade treaty. As has been said, Colombia remains a dangerous place for many of its citizens, including many from the trade union world. Until recently, it was the most dangerous place in the world to be an active trade unionist, at risk from one or other groups of paramilitaries. In 2013, 78 human rights activists were killed, an increase over the previous years. The Colombian Government are active in saying that things are getting better—we hope they are—but the past year has seen a lot of trouble, with mass unrest and big strikes across the country. These have been particularly in the agricultural sector, where there have been serious clashes with the police, with 27 dead just last summer.

I want to see the Colombian peace talks do well in Havana. The peace process there draws some useful lessons from our experiences in Northern Ireland. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, Colombia has the largest number of displaced people in the world, according to the UNHCR, largely the result of land-grabbing by various paramilitary-backed forces. This brings me to the new treaty protecting foreign firms which invest from the danger of expropriation or other changes which might damage their investment. What could sound more benign than that? Except that Colombia is not a benign place—it is still in turmoil and this need, in terms of the peace process, to restore at least 2.5 million hectares of land to people from whom it has wrongly been taken seems to sit awkwardly with the provisions of this treaty. The treaty could make it a lot harder to restore land to those who originally owned it: for example, where stolen land has been sold to a Western company. What does the treaty have to say about that? Where is the balance of advantage and whose interests will predominate in those circumstances? I would be very interested to hear the Minister’s views on that problem.

The risk that this could limit the application of the peace agreements is considerable. Everyone needs to remember that paramilitaries continue to operate, even though the peace talks are under way. The implication in this of putting British investment interests above human rights and possibly even above that peace process sends a very serious message. I hope that the Government will find ways, as has been suggested by my noble friend Lord Stevenson and others, to reflect on the application of this agreement, even if it is too late to change it.
12.30 pm

The Lord Bishop of Sheffield: My Lords, I shall speak briefly to support and echo the excellent remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, and the points made by other noble Lords on the dangers posed by this treaty, in three specific areas.

First, on the protection of land ownership rights, as we have heard, this is no small issue in Colombia. A concern for the common good of the international

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community must surely include ensuring the ability of Colombia to continue to regulate in the interests of its own people, especially on this key issue. Such a concern would clearly preclude the binding of the Colombian people to corporate rather than national interests. We must therefore work to achieve greater reciprocity in the balance of protections afforded to investors, the Colombian Government and the wider citizenry, including the indigenous peoples in respect of land ownership rights. To this end I, too, urge the Government to incorporate safeguards to the investor-state dispute settlement provision to ensure that the UK complies with its human rights obligations and commitments made in

Good Business: Implementing the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights

.

Secondly, I wish to echo the excellent remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, on the dangers posed by this treaty to the protection of the human rights of the Colombian people. Assurances are needed from the Government that the necessary changes will be undertaken to ensure that the treaty does not undermine Colombia’s ability to meet its international human rights obligations. This is particularly necessary with respect to upholding the indigenous peoples’ right to free, prior and informed consent, and their right to self-determination and their own development, as guaranteed in the United Nations ILO Convention 169 and the treaty on the rights of indigenous peoples.

Thirdly, I strongly urge the Government to establish an annual monitoring system for the treaty, to measure the impact of this agreement on both human rights and peace agreements. In the interests of accountability, as has been suggested, such monitoring ought to be incorporated into the annual FCO human rights report.

The Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Livingston of Parkhead) (Con): My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, for proposing this debate and I thank other noble Lords, particularly on the last day of the session, for their contributions. I know that many in this House take a close interest in Colombia, the progress that that country has made and the challenges it has faced over recent years. As I think noble Lords will be aware, this matter has also been debated in the other place.

I make it clear at the outset that the Government believe that the UK-Colombia investment treaty will benefit both countries. It will encourage increased levels of investment that will contribute towards economic growth, which I believe is in everyone’s interests. This view is shared by the democratically elected Colombian Government. They ratified this treaty in 2013 and have been pressing since then for the UK to ratify it as soon as possible. They have stated that they believe it will stimulate investment flows, guarantee the transparency and protection of investments within the standards recognised by international law, strengthen Colombia’s commercial ties with the rest of the world and guarantee equal treatment to Colombian investors in the UK.

In the next few years, there will be significant investment opportunities in Colombia in sectors where British companies are world leaders, including infrastructure, extractives, education, science and innovation. With the investment treaty in place, I

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believe that British companies are more likely to invest in projects which will help to deliver the right answer for Colombia. Colombia has investment treaties with many other major trading partners, including the US, China, India and Spain. They have also recently reached an agreement with France and it is right that UK investors should enjoy similar protections.

A number of concerns have been expressed in this debate and in other fora. I believe that some fears are exaggerated, but I understand them. First, it is suggested that the treaty will harm Colombia by impacting on the ability of the Colombian Government to regulate because of the risk of having to compensate investors who may bring compensation claims under the agreement, particularly through the ISDS clause, which has been mentioned.

Before I deal with individual questions, some facts are useful. For example, the UK has 94 such agreements. In aggregate, if you add them all together, they have been in existence for more than 2,000 years. There have been two cases and neither of them have been successful. The point about ISDS clauses is that they kick in only when there is not sufficient domestic process to deal with such matters. ISDS clauses are instead of adequate domestic processes. In that context, it is worth pointing out that I do not believe that Colombia has ever faced an ISDS claim.

However, despite the fact that history tells us that that is not a route for corporates to override domestic policy—a view that many have expressed—we have sought to modernise the ISDS clause to protect the state. Several noble Lords have mentioned TTIP and CETA. Although this agreement was made before they were, it contains many of the items raised in relation to TTIP. We cannot replicate the TTIP clause—not least because the TTIP clause does not exist. In fact, there is some debate in the EU whether there will ever be an ISDS clause in TTIP. I think that there may well be.

I would like to go through some of the protections in the treaty. First, it excludes shell companies from investment protection. That is important because some of the more egregious uses of ISDS clauses between third-party countries have been through the use of shell companies. There are also measures to prevent vexatious or frivolous claims. The scope of what is deemed to be fair and equitable treatment is limited; that is important. Indirect expropriation is explicitly defined; I will mention that later in relation to public policy matters. Investors must pursue resolution through the domestic legal system first for six months before submitting the claim. Having read through the treaty again, it aims to cover many of the issues raised.

Taken as an overall package, this is designed to discourage speculative claims. The Colombian Government and the UK Government negotiated it at some length. Investors should rightly have grounds for a claim if they have suffered discriminatory and genuine mistreatment. It has been used in other countries in that manner. By prioritising domestic resolution, ISDS itself would represent a last resort.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton—and, I think everyone else—raised issues about human rights. Of course, in Colombia, this issue is complex and difficult. The

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Government recognise the progress that the Colombian Government have made in tackling human rights issues, but clearly they are not there yet. There are still challenges and more that can be done to improve the situation in Colombia, especially for human rights defenders, victims and land restitution claimants and to prevent sexual violence. The UK Government will continue to discuss the matter and raise it with the Colombian Government.

The continuing armed conflict is one of the major issues—

Lord Alton of Liverpool: Before the Minister leaves that point about monitoring the situation, several noble Lords suggested having a formal mechanism in the department and within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to log each year our assessment of human rights in Colombia and how they are being impinged on by business interests. Will he do something more formal than simply saying that it is an issue that concerns the Government?

Lord Livingston of Parkhead: I was going on to talk about the FTA, which covers a number of human rights issues and discussions. I will discuss with my colleagues in the Foreign Office the monitoring and reporting of human rights in Colombia as a more general issue. It is clearly one area of the world—regrettably, there are many—which has been a challenge.

The armed conflict is one of the main sources of the problems in Colombia. Like the noble Lord, Lord Monks, I support the efforts of the Colombian Government to find a solution through a negotiated peace process. Three or four months ago, I was in Colombia and had discussions with the Colombian Government. I do not doubt their genuine approach to finding a peace solution. In many cases, they will have to take some of the people of Colombia with them during this process. Some have made the corollary with some of our efforts in Northern Ireland and there is, of course, a lot of hurt over the years to make up. I hope that they make progress, which would lead to a number of better solutions.

The UK Government take a balanced approach. We realise that there are problems. It is very important to recognise the progress and effort of this Government in Colombia. They have made significant progress and we will continue to urge them to make further progress. We will also raise specific issues, and will urge that appropriate investigations take place and that protection measures are afforded.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, and others raised land reform. We do not agree that the treaty presents a threat to Colombia’s land restitution programme. As noble Lords know, under the programme, businesses can lose their land, or have to pay compensation, if they cannot prove they undertook due diligence to ensure that the previous occupants were not forcibly displaced. However, in practice, the risk of a business owned by a UK investor losing land or having to pay compensation appears to be small. Very few businesses appear to be losing land and we are not aware of any claims against British businesses under the programme.

I support the concerns expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and

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others that it is very important for British companies to observe international standards, such as those set out by the UN and the OECD. That is reflected in the EU-Colombia FTA, signed in 2012, which is much more the current state of the art. It contains significant commitments relating to human rights, labour rights, environmental protection and sustainable development. The Government also have an existing dialogue with the Colombian Government on these matters.

In view of this, reopening the treaty negotiations would be somewhat superseded by the EU-Colombia FTA. It would lead only to an unnecessary delay in bringing the treaty into force. I must stress that the treaty would be good for Colombia as well as for the UK. I do not believe that reopening the negotiations would add value on human rights. I am also unclear whether an investor could make a claim under the treaty that is in a way detrimental to human rights. The Government are not aware of any cases involving UK investors under any of our 94 treaties.

On the contrary, it is arguable that any state actions which may breach an investment treaty by harming an investor are more likely to damage local communities given the economic benefits, including employment and generating tax revenues, which stable, responsible—I believe that UK companies are responsible—foreign investment delivers.

Environmentally, Colombia is one of the top ecological hotspots in the world. I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, also mentioned Brazil. I thought that there would be nothing better perhaps than to read the clause relating to the environment in the bilateral agreement, which states:

“Nothing in this Agreement shall be construed to prevent a Party from adopting, maintaining, or enforcing any measure that it considers appropriate to ensure that an investment activity in its territory is undertaken in a manner sensitive to environmental concerns, provided that such measures are non-discriminatory and proportionate to the objectives sought”.

That seems like a reasonably balanced approach to environmental concerns.

In a similar way, on public interest concerns, the same issues have been raised in relation to TTIP. In relation to indirect expropriation, which usually is the basis on which people worry about these clauses, the agreement clearly states:

“For the purposes of this agreement, it is understood that … non-discriminatory measures that the Contracting Parties take for … public purpose or social interest … including for reasons of public health, safety, and environmental protection, which are taken in good faith, which are not arbitrary, and which are not disproportionate in light of their purpose, shall not constitute indirect expropriation”.

I am struggling to understand some of the claims that have been made regarding this treaty. It is a modern addition to historic bids and ISDS. As I said, it was debated between the individual parties. While events in some ways have overtaken it with the FTA, the UK-Columbia investment treaty is still an important milestone in the development of our wider trade and investment relationship. The growth and success of Columbia on a wider scale will be important. It was negotiated and supported by the democratically elected Government of Colombia. It will encourage UK investors to do further business in the region that will be to the

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benefit of the Colombian people. It will contribute to Columbia’s economic development through the benefits that increased levels of investment will bring. I strongly believe that we should welcome it and the benefits and safeguards that it will bring to the people of both countries.
12.45 pm

The Deputy Chairman of Committees: The Question is that this Motion be agreed to—

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara: I think that we might have made a small technical error in procedure. I want to say a few words in response and draw a few things together. I am sorry if this is confusing. I am new to this as well as everyone else, and I am looking round for somebody with expertise in this area .

If I may, I shall make a short statement. Let us restart: it is like being in the film “Groundhog Day”, when we keep coming back to the same point, except that we have not. I thank all speakers for their contributions. The knowledge and expertise that has been displayed has been very good and appropriate for the debate. I also think that it is important to recognise that we had Conservatives, Labour Members, Cross Benchers and Bishops representing us, so all aspects of the House have been recorded. The unanimity in what was being said was remarkable. I acknowledge that we are in a situation that is slightly perverse in the sense that the treaty has already been enacted and we are not in the position of asking the Government to reconsider it.

However, some points might be taken forward for future debates and I want to come back to that at the end. We are all very concerned about the way in which human rights need to feed into these treaties nowadays. There are reasons why it did not happen at this stage, but I do not see why that should necessarily be the case going forward. It is also the case that the FTA contains a significant proportion of human rights issues, but that was an EU treaty and not an individual country-to-country one. Therefore, the message is there for the Minister to take back that in future this House might expect to see a stronger and tougher section on human rights.

I thought that the point about corporate social responsibility and the need to build on that was very well made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper; we should record that as something that should go forward. Specific important issues in relation to this treaty were touched on in terms of reporting and because of the current situation with FARC. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, made a good point when he said that the sentiment and rhetoric on display today should be matched by concrete words. That is an important point. The Government are not quite in the same place as the sentiment in the House in relation to how we reflect concerns about ISDS and human rights.

The noble Lord, Lord Monks, was right in saying that the wording is rather awkward in relation to the situation that we see on the ground, particularly in relation to the number of people who are dispossessed from their historic rights to land. The only response we got from the Minister was that he understood our

30 July 2014 : Column GC645

fears but thought they were overstated. I do not think that that cuts it. If he is going to rely on the fact that ISDS is merely a fall-back, and that the right solution to disputes arising from these treaties is to strengthen the domestic legislative processes, we also need to know what the Government are doing to help that. He did not say that, and it is an important point.

Although, as I have said, human rights issues were not in play in such a position in 2008-09, when this treaty commenced, they certainly are now. It seems a curious logic to say that there will be sufficient other activity going on when the wording already exists in the FTA and could be used in future. I hope the Government will give us a firm commitment at some point in the appropriate way to take this issue forward, so that we have a set of words which mean what they say in relation to our commitments—shared around the House—to human rights in these areas. This is especially where there are particular circumstances that are being discussed with FARC.

Having said that, this Motion was an attempt to get a debate and discussion, which it has succeeded in doing.

Motion agreed.

Award for Championing Religious Freedom and Minority Rights

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Award for Championing religious Freedom presented at a meeting in the American Congress 2014

David (Lord) Alton, has received an award for his work for human rights and particularly for championing the rights of minorities persecuted for their beliefs.

The award was presented at a meeting being held in Washington DC at the American Congress. David Alton was nominated for the award by Egypt’s Coptic community for his long standing work on their behalf.

For the past twenty years Lord Alton has served as honorary President of the UK Copts.

At the award ceremony he said that “all over the world majorities and minorities need to learn again the art of co-existence, learning to respect diversity and plurality. Without co-exisence and ability to live together peaceably the world descends into chaos.”

Combatting Rare and Neglected Tropical Diseases – END7

Combatting Rare and Neglected Tropical Diseases

To read the full debate go to:
http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/hansard/lords/todays-lords-debates/read/grandcommittee/844/

NTDs cause blindness, huge swelling in appendages and limbs, severe malnutrition and anaemia—all brilliantly highlighted  in the END7 Youtube video featuring Eddie Redmayne and others.

NTDs cause blindness, huge swelling in appendages and limbs, severe malnutrition and anaemia—all brilliantly highlighted in the END7 Youtube video featuring Eddie Redmayne and others.

Thursday 06 February 2014
2.25 pm

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, I, too, pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Hayman for her assiduous and indefatigable commitment to the elimination of neglected tropical diseases. I should mention that I am a patron emeritus of the Liverpool School for Tropical Medicine, which is one of the partners in the Global Network for neglected tropical diseases and is a leader in NTD research. I am also a patron of a project providing clean water in Turkana and a health project in Ghana. (See:
https://davidalton.net/2013/09/03/motec-come-to-westmisnter-to-launch-their-nuwlife-project-for-tackling-malnurishment-among-children-in-ghanas-upper-western-region-of-jirapa-2/
and
https://davidalton.net/2011/12/23/turkana-at-25/

Liverpool School of Tropical  Medicine

Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine

Former President of Ghana - John Kufuor - Honorary fellow of Liverpool John Moores University

Former President of Ghana – John Kufuor – Honorary fellow of Liverpool John Moores University

As recently as 27 January, former Ghanaian President John Kufuor was in London to mark the anniversary of the 2012 declaration. He rightly says:

There is no silver bullet remedy to helping a country break the cycle of poverty, but investing in the health of its population offers one of the best options for unlocking economic potential”.

Scaling up integrated NTD control and elimination strategies is considered one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce global poverty. Virtually all of the “bottom billion”, the 1.4 billion people around the world who are living on less than $1.25 a day, are afflicted with one or more of the seven most common NTDs: elephantiasis, hookworm, river blindness, roundworm, whipworm, trachoma and snail fever. NTDs disable, debilitate and perpetuate poverty and in worst-case scenarios they can kill. They cause blindness, huge swelling in appendages and limbs, severe malnutrition and anaemia—all brilliantly highlighted, I might add, in the END7 Youtube video featuring Eddie Redmayne and others. (see: How To Shock a Celebrity: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sYimJKg9QiE

Those afflicted include more than 500 million children. In a randomised controlled trial in Ethiopia, researchers found that consistently treating trachoma halved childhood mortality, while a study in Kenya demonstrated that deworming children leads to a 25% decrease in school absenteeism.

Compare the cost of one cup of coffee at Starbucks, which can range from £1.75 to £3.50, to the just 30 pence — or 50 cents, half a US dollar — per person per year which is all that is needed to treat and protect one person against all seven NTDs.

This in turn averts malnutrition, improves education outcomes, improves maternal and child health, reduces new cases of HIV and sets the stage for sustainable economic development. In Africa, the entire at-risk population could be treated for £250 million or less annually. Yet efforts to control and eliminate NTDs receive less than 2% of total global health funding, and the elimination of many of the NTDs will not be achieved without significant investment in water and sanitation interventions. Such an approach should surely be central to post-2015 objectives, and I hope that we will hear from the Minister on this.

I am particularly concerned that the 2013 report of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, An Action Agenda for Sustainable Development, does not mention NTDs. Surely that should be rectified. I hope that the Minister will comment on that.

Many of the curses that afflict us cannot be conquered but NTDs can.

These ancient diseases can and should be a thing of the past, and it is not misty romanticism or idealism to talk of a world free of NTDs for the next generation.

This is achievable, and we would be failing millions, and failing our duty, not to do it. My noble friend therefore deserves our thanks for keeping this issue on the agenda, and the United Nations and development agencies should be lobbied by parliamentarians and Governments the world over to make this achievable objective a reality. I hope that the Minister will tell us that the Government are committed to doing precisely that.

2.29 pm

Elephantiasis

Elephantiasis

Former President Kufuor

Former President Kufuor

Clean water is Key

Clean water is Key

The Global Campaign

The Global Campaign

In Africa, the entire at-risk population could be treated for £250 million or less annually.

In Africa, the entire at-risk population could be treated for £250 million or less annually.

Virtually all of the “bottom billion”, the 1.4 billion people around the world who are living on less than $1.25 a day, are afflicted with one or more of the seven most common NTDs

Virtually all of the “bottom billion”, the 1.4 billion people around the world who are living on less than $1.25 a day, are afflicted with one or more of the seven most common NTDs

 Compare the cost of one cup of coffee at Starbucks, which can range from £1.75 to £3.50, to the fact that just 30p—or 50 cents, half a US dollar—per person per year is all that is needed to treat and protect one person against all seven NTDs.

Compare the cost of one cup of coffee at Starbucks, which can range from £1.75 to £3.50, to the fact that just 30p—or 50 cents, half a US dollar—per person per year is all that is needed to treat and protect one person against all seven NTDs.


Those afflicted include more than 500 million children

Those afflicted include more than 500 million children


Liverpool School for Tropical Medicine, which is one of the partners in the Global Network for neglected tropical diseases and is a leader in NTD research

Liverpool School for Tropical Medicine, which is one of the partners in the Global Network for neglected tropical diseases and is a leader in NTD research

efforts to control and eliminate NTDs receive less than 2% of total global health funding

efforts to control and eliminate NTDs receive less than 2% of total global health funding

NTD15png

These ancient diseases can and should be a thing of the past, and it is not misty romanticism or idealism to talk of a world free of NTDs for the next generation

These ancient diseases can and should be a thing of the past, and it is not misty romanticism or idealism to talk of a world free of NTDs for the next generation

Some further thoughts and facts….

In the United States Congress allocated twice as much funding towards Avian Flu preparedness, despite the fact that Avian Flu has only caused 1,000 deaths over the past 10 years. Yet the U.S. and U.K are two of the countries which do most to work for the eradication of NTDs.

So what should be our highest priority and strategy in achieving the elimination of all seven of these wretched diseases by 2020? It will surely be a combination of providing these cheap and effective drugs linked to the provision of clean water and the involvement of yet more countries in prioritizing their elimination.

Quite often these diseases are tied to poor sanitation and lack of access to clean water.

Clean water is essential for sustainable NTD prevention. Many of these diseases can be spread by drinking contaminated water and eating food that was not properly washed. Areas with stagnant water are breeding grounds for insects that carry NTDs, notably mosquitoes, which transmit lymphatic filariasis. In many communities, key water sources harbour the parasite that causes snail fever. Whenever possible, water and sanitation programs should include NTD control measures to maximize the positive benefits of NTD interventions.

Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) are a crucial but all too often underplayed part of the prevention and control of NTDs. The elimination of many of the NTDs will not be achieved without significant investment in WASH interventions.

Measures to improve WASH should be included in the post 2015 objectives, including a dedicated goal on water and sanitation and ambitious targets to ensure that no-one practices open defecation; that everyone has safe water, sanitation and hygiene at home and that all school and health facilities have safe water, sanitation and hygiene.

Any new framework must learn lessons from the Millennium Development Goalss. Of paramount importance is the need to recognise that further progress in improving health and wellbeing can only be made by reducing inequalities and recognising the broader determinants of health outcomes, including WASH.

The global fight against NTDs has already begun, but universal and continuous support is critical to achieving lasting results.

Long-term elimination goals cannot be reached without addressing primary risk factors for NTDs such as access to clean water and basic sanitation, vector control, and stronger health systems in endemic areas. These issues will need to be addressed beyond the World Health Organisation’s 2020 goals and as part of the post-2015 development framework.

Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD) is a major cross-cutting theme at Liverpool School Of Tropical Medicine and a particular strength of the Parasitology and Vector Biology Departments.

Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, which is one of the partners in the Global Network for neglected tropical diseases and is a leader in NTD research

Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, which is one of the partners in the Global Network for neglected tropical diseases and is a leader in NTD research


They say…

One billion people residing in the world’s most disadvantaged communities suffer from at least one NTD, which can significantly impact upon their physical and emotional wellbeing. Typically this is combined with economic hardship when affected individuals are prevented from working and receiving education, and so NTDs perpetuate the cycle of poverty.

Important questions are being raised concerning approaches to the control and elimination of NTDs. While scaling up access to preventive chemotherapy for NTDs is a priority, achieving effective treatment coverage alone is not enough to achieve the 2020 NTD targets. LSTM is working to identify and overcome critical bottlenecks by designing programmes to adopt a more flexible approach and evaluating alternative and integrated strategies to overcome the existing barriers to control and elimination (e.g. A∙WOL). In addition to preventive chemotherapy, the WHO recommends complementary strategies to accelerate transmission interruption, including vector control, the provision of sanitation and hygiene, health awareness and capacity building. LSTM is a leader in NTD research and global disease elimination/control programme management. By using a multidisciplinary approach to research and its translation into policy and practice we capitalise upon the political and financial commitments made at the London Declaration in 2012.

LSTM have begun the ‘Countdown to 2020’. Our Centre for NTD contribute to a scorecard that tracks the delivery of London Declaration commitments, highlights key milestones and targets, and helps identify priority action areas to ensure that 2020 goals are achieved or revised.
Over the past year, there has been good progress in the following:

• Pharma partners supplied 1.12 billion treatments meeting the increased requests from endemic countries.

• Donors committed over £500m to support integrated NTD programs, scale up and expand existing programmes, increase resources available for mapping, improve program strategies through research, and develop new tools.

• More than 40 endemic countries developed multi-year integrated NTD plans, and Nigeria, Brazil, Cameroon, Uganda, Ghana and Ethiopia launched their plans. ‘Mega countries’, Ethiopia and DRC have completed coordinated mapping of preventative chemotherapy NTDs and ready to start Mass Drug Administration.

Key challenges to achieving the London Declaration goals by 2020:• Attaining significantly increased rate of up scale-up to reach targets

• Coverage and adherence issues to resolve and sustain

• Alternative/complementary strategies needed for Central Africa (areas of Loa tropical eye worm safety problems)

• Morbidity management lagging behind Mass Drug Administration

• The threat of reduced drug efficacy/resistance towards the end game

• Delivery of new tools (e.g. drugs, diagnostics) to the market in a timely fashion

• Partnership management – integration of complex programmes

• Capacity competition with other health/development programmes

• Defining and validating elimination targets and consensus on WHA resolutions

• Evaluation, monitoring, surveillance: tools need to be adopted and deployed quickly

• Verification and Certification costs and criteria to be defined

• WHO/HQ and Regional office interactions: Regional Resolutions on NTDs

• Secure necessary funding to deliver scale-up

• Post-conflict, fragile states and hard-to-reach communities, ‘Hotspot’, cross-border and urban delivery challenges

On Line Safety Bill debated – suicide sites, cyber bullying, and protection of young children.

 

Subject: On Line Safety Bill Second Reading Friday December 6th 2013

 Read the full debate at:

 

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201314/ldhansrd/text/131206-0001.htm#13120659000674

1.40 am

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB):⁠

My Lords, like other noble Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Howe for introducing this much needed Online Safety Bill. She has been dogged and determined and deserves our admiration, support and thanks.

I warmly welcome the Bill’s clauses but in my remarks I shall particularly focus on the problem of children purposefully seeking out or stumbling accidentally upon inappropriate material on the internet. This crucial challenge is addressed by Clauses 1 and 2, but I shall also say a word about Clause 5 and the role of parents.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester reminded us that Nelson Mandela once said that a civilised society will always be judged on how it treats and protects its children. Mandela also proclaimed the African idea of ubuntu“umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu: a person is a person because of other people.” It is worth pondering on that thought in a debate that is reflecting on virtual worlds where screens may often take the place of people or personal interaction.

In considering how we treat our children, surely we must all be disturbed that a UNICEF report ranked the United Kingdom bottom out of 21 developed countries for child welfare.

It begs the question of what sort of world we are bequeathing to our children, a point made eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, a few minutes ago.

Economists point to what they call intergenerational theft when they talk about the debts which our children will inherit as a result of our fiscal profligacy, but there is another kind of intergenerational theft. It is our failure to protect the innocence of childhood itself. The landscape of Britain is littered with the consequences. Let me give some illustrations.

The British Association of Perinatal Medicine says that over the past decade there has been a 67% increase in the number of children born addicted to drugs, with one in 500 babies needing treatment for withdrawal. More than 50,000 of our children are listed on child protection registers or are the subject of child protection plans. Worldwide, 218 million children—that is one in seven—are working, and 14% of all children aged five to 17 are child labourers. Lest we think this is not an issue for us, we should recall the BBC report of Romanian children, some as young as nine, found working in freezing fields in Worcestershire. Today’s Oliver Twists are living in London and all over the world.

In the past year, National Health Service hospitals treated more than 18,000 girls and 4,000 boys aged 10 to 19 after they had deliberately harmed themselves. The figure was up 11% on the previous year. Among 10 to 14 year-olds, admissions rose from 4,008 to 5,192, an increase of 30%. It is estimated that 7% to 14% of adolescents will self-harm at some point in their life. Suicide is the second most common cause of death in people aged between 15 and 24, behind accidental death.

Now, while all these ills most certainly cannot be laid at the door of the internet exclusively—as we have heard, it can be a wonderful tool—the presence of suicide sites and sites which encourage self-harm, create insecurity through cyberbullying or rob a child of innocence and that is not something about which we can be indifferent.

The human costs are phenomenal and sometimes even fatal.

Just two weeks ago, I distributed prizes at an excellent school in the north of England. It should have been a day simply to celebrate the achievements of last year’s leavers. One of the young people had composed a beautiful song to commemorate the memory of one of her year group. He had taken his own life after visiting suicide sites. Imagine the effect which that has had on his family and the school community. That his death is not an isolated example is underlined by the almost daily news reports.

One recent report in the Daily Telegraph said:

“Rising numbers of children are turning to the internet to self-harm by creating multiple social media accounts and ‘trolling’ themselves … They hurl abuse at themselves by setting up multiple cyber identities … even encouraging unwitting strangers to join in”.

 

Last month, the same newspaper reported the inquest into the death of Ayden Keenan-Olson, a 14 year-old boy who having told his family he thought he was gay, committed suicide after receiving physical and verbal abuse at school.

The police told the inquest that Ayden had bypassed settings on his computer to research suicide on the internet. The coroner, Caroline Beasley-Murray, said

“The court regrets the influence that such sites have on young people”.

That is putting it mildly.

Consider this report which supports the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, made a few moments ago. It is taken from the Times of 27 November and is about a hearing at Newport Crown Court:

“A 12-year-old boy was trying to play out pornographic scenes he had watched on a school computer when he repeatedly raped his younger sister, a court heard … Issuing a warning to parents, Judge Thomas Crowther, QC, said the internet could not be used as a ‘benign babysitter’”.

The Times reported that the boy had,

“watched hardcore pornography while at school after searching for explicit websites with a classmate. He would then go home and carry out the acts on his sister”.

The same day the Times also reported that Mold Crown Court had heard a case of a 13 year-old boy who,

“had raped a young girl after becoming addicted to pornography.”

This is not the centrefold of Playboy magazine. It is a million miles from that and, as we have heard, parents often have no idea of the influences at work in their children’s lives or how to guard against them.

My teenage son and his friends know a great deal more than me or most of my generation about computers and the internet, but no parent in their right mind would knowingly allow a stranger into a young child’s bedroom, free to teach their loved ones how to kill themselves, how to self-harm or how to act violently against other.

We are not just talking about children viewing erotic, static images. We are talking about children viewing images of extreme violence and explicit pornography, often through videos portraying various forms of abuse.

I entirely agree with what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, said earlier in his remarks about the importance of setting out a useful first step in placing a duty on the Secretary of State to provide means of educating parents of children under the age of 18 about online safety.

However, education alone is not enough.

I am encouraged that, following the Prime Minister’s important speech to the NSPCC last July, which has been referred to throughout this debate, there have been some positive developments, and it is right to welcome his personal commitment and what the Government have done thus far.

However, as noble Lords on all sides of the House have said, there is much more to be done. Internet access is increasing all the time.

On average, one-third of 10 year-olds spend three hours or more on computers every day. An NSPCC report published earlier this year found that 91% of all five to 15 year-olds used the internet in 2012. When looked at by age, three in four five to seven year-olds, nearly all eight to 11 year-olds and all 12 to 15 year-olds have used the internet.

As I have made clear, I believe that the internet is one of the most profound inventions in human history. It has had, and continues to have, a phenomenal impact on so many peoples’ lives across the globe, developing awareness and understanding of the world around us. I have seen it used in remote villages in Africa, helping people to leapfrog educational disadvantages. I have also seen how young people in the UK have used this knowledge to respond generously and selflessly.

However, we are all acutely aware that there is another side to the story of the expansion of the internet, and that is what the Bill is concerned with.

The internet represents the biggest challenge ever in bringing up children.

As I have illustrated, children and young people are being increasingly exposed to negative influences.

In a country where 800,000 children have no contact with their fathers—men who have abandoned the mothers of their children—there are too frequently no voices to correct, to guide, to help navigate life’s choppy waters. That is why we have a duty as legislators, often in loco parentis, to challenge influences which include deplorable sexual and racial stereotyping, and the use of obscene language—things which diminish us all, not just children.

The advertisements on many sites, often targeted at young people, are equally aggressive and awful.

Many promote hedonism as a substitute for a happy life. It is not surprising that the Children’s Society says that 89% of parents think that these influences have made their children more materialistic—but who created these conditions for such nihilism and acquisitiveness in the first place? We did, and it is time that we did something about it.

The House should ask itself how we intend to act on the parliamentary inquiry which last year found that one in three children aged just 10 or under has seen sexual images online? Are we just going to allow this to gather dust?

As the House would expect, the cross-party inquiry concluded that children are suffering as a result. The inquiry noted:

“Overuse of pornographic material has been shown to desensitise children and young people to violent or sexually aggressive acts, diminish sympathy for victims of sexual assault and reduce children’s own inhibitions, making them more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. Moreover, a vicious circle of behaviour can develop where exposure to porn leads to early sexual involvement and an increased consumption of sexual media”.

The inquiry also maintained that the rise of internet pornography is leaving teenagers with an inability to develop normal relationships and is further increasing their susceptibility to grooming by sexual abusers—points made very well by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, and my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham in his contribution earlier today.

The leading psychologist, Dr Linda Papadopoulos, says that there is a striking link between the consumption of sexualized images and,

“a tendency to view women as objects and the acceptance of aggressive attitudes and behaviour as the norm”.

The deputy Children’s Commissioner commented in the introduction to research published in May:

“What is clear, however, is that children’s access to pornography is fundamentally different from that of previous generations because of the prevalence of these materials on the internet”.

Four out of five children aged 14 to 16 access online pornography at home, it said. That is a disturbing situation. Justine Roberts of the Mumsnet online forum gave examples of some Mumsnet users’ concerns. One parent said:

“My 6 year old searched for DISNEY FAIRIES and got HARDCORE PORN”.

Another said:

“My 10 year old son has found porn on the net help, help, help”.

Another wrote:

“My 7 year old son has just been looking at internet porn, what do I do?”.

Many parents are simply bewildered.

John Carr, one of the most prominent authorities on children and young people’s use of the internet recently said:

“In recent years there has been a very dramatic increase in child pornography images made by children and then distributed online or via phones …We have an exhibitionist, celebrity-dominated culture and it’s seen as normal and cool to be a porn star”.

 

Psychotherapist John Woods, speaking recently on Radio 4, drew attention to the way in which viewing pornography and other harmful material can have a considerable impact on how a child views others, how they view the world around them and indeed how they view themselves. The advertising industry in the UK has in the past 12 months spent £14 billion. They would not bother to do that if they did not think that what we see and hear has an influence upon us. According to research by Ybarra and Mitchell, children exposed to pornography are far more likely to be depressed and are far more likely to be less bonded to their care givers.

Children do not simply view these images and move on.

These images can cause real trauma for weeks, months or even years to come. For many children it is hard to compute what they may have seen. If the internet has no boundaries, if everything is open and accessible, many children will fail to distinguish between what is abusive and what is not, what is legal and what is not. If children are being fed images of abuse, many will invariably come to think that this is the norm.

Children should be able to enjoy their childhood and be protected from harmful and damaging online material.

We do, as a society, have a duty to protect children from harm. In response to this some may say, “I agree. This is all very concerning but we have a self-regulatory solution. We don’t need this Bill”.

In the aftermath of the killing in Liverpool in 1993 of the two year-old James Bulger by two 10 year-old boys who had been exposed to gratuitously violent video material, which was referred to by the judge when the trial took place, I tabled an amendment in the House of Commons, supported on all sides of that Chamber, to protect children from gratuitously violent video material.

At the time, the Home Office advisers said that we did not need such a provision because self-regulation was enough.

Parliament, I am glad to say, disagreed and when the Bill came to your Lordships’ House my amendment was incorporated and the law was changed.

The idea that self-regulation is an appropriate long-term tool for upholding child protection is bizarre.

In the first instance, it presents us with a complete inconsistency.

As a matter of law we do not allow children to buy R18 films. If a 14 year-old said that they wanted to go into a film that was full of explicit sexual and violent imagery, would you allow them? No. We rightly decided that legislators and parents have the responsibility of ensuring that children are not exposed to such material. What, then, is different about the internet?

There is a flagrant inconsistency in how the law treats children offline and online. My noble friend’s Bill provides us with the opportunity to put that right.

Self-regulation also seems a very odd solution, given what the Prime Minister has said on the subject. As we have heard, in his NSPCC speech he said that there are few things more important than this. I agree. How odd, then, that we should have countless laws about everything under the sun but not in relation to one of the most important subjects: online child protection.

I am not suggesting that progress cannot be made on a self-regulatory basis. What I am questioning is whether that progress can be as good or as robust as progress on a statutory basis.

We should do what we can to establish the safest, most secure approach to online safety. That approach is the statutory approach set before us in my noble friend’s simple and effective Bill.

I urge the Government to give their strong support to my noble friend in all her endeavours.

11.57 am

World War One – day of World War One Poetry in Liverpool – Remembering the First World War and 16.5 million deaths

Remarks made by David Alton at the launch of the “Merseyisde at War”  commemoration of World War One Poetry – hosted by Liverpool John Moores University on November 30th 2013 in Liverpool

Visit: http://www.merseyside-at-war.org/

Forthcoming Roscoe Lecture:

Thursday 13 November, 2014 2pm Bill Sergeant & Tony Wainwright “Two Stories of Heroism – Chavasse and the Liverpool PALS”  Tickets from Mrs.Barbara Mace: b.mace@ljmu.ac.uk 

The commemoration of World War One poetry was organised by Professor Frank McDonough of Liverpool John Moores University

The commemoration of World War One poetry was organised by Professor Frank McDonough of Liverpool John Moores University

Every year in the month of November at cenotaphs up and down the land we say the words “We will remember them.” In this coming year we will remember the beginning of a war which has come to epitomise carnage and human sacrifice on a previously unimaginable scale. The war claimed more than16.5 million deaths, lives, both military and civilian. One and a quarter million of those who died originated from the United Kingdom and from what was then the British Empire. 230,000 deaths were among military personnel from countries now within the Commonwealth. 

Whist the conflict raged it was decided to build the Imperial War Museum and when it opened in 1920, Sir Alfred Mond, the financier and politician, described it as, “not a monument of military glory, but a record of toil and sacrifice”.

 World War One

Beyond the national commemoration of toil and sacrifice, many will recall the personal stories which have been passed down by relatives who participated in that conflict. It was called a war to end all wars but at its culmination it was acerbically remarked that the hobbled peace agreement would be a peace to end all peace. And twenty years later, so it proved.   

 

As I child my grandfather gave me photographs which he had taken or collected during his own service – which saw him in action in Allenby’s army in the Middle East. Photographs of murdered Armenians, executed in Jerusalem by the retreating armies, still have a chilling effect on me. When I took my daughter to the genocide museum in Armenia I reminded her that the world’s indifference to the plight of the Armenians would lead Hitler to scornfully remark “Who now remembers the Armenians?”.

 

1915 Sussex Regiment - marching into Jerusalem William Alton a the Garden of Gethsemane on the right and Armenians who had been hung in Jerusalem by the retreating Turks as spies.

1915 Sussex Regiment – marching into Jerusalem William Alton a the Garden of Gethsemane on the right and Armenians who had been hung in Jerusalem by the retreating Turks as spies.

1915- World War One William Alton-in Egypt-with a captured German gun at Ramalah - and bathing in the River Jordan

1915- World War One William Alton-in Egypt-with a captured German gun at Ramalah – and bathing in the River Jordan

1917 Field medical card for William Alton - shrapnel wounds

1917 Field medical card for William Alton – shrapnel wounds

1918 - William Alton; RAF Service Record (findmypast; GBM_AIR79_2985_00164)

We should always remember; and when we can bring ourselves to forgive we should never ever forget.

 

1918 - William Alton; RAF Service Record (findmypast; GBM_AIR79_2985_00165)

Our memories of the Great War inevitably focus less on the events in Jerusalem, Mesopotamia, or Gallipoli and more on the trenches of Ypres and the Somme. For here was mechanised warfare on a scale previously unimaginable.

This was a war that saw millions go to their deaths – and which divided families and communities, churches and political parties.

 

Think for a moment of the conscientious objectors who opposed the war both on religious and political grounds. Many of them ended up in prison. Courage came in many kinds of clothes.

 

It was Alan Clarke who coined the phrase “lions led by donkeys”, to describe some of those who led the British Forces.

 

Accounts of hampers from Fortnum & Mason and  200 British generals driving their Rolls Royces behind the lines stand in stark contrast to the putrid stench of gas in the Flanders trenches – open graves which witnessed extraordinary bravery, courage, valour and suffering as more than 1.2 million allied servicemen lost their lives: 200,000 on one day alone at the Somme.  Over 2 million Germans would also die.

 World War One

In Westminster Abbey lies the tomb of the unknown soldier. He is there in memory of 100,000 men whose bodies are still unaccounted for at Passchendale and all those who have died on foreign fields in graves unknown and unmarked. The remains of several unknown soldiers were taken to a private room where a blindfolded officer chose the body to represent all those who had fallen but were unidentified.  An estimated 1,250,000 people visited Westminster Abbey to see the grave in only the first week.

 

When David Cameron launched the Government’s commemoration, he reminded us that in only 50 of the 14,000 parishes in England and Wales, were no deaths of parishioners recorded. Not a single parish in Scotland or Northern Ireland remained unscathed.

 

The Prime Minister identified 2014 as a moment “to honour those who served; to remember those who died; and to ensure that the lessons learned live with us”.

 

The twentieth century saw two wars which led to a calamitous loss of life. I doubt whether we have learned those lessons and in every generation we need to reflect on the failure which war represents. But there are other lessons for us to ponder during these commemorations.

 

The human spirit was assaulted but not crushed. Human endeavour matched the devastation and significant social and political change came in its wake. Patriotism, which was based on blind allegiance and acceptance of rigid social structures was replaced by a patriotism that yearned for a just and fairer society.

 World War One

The First World War dramatically changed Britain’s social structures. During the war an  immense contribution was made by around 1.5 million women in the workplace, not least the munitions factories, but they also ran government departments, public transport, post offices, and countless other jobs, paving the way for women’s emancipation in 1918.

 

 

Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett put it like this:

 

 

“The war revolutionised the industrial position of women … It not only opened opportunities of employment in a number of skilled trades but, more important even than this, it revolutionised men’s minds and their conception of the sort of work of which the ordinary everyday woman was capable”.

 

 

 

The War also saw a phenomenal contribution by countries inextricably linked to Britain through its Empire. More than 1.5 million people from the Indian subcontinent alone served with 70,000 fatalities. More than 9,000 Indian troops were decorated for gallantry, including 11 Victoria Crosses.  More than 200,000 Irishmen voluntarily enlisted, and 30.000 perished.

The Supreme Allied Commander, Marshall Foch, would remark: “I saw Irishmen of the North and the South forget their age-long differences, and fight side by side, giving their lives freely for the common cause”. And it was a War which saw whole communities unite in sacrifice and grief .

Think of the Lancashire towns which produced the Pals who would all lose their lives . In Scotland alone, 26% of the men who enlisted never returned home.

Noel Chavasse, son of the Bishop of Liverpool, was a courageous doctor who was the double recipient of the Victoria Cross

Noel Chavasse, son of the Bishop of Liverpool, was a courageous doctor who was the double recipient of the Victoria Cross

Think, too, of the courage of the non-combatants. Captain Noel Chavasse was the son of the Bishop of Liverpool. In 1915 he was awarded the Military Cross and in 1916 his first Victoria Cross.  As a doctor he went into no-man’s land to tend the wounded. The following day, ignoring shrapnel injuries, he brought back twenty men whose lives he had saved. A year later, at Passchendaele,  after carrying out a similar courageous act, he received  shrapnel injuries to his abdomen and crawled back to the trenches, dying of his wounds; receiving a second VC for his selfless bravery.

Erich Maria Remarque who wrote All Quiet On The Westen Front

Erich Maria Remarque who wrote All Quiet On The Westen Front

The horror of those events is captured in Erich Maria Remarque’s novel All Quiet on the Western Front – a story which originated on the other side of the trenches but tell the same story of  brutality and pain, or fear and terror, of a lost generation. Listen to these quotations from that remarkable book:

“I am young, I am twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow. I see how peoples are set against one another, and in silence, unknowingly, foolishly, obediently, innocently slay one another.”

“But now, for the first time, I see you are a man like me. I thought of your hand-grenades, of your bayonet, of your rifle; now I see your wife and your face and our fellowship. Forgive me, comrade. We always see it too late. Why do they never tell us that you are poor devils like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as ours, and that we have the same fear of death, and the same dying and the same agony–Forgive me, comrade; how could you be my enemy?”

 “It is very queer that the unhappiness of the world is so often brought on by small men.”

“We are not youth any longer. We don’t want to take the world by storm. We are fleeing. We fly from ourselves. From our life. We were eighteen and had begun to love life and the world; and we had to shoot it to pieces. The first bomb, the first explosion, burst in our hearts. We are cut off from activity, from striving, from progress. We believe in such things no longer, we believe in the war.”

“This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped shells, were destroyed by the war.”
World War One

On the British side of the trenches our own writers were coming to the same conclusions.

Today we should especially recall the work of Wilfred  Owen who is regarded by many historians as the leading poet of the First World War. His war poetry records the horrors of trench and gas warfare.

Wilfred Owen - who was educated in Birkenhead

Wilfred Owen – who was educated in Birkenhead

Born on 18 March 1893, the eldest of four children, at Plas Wilmot, a house in Weston Lane, near Oswesty in Shropshire, he was of mixed English and Welsh ancestry.

After the death of his grandfather, Edward Shaw, in January 1897, and the  sale of their family home the family lodged in back streets of Birkenhead while his father temporarily worked there for the railway company employing him.

In 1898, Thomas became stationmaster at Woodside Station and the family lived with him, at three successive homes in the Tranmere district, before moving back to Shrewsbury in 1907.

Wilfred was educated at the Birkenhead Institute and at Shrewsbury Technical School.

He discovered his poetic vocation in 1903 or 1904 during a holiday spent in Cheshire.

When war broke out, he did enlist immediately – and as he was living on the Continent he even considered joining the French army – but eventually returned to England. On 4 June 1916 he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Manchester Regiment.

Once at the Front he quickly saw action and after falling into a shell hole, suffered concussion. He was blown high into the air by a trench mortar, and spent several days lying out on an embankment in Savy Wood, believed he was lying amidst the remains of a fellow officer.

Soon afterwards, Owen was diagnosed as suffering from neurasthenia or shell shock and sent for treatment to Edinbugh’s Craiglockhart War Hospital. It was while recuperating at Craiglockhart that he met fellow poet Siegfried Sassoon, an encounter that was to transform Owen’s life.

 Owen asked for Sassoon’s assistance in refining his poems’ rough drafts. It was Sassoon who named the start of the famous short poem, Anthem for Doomed Youth, “anthem”, and who also substituted “doomed” for “dead”; and added the famous epiphet of “patient minds”.  The amended manuscript copy, which is in both men’s handwriting, is still extant and may be viewed at the Wilfred Owen Manuscript Archive

 

Wilfred Owen's Anthem for Doomed Youth

Wilfred Owen’s Anthem for Doomed Youth

In 14 short lines, in Anthem for Doomed Youth” Wilfred Owen takes us deep into the horror of the war…

 

Anthem for Doomed Youth

Anthem for Doomed Youth

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle? 

Only the monstrous anger of the guns. 

Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle 

Can patter out3 their hasty orisons.4

No mockeries5 now for them; no prayers nor bells; 

Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, –

The shrill, demented6 choirs of wailing shells; 

And bugles7 calling for them from sad shires.8

What candles9 may be held to speed them all? 

Not in the hands of boys but in their eyes 

Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes. 

The pallor10 of girls’ brows shall be their pall; 

Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds, 

And each slow dusk11 a drawing-down of blinds.

 

  At the very end of August 1918, Owen returned to the front and on 1 October 1918 he led units of the Second Manchesters to storm a number of enemy strong points near the village of Joncourt.

  However, only one week before the end of the war, whilst attempting to traverse the Sambre canal, he was shot and killed. The news of his death, on 4 November 1918, arrived at his parents’ house in Shrewsbury on Armistice Day. For his courage and leadership in the Joncourt action, he was awarded the Military Cross. His poetry continues to challenge and to stand as a rebuke. Most memorably, at the conclusion of today’s readings of poetry we will hear his “Dulce et Decorum Est.”

World War One

Why are we having these readings? Why have we launched a living archive to record the memories of families whose loved ones went to war? It is simply that we owe it to that generation never to forget and to pledge ourselves anew in our own times and in our own generation to do all we can to avert the carnage and brutality  – the ultimate failure which war always represents. Although, one day,  we may be called upon to defend our liberties and our values, the events we will commemorate in 2014 should surely instil into us a deep and renewed commitment to work unstintingly for peaceful and rational solutions to man-made challenges and problems.

 Anthem for Doomed Youth

Anthem for Doomed Youth

Liverpool John Moores University are launching a web site to enable Merseyside people to record their own stories and those of their community and to upload photographs and letters from the Great War.

Liverpool John Moores University are launching a web site to enable Merseyside people to record their own stories and those of their community and to upload photographs and letters from the Great War.

World War One 2World War One 2

world War One 3World War One 4

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?

      Only the monstrous anger of the guns.

      Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle

Can patter out their hasty orisons.

No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells,

      Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—

The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;

      And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

 

What candles may be held to speed them all?

      Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes

Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.

      The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;

Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,

And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Share this text …?

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 What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?

      Only the monstrous anger of the guns.

      Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle

Can patter out their hasty orisons.

No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells,

      Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—

The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;

      And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

 

What candles may be held to speed them all?

      Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes

Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.

      The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;

Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,

And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Share this text …?

·Twitter

·Pinterest

 

HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS DEBATED IN THE HOUSE OF LORDS

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On November 22nd 2013 the House of Lords debated the following Motion on Human Rights Violations. The link takes you to the recording of the parliamentary debate and the text of the debate appears below.

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Video of the debate can be found here: http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Player.aspx?meetingId=14207 – the Human Rights debate follows the Questions.  Scroll ahead to 11.38.

Meeting at the House of Lords with Mr.Justice Michael Kirby's Commission of Inquiry into Human Rights Abuses in North Korea.

Meeting at the House of Lords with Mr.Justice Michael Kirby’s Commission of Inquiry into Human Rights Abuses in North Korea.

PROVISIONAL HANSARD

http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/hansard/lords/todays-lords-debates/read/unknown/104/

Human Rights

Motion to Take Note

11.37 am

Moved by

Lord Alton of Liverpool

That this House takes note of Her Majesty’s Government’s policy towards countries responsible for violations of human rights.

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB):

My Lords, in just under three weeks’ time, we will mark the 65th anniversary of the adoption of a declaration which asserted that,

“disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want”.

It is as much a declaration of human dignity as a declaration of human rights. I hope that those words and the declaration’s 30 articles will serve as the architecture for today’s debate. These rights are universal and not available for selective enforcement according to culture, tradition or convenience.

Every year, the Foreign Office publishes a comprehensive report on human rights violations. It clearly should be followed by an annual debate in both Houses, the appetite for which is underlined by the distinguished list of speakers who will contribute today, albeit in speeches far too constrained by time limits. We eagerly await four maiden speeches: those of the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley, the noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, and the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, whose grandfather, Dr Alfred Wiener, dedicated much of his life to documenting anti-Semitism and racism in Germany, and whose first wife, Margarethe, died shortly after being released from Bergen-Belsen.

It was in the aftermath of those horrific events that the 1948 declaration was promulgated, the United Nations established, and the Nuremberg trials commenced. During today’s debate, I hope that we will reflect on whether the Security Council, the General Assembly, the United Nations Human Rights Council, which replaced the discredited Commission on Human Rights in 2006, and the International Criminal Court, established by the Rome Statute in 2002, have been effective guarantors of the high ideals of that declaration.

It is just 10 days since China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Cuba and Vietnam were all elected to the Human Rights Council despite concerns about their own human rights records and their decision to exclude United Nations monitors from their jurisdictions. Ban Ki-Moon, the United Nations General-Secretary, has said:

“All victims of human rights abuses should be able to look to the Human Rights Council as a forum and a springboard for action”.

But will they be able to do so with any certainty in the future? I shall be interested to hear whether the noble Baroness believes that international bodies charged with upholding human rights should be wholly independent of national governments who violate them.

China, in particular, has huge diplomatic, political, economic and military influence, and its attitude will determine the shape of global attitudes to human rights. Through the Opium Wars to the Rape of Nanking and the horrors of Mao Zedong, China has itself suffered gross human rights violations. The protection and promotion of human rights should not only be seen as a moral cause, but it can never be in a nation’s self-interest to see universal freedoms and values trampled upon.

In today’s debate, we will hear about the situation in many countries and we will hear many themes, from female genital mutilation and the use of rape as a weapon of war to the killing of human rights monitors—in Colombia 37 have been murdered already this year—from human trafficking and repression arising from sexual orientation to the caste system, which inflicts such misery on Dalit people. Sometimes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is seen as an à la carte menu from which we may pick and choose. But these rights stand together. None should be emasculated; they are there for a reason.

Let me give one example. In a report by Members of your Lordships’ House, Article 18 was dubbed an “orphaned right”. Sidelining a right which upholds the right to belief, or indeed the right not to believe, is a serious error and the failure to uphold this orphaned right is leading to appalling consequences. As the noble Baroness the Minister rightly warned at Georgetown University last week, there is a need to “build political will” and to actively uphold the Human Rights Council resolutions on the treatment of minorities and tolerance towards other faiths. She said that in large parts of the world Christians “face extinction” and that senior politicians in countries like Pakistan have a “duty” to denounce persecution and to set a standard for tolerance. The noble Baroness is right and she is to be commended for leading by her own formidable example.

There are growing restrictions on freedom of conscience that range from the suffering of the Ahmadiyya Muslim communities in Pakistan and Indonesia to the plight of the Baha’is in Iran and Egypt; from the Rohingyas and other Muslims in Burma to Falun Gong, Tibetan Buddhists and Uighur Muslims in China, and of course Christians in these countries as well as in countries as diverse as Egypt, Syria, Nigeria, Sudan, India, Eritrea and Cuba. But I stress that it is not only people of religion who suffer from violations of Article 18. In Indonesia a young man, Alexander Aan, has been jailed because he declared himself an atheist. For that, he is serving a two and a half year sentence in a remote prison in west Sumatra. Whatever our beliefs, the defence of Article 18 is therefore something which all of us should champion.

Among the organisations mandated to defend human rights that needs urgently to be strengthened is the International Criminal Court. It is mandated to prosecute individuals for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, but it has been wholly inadequate in its mechanisms of enforcement. Let us take the situation in sub-Saharan Africa. Last week I met Dr. Kasereka Jo Lusi, a remarkable surgeon who works in Goma in eastern Congo. He told me that an average of 48 women are raped every single hour in the DRC. Twenty different militias carry out these horrors with impunity. Why is no one brought to justice and what can we do to promote a paradigm shift in attitudes and beliefs towards women and girls? In confronting impunity, why is it that Joseph Kony, who created the LRA killing machine responsible for terrible atrocities and indicted by the ICC, has not been brought to justice? Why does the indicted Sudanese president, Omar al-Bashir, remain at large? Bashir has been hosted by signatories of the Rome Statute, which stipulates that they have a duty to co-operate with arrest warrants. What have we done to seek compliance?

Within the past month, I have made speeches in this House about Egypt and Sudan. Can the Minister give us her latest assessment of the continued aerial bombardment of civilian populations in Darfur and the Nuba mountains? There is also the plight of Copts. We saw the murder of two little girls at a recent Coptic wedding and the orgy of violence which I have described as Egypt’s Kristallnacht.

In May, I raised human rights abuses in Pakistan. If the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, the Cabinet Minister, who was well known to the Minister and who was charged with upholding the rights of minorities, remains unsolved, what faith can ordinary citizens have in the justice system? Why should potential attackers fear the law? What progress is being made in bringing his murderers to justice?

Last week, the Minister replied to my Written Question about the discovery of two mass graves in Sadad, in Syria. Yesterday, Human Rights Watch issued a new report on the 45 people killed there by the Islamist militias of al-Nusra Front and Daash. Are we any closer to verifying those accounts or to bringing to justice those who have used chemical weapons and those responsible for the daily violations of human rights using conventional weapons?

On Tuesday, I visited the protesters who, for 10 weeks, have been on hunger strike outside the American embassy in London, protesting about the massacre of Iranian democracy activists shot at close range at Camp Liberty in Iraq in September and who are highlighting the execution of 120,000 political prisoners, including women, in Iran since 1979. I hope the Minister will respond to the account of Tahar Boumedra, the former head of UNAMI, about the massacre in Camp Liberty, which my noble friend Lady Boothroyd, the noble Lords, Lord Carlile and Lord Waddington, I and others sent to William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, yesterday. Can she tell us when we last raised these issues with Nouri al-Maliki, the Prime Minister of Iraq? How did human rights violations figure in this month’s decision to upgrade our diplomatic relations with Iran?

As the Prime Minister discovered last week at CHOGM in Colombo, the judgments we make about when and how to engage on human rights questions can derail delicate relationships and even threaten the cohesion of admirable organisations such as the Commonwealth. What balance do we strike as we consider the complex questions of engagement?

I will conclude with the example of North Korea, which, with 2-300,000 people in its gulags and egregious violation of human rights, is sui generis—in a class of its own. Almost all of the rights set out in the Universal Declaration are denied. Only yesterday, the United Nations General Assembly’s human rights committee unanimously adopted a resolution citing the “systematic, widespread and grave” human rights violations in North Korea, including torture, the death penalty for political and religious reasons, and the network of political prison camps.

I chair the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea, which, at evidence-gathering sessions, has regularly heard from escapees. Earlier this year, I published some of those accounts and, last month, I gave evidence to the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. I have advocated the need for such an investigation for many years and pay tribute to Her Majesty’s Government and other Governments for working to secure its establishment. The inquiry has heard accounts of arbitrary imprisonment, torture, slave labour, rape, summary execution, forced abortion and medical experimentation. It has heard how three generations of a family can be dispatched to North Korea’s vast gulag system for such “crimes” as criticising the political leadership. It heard of a mother forced to drown her own baby in a bucket, of prisoners scavenging through excrement for morsels of food, of inmates forced to live on rodents, grasshoppers, lizards and grass, and of an inmate watching the public execution of his mother and brother. Mr Justice Kirby, the Supreme Court judge from Australia who chairs the commission of inquiry, said he wept on hearing many of these accounts.

I have visited North Korea four times, three times with my noble friend Lady Cox. On each occasion we have confronted the North Korean regime with its appalling human rights record. Precisely because of its isolation, I have long proposed a policy of constructive, but critical, engagement with North Korea, what I have termed, “Helsinki with a Korean face”, following the model of our approach to the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War in the Helsinki process—a robust stand on security and a critical stand on human rights but a willingness to put those issues on the table and talk face-to-face with the regime.

Only a week ago, the Times reported that the regime carried out 80 public executions in seven cities on one day—3 November—for alleged crimes of watching South Korean television dramas or owning Bibles. The Times said that they were allegedly tied to stakes, hooded and killed by machine gun. In the 1990s, 2 million people died of starvation in a country which puts its resources into a nuclear capability and one of the world’s largest standing armies. In January the Sunday Times reported that in two provinces, North Hwanghae and South Hwanghae, as many as 10,000 people had died of starvation and that the starving had resorted to cannibalism. I hope that the Minister will tell us whether we have raised these reports with the regime through our ambassador in Pyongyang, and describe our engagement with the United Nations commission of inquiry.

In March I had the opportunity to meet Daw Aung Sang Suu Kyi in Burma. She famously said:

“Please use your liberty to promote ours”.

Perhaps that is the purpose of a debate such as this and of our being Members of your Lordships’ House. She told me that the BBC’s Burmese Service made a major contribution to the process of opening up Burma. There is much that can be learnt from this and applied to North Korea. Burma is an example of a country where the right combination of international pressure, the flow of information and critical engagement has led to progress.

More than 12%—one report says it is as high as 27%—of those who have escaped from North Korea say that they have heard broadcasts from outside the country. The BBC World Service should make broadcasts to the Korean peninsula a priority. This would help to break the information blockade in the north and promote democracy, human rights and the English language. A popular campaign has been launched by young South Koreans calling for this. To facilitate BBC broadcasts from Korean soil, changes to South Korean law would be necessary. Was that discussed with President Park during her recent state visit? The Government have expressed sympathy for the proposal. Are we taking the idea forward?

In confronting each of the challenges that I have described, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides us with a map and with a compass. I think that today’s debate will mirror the FCO’s six human rights priorities: women’s rights; torture prevention; abolition of the death penalty; freedom of religious belief; business and human rights; and freedom of expression on the internet. Many will doubtless concur with the Foreign Secretary’s view that human rights must be “at the heart” of British foreign policy.

We need to do far more to ensure that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is less honoured in its breach, and I hope that today’s debate will demonstrate the determination of this free Parliament to insist on the centrality of the declaration to our approach to foreign affairs while also providing a voice for voiceless people. I beg to move.

11.52 am

Lord Selkirk of Douglas (Con):

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on a wide-ranging and comprehensive speech, as well as on raising this debate at a very relevant time. Abuse of human rights takes a great many different forms, but it is on the often savage hostility currently being shown towards religious minorities in many countries that I wish to concentrate.

It was alarming to hear from the Minister only last week that, given the available evidence, Christianity is now in danger of extinction in some nations of the Middle East, which were the very birthplace of the Christian faith. She said:

“There are huge advantages to having pluralistic societies”,

and went on,

“we all have an interest in making sure that Christian communities do continue to feel that they belong and are not persecuted in the places where this religion was born”.

Indeed, the loss of religious freedom has a profound effect on not just the political arrangements in a country but the cultural, social and economic situation that exists there. The right to religious freedom is one of the fundamental promises about human rights made to people in some of the great declarations and finest speeches proclaimed down the years.

On 5 March 1946, while visiting Westminster College in the small Missouri town of Fulton, Sir Winston Churchill famously observed that an iron curtain had descended across Europe. It was less than a year since the war had ended and, with President Truman at his side, Sir Winston said:

“We must never cease to proclaim in fearless tones the great principles of freedom and the rights of man”.

Five years previously, in his State of the Union address, the United States President, Franklin Roosevelt, had spoken eloquently of the four great freedoms which must be fought for and upheld. He listed them as freedom of speech, freedom of worship, the freedom from want and the freedom from fear. While composing the speech, the President let three of his advisers into the secret of the imperishable soundbite that he was about to deliver. The famous “four freedoms” paragraphs were not included until they had been dictated by the President one night in his White House study and taken down in longhand by his aides to be added to the fourth draft. He ended his speech by saying:

“Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights or keep them”.

These four freedoms were later enshrined in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the new world authority in 1948.

As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, Article 18 promises freedom of religious worship, and among those who voted in favour were Iran, Egypt and Syria. It is clear that when this freedom of worship is abused, the other freedoms singled out by President Roosevelt are in jeopardy, too. This is because fear grips communities where extremism and violence rule, and want stalks the lives of refugees fleeing from persecution.

Democratic Governments who believe in human rights upheld by the rule of law must have the presence of mind and the will to raise such matters wherever religious minorities are being hounded and abused, whether by Governments or by other religious groupings. I must ask the Minister to give an assurance that the Government will have the continuing will and boldness to raise such sensitive issues in the countries under criticism. After all, if the Prime Minister could give a lead in relentlessly pursuing such matters in Sri Lanka last week, surely it is not too much to ask that other Ministers continue to speak out whenever they are dealing with those Governments who commit intolerable abuses of human rights.

A deliberate attempt is being made to engage in religious cleansing in certain communities which are seeking to force into extinction Christianity and a number of other minority religions. If rational discussion fails to produce results, we should seriously consider withholding overseas aid or other forms of economic assistance to those countries until such time as they are prepared to conform to civilised norms. I can see great merit in the suggestion made in another place by my right honourable friend Tony Baldry that the Government should consider appointing a special envoy for freedom of religion and belief who, working with other UN and US emissaries, could co-ordinate the United Kingdom’s diplomatic efforts in this field and shine a relentless spotlight on abuses.

I end with the words of the former Chief Rabbi, the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, quoting the eminent historian, Lord Acton. He said:

“The most certain test by which we judge whether a country is really free is the amount of security enjoyed by minorities”.

11.58 am

Lord Parekh (Lab):

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, on securing this debate and thank him for introducing it with such passion and wisdom. We are right to concentrate on the promotion of human rights rather than on the promotion of democracy, which has been in the air for quite some time. The rights are easy to identify and monitor, and there is greater international agreement on what rights are worth preserving and what rights are human rights. There is also greater international pressure for implementing those rights as opposed to the promotion of democracy, because democracy can mean many different things in many different contexts. Therefore, I particularly welcome our discussion of violation of human rights rather than violation of democratic norms.

It is also right to point out that we cannot deal with violations of human rights in the whole world; we have to be selective. In that context, it is important for us to concentrate on those countries with which we have close ties, and where we can make an impact. In that context I particularly thank the Prime Minister for the stand he took at CHOGM in Sri Lanka. He was right to go. I think that the Prime Minister of India was not right not to go. Our Prime Minister was right to visit Jaffna, commiserate with the Tamils, condemn the army operations which killed thousands of Tamils, demand an investigation into what actually happened during the war and afterwards, and meet the representatives of the Tamil group.

An equally sensible attitude is increasingly being taken with reference to Gujarat, the Indian state from which I come, where genocide took place in February 2002, when a large number of Muslims were killed with the complicity of the state. The American Government denied a visa to the Chief Minister but the British Government took a very sensible view and said nothing. Increasingly, the British Government began to recognise that we had no conclusive evidence that the Chief Minister had been directly and actively involved in what had gone on; after all, he had been in power for only four months. Nor did we ignore the fact that this sort of thing had happened in other parts of India, and therefore we could not single out one state alone. About 18 months ago, or perhaps a little less, the British Government asked the British high commissioner to India, Sir James Bevan, to visit Mr Modi, the Chief Minister of Gujarat. More recently, the Foreign Office Minister, Mr Hugo Swire, visited the place. In Kolkata recently, the Prime Minister said that he would be more than happy to meet any elected leader. This is not to exonerate the leader of his responsibility but simply to indicate that not talking to people is not the answer.

I wish to make three general points. First, as we cannot promote all kinds of human rights we obviously have to prioritise. Of the six priorities listed by the Government there is not much reference to the rights of trade unions, which in my view have played, and continue to play, an extremely important role. Business rights are fine but they are not supposed to include trade union rights. During the Arab spring, trade unions were the vehicle through which important radical change was achieved. Minority rights are also important. Generally, the standard definition of human rights concentrates on individual rights and tends to ignore minority rights.

Secondly, while we are right to condemn violations of human rights, we sometimes tend to ignore our own complicity in these violations. Large corporations based in our country sometimes engage in practices abroad that violate human rights or lead indirectly to violations of human rights. We ought to tighten up the monitoring of our corporations. Many violations take place during civil wars. We are sometimes complicit in instigating or tolerating civil wars in other countries, which can result in gross violations of human rights.

Thirdly, we tend to be selective about where we condemn violations of human rights and where we do not. Violations of human rights in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia are by and large ignored, whereas we tend to concentrate on them in countries such as China. This sometimes gives the impression that we are unprincipled and that we are using human rights discourse or issues to promote a particular political agenda. We need to ensure that we are principled when we condemn violations of human rights.

Baroness Northover (LD):

My Lords, I gently remind noble Lords that this is a time-limited debate. When the Clock hits five, speakers have had their five minutes. We want to ensure that we have enough time for our maiden speeches, the Minister’s winding-up speech and for the noble Lord, Lord Alton, to respond at the end.

12.04 pm

Baroness Hollins (CB):

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Alton on securing and introducing this important debate. It has been said that wartime rape is as old as war itself. Women’s lives and bodies have been unacknowledged casualties of war for too long, but now greater media awareness and reporting, probably in part because of the exceptional women journalists covering conflict, have brought wider knowledge of the extent to which rape is occurring. The consequences of rape are also better understood. Five years ago, a United Nations resolution described rape as a tactic of war and a threat to international security.

Rape is used as a punishment for men as well as women, by forcing men to watch as their wives, sisters, mothers and daughters are raped. Victims of rape are left emotionally traumatised, physically damaged and at risk of potentially fatal sexually transmitted diseases. Rape humiliates, dominates, instils fear and disperses communities. The after-effects of rape are felt for generations, as women bear their rapists’ children, and face shame and revulsion. Surely it is time to draw a line, and time for the international community to take rape as seriously as it does the use of other weapons. As my noble friend mentioned, hundreds of thousands of women have been raped in the Congo. Reports of rape have also emerged from the current conflict in Syria. When will women’s human rights be recognised and acted upon?

Rape is always an abuse of power. In the case of rape, it is an abuse of physical power. When communities are under threat, it is the weak and vulnerable who suffer the most. People with disabilities are subjected to more violence in any country, but more so in a country in turmoil, where people are concerned for their own lives and livelihoods and may not have the resources to look after the most vulnerable people in their communities. It may be as obvious as someone with physical disabilities being unable to flee rebel attacks, or as insidious as someone with a disability being last in the queue for food and water. Disabled women and girls are also raped.

The Human Rights Watch report of an investigation in Uganda in April and May 2010, which looked at the treatment of people with disabilities during conflict, was called As if We Weren’t Human. It was sobering reading indeed. Over one-third of the 64 women and girls with disabilities interviewed by Human Rights Watch had experienced sexual violence. Charity, a Ugandan woman with a physical disability, described how, in the camp,

“people told me: ‘You are useless. You are a waste of food.’ People told me I should just die so others can eat the food”.

Women reported being abused by aggressors because of their disabilities. A partially blind woman had her eyes removed because she had not seen where her husband kept his gun. A girl with learning disabilities was beaten and raped because she did not understand the questions she was being asked.

It is unusual for victims of rape and sexual violence in times of conflict to seek help, but when they do, those with disabilities are at a further disadvantage. Health centres and police stations are far away and victims rely on others to take them there, leaving them at greater risk of the untreated physical complications of rape. Police stations and courts do not have the resources to facilitate communication with those who have difficulties, such as the deaf and people with learning disabilities. Many girls and women with disabilities are illiterate and rely on their families for communication. Families will often not support a woman or girl in reporting a rape because of the additional stigma that rape brings to a family already stigmatised by disability.

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recognises the specific vulnerabilities of those with disabilities and requires its signatories to take appropriate measures to protect such persons from exploitation, violence and abuse. We signed the CRPD in 2008, but what is our policy on those countries that do not comply with it? What is our policy on those that allow such human rights abuses to be carried out on women and girls? The G8 this year declared rape to be a war crime. Will the Minister explain to the House what the British Government are doing about it?

12.09 pm

The Lord Bishop of Derby:

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on securing this debate, and I also associate myself with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk.

Many of the pictures painted are dramatic and challenging, and I invite the House to think a little about the context that we are in and how we might approach some of these huge issues. The Government have identified six key priority areas, including women and freedom of religion, and those are the two things that I will look at in particular. We are in a world where we have ideals and fall short of them, and need to negotiate between the two.

In my own language, I start by inviting us all to look at the motes in our own eyes. I am embarrassed that my church has legislation in place to discriminate against women, as much religion still does. We are moving towards tackling these things, and the prime movers have been women themselves. One point that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, made is that the victims need to be listened to so that they can help us understand what changes are required. It is not legislation but the stories of the victims that need to come first.

We as a church have been criticised, rightly, for the long and tortuous path of giving women full access to leadership in our institution. It is very easy for society to think that we have already done that: we have sex equality legislation and human rights legislation. Noble Lords will know that next Monday is White Ribbon Day, when in this country we remember the increasing levels of violence against women in our society. That is part of the context.

Just yesterday I was involved in a debate for Parliament Week—where the theme, as we know, is “Women in Democracy: Women in Society”—about lads’ mags and the fact that companies such as Tesco sell these magazines along with cheese and cornflakes. They objectify women and normalise the offensive attitude of making women commodities. We give large companies such as Tesco the freedom to degrade the women in our midst. That is the context in which we come to this debate: the motes in our own eyes.

I will suggest a way in which we might move forward. I think that the Government already have some line on this: the Foreign Secretary talks about engaging with complexity and the Minister talks about being pragmatic. We need to be pragmatic in negotiating between ideals and reality. As a trustee of Christian Aid, I know that women are key to development, with new voices and new perspectives, but I also know through my work with Christian Aid that the human trafficking of women and girls is increasing exponentially. Therefore, the ideals and the practice are in enormous tension.

I turn briefly to my specific point. The 2012 list of countries about which we have particular concern does not include India. My diocese works with churches in north India and is especially involved with Christian Dalit peoples—the lowest caste. In the past week, I have been in touch with a colleague in Delhi who worked with Christian Dalit women. She told me about Lakshmi, who works on a construction site from six in the morning till six at night and has to sign a register saying that she is getting the minimum daily wage, although in fact she is paid less than half of it. She also told me about a girl called Anjum, who was put into a brothel at the age of 15 and, last week, was rescued by the churches. She had found herself in that position because she was a Dalit woman in that culture.

The Prime Minister has just visited India and is talking about a special business relationship with that country. We need that: it will be good. However, what can we put into that relationship that will lead these issues to be taken seriously? In your Lordships’ House earlier this year, we made a decisive intervention during the passage of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill about Dalits in our own country. First, how can we take that learning and that experience into our work with business in India to help people aim for a similar result?

Secondly, how can we maintain concern for women and girls caught up in the ever-expanding criminal work of human trafficking? Thirdly, how can we look at the motes in our own eyes and challenge the right of large companies such as Tesco to degrade women in the midst of selling cheese and cornflakes and make it normative? As has already been asked, how can we better play a role in the UN? Finally, I guess that I and my colleagues on these Benches need to go back to our own institution and ask how women can play a more constructive and creative role among us so that we have more integrity in contributing to this debate.

12.14 pm

Lord Finkelstein (Con):

My Lords, at the moment I took the oath in the House I was filled with wonder and gratitude. There was gratitude to be given the privilege to sit among your Lordships and to contribute to your deliberations. There was gratitude to my supporting Peers, the noble Lords, Lord Owen and Lord Coe, the latter having forgiven me for defeating him in an egg and spoon race. What can I say? He can run but he dropped the egg. There also was gratitude to all the officials of the House. They have helped me to overcome every practical issue related to having a peerage, save the one that still vexes me; namely, how, in a suburban house containing three children and six guitars, do my wife and I fit a two-foot, red leather box with a large wax seal? I now understand the strategy of barons since the time of King John, which is to get a castle first and only then acquire a peerage.

Finally, there was gratitude that as the son of refugees I live in peace in this extraordinary country with its respect for human rights. It is therefore fitting that human rights should be the subject of my maiden speech. My mother is a survivor of Belsen concentration camp and my father was an exile in a Siberian prison village. Pinner is nicer. People often bemoan the absence of big ideas in British politics. I always reply that big ideas drove my family from their home and their country, murdered my grandmother, starved my mother, imprisoned my father and stole our property. So I like pragmatic, small British ideas, our quiet suburbs and our stable institutions. My politics were never better summarised than by my paternal grandmother saying, “While the Queen is safe in Buckingham Palace, I am safe in Hendon Central”.

My necessarily brief contribution to this debate is that we in this country have a special understanding of the value of allowing people to live their life in peace as they see fit, to enjoy their privacy and never having to fear what they are because they fear their neighbours or the state. For that reason, because of the respect for that fundamental human right, we have become a leader in extending to gay people the freedom, equality and respect that should rightfully be theirs.

However, with that leadership comes a responsibility. Last year, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights identified 76 countries which criminalise private, consensual same-sex relationships. Even where homosexuality is not illegal, all over the world lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are subject to arbitrary arrest, violence and torture. When they are the victims of crime, they cannot turn to the police or the authorities because it is they who will be arrested. They are left defenceless. In Iran, there are secret executions; in Cameroon, there is torture and imprisonment; and, in Belarus, there is police intimidation and confiscated passports.

The only complaint that these countries can make is: why pick on them? The disrespect that they show to fundamental human rights, and the way in which they defy international law, is not theirs alone. It is common. I recognise—we all do—that there are limits to what we can do and I know that much of what we can do we are doing. It is right to pursue a policy of active diplomacy; right to link aid to the Commonwealth to the question of gay rights; and right to use bilateral diplomacy to, for instance, raise Russia’s discrimination against gay people. Perhaps, as the Foreign Office reviews its priorities in its human rights policies, which I am sure it does from time to time, it might consider whether the rights of LGBT people should be among them. After all, internationally, if it is not us, who is it?

12.18 pm

Baroness Falkner of Margravine (LD):

My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for that extraordinary tour de force that describes the parlous state of human rights in the world today. We are grateful to him because he is dogged in his determination to continue to raise these issues and to make our consciences awake. I am delighted to be speaking here today but I cannot continue without congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, on his extraordinarily witty and elegant speech, which was serious too in subject matter. We wholeheartedly support his views on LGBT rights.

The noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, and I have two things in common. We are both alumni of the London School of Economics, that hotbed of political radicalism. We both started political life as members of the Social Democratic Party—less of a hotbed of political radicalism. But it is well known that the noble Lord could not really contemplate a future with the Liberals or indeed the Lib Dems when the merger between the SDP and the Liberals happened and he made his way to the Conservative Party. But as with all things in life, what goes around comes around and we are both now happily united under the wonderful umbrella of coalition government. I am sure that I echo the sentiments of the whole House when I say how delighted we are to have such a distinguished journalist among our ranks and we look forward to his witty, elegant and thoughtful contributions.

I also want to mention how much we are looking forward to the maiden speech of my noble friend Lady Suttie. She will bring a formidable knowledge of foreign affairs and the European Union to our deliberations, as I am sure we will hear before too long in this debate. For myself, given the limited time that we have today, I want to talk of just one situation—the most egregious human rights violation currently under way, namely; the civil war in Syria and the failure of the international community to do anything to end those atrocities.

In the two and a half years of this war, we have had talk of arming the opposition to change the balance of power in the early stages. Then there was talk of a no-fly zone to enable a humanitarian corridor to be established. Finally, there was the failed resolution of 29 August this year, which was an attempt on the part of some United Nations Security Council members to live up to their promises on responsibility to protect—namely, to act collectively to prevent genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and ethnic cleansing.

During all this time, the cost of the tragedy in Syria has risen. We have 150,000 dead, 7 million people displaced—2 million in neighbouring countries. Moreover, we have seen the hopelessness of getting even basic medical assistance to the victims of violence. It is estimated that of the original fleet of 500 ambulances in Syria, only 40 or so are still operating. More than 16,000 doctors have fled and at least 36 paramedics in uniform have been killed.

Let me turn to the record of the United Kingdom Government. Yes, we have been generous—some half a billion pounds in humanitarian assistance and countless visits to refugee camps by luminaries to publicise the state of those camps. But when genocide is under way, with jihadi groups singling out not just Alawite but all Shia as infidels, and ethnic cleansing through killing or displacement is rife, it is legitimate to ask when the international community will act.

So let me turn to the concrete question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, only last Tuesday regarding the creation of a humanitarian corridor. My noble friend Lady Northover, who I am delighted to see is in her place today, explained how difficult it would be to get all sides to the conflict to sign up to a ceasefire at the same time. While I can see the difficulties on the ground, it is also evident that when there is a will on the part of the Russians—the main obstruction in this case—a solution can be found. The chemical weapons inspectors were given safe passage only a few weeks ago.

What discussions has my noble friend been having with Russia and Iran regarding their leverage with the regime to gain the co-operation of the Syrian military and with Saudi Arabia and Qatar on the compliance of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria—a rather neutral-sounding name for the al-Nusra Front and all its barbarism? What discussions have the United Kingdom had with the leaders of the Free Syrian Army?

While we accept that there are several hundred groups fighting on the ground, we can all agree that most have external powers whose support keeps them going. So let me turn briefly to the United Nations Security Council. The current composition provides an opportunity. If Russia co-operates with permanent members, as it did over chemical weapons, then we also have a further three Commonwealth member states plus an EU state. With the impending replacement of Saudi Arabia by Jordan, the necessary majority for a fresh United Nations resolution should surely be attainable. I hope that my noble friend will be able to tell the House what efforts the Government are making to secure the United Nations Security Council resolution to provide some sort of humanitarian corridor in Syria.

Human rights protections derive from the inalienable and pre-political rights of individuals. It is a collective responsibility of all to uphold them.

12.25 pm

Baroness Scotland of Asthal (Lab):

My Lords, first, I, too, commend the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for introducing this debate. When I saw that each of us had about four minutes to make our contribution, I was concerned whether we would be able to have a debate in depth and breadth which would touch on many of the issues about which I feel passionately. I should have had greater confidence in your Lordships’ House, because each speech before mine has ticked off a number of the issues that I wanted to touch on, whether religion or human rights for gay people and women. To the fine maiden speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, I feel able to say “amen”.

I would like to take my few minutes to concentrate on issues relating to women. The recent discourse within the Commonwealth has shown us the importance of human rights and the way in which they impact on all our people, but the rights of women is a matter which the Foreign Office has rightly highlighted as a key issue which we as a global community should communicate. I absolutely agree with the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, about the impact of rape. According to the World Health Organisation, domestic violence affects one in three women across the world. It is now of pandemic proportions. It is the greatest cause of morbidity in women and girls worldwide. If it was any other form of disease, there would be a global outcry that so many women and girls are dying and being seriously injured by such a vicious and pernicious form of assault on their human rights, their dignity and their right to live.

The report demonstrates that 35% of women worldwide have experienced either physical or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence. It goes on to make it clear that, globally, as many as 38% of all murders of women are committed by intimate partners. Globally, 7% of women had been sexually assaulted by someone other than their partner. The scale and enormity of the abuse of women must be seen to be believed. Ban Ki-Moon was right when he said:

“There is one universal truth, applicable to all countries, cultures and communities: violence against women is never acceptable, never excusable, never tolerable”.

I commend the Minister, in particular, and Her Majesty’s Government for what they have sought in policy in relation to women and girls, but does she think that it is right that Foreign Office policy should restrict its purview to violence against women in areas of conflict, bearing in mind that violence against women in and out of conflict is a fundamental breach of their human rights which needs to be addressed? Will the Foreign Office consider expanding that role?

I commend the Government on signing the Istanbul convention last year, but when are they likely to ratify it, so that we can become one of the first 10 nations to enable that convention to come into operation? If we are to continue to have our position of prominence in raising the issue of human rights for women and girls, it is incumbent on our Government to use their best endeavours to make sure that we are among those 10. I have to tell the Minister that if the previous Government were still in being, I very much hoped that we would be the first to sign and ratify and would not risk coming not even in the first 10.

This is something that we can choose to address. If we wish to make violence against women something of the past, it will take all of us to raise our voice. Will the Minister tell us a little bit about the strategy that the Government intend to operate and deliver in order to make that a reality?

12.30 pm

Lord Singh of Wimbledon (CB):

My Lords, I am grateful to my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for securing this important debate. Manipulation of religious sentiment to persecute those of other faiths is a sad feature of human rights abuse in much of the world. I would like to take this opportunity to give a Sikh perspective on possible ways to a fairer and more tolerant society.

When we talk of human rights abuse, we immediately think of countries such as Syria, North Korea and Iran. We rightly condemn their abuses of human rights, but we look more benignly at countries with which we have close political alliances or trade links—as the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, perceptively observed. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby reminded us, we should look to the mote in our own eye. If we were consistent, the UN report of a government massacre of some 40,000 men, women and children from Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority and evidence of continuing human rights abuses would have led to that country’s immediate suspension from the Commonwealth pending an investigation.

I will give another example of this less than even-handed approach to human rights. Next year sees the 30th anniversary of the Indian army attack on the Sikh Golden Temple in Amritsar and the subsequent massacre of tens of thousands of Sikhs throughout India. An independent inquiry headed by a former Chief Justice of India found overwhelming evidence of top Congress Party involvement. Yet our Government’s response to this attack on a minority faith was total silence. When I raised the matter with a then Cabinet Minister, I received the reply, “Indarjit, we know exactly what’s going on, but we are walking on a tightrope. We have already lost one important contract”. He was referring to the Westland helicopter contract.

We rightly condemn the use of sarin gas in Syria but were silent over America’s use of Agent Orange in Vietnam—which, even today, is causing horrendous birth defects half a century after its use. The same country’s use of drones to fly over sovereign territory to kill and maim those it does not like and, in the process, kill many innocent civilians sets a dangerous precedent.

I have spoken about our country’s selective approach to human rights only as an example. Other world powers, including India, China, the USA and Russia, behave in exactly the same way, making any co-ordinated approach on human rights virtually impossible. It was the great human rights activist Andrei Sakharov who said that there will be little progress in our universal yearning for peace and justice unless we are even-handed in our approach to human rights.

My hope is that Her Majesty’s Government will take the lead in working for a world in which principle always transcends the interests of trade and power-bloc politics. I firmly believe that our country is best placed to give a lead in this wider view of human rights.

12.34 pm

Baroness Kennedy of Cradley (Lab):

My Lords, I am very proud and honoured to stand here today as a Member of this House and make my maiden speech. I begin by thanking noble Lords on all sides of the House for the warm welcome that I have received. They will know that I am preceded here by my husband, my noble friend Lord Kennedy, but I also know that noble Lords will be familiar with the quote that begins, “Behind every great man …”.

I also thank all the staff for the help they have given me. One day when I was looking particularly confused, one staff member asked, “Would it help, my Lady, if I pointed out which the way Lord Kennedy went?”. I was impressed by how skilfully he gave me the option of going in the opposite direction. I need to give particular thanks to the doorkeepers. Some noble Lords may have noted that when I and my noble friend Lord Kennedy were introduced, the galleries were rather packed. I would like to thank the doorkeepers and assure them that there are currently no other Kennedys working for the Labour Party on the way to this noble House.

I also thank my supporters, my noble friends Lady McDonagh and Lord Collins, and my mentor, my noble friend Lady Gould, for all their advice and support. My final thank you is to my friend Margaret Bradley, a local Cradley historian whose research helped me with this speech.

I was delighted when it was agreed that I could use Cradley as my territorial title. It is a town rich in history. For hundreds of years, ironwork—nail-making and chain-making—was the staple industry of Cradley and its surrounding towns. Right up until I went to university, I lived in Cradley, in the same house and in the same street—and it is where my father still lives today. Since at least 1830, my ancestors’ livelihoods relied on the nail and chain industries in Cradley and the surrounding towns.

Noble Lords may be wondering why the history of my home town is relevant to today’s debate on human rights. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, for initiating this crucial debate. It is relevant because it reminds us of the evils of child labour. In Cradley, children were born, reared, worked and died in the chain shops. It was not unusual to see baby baskets swinging from iron poles so that women could hammer iron and rock their baby at the same time. By the age of eight, children were experienced chain makers.

Thankfully, the dominance of child labour in Cradley is a distant memory. However, this is not the case in many other parts of the world, where child labour exists on a colossal scale. Millions of children younger than the basic minimum working age are deprived of their childhood and work in appalling conditions that damage their physical and mental well-being. The ILO estimates that across the world, instead of going to school, 168 million children aged five to 17 are child labourers. Every child has the right to a childhood, and every child has the right to an education. Child labour is a violation of a child’s human rights.

Today, I want to highlight two areas of child labour that particularly affect girls: mining and domestic work. Across the world there are more than 85 million children engaged in hazardous work, the most menacing of which is the plight of child miners. Children as young as six and seven are handling explosives, exposed to toxic air and carrying heavy loads. The physical and psychological effects are traumatic for both boys and girls. However, girls bear a double burden as they also have to carry out domestic chores at home for the family. There is no time for rest, and no time for school.

Another area where girls are particularly vulnerable is when they work behind closed doors as domestic workers. Some 11.5 million children, mainly girls, work dawn to dusk taking care of domestic chores in other people’s homes. They live with their employer. They are under the control of their employer. They are isolated and trapped. Many suffer verbal abuse or, even worse, physical abuse. Girls are suffering in silence. It is slavery by anyone’s definition.

We must work with each other and everyone involved in our civil society to alleviate global poverty, achieve universal primary education and eliminate child labour. We know we can all do more. There are many charities in the UK that work to alleviate poverty. I declare an interest as I am a trustee of one such charity, APT—Action on Poverty. APT fights poverty by giving people the means to feed their families all year round and forever. It works with local partners on the ground in sub-Saharan Africa and south-east Asia to build lasting livelihoods for the most vulnerable.

We know that child labour is directly linked to poverty, which is why charities like APT are vital. When a person knows that they can feed their family not just today but every day in the future, they can fully embrace education, not employment, for their child. If children fail to get an education, they fail to get the skills needed for their own growth as well as their country’s economic growth. The poor of today remain the poor of tomorrow. Sadly, child labour is not just an issue for developing countries. Studies have shown that children here in the UK have been found in forced labour. That is why I very much welcome the Government’s commitment to bring forward a modern Slavery Bill, which I hope is still due in December. I hope that it will pay particular attention to child labour here and across the world.

Government must do more to work with international businesses to encourage them to address the issue of child labour in their operations and supply chains. Businesses should not just demand that child labour stops but should help influence national Governments and employers in countries around the world, encourage better working conditions, mobilise communities around education, support social protection programmes, and invest more in education and in modernising agricultural production in poor rural communities where child labour is rife.

I will make one final plea. The next World Day Against Child Labour is on Thursday 12 June 2014. Let us all commit now to join together on that day and encourage other organisations to join with us. Children need to be learners, not labourers. Children should no longer be denied a childhood, an education or the most basic of human rights: a future.

12.41 pm

Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB):

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for initiating this very important debate, and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley, for her very clear and powerful speech. It is particularly important that she mentioned something that has not been mentioned so far in this debate, namely the way that children are still exploited in so many parts of the world. We look forward to hearing her clear and powerful voice on subsequent occasions.

When future historians look back on the immediate post-World War II period, they will judge that one of the greatest achievements of that time was the UN declaration of human rights and the ensuing conventions. Those affirmed in law the unique worth of every single individual. They are, in the words of the late Ronald Dworkin, “trumps”, which cannot be overridden by any raison d’état. Of course the trouble, as we know, is that it is so easy to be deeply depressed at the massive way in which human rights are violated in so many countries in the world. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, gave us a long list at the beginning, although he did not mention some of them. It is very easy to get depressed by that, and it is difficult to know what to focus on in this debate. As the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, reminded us, it is important that we should not be selective. However, when we get depressed, we need to go back to the fact that we still have a benchmark in the UN declaration. It is a question of being as persistent in the pursuit of that as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has been in setting us a very good example in his wide-ranging and persistent concern for human rights.

I hope that noble Lords will excuse me if, as chairman of the All-Party Group on Dalits, I focus very briefly on them. I do so first because of the sheer scale of the problem that affects them: there are something like 260 million Dalits in the world, mainly in India and other south-east Asian countries. Secondly, although all human rights violations are appalling—torture, religious persecution and so on—there is something particularly humiliating and degrading about the way in which Dalits are totally rejected by the surrounding culture in which so many of them live and every area of their lives is affected. If anyone doubts the sheer horror of this I would recommend the novel A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. The “fine balance” of the title is the balance between hope and despair. I have huge admiration for the poor of India, for their sheer resilience, hope and even joy, despite everything. However, the problems are huge. In almost every area of exploitation the Dalits will be found at the bottom, more exploited than anybody else.

I am glad to say that we will hear more over the next months about different forms of trafficking. Noble Lords will not be surprised to know that because the Dalits are the most vulnerable of all groups, they are found in all forms of trafficking and at a much higher percentage than other groups. Trafficking takes the form of bonded labour. It also takes the form of the Sumangali system for the payment of dowries. Although that system has been officially abolished in India since 1961, it still goes on. However, the sex trade is perhaps the most shocking of all. As Dalit Solidarity Network UK puts it,

“Most girls and women in India’s urban brothels come from Dalit, lower-caste, tribal, or minority communities”.

Much of that has its origin in religiously sanctioned prostitution. It has been reckoned that some 250,000 women in India fall into this category, many of them enslaved unknowingly when they were still young children. Dalit Freedom Network has said that almost all women trapped in ritualised prostitution are Dalits.

When the concept of human rights was first formulated after World War II, the particular concern was the way in which individuals need to be protected against their states. There is a particular complication, of course, with the kind of discrimination the Dalits experience, because it is so deeply embedded in cultures. Therefore, I very much hope that the Government, when they raise their general concerns about human rights in India and other south-east Asian countries, will continue to bring this issue before those Governments.

12.46 pm

Lord Patten (Con):

My Lords, like the words “location, location, location” in a very different context, “consistency, consistency, consistency” should be the key to our Government’s attitude to countries that violate human rights. Our foreign policy must be realistic—of course I recognise that. I am in favour of our trading nation having the commercial foreign policy that we are developing. However, I am also in favour of the motif once used so effectively by the late Robin Cook: the need for an ethical foreign policy. The two are not at odds and indeed both trade and aid can be used as powerful levers to bring about change over the years in delinquent countries. To illustrate this I will compare and contrast our attitude in this context, particularly in relation to religious freedoms, on Iran and on Turkey, where there are dominant Governments.

I turn first to Iran. While all are hopeful that Mr Rouhani, the new President, may make things better for persecuted minorities, we should all recall that instant warm words of welcome in the media for apparent, new liberal change around the world often have to be eaten pretty quickly, as the plight of the poor Copts in Egypt, highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, shows us at the moment. They are clearly the most up-to-date victims of religious clearances in Africa. In Iran, all religious groups other than orthodox Muslims are now in the religious cleansing firing line under Mr Rouhani’s new presidency. There is no or little freedom and much persecution of all those who are not Muslims, from Sufi dervishes to evangelical Christians, from the poor Baha’is, who are so persecuted, to those Armenian and Assyrian churches who happen to conduct their services in Farsi, which is thought not to be acceptable. Some of those churches are still being closed down under the new liberal presidency of Mr Rouhani.

There has been little visible change and a bit of hope, and the Government have been very robust in trying to do what they can to help and to condemn such persecution in Iran. Good. Strangely, however, the Government seem—although perhaps I am misguided—to pull their punches a bit on Turkey, a country which is always described as “mildly Islamist” in polite diplomatic discourse. Bad. Is it mildly Islamist for Turkey to suppress the ancient Greek monastery on Halki island, or to restrict the freedoms of worship of the Alevis in Turkey? Is it “mildly Islamist” to make it impossible for Christians to have public places of worship established in the seaside holiday-making areas of coastal Turkey? One Anglican clergyman has told me that they have to flit from house to house underground to have underground services, as if they were living in some kind of penal times—and actually they are living in some kind of penal times.

I am very glad that some of our leading western Christian leaders have got off their knees at long last to say that this anti-Christian trend must be resisted. I hasten to add that I recognise that being on their knees is part of the day job of right reverend Prelates, and others, as they pray for us in need of their prayers. But I am glad that they have shown this leadership. A few years ago, I took part in a debate in this place with the noble Lord, Lord Alton, which highlighted the apparent onset of Christian clearances in Iraq. It is a bit late now, as those clearances are more or less complete. Turkey next? I do not know—I hope not—but I do know that it is not “mildly Islamist” to disperse with such terrifying violence peaceful demonstrations in Gezi Park in central Istanbul, where I have walked, rightly condemned by Amnesty International for its “large-scale human rights violations”. Is it indeed respectful of freedom of expression for so-called “mildly Islamist” Turkey to have in its prisons more journalists than any other country on earth, including China? Only three days ago, on Monday, it was reported that the Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey, Mr Bulent Arinc, is calling for the former Christian basilica of Hagia Sophia, presently a secular museum, to be opened up for prayer—I guess Muslim prayer.

In my noble friend’s wind-up, could she find a moment or two just to explain to your Lordships what exactly is meant by the phrase “mildly Islamist”, or do we turn a blind eye to what is going on in Turkey?

12.51 pm

Baroness Suttie (LD):

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on securing this timely and important debate. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Finkelstein on his excellent and deeply amusing maiden speech. In the month since my introduction, I am grateful to noble Lords from all sides of this House for having made me feel so welcome. I am hugely grateful, too, for the helpful advice from ever-patient members of staff who have dealt with my numerous questions with good humour and tolerance. In particular, I would like to thank Black Rod and his department for their excellent induction course.

I also thank my two supporters. My noble friend Lady Scott of Needham Market and I have been friends since getting to know each other in Brussels, when she was serving on the Committee of the Regions and I was working in the European Parliament. My noble friend Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope is in some ways responsible for getting me involved in politics in the first place. As my excellent constituency MP in Hawick in the Scottish borders, I used to write to him on a regular basis from Hawick High School with a variety of obscure and occasionally precocious inquiries. We subsequently worked together on two separate occasions over several years in the other place. As a very dear friend and colleague, he has also been a constant source of sunny optimism.

Exactly 25 years ago, I was studying in Voronezh State University in southern Russia in the Soviet Union. I was there as part of a three-month Russian language exchange programme from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. It was there that I not only learnt the beautiful Russian language but learnt to appreciate Russian art and culture as well as the very generous and at times overflowing Russian hospitality. It was the era of Glasnost and Perestroika which by then, in 1988, had even reached the provincial city of Voronezh. It was a time when culture flourished, banned novels were published, and, as British students, we were able to discuss issues such as politics and humans rights, which in the darker days under Brezhnev would have been unimaginable.

After graduation, I returned to work in St Petersburg, or Leningrad as it still was then, from December 1990 to spring 1991, as an English teacher. By this stage, the Soviet Union was in a state of evident collapse. I survived thanks to the kindness of my Russian friends, as food was rationed and the shelves were completely bare. The August putsch took place later that year and, by the end of December, the Soviet Union was dissolved.

During my regular visits to Russia in the 1990s, I saw the gradual transfer to a free market Russian style of capitalism but, sadly, this has not been matched by a move towards parliamentary democracy, independent institutions, the rule of law and respect for human rights. Indeed, since the parliamentary elections at the end of 2011, which many observers regarded as fraudulent, and the presidential elections to re-elect Vladimir Putin in the spring of 2012, we have witnessed a considerable backwards step in terms of parliamentary democracy and human rights. Journalists and businesspeople, in particular, have faced threats and serious intimidation, or worse, when they have challenged the Kremlin’s line.

I am relieved, as I am sure are all noble Lords, that the British freelance journalist Kieron Bryan was granted bail yesterday, but the case of the Greenpeace 30 more than ever illustrates the need for thorough judicial reform in Russia. I hope that the Government will continue to press the Kremlin for a speedy, transparent, proportionate and fair conclusion.

In March this year, I did some political training work in Chisinau, in the Republic of Moldova. The politicians I spoke to told me of their fears of having such a heavy dependency on Russian energy supplies. In the run up to the Vilnius summit next week, as they prepare to sign association agreements with the EU, they are understandably worried. Russian Deputy Premier Dmitry Rogozin’s chilling remarks to Moldova that he hoped that they, “Wouldn’t freeze this winter”, are perhaps sadly typical of the current neo-colonial state of mind in the Kremlin.

In the run up to the Sochi Olympic Games, when Russia is very much in the public eye, we must use every opportunity to continue to push for real institutional reform in Russia, as well as an independent judiciary and for the creation of genuine parliamentary democracy.

12.56 pm

The Earl of Sandwich (CB):

My Lords, it is a considerable honour to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie. She is a proud daughter of Hawick, a historic town, which I know. She has told us of her experience of international development and human rights, especially in Russia and eastern Europe. I know that she has spent many years in Westminster and has gathered that kind of political experience, not least in managing two senior Liberal Democrat politicians, including the Deputy Prime Minister. That must be a test of endurance. We look forward to hearing her many times in future.

I also have the exhortation of the new noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, ringing in my ears—that we know we can all do more. That will take a lot of living up to, because human rights is an essential issue in foreign affairs. My noble friend Lord Alton has raised it with a skill nurtured over many years in Westminster, and he has given me and others a lot of encouragement. I have joined him often in debates, especially on Sudan, where human rights violations continue daily. He mentioned the Nuba mountains and the bombing there, and I agree with him about strengthening the ICC. But today I shall be in Asia, for a change.

The Commonwealth summit, or CHOGM, has again tested the nerves of diplomats all over the world in the past week, which is largely down to our own Prime Minister and the initiative that he has taken. I have seen the Channel 4 documentary; there can be little doubt of the shelling and abuses of human rights against fleeing Tamils in the last stages of the civil war. President Rajapaksa has a hard shell but, with India and Canada keeping away, he has received a strong message of disapproval. I am sure that the UK was correct to stay with the Commonwealth meeting and influence it from within. At the same time, we must not forget the atrocities of the Tamil Tigers during the war; nor can we ignore the strength of feeling on both sides.

There comes a point where outsiders without such recent experience cannot really fathom the depth of prejudice and discrimination that continues beneath the surface, long after the world has turned away. I am thinking of the EU candidate countries mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, in the Balkans, where the European External Action Service is still pushing through its hardest tests of good government, not always with success, against the relatively recent background of ethnic genocide. Politicians cannot behave like leaders of human rights NGOs, whose stamina we all applaud. Political parties have to be selective; picking from what my noble friend called an à la carte menu, they turn continually to other subjects, and for this reason are always open to charges of hypocrisy.

We can learn a lot from our recent debate on China—another Conservative initiative, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs. His understandable concern was with our business and trade with China, and whether our relationship would be affected by too much emphasis on human rights, such as our preoccupation with Tibet and China’s attitude to the Uighurs in Xinjiang province, where the conflict has been no less violent. The noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, said in that debate that,

“it is perfectly possible … to exert quiet and helpful influence, to encourage moves towards greater openness while avoiding explicit criticism or confrontation … not through lecturing or preaching but through the sharing of best practice with partners representing a very ancient civilisation”.—[Official Report, 7/11/13; col. 349.]

That seems to sum things up very well.

The Dalai Lama told a journalist recently that trust develops gradually, even with an animal,

“if you show genuine affection”,

but that if you are,

“always showing bad face and beating, how can you develop friendship?”.

The same might be said of many other situations in which we have to do business with tyrants or bring humanitarian aid to victims of brutality.

In Nepal there are unresolved human rights cases left over from the 10-year civil war—more than half of them at the hands of the army or the state. According to the agency INSEC, more than 3,500 violations took place in one year alone, 2012, including much violence against women, but there has been no single prosecution in the seven years since the end of the conflict, owing to the political turmoil. This is why I am particularly asking the Minister if she will make every effort to encourage Nepal to re-establish the independent human rights commission, which has never been quite independent and needs more support from outside. This is where I fundamentally disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, who seems to think that every country can fend for itself. We must reassert the international solidarity that is so important in these situations.

Human rights in the Commonwealth and elsewhere will elude us as long as governance, the rule of law and other principles of democracy remain unaddressed. We have to keep banging the drum and not get too frustrated when no one listens.

1.03 pm

The Lord Bishop of Wakefield:

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for securing this debate. It follows on very helpfully from a short debate that I secured two weeks ago on the situation with regard to religious freedom following the events of the Arab spring.

The all-party parliamentary group’s recent report on international religious freedom, Article 18: An Orphaned Right, to which a number of us in this Chamber contributed, accurately shows that over the past decade every region in the world has seen marked declines with regard to religious freedom. Christians in Egypt and Syria, Baha’is in Iran, Shi’ite Muslims in Indonesia, and Sunni Muslims in Thailand and Burma face serious threats to their viability and even survival. We have heard other examples today, including comments by the noble Lord, Lord Patten, on the situation in Turkey.

If freedom of religion and belief is a primary barometer of the social health of a nation, the palpable decline in recent years in respect of this most fundamental right suggests a worrying state of affairs regarding the health of the global common good. Despite this trend, Governments the world over—ours included, I fear—still assign it too low a priority than the scale of the crisis at present requires.

Part of this reluctance, I imagine, is that Governments and opinion-makers are hesitant, perhaps even reluctant, to acknowledge the connection between levels of religious freedom and the basic health and well-being of societies. This is not about protecting the rights of one religious community over another but about providing for the human flourishing of all, irrespective of whether they have a religious belief—as was hinted at by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. It is about being confident of one’s core values in our society, so that a variety of different communities may prosper.

Like other noble Lords, I applaud the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, for the careful attention she has devoted to this issue. I noted in an earlier debate that she is a near neighbour to me in Wakefield; there is solidarity in West Yorkshire. Her speech last week to the Council of Foreign Relations in Washington DC was but the latest example of the forthright engagement that we have come to expect from her.

It is of course true that a great deal of work is being done in relation to freedom of religion and belief. However, this work is not necessarily focused on ensuring that everyone is able to exercise that right in peace and security. So the question, it seems to me, is how we move on from the essentially negative strategies that have been rooted in combating discrimination, intolerance, hate speech and incitement. Of course these things are important, but they work only once there is a clear commitment to the underlying value of the freedom of religion or belief. Core values need to be supported by proactive policies. Other noble Lords have hinted at such policies; indeed, the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, talked about the independent human rights commission. Is it not now time for the Government to shift their attention to a more positive approach to religious freedom and to recognise the wider societal benefits that it brings?

How might this be achieved? Some suggestions have already been put forward during this debate. Certainly the appointment of an ambassador at large or a special representative for religious freedom would help enhance the voice of the UK as the champion of an inclusive approach to freedom of religion or belief. A number of us have been pressing for this recently.

The head of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s human rights and democracy department is indeed an impressive figure. However, the incumbent of that post on her own is unable to give this matter the attention it rightly deserves because of competing priorities and pressures on her department’s time. We need to look again at strengthening the machinery of government in this area. It is to be hoped that when the Foreign Affairs Select Committee looks at its work programme for the next year, it will take upon itself the task of examining this issue with its usual forensic attention. I have been assured in a letter by the committee’s chair that this will be taken into account.

In concluding, I note only that unless we are prepared to give this issue the urgent attention it requires, we cannot be surprised if respect for religious freedom continues to decline markedly. The existing strategy across our world is not working, and it is time to think again.

1.08 pm

Baroness Berridge (Con):

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord for securing today’s debate, particularly as I chair the All-Party Parliamentary Group on International Religious Freedom or Belief. We specifically added “or Belief” when the British Humanist Association became one of the stakeholders. The issue has for too long been viewed as global identity politics. Christians seemingly speak up only when Christians are persecuted, Sikhs for Sikhs, and Baha’is for Baha’is, and this has contributed to Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights not being treated as a universal human right. The issue needs careful nuance and although some commentators, especially some on the centre right, want neat analyses, the following cursory around-the-world tour reveals that to be too simplistic.

On 28 August 2013 in the southern Iranian city of Bandar Abbas, Mr Ataollah Rezvani, a well known Baha’i, was murdered. He had come under pressure from agents of the ministry of intelligence who were intimidating him. On 17 November at around 9.30 in the morning, Pastor Zhang Xiaojie, who leads the Nanle county Christian church, a Three-Self state sanctioned church in China, was detained. Currently the pastor and 20 other members of the church are still being detained without arrest or charge. As has already been mentioned, Alexander Aan, an atheist, is in prison in Indonesia. Interestingly, Papua New Guinea has recently launched a consultation to prohibit non-Christian worship. If you are a Hindu in Pakistan, the law does not allow you to marry. Also, in November 2012, Ummad Farooq, whose father is president of the Ahmadiyya Muslims in his local community, was shot in head. Ummad is being treated in Birmingham and I am proud to say that he is claiming asylum here in the United Kingdom.

In Colombia, two pastors were killed in 2012 and about 300 indigenous Christians were displaced from their homes. Pagan indigenous populations receive material support from paramilitary organisations to organise the persecution of local Christians. The Rohingya Muslims in Burma, Shia Muslims in Saudi Arabia, the Coptic Christians in Egypt and, of course, all followers of whatever religion or belief in North Korea are being persecuted. However, not all persecution is far from our shores as anti-Semitism and attacks on Jews and Jewish places of worship have re-emerged in Europe, particularly in Hungary and Greece.

All the studies point to a simple fact: the persecution of people of faith or no faith on the basis of their belief is rapidly increasing. I warmly congratulate the Government on the fact that this is a human rights priority for them, but given the trend I have just outlined, does it not merit its own sub-group of the Human Rights Advisory Group? Most if not all of the other priorities do so. Moreover, does it not justify more than a part-time, unpaid special rapporteur as its main resource at the international level? The Prime Minister is to visit China next month, so will Her Majesty’s Government raise the case I have outlined, as well as the plight of Falun Gong followers who are tortured and imprisoned for their belief?

I was heartened to read in the Minister’s recent speech delivered at Georgetown University in America the assertion of the freedom to change one’s religion. This is the reason the APPG’s first report focused on Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 as it is the international instrument that states this unambiguously. Globalisation and the internet on smartphones means increasing exposure to different beliefs around the world. While traditionally where you were born and the community you were from perhaps dictated what you believed, individuals are increasingly able to make such decisions for themselves. There is a global trend of religious conversion and the emergence of new religious movements. This positive empowerment is, however, often met by harsh responses from many Governments around the world. For instance, as other noble Lords have mentioned, while diplomatic developments with Iran are promising, dozens of Muslims who have become Christians, along with Baha’is who are seen as apostates, remain in prison because of their faith. Can my noble friend please comment on our policy towards religious freedom in Iran?

A truly worrying example in this context are the recent reports that the Arab League is developing a regional blasphemy law that will criminalise any expression of opinion that is deemed a blasphemy, even when such opinions are expressed outside the jurisdiction of a particular country. If such a proposal ultimately is put into law by Arab League states, it will be in full breach of international human rights standards. Have Her Majesty’s Government made representations to the United Nations and the Arab league on this proposed blasphemy law?

I hope that protecting the freedom to convert will be on the agenda of the January summit on Article 18 that my noble friend is planning. The United Kingdom should be at the forefront of preserving the freedoms that have been opened up to this Twitter generation.

1.13 pm

Lord Mendelsohn (Lab):

My Lords, I congratulate and pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, for securing this debate. The noble Lord is well known for his commitment to these issues and I can recall listening, in the late 1980s, to a passionate defence of the rights of Jews being persecuted in the Soviet Union that was made by the noble Lord. Today, I possess a great sense of gratitude for the warm welcome that I have received from all sides of the House. I have been truly struck by the sincerity and good will of all. I would also like to thank the staff of the House for their unfailing courtesy and useful advice. Their help is hugely appreciated. I am also grateful to my noble friends Lord Levy and Lord Janner of Braunstone, who supported me at my Introduction. Together with my mentor, my noble friend Lord Mitchell, they embody the best of this Chamber. I am sure that I will learn more from them and, indeed, from the whole House than I will ever be able to contribute. This is also a very special debate as I find myself in the company of good friends and colleagues who have made really outstanding maiden speeches.

I grew up with friends and family scarred by and in the shadow of the Holocaust. I appreciated the universal lessons that were drawn from those terrible events. Also around that time we saw the rise of the Khmer Rouge and the establishment and operation of the murderous and brutal regime known as Democratic Kampuchea. As a young school pupil, I remember participating in the work of a TV appeal to bring relief to the Cambodian people. These events have had a lasting impact on me, and in many ways they have guided my life. The events of the Holocaust and the end of the Second World War gave rise, of course, to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

International systems, conventions, treaties and courts may not be perfect, but it is essential that they exist rather than not. I congratulate the Government on their successful election to the Human Rights Council. This reminds us how broad the role is that Government can play, and in this regard I would like to make a few suggestions and offer some thoughts on what the Government can consider. First, we need to remind ourselves that our work defending, protecting and advocating human rights protects not only those who face the denial of those rights, but also our own way of life. This is a dangerous period and the erosion of human rights can be an early sign of a broader attack on liberty. If our role in the world is to stand for anything, it is not just about adhering to the universal declaration, it is surely to protect our liberal values and way of life and extending the same rights and freedoms to others. We should do this by making the world more stable, increasing economic inclusion, making government outcomes more fair, less corrupt and more effective, and giving more people a stake in successful democracies. We should cement all of that in place through stable, equitable free trade and a growing economic interdependence that binds us together.

Secondly, this is a vast task with many actors. Human rights and democracy are frequently challenged. They are still very young in most countries and under pressure, particularly where education and the checks on elected Governments and corruption are weak, as well as where there is little appreciation that violence and discrimination against women is perhaps the greatest bar to a nation’s progress. Human rights must be part of a long-term strategy across a range of government departments, international institutions, parliamentary initiatives and an active, thriving international NGO and civil society sector.

The Government are well placed to achieve a lot and their influence depends on the level of international engagement. I am encouraged by the work of this and many previous Governments to extend our reach, and I add my support to these efforts. But I would encourage the Government to look more closely at whether we are using all the tools we have as effectively as possible. Surely it is worth considering whether development aid can do more to support a strategy of long-term political development as part of a wider strategy across government departments.

My final point is this. We need to address the economic dimensions that influence the attainment of human rights. There is a need to understand that the factors which curb human rights go beyond the traditional notions of corrupt regimes—rather, it is the fact that terribly uneven societies endure and the extractive capabilities of nations continue to be plundered while the prosperity and well-being of their citizens are ignored that causes great forms of repression. Creating the right market conditions, promoting growth, values and responsibility in the private sector is certainly part of it, but there is some merit in the argument that we should be vigilant. We must try to ensure that we do not allow societies to reach the tipping point where a population feels that the diminution of their and their children’s long-term economic prospects and a fundamental lack of hope adds to instability and conflict and a further erosion of their human rights.

I thank all noble Lords once again for the warmest of welcomes.

1.18 pm

Baroness Howells of St Davids (Lab):

My Lords, I feel privileged to follow my noble friend Lord Mendelsohn. I read that when he was introduced into the House, he said, “If, over my service, I can make even a fraction of the contribution to public life of my introducers, I will achieve a great deal”. My noble friend has a long history of working towards justice, both in the UK and in the Middle East. He is deeply involved in, and dedicated to, his work in the north London Jewish community. After today’s excellent, enlightened and thought-provoking maiden speech, I am sure that his presence in this House will be greatly appreciated. The presence of my noble friend Lord Mendelsohn on our Benches along with my noble friend Lord Bach will be music to the ears of all sides of the House. I am sure they will bring great harmony.

I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on giving us the opportunity to speak on this issue, which has been so pertinent to our values and is the foundation on which the principles of our Commonwealth are built. Following the Prime Minister’s visit to Sri Lanka, there cannot be a more appropriate time for this House to deliberate on how these values and principles translate into action beyond our immediate environment, into the Commonwealth and extending into the international domain.

As has been said, during the UK’s successful bid to join the UN Human Rights Council, a point of collaboration was made. We all agree that collaboration and international unity are paramount to how the Government are able to respond to violations of human rights. The point committed our Government to working more effectively with international partners and emphasised constructive association with both Commonwealth and EU partners to share best practice and expertise. With this newly acquired position, we furthered our ability. I need not point out to this House that with ability comes obligation.

The Government have made reference to the steps they have taken to promote human rights in Sri Lanka, through bilateral and supranational funding and through sharing experiences and expertise. My concerns are twofold and I would like to hear the Minister’s response on the following points. What efforts are being extended to other Commonwealth countries, and how do the Government intend to utilise the merits of the Commonwealth charter to promote human rights internationally? Further to that, as the Government are keen to replace the Human Rights Act 1998, what assessment, if any, have they made of their proposed British Bill of Rights and how it would compromise our own ambitions to work internationally?

I will not delay the House any longer, as most of the questions that I want to raise will come up later.

1.23 pm

Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick (CB):

My Lords, we are all immensely grateful to my noble friend Lord Alton not only for introducing this debate but for his long persistence and faithfulness on these issues over, one dares to say, a generation. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, for introducing in his excellent maiden speech the responsibilities of business and the corporate sector. I want to focus on that in some of my remarks.

We are all conscious of the UN human rights responsibilities as they were laid out in the 1940s, but they were updated in 2011 by the guiding principles on the responsibilities of business. The new principles and burdens which fall on business, in essence, oblige businesses to sign up to the Human Rights Council guiding principles. They require organisations such as my own, KPMG, to:

“Avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts through their own activities, and address such impacts when they occur”—

and—

“Seek to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts that are directly linked to their operations, products or services”.

This is a golden opportunity to bring the corporate sector into line with the responsibilities of public authorities. It is a chance for corporations, which have long held in private their own concerns about whether they have witnessed, for example, trafficking of individuals, unfair discrimination or employment procedures in other companies that were unacceptable, to take a stand alongside public duties.

On 16 October, there was an interesting report in the Guardian on a new assessment survey rating called “Tomorrow’s Value Rating”, set up by an organisation that seeks to assess the way in which companies are living up to the guiding principles on business and human rights. It found some interesting points of note. For example, although a vast majority of companies, such as my own, are signatories to the UN Global Compact, only a third of those that said they were devoted to human rights had a policy in place or a mechanism for measurement. It also found that in the oil and gas sector only three of the 10 companies covered had a stand-alone human rights policy and that management of human rights often appears to be reactive rather than proactive.

One does not want unduly to punish companies that are in the early stages of assessing their human rights responsibilities, but this is a chance not just for a debate in this House but to look at the way in which the Government think about future legislation for the UK alongside our partner countries, to set a tone of expectation in the corporate world as well as in the political sphere. In 2013, a long list of obligations relating to the principles of human rights for companies was set out by the Institute for Business and Human Rights in the UK. Point 6 of its 10 points of emphasis is titled:

“Renewing efforts to protect lives in the work-place”.

I want to draw attention to a specific example with a positive outcome, and I hope that we will see companies acting in this way in future.

None of us will forget the events in April surrounding the collapse of a building in Rana Plaza in Bangladesh. We will all recall the loss of life—1,200 individuals—the maiming, in particular, of many women and the loss of livelihoods. However, I am immensely grateful to be able to report to this House and for the benefit of public understanding that many of the companies involved, including ABF—Associated British Foods—the owner of Primark, decided that they would take their responsibilities immensely seriously. They would not only pay out for those who had lost livelihoods but stand together to take a responsible position on building requirements, regulations and standards for the future. Not only was this a dreadful affair that saw the unjust loss of multitudes of lives but it has been a golden opportunity for corporations to take their duties seriously. I am very grateful for the leadership of George Weston, the chief executive of ABF, and for his stand in its annual report, published on 5 November.

In conclusion, we have an opportunity in the corporate sector as new markets increasingly emerge where many of the pressure points that my noble friend Lord Alton and others have mentioned are brought to bear. If we can bring about a process for better common working practices between corporations and public authorities, we could see companies taking a greater lead in preventing human rights abuses.

1.27 pm

Lord Anderson of Swansea (Lab):

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, who I much admire, on his commitment and his courage, often in joint harness with the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. I will make three brief points.

First, I recall in the early 1980s going to a south Asian country and saying to our ambassador, “What are you doing about human rights?”. His answer was, “Oh, that’s a job for my first secretary”. That would no longer be allowed. Indeed, there has been an immeasurable improvement in the overseas department’s links and attitude to human rights. I think, for example, of changes in the structure of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, with the human rights and democracy department; the human rights report, which, happily, came from a recommendation of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, which I chaired at that time, which has certainly been refined and improved; the human rights and democracy programme; and also the much improved links with non-governmental organisations.

My second point is about the interlink between the domestic and the foreign. I recall the former Foreign Minister of Australia, Senator Gareth Evans, saying, “How can we Australians be taken seriously on human rights representations abroad if we maltreat our Aborigines”—being Australian, he actually said “Abos”—“at home”. That shows that there is a linkage between what we do at home and the strength of our representations abroad. That obviously relates to our immigration policy, our counterterrorism policy and our attitudes to Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.

Looking at our international organisations, I am delighted that we are now on the Human Rights Council, which is an enormous improvement on its predecessor, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, which could reach agreement only on attacks on Israel. I look forward to reports during our two-year tenure, starting in January. I think also of the Commonwealth and the Council of Europe, included in the second priority in the 2012 human rights report.

On the Commonwealth, of course we think of CHOGM and whether or not the Prime Minister should have attended the Sri Lankan summit. Yes, there is a time for engagement but I am troubled by the question of cui bono—who actually benefited most from the Prime Minister’s attendance? I fear that the answer may well be the President of Sri Lanka. The Commonwealth charter is a magnificent document but in practice, if one looks at the 60% of Commonwealth countries that still have capital punishment and attitudes towards the criminalisation of homosexuality, there is much work for our Government to do in persuading our Commonwealth colleagues of the importance of human rights.

On the Council of Europe, there is a danger of the Government making a major error in defying the European Court of Human Rights in respect of prisoners’ rights. I do not talk about the subject of the question but the danger of defiance. The Prime Minister unwisely said that,

“no one should be in any doubt: prisoners are not getting the vote under this Government”.—[Official Report, Commons, 24/10/12; col. 923.]

I saw the embarrassment of the Attorney-General when he appeared before the Joint Committee earlier this month. It would be a disastrous precedent in respect of Russia, Turkey and other defaulters, if we—pioneers of the system in the Council of Europe—were to defy it. There is a way out. Clearly the court will grant a wide margin of appreciation. It is insisting only that there is no blanket ban.

Finally, there has to be a balance in any matter of human rights. Sometimes it is best to do things in a low voice and behind the scenes. I was a member of the human rights mission to China that was led extremely ably by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, in which we were effective because we made quiet representations to the Chinese authorities. I concede also that there is a temptation to be strong on the weak and weak on the strong.

Of the six FCO priorities, freedom of religion is key. This has been the leitmotif of so many speeches in this debate. It is very important indeed that the Government consider seriously the recommendation of the excellent report of the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, and others, Article 18: An Orphaned Right, which includes the right to change one’s religion, which was omitted from the final communiqué of CHOGM—I wonder why. The Government should look carefully at the case for a special envoy or ambassador and I hope that they will come back with a positive response to that.

1.32 pm

Baroness Cox (CB):

My Lords, I warmly congratulate my noble friend Lord Alton on his tenacious commitment to justice and the protection of human rights. From a vast array of concerns, I will focus today on Burma and Nigeria.

The widely celebrated reforms in Burma are welcome but while western political leaders, investors and aid agencies flock to Rangoon, many ethnic national peoples suffer military offensives, gross violations of human rights by the Burmese army and exploitation of their natural resources by the Burmese Government.

The Muslim Rohingya people suffer systematic oppression, with 140,000 forced to live in dire conditions in camps in Rakhine state and thousands more forced to flee to Bangladesh or in precarious boats to other countries. Human Rights Watch describes the situation as “ethnic cleansing”. Will Her Majesty’s Government support calls for an independent international inquiry into war crimes and crimes against humanity?

My small NGO, HART, works with partners in Shan, Kachin, Karen and Karenni states. We have visited them to witness the plight of their people, which has not been reported by the media. In Kachin and Shan states, the Burmese army continues military offensives, driving hundreds of thousands of civilians to camps for the displaced. We have seen their destitution and heard heartbreaking stories of atrocities perpetrated by the army, including the recent rape of girls aged eight and 15.

Land confiscation and environmental degradation from investment projects are increasing, as in northern Shan state, with China’s oil and gas pipelines. Indeed, people in Shan state are asking what sort of peace this is, when they are losing more and more of their lands and livelihoods.

In Karen state, the cessation of fighting is welcome, but the ceasefire allows the Burmese army to build more, larger camps along the Salween river and the Burmese Government to exploit, destroy or confiscate natural resources, with no compensation. Human rights violations by the Burmese army, including sexual violence against women, continue with impunity.

Burma’s ethnic national peoples share many concerns; for example, that the 2008 constitution, which does not recognise the rights of ethnic national peoples or allow for the development of a federal union, will become the accepted political road map for Burma, and that ethnic national people, who retain their armies for protection from Burmese military aggression, will be seen as rebel groups with rebel armies.

Their situation is best expressed in the words of their own local leaders. I quote a leader of the Shan people:

“The Burmese Government has conceded just enough credibility to achieve everything it wants from the international community: investment, aid and hosting international events”.

A senior officer in the Shan state army said:

“When the lights went on in Rangoon, everyone rushed there—and nobody stopped to visit us in the darkness”.

A healthcare worker helping displaced people in the jungles of Karen and Karenni states said:

“They are playing a game like Chess: take one piece at a time. While they sign a ceasefire with the Karen, they launch major offensives in Kachin State. They wear a beautiful mask, but the original face, which is brutal, is hidden”.

Will Her Majesty’s Government make much stronger representations to the Burmese Government to desist immediately from military offensives against civilians in Kachin and Shan states; to increase humanitarian assistance to displaced people in Kachin, Shan and Rakhine states and allow unhindered access for international aid and human rights organisations; to call the Burmese army to account for violations of human rights, including murder, torture and rape; to ensure that concessions granted to the Burmese Government in recognition of recent reforms do not promote exploitative investment; and to allow ethnic national people to participate in discussions and agreements concerning the extraction of resources from their own lands—and the future of Burma?

I turn very briefly to the disturbing situation in Nigeria’s northern and central belt regions. The escalation of violence in the past two years by the Islamist Boko Haram movement follows two decades of violence in which thousands of Christians have been killed and hundreds of churches destroyed. Although Christian communities may have resorted to self-defence, the instigation of violence has been consistently asymmetrical, and now Boko Haram has stated its commitment to drive all Christians out of northern Nigeria.

We work with partners in Plateau, Kano and Bauchi states. These states are generally not visited, for security reasons—which is why we have gone there—and we have seen the suffering of local communities, as well as initiatives by local leaders, such as the Anglican Archbishop of Jos, Benjamin Kwashi, and the Anglican Bishop of Bauchi, to promote reconciliation between the different faith communities. Given Boko Haram’s escalating violence against Christians and its equally brutal killings of Muslims who do not support it, will Her Majesty’s Government do more to support these initiatives, in addition to the already well supported programmes in Kaduna state?

I conclude by expressing gratitude for the opportunity to highlight situations that we encounter working with victims of oppression, who are often trapped behind closed borders or off the radar screen for security reasons. I hope that the Minister will be able to give some reassurance to some of these hidden victims of violations of human rights in our world today.

1.38 pm

Lord Clarke of Hampstead (Lab):

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for giving us the opportunity to have this timely and important debate. I also thank him for his tireless efforts, in this House and outside, to expose the persecution and ill treatment of people. My comments could apply equally to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. They are an example of why this House exists and why we have to take an interest in other people’s affairs.

This debate is timely because there are currently seven people on a hunger strike here in London. A group of very brave people are calling for the release of seven hostages taken by Iraqi forces at the behest of the mullahs in Tehran. Many Members of this House will be aware of the hostage situation in Iraq. The tragedy of the hostage-taking is quite easily traced back to the evil regime in Tehran. This House is indebted to the persistence and determination our colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, who cannot be with us today but who keeps members aware of what is happening to those seven hostages. His efforts are in stark contrast to those of our own Government, who appear to be quite laid back about latest outrage and abuse of human rights in Iran.

Earlier this month, I had the privilege of attending a meeting in this House on the human rights situation in North Korea—another meeting arranged by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. We heard from Mr Michael Kirby, the chairman of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. We heard a report on the situation in North Korea. My remarks today will concentrate on the dreadful situation in Iran, but at the meeting on North Korea I heard a quote from a Mr Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Many of you will know of Dietrich Bonheoffer; I did not—I put that down to my obvious lack of education. The quote stuck in my mind; I wrote it down straightaway. Mr Bonheoffer said:

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil”.

I must confess that I did not know anything about him, but now I know much more. He was hung by the Nazis just 23 days before the German surrender. I am confident that that brave Lutheran pastor, who opposed the Nazis, would be with us in this debate today, not being silent but speaking out about what is going on.

While we remain silent, the evil regime in Tehran and the hearts of those wicked people grow stronger. It is almost 30 years since I first became involved in protests about human rights abuses in Iran. Over the three decades, I have seen evidence of the torture wrought upon innocent people: gouging of eyes, lashings and stoning of women. Many other things have gone on that are too evil to talk about, but in my locker in this House I have the video evidence of how those wicked people have treated their own people.

I think of those poor people of Ashraf camp, where they put loudspeakers right the way round, bombarding them 24 hours a day and driving them mad with the incessant noise. In recent years, we have seen unprovoked attacks on the residents of Ashraf. On 1 December, 52 people were killed—52 lives extinguished by these wicked people. Those victims had been promised protected person status when the Americans and British left Iraq. Our Government promised that we would look after those people in Ashraf, but they quickly abandoned all attempts to give them some guarantee of freedom. All they get is ever more pressure, ever more torture and ever more violence against them.

I also recall with great sadness the murder of Faezeh Rajabi. Faezeh was a 19 year-old girl who communicated with us by a telephone link, and I had the pleasure of talking to her. She died among her friends in the massacre of 8 April 2011. I also think about the 16 year-old girl who appeared in court having been raped and assaulted by a man. The judge said to her, “You’re responsible for this immorality”. She had the temerity to argue with the judge and he ordered, “Take her out” and she was hung. She was a 16 year-old girl. When people talk about the “moderate” Mr Rouhani, I would suggest that if you are going to parley with him, you should take a very long spoon. There is not time to tell this House about his pedigree, but I recommend that all those who want to know what this so-called moderate is all about should read about him. I deplore him and the people he represents. Maybe we should remember those voices that are silent now, of Lord Corbett, of Lord Slynn, of Lord King of West Bromwich and Lord Archer of Sandwell. They called over the years for our Government to do something stronger about what is going on Iran and I echo their sentiments today.

1.45 pm

Lord Cormack (Con):

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Clarke of Hampstead. I pay my tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, who has been an indefatigable campaigner. He gave a very fine keynote speech today and it is a privilege to take part in this debate. It is a privilege also to follow four very distinguished, and I might say distinguishable, maiden speakers, each one of whom brought a particular quality to our deliberations.

In a brief debate, I want to highlight one or two things. First, we must always be persistent—the noble Lord, Lord Clarke, did right to quote the great Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I think back to those in our own country who struggled for what we now take for granted but what, as the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, pointed out, is certainly not taken for granted in many parts of the world. I think of Wilberforce and his campaign against slavery, and Shaftesbury, who rescued children. We have a great deal to be proud of—which does not mean that we have great deal to be complacent about. We must also remember that persistence pays off.

I want to relate two, very brief stories to the House from my own experience. I do it in the light of the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, who talked about Russia as it is today—and certainly there is a great deal of imperfection. When I came into Parliament some 43 years ago, I immediately became a great friend of the noble Lord, Lord Janner. We decided to form a campaign for the release of Soviet Jewry. He thought that it was right that I should chair it, as a Christian, and he was a very tireless secretary. I am sorry that he is not in his place at the moment, because I pay tribute to him. At that time, it was impossible to get a visa to go to Moscow to argue our case. It was impossible to get religious books accepted in the Soviet Union. I remember we sent one, signed by all the party leaders, to a dissident called Slepak’s son for his bar mitzvah. It was sent back. Twenty years later, as a member of an international commission on human rights, I took part in an epiphany service in the Kremlin in a place where the leaders of the Soviet bloc countries had gone in the past and Christian worship would never have been permitted. At that service, handed to Mr Gorbachev’s special representative and chef de cabinet, Andrei Grachev, was a volume of the Scriptures which was symbolic of a million Bibles being accepted into the Soviet Union. That was true progress.

I relate just one other incident. Two years later, in 1972-73, we were in Vienna receiving some who had come out and been given visas. There was one young lady who spoke the most perfect English. I joked with her and said, “You must have been top of all your classes” and she said, “Well, actually, I was, until the day after my parents were granted the visa, when I was summoned to the vice-chancellor’s office and told that I had been the victim of a mistake and I had failed everything”. Twenty-one years later, I stood in that vice-chancellor’s or chancellor’s office in the University of Tartu in Estonia, a country by then a member of the European Community and of NATO, and rejoiced at the freedoms that had come.

I tell these two very brief stories merely to illustrate that persistence can and does pay off. It is important that we maintain dialogue—the noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred to the Helsinki accords. It is important that we keep contact with those countries whose regimes we deplore, and it is important that we deplore them publicly so that there is pressure on the leaders of those countries to make them realise that they are not acting in isolation but are being looked at, and that their words and deeds are being monitored. Let us remember that in almost every country of which we are talking, be it Pakistan, Nigeria or Iran, a vast majority of ordinary, decent people are desperate to have the freedoms which we enjoy and which my noble friend Lord Finkelstein spoke so movingly about earlier in this debate. If we are going to be able to ensure that human rights really are universal, we must keep up both the public and the private pressure.

1.50 pm

Lord Hannay of Chiswick (CB):

My Lords, the debate we are having today on human rights violations and the Government’s response to them is of critical importance to our relations with a whole range of countries where those abuses have taken, or are taking, place. These are not simple judgments to make and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, who has done much to shine a spotlight of publicity on so many such countries, most particularly North Korea, deserves credit for insisting that we examine the dilemmas posed to our foreign policy.

It is easy enough to caricature the two extremes: a foreign policy based solely on realpolitik, aimed at securing the national interest as narrowly defined; and, on the other hand, what has been called an ethical foreign policy where human rights considerations override all others. However, it is also easy to dismiss either of those extremes. The real dilemmas are to be found in the foreign policy choices that lie between those two extremes, and they have to take account of the separate circumstances of individual countries. There is no single template for policy which can be applied worldwide.

This week the spotlight is very much on Sri Lanka, where the Commonwealth Heads of Government have been meeting, where massive abuses of human rights by both sides took place during the final phases of the civil war, and where the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights recently discerned a drift towards authoritarian rule, with pressure on an independent judiciary and free press. I trust that the Minister will give the House some idea of how the President of Sri Lanka responded to the Prime Minister’s representations. Will she also assure us that the Government will not slacken in their advocacy of an independent inquiry into the events at the end of the war? An inquiry is surely going to have to be international if it is to be truly independent. Will we also keep up the pressure on the need for reconciliation and genuinely even-handed treatment of all ethnic and religious groups in that country if the present very welcome peace there is to be consolidated and sustained?

In considering how Britain should respond to human rights abuses, I suggest that one mistake we need to avoid is looking at the issue principally, or even solely, in the context of our bilateral relationship with the country in question. However, Britain’s influence and leverage are unlikely to be decisive nowadays. All too often we have seen how easy it is for the country in question to punish us for our temerity and play us off against other countries which have been less assertive. We saw that over the Chinese reactions to the Prime Minister receiving the Dalai Lama, and the Russians are past masters at that game. A multilateral approach is not just a soft option and makes it more difficult for the country on the receiving end of the pressure or the sanctions to divide and rule. I give a few examples of where it has been very successful: the Commonwealth sporting boycott of apartheid South Africa; the wide-ranging international sanctions on the military regime in Burma; and the pressure the European Union is bringing to bear on Ukraine in the run-up to the Eastern Partnership summit later this month. This surely points to our making maximum use of the multilateral instruments and forums that exist for handling human rights. How effective are those instruments and what sort of shape are they in? As many other speakers have said, the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights must surely remain the cornerstone of our activity, whether multilateral or bilateral. However, it contains no enforcement machinery and the UN Human Rights Council, established in 2006, has yet to prove itself fully, although its universal periodic review of every member state’s human rights record is an instrument of real value. We need to do what we can to strengthen the hand of the admirable High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Pillay, who visited London recently. In that context, I hope that the Minister will say what response the Government gave to Ms Pillay’s plea for an increase in our voluntary contribution to her office’s work to help reverse the recent reduction in resources at her disposal.

Then there is the Council of Europe, the convention and the court of human rights, which is so often intemperately denounced for excessive interference in our affairs. Do those critics ever stop to consider the work the council’s machinery does in a whole range of countries whose human rights record is well short of perfection? Any action we might take which weakens that machinery would inevitably reduce its effectiveness.

I conclude with a simple thought. The 20th century saw probably the most widespread, dramatic and repugnant abuses of human rights in recorded history. The challenge to us is to ensure that in the 21st century the world turns away decisively from that appalling inheritance and that Britain plays a prominent part in bringing that about.

1.55 pm

Lord Triesman (Lab):

My Lords, I echo the congratulations given to the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, and the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, and to my noble friends Lady Kennedy of Cradley and Lord Mendelsohn on their outstanding speeches and look forward to their future contributions. I was intrigued to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, has five guitars at home, as do I. It sounds to me as if we have a basis for at least some sort of discussion.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for initiating this debate, which centres on human tragedy and the stance that we should take to it, and for providing the architecture for it: that is, the 1948 universal declaration, and the need to construct foreign policy with Article 18 in mind. Indeed, that was enlarged on by my noble friend Lord Parekh. Her Majesty’s Government—in my view, rightly—have set out their six priorities and their decision to serve on the human rights global machinery. I support these priorities unreservedly, not least because they flow from the voices of victims. These priorities orientate us. However, I hope that we will also explore the contradictions which result from them, as did the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, a few moments ago.

I have a similar objective to that expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, which includes his point about multilateralism. I will focus on capital punishment as an example of a priority. Our strategy is to oppose the use of the death penalty because we promote human rights and democracy and because there are no circumstances in which we believe that it is appropriate or ethically justified. We want to influence people and dissuade them from using capital punishment, including those with whom we enjoy normal, peaceful diplomatic and trade relations, such as our traditional friends the United States, but also countries such as China or Iran. We are also clear about the imperative of developing relationships with those countries.

Iran, with whom we seek a renewed relationship, not least because we wish to reach an accord on nuclear enrichment and end conflict in Syria, has killed at least 120,000 people judicially and non-judicially since the overthrow of the Shah. It routinely executes minors, and nearly half of those suffering the death penalty are under 30. I congratulate my noble friend Lady Kennedy on her important intervention about children generally; the execution of children is part of that. There have been 59 United Nations General Assembly resolutions and countless reports by the human rights commission but they have had more or less no impact.

I support all that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said about the murders at Camp Liberty, North Korea, Joseph Kony, and much else. I also support what the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, said about Burma, the analysis of Syria of the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, and the remarks made by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, about the suppression of people because of their caste. The United Kingdom’s priority is clear and right, yet “no relationship with Iran” is a position that it would be difficult to advocate or sustain in the world of real politics. We lobby at a high level, fund human rights and pro-democracy projects and take trenchant positions on all these issues. However, we cease diplomatic relations only exceptionally and unwillingly. That seems sensible and necessary in most circumstances.

The FCO has a priority to prevent torture and, a few moments ago, my noble friend Lord Clarke illustrated what this means in Iran. Again, the ethical priority cannot somehow mean that we cease to deal with states that employ torture, much as it is repugnant to us. That is not out of indifference or cynicism but because we need relationships to address a wide variety of global and regional problems. The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, spoke of the problem of dealing with tyrants. I can personally say that you may end up talking for days, as I did in Doha, with people who you would rather see hauled before the International Criminal Court in The Hague, if only you could achieve that outcome.

The FCO also has a priority, which was rightly emphasised by my noble and learned friend Lady Scotland, to end violence against women and girls—a problem which is now frequently a weapon of war, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, so rightly said. We have a detailed policy that repays reading, as will study of what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby has said today. Equally, the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, talked about gay people’s rights. We should prioritise all these issues, just as we prioritise the renewal of the push towards democracy. In this case, we apply few tests of who we will or will not deal with. There is no adequate litmus test available, and even when we hold our noses, we frequently have to prefer to talk.

Like the late Robin Cook, to whom the noble Lord, Lord Patten, also referred today, I ask myself what might guide us in these difficult times and give us a chance to set out a strategy that is neither naive nor bombastic about human rights. What guides the post-Cold War world, a world of multipolarity? There is a great instinct in general to hold nations directly or indirectly accountable for their actions. It is our current trajectory that I want to look at. Do we balance properly the ethical foreign policy that we should adopt, if we can, with the United Kingdom’s national interest and its commitment to human rights? There must be a new disposition between all these.

I conclude that there will never be an unbending standard to judge every circumstance and, equally, that no foreign policy can be humanity blind because it might happen to suit us on a particular day because of a particular commercial interest. If we were to do so it would give full scope to dictators, war criminals, illegal arms dealers and others. It would demand of us only that we looked after our own security and financial profitability. We would have intervened in Libya because it had armed the IRA and not because it was slaughtering its own people. These are the issues that we have to face. We would have turned our backs, in those circumstances, on the 1948 convention.

Does the Minister agree that the core guidelines, which we may need to behave more appropriately now, are perhaps these? First, our foreign policy in these areas should obviously protect our security and that of our allies, while promoting conditions in which we are least likely to be attacked at home or have our people attacked in other parts of the world—and we should do so with our allies in a multilateral way. Secondly, while our choice of means in such circumstances would almost always lead to peaceful means, we must acknowledge circumstances where, for the right and wholly disclosed reasons and with parliamentary consent, wherever possible, we should intervene as a last resort with proportionate steps and reasonable prospects of success. I labour this point because, aside from our own security—the paramount reason—we also have obligations to protect. They are part of our international obligations and often imply preventing, reacting and rebuilding after conflict. I find it hard to conceive of retaining a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, as I wish this country to do, if only the United Kingdom’s interests ever determined the judgments that we made.

My noble friend Lady Howells made the point that human rights must be matched by a responsibility to protect; she is absolutely right. I commend my noble friend Lord Mendelsohn and the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, on their comments in this regard. In my final few moments I will commend also the work of the Canadian Government, who have captured this thought. Their international commission on intervention judges the evidence of serious harm, including mass murder and starvation, and whether the state involved is unwilling, unable or opposed to averting such harm. If these conditions hold, the principle of non-intervention yields to the responsibility to protect—something that we should take very seriously. It was close to Robin Cook’s thinking, and I believe that it was close to Tony Blair’s in his speech to the Chicago press club.

In all these cases, what we may need is a realistic checklist that gets us through how we are to deal with despotic, murderous and antidemocratic regimes—regimes for whom war crimes are just a tool that they use from their toolkit—and at the same time oppose the behaviour that they espouse. I commend the Canadian approach as being among perhaps the best architecture that has been designed. It was somewhat lost in the aftermath of 9/11 and it is hardly known or studied in many circles, but it should be. It should also be fully debated and I hope that on some occasion, we may have the opportunity to do so in your Lordships’ House. Let us try to make sure that we are debating the fundamentals of how we proceed alongside the examples of egregious harm.

2.36 pm

The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi) (Con):

My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for his tireless efforts to shine a light on the darker corners of humanity. He brings to our attention the plight of those suffering human rights abuses throughout the world, not just today but on a regular basis in your Lordships’ House. Secondly, I take this opportunity to congratulate my noble friend Lady Suttie, the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, the noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, and my noble friend Lord Finkelstein on their maiden speeches. The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley, mentioned the phrase “Behind every man” but did not complete it. I have a phrase of my own: behind every powerful woman there is usually a man who wakes up in the morning and says, “Darling, where are my socks?”. Given the in-depth knowledge of the area of human rights among the noble Lords who made their maiden speeches today, I very much look forward to hearing more from them on these issues.

This has been a wide-ranging debate and it is almost impossible for me to respond fully in 20 minutes, so I apologise if I do not address all concerns. As always, the interventions were thought-provoking and wide-ranging. It was incredibly interesting to hear from noble Lords such as my noble friend Lord Cormack, who can through his own experience recall changing situations around the world. I am also grateful for the incredibly thoughtful speech of the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, who eloquently detailed the challenges, conflicts, considerations, principles and pragmatisms that all play into our foreign policy—and, of course, human rights as a part of that.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights underpins what we do but, sadly, it is too often disregarded. We take our place in the international human rights community incredibly seriously. That is why we campaigned most recently for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council. I am delighted to say that we were elected with 171 votes, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, for his kind congratulations. As the noble Lords know, the Human Rights Council was set up in 2006 and has addressed numerous rights-related situations in countries such as Burma, North Korea, Belarus, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Iran and Sri Lanka, to name a few. The United Nations Human Rights Council also addresses important thematic human rights issues such as freedom of expression, freedom of religion or belief, women’s rights, LGBT rights, and business and human rights.

A number of Human Rights Council resolutions, such as those on Libya, have led to vital action at the UN Security Council. When our term begins in January, we will bring this commitment and ambition, as well as our resources, to support and strengthening the council, and to uphold the independence and effectiveness of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights—something that we believe is of paramount importance. Of course, we will be working alongside countries whose records on human rights give us cause for concern, too. But with membership comes responsibility and we will not shirk from reminding other states on the Human Rights Council of their responsibilities.

The universal periodic review process has played a critical role in facilitating the wider acceptance of international human rights scrutiny. The success of UPR is a priority for the UK; it is often the first time that a state has had the opportunity to carry out an open, self-critical review of its human rights commitments. The majority of states have engaged constructively, and the UPR looks likely to help facilitate wider acceptance of international human rights standards. It is therefore a crucial tool for implementing our human rights priorities. The UK works hard to ensure that other countries approach the UPR process in a transparent and constructive manner, and it is therefore important to us that we are able to demonstrate having taken the process seriously ourselves. The UK’s own UPR was successfully presented in 2012 by the Ministry of Justice, under the direction of my noble friend Lord McNally.

We have pledged to use the membership of the Human Rights Council to work for the protection of the most vulnerable in our societies, responding actively to global challenges and looking ahead to the future of universal human dignity, and to keep human rights at the core of the UN’s work. We will particularly press forward on the six global thematic priorities that the Government have set. Before I go through them, though, I acknowledge the suggestion from the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, of considering LGBT issues as a thematic priority. I will certainly consider that at the time of our review.

We continue to work on our first priority, which is the abolition of the death penalty. We work with the all-party parliamentary group, chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, to push forward the debate towards abolition in countries that retain the death penalty. We fund practical initiatives, such as training judges and lawyers and modernising penal codes, to reduce the use of the death penalty. We work for an increase in countries voting in favour of the UN’s biennial resolution against the death penalty, which will be run next in 2014. This demonstrates how, over time, the tide of global opinion is turning against the use of the death penalty.

Another priority is on initiatives to prevent torture. We are running a global campaign to encourage states to ratify the UN Convention against Torture and the optional protocol. The protocol compels states to establish intrusive mechanisms of inspection of places of detection, to shine a light on the treatment of people held by the state. We share the UK’s own experience of implementing the optional protocol through Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons, and run projects to help states to set up their own systems to end the scourge of torture.

We use our membership of the HRC to push for more states to take action to implement the UN guiding principles on business and human rights—another thematic priority. This specifically references the principle of the effective abolition of child labour, which was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy. The UK has done this through its own action plan, launched in September by the Foreign Office and the Business Secretary. The plan responds to the call for British business to help the principles flourish in every market, in a way that respects human rights and ensures proper remedy for those whose human rights are harmed by business activity. I hope that this is seen as the start of the Government setting the tone on expectations and standards, as outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Hastings.

On the specific issue of child labour, which was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, at the Human Rights Council in March this year the UK co-sponsored the resolution on the rights of children, which further calls upon all states to translate into concrete action their commitment to the progressive and effective elimination of child labour, which interferes with a child’s education and is harmful to a child’s health, both physical and mental, and to their moral and social development. The noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, was right to reference in his maiden speech that market forces too must work for the benefit of the populations of countries that are rich in resources.

Another priority for the Foreign Office is working to ensure freedom of expression, both online and offline. Freedom of expression underpins democracy and is the gateway to many other rights and freedoms. In a networked world we need to ensure that people everywhere, including those not yet connected to the internet, can enjoy the economic and social benefits of a free, open internet, and can do so safely and securely. This is the vision that the Foreign Secretary set out on the London conference on cyberspace in 2011, which has since been taken forward by conferences in Budapest and Seoul, and which we will further pursue at the conference in 2015 in The Hague.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, detailed harrowing examples of the abuse of women. Women’s rights are another priority—tackling one of the greatest challenges of the century, to ensure that the full social, economic and political participation of women becomes commonplace. We work to end impunity for the use of rape as a weapon of war and for wider violence against women and girls. We share our own experiences in tackling problems that the UK faces, along with many other countries, from how to get women on boards to ensuring that no girl has to endure the trauma of FGM or forced marriage.

I take on board what the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, said about violence in a domestic situation. The Foreign Secretary, however, has focused his efforts on preventing sexual violence in conflict because he feels that accountability and justice is an area where there is the most glaring lack of political will, and where Governments can make the most difference. The PSVI initiative supports existing and extensive cross-government work on conflict prevention and violence against women and girls. The initiative has made excellent progress in securing great international commitment to tackling sexual violence in conflict. G8 Ministers agreed a historic declaration in April, and in June we secured the first Security Council resolution on this issue in years.

In September at the UN General Assembly, the Foreign Secretary launched the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, which has so far been endorsed by 135 countries. The political campaigning has been underpinned by practical action that is already starting to take place in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the DRC, Kosovo, Libya and Mali and on the Syrian borders. I commend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby for referring to the White Ribbon project, to which I was able to lend support only yesterday; it is an incredibly important initiative for men to speak out against violence directed at women.

The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, also spoke about the Istanbul convention. The UK is supportive of the principles underpinning that convention but there remain a number of areas that need further consideration before a final decision can be made on whether to sign—particularly the criminalisation of forced marriage and the extension of extraterritorial jurisdiction to the wide range of offences in scope of the convention. As part of this further consideration, the UK Government launched a consultation in December 2011 on whether to create, for example, a new offence of forced marriage. The Government are considering how these and other issues might be resolved, and will make a statement in due course. Should the final decision be that the UK signs the convention, primary legislation will need to be introduced to make sure that the UK law is compliant.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, raised the issue of the abuse of human rights of disabled members of our society. In 2012 we used our role as host nation of the Paralympic Games to highlight the power of sport to deliver the vision of the UN convention. The UK is proud to have welcomed the highest ever number of participating Paralympic teams at the Games, and disability rights were a core element of our joint communiqué on human rights.

The sixth thematic priority, and a personal priority of mine, is one that was raised by my noble friends Lord Selkirk and Lord Patten and the noble Lord, Lord Singh: the freedom of religion and belief. I shall explain what religious freedom means to me. It means the freedom to have a religion, to believe what one chooses to believe, to manifest those beliefs, to show them outwardly, to share them with others, to change your faith or to not have a faith, and to do so without fear of discrimination, attack or persecution. I echo the words of my noble friend Lady Berridge that we place emphasis on both religion and belief. We work in this area in many ways, including in multilateral organisations—which, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said, is sometimes the most effective way.

Within that, we are committed to working with the United Nations Human Rights Council to implement Resolution 1618. This resolution lays the foundations for combating discrimination against people based on their religion throughout the world. Political consensus is crucial to achieving that. Therefore, in January this year I brought together in London Ministers and senior officials, from the Foreign Minister of Canada to the Foreign Minister of Indonesia and the OIC, to try to take forward a political track to the Istanbul process. A further meeting was held in New York during the UN General Assembly week.

We also engage on this issue through bilateral engagement. I have made freedom of religion a priority in the areas that I have responsibility for, but I also believe that every Minister at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is and should be an ambassador for religious freedom. We saw that with the Prime Minister in Sri Lanka only days ago. Each and every one of us raises and promotes these issues in the countries for which we have responsibility.

Thirdly, we engage in project work with human rights and faith-based organisations around the world, particularly those that bridge sectarian divides and promote dialogue between religions.

Fourthly, given the key role that faith plays in our global politics today, we are equipping our diplomats with the understanding of the crucial role that religion plays in the world today. We are ensuring that experts on freedom of religion and belief sit on the Foreign Secretary’s Advisory Group on Human Rights. I am planning to hold a conference on freedom of religion and belief next year to bring the many strands of this work together.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield and others suggested the appointment of an ambassador for religious freedom. We keep this constantly under review, but we have also been looking at the experiences of other countries that have done this and we have seen that, disturbingly, these ambassadors are sometimes not given access to the countries, or indeed to individuals at the highest level in those countries, to raise these challenges. Therefore, it is important that we make sure that we work in the most effective way in this area.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Swansea, that we have greater credibility overseas if our record at home is good—a point made eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, asked me specifically about meeting Navi Pillay. I do not have an answer to that but I will certainly write to him with an update.

The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, and the noble Lords, Lord Parekh, Lord Anderson and Lord Hannay, spoke of CHOGM. There has of course been much debate about the Prime Minister’s decision to go to last week’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Sri Lanka. I believe that the Prime Minister was right to go. As the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, said, not talking to people is never the answer. By going, the Prime Minister shone a spotlight on the situation there, and he was the first foreign leader to visit the north of the country since 1948. Because of his decision, journalists were granted access that would otherwise have been impossible to gain, and the local people—the families of the missing—were given an international voice.

The PM was bold and blunt in his views. He had a frank and tough meeting with the President, in which he clearly set out the need for Sri Lanka to make further progress in a number of areas, including a credible and transparent independent investigation into allegations of war crimes. If the Sri Lankan Government fail to do this, the UK will fully back an international investigation. The talks also covered a meaningful political settlement with the north, including demilitarisation, and proper implementation of the range of Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission recommendations. However, I accept that more needs to be done, not just in Sri Lanka but to ensure that the principles of the Commonwealth charter are applied by the countries of the Commonwealth.

My noble friend Lady Falkner asked about Syria. We are deeply concerned about recent media reports of mass graves being discovered in Sadad. We have consistently made it clear that those who have committed these and other crimes during the conflict will be held to account. We have trained more than 60 Syrian activists to document human rights violations and abuses to assist in any future accountability process. We have consistently made it clear that those responsible for the most serious international crimes in Syria should be held to account, and we believe that the situation in Syria should be referred to the International Criminal Court. We will continue, publicly and privately, to make the case for ICC referral. We are pushing for a strong resolution on human rights and accountability to be adopted by the UN.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, and others raised the issue of Camp Liberty. We remain of the view that the Government of Iraq, as a sovereign Government, are responsible for the situation at the camp. We have called on the Government to take all necessary measures to locate missing residents and ensure the safety of the remaining residents at Camp Liberty.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, also raised the issue of Sudan. We continue to make the case to the Government of Sudan and the international community that we expect compliance with arrest warrants for ICC indictees. We regularly lobby Governments and make public statements to this effect—for example, when President al-Bashir recently travelled to Nigeria.

The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, raised concerns relating to discrimination against the Dalit community. DfID has supported the Indian Government’s Education for All scheme, which has helped to bring the number of Dalit children in school proportionately in line with the general population. We have also supported measures in India’s 120 poorest districts to promote empowerment and access to benefits and services for excluded groups. Dalits have been a large part of that.

The noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, gave an incredibly interesting account of her experience in Russia. The promotion and protection of human rights continues to be a key priority in our bilateral relationship with Russia. The UK is unique among EU member states in holding annual bilateral meetings to allow formal discussions about human rights. In addition, we regularly meet human rights defenders and NGOs in Russia, and we fund projects run by Russian NGOs to promote progress in human rights.

The noble Baroness, Lady Howells of St Davids, asked about the European Convention on Human Rights. We have agreed, in the context of the coalition agreement, that the obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights will continue to be enshrined in British law.

The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, asked about Burma. We are lobbying the Burmese Government for further action to address the humanitarian situation. We are providing £4.4 million in humanitarian aid—the largest amount of bilateral aid—for Rakhine state, and we are continuing to support Kachin state. In July, the Secretary of State for International Development announced a further £13.5 million of UK funding. Unfortunately, I shall not be able to address further questions on Burma and Nigeria.

The noble Lord, Lord Clarke of Hampstead, spoke about Iran. The UK will continue to hold Iran to account for human rights abuses. To date, we have designated, under EU sanctions, more than 80 Iranians responsible for human rights violations, and have helped to establish a UN special rapporteur. Last autumn, we lobbied for the support of a UN General Assembly resolution on Iran’s human rights, which was supported by an overwhelming majority. As the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary said, increasing our bilateral engagement with Iran will enable the UK to have more detailed, regular and direct discussions on human rights.

I end by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for allowing us to discuss these important issues. Without respect for human rights, security cannot be guaranteed. Without peace and stability, economies will not grow, poverty will endure, the rule of law will crumble and the cycle of poverty, abuse and instability will perpetuate. Preventing this, breaking this cycle and upholding the fundamental rights to which every human is entitled are at the very core of every aspect of our diplomatic engagement, just as I know it is at the core of the work of this House. Once again, I am grateful for the contribution of all noble Lords to this cause.

2.27 pm

Lord Alton of Liverpool:

My Lords, it was suggested during Question Time today that your Lordships have no business spending time on non-domestic issues. Twenty-six powerful speeches, including the Front-Bench speeches of the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, and the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, illustrate why this House should spend time on these issues, why it should bring its insightful, intelligent, well informed and wise contributions to these questions, why we have a duty to use the hard-won freedoms gained over 800 years since the promulgation of Magna Carta, and why we should use our liberties and freedoms to speak for the women in the Congo, the dissidents in Iran, the 300,000 in the gulags in North Korea or the 44 young people who were murdered by Boko Haram while sleeping in a dormitory in northern Nigeria.

Anyone who doubts the relevance or purpose of your Lordships’ House should read today’s Hansard. During my time here, I have felt deeply privileged to be able to work with many of your Lordships who have spoken in today’s debate. In four remarkable maiden speeches, we have heard about the oppression of gay people, about Putin’s Russia, about the need for an overarching strategy on human rights and about child labour.

The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley, reminded us that the welcome modern slavery Bill will appear later this year. More than 200 years ago, William Wilberforce and his friends believed that they had abolished slavery. Interestingly, he also said, “Now we must turn our attention to the Dalits and the caste system”. These old evils still need to be combated, even as new giants emerge. Perhaps in our generation we might make caste history. Wilberforce, whose biographer is our Foreign Secretary, William Hague, once remarked that, having seen the evidence, “we cannot turn away”. Today, there has been no shortage of evidence and, like Wilberforce, we cannot turn away.

During our debate, we heard mention of the assault on the right to belief. It was mentioned in many speeches, including those of the two right reverend Prelates. I agree with Timothy Shah, who said:

“When people lose their religious freedom, they lose more than their freedom to be religious. They lose their freedom to be human”.

Lest anyone doubts the evidence, let them read the 160-page report that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office publishes every year on human rights violations. If a Select Committee produced that report, there would be a mechanism to debate it. It should be a given that every year we should have a full-scale debate on that annual report in both Houses. It should not be left to the vagaries of a ballot. Given the vast experience in your Lordships’ House on all our Benches, it is patently absurd that there is not anInternational Affairs Select Committee, a Foreign Affairs Select Committee, where issues such those that we have been debating today can be examined in detail.

The Foreign Secretary has rightly said:

“While human rights are not the only consideration in forming a nation’s foreign policy, if we allow human rights to suffer while we pursue our legitimate national interest, we will in the long term have failed”.

We have seen remarkable change in our lifetime—the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of apartheid in South Africa and the beginnings of a peace process in Northern Ireland. Since coming to your Lordships’ House, I have been able to go to Burma on four occasions, three of them illegally. Eighteen months ago, I would not have believed that I would be able to address an open air meeting of the National League for Democracy in Yangon. It is a small beginning, a small start and a welcome change.

It was said by Benjamin Franklin that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. We have been vigilant today but, as so many have remarked, we must persist, persist and persist. We must use our freedoms on behalf of those whose freedoms are cruelly denied.

Motion agreed.

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