Full transcript: House of July 16 Lords Debate on Article 18: Stop Killing Christians – including speeches by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the former Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, and other senior Peers from many faith and humanist backgrounds

Freedom of Religion and Belief

Motion to Take Note

Watch the debate at:

http://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/53d07cde-20ee-4f53-80d3-f4c075deb3d0?in=16:20:35

https://freedomdeclared.org/

 

4.20 pm

Moved by Lord Alton of Liverpool

To move that this House takes note of worldwide violations of Article 18 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the case for greater priority to be given by the United Kingdom and the international community to upholding freedom of religion and belief.

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, I begin by thanking all noble Lords who take part in today’s debate. We have a speakers list of great distinction, underlining the importance of this subject. It is also a debate that will see the valedictory speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, who has given such distinguished service to your Lordships’ House. The backdrop to all our speeches is Article 18, one of the 30 articles of the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights. It insists:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance”.

The declaration’s stated objective was to realise,

“a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations”.

However, with the passage of time, the declaration has acquired a normative character within general international law. Eleanor Roosevelt, the formidable

16 July 2015 : Column 767

chairman of the drafting committee, argued that freedom of religion was one of the four essential freedoms of mankind. In her words:

“Religious freedom cannot just mean Protestant freedom; it must be freedom of all religious people”,

and she rejoiced in having friends from all faiths and all races.

Article 18 emerged from the infamies of the 20th century—from the Armenian genocide to the defining depredations of Stalin’s gulags and Hitler’s concentration camps; from the pestilential nature of persecution, demonisation, scapegoating and hateful prejudice; and, notwithstanding violence associated with religion, it emerged from ideology, nation and race. It was the bloodiest century in human history with the loss of 100 million lives.

The four great murderers of the 20th century—Mao, Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot—were united by their hatred of religious faith. Seventy years later, all over the world, from North Korea to Syria, Article 18 is honoured daily in its breach, evident in new concentration camps, abductions, rape, imprisonment, persecution, public flogging, mass murder, beheadings and the mass displacement of millions of people. Not surprisingly, the All-Party Group on International Freedom of Religion or Belief, in the title of its influential report, described Article 18 as “an orphaned right”. A Pew Research Center study begun a decade ago found that of the 185 nations studied, religious repression was recorded in 151 of them.

Today’s debate, then, is a moment to encourage Governments to reclaim their patrimony of Article 18; to argue that it be given greater political and diplomatic priority; to insist on the importance of religious literacy as a competence; to discuss the crossover between freedom of religion and belief and a nation’s prosperity and stability; and to reflect on the suffering of those denied this foundational freedom.

Although Christians are persecuted in every country where there are violations of Article 18—from Syria and Iraq, to Sudan, Pakistan, Eritrea, Nigeria, Egypt, Iran, North Korea and many other countries—Muslims, and others, suffer too, especially in the religious wars raging between Sunnis and Shias, so reminiscent of 17th-century Europe. But it does not end there. In a village in Burma, I saw first-hand a mosque that had been set on fire the night before. Muslim villagers had been driven from a village where for generations they had lived alongside their Buddhist neighbours. Now Burma proposes to restrict interfaith marriage and religious conversions. It is, however, a region in which Christian Solidarity Worldwide and the Foreign and Commonwealth are doing some excellent work with lawyers and other civil society actors, promoting Article 18.

Think, too, of those who have no religious belief, such as Raif Badawi, the Saudi Arabian atheist and blogger sentenced to 1,000 public lashes for publicly expressing his atheism. That has been condemned by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights as,

“a form of cruel and inhuman punishment”.

16 July 2015 : Column 768

Alexander Aan was imprisoned in Indonesia for two years after saying he did not believe in God. Noble Lords should recall that Article 18 is also about the right not to believe.

Later, we will hear from the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, who recently said that the “most common feature” of Anglicanism worldwide is that of being persecuted. Twenty-four of the 37 Anglican provinces are in conflict or post-conflict areas. Referring to the 150 Kenyan Christians who were killed on Maundy Thursday, the most reverend Primate said:

“There have been so many martyrs in the last year … They are witnesses, unwilling, unjustly, wickedly, and they are martyrs in both senses of the word”.

We will also hear from my noble friend Lord Sacks, who offered his prayer on Hanukkah last year for,

“people of all faiths working together for the freedom of all faiths”.

My noble friend’s brilliant critique, Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence, is required reading for anyone trying to comprehend what motivates people to kill Christian students in Kenya, Shia Muslims praying in a mosque in Kuwait, Pakistani Anglicans celebrating the Eucharist in Peshawar or British tourists simply holidaying in Tunisia and for anyone trying to understand the dramatic rise in Christian persecution, the vilification of Islam in some parts of the world and, in Europe, the troubling reawakening of anti-Semitism.

My noble friend’s insights into the shared stories of the Abrahamic faiths—not least the displacement stories of Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Leah and Rachel, and Joseph and his brothers—and how they can be used to promote mutual respect, coexistence, reconciliation and the healing of history underline the urgent need for scholars from those faiths to combat the evil being committed in God’s name and to give emphasis to the ancient texts in a way which upholds the dignity of difference—the title of another of my noble friend’s books. If Jews, Muslims and Christians are no longer to see one another as an existential threat, we urgently need a persuasive new narrative, which is capable of forestalling the unceasing incitements to hatred which pour forth from the internet and which capture unformed minds.

It is not just scholars but the media and policymakers who need greater religious literacy and different priorities. How right the BBC’s courageous chief international correspondent, Lyse Doucet, is when she says:

“If you don’t understand religion—including the abuse of religion—it’s becoming ever harder to understand our world”.

It is increasingly obvious that liberal democracy simply does not understand the power of the forces that oppose it or how best to counter them. At best, the upholding of Article 18 seems to have Cinderella status. During the Queen’s Speech debate, I cited a reply to Tim Farron MP—for whom this has been quite a notable day—in which Ministers said that the Foreign Office,

“has one full time Desk Officer wholly dedicated to Freedom of Religion or Belief”.

The Answer also stated that,

“the Head and the Deputy Head of HRDD spend approximately 5% and 20% respectively of their time on FoRB issues”.

16 July 2015 : Column 769

To rectify this, will we prioritise Article 18 in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office business plan and across government departments? Has the FCO considered convening an international conference on Article 18—something I have raised with her? Is it an issue we will raise at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Malta in November?

In May, the Labour Party gave a welcome manifesto commitment to appoint a Canadian-style special envoy to promote Article 18. The Foreign Office resists this, insisting that all our diplomats promote freedom of religion and belief. But that has not been my experience. On returning to Istanbul from a visit to a 1,900 year-old Syrian Orthodox community in Tur Abdin, which was literally under siege, I was told by our UK representative that his role was to represent Britain’s commercial and security interests and that religious freedom was a domestic matter in which he did not want to become involved. Self-evidently, there is a direct connection with our security interests, not least with millions of displaced refugees and migrants now fleeing religious persecution.

Paradoxically, if he had studied the empirical research on the crossover between freedom of religion and belief, and a nation’s stability and prosperity, he might have come to a very different conclusion. Where Article 18 is trampled on, the reverse is also true, as a cursory examination of the hobbled economies of countries such as North Korea and Eritrea immediately reveals. This is not a marginal concern, as the outstanding briefing material for our debate from many human rights organisations makes clear.

Last month, the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, and I chaired the launch of a report by Human Rights Without Frontiers. Among its catalogue of egregious and serious violations, it says that North Korea, China and Iran had the highest number of people imprisoned, in their thousands, for their religion or belief. It highlights Pakistan, where in 2011 two politicians who questioned the blasphemy laws were shot dead; where Asia Bibi remains imprisoned with four other Christians and nine non-Christians, facing the death sentence for alleged blasphemy; and where Shias and Ahmadis have faced ferocious deadly attacks.

When did we last raise these cases and other abuses of Article 18 with Pakistan, or the use of blasphemy laws in Sudan, where two pastors are currently on trial, facing charges that carry the death sentence? Have we urged Sudan to drop the charges against 10 young female Christian students who face up to 40 lashes because of the clothes they were wearing? What of the Chinese Christian lawyers arrested this week as part of a major crackdown? Will Article 18 be on the agenda for discussion with China’s President when he visits the United Kingdom?

I am a trustee of the charity Aid to the Church in Need, and the noble Baroness the Minister kindly launched its report, Religious Freedom in the World 2014, which found that religious freedom had deteriorated in almost half the countries of the world, with sectarian violence at a six-year high, nowhere more so than in the Middle East, where last week Pope Francis said that Christians are subject to genocide. In a recorded

16 July 2015 : Column 770

message for that launch, His Royal Highness the Princes of Wales condemned “horrendous and heart-breaking” persecution, and spoke of his anguish at the plight of Christianity in the Middle East, in the region of its birth, describing events in Syria and Iraq as an “indescribable tragedy”.

In 1914, Christians made up a quarter of that region’s population. Now they are less than 5%. Archbishop Bashar Warda of Irbil, during a meeting that I chaired here in the House, underlined their traumatic, degrading and inhuman treatment, pleading with the international community to provide protection. Two weeks ago the same plea was made by a remarkable Yazidi woman who gave evidence at a meeting organised by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson. The Yazidi, a former Iraqi Member of Parliament, told us:

“The Yazidi people are going through mass murder. The objective is their annihilation. 3000 Yazidi girls are still in D’aesh hands, suffering rape and abuse. 500 young children have been captured, being trained as killing machines, to fight their own people. This is a genocide and the international community should say so”.

This view has been reinforced this week by reports on “Newsnight” and “Dispatches”. How will we answer that woman? Do we intend to use our voice in the Security Council on behalf of the Yazidis and Assyrian Christians? Do we intend to have the perpetrators brought to justice in the ICC? Are we collating and documenting every instance, from genocide and rape to the abduction of bishops and priests, to the burning of churches and mosques, to the beheading of Eritrean Christians and Egyptian Copts by ISIS in Libya? What are we doing to create safe havens where these minorities might be protected?

In 1933, Franz Werfel published a novel, The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, based on a true story about the Armenian genocide. His books were burnt by the Nazis, no doubt to try to erase humanity’s memory, Hitler having famously asked, “Who now remembers the Armenians?”. The Armenian deportations and genocide claimed the lives of an estimated 1.5 million Armenian Christians. Werfel tells the story of several thousand Christians who took refuge on the mountain of Musa Dagh. The intervention of the French navy led to their dramatic rescue.

A hundred years later, the Yazidis besieged on Mount Sinjar were saved, but their lives are still in the balance. Last week the Belgians made it to Aleppo and brought 200 Yazdis and Christians to safety. For fragile communities facing a perilous future, such as these, could we not do the same? Are we re-examining our asylum rules to reflect the lethal threats faced by families and individuals fleeing their native homelands?

In the longer term, should not the international community have a more consistent approach to Article 18? We denounce some countries while appeasing others who directly enable jihad through financial support or the sale of arms. Western powers are seen as hypocrites when our business interests determine how offended we are by gross human rights abuses. Take Saudi Arabia as one example.

The challenge is vigorously to promote Article 18 through our interventions and our aid programmes, unceasingly countering a fundamentalism that promotes hatred of difference and persecutes those who hold

16 July 2015 : Column 771

different beliefs. For the future, the three Abrahamic religions and Governments need to recapture the idealism of Eleanor Roosevelt, who described the 1948 declaration as,

“the international Magna Carta for all mankind”.

She said that Article 18 freedoms were to be one of the four essential freedoms of mankind. Who can doubt that this essential freedom needs to be given far greater emphasis and priority in these troubled times? I beg to move.

4.35 pm

Lord Mackay of Clashfern (Con): My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on obtaining this debate, on the eloquent way in which he introduced it and on the tremendous illustrations that he gave of how bad the situation is throughout the world. I do not have the qualifications to follow him, and certainly do not have the qualifications to be in front of many leaders in this debate, but here I am, and I shall try to make the best of it. I also wish to express my deep gratitude to Edward Scott of our Library for the excellent brief he prepared for this debate, which shows the position in great and excruciating detail. I am sure that anyone who has read it will feel tremendous sympathy and a loathing for what is happening to so many of our fellow humans throughout the world for the simple reason that they have adopted a faith or belief, including a non-faith—no belief at all, which is also protected—in the execution of their ordinary lives and have been tremendously badly dealt with on that account.

I declare my interest as a professing Christian for most of my life, and a practising Christian so far as I can. I am sorry to say that I have not reached the extent of perfection in that area which I would have liked. I am glad that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester is speaking in this debate, although I am very sorry that it will be a valedictory speech. He has given most distinguished service in this House and also in his diocese in an area where there is a great deal of difference and, I hope, also the dignity of difference in ethnic and other communities. I wish him well in his retirement.

Speaking from the government Dispatch Box when she was a Minister in the Home Office, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland of Asthal, expressed the view that her religion defined her personality. This shows that the restriction of a person’s faith or belief is as serious as any other restriction of personal freedom. The brief to which I have referred and the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, show that mistreatment for faith and belief throughout the world extends to much more than restriction of bodily movement. It goes to serious injury and death in the most terrible circumstances.

Yesterday we had outside the House a demonstration relating to prisoners of conscience. This is a most important aspect of the human personality—the internal monitor which tells us that what we are doing is wrong, even when no human eye can see us, and whether or not what we are doing is in according with the tenets of the faith, belief or non-belief we seek to follow.

16 July 2015 : Column 772

In preserving standards in society, listening to conscience is an extremely effective activity. More so even than an effective enforcement system, it can preserve society’s standards. It was valued in our nation during two world wars. Persons with a conscientious objection to military service were exempted from the universal obligation to enlist. It was also shown in relation to the Abortion Act.

Charities based on faith have done tremendous service in many nations throughout the world. It surely is the most terrible damage to a nation’s people that they are debarred from having these services simply on the ground of the faith of the organisation that is providing them. In our own country, we had the problem of the Catholic adoption agencies that were providing an excellent service but which were debarred from continuing to do so because they were not able to offer as full a service as some would have required.

I am sure that leading by example is one important way to contribute in trying to help with this tremendous problem. I am sure there are many other ways, which will be illustrated by the distinguished speakers to follow.

4.41 pm

Lord McFall of Alcluith (Lab): My Lords, it is a privilege to participate in this debate and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on securing it, as well as on the work that he and the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, have done over many months and years on this issue.

As we know, Article 18 is under threat in over a quarter of the nations in the world. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, has given eloquent testimony to what is happening. I want, however, to focus on the domestic—on us. To change the world, first we have to change ourselves. When the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury took office, he said that one of his three principles was the concept of good disagreement. That is a very important concept for us.

As I remember from my childhood in Scotland, the society had been scarred by what the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, has referred to as sibling rivalry—bigoted, religious, sibling rivalry. In 1923, the Church and Nation Committee of the Church of Scotland asked for Irish immigrants to be repatriated. More specifically, it was Catholic Irish immigrants, like my forebears. So if good people had not got together and ensured that that crusade failed, I, for one, would probably not be here today. It was good people walking together. There is still a legacy in Scotland; we have to recognise that sectarianism has not departed. Our own experiences should teach us a lot.

As the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, said in his book, which makes compelling reading, we need faith to strengthen, not to dampen, our shared humanity. He made it very clear, as we all know, that it will be soft power that wins this battle—if we can call it a battle. It will not be hard power. War is won by weapons, but dialogue wins the peace.

I am delighted to see not only the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, but also the noble Lord, Lord Singh, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester who

16 July 2015 : Column 773

have contributed greatly to the dialogue. It is a dialogue with strangers. The biblio-patriarch Abraham has been referred to. Abraham’s test of worthiness, as we know, is the question, “Did you show kindness to strangers?”. Abraham ruled no empire, he commanded no army, he conquered no territory, but today he is revered by 2.5 billion Christians, 1.6 billion Muslims, and 13 million Jews. The Abrahamic faiths and others need to walk much closer together.

That is very hard to envisage today, but we can look back at our short history to see that there have been successes. With Vatican II in the 1960s, Pope John XXIII, in his encyclical Nostra Aetate, transformed the relationship between Catholics and Jews, and 2,000 years of pain and sorrow were diluted as a result of that engagement. That prompts the question: can the world be changed? If the Christian and Jewish relationship can be changed, can the Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Sikh and non-faith relationships be changed as well? Pope Francis’s latest encyclical, Laudato Si’, is an encouraging example because he embraces all humankind. He makes a call in the very first paragraph of the encyclical for care for our common earthly home. He says:

“Nothing in this world is indifferent to us”.

For a very short time in the Labour Government I had the privilege of being Minister for Northern Ireland. I saw examples in the peace process in Northern Ireland, but I shall illustrate just two examples today. The first is Gordon Wilson, whose daughter was killed in the Enniskillen Remembrance Day bomb. He had to hold her hand while she was dying and she said that she loved him. Immediately after that, he came out and said:

“I bear no ill will. I bear no grudge … I will pray for these men tonight and every night”.

The other example that I remember was Father Alec Reid, the late Redemptorist priest from Clonard monastery in Belfast, who was a silent architect of the peace process because he allowed Gerry Adams, John Hume and others to come together to ensure that there was a dialogue and an understanding there. The photograph of Father Reid giving the last rites to soldier David Howes, when he and another colleague ran into a republican funeral, is one that will stay with us.

That is an example of the good of two individuals confronting the evils of terrorism. In a 20th-century world dominated by violence and mayhem in the name of religion, our task, perhaps akin to the task of the miracle of the loaves and fishes in the Bible, is to multiply that number, not 1 millionfold or 10 millionfold but 100 millionfold. Eighteenth-century author Jonathan Swift’s statement is maybe as relevant today, and something for us to remember:

“We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another”.

As we go on our journey together, it is worth remembering that.

The Earl of Courtown (Con): My Lords, I apologise for interrupting the debate for a few moments, but I ask noble Lords to remember that it is time-limited to five minutes per speaker. Once the clock reaches five, your Lordships are out of time.

16 July 2015 : Column 774

Lord Thomas of Swynnerton (CB): My Lords, it may be appropriate—

Lord Avebury: My Lords—

Lord Thomas of Swynnerton: It is the turn of the Cross Benches.

The Earl of Courtown: Order. There is a speakers list for this debate.

4.48 pm

Lord Avebury (LD): My Lords, I join in the congratulations that have been expressed to my noble friend Lord Alton for the powerful way in which he introduced this debate, and indeed for the consistent and wonderful way in which he always defends the rights of people’s religious freedom. On no occasion have I heard him speak more powerfully on the subject than he did today.

My old friend Dennis Wrigley, founder of the Maranatha community, asks if we care that entire Christian communities have been wiped out in the Middle East and what we are prepared to do about it. Those are questions that I hope the Minister will be able to answer.

However, the challenge is in fact much greater than that. Daesh makes no secret of its intention to expand its so-called caliphate from its base in Syria and Iraq so that it covers the rest of the Middle East and north Africa. Ultimately it aims to spread its interpretation of seventh-century Islamic governance and beliefs across the whole world, eliminating all other faiths by conversion or assassination, as it has already demonstrated by the massacres of Yazidis, Christians and Shia and the enslavement of the martyrs’ widows in the territory that it occupies.

William Young of the RAND Corporation observed:

“Al-Baghdadi’s messages have resonated with Sunnis in the region, North Africa, Europe and the United States primarily because he appears successful”.

I agree with his conclusion:

“The faster the Muslim world can be shown that ISIS is not invincible and does not have a divine mandate to rule the Islamic world, the quicker young Muslims and others will stop listening to its messaging”.

The coalition needs to ratchet up military operations against the Daesh and we should explore the willingness of our partners in the 60-state coalition to provide troops for a multinational ground force in Syria. We are providing 75 military instructors and headquarters staff as part of the US-led programme to support the “moderate Syrian opposition”. Can the Minister please identity the groups included in that phrase. They do not include, apparently, the heroic YPG which successfully repelled the Daesh assault on Kobane at the end of last year. Operations on that frontier would have the merit of not undermining the Assad Government’s capacity to hold the Daesh at bay.

The so-called caliphate sends out a powerful signal to extremist Sunni Muslims elsewhere that they can help towards the realisation of the universal Islamic state by destabilising existing kufr Governments through acts of indiscriminate terrorism such as the attack on British tourists in Tunisia. However, the main thrust of Daesh operations this year outside its own territory

16 July 2015 : Column 775

has been attacks against the soft target of Shia mosques in neighbouring Arab countries. In March there were simultaneous attacks on two mosques in Sanaa, capital of Yemen, killing 137 people and injuring 357. In May there were two attacks on Shia mosques in the eastern province of Saudi Arabia, killing 29 and injuring more than 85; and on 2 June, a Shia mosque in Kuwait was attacked, killing at least 27 and injuring 227 others.

However, it goes wider than that. In Pakistan, terrorist groups swearing allegiance to the Daesh have been responsible for three major atrocities so far this year: the suicide bombing of an imambargah at Shikarpur in January, which killed 80 and injured 100; a suicide attack on a Shia mosque in Peshawar, capital of troubled Balochistan, in February, killing a least 22 and injuring 80 at Friday prayers; and a gun attack by killers on motorcycles on a bus carrying Ismailis in Karachi in May, killing at least 26 and injuring 13. Eliminating the Daesh, its metastases and its wicked ideology taught in Saudi-funded madrassahs throughout the world must be the main goal of all who believe in freedom of religion.

4.53 pm

The Archbishop of Canterbury: My Lords, I am grateful to have the opportunity to speak in the debate and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for securing it and for all the work he has undertaken in this area over many years. I associate myself very closely with what he said in his very eloquent opening speech and also with the speeches of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, and the noble Lord, Lord McFall. I also pay tribute to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester. He will be much missed by this House and I will miss him enormously for the wise advice he has given me on numerous occasions.

We have already heard many examples of the horrific situations around the world where people are persecuted for their religion or for their absence of religion. I witnessed such persecution in its rawest form many times during my visits in 2013 and 2014 to the 37 other provinces of the Anglican communion. Almost half of these provinces are living under persecution; they fear for their lives every day.

I will make two points in the short time available in this debate The first is that the relationship between law and religion is invariably a delicate one. The passionately lived religious life or passionately lived humanist life of many people around the world and in this country cannot be compartmentalised within our legal and political systems. It is not good enough to say that religion is free within the law. As was eloquently pointed out by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, religion defines us—it is the fundamental element of who and what we are. Thus, religious freedom and the freedom not to have a religion stands beneath the law, supporting it and creating the circumstances in which you can have effective law, as has been the case in this country since the sealing of Magna Carta 800 years ago, negotiated by my predecessor Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton. In its first clause, it says that,

“the English Church shall be free, and shall have its rights undiminished, and its liberties unimpaired”—

sorry, I had better declare an interest there.

16 July 2015 : Column 776

Religion gave birth to the rule of law, particularly through Judaism. The question is therefore: how do we translate this undiminished right and unimpaired liberty into the contemporary situation, where, too often, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Alton, culture, law and religion seem to have incommensurable values? The foundational freedom of religious freedom in the state prevents the state claiming the ultimate loyalty in every area, a loyalty to which it has no right—never has done and never will do—if we believe in the ultimate dignity of the human being.

My second point is that religious freedom is threatened on a global scale, as we have heard, but also in a very complex way. Attacks on religious freedom are often linked to economic circumstances, to sociology, to history and to many other factors. Practically, if we are to defend religious liberty, we have to draw in these other factors. For example, if we want to defend religious freedom around the world—and again I say, the freedom to have no religion—do not sell guns to people who oppress religious freedom; do not launder their money; restrict trade with them; confine the way in which we deal with them; and, above, all, speak frankly and openly, naming them for what they are.

Where a state claims the ultimate right to oppress religious freedom, it stops the last and the strongest barrier against tyranny. From the beginning of time—from the beginning of the Christian era, when the apostles said that they would obey God rather than the Sanhedrin, through the Reformation to the martyrs of communism, to Bonhoeffer and to Archbishop Tutu—up to our own day around the world, we have needed religious freedom as a global defence of freedom.

4.58 pm

Baroness Berridge (Con): My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on his uncanny knack of being successful in the ballot for debates.

I join the most reverend Primate in celebrating Magna Carta, which opens with,

“the English Church shall be free”,

meaning from state intervention, which at that time of course meant the king. Freedom of religion or belief, as set out in Article 18, is another deeply constitutional statement. As the UN special rapporteur illustrated in his comment to me, “There is lots of religion in Vietnam but not a lot of it is free”. The declaration is founded on individuals enjoying human rights when the state knows how to behave, knows its own limits and understands its role as protector of its citizens’ human rights from violation by third parties. In old communist states such as Vietnam, religion is controlled by the state, but another common backdrop to many Article 18 violations is an inappropriate connection between a religious institution or a faith or a stream of one faith, and the state. Often, that institution or faith has such preference that pluralism is suffocated, and, in the extreme, a religion becomes identified with nationality. Is Myanmar’s identity becoming synonymous with being Buddhist? The Rohinga Muslims are denied citizenship and an outcry by Buddhist extremists led the Government to capitulate and confiscate their only identity document.

16 July 2015 : Column 777

I am intrigued that Her Majesty’s Government can exhibit the FCO priority of freedom of religion and belief in our newly opened visa office in Rangoon. I expect my noble friend will have to write to me on this, but how is the United Kingdom able to offer UK visas, regardless of religion, when Rohinga Muslims have no documentation? Is it only wealthy Buddhist tourists or business men—not Muslims or Christians—who can come to the UK? The Rohingans were disenfranchised in this year’s election. It is also proposed that half a million refugees from the Central African Republic, 90% of whom are Muslim, be denied their voting rights. What representations have Her Majesty’s Government made to the CAR’s interim Government? Will this not increase the risk of refugees who are languishing in Chad being recruited to IS, which is already recruiting from neighbouring Sudan?

The trajectory on this issue has spiralled. However, I highlight Vietnam, Myanmar and CAR because they are in, I believe, the doable category. In 2006 Vietnam was removed, with American pressure, from the list of countries of particular concern, but has now fallen back. The UN special rapporteur visited in 2014 and found serious Article 18 violations and,

“credible information that some individuals whom I wanted to meet with had been either under heavy surveillance, warned, intimidated, harassed or prevented from travelling by the police”.

The Human Rights Watch report, Persecuting Evil Way Religion, details state persecution of central highland Christians, many of whom have fled to Cambodia. Cambodia refuses to allow them to claim asylum and returns them, rather like China does to those who escape North Korea. Will the Minister please make representations to Cambodia to allow the UN to process refugees there, if it is unwilling to comply with its international obligations?

It might also be worth mentioning how discerning the UK customer can be and how sensitive brands like Marks & Spencer can be when they source from many manufacturers in Vietnam and Cambodia.

The digital revolution could create further Article 18 violations. According to a report in the Economist, by 2020 80% of adults will have a smartphone that is able to receive different religious messages that state or religious leaders will scarcely be able to control. Will many more people start switching faith, challenging existing political and religious power structures?

We should also keep a close eye on what is happening under the new Government of India. We do not want to add into this space a rise of Hindu militancy which is semi-connected to identity, and to see the persecution of a large number of Muslims and Christians.

Who knows what the future holds? Many Governments, parliamentarians, religious leaders and royalty have, however, grasped the Article 18 issue, and the Pope’s celebrity status at the UN General Assembly in September is incredibly timely. The missing players—consumers and businesses—need to enter the stage, and it looks as if Brazil, at the Olympics, will be introducing the Global Business & Interfaith Understanding Awards, which they hope to become part of the Games. However, if by 2020 violations have flat-lined, that will indeed be an achievement.

16 July 2015 : Column 778

5.03 pm

Lord Singh of Wimbledon (CB): My Lords, I too pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for securing this important debate, and for his sterling work in putting concern for human rights high on the agenda of this House.

Article 18 of the 1948 UN declaration is unambiguous in its guarantee of freedom of religion and belief. Yet we live in a world where those rights are all too frequently ignored. We have been recently remembering the horror of Srebrenica, where, 20 years ago, 8,000 Muslim men and boys were rounded up by Serb forces and ruthlessly murdered simply because they were Muslims. Last year Sikhs commemorated the 30th anniversary of the brutal murder of thousands of Sikhs in India, simply for being Sikhs. The Middle East has become a cauldron of religious intolerance and unbelievable barbarity. The number of Christians has dwindled alarmingly. We hear daily of thousands fleeing religious persecution in leaky, overcrowded boats, with little food or water.

Where have we gone wrong? In commerce or industry, if a clearly desirable idea or initiative fails again and again, it goes back to the drawing board. Today we need to ask ourselves: why is there widespread abuse of the right to freedom of belief? This important right, like all others embedded in the UN declaration, needs the total commitment of countries with political clout to make it a reality. Unfortunately, even permanent members of the Security Council frequently put trade and political alliances with countries with appalling human rights records above a commitment to human rights. There are many examples, but time permits me to mention only a couple relating to our own country.

During the visit of a Chinese trade delegation in June last year, a government Minister said that we should not allow human rights abuses to “get in the way” of trade. His statement, undermining the UN declaration, went virtually unchallenged. At about the same time, we had a Statement in your Lordships’ House that the Government were pressing for a UN-led inquiry into human rights abuse in Sri Lanka. Fine, but when I asked whether the Government would also support a similar inquiry into the mass killing of Sikhs in India—yes, I know it is a much bigger trading partner—I received a brusque reply that that was a matter for the Indian Government.

I have asked on five occasions the question why the UK Government regard the systematic killing of Sikhs in India as being of no concern to the United Kingdom, only to get the same dismissive non-response. I ask it again today, and hope that noble Lords and Britain’s 500,000 Sikhs will get the courtesy of a proper, considered reply. The great human rights activist, Andrei Sakharov, said that we must be even-handed in looking at human rights abuse. If our country—one of the most enlightened in the world—puts trade above human rights, it is easy to understand why other countries turn a blind eye to rights such as freedom of belief. It is a right so central in Sikhism that our ninth guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur, gave his life defending the right of Hindus—a different religion from his own—against forced conversion by the then Mughal rulers.

16 July 2015 : Column 779

We can list human rights abuse for ever and a day without making a jot of difference if we and other great powers continue to put trade and power bloc politics above human rights. We start each day in this House with Prayers to remind us to act in accord with Christ’s teachings. He, like Guru Nanak, reminded us never to put material gain before concern for our fellow beings. We need to act on such far-sighted advice.

I look forward to hearing my friend, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, and wish him well in his retirement.

5.08 pm

The Lord Bishop of Leicester (Valedictory Speech): My Lords, I want to add my thanks to that of so many others to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for bringing this matter before us, not least as it provides me with an opportunity to make a final speech to your Lordships’ House on a matter of such overwhelming importance.

My retirement, I am delighted to say, will in some small way enhance religious freedom in this House by providing a seat for the first female Lord Spiritual in history to occupy this Bench in the autumn. It is especially good to be following the noble Lord, Lord Singh, whose contributions here testify to the commitment of this House to religious freedom in so many ways.

The spread of global religious revival in the 21st century is described by Mickelthwait and Wooldridge in their book God is Back. They argue that it is fuelled by market competition and a customer-driven approach to salvation. In the five years since its publication, they could not have imagined how those principles would mutate into the present appalling world crisis, so vividly described by so many speakers. The challenge to religious freedoms derives in part from treating faith as a consumer preference rather than the most profound definition of what it is to be human.

In my 16 years as Bishop of Leicester, we have learned much about the principles and practice of religious freedom and the way it shapes the deepest contours of the human psyche. As well as having local applications, that also has international implications. The first principle is that it is not enough simply to defend religious freedom; it has to be positively exercised in ways that encourage others to embrace it. It involves drawing on the spiritual resources of faith to unlock the best in others, to speak on behalf of the voiceless and to create community. When a young Nigerian Christian was murdered in Highfields in Leicester two years ago, there was an immediate retaliatory attack on an entirely innocent Muslim family, killed by a fire bomb on the same day. The tensions were palpable, but were eventually calmed by systematic, careful conversations and the public ritualising of grief and reconciliation on both sides.

Secondly, the principle that religious freedom is an inalienable right means that we interpret an attack on one faith as an attack on all peoples of faith. Treasuring the dignity of every human being includes treasuring the rights of others to their beliefs, especially when we disagree. That is why the Muslim leadership turned out in strength the other day at Leicester Cathedral to respect the victims of the Sousse massacre two weeks ago.

16 July 2015 : Column 780

Thirdly, freedom is not a passive state. It results from the dynamic process of actively learning how others live and what they believe, and of sustained and co-operative support for each other in shared enterprises. Here, too, local practice can inform international strategy. We need to learn the best habits of face-to-face conversations with those we disagree with, especially over the big challenges of the day—climate change, poverty, conversions, gender equality and so on.

It has been an immense privilege to play a small part in the life of this House over the last 12 years and to Convene the Bishops’ Bench for six of them. It has confirmed me in the belief that the presence of the Bishops here serves rather than impedes religious freedom in countless ways. It has been rewarded with friendships, kindnesses, courtesies and opportunities far beyond my expectations or desserts. I am deeply grateful for that and even more grateful for the responsibility to think and speak carefully about how a vision of the kingdom of Jesus Christ can still shape and inform public policy today. Your Lordships’ House deserves the attention, interest and prayers of all people. It will certainly have mine in the years ahead.

5.12 pm

Lord Carey of Clifton (CB): As the noble Lord, Lord Glasman, is not able to be in the House today, it falls to me to thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester for his remarkable contribution over many years to this House and to wish him every success in what he goes on to do.

I join other Peers in thanking my noble friend Lord Alton for introducing this debate. As with other important human issues, he is so often the conscience of this House, and we are in his debt once more.

The freedom to think, change one’s mind, change religion, become an atheist, become a believer, and belong to tolerant and open societies is among the blessings of being a human person. Thus enshrined as Article 18 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, this great moral principle emerged from the last world war, in which millions of people were murdered because they were different. Now, 67 years later, this great article of freedom is under attack in many parts of the world.

Others have described very graphically the situation facing Christian believers and others in many different parts of the world. The recent report, Global Persecution, produced by the Maranatha community, and the report launched in November by the charity Aid to the Church in Need, Religious Freedom in the World, which my noble friend Lord Alton mentioned, describe the way minorities in the Middle East, especially Christians, are being targeted. Speaking about this in November, as my noble friend also mentioned, the Prince of Wales described Christians as being “grotesquely and barbarously assaulted” in the Middle East. Many of us are very grateful to the Prince of Wales for the stance that he has taken on religious freedom over the years. His courageous and forthright statements have won the admiration of many and he has set an example that I fervently wish our senior politicians had the boldness to emulate. But it is not just Christians that Article 18 seeks to protect. It sets forth the humanist

16 July 2015 : Column 781

vision of thought: freedom for the Yazidis in Iraq, for Shia Muslims in Sunni territories and for Sunnis in Shia lands, and the freedom to embrace atheism or agnosticism, should one wish to do so.

The fact that we have to face honestly is that so much of the trouble is in countries dominated by Islam; let us get to the heart of this. Yet, in the past, Islam has flourished as a beacon of civilisation and tolerance. Indeed, one of the finest texts in the Koran states:

“There is no compulsion in religion”.

The verse is often used in interfaith contexts to show the broadmindedness of Islam. But we have to recognise that the plain meaning of that text is questioned by many Muslim scholars today. In my view—dare I say it as a non-Muslim?—this verse contains all that is necessary for Muslims to start the journey towards free, tolerant and pluralist societies. However, the rhetoric is fine but the reality is very different. It grieves me to say that there are not many Muslim-majority countries in which the freedom set out in Article 18 exists. Of course, there are Muslim countries where other faiths are tolerated but, even in those more tolerant nations, Christians cannot share their faith openly and advertise it; and Muslims cannot, with any ease, choose another faith, should they so desire.

Intolerance seems to be spreading. There has recently been a spate of church and mosque burnings in Israel, which is very disappointing as Israel has every justification for claiming to be the only democratic nation in the Middle East. Among the buildings burnt was the famous Tabgha church, which commemorates the multiplication of loaves and fishes in the gospel story.

During my time as Archbishop of Canterbury, I challenged Muslim leaders worldwide to embrace the principle of reciprocity; it remains a dream and an ideal. Here in the United Kingdom there is no barrier to belief and no restriction on believers, as long as we all behave within the breadth of British law. The ideal of reciprocity demands that people of all nations should work together to ensure that freedom to change and grow is granted to all of us, men and women alike.

5.17 pm

Baroness Howells of St Davids (Lab): My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, who often places a demand on this House to examine what, for believers, is God’s big idea. This debate asks us to examine an idea that was introduced by the creator, as Christians believe. The author Myles Munroe suggests that the idea is beyond the philosophical reserves of human history. The big idea appears to have germinated all religions to which humans adhere. Today we examine the big idea and ask: have we achieved it—a culture of equality, peace, unity and respect for human dignity? No, we have not.

Faith has always played a major role in the lives of individuals and institutions. It is the basis on which we build our lives and our perspective of the world. Faith is the belief that, even in the darkest of times, there is still hope to hold on to. But as our world has become

16 July 2015 : Column 782

more intolerant and more hateful, the candlelight that guides believers from all denominations is being forcibly snuffed out at an alarming rate.

The deprioritisation by the international community of upholding the right to freedom of religion set out in Article 18 has had a detrimental effect on all human rights of the persecuted. Not only are they forced to worship in secret but, if caught, they can be murdered, tortured, imprisoned, beaten and even expelled from public life, including from the right to vote. According to a report by Open Doors, 100 million Christians face persecution worldwide. That is 100 million people from just one faith, having all their rights stripped away. If we show solidarity and do more to protect the rights of marginalised religious groups across the globe, I am sure we shall see an increase in respect for human rights as a whole. Can man ever be truly free if he is not allowed to have his own thoughts? If a believer can stare down the barrel of a gun and state, “My belief shall not be shaken”, we must be brave enough to stand up and say to those oppressive governments, “It is time to protect your civilians, who committed no crime but to have faith”.

However, we must lead by example as faith has long been the bones behind the laws of our country. But now the laws of our country are breaking those bones. How can we champion human rights and freedom if we do not implement Article 18 to its full extent? There has been a worrying trend emerging in British politics, a trend that is moving to oppress the freedoms of religious minorities. We say we are a Christian nation, yet there is nothing Christian in the actions of the Government in recent weeks. Article 18 can be invoked when a Government or organisation enacts a policy that unfairly impacts on minority religious groups. The two-child tax credit limit will have a distinct impact on the rights of many Catholics who, as a choice of their conscience, do not use contraception. Giving them a choice between poverty or breaking their religious code is a distinct attack on freedom of belief and conscience.

Further limitations on religious freedom have come from the heart of Westminster in a package that is supposed to suppress terrorism and protect our western values. I hope this House agrees with me that you cannot protect democracy and freedom by taking away democracy and freedom, yet that appears to be the aim of the Prevent strategy and the passing of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015.

5.23 pm

Lord Palmer of Childs Hill (LD): My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, not only for initiating the debate but preying on my conscience and encouraging me to contribute. Sadly, history shows us that religious wars and conflicts are not new. However, in modern times there has been more of an acceptance that those of different faiths and none have to get on together and at least tolerate one’s fellow man, if not necessarily love him.

We have heard and will hear from other noble Lords of repression and lack of freedoms in the current unstable world situation. As a Jew, I feel strongly about the Holocaust, which touched my own

16 July 2015 : Column 783

family, who lost a grandmother and an aunt in Poland in the 1940s. So, I was very moved to hear reports of a rescue operation last week to seek, in a modest way, to take action against the barbaric treatment of Christian sects in the IS heartland of Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilisation. This appears to be an operation by the Barnabas Fund, an international relief agency for the persecuted church with the financial co-operation of certain Jewish organisations and philanthropists, to transfer Christian families to safe havens. I understand that this in an ongoing project to evacuate Christians from those lands where they have dwelt for 2,000 years. What these Christian communities are experiencing is not new to the Jewish communities throughout the Middle East and North Africa, whose persecution led to an exodus of some 850,000 Jews from Arab lands.

The clash of faiths causes these confrontations. It may seem a paradox but the country in the Middle East that is most welcoming to Christians, as the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Carey, mentioned in passing, is Israel. Christianity is one of the recognized religions in Israel and is practised by more than 161,000 Israeli citizens—about 2.1% of the population. In Israel, there are approximately 300 Christians who have chosen to convert from Islam. Very sadly, such apostasy is not allowed in much of the rest of the Middle East. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, gave a graphic description of many of the injustices that take place and which I cover with the word “apostasy”. I will not repeat them as he did it so well.

Adversity, however, does reveal heroes. A few days ago, one of the heroes of the Holocaust died at the age of 106. I refer of course to Sir Nicolas Winton, who organised eight trains to take 669 children to London from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. The British people made room for these refugees and I can only hope that in Britain and the rest of Europe we will rise to the challenge in the present times. We are so fortunate in the United Kingdom but the tolerance we have requires vigilance to ensure that it stays that way. When we see the intolerance of people’s religion and beliefs in many parts of the world, which has been referred to by other noble Lords, we must praise the courage and resilience of those affected; many would have given way to despair.

In the modern world, many now describe themselves as secular. But a very large number of people, as has been mentioned by other noble Lords, follow one of the three Abrahamic faiths: Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Although all three of these faiths share a common history and traditions, they too often emphasise their differences rather than their common beliefs. Christianity has, I believe, 2 billion adherents, Islam 1.3 billion, and Judaism, which comes slightly further behind, a mere 14 million. But there are splits within all these religions, be they Catholic-Orthodox, Catholic-Protestant, Shia- Sunni, or Orthodox-Reform. Whatever the differences, as the Motion before us says, we should as a nation uphold freedom of religion and belief and not enforce or impose our beliefs on others by the sword. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, whom I must compliment on his superb speech, talked about defending religious freedom. That is what this is about. But it is also about allowing one to give up

16 July 2015 : Column 784

one’s faith, to change one’s faith, or to have no faith; it is a defence of freedom, of which religion is a part. I will end with the words of Nelson Mandela:

“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison”.

5.28 pm

Baroness O’Loan (CB): My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for enabling this important debate. Freedom of religion or belief is not only a fundamental human right in itself: as Pope John Paul II said, it is a,

“litmus test for the respect of all other human rights”.

Wherever Article 18 is compromised, other violations almost inevitably follow.

I endorse the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, in relation to the UK’s modelling of support for freedom of religion and conscience and particularly, as a Catholic, his words in relation to the Catholic adoption agencies. Freedom of religion and conscience is very important in this country still. We have Christian medical practitioners who face massive challenges of conscience simply in doing their jobs. They may even have to leave their jobs in order to comply with their conscience. We need as a country to think again about how we enable and reflect support for freedom of religion and conscience.

As we have heard today, millions in the world are deprived of this most basic freedom and face torture, imprisonment, harassment and even death because of their beliefs. But we can make a difference. Despite the current controversy about the outworking of the European Convention on Human Rights, the UK has a proud history of protecting human rights across the world. We have worked closely with the churches—often the last remaining network of communication in conflicted societies.

In recent years the UK has led the world in historic initiatives to tackle some of the most challenging issues, including modern slavery and sexual violence in warfare. With the same level of commitment, cross-party support and co-operation with our partners in the international community, there is an opportunity to make the principles of Article 18 a reality for so many more people. The UN has stated that,

“no manifestation of religion or belief may amount to propaganda for war or advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence”.

It is extremely encouraging that the Government have made a manifesto commitment to stand up for freedom of religion and I look forward to hearing more detail from the Minister about how this will be put into practice. In particular, will promoting freedom of religion or belief be included as a specific priority in the FCO business plan? Will extra resources be provided to assist our diplomatic missions, particularly those covering the most difficult parts of the world, in achieving this?

Some of the most appalling abuses are taking place in Iraq and Syria, where ISIL continues to slaughter and enslave adherents of minority religions. I will touch briefly upon Iraq’s Kurdish region, where almost 2 million people have found sanctuary so far. It is a

16 July 2015 : Column 785

testament to the Kurdish Regional Government that although their population has already grown by a staggering 28% as a result of the refugee influx, they continue to keep their doors open and provide security for people fleeing Mosul or the Nineveh Plains. Many of these refugees are Christians or Yazidis who have seen their family members killed, their businesses seized and their places of worship destroyed. Alongside the local authorities, Christian communities are providing shelter, food, et cetera, to the refugees. The Catholic Church in Irbil alone is accommodating more than 125,000 people, including many Yazidi families. Will the Minister outline what support we are providing to help the Kurdish Regional Government and churches in the region?

Reference has already been made to the thousands of Rohingya Muslims who are making treacherous and often fatal journeys across the Andaman Sea, trying to escape escalating persecution at the hands of Burma’s authorities. Hate speech and xenophobic attacks are allowed to continue unchallenged. The Rohingya have been denied citizenship, cajoled into camps and prevented from accessing humanitarian assistance. The Burmese Government have also passed a package of laws targeting religious minorities which may prevent people converting, marrying or even starting a family. These laws have been condemned by Burma’s first Catholic cardinal, Charles Bo. In a response to me in this Chamber recently, the Minister agreed with that condemnation. Will she update us on the UK’s response to the Burmese package of laws? I would also be grateful for an outline of any recent discussions with other states about the rescue and accommodation of Rohingya refugees.

In Iran, under the principle of the absolute rule of the clergy—velayat-e faqih—during this Ramadan at least 900 people were arrested and many were flogged for not fasting. There is no freedom not to be religious. Many of the sentences against the youth were carried out in public. I would be most grateful if the Minister could confirm the representations that have been made in respect of this. I am encouraged by the Government’s commitment and welcome the opportunity to discuss how the UK will play its part.

5.33 pm

Lord Sheikh (Con): My Lords, I speak today as a Muslim. I also speak as somebody who cherishes the role that all faiths and communities play. I undertake a lot of work with other religious groups. I am a patron of several Muslim and non-Muslim organisations that promote religious harmony.

Our respective religions teach us valuable lessons in morality, help us interpret the world around us and give us guidance when we are in need. For many people, their religion is very precious to them. I agree wholeheartedly with the Motion: a greater priority should be given by the United Kingdom and the international community to upholding freedom of religion and belief.

It is right that everybody in the world should be entitled to this freedom. However, it is being violated by some misguided people. This debate is very topical because of events taking place across the Middle East

16 July 2015 : Column 786

and north Africa. My glorious religion of Islam is being hijacked by a tiny minority who have misrepresented it and wholly, totally wrongly portrayed the true message of Islam. I emphasise that Islam is indeed a religion of peace.

What is happening in these countries is strongly against the principles of Islam. What Daesh is doing and saying in Syria, Iraq and other places is totally wrong and un-Islamic. I remind them that it is written in the Holy Koran that there should be no compulsion in religion and that no one should be forced to become a Muslim. The Holy Koran celebrates different beliefs as a means of connecting with people. It is written in the Holy Koran:

“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another”.

My religion teaches us to know and be friendly to people of other faiths. Islam is one of the Abrahamic religions and, according to Islam, the People of the Book are the Jews and Christians. The books of Allah are the Holy Koran, the Torah, the Gospel of Jesus and the Psalms of David. There has been a case in London where a Somali Muslim mosque was damaged and the Jewish community allowed them to pray in the synagogue. We appreciate this very much.

Two of the most successful emperors of India were Akbar the Great, who was a Muslim, and Maharaja Ranjit Singh, who was a Sikh. They both allowed all religious groups to live in harmony in their empires. I hold great personal admiration for Maharaja Ranjit Singh. I have written a book about him that will be published shortly. There are more similarities than differences between people, and we should highlight the similarities in order to establish closer links between communities. It should also be noted that allowing freedom of religion often brings stability and prosperity to a country. As a businessman, I have found it to be beneficial for economic and social development, as well as for the religious communities themselves.

We must use this debate to commend and celebrate what is happening in the United Kingdom. Although the Church of England is the official church, people of all religions are allowed to practise their respective faiths. We are a tolerant and respectful people. This country should be viewed as a model for others to follow. We cannot overstate the importance attached to upholding Article 18, yet so many abuses and violations of it continue to take place. We must lead the world in ensuring that people feel free to practise their religion, both in private and in public. May God help us to achieve this.

5.38 pm

Lord Sacks (CB): My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for enabling us again to address this vital issue of religious freedom, and I salute the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, for chairing the APPG on International Religious Freedom or Belief. I salute the courage of both of them in confronting perhaps the single greatest humanitarian issue of our time. I add my thanks to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester for his warm, wise and inspiring contributions to public life, and wish him blessings in the years ahead.

16 July 2015 : Column 787

Three things have happened to change the religious landscape of the world. First, the secular nationalist regimes that appeared in many parts of the world in the 20th century have given rise to powerful religious counter-revolutions. Secondly, these counter-revolutions are led by religion in its most extreme, adversarial and anti-Western form. Thirdly, the revolution in information technology has allowed these groups to form, organise and communicate to actual and potential followers throughout the world with astonishing speed. The internet is to radical political religions what printing was to Martin Luther. It allows them to circumvent and outflank all existing structures of power. The result has been the politicisation of religion and the religionising of politics, which, throughout history, has been a deadly combination. In the long run, it will threaten us all, because in a global age no country or culture is an island.

We must do, minimally, three things. First, given that religious freedom is enshrined as Article 18 in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, there should be, under the auspices of the United Nations, a global gathering of religious leaders and thinkers to formulate an agreed set of principles that are sustainable theologically within their respective faiths and on which member nations can be called to account. Otherwise, Article 18 will continue to be a utopian ideal.

Secondly, we must do the theological work. That is fundamental. After the wars of religion of the 16th and 17th centuries, a group of thinkers, among them John Milton, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Benedict Spinoza, sat down, reread the Bible and formulated some of the most important ideas ever formulated about state and society: the social contract, the moral limits of power, the liberty of conscience, the doctrine of toleration and the very concept of human rights. These were religious ideals based on the Bible, which is what John F Kennedy meant when he said in his inaugural address that,

“the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe—the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God”.

We have not yet done the theological work for a global society in the information age, and not all religions in the world are yet fully part of that conversation. But if we neglect the theology, all else will fail.

Thirdly, we must stand together—the people of all faiths and of none—for we are all at risk. Christians are being persecuted throughout the Middle East and elsewhere. Jews are facing a new and resurgent anti-Semitism. Muslims who stand on the wrong side of the Sunni-Shia divide are being killed in great numbers. Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Baha’i and others face persecution in some parts of the world. There must be some set of principles that we can appeal to, and be held accountable to, if our common humanity is to survive our religious differences. Religious freedom is about our common humanity, and we must fight for it if we are not to lose it. This, I believe, is the issue of our time.

16 July 2015 : Column 788

5.43 pm

Lord Harrison (Lab): My Lords, I speak in today’s debate as a loyal member of God’s Opposition. I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, for highlighting both the freedom of religion and the freedom of belief in the titles of this Article 18 debate and of the all-party group over which the noble Baroness so impressively presides. I also thank Christian Solidarity Worldwide, not only for providing me with excellent material concerning the persecution of atheists and secularists in Egypt and Indonesia but for its pastoral prison visit to Alex Aan, jailed in Jakarta as an atheist.

We atheists must show solidarity with our religious colleagues over religious persecution, especially at a time when atheists and secularists are increasingly joining the growing list of people persecuted worldwide for the beliefs they uphold, whether religious or otherwise. The horror of machete-wielding Islamists slaying humanist bloggers in Bangladesh recently was admirably highlighted by the brave Bonya Ahmed in her recent address to the British Humanist Association at the annual Voltaire lecture.

In the United Kingdom, many will be heartened by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury’s recent observation that religious freedom demands space to be challenged and defended, without responding destructively. This echoed Rowan Williams’s reservation in 2013 that sometimes UK and US Christians exaggerate mild discomfort over social issues such as pro-gay legislation while failing to emphasise systematic brutality and often murderous hostility practised by religious fanatics abroad.

I asked the Minister why humanists and atheists in Britain are still thoughtlessly excluded from contributing to Radio 4’s “Thought for the Day”. Why does the DCMS stolidly exclude the Defence Humanists, formerly the UK Armed Forces Humanist Association, from the annual Cenotaph commemoration? Do dead non-believers, fallen in war defending our cherished values, not deserve a silent vigil in the public square? And why are we conducting this debate in the House of Lords, which still reserves a privileged place for the state religion?

I encourage colleagues not to take the opportunity of the occasional ad hominem criticism of distinguished atheists such as Richard Dawkins. I ask the Minister to reply to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, about the FCO and whether we are promoting business and trade, which I thoroughly encourage. However, we should use some of our resources to ensure that we promote Article 18 in all its aspects. Can she also update us on what is happening with the blasphemy laws in Malta, and in Iceland, although it is not part of the European Union?

Finally, will Her Majesty’s Government ensure that the hopes and aspirations of non-believers like me are not suppressed by careless oversight when we take our rightful place in the public square?

5.48 pm

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass (Ind UU): My Lords, I am particularly grateful to my noble friend Lord Alton for his tenacity in pursuing this issue. No one whom I have known during my 32 years in Parliament has

16 July 2015 : Column 789

been so consistent in his adherence to and struggle for the proper implementation of Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

I intend to use the very short time available to me to consider whether we in the United Kingdom lead by example in respect of our own practice of Article 18 or whether we are a society where leadership is generally content to pay mere lip service. Often it appears to me that we are regularly subjected to the excitement of individualistic excesses that elevate individual selfishness above and beyond the traditional and tried practices and discipline with which I grew up.

Of course society evolves, but why does that mean that some, like the Reverend Richard Page JP, a faithful, public-spirited magistrate in Kent for 15 years and a long-respected member of the Family Court, should be officially and publicly pilloried because, as a practising Christian, he expressed to colleagues, in private, how he was able to reconcile his public duties with his Christian faith? Is there any justice in the fact that the Lord Chancellor in the previous coalition Government should seek to justify having suspended Richard Page by having imposed remedial training in a manner that is little different from the brain-washing and conditioning so beloved of totalitarian states?

Do not tell me that the environment is different. It is not about the difference between chairs and chains; it is about the impact on society. Richard Page’s persecution by Lord Chancellor Grayling began on 2 July 2014 and continues into the second year. In the interim, he is denied even the right to express his opinion to the press. So what was Richard Page’s offence that has nullified the last days of an exemplary working life? He had stated that his lawful and considered judgment that it is better for children to be adopted by both a father and a mother derived from his faith. When a same-sex male couple from Belfast sought precedence over a normal foster couple, he made a decision. Well done Richard Page—and I say that as a father and grandfather.

Where will this case lead? Back in 2010, ex-Lord Chancellor Grayling had been on the other side of the fence when he had supported the rights of owners of bed and breakfast establishments to refuse accommodation to gay couples. Perhaps I should quote the ex-Lord Chancellor at that time, but I shall not. I shall simply ask: what could possibly have induced him to change? Is the future of children less relevant than who may soil the bed linen? Where does this presumptuous and intellectually questionable logic take us in respect of the sixth and eighth commandments? Sorry, I must not mention such things as the sixth and eighth commandments. It is a good job I cannot be suspended—although some may seek to explore the possibility.

I was, of course, alluding to how we must implement our laws on theft and murder. If some intellectual snob decides to undermine them, I take it that the rest of us may be denied any right to mention our Christian or social heritage. I just do not have time to elaborate on other current matters of conscience, such as where Christian bakers are now, apparently, bound by law to promote and advocate matters that offend

16 July 2015 : Column 790

their Christian faith. Is that what equality is? Of course, I am protected here—unlike those street preachers in our society who the police are so easily persuaded have given offence.

I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us about the implementation and continuation of Article 18 within our society.

5.53 pm

Lord Scott of Foscote (CB): My Lords, I am very grateful, as are noble Lords who have expressed their feelings to me, to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for arranging this debate. I have heard nothing in the course of it with which I have found any possible point of disagreement. I do not want to repeat everything everybody else has said far more lucidly and fluently than I can. I just want to add a few family details that give me a perspective that may be a little different.

Both of my grandfathers were Church of England clergyman. I was brought up as an Anglican and I was sent, as was my sister, to an Anglican school. This was in South Africa. We both came over to England, where all my relations were Anglicans. Accordingly, when in Chicago in 1959 I met, fell in love with and married a Panamanian Latin American Catholic, I wondered what her reception by the rest of the family would be. It was absolutely perfect. They loved her and had the same feelings towards her as I had become accustomed to them having towards me.

The reason I mention this is that that was in a way a mixed marriage, because Anglicans marrying Catholics was not that usual in South Africa. I do not know if it was usual in England, as I was not in England then. The two of us were blessed with four children—two boys and two girls—each of whom was christened and brought up as a Catholic. When I married my wife, I had to sign a chit to say that I agreed to all my children being brought up as Catholics. I was perfectly happy with that. The four children we had are themselves all married and had children, so I have 12 grandchildren.

Two of my children converted and became Muslims. Of my 12 grandchildren, seven of them are Muslims—I was going to say “little Muslims”, but they are not so little, because the oldest is 21 or 22. Of the 12 grandchildren, seven are Muslims, three are Catholic and two are not really anything. Their relationship with one another is as close—as familial—as it could possibly be. They all know that there are differences between them and that they are of different religions, and it does not matter a jot. I can see no conceivable reason why it should. The ones who have no religion at all are always quite curious about what the others believe. The ones who have a religion, have two different religions—Christianity and Islam—which are both monotheistic religions. I do not know whether this is how they would put it, but as far as I am concerned, if there is a God, which I certainly hope there is, they are all worshipping the same God, albeit in slightly different ways.

I simply cannot believe that the divine being—assuming there is one—really minds a jot in what manner the worship takes place, provided that it is sincere and truly meant. Accordingly, having Muslims and Christians

16 July 2015 : Column 791

in one family has been no problem at all. They stay with one another; they stay with their aunts and uncles of different religions; the Muslims come and stay with their Christian aunts and uncles and vice versa.

I have been saddened by listening to the remarks made by a number of your Lordships. I am sure that they all relate accurately the horrors and sadnesses that have happened, but nothing of my own experience of a family with mixed Muslims and Christians bears any resemblance to that. Nor do I see any reason why it should with anyone else. As I have said, the fact that there are different religions should not matter, and I believe does not matter. That is the only addition I wanted to make to what has already been said, with which I fully agree.

5.58 pm

Lord Anderson of Swansea (Lab): My Lords, since the noble Lord, Lord Alton, initiated a more general debate a year ago, the situation has surely become worse in terms of compliance with the universal declaration. I am appalled by the hypocrisy of so many countries ready to sign up to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and yet ready to deny their citizens those same rights. Of course, one worrying development since the 1948 universal declaration is the development of non-state actors such as Boko Haram, ISIS or failed states such as the Central African Republic where the Government do not exist or are incapable of preventing violations. But the 1948 principles are universal and attempts to circumvent them by devices such as blasphemy laws should fail. There are no exemptions. We should support all persecuted minorities. I note that of the 49 countries of a Muslim culture, 17 tolerate no other religion. What should we do—what can we do—about these violations?

I shall avoid a Cook’s tour of all the defaulting countries, but I shall draw attention to some key themes. First, we are fortunate to have so much material available from official, semi-official and unofficial sources. We in this country are blessed to have so many non-governmental organisations in the field, many of them based here, such as CSW, Open Doors, Maranatha, Barnabas and Aid to the Church in Need. As a general point, although our focus today is on Article 18, those countries that respect religious minorities are also those with the best human rights records across the board.

Secondly, there are many temptations for Governments and diplomats in the field. The professional deformation of diplomats is the wish to be loved and not to offend, so often, human rights are marginalised or given a lower status in the hierarchy. Governments may claim that they use a big stick but they do so only in private, although I accept that in certain cases, such as China, private representations may be the most effective means to help individuals. The other temptation is to be strong on the weak but weak on the strong. For example, of the nine countries designated by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, three, including Saudi Arabia, are,

“for reasons of important national interest”,

given an indefinite waiver, which clearly undermines the impact of that.

16 July 2015 : Column 792

Thirdly, we in the UK are fortunate because of our membership of so many international organisations. The question surely is: what use do we make of that membership? What value do we add in terms of violations of religious and human rights? What initiatives, for example, have we made in the UN, where we are now a member of the UN Human Rights Council? In the EU, do we believe that the External Action Service is adequately staffed? Are there human rights experts in the Cabinet of the high representative? Do we support conditionality in aid and development policies? The Commonwealth, as we know, has made grand declarations such as the Harare declaration and the Commonwealth Charter, yet 10 Commonwealth countries appear in the Open Doors watch list, including Malaysia, where recently life has become much harder for Christians.

Broadly, we in the UK give a relatively good example of human rights at home. However, mention has already been made of the disastrous policy in respect of the Catholic adoption agencies and the suffering of young people as a result. By passing to other agencies, this could quite easily have been avoided.

The FCO’s human rights report has improved over the years. Consultation with NGOs has become more formalised but we need to look carefully at models in other countries and see whether we can improve our position, because we have not reached perfection. I do not have time to look at all the examples, such as the example of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom or what the State Department does in its annual report on international religious freedom to encourage improvements and to give help to immigration officials.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con): Could the noble Lord conclude his remarks?

Lord Anderson of Swansea: We should not be afraid to learn from others. I commend the work of the Minister, but we must rely not on individuals but on improving our institutions as well.

6.04 pm

Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood (CB): My Lords, it is unsurprising that the bulk of today’s debate should have focused on the many ghastly violations of Article 18 that, alas, continue to disfigure so many parts of the world. However, with some small encouragement from the noble Lord, Lord Alton, whose introduction to this debate was, as ever, compelling, I intend instead to focus on a much narrower question that sometimes arises: when the right to manifest—not to hold, but to manifest—one’s religion or belief must surrender to the rights and interests of others. It is a question that has exercised the courts of this country and elsewhere on a number of occasions.

Article 18 of the universal declaration appears on the face of it to confer two unqualified rights: the right to freedom of religion or belief, and the right to manifest that religion or belief. But that is not quite so. It is widely recognised not to be so in international law, including, most relevantly for our purposes, in Article 9 of the European Convention, which, of course, is the equivalent provision and is now incorporated under domestic law here. Article 9.1 of the convention is in effectively identical terms to Article 18 of the

16 July 2015 : Column 793

universal declaration, but Article 9.2 makes it plain that the manifestation of one’s religion or belief is a qualified, not an absolute, right. It provides for limitations to the right,

“in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others”.

It is generally the protection of the rights and freedoms of others and, above all, the increasing recognition of the rights of others, in particular gays and lesbians, not to be discriminated against that has led to much of the litigation under this provision.

Take the Supreme Court case of Bull and Bull—touched on recently, if perhaps a little tendentiously, by the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis—which held that Christian hotelkeepers, however strongly held their belief that homosexual practices are sinful, could not on that ground alone refuse to let a double-bed room to a homosexual couple. The court pointed out that Strasbourg requires very weighty reasons to justify discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. Another case mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, was the Northern Irish one, just two months back, which held that a bakery had unlawfully discriminated against a gay supporter of same-sex marriage for whom they had initially agreed, but later refused, to bake a cake iced with a logo including the slogan, “Support gay marriage”.

There was also Strasbourg’s decision two years ago, in a group of United Kingdom cases concerning religion in the workplace, to dismiss three of the four applications, including those of Lillian Ladele, a civil registrar for Islington, who was disciplined for violating the borough’s “dignity for all” policy by refusing to register partnerships because of her belief that homosexuality is sinful; and Gary McFarlane, a sex therapist dismissed by Relate, a counselling charity, for refusing, on the same grounds, to provide sex therapy for same-sex couples. Similarly, under Article 9.2, in 2005, in the Williamson case, the appeal committee in this House rejected the claimants’ asserted right as teachers and parents at a school established specifically to provide Christian education based on biblical observance to use corporal punishment despite contrary legislation. Indeed, the next year in the Denbigh High School case we rejected a Muslim schoolgirl’s claim to have been wrongly excluded from the school unless she wore the school uniform instead of the jilbab she insisted on wearing. Many of your Lordships will recall too the recent Crown Court ruling that a woman must remove her Muslim veil, charged as she was with victim intimidation, so that the jury could properly observe her facial expression.

These are just some of the many cases which show that, absolute though one’s right to freedom of religion and belief is, in deciding whether to exercise it there are other important interests and considerations in play. Believe whatever you wish, but in your behaviour think of others too. Surely that is a sound precept.

6.09 pm

Lord Alderdice (LD): My Lords, we have all been done a great service by the noble Lord, Lord Alton of

16 July 2015 : Column 794

Liverpool, in obtaining this debate and giving us the opportunity not just to speak but to listen and think about these matters.

I, too, start by declaring interests. One is the research work that I do at Oxford University and the other is that of being, like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, a practising Christian—practising for many years but seemingly no nearer to expertise, but that is the way of these things.

I want not to go back over the many things that have been said by other noble Lords but to refer to some of my own experience in these matters. Very understandably, noble Lords have outlined the horrible evidences of religious intolerance and radical political belief which have led to horrible violence and which continue, seemingly ever worsening, all around the world. It is understandable that we focus on that because it raises our emotions of fear, anguish, hurt and sometimes even hate, but of course what we are speaking about there is the right to life, not just the right to a belief or a religious faith. In a way, we are both very privileged and a little disadvantaged by working in this place, where there is an enormous amount of tolerance. People are prepared to listen to each other and to accept great differences of belief of different kinds.

In passing, I say that we are foolish if we think that there is religious belief and unbelief. The truth is that people who do not have religious beliefs have beliefs of their own. Perhaps there has tended to be the notion that we can resolve a lot of these matters if we simply put religious beliefs into a private box and have a society where some other kind of belief—whatever it is—runs the show or has a prevailing effect. However, the truth is that religious faith, like any other kind of belief, impacts entirely on your way of being in the world and on your community and its way of being in the world. Thinking that somehow or other it is possible to say, “Well, that doesn’t really matter”, says something about your kind of belief; it does not say anything about whether you are a believer of some description. You cannot not believe: you have a set of views, and it is very important for us to understand that.

I come to this with my own background in a particular part of the United Kingdom. Sometimes people would like to forget that it is part of the United Kingdom because of some of the symptoms of behaviour there, particularly in relation to matters such as this, but I am afraid that it is. Maybe it reminds the rest of the United Kingdom of its history and background. Many of the things that are still troublesome in Northern Ireland were troublesome in the rest of the United Kingdom not so very long ago. Noble Lords would not expect me, from these Benches, to speak out particularly strongly in favour of the presence of an established church, although I have to say that in these last decades the Church of England has had a markedly positive effect, both in this Chamber and elsewhere. I particularly want to acknowledge the contribution of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester over many years. When I was Convenor of these Benches, I very much appreciated his work as Convenor of those Benches. I also want to mention the work of the most reverend Primate, who has taken a very strong line on these issues.

16 July 2015 : Column 795

I got to know the noble Lord, Lord Alton, in his role as Liberal spokesman on Northern Ireland. Back then, we had to face up to the fact that people had sets of beliefs which led to very intolerant behaviour and attitudes to each other. If I had gone to university in this part of the United Kingdom in the latter part of the 19th century, before the Liberal changes to universities legislation, I, as a dissenter, would not have been able to take a degree at Oxford or Cambridge.

Therefore, on the question of how we deal with these matters, we have progressed in certain ways but I fear that we have not progressed as much as we would like to believe we have, because there is a certain liberal intolerance towards people with various kinds of religious belief. That is clear—it has been mentioned—and it is absolutely true. I have seen it among a number of colleagues in various places. The view is, “It really would be much better if people just piped down about those kinds of things because they can be put in a private box”. However, they cannot. It may be inconvenient and difficult but the fact is that these are matters that drive people and are of profound importance to them. We have to struggle with these questions. As we try to struggle with them, what kinds of things can we take into account?

We must understand that, when it comes to tolerance in these matters, we face a very difficult challenge. The challenge is to differentiate between matters that we usually consider all together. The question of fundamentalism transcends all kinds of beliefs, religious and otherwise. I would find it much easier to reach agreement with people of different religious views, and people whose views are not religious, who had a liberal perspective on these matters. I would find myself much more different from Christians, or others of any description, who took a fundamentalist approach to these things—including those who are fundamentalist atheists. This notion of the way in which we hold our beliefs is extremely important. The noble Lord, Lord Sacks, picked up an extremely important part of this, which is that secular authoritarianism has led, as a reaction, to religious fundamentalism. We must acknowledge and understand that, and that has not been easy to deal with. An example is Turkey, where it was easy to support a secular regime and then be astonished at the reaction.

Secondly, we must differentiate between fundamentalism and radicalisation and the use of violence and terror. These are not the same thing. The vast majority of fundamentalists may well be intolerant of the religious beliefs of others—fundamentalism and conservatism are very different things—but that does not necessarily mean that they support violence. Indeed, many of those who support violence, including people in Daesh, do not come to it from a religious perspective at all. When His Holiness the Pope came to Ireland and said on bended knee to Catholic nationalist republicans, “Stop the violence”, they took no notice of him. They did not pay attention because the actual driver was something quite different. In a long conversation with a leading figure in al-Qaeda many years ago, I was talking about religious tolerance and he said, “Wait a minute. My issue is not about religion. It is about political identity and political problems”.

16 July 2015 : Column 796

So, as we try to explore these questions, we must hold back our emotions—because they are very strong—and think more deeply about these issues across the religious differences and across the differences between those who have religious faith and those whose set of beliefs is different. Therefore, to me, the most important question to the Minister is this: can the Foreign Office, DCLG and other departments of government give more attention and resource to thinking and research on these matters? That would deepen our understanding, so that when we respond—in all the difficult circumstances inside and outside our country—we may to do so with a depth of understanding that helps us to add to and make a difference to wider thinking about these matters, rather than simply reacting from our very understandable feelings.

6.18 pm

Lord Bach (Lab): My Lords, the ability of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, to secure debates in this House has long been one of the wonders of the world. It may well have something to do with the important and fascinating subjects he selects for his debates. The debate on Article 18 has almost become an annual event, and so it should be. However, I wonder whether, without the noble Lord’s energy and commitment, it would have been. Congratulations are due to him, and to all the other very distinguished Peers who have spoken so well and movingly.

In some ways I find myself in a position where I do not have much that is original to add. We have heard marvellous speeches that have made the important points that must be made, and made again, until the world takes notice. In this debate we have heard horrific examples of appalling intolerance and discrimination from all over our planet and affecting all religions. On behalf of the Opposition I will try to say something useful and pose some questions for the Minister, who is, if I may say so, exactly the right Minister to be answering this debate.

Before I do, I hope that the House will indulge me for a moment or two—perhaps rather longer than would normally be the case—if I say something about the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, or Bishop Tim as he is universally known in Leicester and Leicestershire. I am proud to call myself a friend as well as a colleague. I live in the diocese he has led for the last 16 years, and I only wish that more noble Lords present today had been present at the service held last Saturday at Leicester Cathedral to celebrate his tenure. There was hardly a dry eye in the house. The respect and affection in which he is held by all—rich and poor, black and white, old and young—was shown not just by the packed cathedral, with people following the service from outside, but by the extraordinary feeling that a unique and very special person who had influenced Leicester so much, with all its diversity, was actually leaving.

The right reverend Prelate will be hugely missed in the city and in the county, just as he will be in this House. Above all, he seems to me as good an example as I have ever known of the priest in the public space—a phrase I do not like. In other words, he speaks to his community about issues that actually affect their daily lives. His passion for social justice, I

16 July 2015 : Column 797

know, has been heightened by his experience in Leicester. Frankly, I do not think that this House or our country can afford to lose him. On a slightly lighter note, how can one not admire a bishop who chooses for his desert island discs a song by the boy band, One Direction, and whose chosen luxury item was an infinite supply of golf balls?

Let us get back to this debate, not least the contribution of the right reverend Prelate himself. It has centred on the increasing violations of Article 18, as it affects Christianity and, equally importantly, all other religions and beliefs. The Human Rights and Democracy Report 2014,produced by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, is a deeply depressing document but it forces us to face up to the reality that in our world today there are shocking examples, both collective and individual, of how religion is used—or perhaps, more properly, abused—to discriminate and act against others.

One of the worst consequences of any general election is that Parliament loses outstanding men and women who either retire or are unsuccessful in the election itself. These people, who come from all parties, of course, are often experts in particular policy areas, and their knowledge and experience is very much missed. One such, I would argue, is the former shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander who enjoyed a deserved reputation as an expert in the field that we are debating today. Some noble Lords will remember his article in the Telegraph at Christmas 2014, when he said:

“Faith leaders beyond the Christian community have been forceful in their campaigns on anti-Christian persecution, including former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks who described it as ‘one of the crimes against humanity of our time’ and stated he was ‘appalled at the lack of protest it has evoked’. Just like anti-Semitism or Islamaphobia, anti-Christian persecution must be named for the evil that it is, and challenged systematically by people of faith and of no faith. Government should be doing much more to try and harness the concern, expertise and understanding of faith leaders from across the UK and beyond”.

He went on to say:

“A multi-faith advisory council on religious freedom should be established within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office”

In the same article, Mr Alexander suggested that the role of the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, as Minister of Faith in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which was then removed to the Department for Communities and Local Government, should be returned to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. He hoped that Her Majesty’s Government would follow the lead of the United States and Canada in appointing an international ambassador for tackling religious persecution—in other words, a global envoy for religious freedom reporting directly to the Foreign Secretary of the day. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, mentioned, that was in my party’s manifesto in the election in May. Have the Government any plans to appoint such an ambassador or envoy and, if not, what reason can there be for not doing so? I also want to ask about the Minister of Faith role and the setting up of a multi-faith advisory committee.

No one doubts Her Majesty’s Government’s good faith in this debate, least of all that of the Minister, who represents her department so well, both in this

16 July 2015 : Column 798

House and outside it. No one is suggesting that there are any easy answers to the problem of the increased violation of Article 18. However, I suggest to the House that the steps Mr Alexander put forward might well be useful in showing the world that Britain is even more determined to fight religious intolerance wherever and whenever we see it. For far too long Article 18 has been justifiably called an orphaned right. It is well past time that this description no longer applied and that Article 18, at long last, becomes more of a reality.

6.26 pm

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Anelay of St Johns) (Con): My Lords, freedom of religion or belief and the right to hold no belief is a key human right. It is under attack in almost every corner of the globe. We see Muslims sentenced to death for blasphemy; Christians burned in brick ovens or forced to give birth in chains; Yazidis trapped on mountains, their women abused as sex slaves; innocents attacked in their churches, synagogues and mosques, the very places they should feel most safe; and sledgehammers taken to religious and cultural artefacts in an attempt to obliterate centuries of faith and civilisation. The ongoing assault on freedom of religion or belief is absolutely unacceptable, and noble Lords have made that clear in their views today.

I would like to add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for securing this very important debate, and to everyone who has made such valuable contributions today. If I may, I particularly add my support to the noble Lord, Lord Bach, in his tribute to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester—it was well said by the noble Lord.

The debate has made very clear the scope and scale of the challenge. I would like to touch on some of the major challenges to freedom of religion or belief, explain why this Government have indeed made it a priority and inform the House of the work that we are doing to protect and promote freedom of religion or belief, and the right to hold no belief, around the world.

The noble Lord, Lord Harrison, referred to the blasphemy laws in Malta. We oppose blasphemy laws wherever they still exist.

This Government understand the scope and scale of the challenge—we, too, are horrified. The brutal terrorist group known as ISIL, or Daesh, is making the headlines every day with images of Christians executed on beaches or civilians being thrown off buildings for refusing to abandon their beliefs. I know that it is not just a matter of the cases that make the headlines. It is the steady and systematic bias against people on the basis of their faith, denying them a fair trial, proper investigation of complaints to the police and even adequate education for their children, all of which is potentially more far-reaching. Where there is a culture of impunity, which we condemn, people are taught to believe that followers of other religions are fair game, and then mob violence can so easily follow—and does. Where children are taught to hate those with different beliefs, this provides fertile soil for extremism to take root.

16 July 2015 : Column 799

Freedom of religion or belief is not just an optional extra, or nice to have; it is the key human right. It allows each citizen to follow their conscience in the way they see fit. As this Government made clear in our manifesto:

“We will stand up for the freedom of people of all religions—and non-religious people—to practise their beliefs in peace and safety”.

We are committed to defending the full right exactly as set out in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—that is,

“the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion”.

Quite apart from any legal or moral obligation, we promote religious freedom as essential to our social, cultural and economic development. That is why this Government have made freedom of religion and belief a priority, not just in the FCO but across government. It is enshrined in international law, it makes social sense and it is morally right.

So what are we doing? We have been working on this issue through a comprehensive multilateral, bilateral and projects-based approach. The UN Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18 of March 2011 calls on all UN member states to take action against intolerance on the basis of religion or belief, and to promote the free and equal participation in society of all—both the religious and the non-religious. It has given us that important starting point. I vividly remember a meeting in Morocco earlier this year, in the immediate aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, during which ambassadors from all points of the religious compass spoke to me of this resolution as something to hold onto in a time of crisis. We will continue to use our influence and diplomatic networks as effectively as possible. We are playing an active part in a new international contact group on FoRB, convened by Canada. Last month, I met the US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, David Saperstein, and we discussed areas where the international community might work more closely together. We will continue to encourage the EU to ensure that its guidelines on FoRB are put into practice in individual countries.

The noble Lord, Lord Bach, asked whether we would reconsider having a global ambassador. We have our global ambassadors. They have their reach in every country on the globe and know how important it is that they promote freedom of religion and belief. It is not contradictory to say that we can trade with certain countries, provided that they do not contravene international humanitarian law. Our trade with them does not undermine our right to stand up for not only freedom of religion and belief but other human rights; we make that clear.

We are just as active on bilateral channels. Every Minister at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office acts as an ambassador for this fundamental right. Each one of us, as a Minister, raises and promotes these issues in the countries or organisations for which we have responsibility. My noble friend Lady Berridge and others referred to Burma. We have raised our concern about the situation of the Rohingya community in all our recent ministerial contacts with the Burmese Government. Most recently, my honourable friend Mr Swire called the Burmese ambassador to the FCO on 18 May to express our concern about the Rohingya

16 July 2015 : Column 800

situation and the related migrant crisis in the Bay of Bengal. We urged Burma to act swiftly to deal with the humanitarian implications, but also to address the underlying causes.

We also seek to protect religious freedom through our project work. We support projects to tackle discriminatory legislation and attitudes, and we are working with human rights and faith-based organisations across the world to promote dialogue, build capacity, foster links and strengthen understanding. I had hoped to give a few examples but I will have to leave that for another occasion or I will not be able to allow the noble Lord, Lord Alton, a moment or two to respond; I know that we are pressing up against the deadline.

We are already addressing the question of how to make sure that freedom of religion and belief is addressed throughout the world. We use our full range of diplomatic response. However, I recognise—and I agree with noble Lords—that there remains so much more to do. I want to see us step up our engagement with individual Governments. Countries around the world need to know that Britain will stand up for this fundamental right. We must not be shy about coming forward.

In reply to the questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and others, I can say that we are deeply concerned at the imposition of the death penalty for blasphemy in the case of Asia Bibi and we hope that the verdict will be overturned on appeal.

The Prime Minister has raised our concern about the blasphemy law with Nawaz Sharif, and the UK supports the EU-led action to continue to raise this case with the Pakistan authorities.

Turning to the case of the Sudanese pastors, which was raised by the noble Lord, our ambassador has raised it at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Khartoum and with representatives of the ruling National Congress Party. As recently as 9 July, the UK special representative to Sudan and South Sudan raised our concerns about these specific cases with the Sudanese ambassador. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, also referred to charges against Christian students. We will continue to call on the Government of Sudan to bring all their legislation in line with their constitutional and international human rights commitments. Noble Lords can be assured that these matters are part of the everyday work of our ambassadors around the world where FoRB is under threat.

I also want us as a Government to focus even more strongly on making freedom of religion or belief part of the answer to extremism. Where freedom of religion is protected, extremist ideologies are much less likely to take root. I want us to continue our focus on supporting the right of persecuted Christians, as well as those of all religions and none, to be able to stay in the Middle East, the region of their birth. We are already playing a leading role on this issue. At a UN Security Council debate on religious minorities in March, Tobias Ellwood, Minister for the Middle East, called for bold leadership from Governments and communities in the region to work for tolerance and reconciliation.

Over the coming months, we will continue to deepen our already strong engagement with academics, think tanks, NGOs, faith representatives and parliamentarians

16 July 2015 : Column 801

on how we may best develop our policies to support religious minorities in the Middle East. I was delighted to meet members of the APPG on International Religious Freedom or Belief recently, and I look forward to continuing to work closely with them as we further develop our policies.

We work with regional allies, helping them to ensure that the right legal frameworks are in place and supporting training initiatives to ensure that state and religious bodies understand the rights held by people from minorities. We are also considering further programmes to address the climate of impunity and legal discrimination, through training for security and police forces and sharing of UK best practice on reporting and prosecution of crimes. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, about how important it is that we are able to provide support and training to the Iraqi Government to ensure people are protected, particularly in the north, to which he referred.

In parallel, I strongly believe that equipping our diplomats with a greater understanding of the key role faith plays in global politics helps us collectively to make better policy judgments and to understand when and where we can work with the grain of religious beliefs to further our human rights and other objectives. Therefore, we are increasing religious literacy training among FCO staff and across the whole of Whitehall. We are running regular training courses on religion and foreign policy, with a lively series of lunchtime seminars, and our new diplomatic academy contains an online foundation level module on religious literacy. FoRB is embedded in the work of all parts of the FCO both at home and abroad.

Just last month, I was pleased to host the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Grand Imam of al-Azhar in conversation about religion and foreign policy. It was a marvellous experience to see the place crowded with more than 200 diplomats and people from across all departments in Whitehall, with people around the world listening to that very important conversation. The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, urged the Government that there should be cross-departmental thoughtfulness about investment in these matters. I agree with him, and we are addressing that.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, raised particular questions about China. I will be brief and say that we are saddened by reports that Tenzin Delek Rinpoche has died in detention in China. We have raised his case with the Chinese authorities on a number of occasions, including during the UK-China human rights dialogue in April this year. We support and encourage the EU statement of 15 July which said that the EU expected the Chinese authorities to investigate and make public the circumstances surrounding Tenzin’s death.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, also asked about the Chinese Christian lawyers who were arrested this week as part of a major crackdown. He asked what will happen with the Chinese state visit later this year and whether Article 18 will be on the agenda for discussions with China’s President when he visits the UK. The full programme for the visit is not yet fully fleshed out—and one would not expect it to be at this stage. However, we pay very close attention to the human rights situation in China. We are deeply concerned by reports of the

16 July 2015 : Column 802

number of human rights lawyers and activists who have been detained since 9 July and we fully support the EU statement of 15 July, which states that the detentions raise serious questions about China’s commitment to strengthening the rule of law, and called for the release of those detained for seeking to protect rights provided by the Chinese constitution.

We have regular discussions with the Chinese authorities, including on human rights and rule-of-law issues. They will hear what I have said in public today—my colleagues have also said it in private—and I am sure they will be aware that these matters will be raised, not only by politicians but by the public, when the Chinese state visit takes place. I am sure that discussions about that visit will be wide ranging and naturally the Chinese Government will have an input. But as a country we believe firmly in making clear our commitment to human rights and we have an expectation that the Chinese Government will listen to that. They will take their own view naturally, as they always do.

The noble Lord, Lord Singh, raised the question of the mistreatment of Sikhs in India. Our High Commission in India regularly discusses minority issues, including Sikh prisoners, with the Indian Government and state authorities. We will continue to monitor the situation and maintain our dialogue with Indian officials.

Around the House there has been, over many years, a determination that we should keep a regular dialogue on matters of human rights. The discussion on freedom of religion or belief has perhaps received a better and more considered approach in this Chamber than almost any other, around not only Westminster but the devolved communities. It is important that we are able to maintain that discussion.

Perhaps there was just one Peer who raised the question of why we still have, in this House, the presence of those who have a right, because of their place in the Church of England, to be here. I strongly support their position because I find that their presence is always challenging—refreshing, but most decidedly challenging. But it is important that we welcome on the Cross Benches representatives of other faiths. I think that that enriches the debate here.

This morning, we were able to read an article by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, in the Times. He made me reflect on the fact that Governments need to find ways to ensure that the transformational power of religious belief is able to play out in our societies. We must have countries where everyone is free to follow their own belief, to change their religion, or to choose to follow no religion at all. In those societies we find that life is fairer and more prosperous. His Grace made the point:

“Curtailing religious freedom in the name of other freedoms runs the risk of discarding one of the most important and creative forces in human beings”.

What he says, I could never improve upon.

6.44 pm

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, characteristically, the Minister has given the House a considered, detailed, thoughtful and extremely helpful reply to this extremely well-informed debate—characteristic itself of the place that the House of Lords is. That point was made earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice. We have

16 July 2015 : Column 803

heard from people of all faiths and denominations and none, and all the speeches shed light on the nature of Article 18. The Minister just said that it is part of the answer to extremism and I entirely agree. I particularly welcome what she said about the importance of religious literacy and what she is doing to encourage people to understand better the forces that are driving on these malign forces in so many parts of the world today.

The noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, with whom I work on the All-Party Group on International Religious Freedom or Belief, where she does such a wonderful job, talked about my “uncanny knack” of coming up in the ballot—a point also referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Bach. Perhaps I should try my hand at the National Lottery. More seriously, it makes the point that the House should have an annual debate on human rights in Government time and I hope that the Minister will think about providing  that so that it will not be left to the vagaries of the ballot, helpful though it is that we have been able to have this debate today.

Many noble Lords have given me undeserved generosity in the remarks they have made, none more so than the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. As we walk in here each day, most of us probably pass the western wall of Westminster Abbey, where, among other things, we can see the statute of Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was murdered in El Salvador. Only a week ago the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, was honoured in Mr Speaker’s House for all the work he did on behalf of Oscar Romero. Combined with that, the work he has done for human rights over the past 50 or 60 years really is unparalleled. At the age of 17, when I was interviewed by a local newspaper, I was asked if I wanted to go into politics. I said, “Not really, but if ever I did I hope I would be like Eric Lubbock”—as he then was. If people are looking for a role model, they could do no better than look at the noble Lord, Lord Avebury.

Fifty years later there are other role models for the rising generation . I was very struck by the remarks of Malala Yousafzai, whom the Taliban tried to murder in Pakistan because she rightly insisted on a girl’s right to an education :

One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world”

Malala’s challenge and the fate of the abducted schoolgirls in Nigeria or those denied an education in Pakistan go to the heart of Article 18. It is at the heart of what we have been debating today and it is a theme to which we must persistently return.

It was the most reverend Primate who in his concluding remarks invoked Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Christian theologian who was executed by the Nazis. Bonhoeffer said:

We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds … we have learnt the arts of equivocation and pretence … intolerable conflicts have worn us down and even made us cynical … What we shall need is not geniuses, or cynics, or misanthropes, or clever tacticians”.

We should not become worn down either, whatever price has to be paid. We have enormous privileges, opportunities, liberties and freedoms in this place and we must use them to speak out on behalf of those to whom so much reference has been made today. The theme of conscience has come up again and again, whether in the domestic or international context. That, too, goes to the heart of Article 18. It is about the balance of rights that were referred to in the debate.

16 July 2015 : Column 804

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, in his valedictory address, enjoined and encouraged us to persist in what he called our defence of freedom of religion and belief. It is a message that we should all take to heart. We should never cease to use our privileges to speak up in the way that he has done for so long and so persistently. One noble Lord said that he could not understand the presence of the Bishops as an established part of your Lordships’ House. Others have been declaring interests; my Anglican wife is the daughter of a priest of 60 years’ standing in the Anglican Church, as his father was for 50 years. There are eight ordained Anglican clergy on my wife’s side of the family. I sometimes feel that it is a little like a family business. It seems to me—I know that my wife will want me to say this—that we are really blessed by the presence of the Bishops in this House, no one more so than the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester. At the conclusion of this debate, we all wish him the very best in his retirement.

Motion agreed.

Also see Justin Welby in The Times:

http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/opinion/columnists/article4499162.ece

 

——————————————————————————————————————————————-

On Thursday July 16th  2015 David Alton will lead a House of Lords debate on Article 18 of the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights – the right to believe, not to believe, or to change your belief.

He says: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was born out of the infamies of the twentieth century – from the Armenian genocide to the depredations of Stalin, Hitler and the Holocaust.

In response to the persecution of millions of people, targeted because of their religion or beliefs, Article 18 insisted on the freedom of all men and women to cherish and uphold their faith or beliefs – or to change them.

Seventy years later, from North Korea to Syria – and all over the world – Article 18 is honoured daily in its breach – evident in contemporary concentration camps, abductions, rape, imprisonment, displacement, persecution, public flogging, mass murder, and beheadings.

The House of Lords debate will be an opportunity to build on the All-Party Report “Article 18 – an orphaned right”; to highlight countries where Article 18 is under attack today; to discuss the clear links between freedom of religion and belief, a nation’s prosperity, stability, and the other rights enjoyed or denied its citizens; and to insist on greater political and diplomatic priority being given to upholding Article 18.

————————————————————————————————————————————————————

Among those who will speak are the Crossbench Peer, the former Chief Rabbi, Lord (Jonathan) Sacks, whose most recent book focuses on religious liberty and Baroness (Elizabeth) Berridge, the Conservative Peer who chairs the All Party Group on Freedom of Religion and Belief.

————————————————————————————————————————————————————

 “Religious persecution of Christians around the globe”: the future prognosis: David Alton (Lord Alton of Liverpool).

 https://davidalton.net/2015/06/12/raif-badawi-facing-yet-more-public-beating-and-the-right-to-believe-or-not-to-believe-further-questsions-in-parliament/

http://www.express.co.uk/news/sunday/588894/Christians-fleeing-Islamic-State-must-be-given-priority-for-asylum-in-Europe

http://www.geopolitical-info.com/en/article/1435726790089290800 – Geopolitical Report on Religious Persecution

Franz Werfel’s disturbing and prophetic novel, The Forty Days of Musa Dagh (Die vierzig Tage des Musa Dagh), written in 1933 , tells the story of genocide against Armenian Christians and foreshadows the rise of Hitler – whose Nazi thugs were burning Werfel’s books, in his native Austria and in Germany.

Franz Werfel

Franz werfel

Franz werfel

In this centenary of those events it is worth reminding ourselves of how the Ottomans attempted to eradicate the Armenian Christians and perpetrated further acts of genocide against their other Christian minorities, including Greeks and Assyrians – incubating that most dangerous pestilence: the hatred of whole peoples.

Hitler and Armenian genocide

Not only should we recall those terrible events in order to give the lie to Hitler’s question “who now remembers the Armenians?” – insisting that we will never forget – but also because that deadly phenomenon of deportations, concentration camps, rape and killings did not end in 1915 with the Ottomans. Hitler thought he could get away with it because people hadn’t really protested against the genocide, and there wouldn’t be any consequences for him. He assumed (correctly) that people would murmur but not take any real action and therefore he could continue his reign of terror against the Jews and others.

There is an old Armenian saying, echoed in Musa Dagh, that “to be an Armenian is an impossibility”. It is a saying which, in the 1930s, would be understood by Jews, and which today is the experience of persecuted Christians – from North Korea to Pakistan, from China to Sudan: the world over. Prince Charles has described threats to Christians in the Middle East as “an indescribable tragedy”.

christians in the middle east 1

In the last census of the Ottoman era, conducted in 1914, Christians made up a quarter of the Middle East’s population. Now they are less than 5%. Christians in the Middle East represent less than 1% of the world’s Christians. If the current demographic trends continue, the Middle East’s population of 12 million Christians will be halved by 2020.  As things stand, the current prognosis for Middle Eastern Christians could be fatal.  

Systematic persecution is not a new phenomenon – consider the fate of St.Stephen or the persecutions of Nero or Diocletian – or even the Armenians – whose ancient kingdom became, in the fourth century, the first nation to officially embrace Christianity and who, according to Eusebius and Tertullian, were subjected to persecution by the Romans. The Empire had outlawed the new growing Christian faith and condemned all Christians to death.

Those events were recalled, this month, in the Glyndebourne premiere of Gaaetano Donizetti’s opera, Polyeucte, based on Pierre Corneille’s play about the martyrdom of Saint Polyeuctus and set in the third century in Melitiene, the capital of ancient Armenia. 

Sixteen hundred year later the campaigns against the Armenian Christians and, in German South West Africa (Namibia) of racial extermination of the Herero and Nama people, would become the victims the first genocides of the twentieth century.

Franz Werfel 2

Werfel’s brilliant Musa Dagh homes in on a small community of 5,000 Armenians living in Hatay Province, with links to communities in, Zeitun, Alexandretta, Aleppo, and Mosul – where perpetrators of genocidal, systematic, crimes against humanity once again persecute with impunity.

Although, according to Gyula Orban, an official of Aid to the Church In Need, the Catholic relief agency founded by Norbertine priest Fr Werenfried Von Straaten, approximately 10 percent of the 2 billion Christians in the world suffer persecution, where other than Syria and Iraq might a review of the plight of the world’s persecuted Christians begin?

This month, Aleppo’s Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart described how his archbishopric in Aleppo – already hit more than 20 times by mortar shells – had once again come under fire and how Christians had lost lives, homes and livelihoods – and are being traumatised by the conflict.

He says: “ISIS, which has already killed thousands in the region, is terrifying the faithful in Aleppo. After attacks on Maloula, Mosul, Idleb and Palmyra, what is the West waiting for before it intervenes? What are the great nations waiting for before they put a halt to these monstrosities. Let me cry with my people, violated and murdered. Allow me to stand by numerous families in Aleppo who are in mourning. Because of this ugly and barbarous war, they have lost so many loved ones, fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters and cherished children.”

The region’s Chaldean Bishop, Antoine Audo, says that Aleppo’s 250,000 Christians have dwindled to below 100,000. Thousands have been killed, churches and ancient monasteries  blown up, whole communities forced to flee, bishops and priests  – such as Father Jacob Murad, Bishops Hanna Ibrahim and Paul Yazici – abducted, some executed. Torture, beheadings and even ‘crucifixion’ – the hanging of corpses of those they have executed on crosses – has become commonplace. Syrian Christians living in IS controlled areas are forced to convert or pay the punitive jizya tax.

christians in the middle east2

In the seventh century Christians, in what is now Syria, had to pay half an ounce of gold to pay for the privilege of living under the protection of the Caliphate. If they didn’t pay they had two options: they could convert of “face the sword”. In February 2014, 20 or so Christian families still living in the northern Syrian town of Raqqa were given the same choice. The cost of protection is now the equivalent of $650 in Syrian pounds, a large amount for people struggling to make ends meet in a war zone.

Syria and Iraq, those hatcheries of Jihadism, have seen vast tracts of their territories become lawless and ungovernable with fault lines opening between Islamic extremists and moderates, between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and between Sunnis and Shias – with funds and arms flowing in from the Gulf and Tehran.

Caught in the cross fire have been the law abiding minority communities – mainly Christians – who have lived in places like Aleppo and the Nineveh Plains for 2,000 years and continue to worship and speak in the Aramaic language of Jesus.

christians in the middle east Assyrians

In recent weeks joint Assyrian and Kurdish forces recaptured a number of Christian villages in north eastern Syria from ISIS – although many of the original occupants remain unaccounted for and many of their homes have been left booby-trapped.

And will the international community do any more to protect them in the future than it has in the past?  The failure to respond to Chaldean and Assyrian requests for a protected area for Christians near Nineveh is a scandal.   

No wonder so many contemplate dangerous attempts to flee – including treacherous journeys across the Mediterranean. 

refugees2

The brutality of ISIS – or Daesh -, devoid of mercy, manifests itself in deadly beheadings accompanied by the year zero blitzkrieg of antiquities and ancient artefacts, in the depraved destruction of Christian churches, and the defilement of Shia mosques. The fall of Palmyra follows the bulldozing of the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud, the blowing up of Afghanistan’s Bamiyan Buddhas and the Sufi monuments in Mali.

The Maronite Bishop Elias Sleman of Laodicea says Christians have been specifically targeted: "Christians are increasingly targeted in horrible and unspeakable massacres”.

The Maronite Bishop Elias Sleman of Laodicea says Christians have been specifically targeted: “Christians are increasingly targeted in horrible and unspeakable massacres”.

The Irish philosopher and British politician, Edmund Burke said that “our past is the capital of life” and what we are witnessing at the hands of ISIS is an attempt to eradicate the collective memory of humanity, destroying all that is “different” – while cynically smuggling and selling on the antiquities which they do not destroy to fund their campaign of mass murder – with Turkey turning a blind eye.

ISIS presents this as a clash of civilisations but the manner in which they debase all that is civilised simply pits civilisation against barbarism. ISIS is not just at war with civilisation, it is also at war with other Muslims and those of other faith traditions.

ISIS describes itself as the Islamic State – but this is a misnomer: it is certainly not a State and many Muslim scholars challenge the Islamic basis on which it forces Christians to convert or die invoking the Qur’ānic injunction that there should be no compulsion in religion (lā ikrāha fī ‘l-dīn :Q.2:256).

It is said that al-Qaeda has cut its links to one of its most deadly affiliates, ISIS—the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham

It is said that al-Qaeda has cut its links to one of its most deadly affiliates, ISIS—the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham

The same visceral hatred of Christians has been nurtured by other radical groups – from the Taliban to al-Shabaab and Boko Haram.

Last month, jihadist ideology led to the deaths of 147 students and staff in Kenya’s Garissa University College, with Christian students specifically singled out by al-Shabaab-affiliated Islamist militants.

Pakistan Christians

Earlier this year, in Pakistan – following the 2013 killing of 85 Anglicans who were praying in their church at Peshawar –the same hatred  led to the burning alive in a kiln of a Christian couple by a mob of 1,300 people while their young children were forced to watch. This week, in the British Parliament, MPs raised the tragic case of Nauman Masih, a 15 year old Christian boy, who on 9 April 2015, in Lahore, was beaten, tortured and burnt alive after he was identified as a Christian.

MPs called for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.

Given the failure to bring to hold to account those who, in 2011, murdered the country’s only Christian Cabinet Minister, Clement Shahbaz Bhatti, don’t hold your breath.

shahbaz bhatti posters

At the time of Pakistan’s foundation its first President, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, said: “Minorities, to whichever community they may belong, will be safeguarded. Their religion, faith or belief will be secure. There will be no interference of any kind with their freedom of worship. They will have their protection with regard to their religion, faith, their life and their culture. They will be, in all respects, the citizens of Pakistan without any distinction of caste and creed.”

In 2015, in a population of over 172 million people, only about 1.5% (3 million) is Christians – half Catholic, half Protestant, – minorities are neither safeguarded or protected. 

Boko Haram protest

Think, too, of Nigeria and the depredations of Boko Haram – graphically illustrated by the abduction of young girls and the murder, in cold blood, of twenty nine students of the Federal Government College in Buni Yadi, Yobe State, while they slept in their student hostels.

Churches have been bombed,  pastors executed, Christians targeted and, despite the Government’s insistence that it is tackling Boko Haram, Reuters reports recent attacks, in the past few days, which have led to more than 80 people being killed.  Boko Haram openly say their interim goal is “to eradicate Christians from certain parts of the country.”

Boko Haram say they want to destroy all westerrn ideas, including democracy, and replace Ngieria's federal constitution with Sharia law.

Boko Haram say they want to destroy all westerrn ideas, including democracy, and replace Ngieria’s federal constitution with Sharia law.

The north-south conflict in Nigeria is reminiscent of Sudan – when, during the civil war, 2 million, mainly Christian people, were killed. Khartoum continues to target whole communities – having dropped more than 2500 bombs on its civilian, predominantly Christian, populations of Blue Nile and South Kordofan. In addition it has committed crimes against humanity in Darfur, which I have visited, and where they are being ethnically cleansed by co-religionists.

20110618-d0175

This unremitting violence has led to massive displacements and generated vast numbers of refugees. Eritrea, Sudan’s near neighbour, is the North Korea of Africa – and last month’s UN Commission report suggests crimes against humanity may have been committed there. According to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Eritrea, is responsible for around 18% of the 200,000 people who reached Europe in 2014.  Having reached Libya some Eritreans Christians have then been cruelly beheaded by ISIS – in yet another display of their barbarism.

christians in the middle east2 eritreans christians in the middle east  eritreans

Protestors recently gathered in London, outside the Eritrean Embassy, to mark the thirteenth anniversary of the imposition of severe restrictions on churches in Eritrea, the deposing and house arrest of the Eritrean patriarch, Abune Antonnios and imprisonment of other Christians.

Eritrea is one of the world’s most repressive regimes and the largest refugee-producing countries. Freedom of religion and belief – guaranteed by Article 18 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights – means nothing in Eritrea.

There is a direct correlation between the denial of Article 18 Freedoms – to believe, not to believe, or to change your belief – and the denial of other freedoms, the generation of violence, displacements, and the desperation which leads to the exodus of refugees.

article 18 an orphaned rightArticle 18

By contrast, in those countries where Article 18 is honoured and upheld there is a direct correlation with internal harmony, development, prosperity and progress (something which China should study more closely).

Freedom of belief is at the heart of the struggle for the future of whole societies and countries.
Take Egypt – which was recently horrified by the beheading of 21 Egyptian Copts who were working in Libya.

In 2013 I suggested that we should compare the charred husk of the Fasanenstrasse Synagogue in Berlin, in 1938, with pictures of the blackened walls of Degla’s ruined Church of the Virgin Mary, and why August 2013 represent Egypt’s Kritallnacht.  

Fasanenstrasse Synagogue, Berlin, after Kristallnacht in 1938

It was one of many churches which was attacked – along with Christian homes and businesses. Under  President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi the situation has improved but Dr.Mohamed Abul-Ghar, head of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, warned that the forced displacement of Coptic families by customary meetings is contrary to the Constitution, the principles of citizenship, humanity and justice – remarks which came against a backdrop of the displacement of a number of Coptic families in Beni Suef because a member of these families was accused of allegedly publishing cartoons of the Prophet of Islam on his Facebook account. The man is illiterate.

Abul-Ghar wrote in Al-Masry Al-Youm “Have you seen or heard about an Egyptian Muslim forced to leave his home by a customary meeting whatever his mistake is? So there is clear injustice and if there is a suspicion against a Copt, why is not he treated like a Muslim and referred to the public prosecutor?” 

The Egyptian writer and novelist Fatima Naaot in a message to the President, says that the displacement of Christian families from their villages and the burning of their homes in the presence of security forces is a scandal that undermines the sovereignty of the Egyptian state and indicates the absence of the rule of law and the fall of the prestige of the Government and the President. 

Last month the Egyptian TV presenter, Islam al-Beheiry, was sentenced to five years in prison with labour for “contempt of religion.”
 
  At the beginning of this year President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi gave a speech at Cairo’s Al-Azhar in which he called for a “religious revolution” to re-examine those aspects of Islamic thinking that “make an enemy of the whole world.” Yet, despite his timely and important call for religious renewal, ‘contempt of religion’ and blasphemy charges are occurring more frequently. These can be an impediment to healthy and constructive religious debate and can encourage vindictive acts.

Assyrians hold banners as they march in solidarity with the Assyrians abducted by Islamic State fighters in Syria earlier this week, in Beirut

It against this background – from Syria and Iraq, to Sudan, Pakistan, Egypt, Iran, and many other countries in which Christians and others are persecuted for their beliefs – that June 2015 has witnessed the staging of a UN human rights conference on combatting intolerance and discrimination based on religion or belief.

I couldn’t work out whether it was a black sense of humour or a rather astute move to have asked Saudi Arabia to host this event in Jeddah.

Given that Saudi is one of the worst violators of religious freedom, and that Saudi Wahhabism has fuelled so many of these conflicts, it did seem comparable to inviting Herod into the kindergarten.  

raif-badawiRaif_Badawi_cropped

Given the West’s oil dependent, arms providing, symbiotic relationship with Saudi it is hard to imagine much being said at that Conference about the Saudi human rights activist, Raif Badawi, languishing in prison for the crime of religious dissent and under threat of further public flogging and potential execution – let alone its outright persecution of Christians. Saudi Arabia ranks sixth on the 2014 World Watch List of most repressive countries for Christians, a list compiled by the charity, Open Doors.

When a country like Saudi Arabia passes legislation defining atheists as terrorists, beheads or tortures its citizens, and refuses to protect the right of minorities to follow their beliefs, or to have no belief, is it any wonder that such actions are mimicked by ISIS? Saudi Arabia beheads people in the public square – 100 executions already this year –  a practice routinely practised by ISIS.

The aim of the Jeddah Conference was to discuss how to effectively implement UN Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18 on combating religious intolerance, discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against people due to their religion or beliefs.  

Unlike ISIS, Saudi Arabia really is an Islamic State and it would be the first place to start in heralding an acceptance of pluralism of belief and the upholding of diversity and difference. 

christians in the middle east11

In his opening speech to the Conference, OIC Secretary-General Iyad Ameen Madani said that the international human rights community attached great importance to combating religious intolerance. Madani correctly observed that religious hatred needs to be addressed at all levels, including the need to ascertain the limits of freedom of expression to determine where it ends and transforms into incitement to hatred.

Beyond conferences and speeches, remains the challenge to world leaders to champion and uphold the rule of law and the protection of minorities. That is the antidote to Jihadist ideology, not assassination squads or endless bombardments.

The casualties of genocide and crimes against humanity in Sudan

The casualties of genocide and crimes against humanity in Sudan

The challenge is to bring to justice war lords and regime leaders responsible for persecution and atrocities; to increase the effectiveness of the International Criminal Court (not providing impunity to indicted leaders such as Sudan’s Omar al Bashir, as South Africa recently did); to systematically collect evidence; to  document these atrocities and to demand that the Security Council instigate prosecutions.

Dag Hammarskjold7

We also need to create more safe havens to protect beleaguered groups of Christians, and others, and every Foreign Minister needs to promote Article 18 obligations. Dag Hammarskjold, one of the great Secretary Generals of the UN, once said that “The UN wasn’t founded to take mankind to paradise but rather to save humanity from hell.”  It’s hard to see that, in vast tracts of the world, the international community is achieving even that limited objective.

The UN, our Western legislators, policy makers and media need to become literate about religion. How right is the BBC’s courageous Chief Correspondent, Lyse Doucet, when she says: “If you don’t understand religion – including the abuse of religion – it’s becoming ever harder to understand our world.”

At the heart of all these challenges is the central question of how we learn to live together, tolerantly respecting and rejoicing in the dignity of difference; emphasising our common humanity; promoting the ability of members of all religious faiths to manifest their religion; and allow all people to contribute openly and on an equal footing to society.

 malala

Malala Yousafzai, whom the Taliban tried to murder in Pakistan because she insisted on a girl’s right to an education, rightly insists that “One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world”.  Are we going to stand with Malala against those who try to deny women education, who use education to promote hatred of difference, who teach that non adherents are destined for the fires of hell and murder in God’s name?

Our aid programmes and humanitarian interventions must surely reflect our own values and be used to protect minorities, to provide security, and to open the possibility of decent lives for those currently trying to flee their native home lands. We can apply “soft power” – or smart power – in the way we provide aid but also, where necessary, by shutting it off, or threatening to shut it off – and in the ways we broadcast, educate and share our own values.

Meanwhile, the immediate and over-arching concern must be the plight of Middle Eastern Christians, a shrinking and threatened minority throughout the region, subjected to the most traumatic, degrading and inhuman treatment. It’s as simple as that.

christians in the middle east6

The international community needs to be more consistent in its moral outrage. It denounces some countries for their suppression of minorities while appeasing others who directly enable jihad through financial support or the sale of arms. No wonder Western powers are seen as hypocrites when our business interests determine how offended we are by gross human rights abuses.

These people are being crushed in the mill, dying out, and need help. That is the future unless we act.

christians in the middle east14

This is not about Christians versus Muslims. Religious persecution is taking place all over the world and whoever is responsible should be in our sights. A Pew research Centre Study begun a decade a ago has found that of the 185 nations studied religious repression was recorded in 151 of them.

Coiexist

It is irresponsible and indifferent for the international community to show disproportionate concern for fringe issues and politically correct concerns while ignoring and failing to understand the forces behind this flood of chaos.

Turning an indifferent blind eye merely emboldens the perpetrators to further spread their hatred.

The dramatic rise in the persecution of Christians has been accompanied by a vilification of Islam and, in Europe especially, the reawakening of Anti-Semitism. 

For the future, the three Abrahamic religions need to ask deep questions of themselves about what they can to remedy these distempers – and become transformative agents in conflict management, reconciliation and healing.

Egypt's Copts are under daily attack

Egypt’s Copts are under daily attack

Where secular governments are manifestly failing – and are too often tone deaf when it comes to religion, simply failing to understand the power of the forces which are at work – can the great faiths, with their innate claim to our deepest impulses, motivate their adherents to be peace makers, peace builders, protectors of minorities, and practitioners of pluralism, tolerance, mutual respect, and the upholding of the rule of law?  

Can we devote comparable energy into countering religious extremism as the energy which has been used to spread religious extremism? 

Could we not form a generation of religious leaders and educators to promote faith that is based on altruism, tolerance and love – the common good – not faith that designates all others as enemies of yourself and your God?

It was Churchill who said “what is the use of living if it is not strive for noble causes and to make this muddled world a better place for those who will live in it after we are gone?” – and that we should never give up.

 never-give-up-winston-churchill

Our muddled and tortured world needs to make the cause of those who suffer for their religion or belief the great cause of our times.

Christians, Jews and Muslims privileged to live in free societies need to challenge our key cold indifference, speak up and defend humanity.

I began by citing Franz Werfel’s The Forty Days of Musa Dagh.

Armenian genocide 2Armenian GenocideArmenian genocide 5Armenian genocide 6

It  has a complex ending. Part of the novel’s denouement – based on fact – sees the rescue of many of the besieged Armenian Christians by the French navy.  The French respond to distress signals and the sight of the Red Cross emblem.  The question for us is will we, in our day, see the distress signals of today’s besieged Christian communities and respond in like manner or merely feign indifference?

christians in the middle east17christians in the middle east20christians in the middle east8

2015 Queens Speech Debate – the cruel ideology of Daesh and their orgy of violence in Iraq and Syria

ISIS march on Palmyra

ISIS march on Palmyra

5.40 pm: Thursday May 28th 2015

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB):⁠

My Lords, in welcoming the talented team of Ministers who have responsibility for international affairs and security issues, it is clear from the debate today on the gracious Speech that there are no shortage of challenges facing them.

In my remarks, I should like to follow those who have spoken about the particular challenge that is posed by ISIS.

Last week, the barbaric beheadings in Palmyra, accompanied by the blitzkrieg of antiquities and ancient colonnades, graphically illustrated the nature of the depraved ideology that animates ISIS or Daesh, while, in a double victory, its capture of Ramadi underlines the serious threat that it poses and, as other noble Lords have said, the urgency with which we must re-evaluate our military and diplomatic approach.

ISIS may call itself a state but, despite its name, it is not a state, merely a cruel ideology. As a report published today reminds us, ISIS continues to attract adherents from the United Kingdom, including young women whose allegiance and imagination we have failed to capture.

The orgy of violence for which ISIS has been responsible, and which has already destroyed the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud, along with Hatra and Khorsabad, accompanied by the carnage and slaughter of innocent people, cannot be left uncontested, neither at a military level nor in the battle for ideas.

We are pitted against an ideology that thinks nothing of defiling Shia mosques, destroying Christian churches, blowing up Afghanistan’s Bamiyan Buddhas and eradicating the Sufi monuments in Mali.

It was Edmund Burke who remarked that, “Our past is the capital of life”.

What we are witnessing is an attempt to eradicate the past and eliminate humanity’s collective memory, while cynically smuggling and selling on the antiquities that are not destroyed to fund this campaign of mass murder.

Last month, jihadist ideology led to the deaths of 147 students and staff in Kenya’s Garissa University College, with Christian students specifically singled out; to the burning alive in a kiln of a Christian couple in Pakistan by a mob of 1,300 people while their young children were forced to watch; to the abduction of young girls in Nigeria by Boko Haram; to the beheading in Libya of 21 Egyptian Copts who were working there; and to the beheading of 30 Ethiopian Christians trying to flee these depravities.

Since 2011, more than 4 million Syrians have been killed or forced to flee their homes, with around 30,000 people added every single day to the 140 million people worldwide who are affected by conflict or natural disasters such as that which has occurred in Nepal.

Is it any wonder that the desperate, from Rohingya Muslims to Middle Eastern Christians, take to the high seas to try to escape?

Since 2011, of the 4 million Syrian refugees, the United Kingdom has offered shelter to just 187, a point that my noble friend Lord Williams referred to in his excellent speech. Let us compare that to the 1.2 million refugees that Lebanon has accepted. Of course, the long-term answer is for people to be able to return to live in peace in their own homes, but we are further away from that than ever.

Echoing what the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, said earlier in her magnificent maiden speech, I say that today’s realities in the region were spelled out by the United Nations Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict—an issue in which I know the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, has taken a particular and significant interest. The special representative reported last week that young Iraqi and Syrian women, particularly from the Yazidi community, are subjected to the most traumatic, degrading and inhuman treatment before being sold in slave markets to the highest bidders.

Human Rights Watch reported on the girl, referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, who had been traded more than 20 times, but that same report describes how traumatised girls had been banned from using headscarves after some used them to hang themselves.

At the start of this Parliament, I hope that the Government will take more effective action to have those responsible for such atrocities brought to justice before the International Criminal Court, a move that we should initiate in the Security Council.

Championing and upholding the rule of law is the antidote to this ideology, not assassination squads or endless bombardments.

We also need to create more safe havens, a point which my noble friend Lord Hylton and I and other noble Lords from all sides of your Lordships’ House addressed recently in a letter to one of the national newspapers. We need to do that in the affected regions to stem the flow of migrants. We need also to promote Article 18 obligations.

When a country like Saudi Arabia passes legislation defining atheists as terrorists, beheads its citizens, and refuses to protect the right of minorities to follow their beliefs, or to have no belief, is it any wonder that such actions are mimicked by Daesh?

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, referred earlier to Saudi pressure on the United Kingdom to draw up a report on the Muslim Brotherhood. Perhaps when the Minister comes to reply she will tell us when that is likely to be published.

At the heart of all these issues is the challenge of learning to live together and of respecting difference.

Our failure to make the battle of ideas a priority was underlined recently in a reply to the Member of Parliament for Westmorland and Lonsdale, Tim Farron, when it was stated by the Foreign Office that just,

“one full time Desk Officer”

is,

“wholly dedicated to Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB)”,

and that,

“the Head and the Deputy Head of HRDD spend approximately 5% and 20% respectively of their time on FoRB issues”.

Understanding authentic religion and the forces that threaten it is more of a foreign affairs imperative than ever before, and the resources we put into promoting Article 18 should reflect that reality.

I hope that freedom of religion and belief will be a specific priority in the FCO business plan and that the Government will make common cause with the Labour Party, which gave a manifesto commitment to appoint a special envoy to promote Article 18.

I also hope that, in the battle of ideas, we will think again about our foolish cuts to the British Council budget, from £190 million to £154 million. We should not emasculate the BBC World Service. We should promote the Commonwealth, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, said in his remarks, particularly as an agency for education in parts of the world that will change only with the opportunities of education.

In conclusion, it is sometimes suggested that Britain should retreat from the world and relinquish our international responsibilities.

How right was that great Pole Maximilian Kolbe, who was murdered by the Nazis at Auschwitz, and who said:

“The most deadly poison of our times is indifference”.

Such indifference would be bad for Britain and even worse for the rest of the world.

5.50 pm

Maximilian Kolbe - murdered by the Nazis

Maximilian Kolbe – murdered by the Nazis

————————————————————————————————————————————————————

2014:

Parliament Debates The Government’s Call for Military Action Against ISIS Links to today’s debates: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/hansard/lords/todays-lords-debates/read/unknown/19/ http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/hansard/commons/todays-commons-debates/read/unknown/13/ It is said that al-Qaeda has cut its links to one of its most deadly affiliates, ISIS—the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham At the beginning of this month it was reported that since this calamitous conflict began in Syria, in March 2011,the number of dead had topped 150,000, with 6.2 million internally displaced people – a number without parallel in any other country – and nearly 11 million people in need. More than two million Syrians have now fled, marking a nearly 10-fold increase from a year ago. Earlier this month the UNHCR said: “Syria is haemorrhaging women, children and men who cross borders often with little more than the clothes on their backs” In the past 12 months, around 1.8 million people have flooded out of Syria, and an average of 5,000 continue to cross into neighbouring countries each day. In August, UNHCR said that the number of Syrian children living as refugees has exceeded one million. This week alone 130,000 displaced Syrian Kurds have flooded into Turkey. In addition, thanks to ISIS, there are 1.8m people displaced in Iraq. I arrived in Damascus on the very day when the war broke out between Iran and Iraq—a war that claimed some million lives I first visited Syria in 1980 and arrived in Damascus on the day on which war broke out between Iran and Iraq—a war that claimed a million lives. In the decades which have followed disfiguring violence and war have shaped events in the region, leaving in its wake a bitter trail of orphaned children, widowed mothers, hoards of suffering displaced people, refugees and broken towns and cities. Barrel Bombs have rained down on Aleppo It is hard to imagine that a campaign of aerial bombardment in Syria will make that dire situation any better. Indeed, as we attack ISIS command centres, their insurgents will hide themselves in civilian settings and every time a Cruise missile hits the wrong target and kills non-combatants it will radicalise and recruit yet more fighters to their cause. However brave and better armed the Kurdish Peshmerga and Free Syrian Army may be – and we had better hope that this time the arms we provide do not fall in to the hands of ISIS – endless air strikes and drone warfare will not achieve our objectives. We must also be wary of the danger of assuming, especially in the case of countries like Iran, that the old proverb “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” is true. Military force alone will not kill the religious ideology that created and sustains ISIS, Boko Haram, the Al Nursa Front, al Qaeda, Al Shabaab, Hezbollah and the countless mutations which are committed to violence to achieve their ends. By definition, military action cannot kill ideas or beliefs so our central task must be to convince Muslim majority societies, that their own interests demand toleration of minorities and the equality and freedom of people of other faiths. It illustrates the size of this challenge that when an Afghan graduate student submitted a research paper arguing, from the Koran, that Islam supports the equality of men and women, his professors reported him to the police. After being charged with blasphemy he was convicted and given a death sentence. This and beheadings, crucifixions, rapes and enslavement, all underline the scale of the battle for hearts and minds in which we have to be engaged. Until these societies move toward pluralism, encourage religious freedom and respect diversity, they will not enjoy the peace, stability, internal security, and economic growth, for which all people crave. But, in the immediate situation in which we now find ourselves, we could do a lot worse that revisiting the initiative taken by Sir John Major in 1991 during the mass exodus in the first Gulf War. The UN-mandated safe-haven and the subsequent no-fly zone enabled Kurdish refugees to return to their homes and to establish a de-facto autonomous region, which continued until the fall of the Saddam regime in 2003, and which in recent weeks has once again become a vital place of refuge for Iraq’s minorities. If, once again, we established a no-fly zone along the Turkish-Syrian border or, ultimately right across Syria, it would at least provide air cover to the FSA, the Iraqi army, and the Peshmerga as they seek to reclaim territory – the size of the UK – which has been needlessly and foreseeably lost to the Islamic State who, with an estimated 10,000 fighters, have been allowed to strike with deadly impunity. Their caliphate has now been imitated by the equally deadly Boko Haram in northern Nigeria. One other thing we must urgently do is to dry up the sources of ISIS revenue. On June 17th I asked the Government about the sources of funding which ISIS have received allowing them “to build up an amazing military capability” with the then Minister responding that she was “not sure about any direct funding”. On July 23rd, in an article in The Times I urged the West to press the Gulf States to end funding for ISIS. It is said that they garner £600,000 a day from selling oil on the black market. The sale of antiquities – some 8000 years old – and ransom money is estimated to give them a daily income of £1.2 million. We must ruthlessly follow the trail of money and expose those who are financing the orgy of killing. Last week, Sabah Mikhail Brakho, the chairman of Iraq’s Beth Nahrain National Union, called on the Gulf States to stop funding ISIS. He said “Financing for ISIS comes from the Arab Gulf countries, whether through governments or individuals. This is sometimes done openly, such as by Qatar, and sometimes secretly, such as by Saudi Arabia, as well as by a number of Kuwaiti individuals,” Earlier this month Western press and intelligence reports indicated that states such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait, are the main supporters of Jihadist groups in the region. The Daily Telegraph reported that Qatar’s Aspire Sports Academy hosted a number of religious lectures during Ramadan that were attended by Islamist preachers known for their extremism or links with terrorism. They included Sheikh Mohammed Arifi who encouraged Muslims to swell the ranks of militant groups in Syria: “We will not overcome humiliation except by jihad,” he said. Although he was subsequently prevented from entering Britain, on July 14 he gave a lecture at the Aspire Festival in Doha, where he was honoured by two members of the Qatari royal family. The festival was also attended by Nabil Wadhi, sponsor of the Major Kuwaiti Campaign to support 12,000 Islamic fighters in Syria. This campaign claims that it could collect millions of dollars to buy anti-aircraft missiles and was also planning to buy thermal missiles. The Islamic State has been years in the making and it is a crisis which we should have averted. In a House of Lords debate back on February 27th I referred to the “Afghanisation” of Syria, and pressed the Government for more clarity about the indiscriminating way in which support had been given to so-called opposition groups, largely at war with one another; and the need to hold the Assad regime to account for its use of chemical weapons; the Sarin gas which has been used against civilians in the suburbs of Damascus; the barrel bombs which have rained down on Aleppo. In singling out ISIS during that debate I asked for the Government’s assessment of the areas which they controlled, their use of suicide bombers, the radicalisation of recruits, citing the example of an engineering student from the University of Liverpool who had been killed in military action, and argued that “vast tracts falling under the control of dangerous jihadist groups, would hardly represent progress.” Earlier that week I had sent the Government a report from the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict which described how Jihadi humanitarian assistance teams appeared to be facilitating the entry of fighters, via Turkey. I hope Parliament will be told the numbers of Britons involved with ISIS and the flow of money into their coffers. I would also like to hear something about the plight of the region’s minorities – In February, in arguing that the situation had been exacerbated by the flow of arms into Syria, I warned of the dangers posed to the region’s minorities whom ISIS required to pay tribute, to convert or to leave and asked “what we are doing to provide direct help to these beleaguered minorities”. As long ago as 2008 and 2010 I raised concerns in the House of Lords House about the Yazidis and the “assassinations and kidnappings” which they faced. In the debate in February I quoted the account of a Christian, Basman Kassouha, who described how ISIS had “stormed my house, giving me one hour to evacuate or else they will kill me … I’m heartbroken. I’ve lost everything”. I cited evidence of genocide from Bishop Elias Sleman who said that “Christians are increasingly targeted in horrible and unspeakable massacres” and asked that we carefully collate such accounts for a day of reckoning. I asked in February that we use our voice in the Security Council to refer these atrocities to the International Criminal Court and said that failure to do so would bring “great dishonour on this country.” I ask, again, what have we done to plead for the rule of international law; and, if the ICC cannot be used, for the creation of a Regional Court in which perpetrators of atrocities which the Prime Minister described on Wednesday as “literally medieval in character” are brought to justice. What are we doing to ensure that the Government of Iraq will have a clear objective to enable communities who have lived in Iraq for almost 2000 years to do so again and to exercise their full rights and to discharge their duties as citizens? And what of the Yazids and Christians who have fled to the Kurdish region? What more can we do to help them? Time is not on our side. The harsh Iraqi winter is approaching. Social tensions between Kurds and Arabs, between local governments and migrants will grow and erupt if they are not headed off. The UK Government has generously given £23 million but the government needs to set out how they are working with international partners to ensure sustained funding for the humanitarian crisis, and efficiency of delivery. The Foreign Affairs Committee’s inquiry into The UK’s response to Extremism and Instability in North and West Africa delivered a salutary warning. Of the intervention in Libya in 2011 it said “considerable resources were expended ensuring that military goals were successfully achieved (for which the Government deserves credit), but there was a failure to anticipate, and therefore mitigate, the regional fallout from the intervention, which has been enormous and, in some cases, disastrous” Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results. In other words, following military action will the same thing happen again? Back in February 1 quoted a Dutch priest, Father Franz Van der Lugt, trapped in the old city of Homs who said, “Our city has become a lawless jungle”. He had insisted that “We love life, we want to live. And we do not want to sink in a sea of pain and suffering.” On April 7th it was reported that Fr.Van der Lugt had been murdered by Jihadists. The night before the February debate, Mosul had fallen to ISIS and 120,000 Christians were reported to have fled to the Plains of Nineveh. I asked what we were doing to protect them. Our total failure to provide protection was illustrated by crucifixions, kidnappings and beheading of Christians carried out by ISIS and which I raised in the House of Lords on June 11th. I quoted The Times who said we cannot be “spectators at this carnage”. Those Muslims who have spoken out or defied ISIS have suffered a similar fate. The head of Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs, Professor Dr Mehmet Gormez, told the World Islamic Scholars Peace, Moderation and Common Sense Initiative, that globally 1,000 Muslims are being killed each day – 90 per cent of their killers are also Muslims. In combatting the Islamic State the US and the West will argue that we are part of a coalition which includes Sunni Muslim States but, as we all know, it is much easier to take military action than it is to end conflict. For the sake of all the innocent people who are caught up in this violence, we need to understand, and grapple with, ideas and beliefs which militate against peaceful co-existence and not place all our faith in a campaign of aerial bombardment. Coiexist

Archive 2 – more indexed archived speeches and articles.

Also see:

https://davidalton.net/2014/07/31/archive-indexed-miscellaneous-articles-and-columns/

archive4

Speech on the BBC’s Role in Society – 2003

A speech on the withdrawal of food and fluids from patients 2003

Coercive Population Control in China – 2001

Speech by Lord Alton of Liverpool: Second Reading of the Education Bill

Paying the Price for Family Breakdown

Responsible Fathers: A Parable For the Return of Prodigal Fathers.

Sunday worship from Didsbury -1999

2003 – “RELIGIOUS TERRORISM” – the case for faith in secular societies.

Civic Virtue and The Beautiful Game: October 2003

Danny Smith’s book on Jubilee Campaign – an introduction

The Glories of Islamic Art brought to life by a Jewish Collector

Knowing Your Genetic Identity: 11th August 2002

Liverpool Law Society Speech – 2003

First be reconciled – Lenten Address 2002

Living on the Edge – Lenten Address 2003

Walk of Faith – Lenten Address 2004.

The Politics of Cloning – 2003

Proceeds of Crime – and people trafficking – 2002

Darfur and North Korea – debate on the Queens Speech 2006

Human Cloning

Friday October 13th 2006, Centro Pro Unione, Via S.Maria dell’ Anima 30, Rome.

Can We Get By Without God?

Lecture at Scranton University on Friday November 1st,2002: The Duty To Engage In Active Citizenship.

Speech on the BBC’s Role in Society – 2003

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, the convergence of the media and telecommunications industries clearly demanded an end to the split of responsibilities between five regulators. I therefore support one of the principal objectives of the Bill—the creation of Ofcom—the question to which my noble friend Lord Currie of Marylebone returned us. Everyone in the House will wish him well in the onerous duties that lie ahead of him as he chairs Ofcom.

If this one-stop regulator is to be able to withstand huge vested interests and not be swamped by them, it could indeed become the guardian of consumers’ interests and a watchdog with real teeth. However, before setting the seal to the Bill, we would do well to consider carefully the two fatal flaws identified by the

25 Mar 2003 : Column 686

noble Lord, Lord Puttnam. He rightly homed in on how best to deepen further the quality of programming.

Within the public service and private sector Ofcom will need to be the guardian of the public’s access to a wide spectrum of good quality programmes. In Committee we shall no doubt debate the efficacy of the BBC’s Board of Governors and the desirability or otherwise of additional accountability to the National Audit Office. There is a good argument for revisiting those two questions in the context of the renewal of the BBC Charter in 2006 once we have evaluated the impact of Ofcom. I also wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, will tell us when he replies to the debate what more the Government might do to provide the right of appeal against contested decisions of Ofcom.

Ofcom will not only need to weigh the conflicting and competing demands of broadcasters, it will also have to be far more engaged in issues of quality and accountability. Last year I hosted a lecture by Greg Dyke at Liverpool John Moores University where I hold a chair. I declare that interest. Echoing something of what Sir John Reith said in 1931 when he dedicated the BBC to the service of the nation, Greg Dyke said:

“The role of the BBC is to inform, educate and entertain. The first two are quintessential values of citizenship. I would also argue that the third is also citizenship. It is about the quality of our lives.

Robust democracy depends upon a healthy sense of citizenship. Broadcasting plays an essential role and provides an analytical tool for making informed decisions”.

In 1931, when Sir John Reith and the other governors of the BBC dedicated Broadcasting House to the service of the country, he said—these words are on the wall of Broadcasting House as one enters its foyer—

“It is their prayer that good seed sown may bring forth a good harvest and that the people, inclining their ear to whatsoever things are beautiful and honest and of good report, may tread the path of wisdom and righteousness”.

Those are timeless values which we need to continue in both public and private broadcasting.

Like it or not, the media have become one of the most potent forces in our personal lives and one of the most powerful influences on our communities and their values. That can, of course, have a corrosive as well as a benign effect. Bruce Gyngell, as managing director of Tyne Tees Television, understood that well when he said:

“What we are doing to our sensibilities and moral values and, more important, those of our children, when, day after day, we broadcast an unremitting diet of violence . . . television is in danger of becoming a mire of salaciousness and violence”.

In saying that he sounded the same kind of warning that we heard from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester earlier.

Undoubtedly, Ofcom and its consumer panel will need to do far more to curb the exponential increase in gratuitously violent material which is broadcast on television. One of the central recommendations of the Joint Scrutiny Committee of the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, was that Ofcom’s primary duty should be

“to serve the interests of all citizens”.

25 Mar 2003 : Column 687

It is a pity that those who drafted the Bill chose the language of consumerism rather than duties towards citizens and the community. Here I endorse much that was said by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, who rightly said that we should not rely so much on market forces. Clearly, an individual consumer may desire, for instance, to see an unremitting diet of violence, but is that in the community’s interests?

Only last week the Broadcasting Standards Commission and the ITC published a report indicating that more than half of the public believe that there is too much violence on TV, and that the level is increasing. That report coincided with a study published on 9th March by Professor Jeffrey Johnson of Colombia University, and the New York State Psychiatric Institute.

It concluded that children exposed to violent programmes are at greater risk of becoming aggressive young adults. He said:

“Media violence contributes to a more violent society”.

One year ago the US Surgeon-General concluded that,

“televised violence, indeed, does have an adverse effect on certain members of our society”.

As television, the flickering box in the corner, has replaced the flickering fire around which families once sat and conversed, the line between fantasy and fact, reality and unreality, truth and lies is often blurred. An average adult in Britain spends at least 27 hours a week in front of the television. The television hierarchy insist that there is no correlation between what people watch—unreality—and how they subsequently behave—reality.

Yet the advertising industry spends a colossal £4 billion a year trying to sell us its wares via television. Clearly, it believes that what one watches affects how one behaves; otherwise, that phenomenal outlay would be a monstrous waste of money. Professor Elizabeth Newsome, and nearly 30 of the UK’s leading child psychologists, psychiatrists and paediatricians said that they had been “naive” in underestimating the link between what children see and how they behave.

Ten years ago I was successful in another place in securing amendments to the Criminal Justice Act that curbed video violence. At the time in a letter to me, the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, got to the heart of the matter when he asked:

“What proof are we looking for? Does the railway company wait for someone to be killed by a train before fencing off the railway line”?

I was sorry that a further amendment that I promoted, which sought to allow viewers to purchase TV sets with a “V” chip (V for violence)—a chip that automatically screened out violent images—was narrowly defeated. I hope that Ofcom will return to that issue and carefully assess programme output and issues such as the watershed.

However, violence should not be Ofcom’s only concern. It will also need to be proactive on issues such as taste and tolerance. I give the House one example. Channel 4’s recent programme, “Beijing Swings”, which included an adult eating part of a dead unborn child, should have led to significant penalties against

25 Mar 2003 : Column 688

the programme makers. I invited the chairman of Channel 4, Vanni Treves, to come to your Lordships House to screen the programme and to take part in a discussion with your Lordships about the motives in screening that barbarism and the extraordinary justification of the programme as art. In a letter declining that invitation, Mr Treves stated:

“More generally, however, these works are not only of interest in themselves but represent significant works in the Chinese avant-garde art movement. ‘Eating People’ by Zhu Yu was staged and photographed in Beijing at his ‘Open Studio’ and was exhibited in the Shanghai Biennale later the same year. It was also featured in a show curated by the artist Ai Wei Wei and widely seen as the most important show of contemporary art ever staged in mainland China . . . The finished programme was referred to the Director of Television who viewed it before transmission. It was his view that though deeply shocking and disturbing it exemplified the dark message of the Season as a whole”.

It seems to me that that plumbed new depths.

In addition to the high hopes that many of us have for Ofcom in dealing with these questions of taste, tolerance and violence, the Bill also encourages a more competitive broadcasting environment. I have no intrinsic objection to that. A more coherent and efficient ITV should not be feared and with appropriate safeguards would continue to provide strong regional programmes. ITV’s ability to own ITN outright would also enhance its news coverage and should not be feared either.

Paradoxically, as the right reverend Prelate pointed out, Clause 337’s impediment on religious broadcasters runs counter to that spirit. It also runs counter to European convention rights and international experience. It will mean that Ofcom will be undermined if there is one law for the Medes who declare themselves openly to be religious, and another for the Persians who omit to declare themselves as religious. In that regard, I very much support what the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, said earlier. If it comes to a Division, I will most certainly support her on that question.

Ofcom will have the power to grant, refuse or revoke licences, to impose fines, and to implement broadcasting codes including criteria on fit and proper persons to engage in ownership or broadcasting. That is exactly how things should be. Ofcom will be in a position to evaluate which people should hold licences. Parliament’s job should surely be to insist on common standards of diversity, tolerance, quality and decency. In so far as the Bill sets out to achieve those objectives, I will support it. Where it does not, I hope that it will be challenged and amended in Committee.

archive4

A speech on the withdrawal of food and fluids from patients 2003

Food and fluid, defined in this Bill as ‘sustenance’ have always been regarded as basic care to which everybody is entitled. Your Lordships should be under no illusions that acceptance of the withdrawal of nutrition and hydration from non-dying patients has consistently been identified by the pro-euthanasia lobby as the pre-cursor to the legalisation of positive euthanasia.

“If we can get people to accept the removal of all treatment and care – especially the removal of food and fluids – they will see what a painful way this is to die and then, in the patient’s best interests, they will accept the lethal injection.” – Dr Helgha Kuhse, pro-euthanasia bioethicist, speaking at the Fifth Biennial Congress of Societies for the Right to Die, September 1984. Dr Kuhse’s views are shared by Professor Sheila McLean who referred to Bland and similar judgements as a form of non-voluntary euthanasia. She and a number of other advocates of euthanasia were members of the BMA committee which produced “Withholding and Withdrawing Life Prolonging Medical Treatment”.

We are told that this Bill is unnecessary as it simply makes illegal something that is already illegal, namely killing patients.

If it were only that simple. The killing of non-dying patients in a persistent vegetative state (PVS) and similar conditions by the withdrawal or withholding of sustenance was authorised by your Lordships’ House in the Bland judgement and is supported by the medical establishment.

The Patients’ Protection Bill is about restoring integrity and coherence to the law of homicide. Until the Bland judgement in 1993 the common law was quite clear. It was always wrong to have as the purpose of one’s conduct to bring about another person’s death for any reason other than the requirements of justice. This common law principle is enshrined in Article 2 of The European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

Prior to 1993 it was a clearly understood part of the common law that murder can be committed not only by a positive act but also by omission in situations where there is a duty to provide what is omitted. This covered doctors, who owe their patients a duty of care.

In the Bland case, your Lordships held that to stop feeding Tony Bland was a lawful omission. Tube feeding was medical treatment which the doctors were under no duty to provide because it was not in the patient’s best interests, was futile, and was a course of conduct endorsed by a responsible body of medical opinion.

Three out of the five Law Lords stated (the others not dissenting) that the aim, or purpose, of withdrawing tube-feeding was to bring about Tony Bland’s death.

Lord Mustill: “…..it is essential to face up squarely to the true nature of what is proposed….Emollient expressions such as “letting nature take its course” and “easing the passing” may have their uses, but they are out of place here, for they conceal both the ethical and the legal issues, and I will try to avoid them….. The conclusion that the declarations can be upheld depends crucially on a distinction drawn by the criminal law between acts and omissions, and carries with it inescapably a distinction between, on the one hand what is often called “mercy killing”, where active steps are taken in a medical context to terminate the life of a suffering patient, and a situation such as the present where the proposed conduct has the aim for equally humane reasons of terminating the life of Anthony Bland by withholding from him the basic necessities of life. The acute unease which I feel about adopting this way through the legal and ethical maze is I believe due in an important part to the sensation that however much the terminologies may differ the ethical status of the two courses of action is for all relevant purposes indistinguishable.”

Prior to Bland, such conduct was incompatible with the duty of care owed to a patient. Following Bland conduct aimed at ending a patient’s life, providing it counts as an omission, may well be deemed as compatible with the exercise of the duty of care for a patient if doctors judge that patient’s life no longer worthwhile.

Why, if the Government is so sure of its moral stand is it misleading the public? I have a letter here from a Minister in the Department of Health in which he claims that it is untrue to state that the purpose of withdrawing food and fluid from Tony Bland was to cause his death. This is patently untrue.

The Bland case can be starkly contrasted with the case of one of my former constituents, Andrew Devine.

The House will remember that in 1989, 96 people died at Hillsborough. Several of my then constituents were among the fatalities and others were injured. One was Andrew Devine, who like Tony Bland went into a deep coma. Their conditions were identical.

Shortly after the Hillsborough tragedy I visited Andrew and his parents. As the years I passed I have followed Andrew’s progress. Last week I spoke to Andrew’s mother, who over the intervening fourteen years has fought for her son’s life. Having been told by medics that “Andrew will never be able to swallow or to eat food”. Mrs. Devine told me she felt that her son had “been written off” and that it “would be a waste of resources to treat him.”

The medics also said that it would be clear within two years whether Andrew was going to make any progress. In fact, it took five years. They told his parents “nothing can be done” when quite a lot could be done and was done. Many of your Lordships will recall the front page story from The Guardian in 1997 when Andrew’s parents talked publicly about the improvements that had taken place in his health. Andrew now eats heartily and eats solids – against all the predictions.

Mrs. Devine is adamant that “From our point of view it was a hard enough battle to fight for the things we needed without being offered the chance to do away with Andrew. ” She says: “Starving or dehydrating someone is an unpleasant death – you might as well give a lethal injection.”

Through their love and devotion Andrew’s parents found the Brain Injury Rehabilitation and Development Centre at Broughton, near Chester, not because they were referred there, but because they found it via a television programme. They took Andrew to London, to the Royal Hospital for Neuro Disabilities at Westhill, in Putney, and paid for his first course of treatment themselves.

Mrs. Devine argues that the law needs to be strengthened because “economic pressures to free beds would be overwhelming; the pressure would be enormous.” And yet, precisely that pressure is now being exerted, hence the need for legislation of the sort proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Knight.

Withdrawal of feeding, including oral feeding, is now being extended to patients who are not in PVS. In June 1999 the BMA published guidance on Withholding and Withdrawing Life-prolonging Medical Treatment in which they considered it appropriate to withdraw tube feeding from “patients who have suffered a stroke or have severe dementia”.

This unethical practice has received support from the GMC in their 2002 publication, ‘Withholding and Withdrawing Life-prolonging Treatments: Good Practice in Decision-making.’ Sadly, the Government has shown no intention of protecting patients from the BMA guidelines. In their latest consultation document, ‘Making Decisions – Helping People Who Have Difficulty Deciding for Themselves’, nutrition and hydration are referred to throughout as medical treatment.

It is simply not good enough to say that killing patients is already illegal therefore there is no need for this Bill. The decision of your Lordships’ House in Bland, its confirmation in subsequent cases and guidance emanating from the BMA and GMC have left the law, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Mustill, “both morally and intellectually misshapen”. This Bill seeks to restore moral and intellectual clarity to the law. To allow doctors to withdraw sustenance from patients with the purpose of ending their lives subverts the law of murder. Hence the urgent need for this Bill.

Tube feeding or sustenance is not medical treatment. It is basic care. Many people with cystic fibrosis are fed by gastric tube and live an otherwise normal life. Others with paralysis of the throat and swallowing mechanism feed via nasal tubes. There has been great progress made by nurses, doctors, dieticians and speech therapists working together to help those with swallowing difficulties. If swallowing is impossible, thirst should be relieved by fluids delivered by the least invasive method possible in the circumstances.

In all the time that my colleagues and I have spent debating this matter I have yet to hear a convincing explanation as to why nutrition and hydration, however so delivered, should be classified as medical treatment and not basic care. What medical ailment is being treated? Since when have hunger or thirst been considered an illness? Perhaps the noble Lord, the Minister could clarify this when he/she replies. If non-dying patients are denied nutrition and hydration then the inevitable consequence is death within days, whatever the pathology.

By calling nutrition and hydration “medical treatment” the courts, the Government, the BMA and the GMC have overmedicalised sustenance and have opened the way to the killing of vulnerable, particularly elderly, patients in our hospitals. Regardless of whether nutrition and hydration is delivered by a spoon, by PEG, or by nasogastric tube, this does not alter the substance of what is being delivered. The means of delivery may be artificial – not the sustenance itself. To talk of artificial nutrition and hydration is a complete misnomer.

Lord Hoffman noted this in his judgement in Bland:

“If someone allows a small child or invalid in his care to starve to death, we do not say that he allowed nature to take its course. We think that he has committed a particularly wicked crime. We treat him as if he had introduced an external agency of death. It is the same ethical principle which requires doctors and hospitals to provide patients in their care with such medical attention and nursing as they are reasonably able to give……The giving of food to a helpful person is so much the quintessential example of kindness and humanity that it is hard to imagine a case in which it would be morally right to withhold it.”

The Bill focuses on “the purpose” of the person responsible for the care of a patient. This draws upon the common sense understanding of the notion of ‘purpose’ which is integral to the law and to ethics. We always distinguish someone’s purpose in acting from other consequences, even those which may be foreseen.

If a person responsible for the care of a patient withholds or withdraws sustenance with the purpose of causing death, their conduct will be unlawful.

Nothing in the Bill obstructs good medical practice. The Bill does not impose any requirement on doctors to strive to keep alive patients who are dying. The role of doctors in terminal illness is to provide as peaceful and pain free death as possible.

The Bill does not make unlawful the withholding or withdrawal of sustenance from a patient who is in the process of dying and where the placement of feeding tubes would be regarded as unduly intrusive and inappropriate or where the risk of placing the feeding tube would be excessive. This is far removed from the deliberate withholding or withdrawing of sustenance with the purpose of causing the death of a patient who is not otherwise dying.

The last thing I want to see are good doctors being exposed to complaints or the risk of prosecution at the behest of aggrieved relatives.

This is why ‘purpose’ is the key. Those responsible for patient care should not fear this Bill. As the House of Lords Select Committee on Medical Ethics observed, “juries are asked every day to assess intention in all sorts of cases” (para. 243) and could do so if there was any reason to suspect that the doctor’s purpose was to kill. When sustenance is withdrawn for ethically and legally acceptable reasons the data about a patient’s clinical condition and the observations of other carers will support the person responsible for the care of the patient. Contrary to some assertions, this Bill will not encourage the practice of ‘defensive medicine’.

Nor will this Bill restrict patient autonomy. A doctor’s respect for a competent patient’s refusal of sustenance would involve no intention on his part other than a concern not to commit the tort of battery, of which he would be guilty in imposing sustenance contrary to a competent patient’s wishes.

Where health professionals remain concerned about the practical impact of this Bill my colleagues and I are happy to meet with them in order to discuss their legitimate concerns further. What we cannot do is sit back and do nothing.

The noble Baroness Knight has given some disturbing examples of the withholding and withdrawal of nutrition and hydration from non-dying patients that has inevitably resulted in their deaths. Elderly patients with dementia or strokes appear most at risk. Last July we had the damning report from the Commission for Health Improvement following their investigation into elderly deaths at Gosport War Memorial Hospital. There are many other appalling cases I could cite – a large number of them collected by the patient lobby group ‘SOS-NHS’ – that demonstrate why vulnerable patients need the protection that this Bill provides.

Patient groups like ‘SOS-NHS’ are particularly concerned about the increasingly common practice of sedating patients and then deliberately withholding nutrition and hydration until the patient dies. Having been sedated, the patient is unable to demand sustenance and his or her distress may not be readily apparent. The death certificate will commonly state that the cause of death was the underlying medical condition, not dehydration.

Such practices must end. The medical establishment has shown no desire to put its own house in order. Hence the introduction of this Bill.

The 1994 Report from the House of Lords Select Committee on Medical Ethics concluded that the Bland judgement should not be enshrined in statute.

“We consider that the progressive development and ultimate acceptance of the notion that some treatment is inappropriate should make it unnecessary to consider the withdrawal of nutrition and hydration, except in circumstances where its administration is in itself evidently burdensome to the patient.”

Sadly, their conclusions have been ignored and the withdrawal of nutrition and hydration from non-dying patients has become an accepted element of medical practice.

Food and water are basic human needs that should never be withdrawn or withheld if the purpose in so doing is to hasten or otherwise cause the death of the patient.

The pro-euthanasia lobby see acceptance for the withdrawal or withholding of sustenance from patients who are not dying as the first major hurdle to overcome on the road towards the legalisation of assisted suicide and positive euthanasia. After all they argue, if it is legitimate to subject patients to a slow, painful and distressing death by starvation and dehydration, surely it is ‘more compassionate’ to give them a lethal injection that will ensure a swift death?

We must wake up to the pro-euthanasia agenda being promoted in our hospitals. To purposefully starve or dehydrate patients to death is unethical and should be illegal. I support this Bill.

archive2

Coercive Population Control in China – 2001

Extracts from Hansard

(a) Lord Alton’s speech at Committee Stage – 16th July 2001

I signed Amendments Nos. 23 and 24, together with the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, who apologises to the House, as she is on parliamentary business in Indonesia at the moment, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young, who is absent on parliamentary business elsewhere.

It might be convenient to speak to Amendment No. 26A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, at the same time. I strongly support the intentions behind it. The amendment would go a long way to deal with some of the questions raised in Amendments Nos. 23 and 24.

This is a timely and topical debate, not least because of the decision in the past few days to award the Olympic Games to China, where coercive population control is regularly practised. Some Members of your

16 Jul 2001 : Column 1328

Lordships’ House may have read an article in today’s Daily Telegraph by Sion Simon, who is the Labour Member of Parliament for Birmingham Erdington. He said:

“The totalitarian brutality of the Chinese government is not in dispute. By the regime’s own admission, it has executed more than 1,700 people in little more than the past two months. The most common crimes among the dead were forms of disobedience which in the rest of the world would be called expression”.

The decision on the venue for the Olympic Games has met huge criticism throughout the country. As an example of that, I cite yesterday’s Independent on Sunday:

“Optimists suggest that the Olympic spirit will ensure that China cleans up its human rights act in time for the Games”.

But, the paper says,

“Think again. No, we can expect the Beijing Games to model themselves on Berlin in 1936–with dissenters brutally swept aside in a grotesque attempt to showcase a totalitarian regime … Don’t be taken in”.

The reason for drawing a parallel with that decision is that over the past 20 years successive governments have argued that we should do business with China in the whole area of reproductive rights and that, sooner or later, we shall be effective in preventing the coercive population policies pursued there. I do not mention this issue simply because of a distaste for abuses of human rights in China; I have taken a long and sustained interest in this matter since the Chinese Government introduced the policy in 1980.

Indeed, looking back to my time in another place, together with the Member of Parliament for Congleton, Mrs Ann Winterton, in 1995 I initiated a debate there following the broadcast of a programme entitled “The Dying Rooms” by Channel 4. Brian Woods, the director of the programme, wrote about his harrowing visit to a number of orphanages in China at that time. He said:

“Every single baby in this orphanage was a girl … the only boys were mentally or physically disabled. 95 per cent of the babies we saw were able-bodied girls”.

He also said:

“The most shocking orphanage we visited lay, ironically, just twenty minutes from one of the five star international hotels that herald China’s emergence from economic isolation”.

That programme followed another broadcast by BBC2 called “Women of the Yellow Earth”. Both programmes highlighted how forced abortion, forced sterilisation and the forcible fitting of IUCDs for women had been commonplace in China since the one-child policy was introduced in 1980. The simple test that I suggested in the debate in another place in 1995 was whether or not we would permit such procedures to take place here. If not, I asked, what in the world were we doing funding them in China?

At that time, I took those arguments to the then Minister responsible for overseas development, the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker of Wallasey. I had two meetings with her. I saw the present Secretary of State, Clare Short, for whom I have considerable respect, not long after she came to office. To use a phrase that probably explains that we both held trenchant views on either side of the argument, we held a very frank discussion.

16 Jul 2001 : Column 1329

The noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, and Clare Short have argued consistently in the same context as the arguments put forward for the Olympic Games being held in Beijing–that is, if we were inside we might be able to affect the population policies being pursued by the Chinese Population Association. Successive governments have also argued that we do not fund the Chinese Population Association directly. However, no one has disputed that the funds that we do provide to the United Nations Population Fund–the UNFPA–and to the International Planned Parenthood Federation–IPPF–go into the CPA and, thence, into the one-child policy. Ministers have always accepted that, and I shall allude to it again during the course of my remarks.

During the past 15 years or so both in another place and here I have regularly tabled Questions to Ministers on these subjects. The noble Baroness, Lady Amos, replied to a Question which I tabled in March this year when I raised with her the matter of a report which appeared in the Sunday Times. I shall return to that report in a moment. In reply, she said:

“The incident in Hubei Province is deplorable, and the Government remain concerned about reports of reproductive abuses and other human rights abuses in China. But we also believe that programmes of the kind supported by UNFPA can contribute to improving policy and practice, and to

helping to bring about a climate where coercion and abuse will no longer be tolerated”.–[Official Report,

6/3/01; cols. WA24-25.]

Therefore, the argument remains the same: if we stay within, somehow we shall be able to influence events. The purpose of this amendment is to say that surely the point has now been reached where we can see that that policy has not succeeded and that, therefore, the moment has now come to change the policy.

The report in the Sunday Times to which I referred was based on evidence produced by Amnesty International. Michael Sheridan said:

“A retired doctor had rescued the newborn child from the cesspit of a men’s lavatory, where he had been tossed to die. Liu Juyu took the baby to a clinic, where she was confronted by five birth control officials. Amnesty says they snatched the baby, threw him to the ground, kicked him and took him away to be drowned in a paddy field.

The child had been born in breach of local quotas enforced by the officials, who feared higher-level punishment if their targets were not met”.

In the same report, another case referred to,

“mass demonstrations … held in Changsha, Hunan province, after cadres tortured to death a man who would not reveal the whereabouts of his wife, who was believed to be pregnant”.

Those are not lurid reports dreamed up by journalists. Amnesty International’s citing of that case highlighted the growing resistance in China to such brutal methods. Perhaps later in the week–I have tabled an Unstarred Question on these matters for Wednesday–I shall have the opportunity to return in further detail to what Amnesty said.

There has been a change of mood in relation to these issues. Considerable change has occurred in the United States, for example, following hearings in Congress held on 10th June 1998 to which I shall refer

16 Jul 2001 : Column 1330

again in a moment. The very first act of the incoming Bush Administration was to stop the funding of such programmes.

Change has also taken place here. When Mr Gary Streeter was appointed as the spokesman on overseas aid for the Opposition, I went to see him and we had an extremely useful discussion. He promised me that he would take the issue most seriously. As a consequence, I was delighted to read in the Conservative Party manifesto at the general election an undertaking that these policies would be reassessed. Therefore, I was even more pleased when the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, moved this amendment today and provided us with the opportunity to discuss–not in an adversarial, partisan way–the issue further as the summer proceeds between now and Report stage on 16th October.

Instinctively, I would wish to divide the House on the matter, but not today. I want people to have the chance to consider the issue and to see whether we can make a common purpose and recognise that all the evidence that is emerging shows that the previous policy of hoping for the best is simply not working.

When Congressman Chris Smith spoke to the congressional hearing, he cited the example of the Nuremberg trials. He said then that forced abortion was rightly denounced as a crime against humanity by the Nuremberg tribunal. He said that the United Nations should be organising an international tribunal to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators of the Chinese population control programme. Indeed, he added, it continues to fund and congratulate them.

In evidence to that Select Committee, an extraordinary account was given by Gao Xiao Duan, who was herself a birth control official in China. She had managed to flee from China and gave evidence directly to Congress. She said:

“Should a woman be found pregnant without a certificate, abortion surgery is performed immediately, regardless of how many months she is pregnant”.

Elsewhere in her evidence, she said:

“Following are a few practices carried out in the wake of ‘planned-birth supervision’

I. House dismantling … this practice not only exists in our province, but in rural areas in other provinces as well”.

When referring to sterilisation she said:

“The proportion of women sterilized after giving birth is extraordinarily high”.

She continued:

“During my 14-year tenure … I witnessed how many brothers and sisters were persecuted by the Chinese communist government for violating its ‘planned-birth policy.’ Many of them were crippled for life, and many of them were victims of mental disorders resulting from their abortions. Many families were ruined or destroyed. My conscience was always gnawing at my heart … Once I found a woman who was nine months pregnant, but did not have a birth-allowed certificate. According to the policy, she was forced to undergo an abortion surgery. In the operation room, I saw how the aborted child’s lips were suckling, how its limbs were stretching. A physician injected poison into its skull, and the child died, and it was thrown into the trashcan. To help a tyrant do evils was not what I wanted. I could not bear seeing all those mothers grief-stricken by induced delivery and sterilization. I could not live with this on my conscience. I, too, after all, am a mother”.

16 Jul 2001 : Column 1331

Harry Wu, the human rights activist who was imprisoned in China for many years, also gave evidence. There is not time this evening to go into great detail, but I am sure that Members of the Committee would wish to hear one or two of his statements. He said:

“In Communist China, grassroots PBP cadres”–

that is, planned birth policy cadres–

“are stationed in every village. Those communist party and government cadres are the most immediate tools for dominating the people … They must watch every woman in the village, their duty being to promptly force women violators to undergo sterilization and abortion surgeries … PBP is targeted against every woman, every family”.

The evidence continues to amass. The Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture made available to me documents from the research directorate of the immigration and refugee board in Ottawa, Canada. In its evidence, it said:

“Beyond sheer population growth, the Chinese government has acknowledged that it is facing two difficult demographic issues–an ageing population and a growing gender imbalance … both of which are in part related to its population policies of the past decades”.

That refers to the fact that there is now a disproportionate balance between the sexes–about 120 boys are now born for every 100 girls. The Sunday Telegraph of 22nd September 1998 highlighted the consequences of that policy in an article entitled, “China’s kidnapped wives”. Of the practise of kidnapping young women, it stated:

“It has become a huge and lucrative business in China. In the five years up to 1996, 88,000 women who had been kidnapped were released by the police–and 143,000 kidnappers caught and prosecuted”.

That is a direct result of the fact that the number of women available is not the same as the number of men living in that country. The article continues:

“The kidnap trade has grown up for one simple reason: the massive imbalance of the sexes in the Chinese population. According to the Chinese Academy for Social Sciences, there are now 120 males for every 100 females in China.

The shortage of women is a result of Communist China’s one-baby rule–and the deep-grained peasant desire for that one baby to be a boy. Approximately nine out of every 10 of the millions of abortions performed in China each year are, experts say, aimed at getting rid of a female foetus”.

Those are some of the consequences of the approach. Another consequence is called the “little emperor” syndrome. Inevitably, if a baby is a single child, he or she is often doted on in such a way that he or she becomes spoilt and grows to be socially immature and unable to relate properly to other children.

The report that the medical foundation made available to me suggests that the policy simply does not work anyway. It states:

“Some sources question the efficacy of the country’s population policy, pointing out that the country’s fertility rate dropped significantly in the 1970s, but that there has been no subsequent marked decline after the policy’s implementation”.

16 Jul 2001 : Column 1332

The report also refers to corruption. Many officials abuse the system because they have more than one child although they require others to conform to the policy.

I realise that time is short and I do not intend to detain the Committee for much longer. However, this is a rare opportunity to debate a crucially important question. This country provides vast sums that go towards the policy. The UK Government gave the equivalent of £15 million to UNFPA in 1999 and the equivalent of £5.8 million to IPPS in 1999. In addition, they donated an estimated £39.5 million directly to China through concessionary financing arrangements.

There is much evidence showing the way in which the money has been abused. I could cite Dr John Aird’s book, Slaughter of the Innocents, or the evidence of Amnesty International or the medical foundation. A couple of years ago the BBC World Service reported that riots had broken out near the southern city of Gaozhou,

“after government officials moved in to enforce the country’s one child family planning policy”.

I have referred to the gender gap and the condition of orphanages. According to the latest available figures, which were compiled in 1994, about 1.7 million children are abandoned each year. The vast majority of those who are eventually admitted to orphanages are female, although some are disabled or in poor health.

China is the only country in the world in which it is illegal to have a brother or a sister. It is extraordinary that millions of pounds–British taxpayers’ funds–have been poured into those policies over the years.

In this context we also need to consider the distorting effect on the population in that country and the abusive approach used in countries such as Tibet, in which the Tibetan population has been deliberately reduced by coercive population means. We should also consider the abuse of women through forced sterilisation, forced abortions and the forced fitting of IUCDs. Those matters and the massive destruction of life should cause us seriously to reconsider whether we should make our resources available to support such an approach. I therefore with great pleasure support the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings.

(b) Lord Alton’s Unstarred Question on Human Rights in China – 18th July 2001

Lord Alton of Liverpool rose to ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of human rights abuses in China, and whether they intend to re-assess the funding of agencies involved in population control measures in China.

The noble Lordsaid: I ask this Unstarred Question against the backdrop of massive violations and abuses of human rights in China. I am extremely grateful to those noble Lordsfrom all sides of the House who have indicated their willingness to contribute to the debate.

Amnesty International has pointed out that the Chinese,

“in their latest ‘strike hard campaign’, have managed to execute more people in three months than the rest of the world put together for the last three years”.

Over 1,700 people have been executed since April. Amnesty states that:

“few would have received a fair trial”.

18 Jul 2001 : Column 1554

Political rights, freedom of expression and association, the abuse of religious liberties and intolerable interference in people’s personal and family lives all characterise life in China today. Yet we appear remarkably silent and complacent. From the decision to stage the Olympic Games in Beijing to our silence on Tibet, from our continued aid programme and deepening of business ties, we have demonstrated a calculated indifference to widespread suffering and misery in that country.

Today, I wish briefly to concentrate on two specific instances of human rights abuses. On Monday last, during the Committee stage of the International Development Bill, I supported an amendment from the Opposition Front Bench seeking to end British funding for agencies involved in the one-child policy in China. During my speech, reported at column 1327 of the Official Report, I documented examples of appalling abuses of the human rights of women and their families. On 16th October, the House will return to these issues at Report stage. I hope that Her Majesty’s Government will use the intervening period to reflect on the evidence that I laid before your Lordships’ House.

In particular, I hope that the Government will reassess their argument that because there is a non-coercive population policy being pursued in 32 counties, this mitigates the use of coercion in the other 2,500 counties in China, or in its 335 prefectures, 666 cities and 717 other urban districts.

This barbaric policy of forced abortion, the compulsory sterilisation of women and the compulsory fitting of inter-uterine devices, accompanied by infanticide and terror, has been pursued now for some 20 years. British taxpayers’ money has been poured into the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) and the United Nations Population Fund, which in turn pour money into two agencies of the Chinese communist state, the SFPC (State Family Planning Commission) and the CFPA (Chinese Family Planning Association).

The CFPA is a full member of IPPF and has been headed since its inception by Chinese government officials. It has a declared aim to “implement government population policies”. Quin Zinzhong, one of the Ministers who has overseen that policy, said:

“The size of the family is far too important to be left to the couple. Births are a matter of state planning”.

In one province the slogan,

“It is better to have more graves than one more child”,

has been used.

Over the past 20 years, apologists for this policy have argued that it needs time to work; that the West will ultimately be able to influence a more enlightened approach; and that this funding is a legitimate use of our aid programme. But I invite your Lordships to measure those arguments against the following four reference points and to ask what horrors have to occur before we, like the American Administration, reassess this policy.

18 Jul 2001 : Column 1555

First, Catherine Baber of Amnesty International, says:

“We are especially worried about people being put into detention to put pressure on pregnant relatives to undergo forced abortions. As far as we are concerned, that amounts to torture”.

Secondly, the US State Department confirmed in a recent report that women had been incarcerated in “re-education centres” and “forced to submit to abortions”. Thirdly, the BBC reported that refugees arriving in Australia had cited coercive family planning as one of their reasons for leaving China. And, fourthly, Tibetan dissidents, who were quoted in the Tibet Vigil on 24th August last year, said:

“What is the UK doing helping to fund birth control policies in Tibet, an occupied country? . . . China’s inhumane policies of enforced sterilisation and abortion amount to genocide”.

In an intervention in the debate on Monday, I cited the Government’s own document, China: Population Issues, where the department admits that the involvement of the UNFPA and the IPPF has,

“not led the Chinese to moderate their policies or to stop abuses”.

The former executive director of the UNFPA, Nafis Sadiq, said:

“China has every reason to feel proud and pleased with its remarkable achievements in family planning policy . . . Now China could offer its experiences and special experts to other countries”.

A few weeks ago, Amnesty International highlighted the cases of a baby boy, born above the permitted quota level, who was kicked to death by family planning officials. That case was reported in the Sunday Times. Amnesty International also reported the case of a man who was tortured to death because he would not reveal the whereabouts of his pregnant wife. I find it extraordinary that no-one disputes that these outrages occur daily, and yet we persist in issuing weak words of disapproval and providing funding which finds its way to the perpetrators of these deeds.

China’s repression of its citizens also manifests itself through religious persecution. The 1989 events culminating in the Tiananmen Square massacre precipitated an increased repression of all activity which the Chinese state perceived as a threat, including religious practice. The tone was set by “Document No. 6” issued by the Communist Party Central Committee in February 1991, which called for the elimination of all “illegal” religious groups. Within the last year, 130 evangelical Christians were detained in Henan province. They were all members of the Fangcheng Church, one of many Protestant house churches. They were sent to re-education centres.

Amnesty International say that 24 Roman Catholics, including a priest and 20 nuns, were detained in Fujian province, where police found them holding church services in a mushroom processing factory. Father Liu Shaozhang was so badly beaten by police that he vomited blood, and the whereabouts of many of the other detainees remains unknown.

18 Jul 2001 : Column 1556

Many of your Lordships will have seen the report which appeared recently in The Times. It concerned a 79 year-old Catholic bishop who had been re-arrested. He had already spent 30 years in Chinese prisons. The report from Oliver August said:

“Bishop Shi has long been a target of police harassment. A police spokesman said: ‘We have been hunting for him since 1996’ . . . ordained in 1982 after spending 30 years in prison. He was back in a labour camp between 1990 and 1993”.

And he has subsequently been re-arrested.

When I wrote to the Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China in London, I received a reply dated 19th June from Zhao Jun, the charge d’affaires, who said:

“in China, religious believers have not been subjected to suppression or prosecution in whatever form. No religious believers have been punished for their religious belief or normal religious activities. They will be dealt with only when they violate the law. The policy of freedom of religious belief remains unchanged”.

But whether it is in regard to the Falun Gong, Buddhist monks and priests, Christian evangelicals or Catholics, all the evidence that has been accumulated by both the human rights group, the Jubilee Campaign, and by Amnesty International proves otherwise.

I have four specific suggestions. First, that there should be sustained international pressure on the Chinese Government to permit religious freedom in China and to release all those detained for their peaceful religious beliefs and practices. Secondly, that the system of official religious organisations and the requirement that one must join them in order to worship should be abolished. These organisations are often used as instruments of control and repression by the state. Thirdly, that the restrictions placed on the publishing and distribution of the Bible in China should be lifted. Fourthly, the state’s prohibition against Sunday schools and the giving of Christian teaching and baptism to young people under the age of 18 should also be lifted.

China systematically uses re-education centres and imprisonment for religious believers and political reformers. These include political dissidents, such as members of the banned China Democratic Party, and anti-corruption and environmental campaigners. Suppression of the Internet, arrests, detentions, unfair trials and executions, the imprisonment of hundreds of Buddhist monks, Christians and members of Falun Gong, and the barbaric treatment of women and children through the one-child policy, must surely cause each one of us to question how we can persist with a policy of business, sport and aid as usual.

Lord Alton’s Speech at 3rd Reading – 25th October 2001


Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, who have spoken to the amendment so eloquently and effectively.

As the noble Lord reminded us, the amendment has its genesis in an amendment tabled at Committee stage by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings. I supported the amendment then and am happy to do so again today.

Perhaps I may associate myself with remarks by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, in connection with the health of the noble Baroness, Lady Young. Many Members from other parts of the House will join with friends of the noble Baroness in wishing her a swift recovery to full health. We want to see her back in her place taking part in our debates very soon.

In Committee I suggested a simple test for the amendment. Would we permit such policies or practices to take place here, and, if not, what on earth were we doing funding them in other parts of the world? Following that debate and my Unstarred Question on the issue in July, I was grateful to the BBC for transmitting a report from Beijing highlighting the way in which the “one child policy”, as it was described by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, targets little girls. I am grateful to the corporation for the moving footage that it showed of the brave Chinese woman who had rescued five new-born baby girls who had been dumped on the local garbage heap because their parents were in breach of the “one child” quota. Sadly, that same woman said that she had to leave behind many others.

We understand the good reasons why the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, cannot be present today, and acknowledge that the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, will be most effective in dealing with the Government’s

25 Oct 2001 : Column 1112

arguments in her place. At earlier stages of the Bill, the noble Baroness set out five arguments in total as to why the amendment should be resisted. Perhaps I may summarise them.

The first concerned free choice. The noble Baroness said that the Government are totally opposed to any kind of coercion in matters relating to childbearing. I doubt whether anyone in this House would disagree. The second and third arguments suggested that, by working from within, we should somehow be changing policies with which we disagreed. The noble Baroness specifically said that the IPPF and UNFPA could act as forces for positive change. The fourth argument was that, because some good is being done, we could be relaxed about policies of which we disapprove, with particular regard to China. The final argument was that if we accepted the proposed amendments,

“embedding current policies and priorities in legislation [we] could restrict our ability to make the most effective contribution possible to the elimination of poverty and to the welfare of people”.–[Official Report, 18/10/01; col. 730.]

It is proper to address those arguments, which have run through all stages of the Bill.

In the United States, the same arguments have been put. But our American allies have reached conclusions that are diametrically opposed to those of Her Majesty’s Government. Their decision to end all funding of what they describe as brutal and inhumane policies of coercion is one that we have a chance to emulate today. It is my belief that we should redeploy the resources that are currently used for such policies into the humanitarian relief programmes that are so desperately needed in places such as Afghanistan. Although my remarks are made with regard to the continuing human rights abuses in China, the amendment applies more widely, wherever UK government funding is complicit in coercive population control.

As I said, the Government place great stock on bilateral human rights dialogue with China and on the role of the UNFPA and the IPPF as positive forces for change. During the debate on my Unstarred Question on 18th July, the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, illustrated the problem. The noble Lord asked:

“Has China been persuaded to live up to the standards of the UN covenants it has signed, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights? Has China been persuaded to resume dialogue with the Dalai Lama? Has it given Tibet real control over its own affairs? Has China’s persecution of Tibetans and the suppression of their traditional culture and religion ended? Has the boy designated as the Panchen Lama been produced? … The answer on all counts is a resounding ‘No'”.–[Official Report, 18/7/01; col. 1559.]

The noble Baroness, Lady Amos, admitted on behalf of the Government that the human rights situation in China “remains bleak” and the process of dialogue,

“has achieved little in terms of promoting positive change in Tibet and on the freedom of religion and the treatment of Falun Gong practitioners”.–[Official Report, 18/7/01; col. 1575.]

So, by the Government’s own admission, the bilateral human rights dialogue with China is failing to curb widespread and appalling human rights abuses.

25 Oct 2001 : Column 1113

Looking more specifically at population control in China, up-to-date evidence suggests that the UNFPA and the IPPF, which together receive about £20 million in unrestricted government grants each year, are not only failing to prevent coercive population control but are implicated in the coercive practices of the Chinese state family planning organisations.

Only last week, the United States Congress International Relations Committee held a hearing into,

“Coercive Population Control in China: New Evidence of Forced Abortion and Forced Sterilisation”.

Perhaps I may say in parenthesis that I have been disappointed that the International Development Select Committee and the Foreign Affairs Select Committee in another place have never examined these policies in the detail with which they have been examined in Congress. Nor has any Select Committee in this place. If nothing else comes out of our debates during the course of the Bill, we fervently hope that one of those committees will do as the United States has done and call evidence on these questions.

The US committee heard last week that in January 1998 the UNFPA signed a four-year agreement with Beijing. Under it, the UNFPA would operate in 32 counties throughout China. In each of those counties the central local authorities agreed that there would be no coercion and no birth quotas and that abortion would not be promoted as a method of family planning. Indeed, when I spoke to the Secretary of State, Ms Clare Short, about this issue some three years ago, she pointed to that project and said that we must wait and see what happened there. She said that it might well denote a change in the attitude of the Chinese administration.

Yet after hearing last week first-hand testimony from one of those counties, Henry Hyde, the chairman of the House of Congress International Relations Committee, concluded,

“that, after three years, the new arrangement is not working”.

That directly contradicts the Government’s arguments that we must give the UNFPA and the IPPF more time and that somehow they might then be able to act as positive forces for change and that assistance given is based upon principles of free and informed choice. None of those arguments stands up to scrutiny; they simply are not true.

First-hand testimony of the persistence of coercive population control in areas in China where the UNFPA operates, and, indeed, the collusion of the UNFPA in such coercion, was provided to the committee on international relations by Josephine Guy, the director of governmental affairs of America 21. Her investigation in China began as recently as 27th September of this year. The evidence she uncovered cannot therefore be dismissed as out-of-date, rather it demonstrates the continuing horrors of coercive population control which we aid and abet through continued funding of the UNFPA and the IPPF. I shall provide your Lordships with some examples.

25 Oct 2001 : Column 1114

On 27th September, Guy’s team interviewed women in a family planning clinic about a mile from the county office of the UNFPA. They interviewed a 19 year-old who told them that she was too young to be pregnant according to the unbending family planning policy. While she was receiving a non-voluntary abortion in an adjacent room, her friends pleaded that she be allowed to keep the baby. However, they were told that there was no choice as the law forbade that. At another location a woman testified to that same group–this evidence was also presented to the committee last week–that she became pregnant despite an earlier attempt by family planning officials forcibly to sterilise her. That attempt failed. She became pregnant again and was forcibly sterilised a second time. She told Guy’s team that had she refused, family planning crews would have torn her house down. The House will recall that in Committee I provided evidence of that happening on a regular and systematic basis in many parts of China.

Josephine Guy was also told of the non-voluntary use of IUDs and mandatory examination so that family planning officials could ensure that women had not removed IUDs in violation of policy. Fines and imprisonment for contravening family planning policy are commonplace and, according to Harry Wu, the executive director of the Laogai Research Foundation, who also gave evidence to the committee, local officials acting upon government orders still strictly enforce quotas.

We should be absolutely clear that the Chinese Government remain firmly committed to the need for coercion in family planning. The Chinese Premier, Zhu Rongji, said on 13th October 1999 that,

“China will continue to enforce its effective family planning policy in the new century in order to create a favourable environment for further development”.

In its White Paper on population, released on 19th December 2000, the People’s Republic of China avowed to continue the one-child policy for another 50 years. The CFPA, which is run by government officials with the declared aim to “implement government population polices”, is, of course, a full member of the IPPF whom we fund.

The UNFPA is highly implicated in the Chinese Government’s coercive programme and yet continues to receive millions of pounds of UK taxpayers’ money. Josephine Guy’s team graphically illustrate the extent of collusion between the UNFPA and Chinese family planning officials. Following last month’s investigations they concluded that,

“Through discrete contact made with local officials, we located the County Government Building. Within this building, we located the Office of Family Planning. And within the Office of Family Planning, we located the UNFPA office. Through local officials, we learned the UNFPA works in and through this Office of Family Planning. We photographed the UNFPA office desk, which faces–in fact touches–a desk of the Chinese Office of Family Planning”.

The US based Population Research Institute (PRI) has stated:

“UNFPA’s claims are false … Within counties where the UNFPA is active … contrary to UNFPA claims, the one-child policy, with its attendant targets and quotas, is still in place …

25 Oct 2001 : Column 1115

there is no real distinction between the one-child policy as carried out in the 32 counties where the UNFPA is active and the one-child policy found throughout China as a whole. The UNFPA, contrary to its own statements, is participating in the management and support of a program of forced abortion and forced sterilisation in China”.

That PRI investigation took place in September of this year.

Furthermore, these claims are not unsubstantiated. The US State Department has reported that three years of UNFPA’s programme has met only with what is called “mixed” success, with some counties having made “relatively little” progress while others have not begun to eliminate strict birth control quotas.

The amendments before the House today would not stop funding for abortion or family planning services. Many noble Lords will be aware of my personal views on some of these questions and they will have their own views.

I should make it abundantly clear that those are not the issue before the House today. The amendment would stop government funding only where there is evidence of coercion. In addition, the amendments are not anti-China but would assist China as it strives to meet its international obligations. If UNFPA funding was stopped, the Chinese would be given a clear signal that if it is to resume coercion must cease.

I fail to see how the amendments would prejudice the Government’s fight to eliminate or to eradicate poverty. There are plenty of organisations in the world involved in the fight against poverty that are not complicit in coercion and there is no reason why funding for those should cease. It is simply scaremongering to suggest otherwise. It is complacent to say, “We do not approve of coercion but there is nothing we can realistically do about it”, or, “We are in sympathy with your views but this is not the way to do it”. If it is not the way to do it, the House is entitled to be told what is the way to do it.

The noble Baroness, Lady Amos, conceded the purpose behind the amendments on Report last week when she said that they,

“would require the Secretary of State not to provide assistance to any organisations or individuals who were involved in promoting or practising coercive population policies”.–[Official Report, 18/10/01; col. 729.]

She was right. That is all that these amendments seek to do. That is their straightforward intent. A coercive policy is in direct contradiction of the Government’s stated aim that assistance should be provided based upon principles of free and informed choice. The Government’s “softly, softly” approach to the Chinese is not working; rather it allows a conspiracy of silence to persist where, as Henry Hyde said in Congress last week,

“coercion is cloaked behind the rhetoric of voluntarism, shielded from criticism by yet another international seal of approval”.

China is the only country in the world where it is illegal to have a brother or a sister. The draconian way in which this policy is enforced is an affront to civilised values. It is a disgrace that we continue to aid and abet those policies. I urge your Lordships to support these amendments and help to end the brutal violation of women’s rights.

archive4

Speech by Lord Alton of Liverpool: Second Reading of the Education Bill

My Lords, last September the Government paved the way for this Bill with the proposals set out in their White Paper, “Schools – achieving success” and in the five related consultation papers. When they introduced this Bill in another place, last November, they said they aimed to raise standards and to diversify secondary education. I broadly welcome this long overdue objective, especially the provision for city academies and specialist schools, the opportunity for secondary schools to develop a more distinctive identity, and the new legal framework to allow greater innovation and new forms of service delivery.

For seven year I worked as a teacher, for two years in a voluntary aided school and for five years with children with special needs. And I declare an interest by virtue of the chair I currently hold at Liverpool John Moores University, and as a foundation governor of Liverpool Bluecoat School. One of the most depressing features in education over the 30 years since I began work as a teacher, has been the devaluation of the teaching profession and the over-interference of politicians in education, too-often spurred on by an ideological approach.

My Lords, devaluation and ideology are the two questions that I want to touch on today.

I should like to hear from Ministers what more they intend to do to raise to improve practical support for teachers and to raise morale.

In particular, Part 2 of this Bill makes new provisions for the financing of education. I would like to know how this would be used to address the escalating problems caused by a shortage of teachers.

The National Union of Teachers says that of every 100 final-year trainee teachers, 40 will not enter the classroom, and a further 18 will leave the profession within three years.

The Government’s own figures, published in February, put the number of vacancies over the past year at more than 5,000, and although there are 7,000 more teachers than 12 months ago – and I welcome that – we are still not keeping pace with the need. The figures point to an acute problem in particular secondary schools and in some regions, especially in the southeast. In some cases there are no specialists in a number of subject areas.

Mike Tomlinson, the Chief Inspector of Schools, I his annual report, candidly admits that mathematics, science, foreign languages, religious education and design and technology have all be adversely affected: “Where a subject is taught by a high proportion of teachers with limited qualifications in the subject, this lack of subject knowledge manifests itself in lower expectations, weaker teaching, and less effective learning in the subject.”

It is suggested that there are fewer than 20,000 maths specialists in England and Wales compared with 40,000 20 years ago.

Academic reports into the causes of this problem cite stress, abuse, administrative over-load and long hours as contributory factors in repelling potential teachers. Accelerated and never-ending pressure for ever-improved results also plays its part as a negative force.

In September school rolls will swell by about 40,000 pupils – and that will require 2,000 extra teachers just to keep class sizes at their current levels.

Alan Smithers, who is director of Liverpool university’s centre for education and employment has warned that “staff may be expected to teach outside their subject or the continuity of children’s education could be put at risk by a succession of supply staff.”

My Lords, the significant increase in the use of supply staff is one of the least observed changes in our schools and one which I would like to see capped by this Bill. Of the 465,000 teachers in the UK, 19,000 are supply teachers, up from 12,000 in 1995. Education Data Surveys has put the costs to schools at £600 million with agencies taking £200 million of that. One London school has spent £37.000 on supply staff; and it is estimated that it costs schools up to £200 per day to hire one supply teacher. This not only raises questions about the effect on school budgets, but also about the effects on stability and quality. I would welcome the Minister’s response to the Chief Inspectors comment that supply teachers “perform less well than any other category of teacher; with less than half of their lessons being good or better compared with two thirds of the lessons of qualified and permanent members of staff.”

It is especially sad that this should be so when general standards have been improving so significantly. It is also sad that the problem is at its worst in what are already the most disadvantaged areas.

The costs of recruitment, being incurred by schools is also becoming wholly disproportionate. In one school last summer a head teacher spent more than £35,000 on agency fees in his attempts to recruit staff. Others have had to fund visits overseas to find teachers. Whether this comes from the Government’s recruitment and retention fund or from school budgets, it is money that could be better used.

Liverpool University’s research claims that pupil behaviour is the second most common reason given by teachers for leaving the profession and no one would disagree with the Warwick University study that reported that 80% of teachers believe that pupil behaviour has deteriorated during their time as teachers. I hope that the Minister will tell us how the Government’s new initiatives on exclusion and problem pupils are developing.

Teachers need to be retained and new ones recruited rather than this over-reliance on supply teachers. If the immediate haemorrhage is to be averted, it will require more drastic measures to reduce teacher workload and to enhance the professional status of teachers. It will need to be

Be accompanied by less emphasis on targets and more emphasis on the children who are being educated and the vocational calling of the teaching profession. Beyond all the statistics and issues about resources we all know that particular teachers, with a love of learning and with the power to educate, have a pivotal role in preparing our young people for life. We all remember the teacher who through their commitment to their subject and their pupils acted as role models and sources of inspiration.

But, My Lords, if it is important to address questions of teachers status and morale, it is also important to avoid an overly dogmatic and ideological approach. This can also undermines schools and

Teachers, and it has been displayed at times during the earlier stages of this Bill in another replace, on the subject of faith schools.

If there are dogs that don’t bark in the night, in this Bill there are issues that do not overtly appear within its 11 parts, 210 clauses and 22 schedules; but if the debate in another place is anything to go by, your lordships will doubtless spend some of the time allocated to this Bill in considering these less visible issues.

The prime movers in another place seeking to impose quotas on church schools – forcing them to take at least 25% of pupils who do not share the school’s religious affiliation – were the former Cabinet Minister, Frank Dobson, and Phil Willis, the Liberal Democrat education spokesman, who was supported by 37 of his colleagues in a whipped voted.

If some of the views expressed in that debate were ill informed, they were illiberal too. The imposition of mandatory quotas is an affront to schools in the voluntary aided sector, and such dictats should be vigorously resisted – and I congratulate the Government for having done so.

At the end of World War Two the aspirations of the Christian churches were properly met in what Estelle Morris, the Education Secretary, described as “the historic concordat between the state and the church.” It became the foundation of the 1944 Education Act.

That legislation was the fruit of a remarkable partnership between the Conservative R.A.Butler, an Anglican, and the Labour Chuter Ede, a Free Church man. Butler was president of the Board of Education in the Coalition Government, and Ede was his Private Parliamentary Secretary.

p>Perhaps the most enlightened and important piece of twentieth century legislation, that Act contrasts sharply with the overly partisan, ill considered, meretricious and often contradictory changes which central government and local authorities have imposed on education in the fifty years which have followed. Among many other things the 1944 Act provided a small grant towards the cost of building church schools.

Although the Catholic communities which had to struggle against all the odds to raise four fifths of the capital costs, they succeeded in creating a network of schools where their children could receive a Christian education. As a child I recall the constant fund raising in which every family was involved, supporting building projects.

During that same period, the Church of England decided to significantly scale down its commitment to education and of the 9000 Church of England Schools in existence in 1944, half closed. Yet in total there are some 6,384 religious primary schools and 589 secondary schools of differing denominations in Britain today. All but 40 are Christian.

Following the publication of Lord Dearing’s report the decision of the Church of England to create 100 new “faith” schools is a welcome recognition of the need to change priorities. Many people, some of only nominal belief, want an education, which offers more than places in the academic league tables. The Church of England has 775,000 places in its primary schools but only 150,000 places in its secondary schools. Clearly there is an unmet demand.

In another place it was suggested that allocation of places in the present system is based upon “hypocrisy”. One honourable members said “many people suddenly find a faith and start going to church,” to get their children into church schools. Many church schools are over-subscribed and parish priests provide affirmations of church commitment. But who is to say how deep another person’s faith – or to question their desire to return to it, or to prevent them from transmitting their beliefs to their children?

When latter day Robespierres have searched our consciences and imposed their quotas “by dictat” what will they have succeeded in destroying?

According to Dr.Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, “denominational schools have a great strength. Often they have a clear ethos that gives consistency and power to the lessons they teach.” He adds that a survey of 34,000 teenagers in England and Wales, carried out by the Jewish Association of Business Ethics, found that children educated in such an ethos “are less likely to lie, steal or to drink alcohol illicitly…the evidence is that teaching about the morality of everyday life does make a difference.”

The recent debate took no account of the unique nature of Christian education – such as its incarnational character – and set out admirably by Dom Aidan Bellenger in his York Minster Lecture, 2001, “Christian Education.”

Imposition of arbitrary quotas will undermine ethos but also undermine the self-governance which allows church schools to determine their own composition. And such questions must be determined locally according to local needs and circumstances.

Last week I spoke at a Catholic sixth form College in London. Half of the pupils are from other faiths, more than 20 % are Muslim; another 10% are Hindu. It is a by-word in religious toleration and diversity. I had been invited to speak about social and political engagement, about the values of democracy and the application of citizenship.

In my experience, in Liverpool, Church schools were frequently the first choice for religious minorities – precisely because of the religious character and ethos of the school. People of other faiths are far more concerned about the secularisation of society

An average of 20% of pupils in Catholic schools are not Catholic but everyone knows that in some situations the character and ethos of the schools can be radically altered if the proportions become to unbalanced. Schools must be free to decide these things.

If quotas led to Catholic children being excluded from church schools because the school was no longer free to determine its numbers this would be a disgrace. So, such a policy is not merely ill informed and illiberal, it is also discriminatory.

In another place, Frank Dobson claimed that “no sound evidence” exists that religious schools perform better, a charge demolished by the recent publication of Ofsted’s report on the latest standards and quality of education.

The charge was also made that Catholic schools are not “inclusive.” The opposite is the case, and, as MPs from the north pointed out, the riots in Oldham, Burnley and Bradford involved children from non-integrated non-religious state schools. Paradoxically, given the number of immigrants who are Catholic, and the more extensive nature of catchment areas, church schools are usually beacons of social integration.

As I heard personally from teachers working in church schools in Oldham, they place a great premium on preparing their children for active citizenship and the responsibilities this entails. To suggest otherwise illustrates profound ignorance of what goes on in church schools. The Rt.Revd. Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Birmingham, in a trenchant and hard hitting statement, expressed his anger at the caricature of Catholic education, saying that Catholic schools are the fruit of “a struggle” to which Catholic parents “ have contributed financially for many generations….Admission quotas could effectively undermine the cohesiveness of the school.”

My Lords, in welcoming the general thrust of this Bill, I hope that when we come to consider it further, I hope that we will resist the temptation to break the concordat and the trust that exists between faith schools and the State; that we will recognise the extraordinary contribution these schools make and that we will strongly affirm them as a valued and integral part of the provision of education in this country.

archive4

Paying The Price For Family Breakdown

People in public life rarely admit that they got it wrong. It was refreshing, therefore, to hear Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, the President of the Family Division of our courts, admit that public policy towards the family has had some disastrous consequences.

Reflecting on the level of bitterness between estranged couples and the effects on their children, she said it was time to re-think some of our attitudes about divorce.

Under British law it is true that you can divorce your wife or husband, but you cannot divorce your children.

There has been a 600 per cent increase in marriage breakdown over the last 30 years and one in five children now see their parents divorce before they are 16. With 43% of our marriages breaking up some

% of our marriages breaking up some 800,000 children now have no contact with their fathers. It is estimated that 40% of non-resident parents lose contact with their children within two years of separation or divorce.

One of the judges who works with Dame Elizabeth, Sir Nicholas Wall, says that parents are unaware of how damaging their behaviour can be: “Most people who are adamantly opposed to their former partner or spouse having contact do so in the express belief that it is in the interests of the children. Most parents live in the here and now and find it difficult to see 10 years ahead when a teenager or adolescent will round on them for ruining their relationship with the other parent. People don’t see that in the immediate fog of separation. “

Dame Elizabeth says: “Ask the child and they’ll say, “I want to keep both my parents. I love them both. In 1970 I don’t think we recognised the importance of a child having both parents the way we do now. My thinking has certainly evolved. The important thing for a judge is never to think you know it all. The longer I sit the more I feel I have to learn.”

If that is true for the most senior members of our judiciary how much more so must it be true for each of us. We should all be prepared to think again about the consequences of the massive escallation in the level of family breakdown.

These consequences don’t just affect our individual families. They have a deleterious and fundamental impact on society at large. As well as the tragic personal suffering – and it is considerable – the massive economic impact of family breakdown should not be underestimated. Nor, too, should the effects of increased child poverty, poor educational achievement, and dysfunctional behaviour. Addressing both the cause and the consequences of family breakdown is central to the future health and vitality of the nation.

Private and public attitudes and policy must march hand in hand. All of us can play a part in strengthening marriage and family life.

Governments can help remove pressures on families such as job insecurity, poor housing, poverty and debt and by improving the support for those who are left to bring up a child alone.

The rampant commercial pressures of longer working hours and Sunday trading leaves many families with little or no shared time together – the precious moments in which quarrels and misunderstandings are settled and when space is made to allow the healing and reconciliation to begin.

In his encyclical, Centesimus Annus, Pope John Paul II gets to the heart of the issue: “It is urgent therefore to promote not only family policies but also those social policies which have the family as their principle object, policies which assist the family by providing adequate resources and efficient means of support, both for bringing up children and looking after the elderly, so as to avoid distancing the latter from the family unit and in order to strengthen relations between generations.”

It would at least be a start if, like Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, we were to admit that where families do tragically separate, it is precisely that – a tragedy for all involved.

ENDS

Responsible Fathers: A Parable For the Return of Prodigal Fathers.

In one recent year, 670,000 men became fathers in England and Wales. The youngest was 13 and the oldest were over 75. The figures also show that never before in our history have more fathers walked away from their children.

800,000 British children no longer have contact with their fathers. There has been a 600% increase in marriage breakdown over the past 30 years;one in five chidden see their parents divorce before they are 16.In one school in the North West of England, of the 170 families with children at the school, just six had a father at home.

In the past 30 years there has been a phenomenal increase of 600% in marriage breakdown – with one in five children experiencing the divorce of their parents.

Three out of four British fathers have their first child before their thirtieth birthday. One baby in three is born to a man who is not married to the mother of his child. Three out of four unmarried fathers register the birth of their children jointly with the mothers but just under half live with the mother. Unmarried fathers do not have the same rights over their children as married men and without a Parental responsibility Agreement they have no rights at all.

One survey suggests that one in three of fathers feel actively hostile to their partner’s pregnancy. This is thought to be because of male assumptions about birth control and that failure to use it constitutes some sort of betrayal of their interests. It is not a very promising basis on which to build relationships or to bring your child into the world.

The betrayal of the child reaches beyond conception to the other side of birth. Vast swathes of urban Britain are marked by the total absence of fathers – often with catastrophic consequences.

I was very struck, in looking at two watershed murders ion Britain at the absence of fathers in the lives of the young people involved in the killing. The killers of Philip Lawrence, murdered outside the London Catholic school where he was headteacher, and the killers of the 2 year old James Bulger in Liverpool had in common the absence of fathers or significant male figures in their lives. No doubt there were also other factors at work but we should not underestimate the total absence of father figures in the lives of children dwelling in the urban sprawl. This is one of the most significant social changes of the post war years.

It is paradoxical that what Two World Wars failed to achieve – despite the mass killing of millions of men – peace time prosperity and the values of the new age have far more easily accomplished.

There is now a whole generation of children in crisis and all the social indicators bear this out. Consider for a moment these facts:

The Stark Facts

• 13,000 children are now excluded from our schools annually – some as young as four years old; one million children are truanting;

• An arson attack takes place on at least three schools every day;

• there are 46,000 children currently on child protection registers through fear of physical or sexual abuse;

• 50% of all crimes are committed by those under the age of 21;

• 7 million crimes are committed annually by juveniles – at an estimated cost to society of £13 million pa;

• 40% of street robberies and a third of car thefts and burglaries are thought to be the work of ten to fourteen year olds, mostly committed during school hours;

• 40% of our prison population has been “in care” during childhood;

• many children are watching television for at least two hours a day, some for over five hours, much of it violent in nature, often with no parent around;

• the amount of time spent watching television in Britain is nearly 50% more than we spend in work;

• computer games absorb children for an average of 45 minutes a day;

• 10,000 of our children telephone Childline looking for help each day

• 160 babies were born in one recent year addicted to purified cocaine;

When we are not filling our children with drugs, destroying their sense of self-worth, or denying them hope in a worthwhile future, we fill them with a diet of brutal violence or virtual reality. Then we are surprised when they end up doing brutal things or completely abandoning the institutions which we uphold and cherish.

To those say that abandoning a child because you no longer care for your spouse or partner I would say this: you can divorce your wife but not your children. They remain your children for the remainder of your life. Nor should you deceive yourself into believing that your separation is in the children’s interests. Every survey conducted of children’s wishes reveal one thing: that children would prefer their parents to stay together – however difficult the situation may be at home. By walking away from your children you condemn them to unhappiness, divided loyalties, confusion and worse. The child without a father at home is likely instead to endure a procession of casual boyfriends turning up at their family home. What messages does this signal about committed relationships – for better or for worse? What does it say abut enduring faithfulness – for richer or poorer – in comparison with fecklessness and the selfish indulgence of appetite for serial relationships rather than a commitment to a life long companion.?

Generally speaking, all the research agrees that children living in fragmented situations do worse in every area of life. they also tend to repeat the pattern of their own inability as adults to create and then maintain permanent relationships.

The Great Deceit

Stable family life is not a unrealizable objective and although it would be equally wrong to pretend that all families which stay together are idyllic, happy entities, they remain the best bulwark against all the things which the world throws at us. A comment by Will Carling plainly reveals who deeply the Great Deceit has now become engrained. He said “I didn’t believe I should stay in a relationship just for the sake of the child. I don’t think that is what life is all about” (Guardian 7.10.98).

The Great Deceit has it that when you find your relationship in a mess, the easy and quick divorce is the least painful solution. Add abandonment to betrayal and desertion and you quickly see that this is hardly a solution. Let us at least admit that where families do tragically separate that it is precisely that: a tragedy for all involved. It is a tragedy for the parents who have been separated by adultery and a tragedy for the child who has no clear idea what the of what the implications will be for them.

The Great Deceit asserts that cohabitation and marriage should be on an equal footing. But the facts simply do not bear this out. Only four per cent of children not being brought up by their own married parents live in stable cohabiting households. But don’t let the facts get in the way.

The Great Deceit also peddles the myth that all this is simply a private matter. It isn’t. Collapsing families lead to collapsing communities as the delicate network of family ties are severed, as trust is displaced by deception, and commitment by desertion. The whole of civic society is affected by the metropolitan falsehood that the “family is over” or, as that most sophisticated doyen of the metropolitan chattering classes, Polly Toynbee, has it “family is no more than a code word.”

Revealingly she also says: “When politicians talk about ‘strengthening the family’, liberals reach for their revolvers.” Another commentator, Simon Jenkins, writing in The Times, says that “families are by their nature Darwinian units.”

From this I suppose we are to conclude that nothing should be done to strengthen the family and that the evolutionary process would render the family as extinct as the dinosaur. Toynbee confirms this interpretation in the following phrase: “Ministers would do well to abandon the ‘family’ and’marriage’labels altogether” she says.

This, of course, is the logical culmination of the economic individualism of the 1980s. Social individualism cares nothing for covenant or commitment. It cares only for do-it-yourself ethics and the tired old mantra of personal choice and personal autonomy.

Reciprocated duties and communal responsibility are the antidote to this privatized individualism but I do not pretend it will be easy to reverse the monumental shift in cultural values which has been so carefully orchestrated and encouraged.

The Price We Paid.

The economic and social price of collapsing family and community life has been incalculable; but nor can we put a price on the personal costs of severed relationships.

There was recently an article published in a national newspaper which recounted the story of a man grieving over the death of his son. What pained him most was that he had never told his son how much he had loved him – and now it was too late. For the Christian, especially in the aftermath of the events of Holy Week, we are all too acutely aware that the Son needs to know that the Father loves him. Only then is it possible to endure what follows. In broken homes a son or daughter is frequently left wondering whether they are loved.

The lack of closeness between fathers and their children is one of the great tragedies of our times. Fatherhood is in acute crisis – never before have so many men been missing from the lives of their children.

Some men are missing because they simply are not there from the start. Sex been separated in many people’s minds from procreation – from bringing a child into the world. In other ways men’s role has been reduced or demeaned. for instance, by the payment of money to young men for their sperm so that artificial insemination techniques can be used to create their child in an anonymous woman’s womb. The young man has been paid for sex and surrendered his child.

In the famous Oxford student case the young man who wanted to have some say over whether his girlfriend aborted their baby was told it had nothing to do with him. The judge found against him although his girlfriend was sufficiently impressed by his integrity that she allowed the child to be born and he has brought up his child. – but it was no thanks to the law.

Throughout 1999 Pope John Paul II asked us to mediate especially on the figure of God as Father. Jesus gives us the words to address God as a Father in the Lord’s Prayer. Through the parable of the prodigal son we are doubly reassured that even when we have strayed away from the Father there will be a welcome for us when we return.

archive4

A Parable of Prodigal Fathers

Today we need a parable for the lost fathers – who need to return to their sons.

My oldest son has, over the past few weeks been working through his preparation for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Each week he and I have been studying a chapter of the preparatory booklet together. The first thing we did was to take apart the word reconciliation. One of the best interpretations which we could place on the word was that it meant putting broken things back together. Prodigal fathers and prodigal sons need to be put back together again – and fathers need to tell their sons and their daughters that they love them. Following Our Lord’s own baptism God the Father was not abashed about proclaiming his love for His son: “And suddenly there was a voice from heaven, “this is my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on Him.” (Matt 3:17)

So many of our own children – especially those who have been abandoned – would give anything to hear such powerful words addressed to them. Even those of us who are there for our children and love them deeply often suffer from our very British reserve and innate shyness – which makes us so reluctant to express how we feel.

Jesus’ response to His Father was to go off and to spend forty days in the desert, thinking about how best he could reciprocate his father’s love. Too often we are so busy taking that we never give back; or we evaluate everything in terms of personal gratification. Giving time is probably one of the greatest gifts we have on offer. Taking time trying to understand one another

Rob Parsons, of CARE, wrote a book called The Sixty Minute Father – where he details the tiny amounts of time which fathers spend with their children. By contrast, many children in Britain spend an average of two hours a day watching TV – some as much as five hours – and much of the content is extremely violent in nature. They frequently watch the TV alone, without any parent around. Computer games absorb children for an average of 45 minutes a day. The amount of time spent watching television in Britain is nearly 50% more than we spend in work – and phenomenally more than we spend in time with our children.

A survey by Care for The Family found that

* over half of fathers say they spend five minutes or less on an average weekday with their child on a one to one basis;

* nearly half of all fathers had not had any discussion with their child in the previous four weeks about behavior, sex, relationships, religion, current affairs, or rights and wrongs in life.;

* nearly half of fathers would like to have changed in some way the upbringing of their child;

*.the most common changes fathers said they would make were spending more time with their child particularly in the early years, talking with him or her more and sending him or her to a different school.

A common realization amongst many men is that they are pressurized and deprived of the time which they know in their hearts they need for their relationships.

I do not like the phrase “quality time” because it implies that small pockets of time will be set aside and duty will be done. I say this to myself as much and probably more than I need to say it to you but in a busy life and hectic schedule it is crucially important to be around when you are needed and not just when the diary permits.

Unconditional love does not dispense time through an egg timer.

A priest was recently telling me of a young woman who came to him for help. Not only had she great difficulty with the concept of the priest as father. She had even more difficulty with the idea of God as father. the only father that she had known was a father who has physically and sexually abused her. Contrast this with Jesus’ deep and enduring love for the Father: “I and the Father are one” he said. So many people today would give so much to be able to say that.

What Practical Things Might We Do?

First, we need to challenge the mythology which still influences many men into believing that involvement with their child is something best left to the child’s mother alone. In seventeenth century France a cleric wrote that “rocking a cradle has a weakening effect on a man.” In the 1930s an anphropologist, Margaret Read, wrote that “no developing society…ever allows young men to handle or touch their new borns, for they know somewhere that if they did, the new fathers would become so hooked they would never go out and do their things properly.” And in the 1950s Bruno Bettelheim, a psychiatrist, said “the daily care of young children can emasculate men.” for centuries men have wrongly been told that childcare isn’t their business and that close involvement will have a malign effect on their masculinity.

Next, we must challenge the anti-child culture. This is summed up in a quotation from Brian Jackson’s book “Fatherhood” where a man states: “Kids are just a nuisance. If I was to marry again, I wouldn’t have any. My old lady wanted to have them. Only trouble was, that made me a father. To start with, they killed our sex life. The they made so much noise. And they’re stupid. It’s not their fault, but you’ve got to admit their conversation is boring. And they cost money. Add that lot together and what does a father get out of it? Damn all.”

The anti child culture was summed up in a remark by a Home Office official who told me that his Department was opposed to my attempts to put tighter restrictions on violent video material available to children. He said that “as only 30% of British homes now have a child in them” any further restrictions would disproportionately affect the two thirds without children. Surely if there were only one home in Britain left with a child in it that child would be worth protecting.

When I began to formulate this list I realized that I was speaking to myself as much as I was to any audience who might be listening.

Many men, me included, have to spend a lot of time away from their children because of their job. It would hardly be very loving to abandon a job which provides food, clothing and a roof over the head. And it is pretty unhelpful to tell a man that he should feel guilty because he cannot be at home all of the time. We need to be practical. But within that framework there is much more that fathers can do to make more time available. It is a pretty good start to simply be aware of the need to address the issue of time: “No-one was ever heard to say on their death bed, I wish I had spent more time at the office.” I am as guilty as the next – perhaps more so – of taking on time consuming commitments which eat up time which can never be reclaimed and which might have been better spent. Abandoning the tyranny of mobile phones and not allowing other people to set you diary and agenda is a good way to start.

We all know how quickly the child becomes a man and that one day we will wake up to the experience of a child who says that they are too busy to spend time with their parent – perhaps the inevitable result for parents who declined to spend time with their children. .

* For those who are away from home simple notes or a book sent through the post top as child is a tell tale sign that you think about them when you area away. Children love to be the recipients of packages, parcels or letters.

* Setting aside organised time to spend with the family or with the child – insisting that Sunday, for instance really will be a different day – gives some space to build relationships.

* Avoid parental substitutes – such as an expensive TV for a child’s bedroom. It’s like laving your child alone with a series of strangers. Aristotle knew the dangers of this when he warned fathers not to abandon their children to storytellers who might fill their children’s minds with foolish notions.

Giving expensive pieces of technological equipment can be a substitute for giving yourself. Someone wisely remarked that you can be so busy giving your child what you didn’t have that you fail to give them what you did have. Do we express our love through our presence or through the materialism of an expensive present.?

* TVs, videos and computers and the internet can all provide a great source of entertainment and enjoyment – but they need to be used wisely and with care: preferably as an activity which can be undertaken together rather than as an activity which entrenches passive participation by an isolated

individual. They are worth giving up for Lent or perhaps you should designate television free evenings – or try doing without them altogether. the flickering box in the corner has too often taken the place of the flickering lights of the hearth, around which family conversation and crack could take place.

* Einstein said that if you want your child to be a genius “read aloud to them.” Children should be valued whether or not they are geniuses but the cultivation of a love of books and reading will provide a lifelong source of enjoyment which can be shared across the generations. A few months ago I was in Kirkby, near Liverpool, at a school which was being closed down: English Martyrs. I was a teacher in that school in the early 1970s and a boy I had taught introduced me to his young son. He asked ne if I remembered reading CS Lewis’s book to the class. I did. He told me that he had always loved those books ever since and that he was currently reading them to his son.

* By spending some time walking together, working in a garden together – or doing something which you both enjoy together – it opens the way for conversations about the things which may be troubling a child but it is also the time when you can pass on you beliefs and transmit the values which really matter to you. In earlier generations a boy would work in the fields or at the smithy or mill alongside his father. Skills would be transmitted and the child would learn about responsibilities, duties and obligations. Today children are taught abut rights and entitlements by media gurus and politicians but who transmits these far more important timeless values? If we want our children to share faith and our values we have to take the time to pass them on. What better way than bringing them to a family conference like this one?

* Never underestimate the importance[ of spending time around a table together. Appalling table manners and reluctant eaters may frequently spoil the ideal image I am painting but it is worth persevering with shared family mealtimes as moments when families come together. Great feast days, high days and holy days, should become part of the rhythm of family life. They provide structure and meaning to the year and to our lives together.

* Someone made the calculation that if your child is aged ten, they have already lived 3650 days. That leaves another 2920 before their childhood is over. The sand is always flowing through the egg timer but it is never too late in life to begin. The best way to begin is by praising a child for what they do well rather than always being negative. All of us who are parents have to spend so much of our time disciplining or deterring that it can sound as if we are constantly criticising. I wouldn’t want to calculate the amount of time I spend uttering rebukes and corrections.

* When I asked someone who had brought up several children what phase had been the worst he replied: “the first 30 years were the worst”

Certainly as children become older we must adjust to their changing perceptions of themselves and of you. I am not desperately looking forward to my own children’s pubescent years. Whatever happens to all that enthusiasm and energy and innocence?

In Parliament we need to repeal measures which pressurize the extended family

We should treat married parents as well as the Exchequer treats divorced, separated or single parents. The Tax and Benefit system should reflect this.

We should accept the centrality of marriage as the place where children can best thrive and flourish; where they can find stability and security.

Unless we make it abundantly clear that responsible fathers and family stability are crucial for children and society generally; unless we acknowledge that ideally a child should have both a mother and a father; unless we reaffirm the important role of fathers in child rearing, we risk further long term social collapse and civic disaggregation.

Above all we must contradict the mythology that fathers are a feckless bunch who couldn’t care less about their progeny and who regard parenting as someone else’s problem. Without responsible fathers we will not produce responsible children or, for the future, responsible citizens.

archive4

Sunday Worship From Didsbury February 7th 1999

Introduction.

Welcome to Sunday Worship, which today comes from Emmanuel Church . Our worship this morning is led by David Alton. For 18 years David served in the House of Commons and is now an independent crossbench peer. He is professor of citizenship at Liverpool’s John Moores University and drawing on his experiences there, in Parliament, and through the Jubilee Campaign , which he helped found – and which campaigns against religious persecution and on children’s issues – this week he launches his new book, Citizen Virtues. Citizenship will be his theme this morning. We open with Charles Wesley’s rousing hymn: And Can It Be.

MUSIC: And Can It Be.

• DAVID ALTON

• Two hundred years ago Charles and John Wesley gave voice, through their music and through their preaching, to the spiritual revival which swept Britain. Revival led to personal renewal and this in turn led to momentous political and national reconstruction. Among those touched by the revival was William Wilberforce – who set out to do two things. Firstly, to challenge the belief that it was a citizen’s right – his personal choice – to own another man as his slave ; and, secondly, to reform what he called “the manners of the nation.”

One of the great debates today is about citizenship – and what constitute our duties and responsibilities – the manners of the nation expressed through good neighbourliness, civic pride, public service, . As the Wesleys and Willberforce well understood this is a debate which is likely to flounder unless it is placed in the context of what God expects of each of us.

Personal spiritual renewal. needs to be informed by Judaeo-Christian virtues and this still offers Britain its best hope.

In the Jewish Bible the Pentateuch is called the Law, the Torah. The Decalogue – or the Ten Words inscribed on the tablets at Sinai, lay down the code for a civilised society – where citizens can live an ordered and happy life. It is the basis on which citizenship can be lived out and community life best ordered. The words are read to us by Mrs.Frances Lawrence, whose husband, Philip, was murdered outside his London school in 1995.

READING

(chapter 5, extracts from verses 1 -23)

Moses said:

Listen Israel to the laws and customs that I proclaim in your hearing today. Learn them and take care to observe them…

“…I am Yahweh your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the House of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods except me.

“You shall not make yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything in heaven above or on earth beneath of in the waters under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them. For I, Yahweh your God, am a jealous God and I punish the fathers’ fault in the sons, the grandsons, and the great-grandsons of those who hate me; but I show kindness to thousands, to those who love me and keep my commandments.

“You shall not utter the name of Yahweh your God to misuse it, for Yahweh will not leave unpunished the man who utters his name to misuse it.

“Observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy, as Yahweh your God has commanded you . For six days you shall labour but the seventh day is a day for Yahweh your God…

“…Honour your father and your mother, as Yahweh your God has commanded you, so that you may have long life and may prosper in the land that Yahweh your God gives to you.

“You shall not kill

“You shall not commit adultery.

“You shall not steal.

“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbours.

“You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, you shall not set your heart on his house, his field, his servant – man or woman – his ox, his donkey or anything that is his.”

“These are the words Yahweh spoke to you when you were all assembled on the mountain. With a great voice he spoke to you from the heart of the fire, in cloud and thick darkness. He added nothing, but wrote them on two tablets which he gave to me.”

David:

No distinction is made in this narrative between civil, juridical and religious obligations. They are all part of the Covenant of duties between each citizen and their community, between each citizen and God.

Today we tend to measure our citizenship against a plethora of claimed rights, not in the context of covenant. Rights need to be weighed against responsibilities; choices measured against their consequences. Freedom for the pike is death for the minnow.

I was recently struck by the findings of a conference which had been held to look at the lack of shared values in contemporary Britain. In their conclusions they listed over seventy candidates for core values. For Christians, Jews and Muslims – and for many who have no faith – the ten commandments present a much more straight-forward basis for citizenship. It is a pity they are not more universally taught today – especially in our schools.

Perhaps, too, we need to place less faith in ourselves and rediscover the security of trust and faith in God which led the psalmist to pen these beautiful words:

MUSIC: On Eagles Wings (Michael Joncas)

The thought that God holds each of us – whatever our failings or inadequacies – in the palm of His hand should inspire us to press on even when we know that we have fallen short of high ideals. The man or woman who has never made a mistake has never made anything.

At the end of August 1997 the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, caused considerable soul searching – often unfocused and inarticulate. Like the death of Philip Lawrence and the two-year-old James Bulger in Liverpool there was a moment of national stock-taking where we paused to look at our community and our country. All around us we see a landscape littered with human casualties. Among those suffering the breakdown of citizenship are the

• million elderly people who do not see a friend or a neighbour during the course of an average week;

• the 800,000 of our children who have no contact with their fathers because of the breakdown of their family life; and

• the one million young people taking illegal drugs each week.

It is all part of what Pope John Paul II calls the culture of death.

The writer, David Selbourne, says, “we have a culture of rights on the one hand, and cynicism about the distinctions between right and wrong on the other; and on which there appears to be no doubt at all about the one, and every doubt – assiduously promoted – about the other.”

The day after Princess Diana’s funeral , the Liverpool poet Stewart Henderson articulated the widespread hope that somehow out of the tangled debris in the Paris subway we would find a way to move on.. He reads it again to us today.

POEM

Move us on, God

move us on

from these wounded streets

for it seems

in our frozen twilight

we have rediscovered tenderness

and are noticing each other

We have become inexperienced pilgrims

bringing bouquets, small poems,

sleeping bags, our cluttered stories

our children and our candles of intention

Move us on, God, together

deep in the present

whilst holding to the past and future lands

With our hearts now all outside us

we should be ready

to enfold the desperate

and prod the powerful

Move us on God

move us on

we your faint unfinished psalms

now crave for your translucent palms.

David:

In the moments of personal crisis and national loss we glimpse what we have lost. We see the clues to our own mortality and our own messed up lives. Whatever a person’s rank, when their family – the most basic community of all – is destroyed, it leads to terrible dysfunction. As Stewart Henderson ‘s poetry reminds us, we have become inexperienced pilgrims, citizens who have lost their way.

Part of the problem lies with the way we privatise our faith – often because we are frightened of what people will think when we inevitably fail. Someone once taunted the late David Watson that the trouble with you Christians is that you are all hypocrites. Yes, he replied, but there is plenty of room inside for one more. Failure and personal foolishness doesn’t invalidate the ideals for which we must continue to strive.

MUSIC: Dear Lord And Father of Mankind.

David:

When we sin or fall short, it should not be used an excuse for ridiculing or for abandoning the ideal or belief. That way lies anarchy. That way lies death. Once more from the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses tells us that there are two ways which we can take, one leads to life and the other to death. Miss Ann Widdecomber MP reads the text.

READING

(Deuteronomy, 30, 15-20).

“See today I set before you life and prosperity, death and disaster. If you obey the commandments of Yahweh your God that I enjoin on you today, if you love Yahweh your God and follow his ways, if you keep his commandments, his laws, his customs, you will live and increase, and Yahweh your God will bless you in the land which you are entering to make your own. But if your heart strays, if you refuse to listen, if you let yourself be drawing into worshipping other gods and serving them, I tell you today, you will most certainly perish; you will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today: I set before you life or death, blessing or curse. Choose life then, so that you and your descendants may live, in the love of Yahewh your God, obeying his voice, clinging to Him, for in this your life consists, and on this depends your long stay in the land which Yahewh swore to your fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob he would give them.”

MUSIC: Who Can Sound The Depths of sorrow (Graham Kendrick)

In our own century we have regularly plumbed the depths of sorrow. During the Holocaust in Germany we saw most starkly what happens when good people fail to raise their voices and when they abandon the Judaeo-Christian belief in the sanctity of human life, the dignity of the human person, the importance of individual and collective conscience, the requirement for personal and communal responsibility and our ultimate accountability before man and God.

One man who paid the ultimate price in standing firm against the eugenics of Nazism was the Franciscan priest, Maximillian Kolbe – who was recently commemorated in a statue at westminster Abbey, among the modern martyrs.

At Auschwitz, Fr.Kolbe took the place of one of the Jewish prisoners. In sacrificing his life for another he showed heroic virtue. Good overcame evil; the voluntary surrender of a life, on behalf of another, overcame death. it was the definitive answer to the megalomania of the Nazis; it was the victory of love over hate.

Fr.Kolbe was sent to Auschwitz for publishing an appeal to his fellow citizens to stand for truth and to reject the lie. His words are read to us today by another Franciscan, Fr.Michael Seed:

“No one in the world can change Truth. What we can and should do is to seek Truth and to serve it when we have found it. The real conflict is within. Beyond armies of occupation and the hecatombes of the extermination camps, two irreconcilable enemies lie in the depths of every soul. And of what use are the victories on the battlefield if we are defeated in our innermost personal selves?”

MUSIC: Lead Kindly Light (John Henry Newman).

DAVID:

And as we stumble on, searching for truth and for meaning to our lives, struggling to rebuild our communities and strengthen our lives as citizens, following the kindly light, St.John records for us how Jesus does not displace the old commandments but build upon them: Denis Wrigley, from the Manchester-based Maranatha community reads the words for us:

READING

I John Chapter 2. v4 -11

“Anyone who says “I know Him” and does not keep His commandments is a liar, refusing to admit the truth.

But when anyone does obey what he has said, God’s love comes to perfection in him.

We can be sure that we are in God

only when the one claims to be living in him

is living the same kind of life as Christ lived.

My dear people,

this is not a new commandment that I am writing to tell you,

but an old commandment

that you were given from the beginning.,

the original commandment which was the message brought to you.

Yet, in another way, what I am writing to you,

and what is being carried out in your lives as it was in his,

is a new commandment;

because the night is over

and the real light is already shining.

Anyone who claims to be in the light

but hates his brother

is still in the dark.

But anyone who loves his brother is living in the light

and need not be afraid of stumbling;

unlike the man who hates his brother and is in the darkness,

not knowing where he is going,

because it is to dark to see.”

MUSIC: I the Lord of sea and Sky (Dan Schutte SJ, from Isaiah 6).

David:

For believers, a citizenship lived out in private churches or through comfortable pietism is not an adequate responseto the great commission of Christ. Jesus calls us to a faith of active engagement, to be salt and light in a troubled world. Inspired by the call to love his brother Wilberforce campaigned for 4o years to convince Parliament and public opinion to abandon the belief that it was right to own another human being as a slave. Inspired by a love of his Jewish brother it took Maximillian Kolbe to his death. When Jesus proclaimed the year of the Lord’s favour those who heard him knew that this meant radical change. Jubilee years were a time when fields would be left fallow to regain their goodness; a time when unfair burdens of death would be lifted ; a time when captives would be freed. Perhaps if we saw the coming millennium in those terms – and contrasted the man made dome with the empty tomb – we would find a better basis on which to construct our lives as citizen

This concluding prayer, written by Saint Ignatius Loyola, encourages us not give up but to go on persevering. It is read to us by Charles Whitehead of the Catholic Renewal Movement.

PRAYER – St.Ignatius Loyola.

Teach us, good Lord, to serve you as you deserve;

to give an not to count the cost

to fight and not to heed the wounds

to toil and not to seek for rest

to labour and not to ask for any reward,

save that of knowing that we do your will.

Announcement from Continuity:

Sunday worship came from Emanuel Church, Didsbury, in Manchester, and was led by David Alton. The Daily Service Singers were directed by Gordon Stewart. Stewart Henderson read one of his own poems, the story of Maximillian Kolbe is recorded in David Alton’s book, Signs of Contradiction and on Wednesday next his new book, Citizen Virtues, published by Harper Collins, will be launched at Liverpool’s St.Georges Hall. The producer was Philip Billson.

archive2

2003 – “RELIGIOUS TERRORISM” – the case for faith in secular societies.

It is frequently said that religion has been the cause of many wars and also that it is at the root of many terrorist organisations,

Such as al-Qaida, Hezbollah and paramilitary sectarian groups in Northern Ireland.

Religion does indeed appear historically to have been the

principal reason for many conflicts, including the Thirty Years War,the Crusades ¬ fought under the sign of the Cross ¬ and the Ottoman conquests ¬

fought under the banner of the Prophet.

However, we are all aware that power, domination, bitter resentments and tribal enmities – think for a moment about today’s shocking news from the Congo – are every bit as important as factors contributing towards violence and instability.

In comparison with the past, it is less easy to find recent examples of large-scale engagements where religion could reasonably be advanced as the primary cause of conflict. Even in the Former Yugoslavia, the protagonists could be divided along racial lines just as readily as on religious background.

Nor will it have escaped your Lordship’s notice that in Iraq there is a bitter irony in comparing the efforts made by coalition forces at Najaf and Karbala in seeking to protect two of the holiest cities in the Shia religion, with the depridations of Saddam Hussein’s secular tyranny: although I readily concede that Saddam would dearly like to have turned the war in Iraq into a religious one.

For examples of religious motivation we need to look instead for examples in so-called asymmetric warfare, of which terrorism is one representation.

Asymmetric conflicts involving largely Christian Minorities include East Timor, southern Sudan – which I visited last September and where close on 2 million people have died- Pakistan, and northern Nigeria among others. Under State oppression, where the main distinguishing feature of the persecuted minority (or, in some cases, majority) is their religion, it is understandable if such individuals strike back in the name of their religion.

By extension, Islamic militant groups are also merely fighting back against what they perceive to be oppression. The common currency is oppression and the common cure is the upholding of human dignity and the extension of civil society.

The discontent motivating fundamentalist Islamic militarism is not primarily, or

even significantly, the result of religious persecution but more the product of frustration, poverty, lack of a political voice and damaged pride.

Among many of the rapidly growing populations of the Middle East, where there is

pre-existing resentment of American, Israeli or Western hegemony and ever-decreasing resources, it is not surprising that young men, in particular, are attracted to extreme interpretations of their Faith

as a means of converting their frustration into direct action.

Conveniently, their Faith also provides a unifying platform ¬ although by no means the only one ¬ with neighbouring States (and other terrorist groups) and a ready mechanism to distinguish themselves from their enemies.

Religion should not be held up as underpinning the Islamic terrorist groups.

Just as it would clearly be wrong to say that the Coalition Forces are fighting for Christianity, although they could arguably be said to

Fighting for Christian values, it would be incorrect to state that the Islamic militant groups are fighting principally for Islam, despite what the groups (or in some cases, States) themselves might claim.

For example, when Saddam Hussein, as the national socialist leader of a secular State, recently called for an international Jihad, most would have rightly seen this as

being nothing more than an act of political desperation.

If we seriously wish to tackle the growing threat of what is, somewhat simplistically, referred to as Islamic terrorism we in the West should look in depth at the whole range of underlying

causes of terrorism rather than attributing it to religious differences. The prime areas of interest at present must, of course, remain as the reconstruction of Iraq and the situation in Israel. Anyone who has visited Palestinian refugee camps knows that the hopelessness that is festering there will inevitably breed another generation of suicide bombers if it is not tackled.

If immensely complex issues such as these can be dealt with, then we would find that there is little remaining

reason for the peoples of the different Great Religions not to be able to live together, as indeed they have done very successfully for centuries in

the past. Countries such as Egypt and Indonesia are good examples of previously tolerant lands where Christians and Muslims peaceably co-existed and there is no reason why they could not be so again.

In addition to tackling underlying causes of alienation, a central declared tenet of western foreign policy should be the worldwide promotion of religious freedom and conscience. This would be the best antidote to religiously influenced terrorism. What regime anywhere is the world respects religious freedom and conscience and is also a haven for terrorism. Of course, there isn’t one.

A Government’s guarantee of religious freedom and conscience is a cornerstone of a democratic society. Without religious freedom, society is destabilised, deep tensions are created, and human dignity is impaired. Without religious freedom there can be no pluralism. Where freedom of religion and belief is protected, religiously motivated terrorism will not take root.

This will clearly be a major challenge for Islamic societies, but not exclusively so, as the rise of Hindu nationalism in India and growing religious tensions in Eastern Europe both illustrate.

We need to be better informed in assessing the situation in individual countries. We could do worse than emulate the U.S. International religious Freedom Act and their appointment of an Ambassador-at-large with a mandate to report annually on the situation in individual countries to Congress.

To conclude, If religious freedom and conscience are upheld and underlying political grievances addressed, we will see the causes of religious terrorism assuaged. If not, I fear that the future will be bleak with continued threats to global stability and security. It is timely and welcome, therefore, that your Lordships should debate these important matters.

Civic Virtue and The Beautiful Game: October 2003

Over 2000 people recently crowded into Liverpool Cathedral to hear the Liverpool Football Club manager, Gerard Houlier, deliver a lecture on the links between sport and citizenship. This was the most recent in a series that I have staged on behalf of Liverpool John Moores University.

Although Houlier’s Catholic faith is a private part of his life there is no doubt, when listening to him, how much his core beliefs have influenced his outlook and character. He told his audience that a cultivation of personal virtues is essential for all of us.

His emphasis on changing the inner man – if he is to be a coherent and effective team player – was one of his central themes; and he said that however famous or wealthy a footballer may be, he will have many anxieties and insecurities – and an effective manager must make time to understand these if he is to draw out the best from the player. But Houlier also has a great belief in providence – believing he was spared after his massive heart attack for some specific purpose.

He had strong words about those who bring the sport into disrepute – especially those who use racist language to abuse black players. He attacked the culture of blame and said that becoming resentful or bitter disables personal growth while enthusiasm and passion need to be cultivated.

His message about building a team spirit, setting clear targets, inspiring confidence and trust, and developing inspiring forms of leadership were messages for a football club but clearly they were messages for the wider society as well.

Gerard Houlier first came to Liverpool as a young teacher in the late 1960s. He quipped that he had “exchanged the atomic shelter of education for the minefield of club management.” Yet he has never lost his belief in the importance of education. His lovely wife, Isobel, who has a Ph.d in history from the University of Paris, wouldn’t let him even if he wanted to. Watching some of the young people who crowded in to hear him – and hanging attentively on his every word – it’s just as well that he understands how to use the unique influence which his position gives him.

Under his influence LFC has been deeply involved in the life of the community, especially in education. They have given support to terminally ill and mentally or physically disabled children and are also involved in a raft of educational projects for the able-bodied. These include Re-educate, the Vernon Sangster numeracy and literacy initiative called Never Too Late To Learn, the Knowsley Education Action Zone, and a new video that is being pioneered in conjunction with Merseyside Police on anti-social behaviour. They have also sponsored a web site for the John Moores University’s foundation for Citizenship where the stories of young recipients of the good citizen awards can be told.

Football is often described as “the beautiful game” – but some of the actions of its clubs, supporters and managers are more ugly than beautiful.

Houlier, with his emphasis on attributes such as loyalty, humour, solidarity, resilience and warmth, is one of the giants of the game who can restore respect and counterbalance the excesses.

Little wonder that in July the Queen awarded Houlier the O B E in recognition of his services to football; and in France he was given the highest civic honour, the Legion of Honour, to recognise his contribution to sport and civic life. Although he has brought home plenty of trophies to his adopted and much-loved City, in helping to cultivate the civic life of the community he is giving it something more enduring.

Ends.

Danny Smith’s book describing the work of Jubilee Campaign: Introduction by David Alton. 2003.

Children at the school I attended as a boy were encouraged to write two Latin words at the head of each piece of work: Auctore Deo, The Enterprise is of God.

The extended thought is, of course, that if the enterprise is not of God then it is doomed to fail.

As I started to write this introduction for Danny Smith’s fast moving and inspiring account of the Jubilee Campaign those words came flooding back to me. I wanted to put them at the head and the heart of this text because I do not believe that Jubilee would have flourished without God’s blessing.

If I am straight-forward I don’t think that any of us who met in Westminster’s Jubilee Room all those years ago had any idea of what was being launched or how it would grow. Yet, notwithstanding the all-too-human mistakes made from time to time by everyone connected with Jubilee, its achievements have been significant.

As in any good story Danny opens his account by grabbing our attention. He does this by graphically describing a dangerous situation that required risk taking. The purpose was to expose a racket involving the sexual exploitation of little children.

Without a willingness to put himself on the line it would not have been possible to have engaged the media, parliamentarians and government agencies in addressing a grotesque and often brutal situation.

As you read the genesis of Jubilee’s work you will see that the three steps: See, Evaluate, Act, have always been present in its mission.

First, is the necessity of seeing what the world often chooses not to see.

Then, in arriving at an evaluation there needs to be a careful assimilation and assessment of the facts.

Finally, there is the requirement to act.

Initially, Jubilee’s work centred on the persecution of Christians in the former Soviet Union. So often their suffering had been overlooked. In the West we chose not to see.

Canon Michael Bordeaux, the inspirational founder of Keston College, who monitored the plight of the suffering church, has often described how it was politically convenient for church leaders and parliamentarians to hide behind the excuse that “intervening will only make their situation worse.” This was not the wish of many Christians – Orthodox, Protestant and Catholic – and, in the wake of the successful campaign to free the Seven Siberian Christians who had been holed up in the basement of the American Embassy in Moscow, Jubilee was determined that the world should see and understand the fate of their co-religionists on the other side of the Iron Curtain.

Seeing was believing. Once we had seen the scale of suffering, an evaluation had to be made about how best to act.

We knew that if we could harness the fire-power of individual MPs, Party leaders, and political parties, we could create a powerful phalanx of people agitating on behalf of the suffering. To enable them to do this with confidence it has always been essential that Jubilee’s information should be reliable. Often, therefore, this has meant seeing situations first-hand but also then building networks of information on the ground.

As years have passed, Parliamentarians have come to respect the quality of Jubilee’s reports and judgements, and they have then been prepared to act.

At first the action consisted of individual cases being taken up with ambassadors and heads of government. Later, MPs were briefed to table Motions, Questions or to speak in debates. Regardless of a parliamentarian’s own political views or religious beliefs (or lack of them), religious liberties became an issue many were willing to raise.

This often had an unexpected secondary effect.

It would be impossible to know the story of a persecuted believer and to act on their behalf without being affected by them. Through these cases you start to appreciate how much we take our own religious liberties for granted. You see clearly what secularisation has so often occluded, that some things are worth dying for.

One cold night at Mostiska, on the Polish border with the former Soviet Union, I began a Jubilee visit that brought the truth of this home to me most forcibly.

With two companions, David Campanale and Bill Hampson, we were ordered off the train and we and our belongings were searched. I had with me an ITN camera and several hundred Ukrainian prayer books.

Five hours later, after a lot of questioning, the prayer books and camera were carefully re-packed although a biography of Cardinal Basil Hume and my copy of the Liverpool Echo were confiscated. Despite Perestroika they clearly weren’t ready for the Scouse Mouse cartoon strip.

This was mildly irritating but like nothing in comparison with what we learnt from people we met during that visit.

Ivan Gel was the chairman of the Committee for the Defence of the (Greek Catholic) Church. He had spent seventeen years in prison. Bishop Pavlo Vasylyk had been incarcerated for eighteen years. A young priest had been caught illegally celebrating the liturgies and had just returned from his punishment: six months at Chernobyl clearing radioactive waste, without any protective clothing.

On our return Jubilee organised prayer vigils, letter writing campaigns and parliamentary action. Along with ITN we persuaded BBC Newsnight to broadcast our film material. In small ways the world knew a little more about what was happening in the Ukraine.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union Jubilee’s work refocused.

This time, the suffering of believers in the Islamic World and Far East became a central pre-occupation. With Wilfred Wong I travelled to the military zone in South East Turkey to see first-hand the plight of the Chaldean and Syrianni Christians. We took evidence from the Coptic Christians of Egypt and from other ancient churches.

We also entered Burma, illegally, to see the scale of the suffering among the Karen people. This was re-enforced by the campaign we launched on behalf of the jailed Christian human rights activist, James Mawdsley.

All the time, with Danny Smith’s encouragement and vision, Jubilee Campaign has engaged with regimes of every ilk, in championing the rights of people suffering for the religious beliefs. Primarily this has focused on Christians but not exclusively. Among the Karen, for instance, there are also Buddhists, Muslims, and people of traditional faiths, who have been persecuted too. In the former Soviet Union we championed the cause of Jewish dissidents, working with Jewish organisations, such as the women’s group, the 35s.

Perhaps one of Jubilee’s greatest strengths has been that in its inception we drew heavily on both the Evangelical and Catholic traditions. Pretty well all Christian traditions have been represented in Jubilee’s work – among those we have campaigned for and among those who have campaigned on their behalf.

Out of the work for the persecuted church came the work of Jubilee Action. Having seen the plight of children in many parts of the world, Danny wanted us to take the same three steps of Seeing, Evaluating and Acting, on their behalf.

New legislation before Parliament seeking to combat human trafficking follows a concerted campaign by Jubilee to get Government to take this issue seriously.

The United Nations’ drug control and crime prevention agency in Vienna, says human trafficking has become the fastest growing facet of organised crime. It is extraordinarily lucrative.

Powerful criminal organisations are estimated to earn about £4.3 billion a year from economic and sexual slavery. The trafficking of people is considered to be the third largest source of profits for organised crime after the trafficking of drugs and firearms.

The need for urgent action is underlined by the story of a young Romanian girl, Natasha, aged 18, who wound up in London penniless and confused, and which came to light last week. Natasha was sexually abused and terrified for her life. The victim of human traffickers, and of one particularly brutal man, called Alex, Natasha found herself imprisoned in a house in north London and threatened with enforced prostitution.

Natasha is on record as saying “I know he will follow me and hunt me down…He is angry with me and has threatened my friends and my parents back in Romania. He says the Russians” who are also involved in the underworld business of this trafficking, “will kill me”.

Girls like Natasha generate a small fortune for the men who own them and sell them.

In a highly lucrative business they are traded at between £5,000 and £10,000 each and they make their pimps up to £100,000 a year. That is not is Bangkok or Moscow but our own capital city of London.

“You don’t have to go very far upmarket from that to realise why this is such big business”, says Chief Superintendent Simon Humphrey, head of Scotland Yard’s vice squad. ‘In Soho, where there are about 70 brothels, each woman will generate more than double that figure'”.

Chief Superintendent Humphrey adds:

“If we don’t get our politicians to act, it’s going to radically alter our whole society and continue to wreck lives”.

Natasha’s case is the tip of an iceberg but no-one should despair and say “there’s nothing we can do.” Jubilee has already achieved some change.

One of the first successes was to change the law – making it a criminal offence in Britain to abuse a child overseas. Creating the all-party parliamentary street children group, of which I was one of the three founding chairmen, was also important. But, so were the reports that Jubilee began to publish on the scale of misery facing children, suffering various forms of modern slavery. Again, Seeing, Evaluating, and Acting.

One of the key continents for action is Africa.

In 2002 I visitted Southern Sudan and the remote Turkana region of Kenya.

Here the children have been caught up in a war ruthlessly pursued by the radical Islamic government in Khartoum. Two million have been killed and more than 4 million displaced.

In one little town, Narus I saw the effects of aerial bombardment. The dispensary serving Narus has been completely destroyed. The buildings are a mangled ruin. One local inhabitant, Moses March, took me to where a family of seven (five children, including an unborn child) all died in a direct hit on their hut. In addition to the massacre of Martin Lowie’s family 23 other people were killed last year in raids on Narus.

Many young people are forced into the militia. Bishop Akio Johnson – whose has survived nine attempts on his life – described to me one child soldier who told him that he had joined the resistance forces because “if I don’t take up a gun the government forces will come and take my mother and my sister.”

In the areas of southern Sudan where the conflict still rages children are being killed; women are being raped. UNICEF told me that “children are being crippled, nails put into their knees, and their Achilles’ tendons deliberately broken so they can’t run. There are serious serial human rights abuses. The government connives by arming the tribes who are involved.” All this in a country where 10% of children die before they are five; where life expectancy is just 56 years; where 92% live in poverty; and where, in a vast land mass, there are a mere 20 secondary schools.

The words “suffer the little children to come unto me” might have been uttered with Africa in mind. For with one million orphans often living rootless and disaffected lives, and the number rising exponentially, who can doubt that this will be the most serious challenge that a continent riven by so many crises must face? Africa is awash with feral children, faring little better than vermin.

Orphaned children are the sharp end of civil wars like the one raging in Sudan but they are also the victims of the Aids pandemic, urban drift, a collapsing education system, human trafficking, and corruption.

In a timely report, “Children On The Brink” several agencies including the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), have spelt out the scale of the disaster. They say that in 88 countries studied “More than 13 million children currently under the age of 15 have lost one or both parents to Aids, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa. By 2010, this number is expected to jump to more than 25 million.” World-wide, by 2010 UNICEF says the number of orphans in the world will have risen to around 106 million (about a quarter Aids related).

By the same year, in 12 African countries orphans will comprise 15% of all children under the age of 15.

There are already indications that this will not be the peak.

Poignantly one young Kenyan simply said to me during the Jubilee Action investigation “help us, Kenya is dying.”

The consequences of a vast dislocated and embittered underclass of orphaned children will be devastating for Africa. Tomorrow’s revolutionaries and tomorrow’s coups are already in the making in the festering slums to which children with no hope and no prospects migrate. Here is a fertile breeding ground for both Marxism and the radical fundamentalism of some Islamic groups.

Culturally disaffected young people will always create unrest but the numbers in Africa are without precedent. The crisis of orphans is shoed away; I see no evidence that national governments either understand the scale of this catastrophe or to what it will lead.

Here is Jubilee Action’s next great challenge. On behalf of these children it must See, Evaluate and Act.

And what else for the future?

The art of futurology is not very precise but I think it reasonable to predict that this side of eternity there will always be persecution and suffering. This came home to me most recently on a second visit to the Burma border and to Vietnam.

In Vietnam I heard terrible accounts of the continued suffering of Protestant and Catholic Christians. Take the case of Father Thaddeus Nguyen Van Ly.

Father Van Ly began a campaign for religious freedom in 2000 and was arrested after sending evidence to an American Congressional Committee in February 2001. He had called on the US Congress to postpone the ratification of a bilateral trade agreement while religious persecution persisted.

Father Van Ly is serving a fifteen-year prison sentence and during a visit to Hanoi with US Congressman, Joseph Pitts (Rep. Pennsylvania) on behalf of the Jubilee Campaign, I raised his case with Le Quang Vinh, head of the Vietnamese Government Committee on Religion.

Quang Vinh denies that religious persecution occurs in Vietnam and says that people like Father Van Ly have been arrested for acting subversively against the Communist Party: “It was not because he contacted the Congress” he said. “Van Ly tried to upset the people. He encouraged their illegal right to own land; he lied that there was no true freedom in Vietnam, and he refused to obey the authorities and accept their control. He armed his group to fight the authorities.”

When I asked him where Fr.Van Ly bought his guns and weapons he replied that “they had sticks and knives, not guns.”

The reality is that a group of about 35 frightened parishioners had gathered for sanctuary in his church. The church was surrounded by 600 armed security officers (Quang Vinh later contacted us to say the number was 200) and as Father Van Ly prepared to say Mass he was arrested. This report was confirmed by Dang Cong Dieu, the Chairman of the People’s Committee in Phy An.

Quang Vinh told us that we could not visit Fr.Van Ly but he did promise to place our plea for clemency before the Prime Minister, Phan Van Khai.

Fr Van Ly is only the latest and the most high profile of a series of prison sentences for Christians. The late Cardinal Van Thuan spent 13 years in Communist prisons, jailed after South Vietnam in 1975.

The beginnings of religious tolerance in Vietnam have come too late for Cardinal Van Thuan and there are worrying signs that ethnic minorities are to be excluded from the new dispensation.

In the central highlands of Vietnam the Montagnards, the Degar people, are facings systematic persecution. So are the Hmong.

There are about 600,000 tribal people from 30 different groups in the central highlands. Two thirds are Christian, both Catholic and Protestant. They assisted the US army during the Vietnam War and ever since 1995 they have not been allowed to forget it. Since 2001 they have been subjected to a massive crackdown.

Montagnard children have been denied education if their parent’s practice Christianity; soldiers and police have forced believer to renounce their faith and drink pig’s blood (a pre-Christian practice) and Martial law was imposed throughout the central highlands. A year ago the Cambodians deported 167 Montagnard refugees who had fled persecution. On their return they were tortured.

In Lai Chau province the Hmong have also suffered grievously.

Quang Vinh insists that he is working to ensure that “religious freedom is protected and improved.” Yet, last year Communist officials beat Mua Bua Senh, a Hmong Christian, to death when he refused to renounce his faith. His widow and six children, and three other families were forced to leave their home and their land.

Cases like Mua Bua Senh’s and Father Van Ly’s will ensure that Jubilee work will continue. So will the situation in countries like China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran, and Indonesia.

Often, when we look at seemingly intractable world problems we feel like Robert Louis Stephenson’s fictional boy who complains that “the world is so big and I am so small I do not like it at all, at all.” We could so easily be tempted into believing that there is nothing we can do.

When James Mawdsley went to Burma – to see, evaluate and act – he was thrown into prison, given a 17 year prison sentence and spent 13 months in solitary confinement. Jubilee gave his supporters small stones to carry. We said that the small stone represented the duty of each of us to carry one another’s burden. The small stone was a reminder to take the double action of pressure and prayer. But the small stone also reminds us that landslides happen when small stones move – and that is what we are, the small stones.

Jubilee hired a boat to take some of James’ supporters past Westminster on the first anniversary of his imprisonment. We heard from Burma human rights activists and from Karen speakers. There was political pressure and prayer. As the boat turned to make its way back up the Thames there was a moored dredging barge close to the bank. On an awning were the words “Landslides, No Problems.”

Perhaps, as Jubilee’s work goes forward we should see ourselves as the small stones working for the landslides and recognise that if the enterprise truly is of God then none of these great challenges is insuperable. That Jubilee has come so far is a great testimony to the persistence and vision of Danny Smith.

archive-racks

The Award on an Honorary Fellowship to Lech Walesa by Liverpool John Moores University: 2006.

Vice Chancellor, members of the university’s academic faculties, distinguished guests; it is my honour to bring before you Mr.Lech Walesa for admission as an honorary fellow of Liverpool John Moores University.

Born on September 29th 1943, it was in 1980 that Lech Walesa became the charismatic leader of millions of Polish worker.

The birth of Solidarity – Solidarnosc – Poland’s first independent trades union, became the catalyst for extraordinary and historic change. The cataclysmic events which led to the collapse of the Soviet Union, the peaceful re-emergence of a free Poland, the re-unification of Germany, and the freeing of the other Eastern European nations, also led to the honouring of Lech Walesa for the historic role which he had played.

In 1983 he became the first Pole to be awarded the prize founded by Alfred Nobel to recognise those whose endeavours peacefully bring the nations of the world closer together. In 1990 the Polish people elected him as their President.

Leader of Solidarity, Nobel Laureate, and President of Poland: for so many of us, Lech Walesa’s name became synonymous with our deepest yearnings and longings for true freedom and an end to tyranny.

Many of us gathered here in this Metropolitan Cathedral are of a generation whose parents and their relatives served in the armed forces or gave their lives in a conflict precipitated in 1939 by the Nazi invasion of Poland; and, poignantly, there are still among us a gallant few who participated in those terrible events.

Like so much of your beloved Poland, sir, this City of Liverpool sustained huge aerial bombardment and loss of civilian life during enemy raids. Merseyside’s shipyards and docks – crucial to the Battle of the Atlantic and our survival – were remorselessly pounded but never submitted. Liverpool’s narrative and its people’s characteristics will be celebrated next year on the 800th anniversary of the granting of our City’s charter. There is much in its story and its history, much in its tenacity and grit, much in its fortitude and faith, that will remind you of the suffering and endurance of your beloved Poles and especially of the workers of Gdansk.

There are many links between Poland and Liverpool. A quarter of a century ago many of us gathered in this great basilica to greet your countryman, Karol Wojtyla, Pope John Paul II. That visit is celebrated by the great tapestry which is part of the back-drop today. He famously said: “Whenever men exploit the weak; whenever the rich take advantage of the poor; whenever great powers seek to dominate and impose ideologies, there the work of making peace is undone; there the cathedral of peace is destroyed.”

It is not difficult to see how these same teachings inspired and shaped so much of your own outlook.

Today, in the aftermath of Poland’s accession to the European Union, our links are being further deepened. In addition to the ex-patriot Poles who stayed and settled here in the aftermath of World War Two, there is a flourishing community of Polish workers bringing their know-how and skills to our region. There are also Polish students among our 25,000-strong student body at Liverpool John Moores University. Their commitment to their studies and their determination to create a successful future is a credit to them and their families.

Physically, our commercial, social, and cultural links with your country are deepening daily. There is now a direct air link between Warsaw and Liverpool and between Liverpool and Gdansk – whose airport was re-named in 2004 in honour of Lech Walesa. At the time he quipped: “When I first heard of the idea, I asked myself shouldn’t I die first?” Happily, that was not considered a necessary requirement.

Along with our air links our maritime links are considerable. Gdansk is the Polish maritime capital and its origins date from AD 980. Liverpool’s maritime history is well known and is celebrated in our city’s claim to be “the whole world in one city”. Gdansk is a similarly cultural melting pot celebrating diversity and internationalism.

In 2008, Liverpool will celebrate its most recent achievement of being designated European Capital of Culture. I know that Liverpool people like George and Gosia McKane – who have their own marital British-Polish alliance – will, through their Yellow House project – be seeking to further strengthen our cultural links. We are indebted to them for facilitating our initial contact with you.

This historic visit will further entrench that relationship and as they study your life and the turbulent times in which you have lived I do not doubt that many will be inspired to become more active citizens. In every generation there are dragons: seemingly daunting tasks to perform, impossible odds to overcome. Your story should be a spur to those who feel powerless or excluded, trampled on or forgotten. That is one of the deep impulses of our university’s Foundation for Citizenship and represented a few minutes ago by the children who received the good citizenship awards which you presented. It’s about learning how to take a stand; how to make a difference.

Our students should be inspired by your personal story.

The son of a carpenter Lech Walesa was brought up in Popowa. As he has himself observed: “My youth passed at the time of the country’s reconstruction from the ruins and ashes of the war in which my nation never bowed to the enemy paying the highest price in the struggle…These were years of many wrongs, degradations and lost illusions. I was barely 13 years old when, in June 1956, the desperate struggle of the workers of Poznan for bread and freedom was suppressed in blood….The memory of my fellow workers who then lost their lives, the bitter memory of violence and despair has become for me a lesson never to be forgotten.”

After graduating from a vocational technical school – very much a part of the traditions of this university – Lech Walesa worked as a car mechanic before serving for two years in the army. In 1967 he went to work in the Gdansk shipyards as an electrician before, two years later, marrying Danuta Galos.

As early as 1970, in the years when Poland had exchanged Nazism for Soviet totalitarianism, he was detained following a clash between the workers and the communist government. Inscribed on the monument erected at the entrance to the Gdansk Shipyard in memory of those who

Were killed in December 1970 are the words of the Psalm: “The Lord will give His people the blessing of peace”. It would take an epic struggle of biblical proportions for those blessings to become manifest. Lech Walesa never wavered although he must have often wondered what trials awaited him.

In 1976, because of his activities as a shop steward, he was arbitrarily dismissed and the family was plunged into penury as he sought one temporary job after another.

In 1978 Lech Walesa began to work with others in organising the country’s first free non-communist trades union. He became increasingly involved in direct action and protests and the notorious secret services kept him under continuous surveillance and regularly detained him.

Then on August 14th, 1980, the 37-year-old electrician took a series of actions which would change history. Lech Walesa first scaled a wall of the Lenin Shipyard a began a strike. Within days this would lead to the closure of factories all over Poland and would ultimately lead to the end of the Cold War, lead to the liberation of millions of people well beyond the borders of the Polish state, and lead to the re-configuration of European and global political dynamics.

During that period I led a number of human rights missions to Eastern Europe. A favourite sentiment of many of those who wanted to see change was scrawled in the memorable graffiti slogan: “If not now, when? If not us who?” It took real courage to answer those questions in the affirmative: to believe you were the man or woman and that this was the favoured time.

Many paid a terrible price; some, like Lech Walesa’s countryman, Jerzy Popieluszko, the ultimate one.

Popieluszko had presided over many public masses during the rise of Solidarity. Consistently he urged his listeners – Solidarity’s numbers were approaching some 10 million people by the peak – to refuse to be goaded into violence. He said:

“Do not struggle with violence. Violence is a sign of weakness. All those who cannot win through the heart try to conquer through violence. The most wonderful and durable struggles in history have been carried on by human thought. The most ignoble fights and most ephemeral successes are those of violence. An idea which needs rifles to survive dies of its own accord. An idea which is imposed by violence collapses under it. An idea capable of life wins without effort and is then followed by millions of people.”

Popieluszko was appointed by Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski as chaplain to the steel worker in Warsaw and became a central spiritual advisor to many who followed Lech Walesa and his Solidarity movement. The price he paid was brutal murder. 400,000 Poles attended his funeral in 1984.

After the collapse of the Berlin Wall the stories of those who suffered the real heat of persecution for their political or religious beliefs became known. We called it a Cold War but for men like Lech Walesa or Alexander Ogorodnikov – a Russian dissident who spent 8 years in prison and whose moving testimony some of you will have heard at a meeting I chaired in the Crypt of this Cathedral some 15 years ago; or Martha and Vladimir Slepak, two Russian Jews whom I was able to bring to Greenbank Synagogue after their release from the Soviet Union – it was not a Cold War but one in which they suffered in the furnaces.

In “The Gulag Archipelago” Alexander Solzhenitsyn describes the corrupt and evil nature of the edifice which Stalin and his cohorts had constructed. He says of this society: “There is – only a wall. And its bricks are laid on a mortar of lies…There is no law. The same treacherous secrecy, the same fog of injustice, still hangs in our air, worse than the smoke of city chimneys. For half a century and more the enormous state has towered over us, girded with hoops of steel. The hoops are still there. There is no law.”

During the dark days of the 1980s – the drama of which many of us followed in our newspapers on a daily basis – ordinary people began to unpick the bricks on which that edifice of lies had been constructed. And they paid a price.

In their defence of Solidarity, some lost their freedom; some were sentenced to prison terms or were held for months without trial; some paid the highest price: the price of life.

During those bleak times the name Lech Walesa became synonymous with the deepest human desires for freedom. As the Strike Coordination Committee evolved into Solidarnosc we waited with baited breath to see whether, like the uprising in Hungary in 1956 or the Prague Spring of 1968, Russian tanks would once again roll and Solidarity’s flickering light would be snuffed out.

Driven into an underground existence by the totalitarian regime of General Wojciech Jaruzelski, the movement resisted the attempts to crush it. A new strike and the 1988 occupation of the Gdansk shipyard forced the Polish Government to give Solidarity legal status and to permit the first limited free elections. The Warsaw Pact would never recover.

Walesa said of those years: “During the 15 months of Solidarity’s legal existence nobody was killed or wounded as a result of its activities. Our movement expanded by leaps and bounds…Solidarity grew into a powerful movement for social and moral liberation.” He went on to quote his friend, John Paul II: “The working man is not a mere tool of production, but he is the subject which throughout the process of production takes precedence over the capital. He is ready for sacrifices if he feels that he is a real partner and has a say in the just division of what has been produced by common effort.” But Walesa lamented: “It is, however, precisely this feeling that we lack.”

For those of privileged to travel in Poland at that time there was a fevered atmosphere of endless activity, of brinkmanship, of steely courage and nerve. As Vaclaw Havel, the former President of the Czech Republic, correctly observed, when Solidarity was born 26-years ago, “The events in Poland had a definite influence on future changes here and in other countries from the Communist bloc.”

Solidarity’s final victory, in 1989, was not the end of the struggle.

In 1942, after the Battle of El Alamein, Winston Churchill said of our own nation’s fight against tyranny:

“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

1989, the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the election of a free Polish Government, the subsequent game of grandmother’s footsteps played out across Europe and which led all the way to Mikhail Gorbachev’s Kremlin, was also the end of the beginning. It was greatly to Gorbachev’s credit that he was no longer prepared to military force to keep communist parties in satellite states in power but it was to Walesa’s and Solidarity’s credit that the Kremlin had become convinced that the military solution was no longer an option.

Think for a moment about the genocide in the former Yugoslavia, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, or the continuing dictatorship of Alexander Lukashenko, Belarus’s Moscow-backed dictator, and you will quickly appreciate that the transformation and renewal of Europe has not been without suffering and is by no means complete even now.

In the face of tyranny it is worth recalling Lech Walesa’s own words when he received the Nobel Peace Prize:

“We desire peace – and that is why we have never resorted to physical force. We crave for justice – and that is why we are so persistent in the struggle for our rights. We seek freedom of convictions – and that is why we have never attempted to enslave man’s conscience nor shall we ever attempt to do so…We respect the dignity and the rights of every nation.”

Lech Walesa has continued to be honoured by those who understand his central significance in these momentous events.

In 1989 he became the third person in history, after the Marquis de Lafayette and Winston Churchill, to address a joint session of the United States Congress. In December 1990 he was elected for five years as President of Poland. He has been honoured with honorary degrees by many universities, including Harvard and the University of Paris. He is the recipient of the European Award of Human Rights and the Italian Grand Order of Merit. He is a Knight of the Order of the Polish White Eagle and he was raised to the status of Knight of the Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath by Her Majesty the Queen. He is a recipient of the French Grand Cross of the Legion d’honneur and many other decorations.

Among his publications are “A Path of Hope”, “The Road to Freedom”, “The Struggle and the Triumph”, and “Everything I do, I do for Poland.” Ten years ago he established the Lech Walesa Institute Foundation which seeks to safeguard Polish national heritage and the tradition of independence and solidarity as well as consolidating democracy and the free market economy in Poland, as well as permanently integrating Poland into European structures.

And what more might we briefly say about Lech Walesa – the man?

Among his interests are crossword puzzles and a love of fishing – although I doubt that very often you would have seen the words “Gone Fishing” on the door of his frenetically busy office. In between all of his other activities he and Danuta have found time to rear four daughters and four sons.

A man who has lived though such turbulent times might be indelibly scarred by those experiences. Lech Walesa has emerged with integrity and even humour in tact.

During Margaret Thatcher’s visit to Gdansk in 1988 the Prime Minister met with Lech Walesa and asked him how he intended to convey Solidarity’s thinking to the Polish Government: Walesa laughed, pointed to the ceiling, and replied: “There’s no trouble. They have got this meeting bugged.”

Last year he joked with his successor as Polish President – a former communist – “We can forge a trade union for former presidents of Poland.”

“I’m in favour” Mr Kwasniewski replied: “but I think I know who is going to be chairman.”

Vice Chancellor, Lech Walesa has said that he will be an active citizen, taking part in public affairs “until they nail down the lid of my coffin.” We hope that day is far off and doubtless there will be many chairs to fill before then.

It is with great pleasure that I present him to you for the conferment of an honorary fellowship.

Ends.

The Glories of Islamic Art Brought to Life By A Jewish Collector – January 9th 2005

Just before Christmas I hosted a visit to Liverpool by a remarkable man – David Khalili. He was in the City to give a Liverpool John Moores University Roscoe Lecture.

Professor Khalili has spent 30 years drawing together a priceless collection of over 20,000 pieces of Islamic art. He has always said that his aim in creating this collection was to engender “goodwill between the West and the Muslim world.” Over the summer in a characteristically generous remark, commenting on his decision to put his collection on permanent public display, he said “it is much better to give with a warm heart than a cold hand.”

Pieces from his wonderful collection have been exhibited at the Louvre, at The Hermitage in St.Petersburg, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and other world museums. The most recent exhibition, Heaven on Earth, was at Somerset House in London and he has promised to bring the collection to Liverpool during 2008 when the city will be Europe’s capital of culture.

When he was 14 years old Professor Khalili wrote a book about geniuses of the world. He decided to put pen to paper after an argument with one of his teachers – and he wanted to make a point. Arguably, he has been making a point ever since.

Professor Khalili learnt about art at his mother’s knee. Being born the son of Jewish parents in Ishfan in Iran he also learnt the art of survival as part of a small minority always at risk.

After studying in New York he came to live in Britain. He founded and is chairman of the Maimonidies Foundation and is a member of the governing body of the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, where he has also endowed a chair of Islamic studies. At Oxford University he recently gave £2.25 million to fund a centre for the study of Islamic art and that of other religions in the Middle East. His actions are a good example of learning to glorify difference.

Our Chief Rabbi, Dr.Jonathan Sacks, reminds us that in the Hebrew bible we encounter a God who first chooses a family, then a people. He commands them to be different.

In doing this, He created an extraordinary challenge for the Jews and for the people among whom they would live. In every generation Jews have had to face the heart-wrenching dilemma of whether to simply conform or to be different. Then the rest of the community have had to face the challenge of how to accommodate difference.

The same challenges have, from time to time, faced adherents of other faiths. Are we or they to be forcibly assimilated? If not, are we to be debased by rabid anti-Semitism or hatred of others – perhaps through the burning of their effigy on a bonfire in

Lewes – because their faith or outlook is not the same as ours? Can we see God’s image – the imago Dei – in the face of another who is not of our tribe? Have we the capacity to hear God’s voice or see His touch in the language or the story of people who are different from us. The dignity of difference and the centrality of diversity are at the heart of this.

The good news is that faith creates and holds together communities. The bad news is that those communities will often be set at odds against one another.

The good news is that strong faith communities can heal the wounds of politics and economics, foster co-operation where market forces merely foster competitiveness and faith communities can foster loving, giving and respect. And faith can fire our imaginations and sense of creativity. The bad news is that when faith becomes tribal, prejudiced and narrow, it can wreak terrible havoc.

The good news is that faith can be an inspiration that can fire imaginations and when channelled creatively can produce great art and enrich our culture.

In learning how to handle religious belief society has three options. The first two are unworkable – that is to force either the total privatisation or the syncratisation of religion. The third option is to learn the art of tolerance.

David Khalili says that his aim in drawing together his unique collection was “to create goodwill between the west and the Muslim world.” In today’s climate we need more people like David Khalili.

Knowing Your Genetic Identity: 11th August 2002

I recently made a submission to a Department of Health consultation on whether offspring who are conceived using sperm, eggs or embryos provided by a donor should be able to obtain identifying and non-identifying information about their genetic parents.

At the very least the children should know something of their ethnic and genetic heritage. This will help to give them a sense of their cultural and social identity and will also allow them to be informed as to the susceptibility to certain forms of disease and illness. We all want to know exactly who we are.

The consultation document acknowledges that the schedule of potential non-identifying information is virtually infinite and may include information about religion, blood type, bone structure, right or left handedness, educational background and academic ability, sporting and travel preferences.

Once you start to extend the range of non-identifying information being collected it becomes difficult to legitimately withhold any form of non-identifying information. The greater the amount of non-identifiable information about a donor that is made available, the greater the risk that this information will enable the donor to be identified. This is why, in the interests of transparency, identifying information should be disclosed and any change in the law should operate retrospectively. This is view I share with Baroness Warnock, the architect of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, and she has written to me promising to support a change in the law.

Disappointingly the consultation document has not sought responses on retrospective identification but has merely restricted itself to the identification of future donors.

If the child’s welfare is paramount there is an inherent contradiction between allowing future donor offspring to access identifying information on their biological parents and denying this right to existing donor offspring. In both cases the same considerations apply – that donor offspring have a right to full disclosure of their personal, family and genetic history.

Donor conceived children should have the right to establish the identity of the donor in the same way as adopted children have the right to find out the identity of their birth parents. If we truly hold the child’s interests, rather than the donor’s, as paramount then we should allow the child to access this form of personal information.

Potential donors should be told that identifying information will be made available. This might help impress upon them the enormity of what they are about to undertake – that they will become the biological parent of at least one child. If they are not happy about this, they do not have to agree to donate.

It is hugely disappointing that, in the light of the difficult ethical and legal issues concerning artificial reproductive techniques, the Government’s consultation document makes no reference to natural fertility programmes that seek to work closely with couples to overcome the root causes of infertility rather than by-pass them through recourse to donated gametes and embryos. These programmes are a well kept secret and deserve greater publicity, and indeed more funding. If they are to flourish the Government and others who may be in a position to help those engaged in natural fertility programmes need to take note.

archives1

Liverpool Law Society Dinner. 13th November 2003.

Speech by Lord Alton of Liverpool.

LIVERPOOL LAWYERS AND THEIR

CONTRIBUTION TO PUBLIC AND POLITICAL LIFE

There is a story about an argument that ensues between three men who all believe that theirs is the oldest profession. There is a doctor, a lawyer and a politician.

The doctor insists that his is the oldest profession: “because a doctor took a rib out of Adam in order to make Eve.”

“No,” says the lawyer, mine is the oldest profession because a lawyer created order out of the chaos that existed in the firmament before time began.”

“No”, insisted the politician, “mine is the oldest profession, because we created the chaos.”

In reality, both the politicians and the lawyers can take some of the credit, and the blame, for many examples of order and of chaos. The link between the making of law and its administration hardly needs stating – and perhaps that’s why, down the generations, so many lawyers have been attracted into politics.

As politicians seek to meddle in the administration of the law – and, as Lord Woolf warned last week – risk unravelling the complex relationships between the judiciary, parliament and the government – it is worth reflecting on how easily political interference can wreak havoc and bring chaos; but how, also, as Mr. Justice Judge said last week, how political interference can ultimately lead to the corruption and subjugation of an independent judiciary.

Perhaps it is more important then ever, therefore, that those who have a love of law and its independence from political taint should themselves think about how they can help to strengthen public and civic life.

I was struck, when thinking about what to say this evening, by the crossover into the political realm of so many Liverpool lawyers: many of whom have brought important gifts into our civic life. Let me remind you of some of them.

One of the most colourful of these was F.E.Smith, Lord Birkenhead, who won the Liverpool Walton Division as a Conservative against the tide in the 1906 Liberal landslide. A close friend of the young Winston Churchill, Smith would rise to the post of Attorney General in 1915 (a post held today by Peter Goldsmith – whose connections with this Society and this City are well known). Smith became Lord Chancellor in 1919.

Another local lawyer, Gruffydd Evans, the late Lord Evans of Claughton, once told me his favourite FE Smith story. Each morning Smith would be observed leaving the National Liberal Club near Whitehall. One day his friend, Churchill, who was then Liberal Home Secretary, bumped into him and asked him why he was so often seen coming in and going out of the National Liberal Club: “Is that what it is?” he asked: “I though it was the public convenience.”

In the words of GK Chesterton’s acerbic poem, directed at Lord Birkenhead, the lawyer/politician he most despised: “Chuck it Smith.”

Gruffydd Evans, the late Cyril Carr – who was the first parliamentary candidate I campaigned for -, and Rex Makin – just honoured as the first Liverpool solicitor in 100 years to be given the freedom of the City – were all deeply influenced by Professor Lyon Blease, who, until 1949, was the Queen Victoria Professor of Law at Liverpool University. He also mixed law and politics, having been the unsuccessful Liberal candidate in the Garston Division.

Among the many other local lawyers who blended their professional commitment to the law with public service included the former Lord Chancellor, Sir David Maxwell Fyfe (Lord Kilmuir) (sacked in Harold Macmillan’s night of the long knives), Selwyn Lloyd, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Speaker of the Commons; his political opponent, Peter Howell Williams – and Selwyn Lloyd’s successor as Wirral MP, David Hunt; Sydney Sliverman, a close friend and adviser to Bessie and Jack Braddock, and who in 1965, saw the successful culmination of his long campaign to end the death penalty; the former deputy speaker of the Commons, and Toxteth MP, Colonel Dick Crawshaw; my predecessor in Liverpool Edge Hill, Sir Arthur Irvine, the Solicitor General in Harold Wilson’s Government; and Hartley Shawcross, Attorney General and MP for St. Helens, who had Chambers in Liverpool, and was Chief Prosecutor for the War Crimes Trials at Nuremburg.

In his closing speech at Nuremburg Shawcross remarked, “In all our countries, when perhaps in the heat of passion or for other motives which impair restraint, some individual is killed, the murder becomes a sensation. Our compassion is roused, nor do we rest until the criminal is punished and the rule of law vindicated. Shall we do less when not one but 12 million men and women and children are done to death, not in battle, not in passion, but in a cold calculated deliberate attempt to destroy nations and races.”

Shawcross reminded his generation that such tyranny and brutality could only be resisted in the future not simply be “military alliances but firmly on the rules of law.”

This passionate belief in the upholding of law and in the administration of justice is central to the upholding of civilised values; to the maintenance of human rights and hard won liberties. The rule of law determines the way in which we govern ourselves in Britain. It is the very bedrock of our parliamentary system and the corner stone of our democratic institutions. Without it we all descend into chaos.

Sometimes we take our freedoms and liberties for granted.

Last month I visited North Korea, China and the refuges camps on the Burma border. In North Korea, they enjoy few political or religious liberties. I heard of a group of believers whose church was destroyed by the communists 55 years ago but who have continued to meet in the rubble ever since. The recently published Hawk Report documents the suffering of countless detainees held in North Korean gulags. There have been arbitrary arrests, detentions and murders. I went there because a year ago I met a Korean refugee who had seen his wife and child shot dead and then saw his other child die as he made the perilous journey out of the country.

On the Burma border I saw a child whose parents had both been shot by the military junta; he had been sold over the border to a Thai family and then run away to the camp at Mela, where I me him. All this before the age of 8.

This time last year I went into Southern Sudan with the SPLA – into a country where 3 million have died over two years as attempts are made to forcibly impose Sharia law; and daily aerial bombardment has been used to try and intimidate and subjugate a whole people.

There stories reminded me of the priest I met who had been sent by the former Soviet authorities to Chernobyl, to clear radioactive waste as a punishment for being caught celebrating the liturgies in the open, or the bishop who had spent 17 years in prison for his faith; or the Jewish dissidents I visited in the former Soviet Union who had been denied basic rights and liberties. As those people and the people of far-flung countries such as Cambodia, Rwanda and the Congo can testify, the Nuremburg Tribunals did not, sadly, denote an end to the sufferings.

As I think of these people – or indeed the people of our own community on Merseyside, who face all the domestic vicissitudes that life can throw at them – it simply renews my belief in our democracy and the privileges we enjoy. Aristotle, the father of democracy, wrote in his great work “Politics” that we “are not solitary pieces in a game of chequers” and he said that aidos – shame – would attach to the man who refused to play his part. Cicero -in his work “On Duty” – said that we each become more virtuous, simply by accepting the duty to be engaged in civic and public affairs.

For my money, Liverpool’s greatest citizen was William Roscoe, and if anyone personifies the great calling into public life, it is he.

He began his career as an Attorney but found it “an employment which preys upon my happiness and disgusts me with myself and with mankind.”

Born in Mount Pleasant in 1753, he left school at the age of 12, working first in his father’s market garden. In 1769 he became articled to an attorney, John Eyes Junior, and after Eyes’ death to Peter Ellames. Five years later he was admitted to the Court Roll of the King’s Bench and formed a partnership with Samuel Spinal.

At times he became disillusioned with the law, writing on one occasion to his beloved wife that the law could both be “sometimes wilful and sometimes (suffer) involuntary blindness, which prevents the appearance of truth.” Roscoe would have shared with Ben Johnson the belief that a man should “stand for truth: it’s enough.”

When Roscoe retired from practice, in 1796, he was able to concentrate all his energies on writing, on philanthropy, and on public life.

It was no exaggeration when the great historian of Liverpool, James Picton, said that ‘no native resident of Liverpool has done more to

elevate the character of the community, by uniting the successful

pursuit of literature and art with the ordinary duties of the citizen

and man of business’.

In the heat of the commercial boom which hit Liverpool at the end of

the eighteenth century, Roscoe became a successful banker and lawyer.

But he never lost sight of his other values. Take his attitudes towards slavery, the war with the French and the French Revolution.

Liverpool’s prosperity was based on the slave trade. Ramsay Muir,

the Professor of Contemporary History at Liverpool University at the

turn of the twentieth century, estimated that slavery generated a staggering £15 million in Liverpool in one year alone. In the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century that would have been wealth on a scale only equalled today in the City of London’s money markets.

The slaves were not brought directly to Liverpool; they were just one

part of a triangle. Manufactured gods were shipped from Liverpool to

Guinea. These cargoes were exchanged for slaves who were then taken

direct to the West Indies and sold. In the Liverpool newspapers of

Roscoe’s day there were many advertisements urging Liverpool

gentlemen to try their luck and to amass their fortunes in this trade

of human misery.

It would have been easy for Roscoe to turn a blind eye to these

lucrative but evil practices. The slave traders dominated Liverpool

and it was highly unpopular to speak out against it. He and William

Rathbone were two of the few who did. Roscoe went further and joined

with the Quakers, and the political leaders like Fox and the

political reformer, William Wilberforce, to challenge the slavery

laws.

In 1787 and 1788 he published tracts and poems attacking the

inhumanity and evil of slavery. In his poem The Wrongs of Africa are

lines which retain their strength and poignancy to this day: ‘Blush

ye not, to boast your equal laws, your just restraints, your rights

defended, your liberties secured, whilst with an iron hand ye crushed

to earth the helpless African; and bid him drink that cup of sorrow,

which yourselves have dashed, indignant, from Oppression’s fainting

grasp?’

Roscoe showed admirable courage as shunned popular acclaim,

vigorously admonishing his Liverpool readers and reminding them that

for all of us there comes a time of reckoning: ‘Forget not, Britain,

higher still than thee, sits the great Judge of nations, who can

weigh the wrong, and can repay’.

Two decades later, in 1807, he was briefly elected to serve as a

Liverpool Member of Parliament. He ignored the hatred which his

position might engender and strongly supported Wilberforce. Other

abolitionists told him his vote in the House was worth twenty. After

just three months in the House of Commons: ‘I consider it the

greatest happiness of my existence to lift up my voice on this

occasion, with the friends of justice and humanity’.

Roscoe showed similar courage in supporting the ideals – though not

the fanaticism – of the French Revolution. From his political position, as a Whig, he bitterly attacked Edmund Burke, who changed sides and became an opponent of political reform. Roscoe subsequently opposed the Napoleonic Wars – again risking adverse public reaction – and by keeping alive the ideal of political reform,

he and the Whigs paved the way for the reforming legislation of the

1830’s and probably helped avert a bloody revolution.

Two hundred years ago, in the 1790, he penned these lines about the

revolution in Europe: ‘Too long had the Oppression and Terror

entwined those fancy-formed chains that enslave the free mind . . .

Seize then the glad moment, and hail the decree that bids millions

rejoice, and a nation be free’ words which today should resound

around the capitals of Eastern Europe. Roscoe fought against slavery

and championed individual liberty. He was adamantly opposed to the

Test Acts which debarred and discriminated against Dissenters and

Roman Catholics – another unpopular cause in the Liverpool of his

day. He argued for ‘general toleration’. As a dissenting Christian

himself – he was a Unitarian – he refused to compromise when offered

the position of the Deputy-Lieutenancy of the County (which the law

said could only be held by a member of the Established Church). Even

when he was assured that the law would not be invoked against him, he

held that bad laws should be repealed not ignored. Nearly two

centuries later the American Civil Rights leader, Martin Luther King,

said, “Do not ask if it is politic, do not as if it is timely,

ask if it is right”. Roscoe saw clearly the difference between

right and wrong and lived his life accordingly.

Nor was Roscoe simply long on words and short on actions.

He supported every project calculated for the public good. The

extent of his private charities were considerable. The foundation of

Liverpool’s Athenaeum and the Botanic Gardens were largely at his

instigation. And his commitment to his city and his family was

second to none.

He lived successively at Mount Pleasant, Dingle, Islington, and

Allerton Hall and died in 1831 at his home in Toxteth’s Lodge Lane.

He wrote often about the city he loved. But his children’s poem, The

Butterfly’s Ball, is my favourite. Written for his son Robert, he describes some of the guests at revels in the insect world: ‘And there was the gnat, and the dragon fly too, with all their relations, green orange and blue; and there came the moth with his plumage of down, and the hornet, in jacket of yellow and brown’. King George III liked it so much that he had the poem set to music for his three daughters, the Princesses Elizabeth, Augusta and Mary, and it was publicly performed for the first time since the War at the Roscoe Exhibition that I opened at the Picton Library earlier this year.

Many of those who formed your Society in 1827 would have personally known William Roscoe and would have been influenced by him. Perhaps his spirit is one of the reasons why so many others have subsequently played their part in the public and political life of our City and Nation. men like Roscoe and Shawcross should inspire this generation to consider how they might use their own gifts for the common good. As Liverpool rejoices in its new found title of “City of Culture” let it also understand that culture and civilisation depend on laws to thrive; and that if we are not to descend into chaos, we will always need lawyers committed to the highest ideals and ready to enrich our civic life by their willingness to contribute to the body politic.

May I invite you to raise your glasses and to toast the Society’s past contribution and in anticipation that the best may still be to come:

The Toast: The Liverpool Law Society

archive4

First Be Reconciled…. A Lenten Address by David Alton. Liverpool Parish Church, February 22nd, 2002

Some years ago I heard the story of a man who decided to get involved in his church’s ministry of healing. Having taken the decision, he became depressed and troubled. He knew that it was 30 years since he and his brother had quarrelled bitterly and that the ensuring family feud had led to them not uttering a word to one another over the intervening 30 years.

He resolved to put things right and having tracked down his younger brother he was initially rebuffed and rejected. He gently persisted and reconciliation followed. Healed of this personal unresolved pain he was freed up to be of use to others.

This man’s story reminds me of how often we prescribe remedies for others that we reject for ourselves. It is easy to tell people in far away places to end their savagery or their rivalrous factionalism, to lecture warring tribes in central Africa, or to demand peace processes on the West Bank or the Falls Road, and yet permit domestic warfare in our own homes and families.

Is the physician not commanded first to heal himself? Do we not first need to take out the plank from our own eyes before we can see the needs of others.

At the weekend Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, the President of the Family Division of our courts, was reflecting on the level of bitterness between estranged couples and the effects on their children. Under British law it is true that you can divorce your wife or husband, but you cannot divorce your children.

There has been a 600 per cent increase in marriage breakdown over the last 30 years and one in five children now see their parents divorce before they are 16. With 43% of our marriages breaking up some 800,000 children now have no contact with their fathers. It is estimated that 40% of non-resident parents lose contact with their children within two years of separation or divorce.

One of the judges who works with Dame Elizabeth, Sir Nicholas Wall, says that parents are unaware of how damaging their behaviour can be: “Most people who are adamantly opposed to their former partner or spouse having contact do so in the express belief that it is in the interests of the children. Most parents live in the here and now and find it difficult to see 10 years ahead when a teenager or adolescent will round on them for ruining their relationship with the other parent. People don’t see that in the immediate fog of separation. “

Dame Elizabeth says: “Ask the child and they’ll say, “I want to keep both my parents. I love them both. In 1970 I don’t think we recognised the importance of a child having both parents the way we do now. My thinking has certainly evolved. The important thing for a judge is never to think you know it all. The longer I sit the more I feel I have to learn.”

If that is true for the most senior members of our judiciary how much more so must it be true for each of us.

In Saint Mark’s account of the gospel, Our Lord says, “If a kingdom is divided against itself that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself that house cannot stand.”

At one level many people have grander houses than ever before, but broken and divided homes. That is why we need first to be reconciled.

The undermining of binding promises in a family context – the breaking of personal covenants, which for the Christian are made sacramentally between a man, a woman and God Himself – has led to a broader breakdown of communal responsibilities. Trust between people weakens as covenant comes to mean less and less; and in the absence of reconciled parents – willing to make sacrifices at least, as earlier generations put it, “for the sake of the children” – can we be surprised when the same children make our

messed-up values their own?

The increasing instability of family life and the very serious consequences of widespread family breakdown have a deleterious and fundamental impact on society at large. As well as the tragic personal suffering – and it is considerable – the massive economic impact of family breakdown should not be underestimated. Nor, too, should the effects of increased child poverty, poor educational achievement, and dysfunctional behaviour. Addressing both the cause and the consequences of family breakdown is central to the future health and vitality of the nation.

Private and public attitudes and policy must march hand in hand. All of us can play a part in strengthening marriage and family life. Governments can help remove pressures on families such as job insecurity, poor housing, poverty and debt and by improving the support for those who are left to bring up a child alone. The rampant commercial pressures of longer working hours and Sunday trading leaves many families with little or no shared time together – the precious moments in which quarrels and misunderstandings are settled and when space is made to allow the healing and reconciliation to begin.

In his encyclical, Centesimus Annus, Pope John Paul II says: “It is urgent therefore to promote not only family policies but also those social policies which have the family as their principle object, policies which assist the family by providing adequate resources and efficient means of support, both for bringing up children and looking after the elderly, so as to avoid distancing the latter from the family unit and in order to strengthen relations between generations.”

But instead of reconciling and strengthening our family relationships, they’ve been under siege. The great deceit has been perpetrated that we can use and dispose of one another at will and that there are no consequences.

A comment by Will Carling plainly reveals who deeply the Great Deceit has now become engrained. He said, “I didn’t believe I should stay in a relationship just for the sake of the child. I don’t think that is what life is all about” (Guardian 7.10.98).

The Great Deceit has it that when you find your relationship in a mess, the easy and quick divorce is the least painful solution. Add abandonment to betrayal and desertion and you quickly see that this is hardly a solution. Let us at least admit that where families do tragically separate that it is precisely that: a tragedy for all involved. It is a tragedy for the parents who have been separated by adultery and a tragedy for the child who has no clear idea what the of what the implications will be for them.

The Great Deceit asserts that cohabitation and marriage should be on an equal footing. But the facts simply do not bear this out. Only four per cent of children not being brought up by their own married parents live in stable cohabiting households. But don’t let the facts get in the way.

The Great Deceit also peddles the myth that all this is simply a private matter. It isn’t. Collapsing families lead to collapsing communities as the delicate network of family ties are severed, as trust is displaced by deception, and commitment by desertion. The whole of civic society is affected by the metropolitan falsehood that the “family is over” or, as that most sophisticated doyen of the metropolitan chattering classes, Polly Toynbee, has it “family is no more than a code word.”

Revealingly she also says: “When politicians talk about ‘strengthening the family’, liberals reach for their revolvers.” Another commentator, Simon Jenkins, writing in The Times, says, “families are by their nature Darwinian units.”

From this I suppose we are to conclude that nothing should be done to strengthen the family and that the evolutionary process would render the family as extinct as the dinosaur. Toynbee confirms this interpretation in the following phrase: “Ministers would do well to abandon the ‘family’ and’marriage’labels altogether” she says.

This, of course, is the logical culmination of the economic individualism of the 1980s. Social individualism cares nothing for covenant or commitment. It cares only for do-it-yourself ethics and the tired old mantra of personal choice and personal autonomy.

Reciprocated duties and communal responsibility are the antidote to this privatised individualism but I do not pretend it will be easy to reverse the monumental shift in cultural values which has been so carefully orchestrated and encouraged.

The economic and social price of collapsing family and community life has been incalculable; but nor can we put a price on the personal costs of severed relationships.

There was recently an article published in a national newspaper, which recounted the story of a man grieving over the death of his son. What pained him most was that he had never told his son how much he had loved him – and now it was too late. For the Christian, especially as we prepare ourselves in Lent for the events of Holy Week, we are all too acutely aware that the Son needs to know that the Father loves him. Only then is it possible to endure what follows. In broken homes a son or daughter is frequently left wondering whether they are loved.

The lack of closeness between fathers and their children is one of the great tragedies of our times. Fatherhood is in acute crisis – never before have so many men been missing from the lives of their children.

Some men are missing because they simply are not there from the start. The role of men has been reduced or demeaned. For instance, by the payment of money to young men for their sperm so that artificial insemination techniques can be used to create their child in an anonymous woman’s womb. The young man has been paid for sex and surrendered his child.

In the famous Oxford student case the young man who wanted to have some say over whether his girlfriend aborted their baby was told it had nothing to do with him. The judge found against him although his girlfriend was sufficiently impressed by his integrity that she allowed the child to be born and he has brought up his child. – But it was no thanks to the law.

During Lent Pope John Paul II asks us to mediate especially on the figure of God as Father. Jesus gives us the words to address God as a Father in the Lord’s Prayer. Through the parable of the prodigal son we are doubly reassured that even when we have strayed away from the Father there will be a welcome for us when we return: that we will be reconciled.

.

With three of my children I have worked through the process of preparation for the sacrament of Reconciliation. For this particular adult it was especially helpful to rediscover the importance and the beauty of this most underused and underestimated of the seven sacraments.

As the children prepared each week we studied a chapter of the preparatory booklet together. The first thing we did was to take apart the word reconciliation. One of the best interpretations that we could place on the word was that it meant putting broken things back together. Prodigal fathers and prodigal sons need to be put back together again – and fathers need to tell their sons and their daughters that they love them. Following Our Lord’s own baptism God the Father was not abashed about proclaiming his love for His son: “And suddenly there was a voice from heaven, “this is my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on Him.” (Matt 3:17)

So many of our own children – especially those who have been abandoned – would give anything to hear such powerful words addressed to them. Even those of us who are there for our children and love them deeply often suffer from our very British reserve and innate shyness – which makes us so reluctant to express how we feel.

Jesus’ response to His Father was to go off and to spend forty days in the desert, thinking about how best he could reciprocate his father’s love. Too often we are so busy taking that we never give back; or we evaluate everything in terms of personal gratification. Giving time is probably one of the greatest gifts we have on offer.

Rob Parsons, of CARE, wrote a book called The Sixty Minute Father – where he details the tiny amounts of time which fathers spend with their children. By contrast, many children in Britain spend an average of two hours a day watching TV – some as much as five hours – and much of the content is extremely violent in nature. They frequently watch the TV alone, without any parent around. Computer games absorb children for an average of 45 minutes a day. The amount of time spent watching television in Britain is nearly 50% more than we spend in work – and phenomenally more than we spend in time with our children.

A survey by Care for The Family found that

* Over half of fathers say they spend five minutes or less on an average weekday with their child on a one to one basis;

• Nearly half of all fathers had not had any discussion with their child in the previous four weeks about behaviour, sex, relationships, religion, current affairs, or rights and wrongs in life.

* Nearly half of fathers would like to have changed in some way the upbringing of their child;

*.The most common changes fathers said they would make were spending more time with their child particularly in the early years, talking with him or her more and sending him or her to a different school.

A common realisation amongst many men is that they are pressurised and deprived of the time, which they know in their hearts they need for their relationships.

I do not like the phrase “quality time” because it implies that small pockets of time will be set aside and duty will be done. I say this to myself as much and probably more than I need to say it to you but in a busy life and hectic schedule it is crucially important to be around when you are needed and not just when the diary permits. Unconditional love does not dispense time through an egg timer.

Contrast the father who has walked out on his children with the deep and enduring love that Jesus had for the Father: “I and the Father are one” he said. So many people today would give so much to be able to say that.

We all know how quickly the child becomes a man and that one day we will wake up to the experience of a child who says that they are too busy to spend time with their parent – perhaps the inevitable result for parents who declined to spend time with their children. No one was ever heard to say on their deathbed that they wish they had spent more time at the office. If families are to be reconciled, a good beginning is to set aside organised time to spend with the family or with the child – insisting that Sunday, for instance really will be a different day – giving

some space to build relationships.

Giving expensive pieces of technological equipment to a child can be a substitute for giving yourself. Someone wisely remarked that you can be so busy giving your child what you didn’t have that you fail to give them what you did have. Do we express our love through our presence or through the materialism of an expensive present.? Perhaps during Lent we could designate some television free evenings. The flickering box in the corner has too often taken the place of the flickering lights of the hearth, around which family conversation and crack could take place.

Einstein said that if you want your child to be a genius “read aloud to them.” Children should be valued whether or not they are geniuses but the cultivation of a love of books and reading aloud to them will provide a lifelong source of enjoyment that can be shared across the generations. In the context of the chosen stories there can be conversations that transmit values and facilitate healing.

In earlier generations a boy would work in the fields or at the smithy or mill alongside his father. Skills would be transmitted and the child would learn about responsibilities, duties and obligations. Today children are taught about rights and entitlements by media gurus and politicians but who transmits these far more important timeless values? If we want our children to share faith and our values we have to take the time to pass them on.

Someone made the calculation that if your child is aged ten, they have already lived 3650 days. That leaves another 2920 before their childhood is over. The sand is always flowing through the egg timer but it is never too late in life to begin. However old your child, your brother, your sister, your mother or your father may be it is never too late to begin.

To sum up: Unless we make it abundantly clear that responsible fathers and family stability are crucial for children and society generally; unless we acknowledge that ideally a child should have both a mother and a father; unless we reaffirm the important role of fathers in child rearing, we risk further long term social collapse and civic disaggregation.

Above all we must contradict the mythology that fathers are a feckless bunch who couldn’t care less about their progeny and who regard parenting as someone else’s problem. Without responsible fathers we will not produce responsible children or, for the future, responsible citizens. And if we wish to heal the conflicts in those far away places let us first be healed in our own homes; let us first be reconciled.

A Concluding Prayer:

This is a prayer of Fr.Nicholas Postgate, who was arrested while baptising a baby, taken before the Lenten Assizes in York in 1679, and executed at the age of 82. In recalling his words we thank God that we live in more tolerant times, learning to honour and respect one another’s traditions:

O gracious God, o Saviour sweet,

O Jesus, think of me;

And suffer me to kiss Thy feet

Though late I come to Thee.

Behold, dear Lord, I come to Thee

With sorrow and with shame

For when Thy bitter Wounds I see

I know I caused the same.

O sweetest Lord, lend me the wings

Of faith and perfect love,

That I may fly from earthly things

And mount to those above.

For there is joy both true and fast,

And no cause to lament,

But here is toil both first and last,

And cause oft to repent.

But now my soul doth hate the things

In which she took delight,And unto Thee, the King of Kings,

Would fly with all her might.

But oh, the weight of flesh and blood

Doth sore my soul detain;

Unless Thy grace doth work, O God!

I rise but fall again.

And thus dear Lord I fly about

In weak and weary case,

And like the dove that Noah sent

I find no resting place.

My wearied wings, sweet Jesus mark,

And when Thou thinkest best,

Stretch forth Thy hand out of the ark,

And take me to thy rest.

Amen.

Liverpool Parish Church.

Speech on 4th April 2003, at 1.00pm.

By David Alton.

Living on the edge.

As we approach Easter, our thoughts turn towards the Resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday, and towards new life. It is a joyful festival, and one that we in the West celebrate often lavishly, especially since Easter Sunday for many of us represents the day when the better things of life, such as wine, cake or chocolate, come back onto the menu after the sobriety and self-restraint of Lent.

But while we think of new life, it is not life and happiness, but rather death and hardship that will be prevalent in the minds of many this Easter. And the tragedy – as we have seen so graphically in Iraq and in Israel and Palestine – is that so often it is the children that suffer the most.

As I reflect on the twelve months that have passed since my last Lenten Address in this Church, and wondering about how best to address this year’s theme of “living on the edge”, I feel compelled to talk today about the plight of so many of the world’s children.

How appropriate are the words of Our Lord: “suffer the little children to come unto me,” and his warning that if we deliberately hurt one of them it would be better to have a millstone tied around our necks and to be thrown into the depths. Suffer the children do, and reach out to them we must. I want today to talk about four situations that I have seen or heard about first hand.

Last autumn I was in Southern Sudan and Kenya and Jesus’ words might have been uttered with Africa in mind. For with one million orphans often living rootless and disaffected lives, and the number rising exponentially, who can doubt that this will be the most serious challenge that a continent riven by so many crises must face?

Orphaned children are the sharp end of the Aids pandemic but urban drift, civil war, a collapsing education system, human trafficking, and corruption are all playing their part. In September I saw some of the implications of this new crisis – and some of the ways we can respond.

In a timely report, “Children On The Brink” several agencies including the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), have just spelt out the scale of the disaster. They say that in 88 countries studied “More than 13 million children currently under the age of 15 have lost one or both parents to Aids, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa. By 2010, this number is expected to jump to more than 25 million.” World-wide, by 2010 UNICEF says the number of orphans in the world will have risen to around 106 million (about a quarter Aids related).

By the same year, in 12 African countries orphans will comprise 15% of all children under the age of 15 and there are already indications that this will not be the peak.

In Zimbabwe, for instance, 17. 6% of children are already orphans (three-quarters left parentless by Aids) and, in Kenya, HIV prevalence among pregnant women ranges from 3% in Mosoriot to 31% in Chulaimbo. Bishop Patrick Harrington, the bishop of Lodwar, in Kenya’s remote Turkana region told me that the District Medical Officer reports 34% of the population infected by the HIV/Aids virus. Poignantly one young Kenyan simply said to me “help us, Kenya is dying.”

The consequences of a vast dislocated and embittered underclass of orphaned children will be devastating for Africa. Tomorrow’s revolutionaries and tomorrow’s coups are already in the making in the festering slums to which children with no hope and no prospects migrate. Here is a fertile breeding ground for both Marxism and the radical fundamentalism of some Islamic groups.

Aids is a major contributor to this crisis but not the only one. The ravages of African civil war and tribal killings also take their terrible toll. In Southern Sudan the vicious policies of the Sudanese government have caused 2 million deaths and 4 million internally displaced people – including vast numbers of children.

Development is impossible in places like Sudan’s diocese of Torit, which is being pounded into the ground. The auxiliary bishop, Akio Johnson, showed me where bombs had showered down on their schools and the shelters where children take refuge “like foxes in holes.” For most children there is no education at all. There are just 20 secondary schools in an area the size of Western Europe.

In neighbouring Kenya the picture ought to be better. However, I didn’t meet a single Kenyan who wasn’t hoping for a change of government after elections later this year. A senior schools inspector, Samuel Lepati told me that “the country’s children have become marginalised.”

I visited the slum town of Kibera, where 700,000 people, one third of the population of Nairobi, are living in 21,115 structures. It would be hard to call them homes or even dwellings. It is said to be the largest slum in sub-Saharan Africa. In rooms six-foot by six foot whole families try to survive. They live among garbage heaps where typhoid, TB, cholera and HIV are rampant. Drug abuse, incest, crime and prostitution equally so. At 15, children must leave and find someway to make a life on their own.

But what is being done about this scandalous neglect of Africa’s children?

The African Network for the Prevention and Protection Against Child Abuse and Neglect (ANPPCAN) provides more than thirty pro bono lawyers to champion children’s rights and in two respects Kenya has begun to address the challenge. They have put new children’s courts and children’s laws in place. But they need an Enforcement Unit, as the laws are not yet biting.

In opening ANPPCAN’s latest initiative, a textile factory employing former prisoners, many of them little more than children, I saw plenty of evidence that given a chance people can make it on their own. I reminded them of the prophet’s words that “where there is no vision, the people will perish.” Along with clearer vision there are practical things that can be done to relieve the suffering of the children. Jubilee Action’s new dormitory for blind Rendille children in northern Kenya is an example: a sign of hope.

But it is not only in Africa that such suffering takes place.

In January of this year, I travelled to the Burma border where I was taking evidence, along with American Congressman, Joseph Pitts, on behalf of Jubilee Campaign. We collected truly shocking accounts of the latest violations of human rights. Although the British Government still refuses to categorise these crimes as genocide there is no doubt in my mind that no other word adequately describes the realities in Burma’s Karen State.

The story of one small child I met at a refugee camp near Mae Sot illustrates how the brutality and violence of this perfidious regime continues.

Saw Naing Gae is just eight years old. He saw the Burmese military shoot dead his mother and his father. He was then trafficked across the border and sold to a Thai family. Desperately unhappy he managed to escape and made his way to the camp, where he is staying with a group of thirty other orphans. Even as these children sang and welcomed their visitors Saw Naing Gae seemed unable to join in or even to smile. Every trace of joy and innocence had been stamped out of him; and all of this by the age of 8.

Saw Naing Gae squatted alongside four other children, brothers and sisters, whose parents had also been brutally murdered. The oldest girl, aged about 12, and now head of their family, dissolved into tears as she recounted their story.

In another case, Naw Pi Lay aged 45, mother old five children and pregnant with her sixth, was murdered in June of last year by the Burmese militia. During a massacre in the Dooplaya district of the Karen State, twelve other people were killed, including young children.

The Burmese Junta have turned their country into one vast concentration camp. They are Nazi thugs who deploy Nazi methods. Like their Nazi predecessors they fail to appreciate the strength of the human spirit and the capacity to endure and survive.

Typical are the joint secretaries of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. Bo Kyi, a student leader who spent seven years in Burmese jails, told me that “torture is designed to break down your identity, to turn you into a non-entity with no connection to the world outside of the torture chamber.”

In amongst it all are people trying to bring hope and help – like the Karen priest I visited who is simply known as “the jungle priest.” He is running an illegal school for young people denied education. Or the Thai nuns, inspired by the vision of one of their number, Sister Love. They have created a wonderful centre and school for six hundred children. The Life Centre for girls rescued from traffickers, the Bible School in the heart of one of the camps, and the non-governmental organisations are all doing wonderful work.

These words from Psalm 61 were handed to me as I left the Karen refugee camp on the Burma border: “Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to you. I call as my heart grows faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.”

They represent a plaintive and last desperate cry by a people who have suffered beyond reason. Their cry is indeed issued from the ends of the earth and it is a cry for Burma’s children – for its future. How much longer will they have to wait for the rest of the world to respond?

Elsewhere in the Asian continent, there is another brutal dictatorship, North Korea, where the people are also living on the edge.

President Kim Jong-il, the son of Kim Il-sung, the former president, has no claim to any democratic election, and has treated his own people with unbelievable brutality and viciousness.

The people are starving, the hospitals are without medicine and a whole generation has grown up stunted and mentally retarded because of malnutrition. 60% of the people starve. During the past decade up to 3 million people are estimated to have died of famine and aid agencies estimate that 70,000 children will die in the next few months.

Those who dare to dissent are sent to re-education camps or prison.

Last October, a North Korean Christian who had escaped from the country came to see me here at Westminster. His story was harrowing and disturbing.

He told me how he had seen his wife and all bar one of his children shot dead by Kim Jong-il’s militia. Subsequently he escaped across the border to China with his son. The boy died en route.

He encouraged me to read the prison memoirs of Soon Ok Lee, in which she describes in detail the brutality and barbarism of the system in North Korea. If anyone is in any doubt as to the horror of life in North Korea, they should read The Eyes of the Tailless Animals, Soon Ok Lee’s account of the sham judicial system, the show trials, the starvation, the forced labour, the degradation, humiliation and rape of prisoners. Through her eyes we get a glimpse of this corrupt, paranoid and tyrannical regime.

Becoming a Christian in North Korea is a serious crime. Many are thrown in camps or prison – where they are kept in horrific conditions. There is evidence of water torture, severe beatings, sexual assault and violation, as well as psychological and verbal abuse. Up to 1 million people are incarcerated in these gulags of North Korea.

On March 2nd at the 4th International Conference on North Korean Human Rights and Refugees, held in Prague, the catalogue of human rights abuses was systematically documented.

Professor Man-ho Heo, Professor of Law at Kyungpook National University listed the human rights abuses in the detention camps. According to the Sunday Times of March 9th, children of the elite in addition, bizarrely, to triplets are taken from their parents by the age of 2 and are placed in special schools to break family bonds and to indoctrinate them with the ideology of the regime.

The regime teaches its children to hate the outside world, especially the United States. Simultaneously the late Kim Il-sung has been elevated and is revered as a god to be followed with unswerving obedience.

In 1998, Medecins Sans Frontieres pulled out of North Korea because aid agencies were denied access to the so-called 9-27 camps in which sick and disabled children were dumped under a decree issued by Kim to “normalise” the country.

From North Korea, Burma, Sudan and Kenya let me give my last example of how children are caught up in far away places in disasters and situations not of their making.

Last week I met the Interior Minister from the Central American republic of Honduras. It is a country where a staggering 50 children and young people are being murdered each and every single month. Between 1998 and the end of last year around 1500 children and young people, including street children, were put to death. The number is rising inexorably – with 67 children butchered last month alone. This is a bloody stain on the reputation of a small country of just six million people.

Jorge Alcerro, the Honduran Interior Minister, admitted to me that two thirds of the instigators of these crimes remain unidentified. He says that the have set up a Special Unit to investigate the deaths of the children but that progress has been painfully slow.

When I asked him about the 5,000 youngsters involved in the country’s gangland – and from whom come many of the perpetrators and victims – he admitted that only one third of children of secondary school age are actually being educated in schools: “Most of the gangland members have failed in their education. Many would leave the gangs if education and resources were available,” Senor Alcerro claimed.

He also told me that “drugs have become a way of living for gangland members – and that their usage leads to criminality. There are also links between the criminal fraternity, organised crime and the police.”

The plight of Latin America’s 40 million estimated street children, and the suffering children of Honduras in particular, has been exposed by Casa Alianza – Covenant House – which was founded in 1981 by a Catholic nun. Today, its Chief Executive is a Briton, Bruce Harris. He says that Casa Alianza is serving a phenomenal 9,000 children a year – most of whom have been orphaned by civil war, abused or rejected by dysfunctional and poverty-stricken families, and left to fester by indifferent and callous political leaders.

Chillingly, some Honduran newspapers have even suggested that the killings might be an answer to the country’s internal insecurity and crime. 66,000 criminal acts were committed last year alone according to Senor Alcerro.

Casa Alianza says that in Honduras the legal process simply doesn’t work. The Special Unit set up to investigate the murders has been ineffective and totally understaffed. So far only one of the 24 cases given to the Unit by Casa Alianza has resulted in a conviction: “Last month,” they say “64 more children were murdered, some on the doorstep of Casa Alianza. We see these tragedies on a daily basis. We end up burying a large number of the children.”

Amnesty International tell me that since coming to office in January 2002 President Ricardo Maduro has

been saying the right things but “in spite of numerous promises and government initiatives, there has in reality been no decline in the number of deaths.” Amnesty say that 22% of cases involve members of the security forces and “other people acting with the implicit consent of the authorities.”

Senor Alcerro paid tribute to the work undertaken by the Church and by Casa Alianza in working for justice and in providing practical help. Casa Alianza reunites 28 former street children with their families each month – 85% of whom never return to the streets.

The importance of that work is underlined by these moving lines written by Ludvin Omar Valdes, a 17 year-old murdered in 1998:

“To you my dear friend I say

don’t let yourself be forgotten,

you that has no father

and therefore has slept on the streets

making a doorway your only nest

that the rich have invaded

to be able to finish you off.”

Sudan and Kenya, in Africa, Burma and North Korea in Asia, and Honduras in Latin America.

In all these countries and in many more children are living on the very edge of what is bearable or tolerable.

It is all too easy to look at these awful situations, and to throw up your hands up in despair: to feel like Robert Louis Stephenson’s fictional child who plaintively utters the words “The world is so big and I am so small I do not like it at all, at all.” We may not like it very much but each of us can do something to help.

Sixteen years ago, I helped to set up the Jubilee Campaign, a Christian group which lobbies worldwide for human rights, runs targeted campaigns on behalf of people, especially children, who suffer in just the sort of situations that I have spoken about today.

You can help by becoming involved with Jubilee and supporting them in their campaigns. Find out more about them on their website, http://www.jubileecampaign.co.uk

There are many other organisations and charities which you can join and become active in, and I would urge you to do so.

So as Easter approaches, and as we celebrate the day when Christ rose again from the dead, let us give new life and hope to the children of the world, let’s suffer the children to come back from the edge and into the centre of all our considerations and calculations.

A Prayer of St Ignatius of Loyola

Teach us, good Lord, to serve thee as thou deservest;

to give and not to count the cost;

to fight and not to heed the wounds;

to toil, and not to seek for rest;

to labour, and to ask for no reward,

save that of knowing that we do thy will;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen

archive3

WALK OF FAITH

Lenten talk, Liverpool Parish Church 2004.

David Alton.

A couple of years ago I published a book called Pilgrim Ways, where I write about the traditional places of pilgrimage in Britain and Ireland – everywhere from Glastonbury to Walsingham, Croagh Patrick to Holywell.

Writing that book reminded me that the point of pilgrimage is to hep the pilgrim understand that the whole of life is a pilgrimage: a long journey with its ultimate destination, a final reconciliation with the God who made us. All of us have to undertake the walk of faith.

When I thought about what to say today I wondered whether to reflect on those places of pilgrimage. Then I wondered whether to share with you some of the remarkable stories I have heard on recent visits to the isolated Hermit Kingdom of North Korea or to the violent favelllas of Latin America, recently captured in that remarkable film, City of God – and where 4 to 5 children and adolescents die every day. In those places the walk of faith is fraught with danger and diffidult. 80 kilometers north of Pyongyang I visited a town called Anju – where 55 years ago, during the Korean war, the Communists bombed the churches as they tried to obliterate all religious faith. Yet, despite the ensuing years of misery and persecution, I learnt how believers had continued to worship in the rubble of their bombed church, and continue to do so to this very day.

By comparison we take our right to walk our walk of faith very much for granted.

But, in the end, I decided I would share with you a story I heard first hand just a week ago. It’s a story of change: of metanoia. It’s a story of a woman willing to admit she was wrong, and who has undergone a deep conversion experience. Hers is a story that I found personally challenging – one that I hope will one day be better known by society at large, not least because her walk of faith is a journey I should like us all to join. I tell you the story because I passionately believe in the truth of the words in the book of Genesis that we are each made in the image of our maker. As the late Archbishop Worlock used to say, we must reverence each God-given life, “from the womb to the tomb.”

My encounter with the remarkable woman I will talk about began a few months ago. I was in Washington DC speaking at a hearing in the US Senate. After it was over, we talked informally about the contrast between the urgency and passion surrounding the American debate about abortion – compared with the indifference in the UK. I told my hosts that I very much wanted to talk to Norma McCorvey about why this is so.

It was her legal case in the Supreme Court, fought under the pseudonym, Jane Roe, which legalised abortion in America in 1973. One of the details of that case that few people know is that having won her case she delivered her baby and gave her up for adoption: it was never aborted.

Norma McCorvey’s reappraisal of the abortion issue is synonymous with the sea change that has taken place in the US. Although she says “The British have never needed a Jane Roe. I heartily wish I had never been Jane Roe for my country” I suspect we now need a Norma McCorvey.

The decision of this one-time icon of the abortion rights movement to changed her mind, and to spend her whole life working for the right to life, has acted as a catalyst in the US.

Following her decision to take a pro-life position she later asked to be be baptised and she become a Catholic. Her personal journey mirrors that of the 1940s activist, Dorothy Day, and that of Dr.Bernard Nathanson, the New York abortionist who, having been responsible for 75,000 abortions, could no longer collaborate in a lucrative but merciless industry. It was film footage from his clinic that was the basis for the film “The Silent Scream” – that shows the unborn child trying to escape Nathanson’s instruments.

My friends in Washington did arrange for Norma McCorvey and I to have our conversation.

I asked her whether she would visit Britain as the guest of the All Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group (not the anti-abortion group as the BBC have instructed their journalists to call us: we’re not “anti” anything we’re positively pro-life, for the woman and her child).

With the help of Right To Life and LIFE – whose annual conference she addressed in Northampton last Saturday – the visit to the UK was arranged.

Her testimony to Peers and MPs was a moving story and a poignant challenge from a woman who has had the courage to change her mind.

Norma McCorvey’s address was given in Parliament on the same day that a survey of 5,000 British teenagers was published by Bliss magazine It reported that two thirds of our teenage children believe that there are far too many abortions in Britain.

In truth, who could disagree?

There have been 6 million abortions in Britain since 1967 – 600 every working day. Last year there was a small, 0.5% fall in the total number of abortions – to 175,600: 78% of which were funded by the tax payer.

One in five pregnancies now ends in abortion.

Notoriously, we even permit it right up to birth on a disabled child: for reasons such as cleft pallet – an issue I raised on Tuesday in a short debate I will initiate in the House of Lords. This follows the brave decision of a young Anglican curate in Chester to challenge the legality of such abortions.

And to what else has unlimited abortion led?

Britain’s abandonment of a belief in the sanctity of human life has paved the way for one million human embryos to be destroyed or experimented upon in the past ten years. It has also led to the routine creation and destruction of human embryos for so-called therapeutic cloning. We create life, only to plunder it for life-giving stem cells and then we destroy the donor. It’s the ultimate in consumerism.

We destroy life before birth with barely a thought and now disabled people and the terminally ill are in our sights.

Just the night before Norma McCorvey spoke in Parliament the House of Lords debated the latest euthanasia Bill seeking to permit the killing of the terminally ill. The Bill was referred on Wednesday to a House of Lords Select Committee.

Despite the protests of Lady Warnock and others, who dispute “the slippery slope” argument, when you authorise a little killing, you can quickly see to what it leads.

The picture in America has been little different.

There have been 44 million abortions since the Supreme Court upheld Norma McCorvey’s claim that the decision of the Texas district attorney, Henry Wade, had infringed her constitutional right to seek an abortion.

Roe V Wade was heralded as a fundamental breakthrough in human rights. In reality it has left a trail of bitterness and blood.

There are about 1.3 million abortions each year in the US, over 3,500 every working day: 150 every hour, 1 every 24 seconds.

The sheer scale of abortion is a key reason why Americans have become so passionate about this issue.

It is a fact that in the millennium year of 2000 more children died from abortion than Americans died in the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World Wars I and II, and the wars in Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf and Iraq combined. More nascent American lives lost in one year than in all those conflicts combined.

As Norma McCorvey ruefully said at Westminster “I don’t feel heroic over a law that has killed millions of babies.”

Yet, she is also entitled to the comfort of knowing that her brave decision, in 1995, to say she was wrong, has started to change minds and hearts in the US.

After reaching a high point of 1.6 million in 1990, the number of abortions performed annually in the US has dropped to levels not seen since the late 1970s – and targeted and highly effective advertising in some States, pointing to the alternatives and offering practical help, has seen truly dramatic falls.

Yet Norma McCorvey knows better than anyone that she has taken on a powerful and well-organised industry. Last year alone the US abortion industry generated $400 million – and like its British counterpart it employs “doctors” and “nurses” who do nothing else. One doctor told a committee chaired by Lord Rawlinson of Ewall QC that he had personally generated over £3 million in income from the abortions he had undertaken.

Norma McCorvey says she was used by lawyers out to make a name for themselves in 1973: “As Jane Roe I was a guinea pig for two ambitious lawyers with their own agenda.” They didn’t even bother to tell her about the Supreme Court decision. Like everyone else “I read it in the newspaper.”

But if she saw the abortion lobby from the inside she also saw the industry the same way.

For several years she worked in abortion clinics, which, she told parliamentarians, were often so filthy that they were no better than the back street premises which legal abortion was supposed to replace.

She also began to understand that few abortions had anything to do with hard cases.

In the UK last year just 1% (1800 abortions) were under ground E (risk of disability). 98% are done under the social clause.

If ever you needed proof that “hard cases make bad laws” this surely is it.

Norma McCorvey saw first hand how abortion was being used to get rid of babies because of their gender, for social convenience, or because it was simply a new form of contraception.

In the clinics she met women who were on their eight and ninth abortions “who’s counting? one of them asked me.” Another told her she was having the abortion because the baby was a girl “but we wanted a boy.”

She also describes how a woman in her second trimester began her abortion, “suddenly coughed and the baby was flushed out, still in the placenta sac. A new girl who was working with me lifted the sheet and said to me: “I thought you said they weren’t babies.” She was right. The foetus was very much a baby.”

Devastated by all of this, she became chronically depressed, began drinking heavily, and started to use drugs. She kept questioning what it was with which she had become synonymous.

When women presented for abortion she began urging them to “search their heart and their soul: talk it over again with the child’s father, with your parents, with your friends,” she would urge. “Why not carry the baby to full term and let it be adopted?” she asked. She was soon sacked.

In 1995 she literally moved next door from the abortion clinic at which she was working into the offices of the pro-life group Operation Rescue.

In 1998 she published her testimony “Won By Love” and established her own lay ministry, Roe No More. Later in the year, she was received into the Catholic Church. She says that through her Christian faith she has been able “to taste true love and the sense of forgiveness” that each of us needs. Roe No More says its mandate is “to spread the truth and to know things as they are.” Her statement that “I’m being true to myself and that is all that matter to me and God” is profoundly challenging to anyone who takes the trouble to listen to her.

At the end of her address to Peers and MPs Norma McCorvey handed me copies of 1,000 affidavits that she has collected from post-abortive women.

These sworn statements make for harrowing reading. They give the lie that choices carry no consequences. The law may say it’s just “my right to choose” but these accounts tell a very different story.

You cannot trivialise the taking of your own child’s life. The developing life of a child cannot be reduced to yet another of life’s choices. You may be able to scrape the baby out of a mother’s womb, but never out of her heart.

What Norma McCorvey’s story illustrates is that we don’t need false moralising about all of this. Few of us are in a position to do that. But what we do need to do is to get real.

As Norma McCorvey concluded: “This has long ceased to be a feminist issue about a woman’s right to choose.” Perhaps her courage in coming to Britain and telling her story might trigger a new debate about what it is we permit with barely a murmur of protest.

As each of us walks our walk of faith perhaps we too should pray for the courage to admit we can be wrong, and the courage to speak out, even when it makes us unpopular. If we truly believe in the “imago Dei” – that each is made in the image of God – and of infinite importance – we surely cannot be indifferent to these, the very least of our bretheren. For as Jesus said: “when we do it to the least of our bretheren we do it to Him.
archive4

The Politics of Cloning

The Politics of Cloning – 2003

At a time when occasional voices are being raised to assert the acceptability of human cloning and even to put it more rapidly into practice, it is important that we reiterate our determination to defend human dignity against the abuse of scientific techniques, and to defend vulnerable human life.

Reproductive Cloning:

We have just heard claims of success in reproductive cloning. However, owing to the extremely high failure rate of animal cloning, such claims will not be accepted by the scientific community, unless independent scientific proof is provided, such as comparison of the DNA of the child with that of the person from whom it was cloned, with the investigation carried out by independent, reputable scientists.

It is clear from current scientific evidence that the vast majority of clones would die in the womb, and the few that developed to birth would be likely to die within a few days, or would be severely handicapped, or would die early.

The most famous animal cloner is Professor Wilmut, who is best known for the creation of ‘Dolly’ the sheep. In an article this month in Nature Reviews Genetics, he says: “Our experience with other mammals shows us that any attempts at cloning humans are inherently unsafe at present. On these grounds alone, scientists should not condone human reproductive cloning, even without taking into account the equally important ethical and moral issues.” (Rhind et al., 2003).

An article in the New Scientist paints a graphic picture of the fate of cloned animals that do survive to
birth: “Abnormalities in those surviving to term frequently include oversized hearts and lungs, enlarged tongues, squashed faces, poorly functioning kidneys, intestinal blockages, immune deficiencies, diabetes, shortened tendons causing feet to twist into useless curves, a remarkable degree of obesity and impaired intelligence.” (Cohen and Concar, 2001). However, in many cases, even severe abnormalities in reproductive cloning may be undetectable until the animal dies unexpectedly. An animal which is apparently completely healthy one day, may die the next. “Foetuses that look robust at 60 days may die at 61… a clone that dies after five days of life can have normal chromosomes and genes while still in the womb.” (Cohen and Concar, 2001).

Cloned animals that survive longer than a few days can still die at a young age. For example, in one study it was found that many cloned mice died early owing to severe lung disease, tumours and liver necrosis (Ogonuki et al., 2002).

Professors Wilmut and Jaenisch state, “There is no reason to believe that the outcomes of attempted human cloning will be any different…if human cloning is attempted, those embryos that do not die early may live to become abnormal children and adults; both are troubling outcomes.” (Jaenisch and Wilmut, 2001)

Some have claimed that it would be possible to screen out abnormal embryos and not to implant them.

However, Professor Ian Wilmut, in his article in Nature Reviews Genetics, states clearly that it is not possible currently to reliably predict which cloned embryos are safe, because firstly, current screening techniques using pre-implantation diagnosis only check specific genetic abnormalities, whereas cloned embryos have profound epigenetic abnormalities as well as genetic defects. Secondly, even if epigenetic abnormalities were examined, it would be impossible to carry out adequate checks because (a) abnormalities in cloned embryos have been found to be different from cell to cell. Therefore testing individual cells would not give an indication of whether other cells in the embryo were normal or not; and (b) it would require knowledge of all of the potential adverse epigenetic effects, which is currently not possible.

As Professors Wilmut and Jaenish state: “We believe that attempts to clone human beings at a time when the scientific issues of nuclear cloning have not been clarified, are dangerous and irresponsible.” (Jaenisch and Wilmut, 2001)

Therapeutic cloning:

Concerning “therapeutic” cloning, ontologically, of course, there is no difference between so-called ‘therapeutic’ and reproductive cloning. Both involve the manufacture of human embryos. If anything, in its consequences, ‘therapeutic’ cloning is even more ethically and scientifically unacceptable than reproductive cloning. The cloned embryo will be used as a donor without its consent; it will be manipulated, plundered and then destroyed. Furthermore, there are serious potential health risks with “therapeutic” cloning, which I will expand upon later in the talk.

Politics of the debate on cloning and embryonic stem cells:

Approximately two years ago, in a landmark report to the House of Lords, the Science and Technology Committee stated that after the effects of BSE on public confidence in agriculture and science and after the saga of genetics crops, science is facing an emerging crisis of confidence in Britain. They said: “many are deeply uneasy about the huge opportunities presented by areas of science including biotechnology and information technology, which seem to be advancing far ahead of their awareness and assent. In turn, public unease, mistrust and outright hostility are breeding a climate of deep anxiety among scientists themselves….Science’s relationship with United Kingdom society is under strain.”

The UK Parliament’s decision to authorise the cloning of human embryos for therapeutic purposes without allowing proper scrutiny and debate has, I believe, exacerbated that strain and mistrust.

Developments in science are racing ahead of ethics. Parliament is struggling to catch up. The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee has recently announced an inquiry into the operation of 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act. I hope that this inquiry will help give Parliament an opportunity, at long last, to properly analyse human reproductive technologies and in particular, the threat that human cloning poses to the future of the human race.

When we debated the Human Fertilisation (Research Purposes) Regulations in January 2001 and in particular the proposal to establish a retrospective Select Committee to look into the issues of stem cell research and human cloning I likened this to a situation where a judge were to give “out the verdict and sentence before hearing the defence, the prosecution and the witnesses.” (Hansard; 22.01.01 Col. 23). It could also be likened to shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.

Sadly, the suspicion that I and others held about this whole investigative process has been confirmed, not least because the neutrality of the scientific advice to the Committee may have been compromised. The scientific adviser chosen to advise the Committee stated in an article in BusinessWeek Online five months before the Committee completed its report that, “We (the MRC) are definitely going to be putting more money into this area (that is, embryonic stem cell research), but it’s still too early to say how much….” (BusinessWeek Online, 10th September, 2001).

Considering that the Select Committee was set up to investigate whether or not the right decision had been made to permit embryonic stem cell research and “therapeutic” cloning, this is not a comment that one would expect from a neutral scientific adviser, since it presupposes that the Committee will agree that embryonic stem cell research should go ahead and that there are no suitable alternatives.

Considering also that this comment was made before either he or the Committee had heard or read evidence on the astonishing advances with adult stem cells or on the dangers of embryonic stem cells and “therapeutic” cloning, it would appear that the scientific adviser to the Select Committee had already made up his mind regardless of what scientific evidence was put before him.

In the report of the Select Committee, the Committee says that it is “greatly indebted” to their scientific adviser “for the careful and impartial way in which (he) elucidated the complex…scientific issues with which we are concerned.” (chapter 1:24). However, in view of his comments on BusinessWeek Online, one perhaps has to question the impartiality of the advice that was given.

Concerning the ethical debate, many individuals, such as Baroness Warnock, profoundly disagree with me on the ethics of embryonic stem cell research and cloning. What we do agree on is the need to restore public confidence in science and ensure that the fears of the general public surrounding genetics and the new reproductive technologies are heeded.

It is worth repeating the concerns expressed by the noble Baroness, Baroness Warnock, during our debate in January 2001:

“I deeply wish that there had been time to set up a Select Committee ahead of our having to agree to the regulations. That has been a mistake. We have been bullied and pushed to do things more quickly than we should, which I deplore…….It follows my reading of the moral obligation we have to society to follow every path that will alleviate suffering but at the same time to ensure that people who do not understand the issues, and, even more importantly, people who fear them, are given some hope that their fears may be listened to.” (Hansard; 22.01.01 Col. 45)

We are the only country in the world to allow human cloning without making it the object of primary legislation. Contrast this with the inordinate amount of time Parliament has spent debating fox hunting which will be the object of primary legislation.

When the Government does not allow Parliament to properly debate these matters, decision making authority becomes vested in unelected and unaccountable quangos such as the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), a body which has shown itself singularly unable to effectively regulate the IVF industry and is patently unable to regulate human cloning.

The report of the House of Lords Select Committee on Stem Cell Research, which was established after Parliament approved regulations authorising embryonic stem research and human cloning, was disappointingly predictable, bereft of any new insights, ethically compromised, and is already being eclipsed by exciting new scientific developments in adult stem cell research.

The House of Lords Select Committee failed to fulfil its remit. Prior to the establishment of the Select Committee I questioned the wisdom of appointing a retrospective Select Committee to look into cloning and stem cell research after Parliament had approved hastily prepared and ill-conceived Regulations authorising such research. There is little point in wasting months of parliamentary time going through the motions of an inquiry when the conclusion is fixed at the outset. The process only adds to the general contempt in which Parliament is held.

The Committee’s remit was to “examine the ethical, legal, scientific, medical and commercial issues surrounding the Regulations” approved by Parliament in January 2001 authorising embryonic stem cell research and so-called “therapeutic” cloning.

It failed to do this.

No peer who had spoken in favour of my amendment to establish a Select Committee to investigate the crucial issues at stake prior to approval of the draft regulations was appointed to the Committee. This follows a depressingly similar pattern.

In the late 1990s when the HFEA and the Human Genetics Advisory Commission asked a Committee of four people to act as an advisory body it appointed them knowing that all four were from scientific backgrounds, that all four had previously expressed support for cloning, and that two had links with the pharmaceutical industry. The Chief Medical Officer’s 14 strong Expert Working Group on Therapeutic Cloning did not contain any dissenting voices. It has always troubled me that anyone who upholds the sanctity of human life from fertilisation is automatically excluded from the debate, and especially from key committees.

All 26 witnesses who were called to appear before the Select Committee on Stem Cell Research to give evidence from a scientific or medical perspective were from the pro-‘therapeutic’ cloning, pro-embryonic stem cell lobby.

No scientists, ethicists or regulators from abroad were called to submit oral evidence. Contrast this with the President’s Council on Bioethics in the US which recently received oral submissions from Suzi Leather, Chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) and Baroness Kennedy QC, Chair of the Human Genetics Commission.

The Committee received no oral evidence from a legal perspective, despite the very serious significance of legal issues raised by the Judicial Review of the ProLife Alliance and despite the fact that major legislative concerns were aired during the January debate by various speakers including the former Attorney General, Lord Rawlinson of Ewell QC and Lord Brennan QC.

Christian denominations outside the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church were not invited to submit oral evidence. Input from the Muslim community was minimal and there were no witnesses from the Sikh or Hindu communities.

By way of contrast, plenty of time was found to receive oral evidence from individuals who, as well as being scientists with expertise in this area, also sit on bodies which are very firmly in the pro-cloning, pro-embryonic stem cell research lobby. In many cases, these individuals also have vested financial interests in ensuring that embryonic stem cell research and so-called ‘therapeutic’ cloning is given the green light.

Oral evidence inevitably carries more weight than written evidence. In its failure to invite oral evidence that would have provided a true representation of scientific fact and its failure to invite oral evidence from a broad spectrum of legal, ethical, religious and international focus groups, the Committee failed to fulfil its remit.

The Cloning Debate in the United Kingdom: ethics and science:

I would like to make two particular criticisms of the manner in which the cloning debate has been conducted in the UK by Government, by the House of Lords Select Committee on stem cell research and by the scientific and medical establishments. Firstly, the debate has been characterised by bad ethics and a flawed philosophical analysis. Secondly, outdated scientific concepts and evidence have been continually propagated, whilst dissenting or alternative scientific voices have been suppressed with possibly devastating consequences for human health.

Looking first of all at the ethics. I maintain that human embryos are nascent human beings and that all destructive research on human embryos, regardless of the potential benefits, is unethical. I remain profoundly concerned about the effect on society of our treating nascent human life as a natural resource to be mined, exploited and commodified and about so-called bioethicists who are happy to bestow their moral blessings on the latest innovation – to be sure, not for love, but for money. Since the passage of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, over 925,000 embryos have been created through in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment. Just 4% of these embryos have ever seen the light of day.

In the light of these shocking figures, what remains of the ‘special status’ of the human embryo.

Professor Leon Kass, Chair of the US President’s Council on Bioethics, said in an address he gave in London last year that I was privileged to attend:

“We are desensitized and denatured by a coarsening of sensibility that comes to regard these practices as natural, ordinary and fully unproblematic. People who can hold nascent human life in their hands unblinkingly and without awe have deadened something in their souls.”

I recognise that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 allows embryos to be created for research purposes and that we already accord an inferior value to the human embryo in its first 14 days of life. Baroness Warnock has acknowledged the “absurdities” this has produced. In a debate in the House of Lords last December she expressed “regret” that her 1984 report that led up to the 1990 legislation used the words “respect for the embryo”. She went on, “You cannot respectfully pour something down the sink”.

However, the 14 day cut off point becomes ever more obsolete in the light of new research demonstrating the sheer wonder of the human embryo.

The significance of conception as the starting point of our human existence is illustrated by an article in the prestigious scientific journal ‘Nature’ dated 4th July 2002. Headed, ‘Your destiny, from day one’ the article states, “Your world was shaped in the first 24 hours after conception. Where your head and feet would sprout, and which side would form your back and which your belly, were being defined in the minutes and hours after sperm and egg united.”

In this same article, embryologists such as Alan Handyside from the University of Leeds confirm that cells in early embryos already appear to have determined what they will become, and warn that removing a cell could therefore have adverse consequences – “It’s possible you could be removing a cell with a predictable fate and causing damage,”

This article also states that, “What is clear is that developmental biologists will no longer dismiss early mammalian embryos as featureless bundles of cells.”

However, when reading the chapter in the House of Lords Select Committee’s report entitled ‘The Status of the Early Embryo’, one would think that our understanding of the human embryo has not advanced one iota since 1990.

Incredibly, the report makes no reference to an unprecedented written submission by an ad hoc group of eminent Christian theologians from the Anglican, Catholic, Orthodox and Reformed traditions on the ethical status of the human embryo. There is far more unanimity within the Christian tradition on the sanctity of early human life than the Committee and its Chairman the Bishop of Oxford would have us believe.

Futhermore, in the New England Journal of Medicine a letter to the editor was published calling previous Journal articles addressing the ethics of “therapeutic” cloning and embryonic stem cell research “inadequate”. The letter was signed by a number of experts including C. Everett Koop, M.D., former Surgeon General, and other leading doctors and bio ethicists.

A utilitarian outlook dominated the Select Committee’s report and continues to dominate Government thinking on this issue. The Select Committee’s failure to effectively analyse the ethical issues surrounding embryo experimentation reinforces the perception that its conclusions were fixed from the outset and that tricky ethical questions would not be allowed to frustrate matters.

My second point is that the cloning debate in the UK has been characterised by outdated science and deliberate attempts to obfuscate and mislead on the science of cloning and stem cell research.

Yet look at what the leading scientific journals are saying:

“Like stuck records, ministers and policy makers continue to enthuse about therapeutic cloning even though the majority of bench scientists no longer think it’s possible or practicable to treat patients with cells derived from cloned embryos. They have already moved on to investigating the alternatives.” ‘New Scientist’ Editorial – December 2001.

“the idea of ‘therapeutic cloning’ seems to be on the wane…..most now believe that it will be too expensive and cumbersome for regular clinical use.” ‘Nature’ Magazine – December 2001.

Even Professor Alan Trounson, once a leading proponent of embryonic stem cell research and so-called ‘therapeutic’ cloning says that stem cell research (both adult and embryonic) has advanced so rapidly in the past few months that ‘therapeutic’ cloning is now unnecessary.

“My view is that there are at least three or four other alternatives that are more attractive already.”

However, regarding the main alternative to “therapeutic” cloning and embryonic stem cells, the House of Lords Select Committee report inexplicably implies that no clinical or pre-clinical trials have been carried out with adult stem cells, despite the clear evidence provided from peer-reviewed journals of success in trials using adult stem cells in diabetes, severed spinal cord, demyelinated spinal cord, heart attack, stroke, traumatic brain injury, liver failure, Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease, various forms of blindness, full-thickness burns, severe bone disease, and so on.

Human patients have already been successfully treated with adult stem cells for serious diseases. For example, treatment of heart attack with adult stem cells in animals has had such outstanding success, that clinical trials using human patients have already commenced in Germany, using the patient’s own adult stem cells (Strauer et al., 2002). Parkinson’s disease has also been improved by 81% in a human patient, using their own stem cells (Levesque and Neuman, 2002), while the biotechnology company Schering is now in Phase III clinical trials for Parkinson’s disease, also using adult stem cells. There has also been great success in treating human patients for severe bone disease which causes multiple fractures (Horwitz et al., 2001). Following the reversal of diabetes with adult stem cells in animals, Massachusetts General Hospital is now also planning clinical trials with human patients.

Regarding safety issues, the Government and the House of Lords Select Committee report have ignored the known serious risks of tumour and cancer formation using embryonic stem cells and, despite all the available evidence and clear warnings from a number of witnesses, stated that embryonic stem cells are safe.

However, formation of a particular type of tumour is so characteristic of embryonic stem cells, that scientists use the development of this type of tumour to confirm that they have indeed isolated embryonic stem cells. An article in the Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow and Metabolism this summer (Erdo et al., 2003) demonstrated from animal research that embryonic stem cell therapies would be expected to result in 75 – 100% tumour formation. (This article also found that the few articles that had claimed a lower percentage of tumour formation were flawed in their experimental procedure, and would have to be repeated.)

On the other hand, tumour formation has not been found with adult stem cells.

Yet incredibly, the Select Committee’s report (chapter 3:6) states that, “there is no reason to believe that (tumour formation) is a significantly greater risk for embryonic stem cells than for other stem cells!”

Futhermore, Professor Ian Wilmut admits that cells used in “therapeutic” cloning may lead to disease, and particularly to tumour formation, as a result of epigenetic abnormalities in cloned tissue. He calls for more studies to test the safety of “therapeutic” cloning:

It also appears that there may be inherent biological barriers to the success of ‘therapeutic’ cloning of primates (that is, the cloning of monkeys and humans). Professor Jaenisch of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who studies cloning in mice states, “The failure to clone any primate so far has been startling.” (Vogel, 2003). One of the most prominent embryonic stem cell scientists who has been attempting CNR with human oocytes, Roger Pedersen, published an article in the September 2002 issue of Nature Biotechnology (volume 20, pages 882-883. “Feeding Hungry Stem Cells”), in which he states with reference to ‘therapeutic’ cloning in humans that, “discouraging results so far suggest that there may be intrinsic biological impediments to the use of this strategy with primates.”

Professor Pedersen has recently been proved correct, when research was published earlier this year in the journal Science by Professor Schatten (Simerly et al., 2003; Vogel, 2003; Schatten et al., 2003) showing that there are indeed intrinsic biological impediments to the cloning of primate embryos. It was found that the location of certain proteins involved in cell division was unique in primate cells, and that this caused profound abnormalities in cell division, in 100% of cases in cloned primate (monkey) embryos. This resulted in cells with the wrong numbers of chromosomes. It appears that this abnormal cell division may be the cause of the total failure of all attempts to clone monkeys from adult cells.

There appears to be the same problem with human cloned embryos as there is with monkey cloned embryos. Professor Schatten, who has carried out this work, says that preliminary research suggests that human eggs have the same biological characteristics that cause abnormal cell division in cloned monkey embryos. “Primate eggs are biologically different,” he states. (Vogel, 2003). He also believes that, “with current approaches, primate nuclear transfer to produce embryonic stem cells may prove difficult – and reproductive cloning unachievable.”

It should also be noted that if these cloned cells with wrong chromosome numbers were to be used for “therapeutic” cloning they could cause tumours, as this defect is characteristic of cancer cells.

Scientists are attempting to find ways around the problem of abnormal cell division with cloned primate embryos. However, this has not yet been achieved, and it is uncertain whether it can be overcome. However, there are even more fundamental problems with cloning:

There are widespread abnormalities of gene expression in cells of cloned embryos. This could result in various unpredictable abnormalities in cells used for “therapeutic” cloning, resulting in a medical risk to the recipient of the cloned tissue. Furthermore, no solution has yet been found to the profound epigenetic defects in cloned embryos, which could result in a risk of cancer and other diseases in “therapeutic” cloning.

Despite all these problems, the House of Lords Select Committee recommended that, “even if CNR is not itself used directly for many stem cell-based therapies,” it should still be permitted as a research tool to enable cell-based therapies to be developed. The Government concurs with this recommendation. The Select Committee report takes the view that CNR research provides “the only realistic means” of studying the process of dedifferentiation. The report believes this to be essential for adult stem cell therapies to be developed (chapter 3, paragraphs 17 and 18).

However, first, cell nuclear replacement is a very faulty model to use for studying dedifferentiation. The vast majority of early embryos produced by cell nuclear replacement are abnormal. Therefore, the vast majority of cells used to study the biochemical processes of dedifferentiation would provide erroneous data.

Second, owing to advances in adult stem cell research over the last two or three years, it is clear that dedifferentiation of adult stem cells prior to their redifferentiation is completely unnecessary for a number of reasons.

It is most unfortunate that the Select Committee report ignored the wealth of peer-reviewed evidence that it was provided with, which detailed the various ways in which the idea of dedifferentiation of adult stem cells is now redundant. As a result of this, the report takes the very definite, but completely erroneous, view that it is essential for adult stem cells to first be dedifferentiated in culture and then redifferentiated into new cell types. It is claimed that basic research using CNR and embryonic stem cell research are essential if adult stem cell therapies are to be fully developed.

However, there are various ways in which adult stem cells can be used which completely bypass the need for dedifferentiation before redifferentiation.

For example, there are many trials demonstrating the very effective treatment of serious diseases in animals, and even in human patients, where adult stem cells have been safely injected into the bloodstream, and found to travel to the injured area and have been very effective in repairing the damage. No prior dedifferentiation, or even redifferentiation in culture were required, as the body appears to have all the relevant signals to direct appropriately both migration of the stem cells to the damaged area, and their differentiation once they arrive. This has already been found to be highly effective for heart attack, a severe bone disease, liver failure, stroke, traumatic brain injury and demyelinated spinal cord.

Mobilisation of adult stem cells from internal stores in the body to damaged tissues, with subsequent differentiation to replace the damaged cells has also been highly effective in treating heart attack, and it is to be expected that this will be an effective strategy for other diseases. Activation of existing adult stem cells in the brain has also achieved a remarkable level of healing in Parkinson’s disease in animals (Fallon et al., 2000). None of these procedures require prior dedifferentiation or redifferentiation of the adult stem cells in culture.

Furthermore, there are alternative ways of studying differentiation. In particular, an adult stem cell has been discovered that automatically differentiates in culture into the type of tissue that it was extracted from. Since it has been found in every tissue type examined, this provides an ideal model to study differentiation in adult stem cells (Vacanti et al, 2000).

The Committee received this information, but unfortunately derived its conclusions through utilising completely outdated information. There is no need for research on CNR to provide information on dedifferentiation or redifferentiation of adult stem cells.

The efficacy and safety of various procedures which do not require dedifferentiation or differentiation of adult stem cells in culture has been demonstrated by the remarkable level of healing that they effect with a variety of serious diseases – heart attack, severed spinal cord, demyelinated spinal cord, stroke, traumatic brain injury, diabetes, Parkinson’s Disease, severe bone disease and liver failure.

Therapeutic cloning – impracticality and medical risks of egg donation:

Notwithstanding the massive scientific problems with human cloning, it is also unworkable at the practical level, a point that those who have been promoting ‘therapeutic’ cloning at the political level have chosen to ignore. Vast numbers of eggs would be required for ‘therapeutic’ cloning.

Scientists involved in animal cloning have estimated the numbers of eggs that would be required for therapeutic cloning for one patient as, “optimistically, about 100 human oocytes” (Mombaerts, P., 2003) and, “at least 280 oocytes.” (Colman and Kind, 2000).

Thomas Okarma, chief executive officer of the lead cloning company Geron Corporation says, “The odds favouring success are vanishingly small, and the costs are daunting…It would take thousands of (human) eggs on an assembly line to produce a custom therapy for a single person.” (Los Angeles Times, 10th May, 2002).

Taking the minimum estimate of at least 100 eggs for one patient: If one considers that one patient group alone that it has been claimed could be helped by ‘therapeutic’ cloning – type 1 diabetes – has 350,000 sufferers in Britain, and another has 385,000 (Alzheimer’s), an absolute minimum of 73,500,000 eggs (and probably far greater numbers) would be needed just to treat these two patient groups. Since an average of about 10 eggs is produced in one forced ovulation induction cycle, this means that at least 7,350,000 forced ovulation induction cycles of women between the age of about 20 and 35 would be required to treat these two patient groups.

These eggs would either have to come from egg donors, or from women undergoing IVF who give some of their eggs for cloning, and who would therefore have to undergo extra IVF cycles to produce enough eggs to achieve pregnancy as well as to donate eggs. A small but significant percentage of women have serious complications of egg donation, both from surgery to retrieve the eggs, and from the severe form of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, particularly if they are given high levels of hormones to increase egg numbers. What about the serious health risks to these women? How many women would end up in hospital from severe complications of egg donation from 7,350,000 forced ovulation induction cycles?!

Fortunately, these (and numerous other serious) diseases have already been significantly helped by adult stem cells. Type 1 diabetes, for example, has been reversed in animal models of the disease, using adult stem cells obtained from the pancreas, spleen or liver (Ramiya et al., 2000; Kodama et al., 2003; Yang et al., 2002). Alzheimer’s disease in animals has been significantly helped with stem cells from umbilical cord blood, with a considerable extension of life span (Ende et al., 2001).

Regulation of “therapeutic” cloning and embryonic stem cell research, and the role of the HFEA:

Regarding the competence of the HFEA to regulate the area of cloning and embryonic stem cells, in view of the serious health risks associated with embryonic stem cell research and cloning I am profoundly concerned that the Government continues to express confidence in the work of the HFEA, an organisation in disarray, and entrusts regulation of embryonic stem cell research and ‘therapeutic’ cloning to this body. Even the HFEA’s most ardent supporters recognise that it is in trouble.

In July last year this year the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, in its report, “Developments in Human Genetics and Embryology, was highly critical of the HFEA:

“The Lords Stem Cell Research Committee reported that the HFEA’s is ‘highly regarded, both at home and abroad….. [and] has the full confidence of the scientific and medical research community’. We are unclear on what evidence it based this assertion.”

Recent ‘mix-up’ scandals at IVF clinics that the HFEA is supposed to be monitoring, and the shocking disclosures from the embryologist Dr Sammy Lee in the Sunday Telegraph last year demonstrate that the criticisms of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee are certainly not unfounded. Dr Lee wrote that he knew of at least six cases where the wrong embryos were put into women. He maintains that it is “galling that the HFEA, which purports to protect patients, has sought to brush aside any meaningful discussion of why mistakes occur in IVF clinics, and how frequently.”

Stem cell technology and human cloning are not extensions of assisted reproduction, but involve a multitude of scientific and medical fields which embrace nearly all aspects of disease. We need a new and completely independent organisation to monitor and assess developments in this field.

The international situation:

Regarding the international situation, our wholly inadequate ethical and scientific analysis of the cloning issue, taken with what is already one of the most liberal regimes for embryo experimentation in the world, leaves the United Kingdom isolated internationally.

Notwithstanding the deeply regrettable recent decision of the European Parliament to authorise European funding for embryonic stem cell research, the European Union has banned EU funding for experiments using cloned embryos.

In the US, the majority of the President’s Council of Bioethics recommended a ban on cloning-to-produce-children combined with a four-year moratorium on cloning-for-biomedical-research. Their conclusions are endorsed by the current US administration.

At the UN, a worldwide ban on both reproductive and so-called ‘therapeutic’ cloning was supported by the US, Costa-Rica and 43 other countries. By comparison, an alternative proposal banning just reproductive cloning was supported by only 14 countries. In the end this powerful minority, backed by the biotech industry, was able to thwart moves towards a comprehensive cloning ban and the UN agreed a two year moratorium on cloning.

I look on with a mixture of envy and admiration at the seriousness with which the current US administration and the previous one has sought to handle this sensitive issue. Rather than rush through ill-conceived regulations and then establish a retrospective Select Committee to rubber-stamp them, the President’s Council on Bioethics in the US was convened to thoroughly investigate stem cell research and human cloning and then advise the President. Only then would a decision be made.

Membership of the Committee is balanced, reflecting a number of scientific and ethical perspectives. Unlike us in the UK, our American allies are not afraid of disagreement and the publication of a minority report if unanimity amongst the members of the Committee proves impossible.

In Germany destructive embryo research is prohibited. In Norway the Government has proposed legislation encompassing a ban on all destructive embryo experimentation including ‘therapeutic’ cloning.

The UK has isolated itself from international opinion on this issue. It is therefore wrong to caricature opposition to the report and Government policy as restricted to a narrow group of pro-lifers and religious fundamentalists.

Conclusion:

I recognise the impossibility of reclaiming, at present, absolute status for the embryo. However, this does not excuse the inadequate consideration afforded to the vital issue of cloning by the House of Lords Committee on stem cell research, by the scientific establishment and, above all, by our Government.

In the absence of unanimity on the ethical status of the human embryo there is a broad consensus that destructive embryo research should not be permitted if there is a viable scientific alternative.

The Government has acknowledged this. The then Health Minister Lord Hunt said in 2001 that “the 1990 Act already provides the answer to the question of what happens if and when research into adult cells overtakes research using embryos: embryonic research would have to stop because the use of embryos would no longer be necessary for that research.” (Hansard; 22.01.01 Col. 120)

Adult stem cell research is a viable scientific alternative and has clearly overtaken research using human embryos. It is delivering results, not merely demonstrating potential. Embryonic stem cell research companies are struggling to survive.

In reproductive cloning we are creating for the first time a human entity, by asexual reproduction, with no gametes and no parents. The psychological damage to cloned children who would have no real parents, but who would watch an elderly identical “twin” ageing rapidly, is incalculable. The UK Government has expressed its opposition to live birth, or ‘reproductive’, cloning and rushed legislation through Parliament to ban this practice. But the knowledge of early embryonic development acquired through so-called ‘therapeutic’ cloning inexorably paves the way for full live birth cloning. It is disingenuous to express opposition to the latter and yet support the former.

We are staring into an abyss. Human reproductive cloning has the potential to destroy the human race as we know it. Cloning in all forms is unethical, medically dangerous, and is something that the human race can do without. I hope that the international community, by uniting in opposition to all forms of cloning, will be able to draw the UK back into line with mainstream opinion.

archive3

Text of a speech by Lord Alton of Liverpool

Friday October 13th 2006, Centro Pro Unione, Via S.Maria dell’ Anima 30, Rome.

Can We Get By Without God?

David Alton

Throughout Europe the twin incursions of secularism and radical Islam have triggered a fundamental debate about philosophy and theology, relativism and absolutism, values and virtues, the individual and the community.

Recently, leaders of Al Queada boasted that they will occupy and conquer Rome. This should not be seen as the vituperative threats of a braggadocio but as a metaphor for the systematic erosion and displacement of Christianity in Europe. That our foundations have been so weakened as to make possible by incursion what failed through force at Lepanto and at the gates of Vienna, we have to thank secularisation and the widespread displacement of Christian practice.

Secularisation, entrenched by relativism, the abandonment of Judaeo-Christian values, and the false elevation of individualism and materialism, have all played their part in this insidious process. We shouldn’t therefore be entirely surprised that such weakened foundations should be so susceptible to radical Islamisation.

While abandoning their own faith many western liberals have chosen to close their eyes to the reality of some Islamic teaching and practice. These include the consequences of apostasy, the place of Dhimmi – non Muslims – in an Islamic society, the nature of Jihad, the imposition of Shaira law, and the persecution and systematic asphyxiation of Christian minorities in many Islamic countries. These are all issues which sit pretty uncomfortably with Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and with western concepts of liberty of conscience and freedom of the individual.

True tolerance and mutual respect can never be based on wilful ignorance or indifference.

As I will argue later, Pope Benedict’s Regensburg Lecture calling for a new realignment of reason and faith should act as a wake up call to western liberals.

It should be the basis of our dialogue with other faiths. It should also remind us that Christianity – like Islam –is a missionary religion and that only through new evangelisation will we counter the twin threats to Christian Europe of secularisation and Islam.

For Christians from the Catholic tradition we can either see these two new challenges as a time to retreat into our ghettos, where we might hope to survive as a curious remnant, or as a moment for approfondimento – for the deepening of our theological thought – and for the re-evangelisation of Europe. There is no “middle way”, no neutrality in a sort of spiritual Switzerland. We respond by either losing our nerve and our heritage or by remembering those who went before us – the martyrs and witnesses – and showing the same courage and zeal of Peter and Paul, and the men and women of the catacombs and the Coliseum. Only by exhibiting confidence in the teaching of our faith can we hope to withstand these new challenges; and, as I shall argue, Europe is in desperate need of Catholic teaching.

The State of The Nations: The Condition of Europe Question

In 1839 the English writer Thomas Carlyle coined the phrase ‘the Condition of England Question’ to describe the social and political conditions – and the associated working-class deprivation and social and political agitation – which the English population experienced in the early decades of the Industrial Revolution.

The preceding eighteenth century had been a time of huge social change and, in England, a time of religious decay. There are a number of comparisons which can be made with our own era – although the accelerated pace of technological and social change means that adjustments made over half a century are occurring now at little less than the speed of light. But let me pursue the parallel with our own times further, especially the hopeful lessons to be learnt from what occurred.

At the turn of the nineteenth century there was widespread disenchantment with the decaying established church, there was a newly mobile working class, detached from its traditional rooted ness in the ancient rooted ness of rural communities, the break down of social order and lack of family cohesion. People were also feeling the effects of the Napoleonic Wars, the exploitation by factory and mill owners, and the misery of urban squalor.

It was into this quagmire that the Holy Spirit stepped. He touched men like John and Charles Wesley. The church authorities became so alarmed by their new enthusiasm for their faith that church doors were literally barred against them. It was in the fields and at make shift venues that the re-evangelisation of England began. George Whitfield and others deepened the religious renewal and social reformers such as William Wilberforce spearheaded many of the social and political causes in which newly energised Christians had begun to interest themselves.

Next year will be the bi-centenary of the abolition of the slave trade in Britain. That was the first great achievement of the newly radicalised Christians, led by Wilberforce. They campaigned under the slogan “Am I not a man and a brother.”

Subsequently, it would be other Christians, like Lord Shaftesbury, who would introduce key domestic social reforms – ragged schools for the poor, the Factory acts, the establishment of asylums for disabled people, and many others.

Unwittingly, perhaps, they were putting into practice a maxim of St.Francis of Assisi who said of evangelisation: “Use words, but only when you have run out of deeds.” They did both.

As with the great European religious movements of earlier centuries – for example,

the monastic movement of St.Benedict, the teaching movement of St.Dominic, the call to simplicity and holiness of St.Francis and St.Clare, or the Reformation of Luther and Calvin, the Counter-Reformation of St.Ignatius of Loyola, the zeal of St.Philp Neri, who re-evangelised Rome – religious impulses led men and women to renew their faith and their societies.

Religious revival led to personal renewal and this in turn led to political and social reform and on to the reconstruction of society as a whole. Religious Revival…Renewal….Reform…Reconstruction. This lesson needs contemporary application. The urgent need is self-evident.

If, as in 1839, Thomas Carlyle were here to ask his famous question about “the condition of England” – and by extension we were to apply the same criteria to the rest of Europe – what would a survey of post-Christian Europe reveal?

<
p>Let’s call it “the condition of Europe question.”

If we were to measure the health of European society less by economic indicators – such as the value of the Euro against the dollar or the pound; or the value of the Dow Jones Index, and more by a human happiness index we would come to some pretty startling conclusions.

In a book by the psychologist, Oliver James (Century: November 1997), Britain on the Couch, the author asks “Why are we unhappier than we were in the 1950s despite being richer?” Clinical depression, he suggests, is ten times higher among people born after 1945 than among those born before 1914. Women under the age of 35 are the most vulnerable. The paradox is that we are told that we have never been more materially affluent and yet, says James, modern life seems less and less able to meet our expectations. We feel like losers, “even if we are winners” because materialism itself is not enough to satisfy human needs.

The material indicators would point to an array of high tec apparatus that most of us own. But does the ideology of virtual reality which allows us, in our homes, through computer software, to kill, to maim, to brutalize or to abuse another, without any apparent consequences, induce feelings of happiness or holiness?

No, we start to feel like gods, as creators of the world with all of life’s chances at our fingertips. God and creation become nothing but human invention. For some this is confirmation of Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophy that man creates the universe and that creation is a new extension of the serpent’s promise in the Garden. In the Middle Ages Thomas Kempis well understood this impulse when he wrote in The Imitation of Christ that “because men wanted to become God, God wanted to become man – to sanctify and redeem us from this conceit.”

Where this conceit has taken us is revealed in some of the data I want to look at. Draw your own conclusions as to whether a non-religious society is a happier and more fulfilled society than a religious one:

* Children’s Lives Ruined:

* Over 60,000 children live in care; 98% are admitted due to family breakdown

* 32,465 children and young people are on child Protection registers

* 384,200 children in England alone are categorised as “in need.”

* In one school term alone 82,400 children were expelled from school in England and Wales, 14% due to violence against another pupil.

* According to the Children’s Society, 100,000 children run away from home each year.

* 1 in 3 (4.4 million) British children are living in poverty compared with 1 in 10 in 1979.

• Family Life In Tatters

*The number of divorces has doubled since 1971, from 80,000 to 157,000 p.a.

*The UK has the third highest divorce rate in Europe.

*13% of divorces occur within 3 years of marriage

*Family breakdown is estimated to cost the economy £30 billion a year.

• Dysfunctional Families

*In the past 20 years there has been an increase from 12% to 41% of births outside marriage.

*In the UK between 1971 and 2003 the number of single parent families increased from 8% to 23%.

*90% of births to teenage mothers are outside marriage

*1.7million children are being raised in single parent families

*Up to 40% of fathers lose contact with their children within two years of separation

*Three quarters of a million British children have no contact with their fathers following the breakdown of their relationship.

• The Destruction of Life

*There have been more than 6 million abortions in Britain since it was legalised in 1967.

*1 in 5 pregnancies ends in abortion: 600 every day.

*Eugenic abortion is permitted up to an even during birth on a baby with a disability.

*More than a million human embryos have been destroyed or experimented upon.

*The cloning of human embryos for “therapeutic” purposes has been legalised

*Attempts are under way to follow Holland and Belgium by legalising euthanasia.

* Loneliness, Despair and Suicide.

*Indebtedness and Homelessness

*Personal indebtedness has never been higher – British households are £1 trillion in debt; personal debt is greater than the UKs annual income and is rising by £1 million every four minutes.

*In the past six years there has been a 44% increase in the number of people seeking help for debt related problems. Indebtedness is a major factor in family quarrels, depression and loss of homes.

*The number of homeless people in the UK is 380,000 – the same as the population of the city of Bristol.

*Dependency on Drugs.

*The number of 11-15 year olds taking drugs in England has doubled since 1998.

*1987: 26,000 drug offences 1998: 128,000 drug offences

*15 million Britons admit to having used cannabis; 2-5 million are regular users.

*According to the BMJ “cannabis could kill 30,000 people a year”

*“It is quite worrying that we might end up in 10 or 20 years with our psychiatric hospitals filled with people who have problems with cannabis” –Prof.Hamid Ghodse, former President of the UN’s Narcotic Control Board.

*2005: Scotland had 55,800 registered heroin addicts.

*7.7 million ecstasy-type tablets were seized in one recent year alone.

*There are more than 900 organised gangs involved in the trade of heroin and cocaine in the UK.

* 2005: Just 3 drug dealers who were convicted had no record of violent crime.

* More than 160 babies were born addicted to purified cocaine during one recent twelve month period alone; and a study by the University of Manchester found that in the North West, 71 per cent of the region’s adolescents had been offered drugs over a twelve month period.

• Crime And Disorder

*Offences involving firearms have doubled since 1997

* Gun crime in the UK claims 30 victims daily

*The average life span for people who get involved in gun crime in Manchester is 24 years.

*Prison population is up 85% since 1993. It’s now more than 77,000 and projected for 90,000 by 2010.

*7,000 under 18s go through the juvenile prison system annually – a 50% increase since 1992.

*1in 10 doctors are physically assaulted by patients or their relatives each year.

*In one recent year 27% of people were victims of crime

*The Head of the Home Office Statistics Unit accepted that the true level of crime in the UK is around 60 million crimes a year.

*Growing dishonesty has led to massive benefit fraud – estimated at £2 billion in 2003, while fraud is estimated to cost the economy more than £13.8 billion a year.

* Virtual and Violent Lives: Pornography and the Loss of Innocence.

*57% of 919 year-olds have come into contact with pornography while online

*British telecom said it was blocking up to 20,000 attempts daily to view child pornography.

*5 million images of child abuse are in circulation on the internet featuring some 400,000 children

*260 million pages of the internet are now classified as pornography

*Violent scenes on TV have doubled in the last four years.

*An average adult in Britain spends 27 hours a week in front of the television.

*In an average week more than 400 killings are screened, along with 119 woundings and 27 sex attacks on women.

Now examine some of the other contours of Post Christian Britain.


Example One: The drudgery of the Servile State

There is an old Haitian Proverb that “if work were such a good thing, the rich would have kept it all for themselves.” Most of us, however, want the self respect and the independence that having a job can bring. But instead of fulfilment we now have exploitation. In Britain we have never worked longer hours. The elimination by Parliament of Sunday as a special family day for rest and recreation was one notable example of the erosion of family time. Its abolition as a special day was yet another stab at what Professor Richard Dawkins calls “The God Delusion”, the title of his new book. If He tells us to keep one day special then we mustn’t do it. Because a day for worship was also a day for rest, we lose the latter because we don’t want to countenance the former. And look at the effect on families. Didn’t those Christians have a point when they said that families needed at least one day a week which they could spend together?

Ridiculously long hours are now spent at work. Once in five (21%) of managers and directors are at work by 7.30 a.m.; one in three (28%) regularly work later than 8.00p.m.; and seven in ten regularly work at weekends or on bank holidays.

Women are encouraged to work away from home and families become trapped by commitments which rely on two incomes. It becomes impossible to escape the treadmill as millions of children have increasingly fewer encounters with their parents and more and more children are left with child minders. The depersonalising effect of parenting and the creation of a servile state has shattered the lives of many families.

Occasionally, people try to get off the tread mill. When the high flying, highly paid, President of the Pepsi Cola Corporation announced that she was quitting her job to spend some time with her baby, from whom she felt increasingly estranged, it made some significant ripples. She had her priorities right but then again she had the resources to make such a decision possible. Most couples would want the same opportunity but the way in which we have modelled the dynamics of family economics put this same choice out of their reach.

In many European countries parents choosing to care for their children in their own homes receive the worst treatment of all under the tax and benefits system. Politicians try to bolster the system by huge after-school provision and an army of carers. But they will never be a substitute for a parent at home and they will consolidate the make-shift arrangements that give children dangerously precarious lives.

Better priorities would recognise a child’s need for a full-time mother and a committed father; recognise that when a parent opts to stay at home to care for their child it is amongst the most loving sacrifices which a person can make. Why did Christians lose their nerve in arguing that a just tax and benefit system, along with employment laws, would allow women the economic freedom to be full-time mothers. How true is the old Jewish saying that “God could not be everywhere at once so he gave each child a mother?” We are fearful of stating these old truths in case we are labelled as misogynists or worse. Political correctness has taken the place of political courage.

Women who have raised families have a crucial contribution to make to the economy. But the decision about when and if they should return to work must rest entirely with them. Government could usefully assist this process by providing for more retraining and for more part-time and term-time working.

If Government properly assessed the potential impact of their policies on families; if they spent as much time facilitating “staying together” as they do in facilitating “breaking up”, we might all be rather better off. A significant proportion of the £100 billion social security budget is directly attributable to the breakdown of the family. The Treasury say that the cost of broken relationships alone is £4 billion each year.

Christians treasure the story of St Monica – the mother of the rebellious Augustine. Her son pleaded with God, make me pure, but not just yet. His mother never gave up on him even believing for him in his own unbelief. Her faithfulness and years of waiting were finally rewarded. Perhaps we need to dedicate Europe’s wayward sons to St.Monica’s care.

Example Two:

My second “case study” is illustrated by our pagan

attitude towards the sanctity of human life.

It has taken only

40 years for a criminal offence to become routinely practiced

and left largely unquestioned by the medical profession,

philosophers and law makers.

In Britain there are 600 legal abortions daily. We also

permit abortion up and even during birth.

I do not have an idealised or romantic view of disability.

But I do have a trenchant view about the dignity and rights

of disabled people and the duty of society to speak up for

them and to protect them. I feel the same way about the

terminally ill and about the unborn.

In the Roman Empire unwanted babies were ‘exposed’ and

left to die. Our degraded view of the intrinsic value of every

person is little better. These life issues go to the very heart of

what it is to be human. In many respects they are the

defining issues of our age.

In the last couple of years I have been to countries whose

people have been plagued by genocide and atrocities –

Darfur, Southern Sudan, Congo and Rwanda have seen the

deaths of nearly seven million people – Africa’s world War

One – ; I was also illegally in Burma, in the favellas of Brazil – where between four and

five children and adolescents are killed daily – and on North

Korea, where two million died during the famine or in the

State’s concentration camps. I never cease to be staggered

by our capacity to degrade our common humanity.

But can we see no link between the violence we inflict on the

innocent child before birth and what happens afterwards?

Can we not comprehend that if you sanction the taking of

life of a sick patient through euthanasia it desensitises and

diminishes us. From conception until natural death – from

the womb to the tomb we should have a consistent view of

the dignity of the human person, of the importance of the

common good, and of the intrinsic value of every life.

In 1990 when I told Parliament that a new disability

provision would be used to abort babies for trivial

reasons – such as cleft palate or club foot – I was

accused of scaremongering and irresponsibility. I was

told it would never happen.

Joanna Jepson – who is a young Anglican curate –

has been waging a brave fight to prove it does happen

and to expose and challenge eugenic abortions.

Joanna was herself born with a congenital jaw defect.

This personal experience prompted her to take the

police to court. She says that they failed to investigate

an unlawful late abortion of an unborn child with a

cleft palate carried out in Herefordshire in 2001.

Joanna herself has said “When I found out about this

‘cleft-palate’ abortion by looking at the National

Abortion Statistics it just felt so close to home. I

thought to myself, I know people who have had cleft

palates repaired and how many operations they went

through, but I think I have had more major surgery

than they’ve had.

Even if I hadn’t had my surgery, even if I’d chosen to

stay the way I looked before, that’s no good reason for

me not to be alive.”

The current abortion legislation gives no definition of

“seriously handicapped”. It merely allows for

“choice.” Twenty-six abortions on unborn children

with a cleft palate have taken place since 1995, two of

which were performed after 24 weeks.

Eugenic abortions paved the way for experimentation on

human embryos and therapeutic cloning. One of the leading

advocates has been Professor Lord Winston. He told

Parliament that “science does not have a moral dimension.”

Scientists say they simply need to clone human beings in

order to extract embryonic stem cells for use in treatments.

To call this “therapeutic” is a misnomer. It isn’t therapeutic

for the human embryo – who is created, manipulated,

plundered and disembowelled, and then destroyed. Nor, of

course, is it the only way of extracting stem cells.

The recent evidence points to the use of adult stem cells –

without any of the moral hazards of embryonic stem cells.

But if, as Lord Winston says, science has no moral

dimension, it becomes impossible in post-Christian Europe

to have a rational debate. You are simply accused of being

“in favour of pain and suffering” and “anti-science.”

In reality, embryonic stem cells could pose dangers to

public health. Despite all the hype, there have been no

clinical treatments involving embryonic stem cells; there

had been few successes in animal models; they are difficult

to obtain as pure culture; difficult to establish and maintain;

have problems with immune rejection ; have potential for

tumour formation and there is generic instability.

Yet barely a day passes without a new claim being made for

the curative powers of stems cells derived from human

embryos.

Where good science and good ethics march hand in had

there is no dispute between us.

But even if it could be proven that embryonic stem cells –

cells taken from a blastocyst, a several-days-old human

embryo – could remedy every known ailment, the argument

hinges on the lethal nature of the technique. The human

embryo is plundered and then trashed. With equal certainty,

a life that has undoubtedly begun is just as certainly ended.

Our law is quite explicit in permitting the human embryo to

be created and to be cloned and is quite explicit in making it

illegal for the human embryo to live beyond 14 days. British

law says it must then be done-away with. What we have

made illegal is not the creation and manipulation of human

life but its continuation. This turns around all our

traditional beliefs in the sanctity of human life.

And there are other issues – such as the effects on

women’s health.

The feminist group, Hands Off Our Ovaries, say that in

the US there have been “25 deaths and over 6,000

complaints of medical complications attributed to “Ovarian

Hyper-Stimulation Syndrome” and they have called on the

American authorities to examine the possibility that ovarian

cancer, infertility and subsequent birth defects may arise

from the increased demands science is placing on women to

provide human eggs.

That scientists are demanding and using women’s eggs in

significant numbers is illustrated by the 2,221 female egg

cells used by South Korea’s Dr.Woo-Suk Hwang during his

now infamous fraudulent experiments. Are women’s eggs to

become yet another tradable commodity enabling

Dr.Hwang’s associates and successors to experiment as they

will – with little or no regard for the safety and health

implications?

If mere “choice” is to be the only parameter the answer

will of course be “yes.”

But surely the biggest concern should be the inflated

claims which are made for the use of human embryos.

It is implied that any of us who have voted against their

use are somehow in favour of Alzheimer’s disease, juvenile

diabetes, macular degeneration, Parkinson’s and the rest.

Dr.Ian Wilmut, – who cloned Dolly the sheep – though

hopeful about the use of embryonic stem cells in the case of

macular eye degeneration (because, tellingly, they are not

rejected as aggressively in the eye as much as they are

elsewhere in the body) says that “several of the conditions

that are mentioned as candidates for cell therapy are

autoimmune diseases” (such as juvenile diabetes) and they

are “expected to induce…rejection.”

Professor Lord (Robert) Winston goes further, now

believing that “I am not entirely convinced that embryonic

stem cells will, in my lifetime, and possibly anyone’s lifetime

for that matter, be holding quite the promise that we hope

they will.”

S
o we are dazzled by false claims and willing to

collaborate in any piece of scientific vanity. We do so

because our philosophical and ethical framework is no

longer Judaeo-Christian and is simply not fit for purpose.

In Britain, Mary Warnock has been the leading

philosopher to argue that it is permissible to use the unborn

in experiments and treatments.

She has now pronounced that there might well be

circumstances in which reproductive cloning should be

permitted as well.

Mary Warnock has at least been consistent.

In Parliament she said she regretted ever saying that the

human embryo should be accorded “special status” or

“respect.” She said this was not possible if you were going

to flush them down the drain.

Endearingly honest though this is, it graphically illustrates

how the previously unthinkable has occurred. Since her

1990 report nearly a million human embryos have been

destroyed or experimented upon, with only 4% seeing the

light of day. In saying that it is impossible to equate this

destruction with high sounding phrases like “special status”

and “respect” we are at least agreed. Heaven spare us from

the lawless modern philosopher.

Doesn’t all this demonstrate conclusively that these

anti-life positions follow logically one from another?

Abortion has led to embryo experimentation and this has led

to cloning. At the other end of the spectrum it has led to the

current demands for assisted suicide and euthanasia to be

legalised.

These two examples – and there are plenty more – and my snapshot of “the condition of Europe” reveals a society that is in deep social, moral and spiritual crisis.

This deep sickness and disintegration of society illustrates all too clearly what happens when God is banished from our national life. We call ourselves rich, successful, sophisticated and prosperous. But in respect to the values that matter most is this really so? Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta was not convinced.

After visiting London’s homeless in “cardboard city” – where the homeless sleep rough under sheets of cardboard – she commented that it was London rather than Calcutta which was the poorer city because we had infinitely more resources to tackle the problem.

At a meeting with our then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, during which the Prime Minister detailed the British laws providing social security, welfare etc etc. Mother Theresa simply asked the Prime Minister “But do you have love?” It is the defining question.

A couple of years later, after her encounter at Downing Street, Mother Teresa, at the White House national prayer breakfast she described to President Clinton and his guests how she had visited a home for the elderly where they had no shortage of material conveniences, but “why” she asked “does everyone sit looking at the door?”

“It is because they are looking for the relatives who never come to visit them and who have no time for them?” In the UK we have an estimated 1 million elderly people who do not see a friend or a neighbour in an average week. “Do you have love?”

As we reflect on “the condition of Europe question” we must surely see that religious impulse can often lead to a generous out-pouring for the common good.

In “The God Delusion”, Richard Dawkins repeats the canard that faith has been the principal malefic source of violence and suffering throughout history. As he proceeds to demolish the proofs of St.Thomas Aquinas for the existence of God, he shows no understanding of the dramatic changes which have occurred in individuals who have come to believe in God, and whose religious faith has then inspired them to serve the common good.

Whilst it is undoubtedly true that too many throats have been cut in God’s name, and that we are plagued by religious strife and division, in the twentieth century it was not religion but man made ideology which inspired Hilter, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao Zedong, and the rest. Those experiences give us a pretty shrewd idea of what it would be like to live in a world where religious faith is absent. It’s too simple to blame what people do in the name of religion for all our troubles. As Dr.Jonathan Sacks, our Chief Rabbi says: “Don’t ask where was God at Auschwitz. Ask where was man.”

We jettison God at our peril.

Dawkins and the many other academics who write in a similar vein too quickly overlook the Judaeo-Christian inspiration of so many features of our society – charitable, political and social – which have always ensured that the needy were cared for, the weak respected, the poor not forgotten.

Think also of the central role which Pope John Paul II and the Catholic church played in securing the freedoms now enjoyed in Eastern Europe; remember that in Africa the biggest provider of relief, succour and help for the sick and poor is overwhelmingly the Church; think of our schools, hospitals, hospices and unending range of charitable endeavours. And why do we do this?

It stems from our fundamental belief – contained in the Book of Genesis – that all human beings are made in the image and likeness of God. From the generality of humanity we turn to the specific and our faith demands that we practice humility, justice and peace. It teaches us that we, and every other member of the human race, were made by a Creator. The Jewish Book of Leviticus insists that each of us must “Love your neighbour as yourself” (19:18) and Jesus tells us to “Do unto others as you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matt.7:12).

Building on the Scriptures and the pre-Christian teachings of Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas bequeathed us the virtues of justice, wisdom, temperance, courage, magnanimity, tolerance, munificence, prudence and gentleness. As secular Europe has turned its back on its Christian heritage many of these virtues are in short supply.

For Aristotle, koinonia- community –arose primarily through the qualities in man which made civic co-existence a possibility. Man alone, he argued, had the logos – the ability to speak, but more than that: the ability to use reason and to act as a moral agent. “Man alone has the special distinction from the other animals that he also has perception of good and bad and of the just and the unjust” (Aristotle’s Politics & Athenian Constitution, edited and translated by John Warrington, London: Dent, 1959 page 7).

Aristotle described the polis as “an association of free men” which governed itself; where the citizen “takes turn to govern and be governed.

For Aristotle, the polis was the school of life. The polis, through its laws, religion, tradition, festivals, culture and participation in its common institutions, shaped each citizen common life and all required the commitment of the citizens.

It was a duty to engage in the polis and to share in its glories as well as its burdens. A man who withdrew from the life of the polis was not perceived as simply minding his own business, living a private life, but instead, of being a worthless good for nothing. The city’s business was everyone’s business and participation in the life of the city was crucial to a person’s development. Taking part was not an optional extra.

These Hellenistic ideals, married to our Roman system of laws and our rooted belief in Holy Scripture were the bedrock of our society.

In his masterly book Faith in the Future Dr. Jonathan Sacks, says that the repudiation of our traditional values accelerated in the post war period. He observed that “it is as if in the 1950s and 1960s we set a time bomb ticking which would eventually explode the moral framework into fragments. The human cost has been colossal.”

As we have seen our abandonment of what the Church has called “the common good” in favour of rapacious individualism has had disastrous consequences.

Individualism, when defined as “Looking out for number one”, has had a poisonous effect. It encourages people to opt out and to privatise their lives – becoming limited by the narrow confines of their job or their home.

We have squeezed out the numinous and the spiritual and replaced it by a Grad grind existence in servile states.

The rapid pace of technological change has outstripped our ability and willingness to develop an ethics suited to it. Vast institutions govern our democracy, our workplace and our home-life. So often this has incapacitated citizens. We have come a long way from Athens, Jerusalem, and Rome and on the road we have been robbed of our inheritance. Unlike the ancients, we no longer educate our citizens to an expectation that each should seek to serve the common weal. Rather we now exaggerate self-importance and individual interests against community or communal claims.

Ill-prepared to meet the ethical and moral dilemmas raised by everyday life because robbed of the concepts of duty and service, utility and functionalism have turned us into slaves of everything from a genetically manipulated reproductive system to the servility of consumerism.

Less like citizens, more like slaves, we are told we live in a permissive age, but many of the things we were permitted to do as children – such as playing alone in local parks – we are no longer able to do because these activities are no longer safe. The breakdown of civic life has left us trapped like prisoners in our cars and in our homes and, therefore, increasingly at the mercy of the advertising industry, media moguls, and new technologies.

Meanwhile, educators have become what C.S. Lewis in The Abolition of Man (Collins, Fount Paperbacks, 1943), called “conditioners.” These `conditioners’ have made `men without chests’ from whom we expect `virtue and enterprise’. Lewis concluded that through modern education “we castrate and then bid the geldings to be fruitful.”(ibid).

The conditioners- today’s educators- say that everything is a matter of individual opinion and that individuals are not responsible for their actions.

The consequences of this approach were alluded to in a speech to Catholic educationalists by the Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, in a speech two weeks ago

Following a report on a three-year study of the spirituality of Generation Y, a joint initiative by Monash University, the Australian Catholic University and the Christian Research Association, it was found that only 10 per cent of young Catholics believe in only

one true religion. This compares with 34 per cent for other

Christians, including Anglicans.

Many young Catholics were not committed to core Catholic doctrine, with 75 per cent believing it acceptable to pick and choose beliefs. More than half – 56 per cent – believed morals were relative, much higher than for Anglicans – 39 per cent.

The Survey found that by the time young Catholics reach 29 about a quarter had left the Church, and there was little prospect of their return, Cardinal Pell

said. “They are also poorly equipped for any return to the fold when

they have little instinct for or understanding that there are truths

of faith and morals, which are sought after and judged according to

rational criteria.

“More of them seem to believe that life offers a smorgasbord of options from which they choose items that best suit their passing

fancies and their changing circumstances.”

The Generation Y survey was unable to detect any religious effect from attendance at Catholic schools which has been at the vanguard of the church’s attempts to reconnect with the young. Indeed, Cardinal Pell says one third of more religiously committed students reported being made fun of at school.

I doubt that if a similar survey was undertaken of young people in our European schools that the findings would be very different. We need to be more honest about the scale of the problems which we face.

Let me turn now to how we can reverse this situation.

Remember what I said about the early nineteenth century experience: Religious Revival led to Renewal, Reform and Reconstruction.

How do we begin the process of Religious Revival?

1. We need to regain our nerve and develop a new confidence.

2. We need to build new alliances.

3. We need to let God in.

1. Regaining Our Nerve.

As Cardinal Pell’s speech indicates, our starting point in reversing the present situation must be with ourselves. We need to re-evangelise our Church and become missionary in the world around us. Explaining our faith, through apologetics, – like the successful Alpha Course – would be a good beginning.

We need to share and explain the teachings of the Church – especially the encyclicals of Pope John Paul II and the writings of Pope Benedict XVI. Television broadcasting, like that pioneered by Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) is the best way to reach the masses. But alongside this must be street by street contact through our parish network, with every parish organising an annual outreach mission. Our young people in Catholic schools need to be reached and inspired.

A confident Church will not hesitate to contradict society when society errs. It will always stand on the side of life and human dignity and it will encourage each of us to work for the common good.

Instead of individualism we must cultivate the belief that each of us is a gift for others.

In Dives in Misericordia (On The Mercy Of God) Pope John Paul II said that every person is called to communion and to self-giving. He said that society “reveals its whole truth in the community of persons” and that the family is the “primary place of humanisation” for the person and society.

Pope John Paul also told us never to be afraid of standing for Truth.

The whole Christian church can use the wonderful gift of Pope John Paul’s teaching encyclicals to speak to our deaf world. Let me give some brief examples of their relevance to “the condition of Europe question.”

Listen to these quotations from Evangelium Vitae and other encyclicals…

A rudderless world, drifting into anarchy, will not be alienated by coherent teaching authority and young people especially are all too often waiting for someone to tell them about the purpose of life and how we should try to live it. Notwithstanding our own individual propoesnity to sin and our individual and collective failings, people will respond to prophetic voices; they want to be told to raise their game and how to chart a course out of the abyss.

2. Building New Alliances

Pope Benedict’s Regensburg Lecture was a prophetic challenge to those who would use violence to seek conversion: clearly stating that “Violence is incompatible with God’s nature.”

His lecture was also a challenge to rationalists who seek to eliminate God. He calls instead for a profound encounter between faith and reason saying “…the fundamental decisions made about the relationship between faith and the use of human reason are part of the faith itself.”

The Pope categorically stated that “ the positive aspects of modernity are to be acknowledged unreservedly: “ we are all grateful for the marvellous possibilities that it has opened up for mankind and the progress in humanity that has been granted to us.”

He continues: “While we rejoice in the new possibilities open to humanity, we also see the dangers arising
from these possibilities and we must ask ourselves how we can overcome them. We will succeed in doing so only if reason and faith come together in a new way, if we overcome the self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically verifiable, and if we once more disclose its vast horizons.”

For stating these truths, Pope Benedict provoked an extraordinarily hostile reaction – mainly from people who have never read his lecture. In reality, much of what he said should commend itself to orthodox believers of all faiths, and to those who wish to see a co-existence between people of faith and those who have none.

I was recently struck by some comment by the professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University, John Barrow, who was this year’s winner of the Templeton Prize for “expanding human perceptions of divinity.” His remarks are in stark contrast to those of Professor Dawkins in his “The God Delusion”.

Tracing the links between religion and scientific truth he argues that astronomy illuminates the glory of God -and certainly does not disprove His existence, as Professor Dawkins would have us believe.

John Barrow compares the universe to an experience which

he had in the beautiful Venetian Basilica of St.Mark. He says

that we still do not understand the processes which were

used by the craftsmen of 700 years ago to produce the 11,000

square feet of gold mosaic in St.Mark’s. Nor, he says, did

those master craftsmen live to see the fruits of their labours.

He says “our universe is a bit like that” and says that

modern science has revealed a universe “far bigger, more

spectacular and more humbling than we ever imagined it to

be.”

Professor Barrow says that “There are some who say that

because we use our minds to appreciate the order and

complexity of the universe around us, there is nothing more

to that order than what is imposed by the human mind. That

is a serious misjudgement.”

And he adds that “Our scientific picture of the universe has revealed how blinkered and conservative our outlook has often been, how self serving our interim picture, how mundane our expectations, and how parochial our attempts to find or deny the links between scientific and religious approaches to the nature of the universe.”

It is with scientists like Professor Barrow that we must build bridges, deepening each other’s understanding.

An ancient title of the Bishop of Rome is “pontifex maximus” – the greatest bridge builder.

The most important bridge of all will be the bridge to other orthodox Christians. A “tolerant orthodoxy” will unite those who hold firm to their beliefs but who refuse to persecute their opponents. This idea was heralded in the great teaching document, Dignitatis Humanae, issued by the Second Vatican Council in 1965. Freedom of faith must not become contingent on having to doubt faith’s certainties.

The great twentieth century theologian, Karl Barth, in “Credo” (1935) put it like this: “If we listen to Christ, we do not live above the differences that divide the church but in them. We should not try to explain the multiplicity of churches at all. We should treat it as the way we treat our own sin and those of others: as sin We should see it as part of our guilt…We can only be shocked by these divisions and pray for their elimination.

Responding to Barth, the Catholic theologian, Hans urs von Balthasar had this to say:

“Unity cannot be found in some neutral no man’s land between the confessions; it can only be found within the respective ecclesial spaces of each denomination…Then new life will at last begin to flow again through the Church’s limbs, grown so sclerotic over the centuries… This whole project must begin with the admission that unity can only be the grace of the Church’s Founder; this is no human project…only the faith that can move mountains will be weapon enough for such a task.”

Most of us have long since grown weary of the grim old quarrels and arguments between the Christian denominations; we look around and see the consequences; but it would be absurd to believe that gargantuan efforts are underway to bridge the yawning chasms that still separate us. And while, in dereliction of our duty “to be one”, we sleep at our posts, the citadels of Europe are under attack. Our generation are Gethsemane Christians who have fallen asleep when the Lord asked us to stay awake at His most needful hour.

We need a penetrating discourse about why we are not one. We do not need a false empty tolerance – tolerance for its own sake – but a new determination to understand the warnings of St.Paul’s warnings in 1 Corinthians of the scandal of division and his appeal that “for the sake of Our Lord Jesus Christ, make up the differences between you.” (1 Corinthians, 1:10)

New bridges and new alliances urgently need to be built ; first among orthodox Christians of all denominations; then we must at least discourse with people of the other Abrahamic faiths, especially those countless Muslims who share the Pope’s abhorrence at the use of violence;

And, as I have said, also with those who want to see reason and faith, ethics and scientific endeavour marching hand in hand. None of this is a call for syncretism: quite the reverse. We need to start from the confidence of a tolerance orthodoxy.

Of course the building of bridges requires much more engineering competence than the building of walls and the ultimate purpose of a bridge is to be walked over: that’s called Christian humility.

But without new alliances and a new understanding of the forces at work in our world today we will suffer the fate of the city of that erudite Byzantine Emperor – cited in Pope Benedict’s Regensburg Lecture – Manuel II Paleologus. Within two decades of his death Constantinople was over-run and its Christian places of worship defiled and its tradition and heritage destroyed. Today, Turkey’s tiny Christian minority – like so many of the ancient churches of Asia Minor – is a minority under siege. The stories of the genocide against the Armenians and the asphyxiation of the Greek Orthodox church in Turkey are a continuing rebuke to those of us in the West who have turned a blind eye to their plight. Let us at least stand together is speaking out for our persecuted brothers and sisters. Our failure to do so is a scandal.

3. Letting God In

Too often we rely on our own strength to bring change. I freely admit that abhorrence of tyranny and dictatorship can often make me want to resort to force rather than prayer. We can learn a thing or two from Rome’s Sant Egidio Community – which successfully brokered the end to the war in Mozambique and has played such an outstanding part in reconciling divided communities in Algeria, Kosovo, Burundi and the Congo. Sant Egidio puts prayer and service at the heart of their work. They let God in.

Too often we look for spectacular initiatives and great programmes.

By contrast, Mother Teresa of Calcutta said (Daily Readings With Mother Teresa, Harper Collins, London, 1993) that faithfulness and personal responsibility comes through small things:

“We must not think that our love has to be extraordinary. But we do need to love without getting tired. How does a lamp burn? Through the continuous input of small drops of oil. These things are like the small things of daily life: faithfulness, small words of kindness, a thought for others, our way of being quiet, of looking, of speaking, and of acting. These are the true drops of love that keep our lives and relationships burning like a lively flame.” She also used to say “you’re not called upon to be successful, you’re called upon to be faithful.”

As a child I was given a jig saw puzzle. On one side was a complicated picture of the world. On the other was a picture of a man. I could never get the world right but the great thing about the jigsaw was that once you got the man right, and turned it over, the jigsaw came right anyway.

We must let God into our own lives and in to the lives of our families and nations.

Europe’s human landscape is littered with the wreckage of collapsed family life, broken communities, the instability and insecurity in employment which accompanies market forces, and a widespread sense of isolation and alienation. Hardly a family or community in Britain is untouched by violence or by drugs. It is all fuelled by the cult in individualism and the language of individual rights and choices never measured. To reverse this, we must let God in.

Think about what happened when Naomi was widowed, and robbed of her sons who, if still alive, would have taken responsibility for her care. She went back to her clan territory. She had the security of knowing that in that community she would be cared for. Why? Because it was a God-fearing community.

The beautiful story of Ruth, accompanying her mother-in-law, illustrates the strength of the family and its obligations and benefits as a model which cares for the individual but also the health of the whole nation. Naomi’s kinsman, Boaz, gladly undertook his responsibilities for Ruth and Naomi – including the care of their land. Although not the nearest kinsman Boaz stepped forward, and – in the presence of the elders, – the family, kinship responsibilities, rights and duties, were all transferred to him. They did it because they had let God in.

The story of Ruth and Boaz, ancestors, of course, of Jesus of Nazareth, beautifully illustrate our inter-dependence on each other, and our dependence on God.

We too must be faithful citizens to a faithful God. From the earliest time in the history of Israel God was known as a faithful God. In Deuteronomy Moses teaches the people: “Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands (Deut 7:9).” Many of the Psalms speak of God as the faithful one who keeps his promises and who remains faithful for ever. Hosea says that even when there was no faithfulness among the people, God remained faithful (4:1). Hosea saw this contrasting faithlessness and God’s faithfulness as an almost unbelievable tragedy. It could only be countered by letting God back in. That is Europe’s only hope: its only salvation.

To Conclude,

You asked me to look at the implications of losing our Judaeo-Christian heritage and our ethical foundations.

I have tried to set out what happens to the health of a nation that tries to get by without God.

I have instanced the effect of on our values, our attitudes, our communities, our families, and ourselves.

I have tried to remind you at what cost our ethical framework was constructed; not least by the blood of the Roman martyrs.

I have argued that to achieve reconstruction there has to first be religious revival and that renewal, reform and reconstruction will then follow.

And I have lastly suggested that we must recognise the reality of the challenge we face; regain our nerve; forge new alliances; and above all else, let God back in.


archive4

Lecture by Lord Alton of Liverpool at Scranton University on Friday November 1st,2002: The Duty To Engage In Active Citizenship.


A child came home to his parents with an end of term report. “Music”, it said,” failed the theory, passed the practice; science, failed the theory passed the practice; religion, passed the theory, failed the practice.”

Let me attempt this afternoon to blend some theory with some practice, beginning with an overview of what I mean by citizenship and civil society, and then, with the aid of a power point presentation, reinforcing the theoretical points with some down to earth practice.

Perhaps I am well suited to this task of trying to match theory and practice. I am a professor of citizenship at a British University but I have also served in both Houses of Parliament for the past 23 years.

People in politics often have a very elevated idea of their own importance – although the truth is that there is a fair amount of public cynicism about them.

There is a story about three men who were arguing about whose is the oldest profession. There was a doctor, a planner and a politician and their claims illustrate that they had not had the benefit of a Scranton education. .

The doctor claimed that his was the oldest profession because he said it was a doctor who had taken a rib out of Adam to make Eve; the planner said his was the oldest profession because a planner had created order out of the chaos that existed in the firmament before time began; and the politician, always keen to cap anybody else’s claims, said his was the oldest profession “because we created the chaos.”

Politicians may well leave a trail of chaos in their wake but in a democracy it is impossible to do without them. It has been remarked that “if you cut down all the trees there will be nowhere left for the birds to sing” and as we cut down our political institutions, the Church, and many aspects of our traditions and culture we are in grave danger of leaving nowhere from which the birds will be able to sing.

So, essentially, my central call today is a call to engage actively in the life of the world. At the conclusion of my remarks I will argue that those formed in the Judaeo-Christian tradition have a special obligation laid upon them to do so.

So let me say something about the theory.

Arguably the first person to draw a distinction between the state and civil society was Thomas Paine (Common Sense, 1776). Paine saw the State as a contrived entity “the badge of lost innocence.” The lost innocence that the state represents was the usurping of the role of individual and voluntary endeavour. The State will always encroach on the freedoms we enjoy as citizens if we allow our democratic institutions and our virtuous impulses to be eroded.

Paine held that personal virtue was best cultivated in a climate of personal endeavour; that “society is produced by our wants and government by our wickedness” the one cultivating and uniting our best impulses the other restraining our vices: “the first is a patron, the last a punisher.”

Be that as it may, we know that we cannot dispense with the State. The issue is surely how we find a bridge between the individual and market forces on one hand and the apparatus of the state on the other. It is surely in this no-man’s-land of civil society that individual citizens can find better ways of living and ensure that their liberties and freedoms are not encroached upon by the State.

Civil society can only flourish through an outpouring of civic virtue – implying as it does, charity, philanthropy, public spirit and a whole host of voluntary activity. Civic virtue is the best buttress against totalitarianism and against excess.

Civic virtue can also colonise the best religious impulses and provide the most helpful route of uniting religious values with political ones. Civil society has rightly been described by Quentin Skinner as ” a moral space between rulers and the ruled” (Liberty Before Liberalism, 1998). Although the concept of civil society as the place where voluntary institutions mediate between the individual and the state is of relatively recent origin, the ancients placed great value on the role of individual citizens acting individually and together.

Aristotle wrote that shame, aidos, would attach to the man who failed to play his part; that we are not “solitary pieces in a game of chequers” (Politics); but civil society was not for him a buttress against government but something to be understood in high political terms. In his era public spirit was perceived as military or political service; for us, the concept has much wider implications.

Aristotle set out the ancient virtues that are the bed rock of civil society: justice; wisdom; temperance; courage; magnanimity; tolerance; munificence; prudence and gentleness.

How we exhibit these virtues and how we act as moral agents affects everything from how we treat our neighbours to how we treat the environment. Beyond the appreciation of the theory lies the practical effect that engagement in civil society has on the individual. Cicero understood this when he wrote in “On Duty” said that participation in the common life improved the character of the individual: “the whole glory of virtue is in activity.”

Alexis de Tocqueville was on to the same point when he counselled that an impressive practical wisdom and power of judgement may be developed simply from participating in the affairs of a free society.

But it was Paine who saw the value of civil society as more than the fountain head of personal altruism, arguing that his ideal republic – a place of liberty free of arbitrary rule – would flourish only when there were dynamic free associations beyond the control of government.

Civil society would form a bridge between those who expressed their sense of duty by benevolence or charity and those who worked for social cohesion through politics. This welter of activity invigorates a community or nation and is ultimately communitarian – for it links autonomous individual citizens together. Tocqueville said that “The greater the multiplicity of small affairs, the more do men, even without knowing it, acquire facility in prosecuting great undertakings in common.”

The English Catholic historian and liberal thinker, Lord Acton, presciently observed that religion “locates and strengthens the notion of duty. If men are not kept straight by duty, they must be by fear. The greater the strength of duty, the greater the liberty.” He also understood that the goal of reconciling religion and liberty is not easily reached: “the paths of both are stained with blood.” Yet how much more blood will flow if religion is to be a force for reaction, aggression and sectarianism rather than as a force for liberty.

Civil society and the outpouring of a person’s gifts for the common good is the way to real human progress. Whether in post Communist society, in the developing world or in the West a common enemy is materialism.

In the west democratic institutions have been under increasing attack from crude material values that eat away at civil society. Disillusionment with too great an emphasis on the market, fears about globalisation, and a failure to reconcile deep religious beliefs with a commitment to democracy, all pose a considerable threat.

As someone who has spent thirty years in public life in Britain I understand the reasons for public cynicism but as Winston Churchill once observed about democracy “it is the least worst system” available to us.

Chaotic though many democratic societies may be, nevertheless they offer the best model for the development of a civil society. Let me begin with some admissions of failure. Britain is by no means a perfect society. I know from my time in that we are faced with widespread civic disaggregation and a loss of civic responsibility. Low turn out in elections, for instance, in some of the poorer areas points to alienation.

There has also been a loss of patriotic commitment as an exaggerated emphasis has been placed on individual autonomy and rights rather than on duties and obligations. The cult of individualism has led to a loss of good citizenship and damages civil society.

The challenge for us is to make democracy effective.

The history of the twentieth century was a history of societies ravaged by ideologies. Some reduce man to a series of social and economic relationships where the whole concept of the person as an autonomous subject linked to others through a network of mutually important personal and communal relationships, and encouraged to take moral decisions, disappears.

The responsibility of the individual to face good or evil is eliminated and social order becomes distorted.

Any understanding of human freedom which detaches it from obedience to the truth – and consequently from the duty to respect the rights of others, especially the most vulnerable – breeds a self-love and self interest which militates against the demands of justice

After World War Two, and in reaction to its horrors, the founding fathers of the European Community – who were mainly inspired by their Catholic faith – saw the desperate need for an alternative to these options. Theirs was not an ideological response but one that was based on a more lively sense of human rights and the rights of nations.

They appreciated that how a person acts as a moral agent affects everything from how they behave towards their neighbours and their environment to how they uphold ethical standards in politics or commerce. We begin building a civil society by our own actions towards one another – by our willingness to serve rather than to dominate and by our willingness to embrace values which run counter to those which may prevail throughout mainstream society.

Thomas Hill Green, a great nineteenth century idealist, moral philosopher and exponent of ethical liberalism, held that virtue was best understood as a personal outpouring for the common good.

The common good presupposes legal institutions that protect liberty and prevent the exercise of the suffrage from being distorted. It also implies – and perhaps this above all else – the education and formation of the masses.

The wolves are always waiting at the door, – the Vikings at the gate – waiting to destroy civil society. Education is our best defence. The bad comes to pass more frequently than the good. All the more reason to create political and civil structures and institutions that are organised in accordance with the order of nature and justice and centre on the common good.

The Common Good and a Civil Society require the progress of social justice; the organic development of institutions of law; the participation in more and more extensive ways of people in political life; the creation of conditions that really do offer each an equal opportunity to bring their gifts to fruit and that rewards the efforts of its labour for common use; and the cultivation of that inner liberty which gives mastery over self; and, finally, a love of knowledge and truth.

My Irish speaking mother brought me up to believe in the common good. An Old Irish saying has it that: “It is in the shelter of each other’s lives that the people live.” Nelson Mandela uses the word ubuntu to express the same thought: “It is the sense that we can only be human through the humanity of others.” The English poet, John Donne, captured the same thought in his famous words: No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.”

So much for the theory of citizenship and civic engagement. Let me capture some of these points through a power point presentation and outline some of the specific ways in which we can put the theory into practice.

Ends/-

Archive – indexed miscellaneous articles and columns

archive3

Miscellaneous archived columns on the following subjects:

Abortion and the right to know

Paying a price for courage

Politicians and how they vote on ethical issues

30 years of abortion in the UK

Abortion and the possible link with breast cancer

Joanna Jepson’s fight against eugenics

Africa and development challenges

America and Europe – uncomfortable bedfellows

Roe No more

Lord Joffe’s Bill – a “mad Bill” says Robert Winston

A faith worth dying for – Romania’s Tertulian Ioan Langa

Archbishops of Canterbury

The tragedy of broken families

Faith and politics

Genocide in Burma

The detention of Aung San Suu Kyi

Challenges facing Burma

A Land without evil

Ruskin’s money making mob

Darfur – never again all over again

Azerbaijan – where Europe and Asia meet

Bonding with baby

Basque country

The BBC and the right to free speech

#Snakes and ladders

Bishops in the Lords

The legacy of C.S.Lewis

Brazilian bloodbath in a nation asleep

Doing business with Benedict

Building civil society in Georgia

Politics – the oldest profession?

An Ave for good citizens

Give us this day our daily bread

The Celebrate Conference 2001

The case for married priests (2002)

The killing fields of Darfur (2005)

China – where it is illegal to have a brother or a sister

Christians in the Holy Land (1999)

Christians in India

Christmas 2001, 2002, 2003

The BBC and shooting the messenger

Don’t disestablish the CofE

Ban human cloning

Don’t make drugs misuse easier or legal

The looming threat of euthanasia (2003)

Death and suffering in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (2006)

The instructive story of Dolly the Sheep

Why the BMA opposes assisted suicide (2004)

Sorry is the hardest word

Religious liberties in Vietnam

Suffering in Burma

The changing face of Laos

Africa’s children on the brink

A murderous kind of peace (Sudan)

The bishop with nine lives

Suffering and survival in Sudan

A Cornish pilgrimage to St. Michael’s Mount

Day for Life 2003

Some books to savour

Life on Kenya’s border with Ethiopia

North Korea and saving its people from hell (2006)

The phenomenal contribution of Catholic schools

Celebrating John Buchan

Phyllis Bowman: a friend in high places (2013).

Egypt and the Copts (article for the Australian Copts)

Ben Rogers And a Rangoon Journey (2013)

What could North Korea Learn from Burma (2013)

Knowing Who You Are (Bowyer’s Dinner 2013)

Congo at 50 (2010) and Remarks for a meeting in Parliament

E-Politics article on Voting Systems

Why Voting Is A Duty

The Year of the Pig – and the case of Chen Guangchen

Two Reports for Jubilee Campaign from 2004 on Congo and Sudan

Meeting Rwanda’s President

DRC’s Bloody History

Rwanda and Genocide

Sister Love and a story from the Burma Border

The Plight of the Karen – a case study in international indifference.

Reports of genocide in Burma

Burma and a Great British Betrayal (1998)

The Release of James Mawdsley

Investing Ethically?

The 2005 Mental Capacity Bill

Westminster Abbey – a place of pilgrimage not just a tourist attraction

Pope John Paul II The Lasting Impact of The Pope of Freedom

What Pope John Paul Meant for Catholics
The Debate about Drugs – 2003
Drugs Misuse
Select Committee Report on Stem Cells and Cloning – 2002
Therapeutic cloning: is research ethical?Speech given to the Parliamentary Scientific Committee, December 1999.
A Talk at Beaconsfield – 2001

archive2

Universe Column for 5th May 2002

Abortion and the Breast Cancer Question – the ABC Link

One of the many lies propounded by the abortion industry is that abortion is beneficial to women’s physical and mental health. As the pro-life movement has consistently argued, the exact opposite is the case. This was the resounding conclusion from a meeting I attended in Parliament this week that brought together a number of leading pro-life activists and lawyers.

Unfortunately, the Department of Health and the medical establishment have adopted a conspiracy of silence on the risks to women’s health consequent upon abortion. Most notably, in recent months I have witnessed the Department of Health’s abject failure to acknowledge the overwhelming evidence of a link between induced abortion and breast cancer, the so-called ‘ABC’ link.

Twenty-eight out of thirty five peer reviewed international studies have found that induced abortion increases the incidence of breast cancer. Last year, the pro-life charity LIFE commissioned a study on induced abortion and breast cancer. It concluded, “the main cause of the fast increase in post-menopausal breast cancer since the late 1980s can only be the increased availability of induced abortion”.

I have drawn Ministers’ attention to the ABC link and LIFE’s report in the hope that action might be taken to ensure that, at the very least, women having abortions are adequately informed of all the risks, including the risk of breast cancer. In reply, I am told that LIFE’s report “makes many assumptions and is a simplistic association between a rising incidence of breast cancer and the use of induced abortion”.

Yet the World Health Organisation, the medical establishment and even the Department of Health admit that delayed motherhood is a causative factor in the increased incidence of breast cancer. And what is one of the most commonly practised ways of delaying motherhood? Yes, abortion!

Neither Government, nor the abortionists themselves, have demonstrated any willingness to ensure that women are properly informed of the risks of abortion. They know that if they did, far fewer women would have abortions. Whilst the concept of informed consent permeates our health care system abortion remains untouched. No wonder the abortion industry is now known as “the red light district of medicine”.

Nevertheless, the tide is beginning to turn. In the United States and Australia, abortion clinics are finding themselves the targets of clinical negligence claims over their failure to inform women of all the risks of abortion. Charles Francis, an Australian QC, advised our meeting that he had recently settled, for “a substantial sum”, a case where the abortionist had failed to disclose the risks, most particularly the increased risk of breast cancer.

To date the UK has remained immune to this litigious trend, principally because the ABC link is not properly recognised by the Government or in medical literature. We therefore have some convincing to do but the evidence is accumulating at such a rate that it will soon be impossible to ignore.

This week in Canada a bioethics institute produced a report that reviewed more than five hundred studies on the health risks that have been associated with abortion. These included breast cancer, pelvic infection, infertility, ectopic pregnancy and suicide.

A litigation time bomb is ticking in the UK in relation to abortion. Women’s health is being put at grave danger by the very same people who claim to be protecting it. The sooner the Government and the medical establishment take their heads out of the sand, the better.

Column for November 23rd 2003

by David Alton – The Right To Choose and The Right To Know

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK and affects 41,000 women each year. It claimed 13,000 lives in 2001 making it the second most common cause of cancer death in women after lung cancer.

In a debate in Parliament I have just raised the possible link between abortion and breast cancer – and was shocked by the determination of several speakers to deny any possible link, or even to accept that abortion can carry significant physical and psychological risks.

28 out of 37 worldwide studies have independently linked induced abortion with breast cancer. Thirteen out of fifteen studies conducted on American women report increased risk. Seventeen studies are statistically significant, sixteen of which found increased risk.

In 1996, Professor Joel Brind of Baruch College in New York and his colleagues at Pennsylvania State Medical College conducted a review and meta-analysis of the studies. The Brind team, half of whom were abortion law supporters, found an overall 30% elevated risk among women choosing abortion after their first full term pregnancy and a 50% elevated risk among women choosing abortion before their first full term pregnancy.

It is thought that there are two ways in which abortion may cause breast cancer.

Firstly, an induced abortion causes biological changes to occur in a woman’s breasts which make her more susceptible to breast cancer.

During pregnancy, a hormone called estradiol, a type of oestrogen, causes both the normal and pre-cancerous cells in the breast to significantly multiply. By 7 to 8 weeks gestation, the estradiol level has increased by 500% over what it was at the time of conception.

If the pregnancy is aborted, the woman is left with more undifferentiated — and therefore cancer-vulnerable cells — than she had before she was pregnant. On the other hand, a full term pregnancy leaves a woman with more milk producing differentiated cells, which means that she has fewer cancer-Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 15.02.21vulnerable cells in her breasts than she did before the pregnancy.

A second way in which it is claimed that induced abortion can cause breast cancer is through delayed first full term pregnancy.

One of the most common ways in which women delay their first full term pregnancy is by abortion.

In February 2000, the New England Journal of Medicine, possibly the world’s most influential medical journal, acknowledged evidence of the link between induced abortion and breast cancer in an article

written by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

The recent scare with HRT supports the argument for a link between induced abortion and breast cancer. HRT and induced abortion share one thing in common – they raise oestrogen levels. A low fat diet and avoidance of alcohol also reduce a woman’s exposure to the hormone oestrogen which is the key trigger for breast cancer.

Women have a right to know about risk factors for breast cancer about every possible risk factor. So, why the silence on what appears to be a significant risk factor for breast cancer – induced abortion?

If the Government does not place sufficient weight on the mounting evidence of the link between induced abortion and breast cancer there will be class-action law suits similar to those we are witnessing against the tobacco industry. Years of denial and complacency could lead to claims for billions of pounds in compensation.

In the States last month I heard of the case of a 22 year old woman from Philadelphia, who had an abortion when she was aged 17 and last week became the first person in the United States to successfully settle a medical malpractice case based on a claim for the failure of her doctor and the abortion clinic to inform her of the increased risk of breast cancer due to abortion.

Obviously, not all women who have breast cancer have had abortions: and no-one should imply that. Similarly, not all women who have had abortions will get breast cancer.

However, induced abortion causes women to change their childbearing patterns which, in turn leads them to forego the protective effects of an early first full-term pregnancy. Young girls and women who abort before they’ve had a child – the majority of abortion patients in the UK – are at most danger.

Whatever people’s views about abortion itself, we should surely all oppose the suppression of evidence and debate. The Abortion Act may give women the ‘Right to Choose’ but women also deserve the ‘Right to Know’.

Ends

Ends

2002: Abortion and Paying a Price for Courage Stories of Courage and Conscience

A brave mum who put off cancer treatment so she could give birth has died at the age of 19.

Kelly Byrne, of Beech Avenue, Braintree, had been suffering from leukaemia and last year,

she made a desperate bid to find a donor so she could see her son Logan grow up.

She underwent a bone marrow transplant in January after a world-wide search found a suitable

donor in America.

After her treatment she was thought to be doing well, but developed pneumonia and in her

weakened state was unable to fight it off. She had been in a coma and died on Tuesday.

Kelly’s plight touched the heart of Braintree carnival organisers, who planned to donate the

money raised this year to the Anthony Nolan Trust – the organisation through which she found

her donor.

Kelly was carnival queen in 1999.

Carnival organiser Pat Watson said: “We hope we can help someone else in her situation. We’re

all very sad about it, that’s all we can say.”

Miss Byrne was pregnant when she found out the leukaemia she had as a child had returned. She

put off treatment to give birth to Logan in August, then had chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Kelly paid the ultimate price for her unborn child. Others have paid a different price for holding firm to their belief in the sanctity of every human life.

Ellen Wilkie, the disability rights campaigner was an indefatigable champion of the rights of the unborn. She struggled all her life with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a very rare muscle wasting disease. Most of us could not hope to pack into our entire lives what Ellen achieved in her short thirty-one years; an honours degree in Classics from Bristol University, a published poet, prison worker, author, actress, radio and television presenter, journalist and musician – the list goes on.

When asked to address a school assembly about her achievements she said, “It would make a boring assembly. Anybody could do what I’ve done”. Whether anyone could in fact do what she did is debatable. The point is that anyone might do what she did. Her life and approach to life should be an inspiration to us all.

Ellen said “I did not see how anyone could be part of the disability movement and advocate abortion on the grounds of disability”.

Anita Anderson was my constituent. In 1993 she became pregnant and was told that a scan had revealed a chink in her unborn baby’s leg. She declined the abortion which she was offered. After her next scan she was told that the child would suffer from dwarfism. She again declined an abortion. On a third occasion she was told that the baby was growing again but would be multiply-handicapped. Following her third refusal, a social worker arrived at her mother’s home and told her mother that a hospital bed had been booked for an abortion on the following Monday. What presumptuous arrogance, and what extraordinary pressure!

The child’s father, Terry Anderson, told me that although he was not a regular churchgoer, he was certain that abortion was wrong. Spiritually they needed great strength, and Terry privately visited a local church and lit devotional candles and prayed. Their faith and strength were rewarded by the birth of a perfectly healthy little girl; but as Mr Anderson remarked: “What should have been the happiest time of our lives was turned into a nightmare”. Anita Anderson adds: “They treated me totally the wrong way. They didn’t think about my feelings. They made me feel as if I was carrying a guinea-pig and as if they just wanted me to have an abortion so they could carry it away. “I was crying all the time. One night I woke up and thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown. It was just disturbing.”

I raised this case directly at a meeting with the then Health Secretary, Stephen Dorrell, in 1996. He agreed that tests should not lead to directional counselling. In reality, diagnostic tests are routinely treated as the first part of a search-and-destroy mission, and intolerable pressure is placed on parents to follow the logic of the tests.

Cures are not available, but abortion is. Far from being reliable, the tests lead to perfectly healthy unborn babies being aborted, and to the susbsequent trauma of angry parents suing health authorities for negligence and incompetence. It also led, in June 1996, to a British mother saying she would sue the doctors who failed to test successfully for the spina bifida which affects her son.

Later in 1995 Barbara Hanaway, a medical secretary from Manchester, was sacked from Salford Health Authority for refusing to deal with an abortion. An appointment had been made for a patient to attend the surgery. The woman asked for an abortion. The doctor declined and referred her to her own doctor, telling Janaway to take dictation, type the letter and contact the woman so that she could collect the letter. Hanaway refused on religious grounds saying: “I refused; my conscientious objection was that I was setting the ball in motion. I would have been responsible.” She was reported to the practice manager who told her to “get into the real world”. She responded that, “This is the real world”. The Health Authority dismissed her for gross misconduct.

Pharmacist’s Moral Dilemma In Belfast, in 1995, Patrick McCrystal lost his job as a pharmacist after he was told to dispense the abortifacient morning-after pill. When I met him in Northern Ireland he explained to me the dilemma he faced over his deeply held religious beliefs. “It threw me into a professional and moral dilemma. I was a pharmacist and a man of faith in a profession trying to promote health and prolong life, and being asked to dispense a pill that terminates a new life. “After wide consultation, prayer and heart-searching, I handed in my notice and left the post.” McCrystal, despite being ready to dispense 98% of daily prescriptions, has been unable to obtain anything other than a few days locum work since.

In 1996, he was joined on the dole queue by Stephen Clark, a 31 year-old scientist from Manchester. He was sacked after he refused, on religious grounds, to monitor emissions from hospital incinerators used to burn aborted foetuses. An environmental chemist with Greater Manchester Scientific Services Ltd., a subsidiary of Southern Water plc, his company obtained a contract with another operating clinical waste incinerators. One of their plants, at Hope Hospital, Salford, took waste from 16 medical centres in the North West. He discovered that among the waste were the remains of aborted unborn babies: “I would no more monitor the stack at a hospital incinerator than I would at the crematoria at Auschwitz. The plant was being used for the incineration of human beings after their wilful murder. I would have been taking part in a process which diminished humanity.” He was dismissed and lost his case at an industrial tribunal.

Column David Alton: June 22nd 2001.

Politicians and How They vote In Parliament

A reader has written to me rebuking me for recently publicising the voting records of the three party leaders on issues such as abortion, cloning and euthanasia. She says that these are purely private matters.

It is a curious thing in Britain but many of the things, which genuinely are private matters we take great delight in parading across daily newspapers. Meanwhile, issues that the public deserves to be told about are suppressed or concealed as official secrets.

How a politician votes in Parliament is not a private matter and those who want fundamental changes made in laws that destroy millions of lives are entitled to know how a politicians intends to vote.

The abortion issue, in particular, brings out some very mixed up attitudes.

Take the Dutch abortion ship as an example. Imagine the outcry if a group of drug pushers, pornographers, arms dealers or Nazis decided to moor a ship just outside the Thames Estuary and proceeded to act in defiance of British law.

In Ireland there are still laws that protect the unborn child. Yet, Dutch abortionists acting on a self-proclaimed liberal mandate say they are entitled to violate the laws of another sovereign state.

I believe that British laws that allow a disabled baby to be killed as she is being born are evil. Imagine the reaction if I incited acts of violence against the abortionists involved in ending those lives; or if I encouraged foreign militants to do it for me.

The abortionists are false liberals.

These are the same people who proclaim the right of people to know their rights to an abortion while denying groups like the Pro-Life Alliance the right to a broadcast which would have illustrated what actually happens in an abortion.

Cardinal Hume was so right when he said that if showing what happens in an abortion is “distasteful” then maybe the act is so distasteful that we shouldn’t allow it in the first place.

In January 1973 the USA legalised abortion following the Roe v Wade case. Jane Roe was the heroine of the liberal establishment.

Twenty eight years later Jane Roe and several other women are now suing the New Jersey State authorities because of the damage which abortion has done to their lives. They say that the abortion industry doesn’t care about women or the suffering, which they have experienced.

What interest I wonder will the Dutch abortionists have in the future well being of the women they entice to their ship? What legal redress will those women have in future years?

So to my irate correspondent, I must insist, these are not private matters about which we should not inquire of our politicians. They are issues that cut to the very heart of our humanity.

November 2001 – Thirtieth Anniversary of the Abortion Act

In this month of cenotaphs and remembrance spare a thought for the dead and the injured – the babies and their mothers – who have paid the price for Briatin’s Abortion laws: enacted exactly thirty years ago.

For those who do not know them, the stark facts are worth rehearsing: 5 million British abortions in thirty years; 177,225 abortions in 1996, a rise of 8.6% on 1995; 1 in every 5 pregnancies deliberately destroyed; abortion of disabled babies permitted up to, and even during birth. But this is to tell only half the story.

In 1967 just 31 Members of Parliament opposed David Steel’s Abortion Bill. After David Steel had won the Private Members Ballot, his friend, Roy Jenkins, the then Home Secretary, promised to help draft a Bill either to decriminalise homosexuality or to legalise abortion. David Steel took soundings in his Borders constituency and concluded that abortion would be the more popular cause. Jenkins and Harold Wilson subsequently delivered their promise to provide Government time once that allocated for Private Members was exhausted. Since then no Government has provided the time which would be necessary for amending legislation (most notably Margaret Thatcher refused parliamentary time in 1987, preventing my own Bill from completing its stages).

The climate which allowed the 1967 Bill to be so successful had been created over a sustained period of time. Opponents had been lulled into a false sense of complacency while hard cases and horror stories, some doubtless true, others grossly exaggerated, were remorselessly trawled through the press. This is the text book case which amply demonstrates the truth of the adage that `hard cases make bad laws’. The Hansard record of the 1967 speeches reveals a mixture of guile and self-deception, sincerity and cunning. Some speakers genuinely believed that they were liberating women; others were pursuing an agenda which they are still attempting to systematically complete.

That agenda includes eugenic testing, genetic engineering, the elimination of disabled people,embryo experimentation, coercive population control, and euthanasia. At times the debate may appear exhausted but it is by no means concluded. Until 1973-74 the argument largely focused on the status of the foetus.

Almost un-noticed the abortion lobby retracted and regrouped, as foetal scanning debunked the propagandistic nonsense that the unborn child was merely a clump of tissues or a lump of jelly. Adroitly, from the mid-seventies they switched to the surer ground of rights and specifically to a woman’s right to choose `not to be burdened’. The argument ran like this: “Yes, I know it’s killing, but my rights are paramount.” They insisted that this was entirely a private matter and having changed the law to their liking it was no longer to be a matter of public policy.

The language of rights proclaimed by Americans such as John Rawls was the ideal context in which to proclaim these new rights and to abandon old values. The claims of God were no longer permitted to trump the claims of citizenship and T H Green’s notions of positive freedom and the common good were superseded by a new doctrine of claimed rights undergirded by a merely managerial approach to politics.

The new, non-principled, politics believes the sanctity of life is just one more stall in the market and that it is wholly unreasonable and, indeed, intolerant to insist that abortion is wrong. And so, in the short space of 30 years, a serious crime has become a right, a public question of law and ethics has become a personal choice, and a practice once firmly repudiated by medics has become a routine medical procedure – so routine that clinics offer a lunch-hour service. And to what other enormities has this led?

100,000 human embryos are now experimented upon or destroyed in Britain annually. Procedures specifically prohibited on other species by the 1986 Animal Procedures Act are permitted on humans by the 1990 Human Fertilisation & Embryology Act. In touchy-feely Britain we are required to display emotions, to exhibit (often counterfeit) compassion, and embrace politically correct causes.

If you are a fox or hate smoking you are in luck; if you are an unborn child, too bad. Question the legislation which permits a handicapped baby to be killed at birth and you will be reviled as a bigot or misogynist. The Prime Minister, along with every other elected member of the Cabinet voted for the eugenics provision. He outlined the new doctrine in the General Election as “personally opposed to abortion but in favour of public provision”. Imagine the derision if I claimed to personally oppose the Government’s sale of arms to Indonesia and then voted for it as a `matter of public policy’.

This ambivalence mirrors the mixed sentiments of mixed-up middle England. Pro-lifers need to understand this. It may prove to be a better beginning than it first appears.

In this convoluted world of invented values we have permitted the popular belief to emerge that choices can be made without consequences, that rights outweigh obligations, that the strong can trample on the weak. Pro-life questions have been side-lined as a `single issue’ instead of the defining issue of our times. Measured against the promises of the 1967 legislators, many of today’s realities stand as a stark rebuke. Chief among their claims was that legalised abortion would liberate women. Instead we have a generation of women physically and psychologically hurt by abortion. Men have increasingly used abortion as a way to exploit women and to evade their own responsibilities.

The claim was also made that children would all be wanted; abortion would reduce the incidence of abuse. Today, 46,000 British children are on child protection registers. Might it not be that abuse permitted in the womb was always likely to increase the incidence of abuse after birth? While the abortion clinics replaced the orphanages, adoption of babies became far more difficult and expensive fertility treatments – which don’t work for four out of five couples – became the resort of the desperate.

Legal abortion has changed our attitudes to our doctors, our partners, our children and to the sanctity of human life. It has also bred an ugly intolerance: journalists sacked for insufficiently compliant copy; doctors, nurses, and medical staff sacked or refused promotion for refusing to collaborate; a scientist sacked for refusing to monitor emissions from an incinerator burning the bodies of aborted foetuses; pro-life students denied free speech; the Labour Life Group denied a stall at a Labour Party Conference; Emily’s List money available to women candidates on the one condition that they support abortion; and the BBC’s risible decision to allow a racist General Election broadcast because of the importance of `free speech’, while censoring a pro-life broadcast because it might cause offence.

Absurdity is piled upon absurdity as the Government proclaims a pious concern for human rights in China and then allocates funds – around £10 million per annum – to the Chinese Population Association. China’s `one child policy’ makes it the only country in the world where it is illegal to have a brother or a sister, and Britain helps fund the forced abortion, forced sterilisation and forced fitting of IUCD’s in women, which are used to implement this policy. How this squares with Robin Cook’s ethical policy is a mystery. It is all part of the culture of death.”

In 1967 David Steel said his Bill was not the commencement of a slippery slope. Opponents, he said, were scare-mongering when they warned that euthanasia would inevitably follow. Last week, the Government said it would support a Law Commission Bill on advanced directives – euthanasia by the back door. Conscience, he promised, would be protected. Scientists, journalists, pharmacists, and medics are among those who have been sacked or refused promotion for exercining their conscience. He said there would be no abortion on demand. there are 600 abortions every working day in Briatin.

This has been a chaotic century which will be remembered for its culture of violence and death. Yet there are hopeful straws in the wind. The Roe v Wade case (1973) famously led to legalised abortion in the USA. Jane Roe has now changed her mind.

In Britain the work of LIFE in establishing Life houses and care centres, a Health Centre and baby hospice, the work of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, through education and campaigning; the work of the Pro-Life Alliance, in contesting elections; the witness of the Revd. James Morrow and Rescue; the consistent pro-life ethic of the Movement for Christian Democracy, and Alert’s work against euthanasia, are all helping to change minds. A single life saved more than justifies this painstaking approach.

A pro-woman/pro-life approach is the best strategy for defeating abortionism. We must reform the abortion debate in a way which puts women and children together on the same side.’ Society has become hyper-sensitive to women’s rights.

By establishing the link between the pro-life position and women who have been victimised by abortion we stand a better chance of turning around the argument. When abortionists – like the one who boasted that he had done 100,000 abortions, generating œ30 million over the past 30 years – are made legally responsible for protecting women’s health and are required to inform women of the risks and alternatives, many who have been taken in by the slogans may think again. In the wider political battle we need no condemnation or judgement of women – especially the stigmatising of single parents- to define the argument. Instead, we need a politics that is consistently pro-life and argues for a mother and her child, for the sanctity of all human life: from the womb to the tomb. We also need to be rather more PC – not politically correct but politically courageous.

Column David Alton: 2003 – Abortion and breast cancer

To mark the thirtieth anniversary of the Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton Supreme Court cases, BBC Radio Four’s Today Programme recently highlighted the abortion debate in the USA. This included a short debate between myself and Joan Ruddock MP.

Perhaps the most telling moment in that exchange came when Mrs. Ruddock defended the 25 abortions undertaken on babies who had a cleft pallet, including one after 24 weeks gestation. This she said was simply a woman’s choice.

For those of who would describe it as eugenics and grossly discriminatory there is clearly little scope for a meeting of minds.

Yet, as the three preceding broadcasts illustrated attitudes in America have been changing – with an ABC poll last month showing that 60% of women oppose social abortions. Note that 98% of British abortions are done under the social clause.

The American change of heart has undoubtedly been helped by Jane Roe and Mary Doe, who have both become pro-life. It has also been helped by Dr. Bernard Nathansan, one of the principal architects of America’s abortion laws. Responsible for 75,000 abortions, he says the rhetoric of 30 years ago was based on “Cynical slogans then, just as they are now.”

Roe and Doe (their real names are Norma McCorvey and Sandra Cano) say the cases that were brought 30 years ago were based on lies. That is why they have backed a new campaign to reverse a process that has destroyed millions of unborn children and damaged countless people, psychologically and physically. Now it’s Roe v. Abortion.

Both women say that false testimonies were used in the original cases. The Supreme Court listened to these women 30 years ago when it suited them, it will be a real test of their liberal credentials as to whether they will let these women come before them again.

American women have been changing their minds about abortion for a variety of reasons. The linkage of abortion with breast cancer is one of the most important.

In the last 50 years 28 out of 37 studies undertaken world-wide have shown a positive association between the two. Girls under the age of 18 who have abortions double their risk of breast cancer.

In Britain the total number of breast cancers is expected to double over the next 26 years from 35,000 to 77,000. This will be largely because of the high rate of nulliparous abortions (where a woman hasn’t previously given birth) and the decline in the birth rate.

In Britain politicians and society are in denial. The basis of their case for abortion has been that it is safe and legal. Well, legal it may be, safe it is not.

Don’t British women have a right to know that an abortion might lead to anything between a 30% and 50% greater probability of breast cancer? A woman in Australia recently won a landmark court case on the basis of her right to know. How long will it be before the British Government face a similar lawsuit?

Breast cancer is no trivial matter.

In Liverpool I chaired the successful appeal to build the NHS Linda McCartney Centre for women with breast cancer and am well aware of the suffering caused by this disease.

A year ago I sent the chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Breast Cancer Group Patrick Carroll’s damning report on the linkage between breast cancer and abortion. In the report Carroll says “the number of women who will die from the disease will rise alarmingly.”

I am still waiting for a reply to my letter. The chair of that Committee? It’s Mrs. Ruddock.

Column July 27th 2003

Not content with almost 600 abortions every working day, the pro-abortion lobby are now calling for women to be allowed to complete so-called ‘medical abortions’ at home.

Don’t be fooled that this arises out of concern for women’s health and welfare. Far from it. The pro-abortionists are worried. Growing numbers of doctors, particularly the newly qualified, are refusing to participate in surgical abortions in hospitals. For some, the practice is considered beneath their status as doctors. Others, particularly young Christian and Muslim doctors, are exercising the right of conscientious objection.

No wonder the abortion lobby wants to see a change in the law to allow medical staff other than doctors and women themselves to administer medical rather than surgical abortions.

Medical abortion using the ‘abortion pill’ RU486 involves taking two doses of separate drugs that induce a miscarriage. It is accompanied by extremely heavy bleeding, severe cramping, nausea and vomiting. Also, according to a spokesman for the manufacturer, Roussel Uclaf, “there is considerable pain attached to the procedure”. Other potential side effects include cardiac arrest and frequent incomplete abortions.

In 2002 the US Food and Drug Administration issued a warning to all healthcare professionals about the dangers of taking the abortion pill, particularly if the pregnancy is ectopic.

If abortion does have to take place, then surely all stages of the abortion should be conducted in an approved medical environment where medical assistance will be on hand immediately if required.

If women were allowed to complete medical abortions at home or at locations other than licensed medical establishments, what help will be available to the woman when her dead unborn child is expelled from her womb? What is she to do with her dead unborn child? What help will be on hand if she suffers heavy bleeding? Many women will worry about whether the procedure will work. (For up to one in ten women, it does not.) Many women will be inevitably plagued with questions about whether the unborn child is alive or dead, or suffering at any particular moment.

While there may be reasons for increasing the availability of, and access to, potentially life-saving or life-extending drugs, (such as in the case of AIDS treatments) no such reasons apply here. RU-486 is clearly intended only for non-therapeutic, elective abortions. There is no health crisis demanding this treatment. Women already have access to surgical abortion, which abortion proponents insist is already safe, effective, and inexpensive.

Now is the moment to write to Dr John Reid MP, the Secretary of State for Health (at the House of Commons, London SW1A OAA), seeking assurance that the Government has no intention of extending the “class of places” under the Abortion Act 1967 (as amended) where abortions can be carried out in order to allow women to complete medical abortions at home. To accede to the abortion lobby’s demands would be a dangerous and retrograde step.

Rather than seeking to increase access to and availability of abortion – and calls to extend it to Northern Ireland is another example of this – we should be developing policies to reduce the appalling number of abortions that take place in Great Britain each year.

Ends.

Column, December 14th 2003

by David Alton

Two contrasting stories illustrate how individuals can affect the debate about abortion – for better or for worse.

The first story comes from the USA, from Wilmington, Delaware, where a teacher at an Catholic girls school has taken her school to court after she was dismissed for campaigning in favour of abortion. Michele Curay-Cramer, 32, was fired from the Ursuline Academy after her name appeared in a newspaper advertisement advocating abortion. Ms.Curay-Cramer claims the school’s action violated the woman’s rights under the Civil Rights Act.

Like Frances Kisling of the organisation “Catholics For A Free Choice,” Curay-Cramer claims that she is still a bona fide Catholic. In a bizarre interpretation of Catholic teaching she says “the Catholic Catechism says that if you do what you do with a clean conscience, then you’ve done nothing wrong.” The reality is that if by exercising your “free choice” you take the life of another you break the Commandment that “Thou Shalt Not Kill” – and Church teaching on abortion hardly needs explanation here.

GK Chesterton said that when you become a Catholic you surrender some of your freedom in order to gain a greater freedom: and he was right.

You can’t just make up your beliefs as you go along and then claim that you are still a Catholic – let alone demand to be paid to teach in a Catholic institution.

Contrast how Ms.Curay-Cramer has acted with Joanna Jepson, the young woman who went to the High Court to try to block late abortions for ‘trivial reasons’ such as a cleft palate.

In 1990 when I told Parliament that a new disability provision would be used to abort babies for trivial reasons – such as cleft palate or club foot – I was accused of scaremongering and irresponsibility. I was told it would never happen. Joanna Jepson – who is a young Anglican ordinand – has been waging a brave fight to prove it does happen and to expose and challenge eugenic abortions.

Joanna was herself born with a congenital jaw defect.

This personal experience prompted her to take the police to court. She says that they failed to investigate an unlawful late abortion of an unborn child with a cleft palate carried out in Herefordshire in 2001.

The 1967 Abortion Act (amended in 1990) clearly states that late abortions can take place after the 24 weeks only if “there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped”. A cleft palate, harelip, or congenital hip displacement, is, as Joanna’s case illustrates, operable and it beggars belief that reasons like this can be cited as a ground for a late abortion.

Joanna herself has said “When I found out about this ‘cleft-palate’ abortion by looking at the National Abortion Statistics it just felt so close to home. I thought to myself, I know people who have had cleft palates repaired and how many operations they went through, but I think I have had more major surgery than they’ve had.

“So I thought, if you play this argument through, the law is saying there are good reasons why I shouldn’t be alive. And I look at my life and I think, ‘That’s rubbish.’ Even if I hadn’t had my surgery, even if I’d chosen to stay the way I looked before, that’s no good reason for me not to be alive.”

The current abortion legislation gives no definition of “seriously handicapped”. It merely allows for what Michelle Curay-Cramer calls “choice.” Twenty-six abortions on unborn children with a cleft palate have taken place since 1995, two of which were performed after 24 weeks.

Two tales of two women; two tales of one issue. Both illustrate how the stand you take can influence events. Both illustrate how individual choices can take life or save it. Never did the choice offered to Moses seem more appropriate: “I have laid before you a blessing or a curse, life or death, choose life.” Joanna Jepson has decided to defend life, Micelle Curay-Cramer to defend those who take it.

Ends

Column June 8th 2003

What To Do About Development In Africa

One of the top priorities for the Evian Summit of the world’s most developed countries – the G8 – is to discuss development in Africa. They are focusing on the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (which goes under the inelegant acronym of NePAD). This is a welcome commitment to Africa and a response to a partnership that has been forged among African countries by African countries.

Perhaps its top priority should be to see the link between ending Africa’s many conflicts and the possibility of inward investment and development.

. Without resolution of conflict it will be very difficult to ensure the success of NePAD and bring about development. In the Congo alone the number of deaths has now reached a staggering 3 million over the past five years.

The deteriorating situation in Darfur in western Sudan – where there has been real hope that the Machakos peace process might end the war – also jeopardises the possibility of development

In some respects the situation has been going backwards. The ending of the mandate of the special rapporteur for human rights in Sudan has created a vacuum in the human rights monitoring mechanism; this is very depressing. In Sudan human rights generally also continue to be flouted in the name of Sharia Law.

In the past few days a 14 year-old girl in Sudan, who is nine months’ pregnant, was sentenced to 100 lashes of the whip for alleged adultery. The Sudanese Government have not ratified and do not adhere to the convention against torture. Torture and violation of human rights have played their part in fomenting many conflicts in countries throughout the continent, such as Rwanda, during the past few years – and everyone is painfully aware that Zimbabwe could go the same way..

Conflict leads to refugees and displaced people. A few months ago I visited the shanty town of Kibera, a sprawling slum close to Nairobi. It is said to be the biggest slum in sub-Saharan Africa.

Rootless, drifting young people, pose a massive challenge to development. With 1 million orphans, often living rootless and disaffected lives, and their number rising exponentially, Africa is awash with feral children, many faring little better than vermin. They deserve to be at the top of NePAD’s agenda.

Orphaned children are the sharp end of the AIDS pandemic, but urban drift, civil war, a collapsing education system, human trafficking—and corruption are all playing their part.

UNICEF’s report, Children on the Brink, spells out the scale of that disaster. In 88 countries studied:

“More than 13 million children currently under the age of 15 have lost one or both parents to Aids, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa. By 2010, this number is expected to jump to more than 25 million”.

The consequences of a vast, dislocated and embittered underclass of orphaned children, if it is not tackled properly and fundamentally, will be devastating for Africa. Tomorrow’s revolutionaries and tomorrow’s coups are already in the making in the festering slums to which children with no hope or prospects are migrating. Here is a fertile breeding ground for both Marxism and the radical fundamentalism of some Islamic groups.

So what can we do? Clearly we do need the international community to act. But as people in London and in the north west have heard this week we can assist sustainable development straight away.a Column, Sunday August 3rd 2003.

America and Europe – Uncomfortable Bedfellows

Every so often it is worth looking at how America and Europe, those two uncomfortable bed-fellows, are getting on. Incoherent anti-Americanism, a total failure to understand one-another’s pre-occupations, and the bad taste of post-Iraq fallout, have all made the marital bed an unhappy place – sometimes even a bed of nails. One outward sign of this was the extraordinary decision of some American families to cancel some exchange visits between French and American children. When children get caught up in the cross-fire it’s a sure sign that the relationship is in deep trouble.

Boycotting French fries or pouring the Evian water down the drain is one thing, endangering our historic ties and strategic alliances is quiet another.

Some Americans have grown so tired of having to work at their European relationships that they hope that Europe will become so divided they won’t have to deal with it at all. The argument goes that dealing with a divided Europe is preferable to dealing with a united Europe – a profoundly mistaken view. Dividing and conquering works in the short term but not in the long term.

Although Europe deserves to be criticised for its parsimonious and lacklustre performance it also needs to be remembered that some major international initiatives – such as the World Trade Organisation (the WTO) –would never have happened without Europe. And for all the talk of replacing Europe with Japan or Asia it’s worth Americans considering that in the last decade there was more European investment in the State of Texas alone than in the whole of the US by the Japanese. Many international conglomerates operating out of cities such as Dallas or Paris, Cologne or Chicago have no idea where they are “from” and operate across country and continental borders. Their future success depends upon the continuation of that capacity and instruments of international arbitration, such as the Trade Dispute Mechanism of the WTO ensure their ability to make money and to make jobs.

Economically, culturally and politically – let alone in the big bad world of international security and terror – the US and Europe need one another. Pretending that we don’t is a dangerous world of make believe.

Post World War Two the US defined itself as altruistically committed to nation building and to building international institutions. For a while it tottered on the brink of becoming unilateralist and disinterested. Now, it has re-engaged in working for a more global, more democratic, and more stable society. That, Europe should welcome.

What we need to do is to ensure that the US walks the talk; that, for instance, it sees the link between failing to curb energy consumption and being reliant on corrupt regimes such as Saudi Arabia. Does religious America appreciate that every dollar it pours into Saudi Arabia coffers is liable to be used by militant Islamic Wahhabists in fomenting intolerance and extremism in Sudan and Indonesia? Every barrel of oil is paid for in the blood of hundreds of thousands of Christians.

In the face of hugely complex challenges the US and Europe need to rebuild their fractured

relationship. That will require some honest straight talking – and an appreciation that without one or other of the occupants, the bed will be a lonely and less productive place to be.

Ends.

archives1Column April 4th 2004

David Alton.

Roe V Wade – Jane Roe in the UK: Roe No More

In 1973 it was the Roe V Wade Case in the US Supreme Court which legalised abortion in America. Jane Roe’s real name is Norma McCorvey – and I recently invited her to Britain.

The decision of this one-time icon of the abortion rights movement to changed her mind about abortion, and to spend her whole life working for the right to life, has acted as a catalyst in the US.

Following her decision to take a pro-life position she also become a Catholic. Her personal journey mirrors that of of Dr.Bernard Nathanson, the New York abortionist who, having been responsible for 75,000 abortions, could no longer collaborate in a lucrative but merciless industry.

It was film footage from his clinic that was the basis for the film “The Silent Scream” – that shows the unborn child trying to escape Nathanson’s instruments.

Her testimony to Peers and MPs was a moving story and a poignant challenge from a woman who has had the courage to change her mind.

Norma McCorvey’s address was given in Parliament on the same day that a survey of 5,000 British teenagers was published by Bliss magazine It reported that two thirds of our teenage children believe that there are far too many abortions in Britain.

In truth, who could disagree?

There have been 6 million abortions in Britain since 1967 – 600 every working day. Last year there was a small, 0.5% fall in the total number of abortions – to 175,600: 78% of which were funded by the tax payer.

One in five pregnancies now ends in abortion.

Notoriously, we even permit it right up to birth on a disabled child: for reasons such as cleft pallet.

The picture in America has been little different.

There have been 44 million abortions since the Supreme Court upheld Norma McCorvey’s claim that the decision of the Texas district attorney, Henry Wade, had infringed her constitutional right to seek an abortion.

Roe V Wade was heralded as a fundamental breakthrough in human rights. In reality it has left a trail of bitterness and blood.

There are about 1.3 million abortions each year in the US, over 3,500 every working day: 150 every hour, 1 every 24 seconds.

The sheer scale of abortion is a key reason why Americans have become so passionate about this issue.

It is a fact that in the millennium year of 2000 more children died from abortion than Americans died in the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World Wars I and II, and the wars in Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf and Iraq combined. More nascent American lives lost in one year than in all those conflicts combined.

As Norma McCorvey ruefully said at Westminster “I don’t feel heroic over a law that has killed millions of babies.”

Yet, she is also entitled to the comfort of knowing that her brave decision, in 1995, to say she was wrong, has started to change minds and hearts in the US.

After reaching a high point of 1.6 million in 1990, the number of abortions performed annually in the US has dropped to levels not seen since the late 1970s – and targeted and highly effective advertising in some States, pointing to the alternatives and offering practical help, has seen truly dramatic falls.

If we are to reverse the levels of abortion we need thousands of people to do what Norma McCorvey has done – to think again.

Column April 23rd 2006 David Alton

Lord Joffe’s Bill To Legalise Assisted Suicide – “A Mad Bill” Says Robert Winston

In less than a month from now – on Friday May 12th – the House of Lords will debate Lord Joffe’s Assisted Dying For the Terminally Ill Bill. When asked what he thought of this Bill, Professor Robert Winston – Lord Winston – said “Oh, well, it’s mad. Mad. I mean Lord Joffe has very good intentions but…”

In a fascinating interview with “Third Way” magazine, Lord Winston, who is well known for his controversial views on issues surrounding the beginnings of life, expands on what he meant in adding that crucial caveat, the BUT word. He adds that the ethical issues surrounding end of life issues are “a much more important discussion. I do not think that we should be terminating life.”

Of course, many of us would argue that the issues of how you treat the unborn and the terminally ill are inexorably linked. We should have a profound respect for life from conception until natural death – “the womb to the tomb”; but even if he doesn’t share the totality of this view, Lord Winston’s voice is an important and influential one in this debate. Significantly, and rightly, among the “buts” he identifies before we seek to legislate is the corrupting effect on society and the dangers of abuse from such laws:

“Of course, it would be nice, in an ideal world” he says, “to be able to terminate somebody’s suffering, on demand; but the risk of abuse, the risk of old people being devalued, the risk of people wanting to change their mind but never having the opportunity to do so, the risk of actually getting it wrong, make it to my mind a route down which we should not go.”

Then he turns to the impact on the medical profession and the cataclysmic effect that this sort of legislation would have on the relationships between doctors and their patients. He says that the practicalities should send us running for cover.

Chillingly, he asks: “How could you frame a law in such a way that there would be no risk of doctors being seen as executioners by some patients, or old people being frightened of going into hospital because they felt they might be bumped off by the nursing staff?”

He is also right to say that it will re-enforce the negative attitude we frequently have towards older or sick people, where we characterise them as a burden or “better off dead”: “One of the great deficiencies in our society” he says “is the lack of respect and lack of understanding we have for ageing and older people. And I think that this (Bill) devalues them a little bit further.”

This is not just a “mad” Bill, as Lord Winston says. It is a bad Bill: which is why the majority of doctors and vulnerable disabled people in Britain do not want it.

Lord Joffe’s supporters tell us not to worry – that the Bill contains safeguards for vulnerable people. But the Select Committee which considered the issue made ten recommendations designed to strengthen the safeguards and many have been ignored. Indeed, many of the so-called safeguards in the new Bill are actually less robust than the old ones.

His supporters say that the Bill will merely make legal what is already happening.

Yet a recent report by Professor Clive Seale concluded that, insofar as it exists at all, the rate of covert euthanasia in Britain is much lower than in other countries, largely because of our established culture of palliative care. This, according to Professor Seale, shows that it is not possible to sustain the argument that covert euthanasia is widespread and needs to be regulated.

It’s all well and good to talk about “safeguards.” It is one thing to draft safeguards which make sense to healthy people with everything to live for, but quite a different matter to produce safeguards which will work as intended and protect dying people at such a vulnerable time in their lives.

The Care Not Killing Alliance will tell you what you can do and they can be reached on 0207 633 0770 or info@carenotkilling.org.uk.

Column April 20th 2003 (Easter Sunday):

On Easter Sunday we throw away the grave clothes, smash the bonds of death, and replace grieving with celebration. It is the day when we reaffirm our central belief in life after death and an end, once and for all, of pain, suffering and despair. At Easter we wipe away the tears of sadness and sing our alleluias and hosannas as peons of praise, joy, and thanksgiving.

But imagine, if you will, a dark, pessimistic world devoid of the assurance that death has been conquered. In all truth, that is the depressed world in which many people live.

These contrasting worlds were in my mind when Parliament heard about the forthcoming Joffe Bill to legalise euthanasia (soon to be debated in the House of Lords).

Professor David Currow, Professor of Palliative and Supportive Services at Australia’s Flinders University, in Adelaide, and Jane Campbell, a Disability Rights Commissioner, graphically described the implications of legalising euthanasia. Professor Currow said that five out of 8 of the patients killed in Holland via euthanasia were suffering demoralisation or depression – or both. 3.4% of all deaths in Holland are now caused by euthanasia and one in four is without the express wish of the patient. There has been a ten fold increase in non-voluntary euthanasia. Given the obsession with “patient autonomy” it’s hard to see how taking someone’s life without their consent makes them more autonomous.

What particularly struck me in Professor Currow’s presentation was his insistence that despair and depression – not pain – were the main reason why people end their lives: “If you’re not depressed or demoralised your chance of seeking euthanasia is zero,” he said.

He also insisted that “Positive requests for euthanasia usually result from poor medical care” and that when good palliative care is offered there is a dramatic drop in requests “despair melts like snow in the sunshine.”

Jane Campbell made an equally compelling case.

She has a severe disability and earlier this year wrote a brilliant article in The Independent entitled “Don’t Be Fooled: We Don’t All Want To Kill Ourselves.”

In 1999 Jane was deeply affected by the case of Baby C whom the Courts decided should be denied ventilation. The child would be “a burden” on State resources, would be dead by the age of two, and her life would be a “living hell.” Jane has exactly the same disability and as a baby was given the same prognosis.

In January became critically ill with pneumonia in both lungs and septicaemia. The doctor said “we won’t put you on life support; you don’t want to live like that.” A consultant also said that if she went into respiratory failure she wouldn’t be ventilated as she would not live a full and active life after ventilation. Jane described this approach as “ignorant, ill-informed, calculating and heartless.”

Having survived all of this she says that the Joffe Bill to legalise euthanasia “will put lives at risk and does nothing to protect disabled people from prejudice.”

Surely instead of seeking ways to kill patients we should seek ways to alleviate their despair. Too often when we say we want to put someone “out of their misery” what we really mean is that we want to end our own misery. We don’t address the real fears that people have of becoming a burden. We simply fail them when we leave them in the abyss of demoralisation, tormented by the black dog of depression.

This Easter we need to reaffirm the gospel of life, recalling Aristotle’s pre-Christian wisdom that “an act becomes a habit, becomes a destiny.” Our lives – and how we respond to those in need – has an effect on the whole of society; but so does how we die; and on this day of all days we need to remind society of the Hope that lies beyond the grave, and offer them a better destiny than a lethal injection.

Universe Column: April 25th 2004.

A Faith Worth Dying For Is Worth Living For

David Alton

Eighty two years ago the Romanian parents of a newly born boy gave him the Christian name Tertullian. It would prove to be an appropriate name. For the suffering of Tertullian Ioan Langa would lend new weight to his namesake’s famous dictum, Semen est sanguis Christianorum, that the blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.

Although eighteen hundred years separate their lives, the parallels between the great persecution of Christians by Nero and others, about which Tertullian was writing, and the suffering of Christians in the Communist dictatorships evoke many parallels.

Tertullian Langa spent 16 harrowing years in Romanian prisons. His story is recorded alongside other essays in “Faith and Martyrdom: The Eastern Catholic Churches in Twentieth Century Europe” – a collection that our bishops should give to every young Catholic preparing for confirmation.

Last week I told Tertullian Langa’s story to some of the Catholic families who gather annually for the week-long Celebrate conference in Ilfracombe. Just as the lives of Edmund Campion, Thomas More, John Fisher, Margraet Clitherow and the other English Catholic martyrs inspired many of us as youngsters, the stories of contemporary Christians cast into the gulags, make vivid the nature of Christian witness. We need to cultivate the seed and feed it, not starve it of nutrients and light.

Tellingly, the words witness and martyr come from the same root.

In Britain today standing up for what you believe may not literally cost you your life, but witnessing for your faith may well cost you something. Stories like that of Tertullian Langa remind us that if it is worth risking death for your faith, then it may also be worth living for. That’s the sort of faith young people are interested in, not an unchallenging religiosity that conforms to every fashion and fancy.

In 1948 as a 24-year-old up and coming academic Tertullian Langa was told to join the communist run union or lose his job. Renouncing his university career, he went to work on a farm. Known as a committed Greek Catholic (in union with Rome since the eighteenth century) he was hunted down and arrested in Blaj at the office of Bishop Ioan Suciu – who was later martyred.

After the fall of Ceaucescu I had the privilege of meeting the late Cardinal Todea, then head of the Romanian Catholic Church. Neither he nor any of the Romanian Catholic bishops collaborated with the communists. Cardinal Todea spent years on the run – often hiding in barns and hay wricks -, and years in prison. The Greek Catholic church was outlawed and the hierarchy liquidated. Most, like Bishop Suciu were executed.

Tertullian Langa’s fate was prison. For two weeks he was beaten with a rod on the soles of his feet, suffering excruciating pain. When he still refused to provide information against the church, a wolf hound was brought to the cell and set upon him, badly mauling him. Later, he was beaten on the head, rhythmically, with a bag of sand: “After approximately twenty blows, I began to apply the moral principle ‘age contra’, do the opposite, saying to myself at each blow: “I will not speak.”

He was moved to another prison, twenty five feet below the marshes of Jilava, where “men were packed like sardines – not in oil, but in their own juices, made of seat, urine and the water that seeped in, that tricked ceaselessly down the walls.” Sixty men fought for space and air, and humiliation was piled upon humiliation.

In his moving account, Father Langa.(for he would later be ordained) said of the inmates “We were animated by a people’s mysterious will to remain in history, and by the vocation of the Church to stay alive…When the sun abandoned me, I felt yet that I had not been abandoned by Grace.” Redolent of Solzhenitsyn’s writings from his Soviet gulag, Tertullian Langa’s story, challenges each of us to take more seriously the continuing suffering of the church in many parts of the world. His story is replicated in China, North Korea and Vietnam today.

There is one other thought to take away form Fr.Tertullian Langa.

Contrast the concept of “martyrdom” through which radicals blow themselves up in order to kill and maim others, as in New York, Bali, and Madrid, with a willingness to “lay down your life for your friends. ” Tertullian Langa exemplifies a selfless willingness to witness to the truth with a determination to endure so that the gift of life might be transmitted to others.

To help the suffering church contact Jubilee Campaign: info@jubileecampaign.co.uk , http://www.jubileecampaign.co.uk 01483 894 787 (Fax 797).

Ends.

Column by David Alton – 2002 on Archbishops of Caterbury

Pentecost stirred up memories of Pope John Paul’s great visit to England twenty years ago. No-one who was present in Liverpool as he travelled along Hope Street, between the city’s two cathedrals, could ever forget the raw emotions of that day. For Anglicans and Catholics it represented a mile- stone in ecumenical relations.

One day earlier I had been in Canterbury as one of the political representatives who witnessed the Pope’s historic entry into Becket’s cathedral – where he was embraced by two Anglican Archbishops, Robert Runcie and Michael Ramsay. Neither in Liverpool nor in Canterbury was there starry eyed naivety about the significant road blocks in the way of Christian unity but there was a sense that relationships were being profoundly altered.

During the two decades that have followed differences have opened up over issues such as feminism and bioethics, and there has been a movement of Anglican clergy and lay people into the Catholic church. But the relationship manifested in 1981 has prevented us from regressing into earlier hostilities. The late Cardinal Basil Hume and Dr.George Carey (who has been consistently underrated) deserve our thanks and praise for the sensitive way in which they dealt with these issues. Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor puts it well when he says that “affective relationships lead to effective relationships.”

It is precisely because Catholics care about their relationship with Anglicans that they go on searching for common ground and keenly watch the direction in which the Church of England proceeds. Any decline in the standing of the established Church affects us all.

The choice of the next Archbishop of Canterbury will be crucial to how Catholic-Anglican relationships prosper in the future.

Both Britain and the Anglican Church need a prophetic voice able to clearly annunciate the Gospel in a hostile and confused world. Catholics will be hoping for a prophet who is orthodox in his beliefs and able to communicate and engage our secular society. Choosing an Archbishop because of his views on issues of internal church politics would be a fatal error. It would be the worst sort of naval gazing.

Equally catastrophic would be the choice of an Archbishop willing to embrace very passing fad or to appease every interest group.

Bishops, like the rest of us, may want to opt for a quiet life. On crucial issues such as divorce, abortion or embryo experimentation they may simply prefer to say the things society wants to hear. What we need are bishops who are prepared to challenge us, to speak into the void, metaphorically laying down their lives for their flocks.

The Church of England is blessed in having such good men in its ranks. The present Bishop of Liverpool, James Jones is one such; Christopher Herbert, the Bishop of St.Albans is another.

In Canterbury in 1982 Catholics and Anglicans began to see each other through new eyes. The choice of that city’s new Archbishop will have considerable ramifications on how those relationships prosper.

Column on the Education Bill – and threats to Church Schhols and Conscience .

By David Alton. February 2002

Challenging An Uneducated And Illiberal View Of Catholic Schools.

What was most striking about last week’s House of Commons debate about Church schools was how ill-informed were the opinions of those seeking to undermine and destroy Catholic education.

The prime movers in seeking to impose quotas on church schools – forcing them to take at least 25% of pupils who do not share the school’s religious affiliation – were the former Cabinet Minister, Frank Dobson, from Labour’s backbenches and Phil Willis from the Liberal Democrat frontbench. Most disturbingly of all, only two Liberal Democrats (the doughty John Burnett and Brian Cotter) broke a three-line whip and voted against 37 of their colleagues.

If some of the views expressed were ill informed, they were illiberal too. Catholics should wake up to the hard-line secular agenda which is being promoted and see this poison ivy for what it is.

Although the deeply flawed amendment was defeated, anyone who wishes to preserve Catholic education needs to understand the arguments which were advanced and exercise their vote in future elections with discernment.

During the debate John Gummer observed that “the party with the most liberal name has become the party with the least liberal policies.” Was he right?

Ten years ago the Liberal Party passed a policy resolution making abortion a matter of party policy rather than conscience. Earlier in the day they had passed a motion to protect, among other things, goldfish being sold in amusement arcades and fun fairs.

After eighteen years in the Commons this inevitably led to my own decision not to stand again as a Liberal Democrat. Subsequent demands for Royal Commissions to examine the legalisation of euthanasia and drugs, and official policy supporting the manufacture of human embryos for the purpose of therapeutic cloning, have reinforced my anxiety about the agenda which is being driven forward.

Issues which in Jo Grimond’s Liberal Party had traditionally been questions of conscience have increasingly become a litmus tests for political acceptability.

The party seems to have two twin objectives – which I suspect are contradictory – one to re-position the Party to the left of Labour on social issues, and, two, to become the main party of opposition. This re-positioning is based on a strong secular agenda.

One of their MPs. who spoke in last week’s debate, went so far as to thank the National Secular Society, of which he is an honorary associate, for providing advice on the Education Bill.

Traditionally, Liberals could boast that Gladstone’s government introduced the 1870 Education Act which pioneered free education. Gladstone liked to recall the proverb “Vox populi vox Dei” and in 1874 he wrote of the role of religion: “As to its politics, this country has much less, I think, to fear than to hope; unless through a corruption of its religion – against which, as Conservative or Liberal, I can perhaps say I have striven all my life long.”

The Edwardian Liberal party which came to power in 1906 was strongly dominated by nonconformism. With the demands of the immigrant Catholic Irish community for educational opportunity a fault line opened up over whether schools should be denominational in character. The call was “Rome on the rates. ”

A response was mounted and a great Catholic gathering at the Royal Albert Hall in May 1908 was attended by 60,000 people inside and outside the building and was addressed by Salford’s Liberal MP, the Catholic writer, Hilaire Belloc. A constitutional battle ensued and after the Bill was emasculated by the House of Lords the government dropped it.

As late as 1917 Lloyd George called together those opposed to Catholic schools and promised to resurrect the Education Bill. The increasingly vociferous and numerous Catholic community realised that it needed to align itself politically. It grew close to the Labour Party and this last ditch attempt was still born.

More recently, the Liberal Democrat MP for Bath, and the former Education Spokesman, Don Foster, has made the present position abundantly clear: “In an ideal world” he said“there would be no religious state schools. We would put a stop to the daily act of worship.” During last week’s debate, Evan Harris, their MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, compared the teaching of religion in Catholic schools to the teaching of French or maths and said that anyone should be free to do it regardless of whether they had a religious conviction or not: “they militate against the best interests of pupils because they sacrifice the best teachers to the ones deemed religiously appropriate.”

This outmoded secular claptrap was defeated at the end of World War Two. Catholic aspirations were properly met in what Estelle Morris, the Education Secretary, described as “the historic concordat between the state and the church” which would become the foundation of the 1944 Education Act.

That legislation was the fruit of a remarkable partnership between the Conservative R.A.Butler, an Anglican , and the Labour Chuter Ede, a Free Church man. Butler was president of the Board of Education in the Coalition Government, and Ede was his Private Parliamentary Secretary.

Perhaps the most enlightened and important piece of twentieth century legislation, that Act contrasts sharply with the overly partisan, ill considered, mertetricious and often contradictory changes which central government and local authorities have imposed on education in the fifty years which have followed. Among many other things it provided a small grant towards the cost of building church schools.

For his enlightenment towards the cause of Church schools, Archbishop Griffin of Westminster sent Butler a copy of “Butler’s Lives Of the Saints”.

Although the communities which had to struggle against all the odds to raise four fifths of the capital costs were often extremely poor, parishes seized the opportunity of creating a network of schools where their children could receive a Christian education.

Curiously the Church of England decided to significantly withdraw from education and of the 9000 Church of England Schools in existence in 1944, half closed. Yet because of self-sacrifice and extraordinary generosity the Catholic community has ensured that in total there are 6,384 religious primary schools and 589 secondary schools of differing denominations in Britain today, although all but 40 are Christian. This has not gone un-noticed and it is why the Catholic schools were the ones most targeted during last week’s debate.

In 1990 after the Liberal Conference had received motions calling for the closure of all church schools I became increasingly concerned about the attacks on church schools. I wrote to Liverpool’s bishop, David (now Lord) Sheppard. He replied: “over the past few years there has been an increase in the demand for places in church schools, especially at the senior level…but it is unlikely we would see major expansion of schools as a priority.”

Following the publication of Lord Dearing’s report the decision of the Church of England to create 100 new “faith” schools is a welcome recognition of the need to change priorities. Many people, some of only nominal belief, want an education which offers more than places in the academic league tables. The Church of England has 775,000 places in its primary schools but only 150,000 places in its secondary schools. Clearly there is an unmet demand.

Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrat’s Home Affairs spokesman, was wrong to say the present system is founded upon “hypocrisy”: “many people suddenly find a faith and start going to church,” he said, to get their children into church schools. Many church schools are over-subscribed and parish priests provide affirmations of church commitment. But who is to say how deep another person’s faith – or to question their desire to return to it, or to prevent them from transmitting their beliefs to their children?

When latter day Robespierres have searched our consciences and imposed their quotas “by dictat”, as John Burnett put it, what will they have succeeded in destroying?

According to Dr.Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, “denominational schools have a great strength. Often they have a clear ethos that gives consistency and power to the lessons they teach.” He adds that a survey of 34,000 teenagers in England and Wales, carried out by the Jewish Association of Business Ethics, found that children educated in such an ethos “are less likely to lie, steal or to drink alcohol illicitly…the evidence is that teaching about the morality of everyday life does make a difference.” The recent debate took no account of the unique nature of Christian education – such as its incarnational character – and set out admirably by Dom Aidan Bellenger in his York Minster Lecture, 2001, “Christian Education.”

Imposition of arbitrary quotas will undermine ethos but also undermine the self-governance which allows church schools to determine their own composition. An average of 20% of pupils in Catholic schools are not Catholic but everyone knows that in some situations the character and ethos of the schools can be radically altered if the proportions become to unbalanced. Schools must be free to decide these things.

If quotas led to Catholic children being excluded from church schools because the school was no longer free to determine its numbers this would be a disgrace. So, such a policy is not merely ill informed and illiberal, it is also discriminatory.

Frank Dobson claimed that “no sound evidence” exists that religious schools perform better, a charge demolished by the publication this week of Ofsted’s report on the latest standards and quality of education.

The charge was also made that Catholic schools are not “inclusive.” The opposite is the case, and, as MPs from the north pointed out, the riots in Oldham, Burnley and Bradford involved children from non-integrated non-religious state schools. Paradoxically, given the number of immigrants who are Catholic, and the more extensive nature of catchment areas, our schools are usually beacons of social integration.

As I heard recently from Catholic teachers in Oldham, they place a great premium on preparing their children for active citizenship and the responsibilities this entails. To suggest otherwise illustrates profound ignorance of what goes on in church schools. Archbishop Vincent Nichols, in a trenchant and hard hitting statement, expressed his anger at the caricature of Catholic education, saying that our schools are the fruit of “a struggle” to which Catholic parents “ have contributed financially for many generations….Admission quotas could effectively undermine the cohesiveness of the school.”

Last week one MP told the Commons that there are many people “some of whom sit on the Liberal Democrat Benches, who want to end Church schools altogether.” But they are not alone. Forewarned is forearmed. To ignore this threat would be folly

Column August 1st 2004. David Alton Broken Families

Britain now has the highest rate of family breakdown in Europe and, as I said last week, we are gradually waking up to some of the consequences. At last, the debate is moving away from a denunciation of anyone whose marriage has failed and has begun to address the consequences of family breakdown and, more importantly, what we can do about it. One of the best of the new thinkers is Jill Kirby, who chairs the Family Policy Project for the Centre for Policy Studies. She has written two compelling publications, “Broken Hearts – Family Decline and the Consequences for Society” (2002) and “Choosing To Be Different – Women, Work and The Family” (2003).

By relying on hard facts and data her argument is intelligent and unanswerable. She points out, for instance, that cohabitation, is not a substitute for marriage. The data reveals that couples who cohabit are more likely to split up once they have a child together and that a child born to cohabiting parents has a less than 50% chance of reaching the age of 5 before his or her parents have separated. In contrast, more than 90% of children born into married homes will reach 5 and still have both parents living together. Which is the better scenario for a child?

And it’s not only children who suffer from the collapse of the family. Last month the think-tank, Demos, said that the retreat from marriage is having an impact on the numbers of lonely elderly people. Other surveys have shown that the main providers of care for the elderly are family members – particularly spouses and children or children-in-law. As the decline in marriage and increase in single-person households work through the population in the years ahead, this source of family care will shrink. Perhaps that accounts for one recent claim that as many as a million elderly people in Britain do not see a friend or a relative or a neighbour during the course of an average week.

So what can we do? Jill Kirby says look to America.

Following the 1990s decision of the Democrats to reform welfare, Americans have seen a levelling-off in the decline of marriage. More recently, The Institute of American Values, in conjunction with the National Fatherhood Initiative, has recently issued a report entitled “Can Government strengthen marriage?”– to which the report answers emphatically ‘yes’.

The report details the evidence on marriage and its beneficial impact on adults, children and society and recommends a series of public policy measures to boost marriage rates, reduce divorce, and remove disincentives to marry, particularly amongst low-income couples. Recognising that marriage is least prevalent in the poorest communities, the report calls on government to stem this source of inequality and give every child a better chance to ‘live the American dream.’ Research from the respected Brookings Institute asserts that marriage provides a better, more sustainable route out of poverty than cash, and exhorts government to match anti-poverty measures with pro-marriage measures.

Some of the measures recommended are already being implemented as part of President Bush’s $1.5 billion ‘Healthy Marriages Initiative”. Others are likely to follow in the near future.

Kirby says we could also look at the way the Australians provide marriage education and support and compare our tax and benefit system with other major European economies and the favourable tax regime provided for families.

This debate does not need histrionics or judgmentalism but it could do with a sober look at what people like Jill Kirby has to say.

Her booklets are available at www.cps.org.uk.

Column August 6th 2006

David Alton – Faith and Politics

A few weeks ago I was asked by a student what subjects he should study as the best preparation for politics: “should I do a degree in politics, economics, law or social sciences…?”he asked.

Now, twenty years ago a working knowledge of Marxist dialectics or the principles of capitalism versus command economies might well have been the best preparation for political life. Today? About as worthless as the endless statues of Lenin and Stalin removed from plinths in public squares to the safe keeping of museums.

My advice would be to worry less about economic theories and get a good dose of theology and history instead. Although I note that the Prime Minister has cast doubt on the value of teaching history there is no better way of understanding today’s challenges than through a thorough-going understanding of what has gone before. Mr.Blair might himself have been better served by the study of history rather than law.

But if history is a great teacher how can you possibly have any understanding of the awesome issues facing the world today without a thorough going knowledge of theology and the great world religions?

Think for a moment about the threat posed by Iran – a theocracy run by radical mullahs – whose President has said that he wants to develop a nuclear weapon so that he can obliterate the State of Israel. Think of Hamas, an Islamic organisation commited to the use of terror, which has been elected to govern Palestine. Think about the offensive Danish cartoons of the prophet Mohammed – and the global riots which they precipitated; or Laskar Jihad terrorist attacks in Bali; or the passing of a sentence of execution on an Afghan man because he had become a Christian..

And, as we head once again towards the anniversary of the September 11th attacks on New York’s twin towers, can anyone truly doubt that religious impulses – for better and worse – penetrate every artery of the political world. Yet, this is a world in which most people have what’s been called an “invincible ignorance” of Islam and, in the case of many Westerners ,a comparably woeful ignoirance of their own Christian religion.

Our political leaders constantly tell us that in this new climate our national security is endangered because of the forces at work all around us. As new laws are promulgated and new restrictions imposed we are paying a heavy price with the erosion of long cherished civil liberties.

But as we promote these measures and castigate Islam and Islamic groups very few people are trying to get to grips with the theological issues, helping to disentangle secular Islam – ideological, militant Islam – from religious Islam, and seeking ways to promote dialogue and coexistence. Religion is a central part of the challenge – the problem – and it will be a central part of the answer – the solution. Good theology is the antidote to bad theology – and theological ignorance leaves us completely ill-euqiped to face the present challenges.

The Foreign Office and most international bodies are deeply secular institutions – with many key officials rightly described as secular fundamentalists. Diplomats are always wary of the “r” word but understanding religious world-views is a prerequisite to working in most parts of the world.

As a young man I often shared holidays with a good friend of mine, a Catholic priest. One night while we were enjoying a drink we were treated to the views of an Englishman abroad who, not knowing either of our occupations – gave us the benefit of his many views. He concluded by telling us that two subjects which should never be discussed in polite conversation were religion and politics. My friend an I gave each other an amused smile. It’s not just that the world would be rather dull if we could discuss neither of those subjects – it would be an unreal world, a more dangerous world, an intolerant world. And certainly in today’s climate, tomorrow’s politicians need to understand the complex religious issues that face the world today.

Genocide In Burma

January 2003

March 9th has been designated as the global day of prayer for Burma. In the refugee camps, where many of the 130,000 Karen people have fled to escape Burma’s genocide, voices will be raised in the earnest prayer that 53 years of conflict will finally come to an end.

Along with prayer, we need to redouble the political pressure on western governments and on the Burmese military junta. There are also a host of initiatives that individuals and church groups can take to help those who are suffering.

I have just returned from the Burma border where I was taking evidence, along with American Congressman, Joseph Pitts, on behalf of Jubilee Campaign. We collected truly shocking accounts of the latest violations of human rights. Although the British Government still refuses to categorise these crimes as genocide there is no doubt in my mind that no other word adequately describes the realities in Burma’s Karen State.

Two years ago the Catholic human rights activist, James Mawdsley, graphically brought that suffering to light. His brave decision to launch a protest inside Burma and the 17 year sentence and 13 months solitary confinement that followed made many people aware of the harrowing atrocities committed by the military regime.

The story of one small child I met at a refugee camp near Mae Sot illustrates how the brutality and violence of this perfidious regime continues.

Saw Naing Gae is just eight years old. He saw the Burmese military shoot dead his mother and his father. He was then trafficked across the border and sold to a Thai family. Desperately unhappy he managed to escape and made his way to the camp, where he is staying with a group of thirty other orphans. Even as these children sang and welcomed their visitors Saw Naing Gae seemed unable to join in or even to smile. Every trace of joy and innocence had been stamped out of him; and all of this by the age of 8.

Saw Naing Gae squatted alongside four other children, brothers and sisters, whose parents had also been brutally murdered. The oldest girl, aged about 12, and now head of their family, dissolved into tears as she recounted their story.

Naw Pi Lay, whose photograph illustrates this article, did not survive.

Aged 45, the mother old five children and pregnant with her sixth, Naw Pi Lay was murdered in June of last year by the Burmese militia. During a massacre in the Dooplaya district of the Karen State, twelve other people were killed, including children aged 12,7,5, and 2 years old.

Elsewhere in the same district, at Htee Tha Blu village, further violations of human rights were carried out by Light Infantry Battalions 301 and 78. They beat and tortured villagers, stole their belongings and burnt down their church and their homes.

The last time I visited this region, about four years ago, I illegally crossed the border and entered the Karen State. I heard and saw evidence of the internally displaced people – estimated now at 600,000; of the scorched earth policy that has depopulated and destroyed countless villages; and of brutality unequalled anywhere I have travelled.

This time I met one of the Free Burma Rangers who had just come out of the Karen State. He had been with a little girl of eight who still had a bullet lodged in her stomach. To help people like hr he had taken in some nurses and medics. Why was he, an American, so committed to the Karen? “I love these people, and I simply don’t want to see them suffering like this. We’ve got to do something, even if we’re just like a small barking dog,” he told me.

At Mae Sot we took evidence from the Committee for Internally Displaced Karen People. They provided me with over 100 pages of carefully documented examples of human rights violations committed by Burmese military over the past twelve months alone. One day I hope that this evidence will be placed before an international court and as at Nuremberg the perpetrators will be brought to justice.

The report lists three mass killings by the SPDC (Burma’s singularly ill-named State Peace and Development Council). It is a carefully chronicled account of looting, burning, torture, rape and murder. The SPDC routinely plant landmines indiscriminately and in areas where landmines have been laid by their opponents the SPDC use people as human landmine sweepers.

I saw some of the victims – people whose limbs have been severed from their bodies, whose skin has been peppered with shrapnel, and others who have been left blind. I also talked to the families of people whose loved ones – men and women – had been seized and used as porters and construction workers, and who have never returned. The SPDC kill many of the porters in frontline areas, especially when they are unable to any longer work because of exhaustion or sickness.

The international focus on Burma has long been on the heroic struggle of Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD). The SPDC are part of a military dictatorship that has brutalised its people since a coup in 1962. Having called an election in 1990, which the NLD won, the SPDC refused to accept the result. Although in the past twelve months the military have allowed Aung San Suu Kyi to travel more freely, tentative talks between the two groups appear to have stalled. During the same period the attacks in most parts of Burma have increased.

A settlement with the NLD represents a solution to only half of the conflict. The seven ethnic groups who have been fighting for self determination or autonomy since the end of World War Two – the Karen, Karenni, Mon, Arakam, Kachin, Chin and Shan – will still need to have their grievances addressed.

In Chiang Mai I met with the authors of a carefully meticulous 120 page report on the Burmese military regime’s use of sexual violence in the Shan State over the past six years. The report of the Shan Human Rights Foundation and Shan Women’s Action Network, “Licence To Rape”, details how rape has been used as a weapon of war. Sexual violence – especially widespread gang rape – has terrorised and humiliated communities, flaunts the power of the regime, “rewards” troops, and demoralises resistance forces.

Women who have been raped have frequently been abandoned or rejected by their husbands. One woman described how she was gang-raped when she was 7-months pregnant and then gave birth prematurely to her child. Another was told by her husband to leave: “You didn’t control yourself. You are no longer my wife. Leave our home.”

The Burmese Junta have turned their country into one vast concentration camp. They are Nazi thugs who deploy Nazi methods. Like their Nazi predecessors they fail to appreciate the strength of the human spirit and the capacity to endure and survive.

Typical are the joint secretaries of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. Bo Kyi, a student leader who spent seven years in Burmese jails, told me that “torture is designed to break down your identity, to turn you into a non-entity with no connection to the world outside of the torture chamber.”

Naing Kyaw served 8 years in Insein and Thayet prisons and still manages to joke that “insane” would be a better spelling. Regularly beaten with a chain and ball on his back, and often kept in solitary confinement, he was offered the chance to become an informer.

Instead, he learnt English from the professor who was housed in the adjacent cell – so that he would be able to tell the world about Burma’s suffering. He has put the language to good use in his essay in “Spirit For Survival” which he dedicates to a despairing young woman who took her own life: “All the suffering you felt we will change into strength. This grief, this feeling of deep hurt and bitterness will become a volcano, which is going to explode.”

I was struck that even as the suffering deepens no-one is giving in. Democracy activists continue their struggle and the beleaguered ethnic minorities refuse to capitulate.

In amongst it all are people trying to bring hope and help – like the Karen Catholic priest I visited who is simply known as “the jungle priest.” He is running an illegal school for young people denied education. Or the Thai Catholic nuns, inspired by the vision of one of their number, Sister Love. They have created a wonderful centre and school for six hundred children. The evangelical Life Centre for girls rescued from traffickers, the Bible School in the heart of one of the camps, and the non-governmental organisations are all doing wonderful work.

There is an old saying that the darkest moment is always just before the dawn.

For Naing Kyaw, Bo Kyi, and the other extraordinarily courageous men and women I met on the Burma border, this indeed may well be the darkest time.

Until now the Thai Government has been generous and hospitable in allowing refugees and democracy activists a place of shelter. While our delegation was in the country, not only did a group of 2,000 Burmese military attack Karen settlements in the Tak district, we also learnt that the Thais had raided the homes of pro democracy activists and were seeking to repatriate them. It would have been more humane to have issued an order for their summary execution and have done with it. Imagine Winston Churchill deporting members of the French Resistance to occupied Nazi Europe and you have the correct parallel.

All this has to do with the Thais seeking to strengthen commercial links with the military junta. On February 9th the Thai Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra and the army chief, Somdhat Attanant, travel to Rangoon. It is impossible for me to imagine how any democratic leader could want to do business with a regime that kills and brutalises its people and that relies on drug production to finance its economy.

Last year more than one billion meth-amphetamine pills were produced in Burma and most were sold on in Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, causing disastrous social consequences. The junta have been making a killing from illegal trafficking of drugs, timber, and people, and then they use their illicit gains to kill their own people. One day the people who have collaborated in this profiteering will be held to account, tried and jailed.

These words from Psalm 61 were handed to me as I left the Karen refugee camp on the Burma border: “Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to you. I call as my heart grows faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.”

They represent a plaintive and last desperate cry by a people who have suffered beyond reason. Their cry is indeed issued from the ends of the earth. How much longer will they have to wait for the rest of the world to respond?

On March 9th the people of Burma will be sorely in need of our prayers. But they need our help too. Please resolve to help in some tangible way.

HOW YOU CAN HELP – WHAT YOU CAN DO

• Jubilee Campaign has campaign material available: info@jubileecampaign.co.uk or telephone Jubilee at St.John’s Seminary, Wonersh on 01483 894 787

• You can send a “Good Life” pack of small gifts for displaced children inside Burma (they suggest chewable vitamins, a small comb and mirror, a small toy, pencils) in a heavy duty Ziplock freezer bag, marked “gift/school needs/ no commercial value”, to Christians Concerned for Burma, PO Box 14, Mae Jo P.O., Chiang Mai, 50290, Thailand.

• You can sponsor or support the education of children being cared for by James Mawdsley’s Metta Trust, by the Burmese Jungle Priest or by Sister Love and her co-workers. Cheques should be made out to Jubilee Action and sent to St.John’s Seminary, Wonersh, nr Guildford, Surrey GU5 0QX.

• You can write to your MP, to the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, and the Prime Minster, demanding that Britain press for genocide charges to be brought against the Burmese military junta. (all c/o House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA)

• Write a letter of protest to the Burmese Ambassador:

His Excellency Dr Kyaw Win, Embassy of the Union of Myanmar (Burma)

19A Charles Street, Berkeley Square, London W1X 8ER

Telephone number: 020 7499 8841

• Organise a Day or Prayer on March 9 in your parish or at your home

Column for July 6th2003

Genocide In Burma

The Burmese military’s decision to re-arrest Aung San Suu Kyi has thrown back into sharp relief the despicable policies of the Burmese military junta. Every bit as evil as the brutal junta that governed Iraq the world needs to be much clearer about how it is going to deal with the systematic atrocities and the depredations in Burma.

In particular, relatively little interest has been shown in the genocide perpetrated by the Burmese military – and which western governments are still reluctant to name as such.

I have personally met the victims of terrible atrocities that include summary executions, rape, forced relocations,destruction of villages, food stores and crops and forced labour.

Over 650,000 Karen, Karenni and Shan have been internally displaced. Over 200,000 refugees have fled to neighbouring Thailand. Many displaced people are hiding in the jungle with little or no food or medicine and they are usually shot on sight by Burmese troops. I can think of no other country where so many displaced people are being subjected to a shoot on sight policy, yet the British government and the international community continue to pay relatively little attention to the desperate plight of the Karen, Karenni and Shan.

The British government and European Union have measured progress in

Burma by mainly focusing on whatever improvements have taken place regarding

political developments and the release of political prisoners. While

these issues are very important, it remains a matter of grave concern that

the British government is not treating the desperate plight of the Karen,

Karenni and Shan people as being just as important.

In the Foreign Office’s Human Rights Annual Report 2002, the last 2

lines of their section on Burma states that “We shall continue to respond proportionately to political developments in Burma. But should progress stall or fail, our policy will again harden.” There is

no reference to the possibility of hardening British policy on Burma due to the continuing SPDC atrocities against the Karen, Karenni and Shan. According to this statement, the sole determinant of whether Britain and the EU’s policy towards Burma will harden or soften is whether any

progress is made on the political front, with no regard being given to those ethnic groups facing systematic atrocities.

On behalf of the human rights group, the Jubilee Campaign, I have

twice visited the Karen people along the Thai-Burma border. For several

years now the Jubilee Campaign and I have investigated the facts of the

situation and researched the international laws relating to genocide, war

crimes and crimes against humanity and we are absolutely convinced that the

Karen, Karenni and Shan are facing genocide, crimes against humanity and war

crimes at the hands of the Burmese military. Burma’s regime is not

just anti-democratic, it is also a criminal regime, who have committed

serious crimes under international law.

Even if the British government refuses to accept that Genocide is

taking place as it has done in the past, it should be obvious to even

the most casual observers that War Crimes are being inflicted on the

Karen, Karenni and Shan and that in itself should be enough to justify the

setting up of an International Criminal Tribunal by the U.N Security Council

to try Burma’s military regime.

With the recent crackdown against the National League for Democracy

and the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Italian Undersecretary of State for

Foreign Affairs, Margherita Boniver, has said that the European Union

will be considering in detail the possibility of submitting this issue to

the U.N Security Council. Italy has taken over the Presidency of the

European Union this month. Good for the Italians.

The British government should ensure that any such considerations

include submitting to the U.N Security Council the systematic

atrocities against the Karen, Karenni and Shan ethnic minorities in Burma. While

the plight of political prisoners in Burma is grave, the situation of the

Karen, Karenni and Shan is even worse and directly affects a far

larger number of people.

Britain should not wait for others to act. It should urgently raise the plight

of the Karen, Karenni and Shan at the U.N Security Council and lobby at the

Council for a global arms and investment embargo against Burma. The

government should also ban all new investment by British companies in

Burma, as has been done in the U.S. and call on the Security Council

to set up an International Criminal Tribunal to try the Burmese regime for

war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. And they should answer the question I put to them in Parliament a few days ago: If what is happening in Burma is not genocide, what has to happen for them to decide that it is?

Burma – March 2003

While the international political and media focus remains on events in the Middle East and Afghanistan, the Burmese Government’s brutal repression of the Karen, Mon and Shan ethnic minorities continues unabated. It is only if the international community’s spotlight remains on the despotic regime in Burma and the desperate situation of so many of its peoples that democratic change will evolve. Our Government, together with its partners in the EU, the UN and the wider international community cannot afford to let the pressure slip.

Last month over 4,000 people fled following attacks by the Burmese army on internally displaced settlements in Papun and Nyaunglebin, two northern districts of Karen State. Eleven villages were burned, numerous paddy fields and rice barns were destroyed, properties were looted, landmines were planted extensively throughout the area and two villagers were killed.

The 4000 internally displaced persons have now fled deep into the jungle inside Burma. Short of food and medicines and unable to plant new crops they are in desperate need. Many are living in daily fear of attack from the Burmese army. Some have been in hiding for almost six years. According to Stuart Windsor of Christian Solidarity WorldWide, these persons are “hunted down and slaughtered like animals” by the Burmese military Junta.

This distressing news comes at the same time as the government of Thailand, a country that borders Burma, decided to repatriate 6,778 refugees back to camps within Burma.

Thailand has been a safe haven for over 120,000 Burmese refugees and close to 400,000 illegal immigrants from Burma. Most of them are from the ethnic minorities, predominantly the Karen, Shan and Karenni.

In the past Thailand has shown tremendous compassion to fleeing Burmese refugees but as the Thai government seeks improved economic relations with its Burmese counterpart, some international human rights observers are concerned that it will seek to repatriate all Karen refugees to Burma where there lives are at serious risk.

The international community must give greater financial and practical support to the Thai government as it attempts to deal with large numbers of refugees. Support should also be provided to the oppressed ethnic minorities in Burma, together with pro-democracy groups like Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD). The NLD was the overwhelming victor in parliamentary elections in 1990 that the Burmese military junta has simply ignored.

So long as tourists continue to visit Burma and unwittingly invest in a despotic regime and so long as Western oil companies (like Britain’s Premier and France’s Total) continue to trade there the military junta is partially able to resist pressure for political and economic reform. Yet the winds of democratic change are sweeping through South East Asia, witness the events in Indonesia over the past few years. Burma cannot remain immune to this pressure but the process of democratic change will take far longer if the world’s gaze is averted from the appalling human rights abuses being perpetrated by the military junta.

Britain has historically strong links with Burma that make it all the more important for our Government to be at the forefront of bilateral, regional and multinational pressure on the military despots. The international political and economic isolation of the Burmese regime must be maintained. We must not allow other important world events to divert the spotlight from a dreadful state of affairs and allow the absence of democracy in Burma to persist any longer than it need do so.

Universe Column January 2007

David Alton

This year’s Global Day of Prayer for Burma will be held on March 11th. It will be a chance to focus on the continuing atrocities committed by the Burmese military junta against the ethnic minorities; and a chance to highlight the continued captivity of Aung San Suu Kyi.

In 1990, Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League For Democracy decisleyly won the elections which the junta allowed to be held in Burma. Under normal circumstances, she would have been sworn in as Prime Minister.

Instead, the military set aside the results and refused to hand over power.

Despite international denunciation and representations – and,in recognition of her bravery, the awarding of the Sakharov Prize and the Nobel Peace Prize – she remains under house arrest to this day.

For five years, from 1995 until 200, some of the restrictions were removed but even when her British born husband, Michael Aris, was dying of cancer in 199, the regime would not allow him to vsiist her – and she never saw him again. . She remains seperated from her children who live in the UK. She is currentl;y said to be in good health, but is refused regular access to her doctor and visitors are not permitted to see her.

Meanwhile, her people continue to syuffer every possble depredation.

In the Karen State, which I have visitted illegally, mass murder has been committed and what has occurred can only be described as genocide (in thre technical and legal sense of that word).

I was recently sent information about a group of villagers who were forced to clear landmines and act as human shileds.

Villagers from 12 villages surrounding Baw Ga Lyi Gyi (on the Toungoo-Mawchi road) were recently forced to act as human shields around a bulldozer clearing the roadway of potential landmines.

In one village of 55 households, the Burma Army forced 1 person from each household to become human landmine sweepers and shields while, in another instance, 850 villagers were forced to carry supplies for the Burma Army and to act as human minesweepers along the same road.

The regime has a callous disregard for the lives of the people they enslave.

One group I am in touch with in the Karen State told me about 1,700 prisoners who have been forced to porter loads. Of these, 265 died – many were executed. In the Nyaunglebyn District, of the over 400 porters used in that area, over 20 have died. These include children.

As we commemorate the bicentenary of the decision taken 200 years ago to abolish slavery it is worth reflecting on the cruel barbarities of life in Burma today.

Enslaved labour is routinely used by the Burmese military. It is widespread, systematic and brutal. Men, women and children are forced to carry loads, build up camps and provide labour on demand. Prisoner porters are also used to carry loads, build camps and act as human minesweepers. Many die; others are executed. In just one area of Burma alone independent witnesses say that during 2006 some 76 men, women and children were killed and 25,000 displaced.

If you want to help focus attention on this continued suffering consider taking part in the Global Day for Prayer on March 11th. Further information may be obtained from Christians Concerned for Burma at ccb@pobox.com or at www.prayforburma.org

Column August 15th 2004.

David Alton

Burma – Wish you were here?

As we enjoy our summer holidays it’s worth sparing a thought for the people of Burma and those who are holidaying in a country that uses forced labour to prop up its tourism industry.

I’ve recently been in a spate of correspondence with people who argue that its time to welcome back the tourists to Burma. But before travel companies start counting their profits and tourists start packing their bags it’s worth remembering that the tourism infrastructure has cost people their lives.

Some people say this is a figment of the imagination. The facts reveal a different picture.

In 1998 the International Labour Organisation said that:

“ Forced labour is used for the benefit of private investors in development, public works and tourism projects. Widespread use of forced labour on a significant scale supports the development of tourist infrastructure., In Myanmar (Burma), most of the money made in the tourist industry is made in the airline and hotel industries, owned in part by foreign companies from Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. These companies have reported benefits from the increased profits during 1996 Visit Myanmar Year, attributable in part to work of forced labourers on tourist attraction projects.”

They give a specific example of forced labour on hotels:

Forced labour was used for other projects including the Student Sport Festival in Chin and Rakhine States, hotels in Rakhine State.”

The accompanying note says:

“ There is information that forced labour was used in 1995 on the construction of the Sittway Hotel, at the beach near Sittway (Akyab), and in 1994 for construction of a hotel south of Ngapali, projects which were reportedly owned by senior members of the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC).”

It’s not just forced labour on hotel projects, but the raft of abuses that accompany tourist development. More than one million people have been forced out of their homes in order to ‘beautify’ cities, suppress dissent, and to make way for tourism developments, such as hotels, airports and golf courses. Forced labour was used to rebuild the moat surrounding the Golden Palace in Mandalay and a railway line near Pagan’s temple complex. The new airport at Mandalay, which opened in 2000 specifically to handle international flights, was built with forced labour and many people were forced from their homes to make way for the project. The 2001 US State Department Report on Human Rights, reports that in Mrauk U, Arakan State “the government used forced labour to prepare the city for expected tourist arrivals.”

Some recent reports show that this is not a thing of the past.

Recently it was revealed that a large number of valuable timber trees were being felled for the construction of a tourism complex, in Ngapali sea beach of Sandoway in Arakan state, by the Burmese and that locals were being used as unpaid forced labour.

Other reports described how villagers were being used for forced labour for various works like construction of houses, locating of specific trees and logging them without any payments.

One victim said, not only do the villagers have to supply their physical labour free of cost but also have to provide buffaloes.

” We are being forced by the military personnel,” said a villager of Khamong. The villagers not only have to work without any payments but they even have to manage food and water on their own.

Another recent report described how sea gypsies (the Salons) have been turned into a human zoo for the benefit of tourists.

And if all this doesn’t trouble the conscience of tourists travelling to Burma, they should take a look at the most recent International Labour Organisation report which says that the Burmese “are not serious about eliminating forced labour” that villagers are still being used “against their will to carry out assignments such as building roads” and that “there is evidence that troops are using Burmese citizens as human minesweepers.”

No happy holidays for them.

Ends.

Column August 7th 2005.

David Alton Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the Future of Burma

Earlier in the summer Daw Aung San Suu Kyi celebrated her sixtieth birthday under house arrest. This remarkable woman, the democratically elected leader of the Burmese people, defiant of the military junta, remains an icon for all who cherish democracy. She and her people should never be far from her thoughts.

She would be the first to agree that the struggle for democracy should not be allowed to eclipse the plight of the suffering ethnic minorities of Burma.

Their situation was well summed up by the then UN Special Rapporteur on Burma, Mr. Rajsoomer Lallah QC, who, in 1998, submitted a report to the U.N General Assembly, entitled, “Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar”. He said that “The Special Rapporteur is deeply concerned about the serious human rights violations that continue to be committed by the armed forces in the ethnic minority areas. The violations include extrajudicial and arbitrary executions (not sparing women and children), rape, torture, inhuman treatment, forced labour and denial of freedom of movement. These violations have been so numerous and consistent over the past years as to suggest that they are not simply isolated or he acts of individual misbehaviour by middle- and lower – rank officers but are rather the result of policy at the highest level entailing political and legal responsibility. ”

Having seen the situation first hand I have no doubt that the Burmese regime and its subordinates, the Burmese military, is committing Genocide, War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity against the Karen, Karenni and Shan people of Burma.

The Burmese regime craves legitimacy and is set to hold the presidency of ASEAN (the economic union of Asia countries). If western and other governments used their positions of power in places like the UN Security Council to raise the charge of genocide it would make it far more difficult for Burma to get away with its international posturing.

The international legal definition of genocide is found in the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Burma has in fact ratified this convention. The legal definition of genocide is given in Article 2 of the Convention, which reads:

“In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

a) Killing members of the group;

b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

What is happening to the Karen, Karenni and Shan minorities in Burma probably contravenes all five of these criteria and most certainly contravenes at least three.

What the Burmese military regime is doing to the Karen, Shan and Karenni people clearly fits within the international legal definition of genocide. Article 3 of the Convention on Genocide states-

“The following acts shall be punishable:

a) Genocide;

b) Conspiracy to commit genocide;

c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;

d) Attempt to commit genocide;

e) Complicity in genocide.”

Under international law, genocide is a very serious crime requiring an urgent global response. Under Article 1 of the 1948 Genocide Convention, all State parties to the Convention “confirm that genocide, whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law which they undertake to prevent and to punish.”

The British government is one of several governments who are parties to the Genocide Convention yet they refuse to recognise that Genocide is occurring against the Karen, Karenni and Shan and this is probably for political reasons. Denying Genocide is a common tactic used by governments to avoid having to take strong action to stop it. For example, this was done with devastating effect in the case of the Rwandan genocide, where an estimated 1 million people were massacred.

Much evidence has since surfaced indicating that the international community, especially the West, was well aware that Genocide was occurring in Rwanda but resisted acknowledging this because of the legal obligation they would come under to take strong

measures, including possible military action, to stop the bloodshed.

The situation in Darfur also illustrates the failure to see genocide for what it is or to act accordingly. Those who don’t learn from history inevitably repeat it.

So, just how many more birthdays will Daw Aung San Suu Kyi have to endure under house arrest; and how many more atrocities will occur against the ethnic minorities before the world gets serious about Burma?

Ends

Book Review – 2004 – by David Alton

“A Land Without Evil” by Benedict Rogers, Monarch Books.

On three occasions I have visited the Burma border, twice entering the Karen State, and each time spending time in the refugee camps where about 130,000 Karen people live. After my first visit in 1998 I initiated a debate in the House of Lords, describing the genocide that has been perpetrated by the Burmese military regime against these gentle tribal people.

Before that debate and recalling her father’s love of the Karen, Lady Mountbatten of Burma wrote to me encouraging me to speak up on behalf of the Karen. In her letter she described them as “Britain’s forgotten allies”, for while the Burmans fought alongside the Japanese in World War Two, it was the Karen who fought alongside us. For doing so the Japanese reserved their cruellest punishments for the Karen.

At the end of the War Britain promised the five million Karen people freedom and their own homeland. But in the pell mell rush of decolonialisation that followed we forgot our promises and we forgot the Karen. Civil War ensued – a war that continues to this day. After some 54 years of fighting it must surely be the world’s longest running civil war.

Now at last the story of the Karen has been told.

There can be few people better equipped to tell that story than Ben Rogers. He has fearlessly travelled with the Karen, learning first hand of their suffering and bravery. In “A Land Without Evil” he documents their heroic struggle and exposes the enormity of the depredations committed by the military junta. It is a book to read and to give to others. The stories that Ben Rogers records will break your heart.

Earlier this month it was the world day of prayer for Burma. I recalled the story of one small Karen child whom I met at a refugee camp near Mae Sot a few months ago. Saw Naing Gae is just eight years old. He saw the Burmese military shoot dead his mother and his father. He was then trafficked across the border and sold to a Thai family. Desperately unhappy he managed to escape and made his way to the camp, where he is staying with a group of thirty other orphans. Even as these children sang and welcomed their visitors Saw Naing Gae seemed unable to join in or even to smile. Every trace of joy and innocence had been stamped out of him; and all of this by the age of 8.

Saw Naing Gae squatted alongside four other children, brothers and sisters, whose parents had also been brutally murdered. The oldest girl, aged about 12, and now head of their family, dissolved into tears as she recounted their story.

Naw Pi Lay did not survive.

Aged 45, the mother old five children and pregnant with her sixth, Naw Pi Lay was murdered by the Burmese militia. During a massacre in the Dooplaya district of the Karen State, twelve other people were killed, including children aged 12,7,5, and 2 years old.

Elsewhere in the same district, at Htee Tha Blu village, further violations of human rights were carried out by Light Infantry Battalions 301 and 78. They beat and tortured villagers, stole their belongings and burnt down their church and their homes.

The last time I illegally crossed the border and entered the Karen State, I saw and heard evidence of the internally displaced people – estimated now at 600,000; of the scorched earth policy that has depopulated and destroyed countless villages.

One little girl of eight still had a bullet lodged in her stomach.

At Mae Sot I took evidence from the Committee for Internally Displaced Karen People. They provided me with over 100 pages of carefully documented examples of human rights violations committed over the previous 12 months by Burmese military. One day I hope that this evidence will be placed before an international court and as at Nuremberg the perpetrators will be brought to justice.

The report lists three mass killings by the SPDC (Burma’s singularly ill-named State Peace and Development Council). It is a carefully chronicled account of looting, burning, torture, rape and murder. The SPDC routinely plant landmines indiscriminately and in areas where landmines have been laid by their opponents the SPDC use people as human landmine sweepers.

I saw some of the victims – people whose limbs have been severed from their bodies, whose skin has been peppered with shrapnel, and others who have been left blind. I also talked to the families of people whose loved ones – men and women – had been seized and used as porters and construction workers, and who have never returned. The SPDC kill many of the porters in frontline areas, especially when they are unable to any longer work because of exhaustion or sickness.

Rape has also been used as a weapon of war. Sexual violence – especially widespread gang rape – has terrorised and humiliated communities, flaunts the power of the regime, “rewards” troops, and demoralises resistance forces.

Women who have been raped have frequently been abandoned or rejected by their husbands. One woman described how she was gang-raped when she was 7-months pregnant and then gave birth prematurely to her child. Another was told by her husband to leave: “You didn’t control yourself. You are no longer my wife. Leave our home.”

The Burmese Junta have turned their country into one vast concentration camp. They are Nazi thugs who deploy Nazi methods. Like their Nazi predecessors they fail to appreciate the strength of the human spirit and the capacity to endure and survive.

This is the story that Ben Rogers faithfully records. May it not be too long before the Karen people are free to live in a land that will truly be rid of this terrible evil.

David Alton is a founder of the Jubilee Campaign, who campaign for the Karen (www.jubileecampaign.com), and professor of citizenship at Liverpool John Moores University. He is a Crossbench member o the House of Lords.

Universe Column August 8th 2004

David Alton – Sopcially respopnsible Investment and the Money Making Mob

John Ruskin once wrote that “a nation cannot last as a money making mob.” Most of us would concur with that view and would want to see wealth used ethically and creatively. The movement in favour of the ethical use of money and socially responsible investment (SRI)has taken that impulse and turned it into corporate mission statements, government policies, and investment decisions. Ruskin would surely have approved.

One of the leading authorities on this issues, the Catholic writer, Russell Sparkes, cogently demolishes the myth that investing ethically and acting in a socially responsible manner is incompatible with good business returns. Indeed, the reverse is often true.

There is no doubt that many more companies and institutions do now routinely consider their responsibility to their stakeholders and the wider community. New laws now place a statutory obligation on charities to do the same.

The Trustee Act and Charity Commissioners now impose a duty on charities to include ethical as well as financial considerations with their standard investment criteria. Yet, this time last year, some 60% of the UK’s top 100 charities still had no written ethical or socially responsible investment policy, and two thirds of those were unable to say what plans they had to address the issue.

Because of the new statutory obligations every trustee needs to know how SRI impacts the objects of their charity: they need to appraise investment performance, legal obligations, the moral standpoint, compliance obligations and risk management. When charities fail to do this the results can be disastrous.

For instance, Campaign Against The Arms Trade decided to name 63 charities who own shares in arms exporters. These include major players in the charity world, including Cancer Research UK, the MS Society and the RNLI.

It was deeply revealing to hear the explanation given by the MS Society: “We never made a conscious decision to invest in the arms trade. We simply have a discretionary portfolio which means that our fund managers decide our investments for us. We can’t exclude any investment because our constitution doesn’t allow us to.”

Another charity said: “We don’t knowingly invest in any shares. Our investment managers manage our portfolio to the returns that we want, but how they invest it is down to them.”

But is it?

And can trustees any longer legitimately try to pass the buck?

In the past trustees have simply cited their fiduciary duty to get the best possible returns. But times and the laws have changed.

Sophie Chapman, speaking on behalf of the Charity Finance Directors’ Group says that “The Charity Commission now accepts that an ethical investment policy may be entirely consistent with the principle of seeking the best returns. For instance, trustees may be of the view that companies that adhere to ethical criteria are less risky and will perform better in the long term.”

In the past, SRI and ethical investment was often just another piece of public relations and window dressing: “nice to do” rather than as a “must do activity”. As people give to their favourite charities they should now be asking whether ethical and socially responsible investment is a core concern and a “must do” priority.

Ends

Column

August 28th 2005 David Alton.

“ITS ‘NEVER AGAIN’ ALL OVER AGAIN” – the Horrors of Darfur

Just before Parliament rose for the summer recess I took a letter to Downing Street to protest about the international community’s inadequate response to the carnage in Darfur. I was accompanied by Roman Halter, a Jewish Holocaust survivor, and by Abdellatife Ismael, who is a survivor of the atrocities in Darfur. Their message to the PM was “it’s ‘never again’ all over again.”

We handed in our letter of protest on the first anniversary of the American decision to officially designate events in Darfur as genocide – a decision replicated by Germany and Canada. I have never understood why, on the basis of exactly the same evidence being available to Britain, we have refused to describe events in Darfur as genocide (and accept the requirement that goes with such a declaration to prevent, protect and to prosecute).

It is estimated that as many as 400,000 civilians have died in the last two years in the remote western region of Sudan. 90% of their villages have been wiped out.

For the last two years Britain has downplayed the mass murder, rape and ethnic cleansing there, so the least we can do now is to help the people who survived.

More help should be given to the African Union troops trying protect nearly three million internal refugees. They’ve lost everything, and they still face attack and terror. We tell the world we care about making poverty history in Africa, while ignoring the scale of a deadly conflict at the same time.

A year ago America recognised that the Sudan armed forces’ huge military operation against the black African population of Darfur was genocide. The United Kingdom chose not to confront the Sudanese regime, the architects of the genocide. This is the same regime that killed two million Christians and animists in south Sudan over two decades, so we should have known better.

Abdellatife Ismael, whose village in Darfur was wiped out paid tribute to the generosity of the British public in their humanitarian aid to Sudan. He said: “People in Darfur are grateful for the food aid, but mostly they want someone to take the guns away from the militias who are terrorising them.”

At an All Party Africa Group meeting in July, Hilary Benn, the Secretary of State for Overseas Development, reflected on the reaction of the international community to events in Darfur and said, “We haven’t, frankly, done very well.”

Anyone concerned about Darfur rightly credits his department with a generous and prompt humanitarian response to internally displaced people; and for giving the African Union forces all they have requested. However, it is clear that even with troop levels increased from their current 2,900 to 7,700 by the end of September, it will give inadequate protection for displaced civilians who are still under attack by militia, rebels and Sudanese security forces. There are also too few troops to enable the survivors to return to their villages and resume their lives.

Britain gets an “A” for our humanitarian aid to Darfur, but our foreign policy rates “F” for failure. History should have told us we always regret appeasing dictators. When we recently commemorated both the genocide in Bosnia and the Second World War our leaders said we would never let genocide happen again. But we keep turning the other way, in Cambodia, in Burma, in Rwanda and Bosnia, and now in Darfur. It’s ‘never again’ all over again.

Ends.

archive4

Azerbaijan: Where Europe and Asia Meet. June 2002 – David Alton

Azerbaijan may have seemed like an unlikely destination for the recent papal visit. Of a population of 7 to 8 million people a mere 120 are Catholic, and the country has just one Catholic church, tucked away in a suburb of the country’s capital, Baku.

To the south lies the theocratic dictatorship of Iran. To the east lies the oil rich Caspian Sea. Its other neighbours are Russia, Georgia and Armenia. To the west there is an exclave called Nakhichevan where 300,000 people live in an area that has no land link with Azerbaijan and that borders Armenia, Iran and Turkey.

Recently admitted to the Council of Europe this is the continent’s last outpost, on the very cusp of Asia. Its language is close to Turkish and Ankora has become its most significant ally.

For seventy years Azerbaijan had been ruled by Moscow. The collapse of the Soviet Union propelled it into independence but also into war with its Armenian neighbour over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan lost one tenth of its territory and gained one million internally displaced people and refugees. This is the most pressing challenge confronting the country. The Pope got to the heart of the matter when he said “I have come to Azerbaijan as an ambassador of peace. As long as I have breath within me I shall cry out: “Peace, in the name of God!” Without peace Azerbaijan’s opportunities for development will be seriously impeded.

The removal of the certainties and cruelties of Communist rule has brought back into the open many long standing festering ethnic disputes. It has also seen the re-emergence of nationalism and of greater religious freedom.

Notionally this is Muslim country but the official who described himself to me as “a Muslim atheist” was by no means alone. Over five days in the country I saw little evidence of overt religiosity and I have seen more Muslim head veils in London than I saw anywhere in Azerbaijan. Notwithstanding this, a Saudi-backed campaign of Mosque building and Islamicisation is underway.

The enforced suppression and control of religion in the former Soviet Union was, of course, notorious. In 1930 Stalin had Baku’s Catholic church demolished. During Pope John Paul’s visit, Azerbaijan’s President, Heydar Aliyev, made a significant gesture to end this oppressive relationship – promising the pontiff some land on which a new basilica may be erected. Baku’s small Salesian community, led by the splendidly named Father Pravda, will need help in financing this project and developing social programmes of care for the needy and destitute.

Although Aliyev is a former member of the Soviet Politburo he has been willing to embrace democratic ideals and a market economy. There is still a whiff of the cult of personality which personified Communist regimes but it is mild in comparison with the propaganda of the fallen idols of eastern Europe or in comparison with Central Asian countries like Turkmenistan. Azerbaijan is a country in transition.

The election of the 125 members of the Milli Majlis ( the Azeri Parliament) and for the Presidency were marred by allegations of ballot rigging but a new Central Election Committee, chaired by Mazahir Panahov, is committed to ending electoral abuse. It is independent and contains members of the Opposition parties. The Council of Europe has been involved in the drafting of a new electoral code and procedures. A young woman at Baku State University maturely reflected that democracies are not built in a day and she told me that she understood the need for patience.

Students discussed with me the conditions necessary for creating a civil society and for developing codes of citizenship. They will remind you that it is just 12 years since the country secured its independence from Moscow – independence bought at a price in what is known as Black January.

The Pope commemorated the blood that was shed in securing Azerbaijan’s freedom when he visited Baku’s Martyr’s Alley where the 300 civilians mowed down by Soviet forces are honoured.

Azerbaijan’s economic future will be determined by its ability to create a sound market economy in which oil revenues can be used to develop infrastructure and social services. Aliyev has been trying to broker agreements with the other littoral states that border the Caspian Sea. Rich oil and gas reserves, in which British Petroleum has a major stake, have been the subject of dispute, especially with Iran.

More crucially still Azerbaijan must settle what the deputy prime Minister, Ali Hasanov, describes as its “300 year old conflict with Armenia.” In its refugees camps are all the necessary components for future instability and unrest. Unless a settlement is reached these festering squalid conditions will be a breeding ground for tomorrow’s Islamic militants and terrorists. When people have nothing to lose they can sink into the desperation that creates suicide bombers and revolutionary insurgents. To ignore the long term consequences of leaving the war with Armenia unresolved would be an extraordinary act of folly. President Aliyev is astute enough to realise that “there is no more urgent issue” facing his country.

Although there has always been an uneasy relationship between the Azeris and Armenians the present conflict began in 1991. Azerbaijan, having secured its own independence, abolished the autonomous status of the region of the mainly Armenian Nagorno-Karabakh. The Armenians responded by organising a referendum and declaring independence.

War ensued and in a David and Goliath struggle the Armenians captured the town of Shushi (sacred to both Christians and Muslims), opened a corridor to Lachin and occupied a “buffer” zone in Azeri territory. This led to the displacement of up to one million people. 20,000 Azeris were killed. The retaliatory Azeri blockade against Armenia and the flow of Armenians fleeing Azerbaijan also inevitably caused great hardship.

In 1994 an uneasy ceasefire was agreed and several attempts have been made by the Minsk Group (which included the US, France and Russia) to broker a settlement. This has proved illusive as Azerbaijan will not concede the principle of ceding sovereign territory and Armenia will not surrender occupied land until the Azeris concede either the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh or its assimilation into Armenia. This is a conflict crying out for international mediation and for imagination – perhaps formulating a lease-back treaty where the Azeris maintain sovereignty while leasing the territory to Armenia. Then many of the occupied lands could be returned and the refugees resettled. Discussion about the status of historic Armenian villages in areas such as Shahumyan – outside of Nagorno-Karabakh – and the formulation of a strategy for co-existence might also become possible.

The Armenians accuse the Azeris of leaving refugees in the camps for political reasons. As oil revenues begin to flow the resources will certainly be availble to improve their lot. The Azeris counter by asking why should they build permanent new homes for displaced people when it is their territory that has been occupied and when they seek a solution based on a return to abandoned homes and land.

The parallels that can be drawn with the British-Irish conflict in the north of Ireland, the long term hatred that ensues from unresolved territorial issues, the ultimate realisation that no-one can win this kind of war and the successful initiation of the Good Friday Peace Process might repay examination.

Without a just solution the families of people like Madat Mamadov, who comes from Jebrayil, will continue to suffer. Their camp, 250 km south west of Baku, near the Iranian border was flooded on May 25th. The floors of their squalid hut have been turned to mud. Three to four people occupy one room. They have no privacy and no sanitation.

Their neighbour, Kama Rustamova, shares her hut with eight other people, an 82-year-old father, four sons and three daughters. The deluge destroyed their food and their pitiful dwelling is full of hazards to health.

The camp itself was erected on land that the Soviets used to intensively grow cotton – 600,000 tons a year, meeting 20% of the USSR’s requirements. But the use of herbicides and pesticides has poisoned this land and maybe that is why some of the children I met have stunted growth. Malnutrition and mortality rates that are twice the national average tell their own story.

End of term examinations were taking place in the shabby school room of the camp. One of the children was wearing a t-shirt which bore the words “Keep Sea Turtles Safe.” It seemed a disproportionate sentiment in the context of so much human misery. In the eaves of the school room some swallows were nesting. They at least were safe.

For the fathers of these children there is the never ending search for work. They can become emigrants who doubtless end up at many of our ports of entry, to be classed as economic migrants and refused admission. This leads to twilight jobs that frequently turn people with illegal status into fully fledged criminals.

Sometimes the men stay in the camp. They go to the nearest railway station where there is a “slave bazaar” and sometimes they can get work as porters or construction workers at $2.5 a day.

Like refugees the world over Madat Mamadov simply says: “We want to return to our native land – nothing more.” This is not such an unreasonable request.

Next year both Armenia and Azerbaijan will be embroiled in elections – and the sabre rattling and posturing that inevitably accompany. For the moment there is a window of opportunity and a desperate need to seek a solution.

Speaking to the 5,000 people who came to hear him in Baku, Pope John Paul insisted that the conduct of politics “requires honesty and accountability”. He asserted that we must always “respect the dignity and freedom of the human person.” And quoting Nizami, a great Azeri poet, Pope John Paul said “Do not eat in the presence of those who are starving, or, if you do, invite everyone to the table.” For the refugees who have no place at the international table there could surely be no more pertinent message.

Column January 25th 2004 David Alton

Bonding with the Baby – the role of Baby Bonds

Gordon Brown recently announced an innovative proposal to hand out nearly £1 billion in “baby bonds” to two million families. Any child born after September 1st, 2002, will be eligible for the child trust fund of up to £500 – although the payments will not be made until April 2005.

The decision to defer the payments until 2005 has inevitably been criticised by the Conservatives as electoral sharp practice: the money will be handed over on what will probably be the eve of a General Election. But it would be a pity if the Chancellor’s initiative became tarnished by charges of electoral cynicism because the principle which underlines the “baby bond” is a good one and Gordon Brown – and his excellent Financial Secretary, the talented Ruth Kelly MP – should be commended for it.

About 700,000 babies are born each year in Britain and the calculation is that payments could total about £900 million if the payment levels rise at 7% each year. When the scheme is up and running, the baby bond payments will be made as a child is born and registered for child benefit. Vouchers for the children born between September 2002 and April 2005 will be sent out in the first part of next year.

The Government know that many people in their thirties and forties (when they are increasingly having their children) are facing real dilemmas as they bring a baby into the world and try to balance their family life against their working patterns and the costs of mortgages reliant on two incomes, child care and education.

In trying to address these anxieties there have been a number of mixed messages.

The 2002 employment Act, for instance, gave parents with children under six the right to work flexibly or at home, as well as extending maternity leave and creating a new right to time for fathers to two weeks’ paid paternity leave. Good. But dare I remind Mr.Blair that he was the principal player in ending Sunday as a “special” family day – and putting 1 million women into the workplace away from their families on Sundays as a result?.

Another contradiction is the rising level of debt and loans (not least for young people). It’s a great initiative to start a saving account for a new born baby but shouldn’t we be doing more to tackle the ruinous mountain of personal debts and loans (that frequently become the source of anxiety, stress and conflict within the family and often lead to separation and divorce). Never before have so many owed so much.

A few years ago my wife prudently opened four “impecunious student funds” I guess the Chancellor would approve of these saving accounts, opened for each of our children. The money saved is set aside for use when they are students.

If Government put matching money, pound for pound, for these sort of saving funds – money that could only be used for education – it would relive some of the worries about chronic levels of student loans, and give incentives to save rather than to go deeper into debt.

One reason why Government knows it must change thinking about family duties and encourage the birth of new babies is because Britain is not reproducing itself. This will have a calamitous demographic, economic and social effect. I suppose Catholics could be forgiven for saying we told you so.

One in five pregnancies now ends in an abortion (180,000 a year). Fertility treatments fail in 80% of cases; and last week we were told male fertility has collapsed by 30% (probably the effects of the birth pill). Only a handful of babies are now available for adoption annually nationwide.

If Mr.Brown and Miss Kelly want to help reverse this decline, there is one simple, practical thing they could do. Let the new baby bond be available from conception ( and registered as such at the hospital) and the money should be paid as proposed after birth.

That way the Government could affirm the importance we attach to these new babies, that as a society we would wish them to be born, and it would immediately show mothers that there will be some practical help for them and their baby. The baby bonds are a good idea, but here is a way to deepen their impact.

Ends.

archive2

Column for Sunday August 31st 2003.

The Future of the Basque Country

A holiday in northern Spain, in the Basque country, underlined for me the parallels with northern Ireland. Breathtaking countryside, generous hospitality and a profound faith are matched by fierce loyalties, visceral hatred of national government, and polarised political attitudes.

Intimidation of those who refuse to support ETA – the terror group who use violence to further their aim of creating a Basque state in northern Spain and south west France – is commonplace.

Over the summer, a priest who hired a personal bodyguard because of threats to his life, was forced to flee his parish of Maruri. Fr.Jaime Larrinaga said “I have defined myself as an opponent of terrorism and that is why I have been persecuted.” Demonstrations in support of the priest have been staged by moderate Basque nationalists opposed to the use of terror.

The parallels with the IRA and the non-violent nationalist of the SDLP in northern Ireland are self-evident. So is the spark that has initiated this summer’s escalation of violence. The central government in Madrid suspended Batasuna – the political wing of ETA and that in turn has led to more bombs being laid. ETA’s fatalities over the past three decades now number more than 800 people and in addition to the dead many more have been wounded or disfigured.

There have also been a series of on-off cease-fires. In 1998 ETA said it had begun a “unilateral and indefinite” ceasefire but it called it off in November 1999 and they now say that they are particularly targeting inward investment and the tourist infrastructure. Sadly, there has been no equivalent of the British-Irish Peace Process or the Good Friday Agreement. Nor has there been a dispassionate assessment of both the nationalist case for separation or a proper understanding of the tortured history of the Basque people.

I was particularly moved to visit Gernika, a Basque town signalled out for an exemplary punitive attack during the Spanish Civil War. On April 26th 1937 Franco’s German and Italian allies sent 59 planes to destroy the town during a bombardment that lasted for three hours. About 1,650 people were killed. Picasso’s famous painting named after the town vividly captures some of the horror.

The succession of atrocities carried out by both sides sealed this period of history with vengeance and blood.

During World War two the Basques sides with Britain and the Allies and their government in exile was officially recognised. In the aftermath of the War it was more expedient to mollify Franco and the Basques felt betrayed and driven into a corner. Out of all this ETA campaign of terrorism was born.

If all of this starts to sound depressingly familiar, one other parallel with northern Ireland can be drawn – but this one gives pause for hope. As in northern Ireland, the vast majority of Basques wholeheartedly oppose the use of violence.

Perhaps this silent majority, and the courageous stand of Father Larrinaga, will be the catalyst to kick start a peace process. When the violence does finally, the Basque country will have a fine future.

Column for Sunday 27th of April 2003 The BBC and the Right To Free Speech

Just before Easter the Law Lords delivered the second judgement in as many weeks against the Pro-Life Alliance. In both instances the lawyers found against the PLA but no one was in any doubt about who had won the moral argument.

Even as the judgements were being handed down there came a gentle braying from the stable. It was the ass who is so often synonymous with the law.

In one case the Law Lords decided that the BBC were right to censor a PLA General Election broadcast that showed viewers the consequences of an abortion. In the other case, their Lordships said it was perfectly alright for Britain to use the 1991 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act as the basis

on which to permit certain forms of human cloning.

When the issue of censorship first surfaced, the late Cardinal Basil Hume rounded on the double-speaking liberals at Broadcasting House by saying that if the broadcast was deemed “distasteful” what about the bad taste of the original act. Abortion is cruel, violent and takes a life. Hardly tasteful, hardly decent – and they know that if the public ever got to see what is involved opinions would change over night.

There is another double standard involved.

During the same week that the PLA broadcast was censored, a racist broadcast by the British movement was permitted. This, according to the guardians of our consciences, was because it would have been against the interests of free speech to do otherwise.

So the moral of the story is that if you are a racist you can broadcast without restraint but if you are pro-life the Lord Chamberlain, in the form of the BBC Anne Sloman, will ban you.

How normally sane people, like Miss Sloman, can believe in the equity or coherence of such a position defies belief.

In the second judgement delivered by the Law Lords the outcome was more complex but equally open to criticism.

This judgement upholds the right of the Government to press on with the cloning of human embryos for therapeutic purposes using cell nuclear replacement (CNR) techniques. At the heart of their decision appears to be the belief that the 1991 Act foresaw this possibility. Yet CNR hadn’t even been thought of at the time.

Since 1991 nearly one million human embryos have been destroyed or experimented upon (with only 4% seeing the light of day). Apart from the wanton destruction of the earliest forms of human life none of the much vaunted and greatly promised cures and breakthroughs has occurred. It has simply been a dangerous and unethical blind alley.

Paradoxically, while the Law Lords were giving therapeutic cloning the green light the European Parliament was voting against all forms of cloning – therapeutic and reproductive. I have written to the Prime Minister to ask him what notice he intends to take of that vote.

Meanwhile, linking the first judgement the first, the BBC were on hand to report the European Parliament vote. Needless-to-say, not one scientist opposed to cloning (and there are many), not one ethicist, not one religious leader, and not one British politician who supports the European Parliament vote was quoted in the news story. It was simply a diatribe of criticism.

If the law has been made to look like an ass, the BBC comes out of this no better. I am simply glad that a few brave souls – like Jospehine and Bruno Quintavale – of the PLA have exposed this sham for what it is.

Column for February 8th 2004 David Alton

The Snakes and Ladders of Politics

People take various routes into politics. Mine was the well trod path from local government into the House of Commons and now the Lords. Despite some disillusionment with party politics – and I sit today as an independent on the Crossbenches – I still passionately believe that through political work you can champion causes and work to improve society.

Throughout the 1970s I served as a member of the Liverpool City Council and the now defunct Merseyside County Council. Beginning life as the council babe – as a precocious 21-year-old student, and the council’s youngest member – at various times I served as the Council’s Deputy Leader, as Chief Whip and Chairman of the Housing Committee.

Election to the House of Commons, in a bizarre by-election held the day after the Callaghan Government lost a vote of confidence, sent me to the Commons, once again as the enfant terrible (ital), but also as the shortest lived MP. Only two or three days elapsed before the House was prorogued and MPs headed off to fight the 1979 General Election that brought Margaret Thatcher to power.

Four weeks later, having endured two election campaigns and two election counts – I was one and a half stone lighter, and finally able to take stock of my new role: Member of Parliament for Liverpool’s Edge Hill Division, and one of just 11 Liberal MPs, the rump of what was left of Mr.Gladstone’s patrimony.

I was struck by the powerlessness of the backbench MP in a tiny minority party. Margaret Thatcher enjoyed a working majority, the desultory Labour opposition was in a state of collapse and Marxist neophytes, in cities like my own, were beginning their long campaign of attrition to seize control of Labour. Meanwhile, the former Liberal leader, Jeremy Thorpe, was before the court on charges of conspiracy to murder, and it seemed very unlikely that a handful of diehard Liberals could make much difference in Parliament.

I compared the resources I had enjoyed in my local government role with those available to me now. As Housing Chairman and the Council’s deputy leader I had access to officials and resources: decisions I promoted through the Local Authority ( on issues such as building low cost homes for sale on inner city sites, promoting housing co-operatives, designating the biggest housing action area programme in Britain) made a real difference in the lives of under-privileged people. The contrast between being able to deliver inside sanitation and hot water to homes that had previously been without them ( as 50% of the homes in my Council Ward had been) and the ineffectual banalities of political slanging in the House could not have been greater.

My part-time secretary, a dingy office, wholly inadequate resources to properly service the needs of constituents who deluged me in the desperate hope that I could put right some injustice, seemed a poor substitute for the realities of local government. And yet, and yet.

Early on during my time in the Commons I decided that I should take the opportunity that the Commons offered to pursue the causes about which I cared. and to become “a good constituency MP”. In short, to use whatever time I had in the House to achieve small things.

In retrospect, this was the right decision. Too many people now go to Parliament in the mistaken hope of becoming something else – one of the great political panjandrums, climbing ladders that with another throw of the dice take you back to where you started. The parliamentary game has many more snakes than ladders. Just being a good MP should be prize enough.

Enoch Powell was broadly right when he said that all political careers end in failure. The parliamentary landscape is littered with the wreckage of frustrated and failed ministerial careers. Festering bitterness followed by years of back-stabbing, seems a poor substitute for the satisfaction and fulfilment enjoyed by “campaigning” MPs.

The saving grace of our parliamentary system is the cranky, often idiosyncratic MP who by dint of effort perseveres and get some injustice put right. No doubt dictatorships are easier systems to run operate but totalitarianism has little else to commend it. Politics is still a worthy way of contributing to the common good and we shouldn’t hold back from becoming involved.

Universe Column or March 19th 2000.

by David Alton

Bishops in The Lords

With his usual wisdom Cardinal Hume always resisted the idea of being given a place in the House of

Lords. He didn’t need the platform which the House can provide and the disadvantages of membership for a Catholic bishop far outweigh any advantages.

This Government makes a big effort to bring everyone under their “big tent.” Very cleverly, at the beginning of this Parliament, they neutered the Liberal Democrats by sucking them under their canvas – effectively silencing a Party which historically had been able to be a voice of dissent and conscience. For this they could pay a terrible electoral price in due course.

Control of opposition voices, within the Labour Party and outside it, has become a blatant objective of the Government. The shambolic outcome of the London mayoral contest is the result of trying to fix the selection system to ensure that however members of the London Labour party voted, Frank Dobson would be chosen as the candidate.

Over centralised control of local democracy has already cost the Labour Party dearly in the Welsh

Assembly. It ensured Denis Canavan’s victory in Scotland.. Closed party lists in the European Elections cost Labour seats and votes.

Now, in London, many will vote for Ken Livingstone as a protest against yet more interference – and not because they support some of the wild causes Ken has embraced. The public are increasingly hostile to the Napoleonic tendencies of the Government.

Reform of the House of Lords is also an exercise in curtailing democracy. It is about the exercise of patronage and power – generally appointing people who will be loyal to the Government; not about creating an American-style Senate elected by the people as a democratic check against the lower house.

If the Lords is to be filled to the gunnels with party loyalists steeped in political correctness it will not be able to perform its honourable and long established role as a revising Chamber, capable and intelligently able to criticse Government and to hold them to account . It will no longer be the ultimate guarantor of our constitutional freedoms.

This is why the Church must be very careful about lending legitimacy to the changes that are afoot. If there were to be Church representatives sitting in the Lords it would be better for them to be lay people who are elected by representative organisations. The voices of the Presidents of groups like the Catholic Women’s League, the Guild of Catholic Doctors, or the Catholic Teachers Association; or, the Master of the Guild of Catholic Writers, or the Chairman of Life or CAFOD, are voices which would be worth hearing. They should not be aligned to political parties but sit as cross-benchers and because they were not appointed as individuals by this or any other Government – but there by virtue of their office – they would be less likely to become clubable.

Another problem for bishops is that everything they say is assumed to be the authentic voice of the church.This may make either make them timid of being too critical of Government or allow them to be cited as allies of the Government when they vote for it in the lobbies. If they decide not to vote (because of the constraints of Canon Law) that would turn their presence into even more of a fig leaf.

When the Anglican Bishop of Oxford recently spoke out in the Lords in favour of human cloning this was inevitably called in aid by the eugenics lobby. Earlier, in 1990, the then Archbishop of York called for experiments on human embryos. It was left to Cardinal Hume, speaking outside of Parliament, to tell Britain that this decision meant we had forfeited the right to call ourselves a Christian country. The authority with which he made this statement had nothing to do with any position handed to him by any temporal government. The Church should be wary of forfeiting its independence in a country where dissent is being suffocated.

ENDS.

archives1

Book Review By David Alton.- 2003 – The Legacy of C.S.Lewis

“C.S.Lewis At The BBC – Messages Of Hope In The Darkness Of War”, Justin Phillips. Published by Harper Collins.

After Justin Phillips died, on Boxing Day 2000, it fell to his widow, Gillian, his daughter Laura, and to his publisher, James Catford, to bring this book to completion. The result, C.S.Lewis At The BBC – Messages of Hope In The Darkness of War (ital) is a magnificent achievement.

Phillips was brilliantly placed to produce this book – having spent most of his life as a broadcaster with the BBC. A former producer of Radio Four’s Today (ital) programme, I wonder what this deeply committed Christian would have made of the appointment of the non-believing Alan Bookbinder as head of religion and ethics at the BBC; or the manner in which his old programme now deals with the church.

Phillips would probably have counselled us not to shoot the messenger because we don’t like the message. He would have reminded us, as he does in this book, how the media may be used as a powerful force for good, and with love he would have unfolded the story of the Christian roots of Britain’s public radio broadcasters – and encouraged us to reclaim that tradition.

Every day, Phillips, Like James Welch and Eric Fenn, the principal players who brought C.S.Lewis to the BBC to broadcast to a nation at war, walked past Eric Gill’s sculpture of The Sower (ital) in the entrance of Broadcasting House, which bears the Latin inscription for “God gives the increase.”

They would have passed the Latin dedication on the building proclaiming that “This temple of the Arts and Muses is dedicated to Almighty God by the first Governors of Broadcasting in the year 1931, Sir John Reith being Director-General. It is their prayer that good seed sown may bring forth a good harvest and that the people, inclining their ear to whatsoever things are beautiful and honest and of good report, may tread the path of wisdom and righteousness.”

The dedication – like the BBC motto, Quaecumque (ital) (“whatsoever”) are inspired by St.Paul’s letter to the Philippians (4:8).

As Britain braced itself during 1940 for the aerial bombardment of its cities it needed all the steely resolve and idealism that these high sounding phrases implied. Dr.James Welch, then the BBC’s Director of Religion, knew that bewildered people, dreading the arrival of telegrams heralding the loss of loved ones or the drone of German bombers, needed explanations about where God was in all of this.

In 1941, an Oxford academic, C.S.Lewis, published The Problem of Pain . Welch had never met Lewis (and perhaps, just as important, he had never heard him speak either). Yet, he asked him to consider making a series of broadcasts, grappling with the tragedy of war, the inexplicable loss of loved ones, and to speak as a layman about how the Christian faith inspired him.

The talks which followed – and which were organised by the BBC’s Eric Fenn – would ultimately form the basis of Lewis’s Mere Christianity . According to Phillips at the heart of Lewis’ approach is the belief that “we can’t shake off the idea we know how to behave but in practice don’t do so. We break the Law of Nature. Realising this is in fact the basis for all clear thinking.”

In turn Lewis provokes, encourages, enlightens, and inspires us to turn to God.

In advance of his broadcasts Leiws shared his scripts with four people. One was Dom.Bede Griffiths, the Catholic priest who, as Richard Griffiths, an Oxford undergraduate, had challenged his English tutor’s atheism. This deep desire to stay close to orthodox Christianity is why the broadcasts and books which followed have captivated Catholics and evangelicals alike.

Phillips draws out Lewis’ friendship with Sister Penelope, an Anglican nun, and his belief in regular personal confession. He records Dorothy L.Sayers’ battles with the BBC over the broadcast of The Man Born To Be King – and Lewis’ words of encouragement. He touches on Lewis’ close relationship with J.R.R.Tolkien and the other Inkings. And there are countless vignettes which shed light on Lewis’ kindness and generosity.

I was especially touched by Jill Freud’s recollections of Lewis’ wartime hospitality; by his decision to get the BBC to send his fees to clergy widows; by the recollection of Kenneth Tynan’s (a onetime student of Lewis) who said Lewis was “Johnsonian without the bullying and Chestertonian without the facetiousness“; and by Walter Hooper ( literary advisor to the Lewis Estate), who recalls his conversation with Pope John Paul II. The Pope said Lewis knew what his apostolate, his divine calling, was – “and he did it”.

The BBC has only a few recordings of Lewis’ original broadcasts but what there are, along with the broadcasts of his Cosmic Trilogy (ital), The Screwtape Letters (ital) and the Narnian Chronicles (ital) should be re-broadcast as a tribute to one of the great figures of the twentieth century.

Perhaps it says something about how the BBC has changed since the days of Welch and Fenn, and even Phillips, that instead of celebrating Lewis this Christmas we were being served up extra helpings of Philip Pullman. This avowed atheist has described Lewis’ writings as the most “ugly and poisonous” things he has ever read: “it’s propaganda in the service of a life-hating ideology.” He said that his own writings are an attempt to destroy the legacy and influence of Lewis. Heaven preserve us and our children from this.

Phillips’ posthumous book is a reminder of how much we owe C.S.Lewis and that as his legacy is now attacked we need to cherish and uphold it.

CHILDREN OF THE FAVELA:

Brazilian bloodbath in a nation asleep

David Alton

February 2004

I the 1990s the world woke up to the horrifying reports of children routinely shot dead on the streets of Brazil. Many assumed that those days had been consigned to the pages of history.

During a recent visit to Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Recife and Olinda with a delegation from the international charity Jubilee Action, I discovered with dismay and anger that the carnage continues. If flourishes in a climate of fear, silence and official collusion. The streets literally run red with young Brazilian blood.

We began our mission by making a quiet pilgrimage to the church of Our Lady of Candelaria, in Rio

It was here, in July 1993 that six police officers opened fire on a group of street children who were sleeping in some doorways opposite the church. Today, a small cross, with the names of the eight boys who died, has been erected in front of Candelaria. Their silhouettes have been etched in red onto the surface of the street. Those dead boys, some as young as eleven, were Paulo Silva, Marcos Alves Silva, Paula Oliveira, Anderson Pereira, Leandro Conceicao, Valdevino Almeida, Gambazinho and the poignantly named Marcelo C. Jesus. (Seeing the image of Jesus in the form of these children, nailed again to a cross, should surely bring to mind His angry declaration that those who hurt a child would be hurled into the depths with a millstone around their necks. The secretive death squads and those corrupt policemen and officials who continue to collaborate or acquiesce in the quiet assassination of Brazil’s young people should be reminded of that admonition every hour of every day until the killing stops. The scale of the killing is almost unbelievable.)

Alessandro Gama, Co-ordinator of Brazil’s National Movement of Street Children, says that between 4 and 5 adolescents are murdered daily; that every 12 minutes a child is beaten; that 4.5 million children under 12 are working; and that 500,000 children are engaged in domestic labour. In 40% of crimes children are the victims. The massive proliferation of small arms is a central cause. One of the movement’s activists told me, ‘It is easier for a child to get a gun than to get a bus-pass.’

Alongside the greater accessibility to guns, what has changed since the 1990’s and deepened the crisis, is the emergence of a ruinous drugs culture. Formerly, Brazil was simply a transit country for the notorious producers of Columbia, Bolivia and Peru. Today, Brazil ranks only after the USA as the second biggest consumer of cocaine. In Rio’s 680 favelas – where about 25% of the city’s 12 million people live – this has led to the emergence of no-go areas controlled by rival gangs such as Red Command and Third Command, who organize and arm the children. Children as young as four have guns and are used as ‘little planes’ – to use the jargon of the street- trafficking drugs and messages between sellers and buyers.

Although there has been no formal declaration of war, the children caught up in the escalating violence are child soldiers by any other name.

A young Englishman, Luke Dowdney, supported by Save The Children, has graphically documented the changing shape of the favelas in his “Children of the Drug Trade: a Case Study of Children in Organised Armed Violence in Rio de Janeiro.” Chillingly he adds that a child’s chance of dying here is “eight to nine times greater than in the Middle East.”

I went into one of these favelas in the north of Rio and had a chance to hear some first hand accounts of the consequences of this undeclared war. I promised those I spoke to that I would not use their real names.

The people who live in this particular district are descendants of the slaves who settled on Rio’s hillsides after emancipation in the nineteenth century. Many of them are black.

Rodrigo told me that he had come here, as a 10-year-old, from the countryside. He had no education and remains illiterate. He made a living carting water up the hill and by feeding the pigs. Later he got a job carrying boxes of beer. He married and together they had several children. Approached by one of the drug gangs he became a dealer and spent four and a half years in prison, where: “You’re alive and dead at the same time,” he told me.

Prison conditions are a national disgrace. Rodrigo’s cell was so over-crowded that they took turns to stand and sleep.

An 11-year-old, nicknamed Cicero, and old before his time, interposed that, “The prison doesn’t teach you anything good. It’s a university of crime. You’re living with criminals even worse than you. The drugs in prison are worse than outside.”

Rodrigo’s oldest boy is also illiterate and is now in jail. The other children are on the fringes of crime.

One of Brazil’s powerful figures, Senhor Luiz Conde, Rio’s former mayer who now serves as deputy Governor in the state of Rio, repeats the tired formulary that “There is a school place available for every child,” and admits that, “The prisons are very bad, a nasty inheritance of the past.” The reality is that many children are not in school, that some are too frightened to take places in schools situated in areas controlled by rival drug gangs, and that those in school often get a mediocre education at best.

Codne exudes an air of complacency and irritation, passing responsibility to other arms of government or to the failure of “society as a whole” to tackle the problem. Throwaway lines like, “There are more non-governmental organizations than street children” and “It’s easier to arrest Saddam Hussein than to arrest a drugs baron” say more about their author than his targets.

Rio has no integrated or co-ordinated strategy for eradicating its reputation as human charnel house; a city whose streets are an abattoir, awash with the blood of its young people.

In a surreal, Kafkaesque remark, Conde’s opposite number at the city hall, Senhor Antonio Vales, Rio’s deputy makyor, told me that “violence is not under the jurisdiction of the city.” In the grandeur of what was once the sumptuous British Embassy in Rio, Vales said that he couldn’t comment on any of the fundamental issues because they were “too sensitive” and that there was little point them talking to the military police because, “Those talks are not very fruitful.”

These are not bad men but nor are they brave.

In the favela, I was reminded of the prophet’s words that, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” The merry-go-round of buck passing in Rio is like a carousel, which passes for coherent good government and courageous political leadership.

Probably the best hope for breaking this inertia and for imposing a nationwide strategy in Brazil’s 26 states remains President Lula Da Silva, who was elected with 61% of the vote and became President in a wave of optimism in January 2003. Lula has himself – and very unusually for Brazil – risen from deep poverty and obscurity; but already there are inevitable disappointed voices asking where is the change. If Lula cannot make the arms of government respond to this crisis he will deservedly lose his reputation at home and abroad.

I was struck by the remark of one youngster in the favela who told me that, “The only way to go up in society is to go through the trafficking of guns or drugs.” The role models are young men with designer clothes and brand new motorbikes. They earn phenomenally more through the drugs trade than their fathers. But, if they come to represent the only ladder on which the young can climb out of destitution, Lula will end up presiding over a dead country. It is impossible to reconcile rhetoric about social justice and opportunity with the reality of corpses lying like litter in the streets.

It would be unfair if this account did not refer to the positive and hopeful initiatives that should provide men like Conde and Vales with a blue-print for concerted action. They could do worse than to heed the calls of Jubilee Action’s partner in Rio, Sao Martinho, who advocate the need for an integrated programme of action. We did see evidence of an embryonic strategic approach in the city of Recife.

A piece of sculpture in the heart of that city recalls the time, thirty years ago, when death squads routinely killed opponents of the country’s military dictatorship. The sculptor has left the defiant words, “Torture – never again,” to exhort those who see his work to cherish the fundamental human rights that should be the corner stone of any democracy.

Near Recife, is the ancient Portuguese settlement of Olinda. Here, in 1537, the Portuguese Governor, Duate Coelho, established Olinda as the first capital of the State of Pernambuco. Simultaneously, the Jesuits built the first churches and provided the first opportunities for higher education in Brazil. In 1582 the Benedictines established the truly beautiful Basilica e Mosterio de Sao Bento; and in 1641 the Jewish people built the first synagogue of the Americas. In 1986 UNESCO declared Olinda a world heritage site.

Brazil’s first law school was established here and the Declaration of the Abolition of Slavery was promulgated from Olinda. More West African slaves were sent to Brazil than any other destination but, despite emancipation, many of their descendants continue to suffer disproportionately to this day.

Here too is the grave of Dom Helda Camara, the Archbishop of Recife and Olinda, who died in 1999 and was renowned for his outspoken opposition to the violence of the dictatorship and as a champion of the dispossessed. Dom Helda famously said that when he provided relief for the poor they called him a saint, but when he identified the causes of Brazil’s acute poverty he was branded a communist.

Helda Camara’s book “A Thousand Reasons For Living” was a powerful crie de coeur against a society where human life had become devoid of value.

The echoes of the battles against slavery, poverty and injustice still linger in the life of Olinda and Recife. For not far from the world heritage sites are favelas and slums that bring shame on us all. In these shantytowns, assassins roam freely and with impunity and who, for as little as $4 a head, will kill a child or adolescent who has fallen foul of the gangsters and the drug barons. It is against the reality of this routine killing of children and adolescents that the bold words of Recife’s sculptor need to be measured.

In Olinda and Recife – where there is street crime, violence, and drugs in their 600 favelas – albeit not on the scale of Rio – I visited “Future Station” a project involving 12 partners from governmental organizations. With the support of Crisotovam Buarque, the Minister of Education, and the Joaquim Nabuco Foundation, “Future Station” has announced the bold objective of working for “zero-percentage of children and teenagers at risk on the streets of Brazilian cities.”

Initially, they surveyed 2793 children. They found that only 43% were enrolled in or going to school and that more than 400 were sleeping rough on the streets. 71% said that they went onto the streets to make money. However, the survey team were encouraged that a third of the children had a mother and a father, 72% were sleeping at home, and 88% were either at home or staying in an established household. These were higher numbers than they had anticipated.

Following the survey, an integrated programme of action was brokered between government agencies from all levels and non-governmental organizations. At an impressive centre, Future Station begins the long and painstaking business of reclaiming the lost children of the streets from a life of crime, drugs and sexual exploitation.

Young people have to leave their drugs at the door. Drugs can’t be used in the buildings but can be reclaimed when the adolescents leave. In place of drugs comes basic education and hygiene (most of the children are infested with worms picked up form the garbage dumps which they have scavenged for food). As the children progress there are opportunities to train. A suite of computers provides information technology skills that one-day will make some of these youngsters employable.

One young woman at Future Station, who had been abandoned by her parents, told me how she is struggling to bring up her young daughter. Before Christmas an electric fan had fallen from a ceiling crushing the baby in her womb. Into her small home, she had taken another street child who had come to Future Station. That boy told me how his father had thrown him into a bath to try and drown him, because the child had been unable to walk. Eventually he had gained his mobility and the first thing he did with it was to run away.

As the young woman and the young man told me their stories there was no trace of self-pity and a realization that the opportunity they now had gave hope for the future.

Elsewhere in Recife I visited three remarkable projects – all supported by the Catholic aid agency, CAFOD – and which were pioneered by an Irish priest of the St Patrick’s Missionary Society, Fr Anthony Terry. The Kiltegan priest, who hales from Cork, has spent more than four decades of his life working with the Brazilian dispossessed.

At Galapao De Santo Amoro, a training centre has been developed that provides everything from courses in the stunningly energetic and athletic traditional Brazilian dance and music to computer literacy. The latter have proved so popular that 4,800 sessions have been held over the past year alone and more than 500 children are currently registered. If resources permit, the number could be doubled over night: something Jubilee Action, together with a British businessman who joined our delegation, has committed itself to achieving.

Santo Amoro is situated on the edge of one of Recife’s biggest favelas and is the most violent area in the city. Last year, sixteen young people were shot, or died, as a result of either non-payment to pushers or from overdoses. The youngest urchin was ten years old. One of the workers at Santo Amoro, has seen his three brothers killed and the young woman who trains the dancers recently saw her brother gunned down.

At Comunidade Assumindo Suas Criancas (Community Taking Responsibility For it’s Children) – an initiative born in 1985, pioneered by people of the local parish with the help of Fr. Anthony – the story was the same. Throughout the Peixinhos district young people at risk can come to the centre and develop skills and possibilities for their lives. More than 150 children pass through daily – and literacy courses for adults are also provided. Ten educators are financed from a £20,000 grant given annually by CAFOD.

I was deeply moved to hear the tragic story of one of the mothers who helps at the centre. Her 25-year-old son, Roberto Trinity de Concecicaon, died in her arms on the street after being mowed down in a shooting. Roberto was shot in the back in a case of mistaken identity. His mother, Aurelina, told me: “We are overwhelmed by all this violence, but Brazilian society regards killing as normal. Some people believe that, if the children are on the streets, it serves them right if they are killed. We are trying to confront and fight this line of thinking.”

Tellingly, she demanded to know why firearms should be freely available: “Children who can’t even get food to eat can get a gun. 74% of the killings are by gun. I never saw a gun in my life and now they are everywhere.” She described how two more young people, aged 20 and 21, who passed through their centre, had been killed in the previous week. One was another case of mistaken identity: “They took him from his mother’s arms and killed him.” The other had been a drug user who hadn’t paid his bill.

She wanted to know where was the international pressure to end the bloodbath. Pointedly, she said that, “While the killers are free, it is society that is in prison.”

Roberto died just one year ago and unlike most people, who are cowed into silence by a fear of brutal retaliation, the people of Peixinhos rallied to support Aurelina de Concecicaon as she organized a public procession of crosses and candles. In all, there were eighty crosses – each bearing the name of men, women and children who had been killed over the previous two years. Repeat: eighty people from one small community in just two years.

At another project, in nearby Olinda, we saw the same pattern of compassionate care and a determination to resist the escalating violence. We also heard more accounts of drug related violence. They work with 94 children. Last year ten were killed: 4 girls, aged 14 – 16 and 6 boys, aged 16 – 18. Project workers told me, “The law of silence is the law. Nobody saw, nobody says, nobody does anything.”

Last year, when one young retarded boy who had been sniffing glue was shot by police, who were indiscriminately shooting as they pursued a robber, workers went to the hospital to protest: “Shut your mouth or else we will silence you,” they were told. When the boy left hospital he was sent to prison, falsely accused of starting the shooting. He still languishes there and his mother has said she dare not pursue her son’’ case because she is petrified or retaliation.

Yet, if all this is grotesque what we learnt about the fate of children in varaduro suberb’s district, known as Inferninha – little hell – reads like pages straight from Dante and where the living might well envy the dead.

Inferninha is the area of Recife where child prostitution is concentrated. Here, at least 40 children are known to be working as prostitutes – with more than 60 at weekends. Some of the boys and girls are as young as ten, and some have been sent there by their parents to supplement their income. The men who exploit the children fall into three categories: the men who live in the neighbourhood; members of the police force, including senior officers; and foreigners who stay in pousadas, small local hotels and have the children brought to them. When I asked whether the police simply closed their eyes to this I received the reply: “No, they go to the bars and the pimps every Tuesday for their share of the takings.”

We heard the appalling story of one young woman who had become a prostitute and was taken into this living hell by four men. They gang-raped her. When they were finished, they killed her, gouging out her eyes, ripping out her heart and throwing her, like detritus, into the sea. Is there no barbarity of which man is not capable?

Another leading agency – who we can’t name – told me of 15 killings in one town, Gabuatao, on the Sunday before we met them. The agency said that the authorities will claim that the children died at a dance, or some such pretext, “But we know it was assassination. 99% of these crimes are never judged because investigators simply refuse to come out to the favelas.” The police regularly humiliate young people and assume their guilt. I was told of one case where a boy held in custody was reluctantly allowed by the police to attend his grandmother’s funeral: he was accompanied by six police officers and shackled by his hands and his feet.

As for the malign availability of firearms, we were told: “It’s easier to get a gun than it is to get a pass for the bus.”

In another macabre twist, Sao Paulo adolescents have now started playing Russian Roulette with loaded guns. One youth holds the gun to another’s head and fires. The consequences are all too terribly predictable both for the victim and in the twisted psyche of the other.

Being Jurado – when someone has decided to kill you – is another manifestation of their insidious culture of death. It also leads to countless more assassinations often for banal and trivial reasons.

On raising these horrific cases with GAJOP, the Juridical Assessors for Popular Organisations, they admitted that the situation is bleak and that witness protection arrangements are not working. They have submitted reports to the Brazilian government – who, in turn, have failed to honour their obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child which they signed in 1990. The Convention requires Brazil to produce a report every five years detailing the protection that they are giving to children. So far they have failed to do this. GAJOP will send their submissions direct to Geneva of February 20th if the deadline for submission is again ignored.

Brazil craves to be recognised as Latin America’s leading nation. It says that it would like to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council – but if it cannot comply with basic Treaty undertakings (let alone enforcing its own model legislation on child protection) its reputation will be seriously compromised. As GAJOP puts it: “The law says the child is a privileged person: the reality is that he is the prisoner.” Like many others we spoke to they were highly critical of a proposal to change the age of criminal responsibility so that even younger children may be incarcerated in jail.

At the heart of the problem is a climate of fear and an unwillingness to speak out for fear of revenge. In Sao Paulo, Waldenia Paulino, a Children’s Commissioner denounced the police officers who accosted a courting couple, raped the girl, and then shot her boyfriend. Faced with death threats, Paulino has had to seek sanctuary outside the country.

Shining a light on this darkness has become a near impossibility. When a brave journalist, Tim Lopez, who worked for Global Television Network, broadcast a report 18 months ago he quickly disappeared, was tortured and then shot dead.

Groups like the National Movement for Street Children are extremely wary of documenting cases or providing data: understandably, as one member who gave an American journalist information about child killings was found dead the following day.

GAJOP say that nobody is brought to justice and that, “The whole system is contaminated.”

It is hard for a European to fully comprehend how little value is attached to the sanctity of human life in the drug running favelas in Brazil. Yet I saw countless examples of Brazilians – and others – who have plunged themselves into practical projects to offer relief and help to the children of the favelas and the streets.

I saw inspired projects in the heart of areas where violence is all-pervasive. In Rio, for instance, the Sao Martinho shelters – including those visited by the late Princess Diana, John Major, the former British Prime Minister, and by Cherie Booth QC, wife of the present Prime Minister, Tony Blair – are a superb example of love in action. But the men and women who give themselves tirelessly to these projects know that as well as addressing the symptoms there needs to be a radical and concerted attack on the causes.

Firearms must urgently be taken out of the equation; the drugs barons must be confronted; the police corruption eradicated; and proper educational programmes, based on all-day schooling, established, the promotion of good citizenship, human dignity and social justice, as well as equipping young people to find jobs and make careers. The Jesuit Provincial in Rio, Fr Francisco Ivern SJ, was right to insist that, “Education is the only way for the children of the favelas to reach a better way of life.” These children are the future of Brazil – and without them Brazil has no future.

The continued killings – at the rate of 4 to 5 every day – are a stain on the reputation of Brazil. It is a scandal that so little has been said or done. It is the intention of Jubilee Action to launch an international campaign to combat these killings an Members of Parliament in Britain and Members of the US Congress will jointly inaugurate a web site where every day the names and details of those who have been killed can be added. In the absence of any headstone, let their stories reverberate around the world until Brazil ends this killing.

Doing Business With Benedict (June 30th 2002)

by David Alton –

A venue close to the financial heart of the City of London was where Timothy Wright, the Abbot of Ampleforth, recently led a discussion about “doing business with Benedict.”

The theme of how busy executives and managers can stay spiritual while living out their stressed and hectic lives is also the theme of a new book which the abbot has co-authored with Kit Dollard. Kit, and his wife Caroline, run a retreat house, courses, and workshops in collaboration with the monks at Ampleforth.

Both men displayed a considerable understanding of the harsh realities of a world in which the average chief executive now lasts for only two and a half years before he is sacked. The demise of companies like Enron has also led to a collapse of trust in business ethics.

The thirst for something deeper than crude materialism haunts many of the people who get trapped in the business world. They rapidly realise that a full filofax and even a bulging bank account do not necessarily represent a fulfilled life. Some 7,000 people spent at least one night at Ampleforth last year, many searching for meaning in their lives, many wanting to search for God.

Of course, the spiritual part of our lives is usually the first to be squeezed out by day to day pressures. St.Francis de Sales said we need half an hour every day for prayer and spiritual reflection – except when we are really busy and under pressure. Then we need at least an hour.

The Abbot said that the four Benedictine priorities would be leading; caring; inspiring and being aware.

A good business executive would lead by consulting and by “listening to the younger members of the team”; a caring executive would look after people: “by rubbing too hard to remove the rust, he may break the vessel”; they would inspire – “the greater your maturity the more you can bring others to maturity” and they would be aware and sensitive: “laughter is therapeutic and healing.”

Someone trying to live out their faith in the business world would build relationships and be a servant. A Christian is called to point the way back to the Word of the Master. “Service” said Kit Dollard “is not about taking tents at Wimbledon or champagne at Ascot.”

As I thought about the endless buzz of mobile telephones

and the cacophony of noise in the nearby dealing rooms of the City I was also struck by another of St.Benedict’s maxims that might be applied in the business environment: “There are times when it is best not to speak even though what we have in mind is good.” Advice for the world of politics too.

The rule of St.Benedict is 1500 years old. Yet it remains contemporary. In a world of stress and burn out its effect could be dramatic. And who can doubt that commercial ethics would be radically improved if we seriously decided to do business with Benedict?

Building A Civil Society In Georgia by David Alton March 2003

One of the most impressive figures in the last days of the Soviet empire was its Foreign Minister, Eduard Shevardnadze. His was a restraining hand as he and Mikhail Gorbachev decided whether to use the Russian army to repress Polish Solidarity and other reform movements in Eastern Europe. Since 1992, and now aged 74, Shevardnadze has been President of one of the former Soviet Union’s forgotten outposts, the Republic of Georgia. He was re-elected in April 2000 with 80% of the vote.

During a recent visit I talked to him about the post-Communist challenges facing his country. He opened our conversation with a play on the old Confucian saying about being blessed to “live in interesting times.”

Interesting for Shevardnadze has meant assassination attempts, in 1995 and 1998, covert Russian attempts to destabilise the country, the transition from a collapsing socialist economy to a market-led economy, and the quelling of Mafia-style forces. Georgia’s instability was recently underlined by the captivity of British businessman, Peter Shore.

The country has been dogged by civil war, hostage taking and ambushes of businessmen and journalists, followed by attempts of the provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia to secede from the Republic. But to falsely caricature Georgia as a country in open revolt and dominated by lawless anarchy would be about as fair as the caricature so often used to describe Northern Ireland.

Like Ulster, if left in peace, Georgia will be a primary destination for development, investment and tourism. Students and staff at two of Tibilisi’s universities were emphatic that the country has a great future. One student said to me “ten years, since the collapse of communism and civil war is a short time to build new institutions.”

Shevardnadze argues that his main objective has been to give the country “a distinctive image and a point to its existence. We still have problems with our great neighbour in the north but we do not regard the situation as dramatic”. He adds that the construction of a new pipe-line from Azerbaijan to Europe, via Georgia, will help to regenerate the economy and help his country to become “the bridge” between east and west. The Baku-Tibilisi Ceyhan and Baku-Tibilisi Erzerum pipe lines will be the core of an economic corridor that will revive the “silk road” that once linked Europe and the Orient.

The pipeline venture is being co-ordinated on behalf of Shevardnadze by Giorgi Chanturia, the President of the Georgian International Oil Corporation, who has the drive and vision to make the project a reality. Impressively, he insists that any economic gains must have collateral benefit for the ordinary citizens. Astutely, he understands that a huge investment ( of up to £16 billion, including a 36% stake by British Petroleum) will be dissipated unless strenuous efforts are made to build a civil society.

Shevardnadze underlines the need to make Georgia a secure, safe and attractive place in which to invest. Nino Burjanadze, who chairs the Georgian Parliament, supports him. She told me that Europe needs to become “more proactive in the resolution of the challenges which we face.” Georgia is already a member of the Council of Europe, aspires to membership of the European Union and during the recent NATO summit in Prague signalled their desire to join the military alliance. They see international institutions as the best bulwark against nationalism.

Shevardnadze believes that failure to resolve root causes of ethnic conflict and nationalism “gives impetus to terrorism and provides nourishment for continuing conflict. It scares me to think how small areas of conflict may explode into conflict for the whole world.” He may have been thinking about the diverse sub groups that comprise Georgia’s population as he said this. According to the British Foreign Office, Georgians (including subgroups like the Svanetians and Mingrelians), comprise 71% of the population, Armenians 7.7%, Azeris 6%, Russians 6.5%, ossete 3% and Abkhaz 1.8%.

In common with their neighbours in the Balkand and Eastern Europe the reconcilining of ethnic interests with those of the minorities remains a major challenge.

Shevardnadze says that the major task for the Security council should be conflict resolution, and that the war on terror should be accompanied by a war on the root causes of terror: “This is achievable is we use half the vigour we use in pursuing terrorism.” He also ruefully muses that the UN and the Security Council “have got used to these conflicts,”; that a greater sense of urgency is needed in promoting economic development – such as the Georgian energy corridor – in facilitating the resolution of conflict. Reflecting on the continuing war in Chechnya, and its pernicious effect on Georgian stability, Shevardnadze

calls for a “dialogue of cultures.”

Georgia is a small country – with a population about the size of Ireland. It knows that it has to create a regional identity for the three countries of Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia, and that they will either live together or hang together. The unresolved war between Armenia and Azerbaijan continues to bedevil the region while two major territorial disputes inside Georgia are crying out for international mediation and resolution.

The Georgians point to their long and admirable tradition of co-existence between the great faiths, and the once persecuted Church is playing a crucial role in guiding the nation. 65% of Georgians belong to the Georgian Orthodox Church.

The Georgian Orthodox Patriarch, Ilia II, who presides over an ancient church established by a Palestinian woman, St.Nino, in the fourth century, has worked hard to give Georgia focus. It is supportive of Shevardnadze’s attempts to build a healthy civil society. He also points out that the Jews describe Georgia as “one European country where there is no history of anti-Semitism.”

The Patriarch says that when Pope John Paul II visited the country he placed a map of the region on the table and told the Patriarch that “the geographical location of Georgia has placed it in a most difficult position and it has always had to show courage in defending its beliefs, culture and heritage.” The country’s geography will always leave it vulnerable but paradoxically this vulnerability can also imbue its people with creativity and ingenuity.

The Church is in the enviable position of enjoying widespread respect and support. According to the Georgian Opinion Research Business Initiative (GORBI), compared with the Parliament’s 10% approval rating, more than 70% consider the Church to be Georgia’s most trustworthy institution. Overwhelmingly the public also identifies corruption and unemployment as the two most important challenges.

The Patriarch told me that Georgia would like to emulate the western churches in developing social and educational institutions. He recalls the Chinese proverb that rather than giving a man a fish it is better to teach a man how to fish.

Ilia also wants to see spiritual renewal and says that young people – many of whom are to be seen in its churches – are its great hope: “these days the children are teaching their parents.” One of the more distressing aspects of post-communist society have been the predators – economic and cultural – who have set out to take whatever pickings they can grab. Instead of sheep stealing young Orthodox believers western Christian pastors should be giving the Church practical help and support to fulfil its mission.

The next generation of Georgians, like Mamuka Dolidze, of the European House is impressive and formidable. Their impact is significant enough for the electricity to have been cut from the part of the building where we were launching an initiative to draw Georgia into associate membership of the European Union.

Such maladroit and blatant tactics only puts more fire into the belly of men like Dolidze who remind me of the visionary zeal of the Catholic pioneers of the early European Community. The common European house is a room of many mansions and we should ease the way for this little country on Europe’s eastern periphery to take up early residence.

At the end of World War Two the altruism of the American-led Marshall Aid Programme enabled strong and secure democracies to emerge in Western Europe. Something equally ambitious is needed in the southern Caucases.

We have a great deal in common with the Georgians – including a patron saint. I left the country on November 23rd, when the Georgian Orthodox celebrate the feast day of St.George. As they set about slaying their contemporary dragons the Georgians will need all the strength he can give them.

Column December 7th 2003 : David Alton

Politicians and the oldest profession…

There is a story about an argument that ensues between a doctor, a lawyer and a politician. All of them claim that theirs is the oldest profession.

The doctor insists that his is the oldest profession: “because a doctor took a rib out of Adam in order to make Eve.”

“No,” says the lawyer, mine is the oldest profession because a lawyer created order out of the chaos that existed in the firmament before time began.”

“No”, insisted the politician, “mine is the oldest profession, because we created the chaos.”

In reality, both the politicians and the lawyers can take some of the credit, and the blame, for many examples of order and of chaos. The link between the making of law and its administration is obvious – and perhaps that’s why so many lawyers have been attracted into politics.

As politicians seek to meddle in the administration of the law it is worth reflecting on how easily political interference can wreak havoc and bring chaos; and how, also, political interference can ultimately lead to the corruption and subjugation of an independent judiciary.

Perhaps it is more important then ever, therefore, that those who have a love of law and its independence from political taint should themselves think about how they can help to strengthen public and civic life.

Lawyers, like the rest of us are a pretty mixed bunch.

One of the most colourful of the last century was F.E.Smith, Lord Birkenhead as he became. A close friend of the young Winston Churchill, Smith would rise to the post of Attorney General in 1915 and Lord Chancellor in 1919.

One famous FE Smith story recalls how each morning he would be observed leaving the National Liberal Club in London. One day Churchill, who was then l Home Secretary, bumped into him and asked him why he was so often seen coming in and going out of the National Liberal Club: “Is that what it is?” he asked: “I though it was the public convenience.”

GK Chesterton’ despised F.E.Smith famously writing one of his best poems about him – and concluding with the acerbic words: “Chuck it Smith.”

Another twentieth century lawyer-politican was Hartley Shawcross, Attorney General and MP for St.Helens, he had Chambers in Liverpool, and was Chief Prosecutor for the War Crimes Trials at Nuremburg.

In his closing speech at Nuremburg Shawcross remarked “In all our countries, when perhaps in the heat of passion or for other motives which impair restraint, some individual is killed, the murder becomes a sensation. Our compassion is roused, nor do we rest until the criminal is punished and the rule of law vindicated. Shall we do less when not one but 12 million men and women and children are done to death, not in battle, not in passion, but in a cold calculated deliberate attempt to destroy nations and races.”

Shawcross reminded his generation that such tyranny and brutality could only be resisted in the future not simply be “military alliances but firmly on the rules of law.”

This passionate belief in the upholding of law and in the administration of justice is central to the upholding of civilised values; to the maintenance of human rights and hard won liberties. The rule of law determines the way in which we govern ourselves in Britain. It is the very bed rock of our parliamentary system and the corner stone of our democratic institutions. We can gently poke fun at lawyers like F.E.Smith or appreciate the passionate prose of a Hartley Shawcross; we can be exasperated by legalistic pedantry or infuriated by lawyers fees but ultimately we should count ourselves fortunate to be living in a country governed by the rule of law.

Ends

Universe Column 12th May 2002 – Say An Ave For Good Citizens

On Monday night (13th May) Cardinal Murphy O’Connor will make an important speech in Liverpool about the role Catholics should play in civil society.

The challenge we face is to remain faithful to the values of the gospel while living in a plural and diverse society.

Our Lord called for personal change and also urged his followers to change the world by being “salt and light.”

St. Paul understood the importance of belonging to civil society when he proclaimed that he was “a citizen of no mean city”.

As a politician, I am always conscious of the witness of St Thomas More and St Edmund Campion, both of whom were very clear about where the clash between honouring the State and following our faith – “the king’s good servant, but God’s first” – can lead.

The world may change but God’s law remains. Sadly, however, we live in an age where a great threat is posed to our national life by the horrific assault on human life, by our destruction of life-long familial commitments, and by the cult of materialism.

For the Catholic citizen the “imago Dei” question is the supreme question. Every person is made in the image of God and entitled to have their dignity and worth upheld from creation until natural death – from the womb to the tomb.

Catholics have long been taught the importance of civic duty. The gospel does not offer us a debatable, amendable composite clause with options for loving our neighbour on days it suits us. We are given a clear command. It is an obligation.

Cardinal Hume spoke of our obligations to “one human family”; Cardinal Murphy O’Connor says, “The Gospel invitation to love includes helping those in need and playing an active part in building a society of justice and compassion.”

Repeatedly Pope John Paul II’s encyclicals have called us to engagement with the world and its culture.

This is not a uniquely Christian view, indeed we would stand with Aristotle, but secularists have a duty to understand this tradition and not to misrepresent it.

Put simply, perhaps using a suitably Catholic acronym, our civic duty is threefold: to be Active, Vocal and Engaged. This formation must take place within our families, our parishes and our schools.

This is a message which society at large needs to hear. Hobbes and Locke, John Stuart Mill and Isaiah Berlin, still less Marx or Hegel have little to say to us about how to build or sustain such relationships, or how to protect families or communities. Yet these are the questions which trouble people today and which the Cardinal will address in his lecture tomorrow.

GIVE US THIS DAY OUR DAILY BREAD.

Address to the 1999 Celebrate Conference.

They say that familiarity breeds contempt. These days, most people are insufficiently stirred by anything to do with faith or religion to feel anything as strong as contempt or anger. Familiarity breeds complacency. Familiarity breeds indifference. Familiarity breeds inertia.

Even those of us who admit to belief frequently parrot the words without conviction and recite them like a mindless mantra. Yet these are the words which Jesus personally gave us. Weighed and tested, pondered upon and ruminated over these words carry awesome consequences for each of us individually and for society at large – in this generation and in every generation which preceded us and which will follow us.

Once on a visit to the Holy Land I visited a Church close to the Garden of Gethsemane where the words of the Pater Noster are inscribed in dozens of diverse languages. It was a visual reminder to me of the universality of Christ’s words and the universality of His church.

Standing there in Jerusalem I was particularly struck by the frailty of the men to whom Jesus first gave these words. Even when He wanted them to keep watch while He prayed they fell asleep, and within hours of of their experience in Garden, with the single exception of John – the disciple whom Jesus especially loved – all of the men had cut a nd run. Peter, particularly, had promised so much and was subsequently so weak. I am always encouraged by this thought because if Jesus chose such humanly weak material on which to build His church, there must be hope for the rest of us.

The Gethsemane Christians fell asleep at their posts – how very like us.

The Gethsemane Christians promised so much – but delivered very little – how very much like us.

The Gethsemane Christians heard the words that Jesus taught them but I wonder whether, like us, they allowed them to become a formula, praying from their lips but not from their hearts.

Each of the words which we are asked to consider in today’s extract from the Lord’s Prayer carry their own message. I have found it personally helpful this Lent that Charles gave me the task of just thinking about this phrase: “Give us this day our daily bread.” Perhaps in the future it will help me to pray the words with more conviction and more intimately from the heart.

The word “Give” is a direct appeal to God Himself to respond to our personal need. Elsewhere in the Gospel, Jesus tells us to ask and it will be given, to trust in the power of prayer. All prayer is answered although it may not be in the way which we would wish. Nor does the response come in our time but in God’s time. On my office wall I have a poster which says “Dear God give me patience, but please hurry.” In our busyness we so easily forget God and forget to pray. When I was first elected to Parliament it was to the Liverpool Edge Hill constituency. During the English Civil War a far more famous battle of Edgehill occurred. As the parliamentarians and the royalists prepared to do battle Lord Astley still found time to ask God to remember him: “Lord thou knowest I must be very busy this day, I may forget thee. Do not thou forget me.”

I am speaking to myself as much as to others when I say that we have to learn anew how to ask, how to trust, how to wait on God and how to receive his gifts. Surely our great English poet, Alfred Lord Tennyson was right when he said that “more things are wrought by prayer than this world ever dreams of.” And so was the Mayo priest who held that “ a family which prays together, stays together.” St.Thomas More, who held two of the highest political offices in the land – as Lord chancellor and Speaker of the House of Commons – knew that pressure and prayer marched hand in hand: “These things, good Lord, that we pray for, give us grace to labour for.” When we ask God to give we do it through prayer. It has always struck me as odd that in extremis the drowning man will utter a pleading gasped prayer to God: “O God save me, don’t let me drown”, but our invocations rarely see the light of day in less extreme circumstances.

Knock and the door shall open, ask and it shall be given: If the Giver is willing to give why do we not more regularly ask?

When we ask God to give help it can be a request for help over the mundane little things or for help in the big picture. Joshua asked for the walls of Jericho to be torn down. They were. That was part of a big picture but Jesus worked His first miracle at the request of His mother. Mary simply told Him that the guests at the wedding feast in Canna had run short of wine. He rectified that.

A couple of years ago I visited the endangered churches of South East Turkey – the Syriannis and the Chaldean Catholics. Like the Coptic Church they have suffered grievous persecution. After compiling my report I travelled back via Ephesus where Paul sparked of the silversmith’s riot, where John is buried, and where Mary’s final home was reputed to have been. At Maryenamma there is a chapel which is also a holy place for Muslims. While I was there a Muslim woman with her multiply handicapped daughter entered and lit a candle. The mother offered her silent prayer. I do not know what she was asking God to give her but I am sure that He heard her prayer. And for a Catholic there is no problem in enlisting another mother or, for that matter, any of the Communion of saints to join with us in offering their prayers too. After all, the wedding guests went to Jesus’ mother with their request and she, in turn, put it to Him.

We ask God to “give us.” I am struck that the first person plural is used rather than the first person singular. And that is so throughout the whole of the Lord’s Prayer. We are asking for ourselves but also for others. The prayer is not the refuge of solitary Christianity or individualism. It is a prayer from the community and for the community. In a parody of the Gospel, 1980s individualism encouraged us to “do unto others before they do you” to take whatever you can, grab whatever you want, trample on whosoever you like, so long as it got you what you wanted.

My late mother, from the West of Ireland, taught us the old Irish saying that “It is in the shelter of each other’s lives that the people live.” The loss of strong community life has led to the Beatitudes of the New Testament being replaced by the Me-attitudes of the late twentieth century. Me, my, I. Rights and entitlements, personal autonomy and choice: these are the words which pepper our individualistic vocabulary. The Lords prayer is the prayer of the community. It is about us, not just me.

In the beautiful picture of the Holy Trinity we meet a God who dwells in community: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

In the Father, the Creator, we encounter a God who tells those he has created that it is not goof for man to live alone. Through His laws he teaches us how to regulate and govern our community life.

In Jesus we meet a builder of community – celebrating its life in the Eucharistic Supper.

At Pentecost we encounter the Holy Spirit who comes aon a small and rather frightened group of disconsolate individuals – bereft and unsure of what to do next – and he welds them into a secure and confident community. They learn to be witnesses – a word which, significantly, in the Greek is the root of our own word, martyr. And, as the Acts of the Apostles they learns to share: everything will be held in common.

In the Trinity, then, we have the perfect picture of community living. Every thing we could possibly want to know about ourselves and how we fit into the world around us is contained in that icon of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

And so we ask God to “give us this day.”

There is an urgency about this prayer. It is for now, this day, not for some far off time or other set of circumstances. Too often our religious faith is put off for another time. We can hear echoes of Augustine’s famous prayer to make me chaste, but not yet; to make me less selfish, but not yet; to make me more considerate, but not yet; to make me less self reliant, but not yet; to make me more open, but not yet; to make me more honest with myself, but not yet; to make me more sensitive, but not yet. We have all been there. But Jesus does not put off for tomorrow what needs to be attended to this day. He teaches us to pray for this day and its needs. Perhaps this urgency is compounded by what Jesus reminds us on another occasion that we never know the coming of the hour, the coming of the day, when our time on this earth will pass.

I suspect that one of the reasons why contemporary society has so much difficulty in talking about death is that having conquered so many peaks and overcome so many technological challenges, we cannot cope with the idea that death remains a chasm which man cannot bridge. We put off getting right with God in the forlorn hope that one day it won’t be necessary. Jesus urges us to pray this day for His Father’s help and for God’s transforming power in our lives. Not someday soon, after we have had one more fling or one more night out on the town.

A conversion experience can be quite dramatic. It was for John Wesley, who experienced a great warming of his spirit. His brother, Charles, in his wonderful hymn, And Can It Be, writes about how he felt like a prisoner in a dungeon whose chains suddenly fell off. Although, even in the case of the Wesleys the final moment of conversion came at the end of quite a long and painful search.

Most of us who are cradle Catholics have never experienced anything quite so dramatic. We have been brought up not just on the Lord’s Prayer, which was given with our mother’s breast milk, but with the drip drip drip of conversion. The lives of the saints, the catechism, the recitation of the rosary, family prayers and the sacramental life of the church, nourishes us and gradually imbibes us with a deep faith which seems to frequently survive against all the odds.

I was recently talking to a highly placed Cabinet Minister. Although no longer practising the faith the Minister admitted through the phrase “once a Catholic” that it is impossible to entirely disown who you are and what has formed you.

Many have what is euphemistically called “a holiday from the faith.” Others drift in and out of the Church. I am amazed by the number of my previously avowedly atheistic contemporaries who have quietly chosen Catholic schools for their children and have equally quietly resumed the practice of Mass attendance and faithful practice. How true are the words “and a little child shall lead them.”

Others return for other reasons. They chose a Church marriage or through bereavement experience again the desperate need for the sacraments. The unchurched are with us in their millions – but as the spontaneous outpouring of religious sentiment after the death of Diana Princess of Wales perhaps demonstrated there is still a huge reservoir of religious sentiment and religious need. Who will reach the unchurched first? The New Agers – with their belief that man can become a god himself – or the Christians?

We must become much more sensitive to removing the road blocks which impede return.

Every parish should set itself the objective of opening a shop in the local high street where books, music, and information about the Church should be available in a coffee shop atmosphere. People who are scared off by the imposing nature of inaccessible church buildings would more easily come in and browse. Give Glory to God in the high street – and then we might see peace to His people on earth.

Christian visibility is needed “this day” and every day. It may be through parish visiting to the sick or through projects for the homeless or through a credit union for the poorest. It may be through a parish mission, preferably spearheaded by the young people of the parish, systematically working through the community street by street, telling the people about the Church and inviting them to take part. If people don’t venture into our churches, could it be because we don’t invite them?

Sometimes all that is needed is to be present.

One of the most moving stories of the year for me was the story of a Catholic couple leaving their parish church at the end of a prayer meeting. On the road side was a young black boy who had been viciously beaten to the verge of death. The couple called the emergency services and stayed with the boy, Stephen Lawrence – whose very Christian name tells its own story of the brutality which a small violent gang of people can inflict on an innocent individual. The last words which Stephen heard as he died was the repeated assurance that he was loved, that he was loved. At moments when you feel deeply ashamed of your colour and of what your compatriots are capable. I thank God that it is still possible for those moments to be redeemed by an act of love; by some small quiet voice breaking through the violence and hatred.

“This day” there will be someone who needs you. I recently met a young woman who told me that her friend had decided to have an abortion. They were both students. She felt betrayed and abandoned by the child’s father and emotionally overwhelmed. Her friend did not give her a lecture but told her that she would give her every support if she decided to have the child. In the event the girl opted for the abortion. Her friend told her that she would meet her that evening when she was dischareged from the abortion clinic. She received a telephone call from the clinic to say that at the last moment she had decided not to go through with it. They baby was subsequently born and although it hasn’t been easy – no-one said that it would be – the child is being brought up by the mother, with a lot of encouragement and practical support.

If the young woman’s friend had held her tongue; decided to say nothing on the grounds that it might have been interfering, the child would not have lived and the mother would have grieved for that baby for the rest of her life. She gave an immediate and loving response -”this day” – not when it might have been too late.

Once in North Africa I was troubled by a woman who was lying by a roadside, surrounded by a cluster of young children. She had her hand outstretched, begging for money. I was in a hurry and didn’t give her anything. When I returned later on the woman was no longer there. Act now, this day, some other day may simply be too late.

So where are we up to?

“Give us this day…. our daily bread”

I am impressed by the use of the word daily. This is not to be an occasional binge or a slap up meal at some grand hotel which I can charge up to Charles’ account. This is to be daily sustenance: the basic food for living. And that bread is to be In Khartoum alone and real.

Mahatma Gandhi once said that although he was not a Christian he could understand a God who chose to make Himself manifest through life sustaining bread. Jesus specifically tells us: “I am the bread of life.”

Jesus does not scorn the need for physical sustenance. His own decision to go into the desert and to live without food for a forty day period, during His time of preparation, does not lead to indifference when He thinks His followers are without food. When they are hungry He takes the loaves of the little boy and feeds the thousands. The miracle is as much about meeting a physical need as well as demonstrating His spiritual power. It also recalls God’s bountiful manna given to His exiled people experiencing the pangs of hunger as they make their way home through the desert. God didn’t want them to starve and nor does he want us to starve – physically or spiritually..

In the Lord’s prayer we ask the Father to relieve our hunger. Ours remains a hungry world in many respects.

According to the World Bank 800 million people are racked by starvation or despair, living below any rational definition of human decency. Poverty and famine are frequently entrenched by civil conflict in the poorest nations.

In Sudan, for instance, an estimated 4 million people are displaced , either internally or as refugees. The humanitarian toll of the war is appalling and not confined to Sudan. The conflict has become one of the major fighting zones in a string of wars across the African continent – conflicts which are interlinked by shifting alliances between governments and rebel movements from Eritrea to Uganda and from Rwanda to Angola.

In Khartoum alone 2 million displaced people live in the squatter areas of Khartoum – 70% of whom have fled the war. Inhabitants have to depend for water on one borehole for every 13,000 people.

Poverty, malnutrition, displacement, poor sanitary conditions, and lack of access to clean water combine to increase people’s vulnerability to diseases such as tuberculosis, cholera, sleeping sickness and guinea worm.

Civil conflict in the Sudan has led to a collapse in health and education services. Estimates of adult illiteracy are 90% for women and 80% for men in the south, and 44% in the north.

In Central America, natural forces, rather than civil conflict, has decimated the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. Hurricane Mitch has exacerbated what was already a grave situation. Prior to the hurricane, Nicaragua and Honduras were already among the poorest nations in the Western hemisphere. In 1997 2.1 million Nicaraguans and 2.6 million Hondurans lived below the poverty line – this represents about half of the population of both countries.

The hurricane and the floods which followed have taken the lives of thousands of people. Crops, houses, hospitals, schools, roads and bridges were destroyed. The Government of Honduras estimate that recovery efforts may cost more than $2 billion and take more than 20 years just to get back to where they wre before Hurricane Mitch. This is a country which before some rescheduling of debt took place had a debt of over $6.1 billion, with the highest per capita debt in the world, at $1,300 per person. Debt service payments of $254 in 1997 took over half of government revenue. Debt service payments in Nicaragua were two and a half times recurrent expenditure in health and education combined. Yet, prior to the Hurricane, over half the population was living below the poverty line and two fifths of poor children were malnourished. Three quarters of the poor live in rural areas. Half of these people are unable to even meet their daily food needs..

Indebtedness, civil conflict, and a lack of generosity from our part of the globe are all contributory factors as we come to survey those hundreds of millions of people who with stretched out hands also pray the prayer, give us this day our daily bread.

And when we ask for bread, what do we give in return?

Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations says that “small arms are used to inflict death or injury upon thousands of civilians every year. It is now vital to stp the cynical trade in small arms to unstable countries.”

Britain is the second largest exporter of arms in the world. 500,000 people are employed in 2,000 arms factories in this country. Since the General Election 22,000 arms export licences have been renewed. In the case of Indonesia alone, 60 new export licences have been granted, even though the Defence Attache at the Indonesian Embassy in London, Colonel Halim, has confirmed that British made tanks and weapons have been used by the Indonesian in East Timor – where more than 200,000 Catholics have been killed. Squaring this with the rhetoric about an ethical arms policy takes some doing. Much needed resources, desperately required in Timor and Indonesia to address endemic poverty, are diverted instead into a campaign of killing and repression. And we are the willing quartermaster. When they ask for bread, we give them weapons. They ask for alms and killed by our arms.

When we are not selling arms, we are demanding repayments of debts. We take back more in repayments than we give in aid. Isn’t this a graphic illustration of the parable of the unforgiving debtor? Isn’t it also worth recalling the story that Jesus told about Dives and Lazarus – the rich man and the poor man. For refusing to give even the crumbs off his table the poor man is condemned to Hades where he is burnt in hell fire. When they ask for bread, we give them crippling debts and demand repayment at usurious rates of interest.

In another parable, the story of the Good Samaritan, we see the key to how we should act. Here is a man who uses his resources to ensure the well-being of another. The Samaritan has the goodness to stop and help the victim by the roadside. He puts the transport which he has available at the victim’s disposal and then he is able to help him further because he has the funds to pay the inn keeper. If he hadn’t had that wealth he would have been unable to help. Having wealth is not the problem – it’s what you do with it.

Elsewhere Jesus tells his parable of the talents. Once again the criticism falls on the man who fails to use his talents properly. We have so much of the eart’s wealth, so much of its talent. How do we share it how do we use it? By way of illustration, although there has been a modest and welcome increase in our aid programme, it is still lkess than 0.3% of our entire GNP. Part of that programme is support for organisations such as the United Nations population Fund (UNFPA) and the International Plannee parenthood Federatyion (IPPF). In the past 18 years UNFPA has received £121 million. Over the same period, the IPPF has spent more than $14 million in China alone supporting coercive population measures. The one child policy makes China the only country in thew world where it is illegal to have a brotyher or a sister. When they ask for bread, women are forcibly sterilised, forcibly fitted with an IUCD, or forcibly aborted.

We are constantly told that there are too many people in the world but instead of addressing poverty we attack population. There is sufficient in the world for our needs but not our greeds.

Now it could be that if it is found to be safe genetically modified food could make a significant contribution to feeding the world. But instead of treading cautiously and inspiring confidence we suppress and attempt to manipulate reasonable debate.

Twenty two of London’s thirty three borough councils, fourteen County councils and even the House of

Commons Cafeteria have all banned genetically modified (GM) food. Yet in Parliament anyone who

questions the wisdom of allowing the planting and subsequent sale of such food is rounded on for

scaremongering.

. You would have thought that after the debacle over BSE that a little caution – and not to say humility – was now called for.Like the Bourbons – who despite their experiences at the hands of the revolutionaries had famously learnt nothing – our modern Bourbons, from the Prime Minister down, are dazzled by the promise of great scientific advances, seduced by the promises of crops which will have a greater resistance to disease, and enticed by the spectre of higher yields.

Four GM foods have already entered the UK’s food supply. The responsibility for that rests with the

previous Government but their successors say that these foods are entirely safe and that new crops

will only be permitted when safety is certain.

But how can they utter any of this with such conviction? On what evidence do they base these claims?

What continuing studies will be carried out into the long-term effects on the immune

system and on people’s health? What contingency plans do they have for human health if the crops

mutate and it all goes hideously wrong?

It hardly inspires confidence when one dissenting scientist, Arpad Pusztai, has his work suppressed.

Nor is public confidence boosted by Ministers like Lord Sainsbury, who have been such open advocates

of GM foods. He is said to have been inspired by the molecular scientists Crick and Watson.

Significantly they once described their work as “essentially anti-religious.” It’s all part of the age old desire of man to play the role of God.

Transplanting human genes into our food supply, like the development of human clones as a spare-part

body banks are scientific developments which reek of conceit. They are driven on by vanity

and by vested interest. Just look at the people who make the decisions and how these awesome

questions are decided.

The advisory committee on human cloning consisted of four scientists, two of

whom are directly associated with the pharmaceutical industry, and who before their appointment had

publicly expressed support for therapeutic cloning. Although this involves the deliberate creation of a human embryo, which is then plundered for tissue, little consideration has been given to the ethics of permitting this.

Last week’s New Scientist (ital) reported that in the Tottori University in Japan they have grown human sperm in the testicles of rats and in this country, at Bristol University, they are conducting experiments on the ability of human sperm to penetrate hamster eggs. This puts the Prime Minister’s comments about safe to eat cucumbers and lettuces into context.

Scientists routinely assert that it is perfectly safe to east genetically modified food, to clone human beings and to cross previously inviolable species boundaries. But who decided this? Certainly not Parliament.

In the absence of any broadly based national standing commission to examine the ethical

implications, the science is being allowed to completely outstrip the ethics.

There should be an outright ban on all human cloning and until there is a proper assessment of the risks and benefits and there should be a moratorium on the sowing of genetically manipulated crops – which will seep into our environment and destroy non- modified species and the countryside. Those which are imported should be properly labelled – in writing which does not depend on a magnifying glass. And scientists and food producers alone should not be allowed to dictate the terms of a debate which cuts to the very heart of our humanity.

Our daily bread is needed for our physical and our spiritual strength. Let’s ensure that it is life giving, not life taking, and that we treat what we have been given with great respect and a concern always for those who will inherit the earth from those who have been given custody of it in this generation.

Ends.

archive4

Celebrate Conference: April 29th 2001 David Alton.

When asked recently whether there was anything in his Catholic faith that made him feel glad he was a Catholic, a blunt Lancastrian told me he could think of nothing. It was, he said, a daft question.

I was sorry that he was not with me over Easter week at Celebrate, the Catholic Family Conference.

For the eighth year in succession this annual event was being staged in the West Country at Ilfracombe. More than 1,200 Catholic people were present – half under the age of 23. The theme for the week was The Eucharist. Plenty here to be glad about.

Here was a Church full of vigour and enthusiasm, at times prayerful and reverent, at other times intelligent and listening, worshipping through music, through prayer, through adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and through daily Mass.

These were people well aware that being a Catholic today makes you a part of a counter-culture, in headlong collision with prevailing ideas and values. Far from being intimidated by this prospect, delegates reinforced and encouraged one another.

The teaching team this year included Monsignor Mark Coleridge, an Australian biblical scholar, who is a secretary and speech writer to Pope John Paul II. An American theologian, Dr.Marcellino D’Ambrosio, spoke on The Real Presence, on Getting More Out of the Mass, and on the role of The Priest, At the end of his talk those priests and deacons who were present were invited forward and delegates, as a sign of appreciation of the commitment of our clergy, gave them prolonged applause.

There were also excellent talks by Joan le Morvan on The Passover and by Dave Wells on the role of The People. Each day workshops and seminars considered a whole variety of themes.

Best of all are the streams designed for the young people. After the creche, 3-5s join the Little Lights, years 1 and 2 are with the Bright Sparks, years 3 and 4 are at Switched On, years 5 and 6 are with People of Power, years 7 and 8 attend Cross Purposes, 14-15 year old join The Pulse, and the young adults gather at Joel’s Bar. The Catholic communities who organise these groups – such as Cor-Lumen Christi Community and the Sion Community – do a remarkable job: so much so that the overwhelming question from young people at the end of the week is to ask whether they can book in again for next year.

Celebrate makes available tapes of the conference proceedings, and the Catholic Evangelisation Services, through the work of people like David Payne, are developing video resources for use in parishes.

When Charles and Sue Whitehead pioneered the Celebrate Conference eight years ago they can have had little idea of how it would take root. For married couples it is especially difficult to get away for Retreats and many parents despair about the inadequate formation of the children. Yet we all know there is a hunger and a thirst for knowledge of the faith. By combining good teaching with fun and good shared company the organisers have hit on an ideal formula.

The Celebrate model is one which needs to be replicated in the north of England and in other parts of the United Kingdom and Ireland. No-one underestimates the amount of work involved in staging such a professional and successful venture but there is no doubt in my mind that it will be through this sort of approach that the Church will be strengthened and will grow in the future. It may even provide the critical Lancastrian with an answer to his question.

Celebrate Conference 2002

Within days of distributing the brochures for this year’s Celebrate, the Catholic family conference, all 1,300 places were booked up. Sadly, dozens of applications had to be declined because all the available accommodation had been filled.

The venue at Ifracombe, in North Devon, is in a lovely location but is restricted by capacity to remain at is current size. Perhaps the organisers will use next year’s tenth anniversary of this excellent initiative to open a second conference in the north of England.

Celebrate is one of the success stories of the Catholic Church. It attracts large numbers of young people and is teaming with life. Charles and Sue Whitehead and the team who work with them bring together a great synthesis of good teaching, fellowship and fun.

Two American Catholics, Dave Nodar and Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio, brought to life some of the documents of the Second Vatican Council and the teaching of Paul VI on evangelisation. They contrasted modern relativism – where the phrase “follow your conscience” is used to justify doing whatever you want – with the absolutes of Church teaching and orthodoxy. Undoubtedly the end of the twentieth century was a time marked by “a crisis in truth”. Reflecting on the scandals in the Church Nodar and D’Ambrosio concluded that this was a time of purification. Satan, sin and self are the things that oppress us and Jesus is both the model and the means to salvation.

In its mission statement, the Second Vatican Council proclaimed that it wanted “the whole world to hear the message of salvation” and I was struck by the deep conviction and energy that so many of the contributors at Celebrate are determined to bring to this task.

The youth streams hold their own sessions – led by impressive lay communities such as Cor Lumen Christi – and at the end of the week they present music, mime and sketches to the conference. In years to come these young people will be the powerhouse of the English Church.

At a series of seminars and workshops participants learnt the art of icon painting, the use of mime and designing websites. Speakers such as Dwight Longnecker explained how to develop parish groups for the study of scripture, Joanna Bogle spoke on celebrating feasts and seasons, Peter Garrett on life issues, and James Mawdsley on suffering. Monsignor Keith Baltrop and David Wells tackled evangelisation through prayer and the spirituality of parenthood.

Pope Paul VI famously remarked that “evangelisation is the essential mission of the Church. She exists to evangelise”. St. Paul challenges us to “blush for the gospel”. But before we can reach the world we have to reach our own hardened hearts. Celebrate is undoubtedly a good place to start this process. The sooner it flourishes in every region of the country the better it will be.

Ends.

The Case For Married Priests – 2002- Column by David Alton

Cardinal Bernard Law’s Boston diocese has been asking whether the rule requiring priestly celibacy should be relaxed. This is a debate that re-opens whenever there is a scandal involving a priest or whenever an article is penned about the decline in vocations in Britain and the USA.

It would be far better to debate the issue of married priests on its own merits. Linkage of the two questions makes a sober and considered assessment difficult to achieve. But, like it or not, now that the debate has opened we should approach it rationally, weighing all the arguments.

The starting point should be to dispose of some myths and misconceptions.

Myth one is that ending celibacy would end scandal. This is as wrong-headed as it is offensive to the holy men and women who live exemplary lives. The Episcopal (Anglican) church in Canada has married clergy but has been devastated by child abuse. Adultery and divorce make for new scandals – as they do now when a vicar is involved. It is always news when we fall short of the ideal for which we strive.

Myth two is that celibacy is a doctrine of the church. It is not. It is simply a rule – but one which has its origins in New Testament times. St.Paul says that it is better to be single and to give up everything for God but he cautions that if you cannot manage this then you should marry. Jesus chose not to marry.

Traditionalist can, of course, point to married clergy for the first thousand years of the life of our Church. That situation was ended in order to combat scandals such as simony. So this is not about a liberal or conservative agenda. It is about appropriate practice for individuals and for the times.

Myth three is that Pope john Paul II will “never allow” married clergy. This ignorant assertion ignored his important decision to waive the celibacy rule for hundreds of Anglican men who now successfully minister as our priests and make a major contribution to the life of our church. It ignores the centuries of full communion we enjoy with Eastern Catholics (sometime called Uniate or Greek Catholics) who have married priests. Like the Orthodox churches they choose their bishops from the celibates.

There is a powerful argument for adopting the Eastern Catholic practice throughout the whole church. By upholding both the ideal of celibacy for those who can achieve it – and who give up everything for God – and by harnessing the gifts of mature Catholic families, great balance and energy would come into the Church.

Liverpool Archdiocese bravely ordained a large number of married deacons who have done wonderful work in their parishes. Other dioceses should follow their example and then, instead of reports on whether to close another of our English seminaries, we might be thinking about how we can use them for the formation of eucharistic ministers, deacons and mature married priests and for the deepening of our lay communities.

Parishes will get none of this on the cheap. The level of giving to support married people will have to rise. We already leave too many of our priests insufficiently supported.

Some of these changes are already underway. We should get on with them, not as a reaction to institutional failure, but because a failure by the church to mobilise its resources to evangelise and to fulfil its pastoral duties really would be a scandal.

Ends.

archive2

Article for The Church of England Newspaper.

The Killing Fields Of Darfur – June 2005

David Alton

The Prime Minister made the plight of Africa the focus of his summit talks with George W. Bush during his visit to Washington last week. The Government have also declared this to be the Year of Africa; and the combined efforts of aid charities, the Make Poverty History Campaign, the Commission for Africa, and singular individuals, such as Bob Geldorf, have all ensured that at the forthcoming G8 Summit, Africa will be taken seriously.

But, paradoxically, just as they have discovered in connection with the European Constitution, the political leaders are out of step with public opinion. For while they have been taking welcome strides to grapple with fair trade, levels of aid and debt, the general public, (as confirmed in a recently published poll), were largely sceptical about the effectiveness of our development programme and our polices in Africa. I suspect the reason for this scepticism centres on two words: corruption and conflict.

Put simply, the public have understood what the politicians have taken a long time to comprehend: there’s little point in feeding people if you’re going to leave them to be killed by a marauding armed militia; there’s little point cancelling debts or advocating largely development programmes while the anarchy that prevails in many parts of Africa remains untamed. What development programme can be sustained in a country like the Congo while militias continue with a killing campaign that has claimed more than 3 million lives? Or Rwanda, where one million were killed in a genocide that had been predicted and was avoidable? But perhaps the most salutary example is Sudan.

I travelled in the war torn areas of southern Sudan during the fighting there – which over 19 years claimed 2 million lives. I saw the remains of schools, clinics, and homes – all of which had been reduced to rubble by the bombing campaign of the Khartoum Government. Mercifully, there is now a cease fire and maybe some development will follow. Now the violence has shifted to the west of the country, to Darfur, and history repeats itself you wonder whether, like the Bourbons, the international community has learnt anything from their previous experience.

Last autumn I travelled to Darfur. I published a report through the Jubilee Campaign, and in Parliament I described what I had seen and heard and said I believed that what has been happening in Darfur is genocide in the technical as well as the pejorative sense. But, in some respects, what you call it is irrelevant: the scale and intensity of what is happening is what should most concern us.

When I first raised the depredations of the Janjaweed militia, as long ago as 2001, thousands were said to be dying. By 20th May, 2004, with an estimated 30,000 dead, I asked the Government “What was to happen to change the passive role we have taken so far of merely monitoring the situation? Are we not in grave danger of making the same mistakes that we made at the time of the genocide in Rwanda?”

The Government replied by saying “there is now a ceasefire that has been broadly holding”. But there was never a ceasefire in Darfur and, in any event, the deliberate displacement and corralling, by the Janjaweed militia, of nearly 2 million defenceless people into makeshift camps, will ultimately lead to death as certainly as a bullet in the head. The evidence bears me out that while the world has been sleepwalking, Darfur has been dying.

On 15th September last year I told Parliament that, according to the United Nations, the number had risen from 35,000 to 50,000, and then on 18th October, in response to a further question, the Government said it could be as high as 70,000. Last week, in answer to another intervention, they told me that the number was probably over 150,000. Even this figure is disputed, and some respected sources suggest an attrition rate that has reached alarming levels.

On March 23rd 2005, I drew attention to the findings of the House of Commons International Development Committee‘s devastating report on Darfur. They put the number now dead at 300,000, and last month an American university concluded that the number is 400,000. Compare this with the 300,000 people who lost their lives in the recent tsunami in South-East Asia, and you start to get an idea of the scale of this genocide.

On May 2nd, Oxfam published a report echoing a point I have repeatedly made that internally displaced persons in Darfur face starvation because they have been unable to plant crops. When the rains come, access to roads to camps will be washed away. Hygiene, as I have seen, is already compromised and, in addition, the security of humanitarian workers remains an issue.

Meanwhile, the Janjaweed and the Government of Sudan have manipulated the international community – which has been guilty of prevarication and feeble posturing.

Why, for instance, have we not challenged the assertion of the Government of the Sudan that the stationing of a mere 100 Canadian soldiers in Darfur would be “unacceptable interference”?

Of course, I welcome the cash aid we have given the African Union – and the heavy lifting equipment provided by NATO to assist them, — but there are still only 2,400 African Union troops in an area the size of France. We are putting poultices on the problem rather than tackling it at its roots.

We have also been woefully slow in criticising the deep incongruity between the Government of Sudan’s arrest of aid workers, including the head of Médecins Sans Frontières in Khartoum, Paul Foreman, for exposing the systematic rape of countless women, the burning of villages and the laying waste of vast areas of land in Darfur, and the failure to arrest and bring to justice any of those responsible.

We also need to ask ourselves some searching questions about role of the United Nations and the ineffectiveness of Security Council resolutions. On March 29, for instance, the Security Council authorized sanctions on individuals responsible for violating international law in Darfur, with penalties including the freezing of assets and travel restrictions and that within 30 days of the passage of Resolution 1591, the U.N. secretary-general was required to appoint a panel to investigate the identify who has been responsible for the human rights atrocities in Darfur. Needless-to-say, like the resolution requiring the disarming of Janjaweed militia by August last, 2 months later nothing has still been done.

This simply adds to the general belief in Khartoum that we will appease while they continue to kill with impunity

I am glad that the International Criminal Court will try to bring nearly sixty people to justice but let’s hope their effectiveness will be greater than in Bosnia – and that this will not be used as another fig leaf for international inertia in Darfur.

It’s also worth noting that last month Musa Hilal, leader of the Janjaweed, showed his contempt for the international community and the victims of the Darfur crisis by categorically stating in a speech that he would not be subject to any of the resolutions passed either by the UN Security Council or the UN Human Rights Commission. Speaking in Kebkabiya, northern Darfur, he said that he would not be disowned, would not agree to relinquish any weapons, and that,

“Nobody will be able to try me or bring me to justice in any way”.

According to the Darfur Centre for Human Rights and Development,

“His accounts were further corroborated by the heavy presence of officials of the Sudanese government at a meeting who had accompanied him and who had facilitated his travel to the area”.

Let no one be in any doubt about the umbilical cord that ties the Janjaweed militia to the Government of Sudan and their complicity in the tragedy that has unfolded there.

Africa’s centres of conflict – and Darfur remains what the United Nations has described as “the world’s greatest humanitarian catastrophe – hold the key to all other issues. The self-sufficient and self reliant people of Darfur were never reliant on hand outs and aid and were not in need of G8 Summits and the rest. It is the man-made conflict that has dispossessed them and until that conflict is resolved progress of any kind is impossible.

archive4

Column February 1st 2004: David Alton.

Illegal To have A Brother or A Sister

China remains the only country in the world where it is illegal to have a brother or a sister – although India and Vietnam also promote population policies that target second and third children, especially when the child is a girl. But China’s one-child policy is the most systematic and the cruellest. It is coercive and enforced with punitive retaliatory measures against anyone who breaks the law.

The Marie Claire magazine brought home the shocking reality of this policy by publishing a photograph of a baby girl lying dead in a Chinese gutter. She was by the side of a busy road, with few pedestrians even giving her a second glance. The story from the Chinese province of Hunan, where many Catholics live – graphically illustrates the evil of a policy financed indirectly by the British Government and British taxpayers.

The woman who picked up that baby girl’s corpse said: “I think the baby had just died. I touched her skin, and it was warm. Blood was still coming out of her nose.” TThe magazine reported that “eventually a man picked up the baby, put her into a box and dropped her into a rubbish bin”.

The woman was subsequently interrogated by police (who, needless-to-say, failed to investigate the child’s death). Then the police confiscated photographs the woman had taken. Mercifully, one film survived. Those shots of a tiny girl – accorded no more dignity than detritus – must be the most powerful and moving image of this shocking policy that the world has ever seen.

As for the parents of these children, they are terrified of being caught giving birth to illegal children. So, they abandon or kill their babies: one aid worker in Shanghai described how a father dropped his daughter down an old well so no one would know that she had ever existed.

In Parliament, last month, I again highlighted this barbaric policy – and during an earlier attempt to stop the funding of the Chinese Population Association (who obtain their money from the UNFPA and IPPF) – I cited the evidence Gao Xio Duan – a former population control official, who escaped from China and gave evidence to a Congressional Committee.

Describing herself as “a monster” she recounted how she and doctors had injected lethal formaldehyde into babies’ skulls during compulsory abortions. She said: “I saw how the baby’s lips were sucking and how its limbs were stretching. Then the doctor injected the poison into its head, and the child died and was thrown into the trash.”

The Congressional Committee heard evidence of how woman have gone into hiding, had their homes burnt to the ground, faced persecution and fines and compulsory sterilisation. The fines of 10,000 yuan are seven times greater than an average peasant’s annual income.

Some estimates now suggest that 17 million girls are “missing” from the Chinese population and in some rural districts, where the ratio of boys to girls was two to one a decade ago, now have a ratio of six to one. The social consequences are catastrophic. They even have a name for it “the little emperor’s syndrome” – referring to the pampered and distorted mentality of the children without siblings.

So what do we do about China – who not only kill their own children but, despite some welcome economic relaxations, still pursue a punitive policy towards political and religious liberties?

Do we simply say, as many politicians do, that because China is carrying out economic reforms (and more specifically, lucrative markets are opening to the West), we should just hope that more fundamental change will come in the future?

Some people in Britain and Europe have even been calling for a relaxation of the European Union’s embargo on trade in arms with the People’s Republic of China.

Surely this simply sends the message that we don’t really care; that you can rely on us to be like those pedestrians in Hunan: that we’ll look the other way. How can it ever be “business as usual” with a regime that brutalises its own people , leaves little girls to die in the gutter, and oppressed the most basic rights of women, their husbands and their families?

Ends

Column by David Alton. November 1999.

The decision of the Church authorities in Israel to close the doors of the Holy Land’s most sacred

sites was a justified and urgent appeal to Christians in the West to rally to the suffering Church in the Middle East.

A few weeks ago I visited the site in Nazareth which triggered this protest. It is a prime piece of land immediately adjacent to the basilica of the Church of the Annunciation – where the Angel Gabriel told Mary that she would give birth to Jesus.

Some of the authorities had hoped that a flight of steps or some appropriate landscaping would link to basilica to the town’s centre. But next to the site is the grave of Saladin’s nephew, Shehab-el-Din and Muslim leaders were determined that a mosque should be erected which would obscure the basilica.

So, is this just another spat between two world religions vying for their place in the sun?

As with most things in the Middle East it is much more complex than that.

Nazareth was once a mainly Christian town. Today, Christians comprise about 30% of a population

of around 60,000. Like other Christians from the ancient churches of the Middle East they have been

facing systematic erosion. Many have been forced from their homes and villages and many have

emigrated. The previous Archdeacon of Nazareth – now the Anglican bishop of Jerusalem – once told

me that Christian pilgrims come to the Holy Land to see the dead stones of holy places but seemed

utterly indifferent to the plight of the country’s living stones. Their situation is worsening by the hour.

Yards away from the site of the controversial new mosque in Nazareth I spoke to Christian shop-

keepers whose shops had been attacked and looted. They were frightened and felt isolated and

vulnerable.

The Israeli authorities have done little to help them and were responsible for allowing the new

mosque to go ahead. Even Yasser Arafat’s appeals to the Muslim leadership to think again have been

ignored. Palestinian Christians are caught between a rock and a hard place.

The Catholic primate in Israel , the Latin patriarch, Michel Sabbah, expressed the growing sense of unease when he said: “It’s not a question of building a mosque – it’s a question of provocation.”

In his brilliant exposition of the plight of the ancient churches, William Dalrymple, in “From The Holy Mountain” , graphically describes the plight of Christians in Turkey, Lebanon, Israel and Egypt. The “living stones” have suffered grievous persecution – and are hanging on in tiny communities, living on a knife edge. As the people are obliterated evidence of their existence is frequently obliterated too.

Fifty years ago one of the founders of the modern state of Israel, David Ben Gurion, recognized that the young state’s reputation abroad would be judged by the way it dealt with its Christian minority. He issued instructions against the looting of Christian holy places such as Nazareth. Reading Dalrymple’s account of the preset day plight of the Armenian and Greek Christians of Jerusalem, Israel’s new leadership needs to rediscover that original good impulse.

The situation was summed up graphically by the Armenian Bishop Hagop who says “We have been here for 1,600 years, yet we cannot be sure what will happen tomorrow. I am seriously worried for our

future. the Israelis have not granted one building permit to us since 1967. It took four years for us to get a telephone for our infirmary.”

In 1922 some 52% of the Old City of Jerusalem was Christian. today they make up just under 2.5%.

The systematic erosion of their rights lies behind Archbishop Sabbah’s heartfelt protest. Will the West listen?

What an extraordinary thing if the beginning of the third millennium were to herald the destruction of the ancient Christian community in the land where Christianity was born.

Column by David Alton for January 5th 2003

Christians In India.

Epiphany is a time when we traditionally look east and a time when we celebrate the gifts that was laid at the infant Jesus’ feet. Perhaps on this Epiphany you can spare a thought for the suffering Christians who live in the near-east and Far-east and consider how you can use some of your gifts – such as the liberty to write a letter or the opportunity to help groups like Jubilee Campaign or Aid to The Church In Need. One country where Christians are in need of your help is Idia.

Catholics associate India with the apostle St. Thomas, who is credited with first bringing the faith to India; with the great missionary work of the Jesuit Saint, Francis Xavier; and with the Nobel Prize winner, Mother Theresa, for her love and devotion to the poor of Calcutta, work I have seen for myself. But we rarely associate India with persecution and suffering, but we should.

More than eight-two percent of India’s population are Hindus. Approximately twelve point five percent are Muslims, and just over two percent are members of India’s Christian minority. India employs a centuries old “caste system,” by which the rights and standard of living of its citizens are immutably determined at birth. India’s Christians, as well as its Muslims and Sikhs, have historically rejected the concept of caste, though many of them have descended from low caste Hindu families and continue to suffer the same social and economic limitations of low caste Hindus.

Since the Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies came to power in India in 1998, it has launched an extremist form of Hindu nationalism called “Hindutva,” to purge the country of religious minorities. The BJP has succeeded in portraying Christianity as a suspect “foreign religion,” has passed legislation to effectively limit the rights and activities of Christians in some Indian States, and has even rewritten the nation’s history books. Christians are now slanderously mischaracterized to India’s more than one point two million schoolchildren. Upper caste Hindu groups like the BJP, fear that Christians may try to convert large numbers of lower caste Hindus. As this could destroy the rigid caste hierarchy, the BJP has targeted Christians with a vengeance.

Violent attacks against Christians have dramatically increased since the BJP’s ascension to power and the central government has done virtually nothing to stop the violence or to punish the perpetrators. In scores of violent incidents that began to escalate in the summer of 1998, priests and missionaries have been murdered, nuns have been raped and assaulted, churches have been bombed, and Christian converts and parishioners have been intimidated and harassed.

These are just a few examples:

– In the past two years at least thirty people were injured by a bomb explosion during a Christian religious meeting in Machlipatnam; several bombs exploded in or near Christian churches and institutions in the southern states of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

– In July 2000, a Jesuit priest was attacked and killed while riding home on his motorcycle in South Bihar.

– In August 2000, a Catholic Priest was beaten in Gandhinagar, Gujarat for distributing Christian literature.

– In September 2000, a Catholic Church in Karnataka was vandalized.

– In November 2000, in Surat district, Gujarat, a Hindu mob vandalized a small church.

– In December 2000, a Catholic Priest was attacked and killed in Manipur.

– Earlier in Kurpania, Bihar, a nun was raped and a convent looted. This is in addition to the September 1998 rape of six nuns in a Navapeda convent.

– Also in December 2000, a Christian school near Ranchi in Jharkand State was forced to close after a series of attacks, including assaults and a rape against teachers and staff.

– In January 2001, two Christian missionaries and their followers were beaten in a village near Udaipur, Rajasthan because they were watching a film on the life of Christ.

These examples illustrate the gravity of the situation – and I could mention many more. As we in the west celebrate this Epiphany let’s not forget the suffering of Christians in the east and make a resolution to use our gifts to act on their behalf.

Column: Christmas 2001

David Alton.

G.K.Chesterton said that it was the writings of Charles Dickens which led to the Victorians renewing the traditional English love of Christmas celebrations. Banned during the Puritan period and side-lined during the eighteenth century, the religious renewal of the nineteenth century provided fertile soil in which Mr.Dickens could plant his seeds.

The more materialistic twentieth century saw religious celebration often eclipsed by a consumerist orgy of spending and frenzy; and yet, through the din we know that something unique occurred.

People say that September 11th “changed everything.” At one level, in our attitudes towards terrorism and security for instance, that may be true but at a more fundamental level life goes on just the same. The only event that “changed everything” was the birth of a baby who came to save.

The Church which placed a poster outside its door stating that “Only Sinners Welcome Here” understood why Jesus – whose very name means rescuer – came to change us and to save us from ourselves.

That is something which really is worth celebrating.

The innocence of the Christmas Crib scene – a gift to us of St.Francis of Assisi – still captivates the hardest and most cynical of hearts. Watching my four-year-old playing the part of the sleeping angel in a Nativity Play reminded me how important it is to preserve innocence and childhood.

And yet, how do we begin our Christmas celebrations? At Midnight Mass – where we commemorate the death of Jesus, not His birth; where we recall the inhumanity of His accusers, not their love.

There is a children’s picture story where Santa Claus is reading to the baby Jesus the story of the baby’s birth. “How does it all end?” The baby asks. Perhaps because we know the answer to that question we can be very realistic about Christmas, not least because of the visceral hatred that even today lacerates the little town of Bethlehem. Christmas is not about trying to escape reality and we make a grave error when we put it onto a par with Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings – turning it into a religious Camelot.

Even within days of His birth, the life of Jesus is threatened by Herod and his thugs. The theme of the slaughter of the holy innocents is brilliantly caught in the carol, “In Rama There Was A Voice Heard” – by Sullivan -, which I heard at my first carol evening this year.

By contrast, some strangers – possibly Zoroastrians – travelling from the East recognised who they encountered and brought gifts and adored Him.

There is the story of the sculptor who having made a sculpture of Our Lord was asked, “what is the best way to view it?”. The reply came: “on your knees.” It reminded me of a visit I made to Novgorod – the holy city of the Russians – and after about two hours of continuous standing a companion said “it is a pity they didn’t provide some seats.” An elderly Russian lady turned her head and in perfect English simply said “We would not think it right to sit before our God.”

The wise men on their knees remind us of the awesome nature of the Christmas story. The choice today, in 2001, is the same as it was then – whether to be with Herod or to be with the Magi. As someone recently put it: “there is no neutral ground, no spiritual Switzerland.”

Happy Christmas.

David Alton Christmas 2002

If you can’t come over “all religious” during Advent, limbering up for Christmas, well, when can you talk religion?

Dutifully conscious of how short I fall of the Christian ideal, it’s easy to succumb to the temptation to shut up because we don’t want to “put up.” Personal failure and institutional failure lead to a loss of voice and loss of nerve.

But spurred on by the babe in the crib – and by the engaging circulars that arrive with Christmas cards detailing the important events in the lives of the families of friends – I thought I would take a stab at my own (electronic) circular to a few friends.

I have also been spurred on by “The Man Born To Be King”, which Dorothy L. Sayers wrote for broadcast by the BBC in 1941. The play caused outrage because she told the story of Christ in contemporary language. The Lords’ Day Observance Society and the Protestant Truth Society sought to ban a broadcast that they considered to promote “irreverence bordering on the blasphemous.” C.S.Lewis, by contrast, considered the plays “excellent, indeed most moving.”

After recording the episode that featured Christ’s crucifixion, the actor Bobby Speight, who played the Christ, just put on his coat and walked out with tears running down his face.

Sayers had already used realism in her nativity play “He That Should Come” and she said that the lack of realism in the sanitised versions of the birth, life and death of Christ “produce a sense of unreality which is very damaging to the ordinary man’s conception of Christianity.” There is something equally unreal about the celebration of our twenty first century Christmases.

This is a time when all the talk is of war. Yet, we don’t need to look very far the see the war we wage on a daily basis on the least of our species.

The harsh reality of contemporary conception and birth were brought home to me in three written answers given in Parliament recently.

In one reply Ministers blandly confirmed that in ten years about a million human embryos have been created and then manipulated, experimented upon, frozen or destroyed. Just 4% have seen the light of day. Contrast this with the disproportionate respect we shower on the fox.

In another reply, a Minister confirmed that more than 80 girls under the age of 12 have been put through abortions. He also admitted that, since 1995, some 25 abortions have taken place on the grounds that the baby had a harelip (one was performed after 24 weeks gestation). In 1990, when I said this would stem from the 1990 legislation I was accused of outrageous scaremongering. In the face of eugenics, perfection tests, and the taking of life itself on the grounds of disability (and a curable one at that) where now are the raised voices of indignation?

A disregard for the value of life before birth is mirrored by the total disregard for life after birth in places like Southern Sudan – where I was a few weeks ago. 2 million dead in 19 years, 4 million displaced people. Children running for fox holes at the sound of approaching bombers, the ruin of a little hut where a whole family, including a pregnant mother, were simply wiped out.

The reality of the Christmas story is that it always precedes the slaughter of the holy innocents. How true in those Sudanese villages where bombs have dropped relentlessly on schools, clinics and homes. How true in Britain in our attitude towards the child in the womb.

And yet, despite all this, there is still something worth celebrating. The Victorians rediscovered that.

G.K.Chesterton said that it was the writings of Charles Dickens which so acutely pointed to the social horrors of his day but which also led to the Victorians renewing the traditional English love of Christmas celebrations. Banned during the Puritan period and side-lined during the eighteenth century, the religious renewal of the nineteenth century provided fertile soil in which Mr.Dickens could plant his seeds.

The more materialistic twentieth century saw religious celebration often eclipsed by a consumerist orgy of spending and frenzy; and yet, through the din we know that something unique occurred.

People say that September 11th , 2001,”changed everything.” At one level, in our attitudes towards terrorism and security for instance, that may be true but at a more fundamental level life goes on just the same. The only event that “changed everything” was the birth of a baby who came to save.

The Church which placed a poster outside its door stating that “Only Sinners Welcome Here” understood why Jesus * whose very name means rescuer * came to change us and to save us from ourselves.

That is something which really is worth celebrating.

The innocence of the Christmas Crib scene * a gift to us of St.Francis of Assisi – still captivates the hardest and most cynical of hearts. This year my five-year-old son, James, graduated from the part of the sleeping angel in the Nativity Play to the role of Joseph. Nativity plays and carol services always remind me how important it is to preserve innocence and childhood; but this year I was also thinking of the manly qualities of Joseph. Where are the men whose girlfriends, wives, daughters and grand-daughters need a Joseph to stand by them today?

Dorothy Sayers was right to say we need a sense of reality as we think about the Christian message.

How do we begin our Christmas celebrations? At Midnight Mass * where we commemorate the death of Jesus, not His birth; where we recall the inhumanity of His accusers, not their love.

There is a children’s picture story where Santa Claus is reading to the baby Jesus the story of the baby’s birth. “How does it all end?” The baby asks. Perhaps because we know the answer to that question we can be very realistic about Christmas, not least because of the visceral hatred that even today lacerates the little town of Bethlehem. Christmas is not about trying to escape reality and we make a grave error when we put it onto a par with Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings * turning it into a religious Camelot.

Even within days of His birth, the life of Jesus is threatened by Herod and his thugs. The theme of the slaughter of the holy innocents is brilliantly caught in the carol, “In Rama There Was A Voice Heard” * by Sullivan -, which I heard at my first carol evening this year.

By contrast, some strangers * possibly Zoroastrians * travelling from the East recognised who they encountered and brought gifts and adored Him.

There is also the story of the sculptor who having made a sculpture of Our Lord was asked, “what is the best way to view it?”. The reply came: “on your knees.” The words reminded me of a visit to Russia, to the ancient city of Novgorod * the holy city of the Russians * and after about two hours of continuous standing a companion said “it is a pity they didn’t provide some seats.” An elderly Russian lady turned her head and in perfect English simply said “We would not think it right to sit before our God.”

The wise men on their knees remind us of the awesome nature of the Christmas story. The choice today, in 2002, is the same as it was then * whether to be with Herod or to be with the Magi. The choice is between presenting our gifts in the cause of life or siding with those who debased and destroy life.

The worst reason for acquiescing is the fear that others will be well aware of our own imperfections. As someone recently put it: “there is no neutral ground, no spiritual Switzerland.” So, if we can’t get “all religious” in the remaining few days before Christmas, when can we?

Happy Christmas.

Column for December 21st: Christmas 2003

by David Alton.

In 1941 Dorothy L Sayers wrote “The Man Born To Be King”, and in controversial circumstances it was broadcast by the BBC. The play caused outrage because Sayers told the story of Christ in contemporary language. The Lords’ Day Observance Society and the Protestant Truth Society sought to ban it because they considered it promoted “irreverence bordering on the blasphemous.” C.S.Lewis, by contrast, considered the plays “excellent, indeed most moving.”

After recording the episode that featured Christ’s crucifixion, the actor Bobby Speight, who played the Christ, just put on his coat and walked out with tears running down his face.

Sayers had already used realism in her nativity play “He That Should Come” and she said that the lack of realism in the sanitised versions of the birth, life and death of Christ “produce a sense of unreality which is very damaging to the ordinary man’s conception of Christianity.” Isn’t there something equally unreal about the celebration of our twenty first century Christmases?

The harsh realities of 2003 were captured for me a few weeks ago on the Burma border – where more than a hundred thousand people are in refugee camps. I met a young boy who saw his parents shot dead by the Burmese military – then fled across the border, was sold to a Thai family, and subsequently ran away to the refugee camp. All this and he is barely eight years of age.

Earlier in the year I was in North Korea – where at least a million people have died of starvation and where the government is engaged in dangerous nuclear brinkmanship with the United States. This is a country where Christmas has bee n banned by the Communists for more than fifty years.

Other realities I have experienced recently include villages in Southern Sudan – where millions of people have been killed, maimed or displaced. How those people must yearn for the simplicity of a happy Christmas..

And none of us need reminding of the suffering in the Holy Land and the victims of terrorism.

No-one wants the celebration of Christmas to be abandoned because of the reality of suffering – but Dorothy Sayers was surely right that tinsel and holly can mindlessly obscure that reality and blot out the whole point.

The reality of the Christmas story is that it always precedes the slaughter of the holy innocents. That’s the reality in those Sudanese villages where bombs have dropped relentlessly on schools, clinics and homes. It’s the reality in the Sudan, in Burma, and in the endless terror attacks. It’s also the reality of our attitude towards the child in the womb and towards the terminally ill and dying.

21st century Christians do not need to be like the Puritans who banned the celebration of Christmas – but we do need to reclaim this great feast from the consumerist orgy of spending and frenzy. And we do need to keep a sense of reality about its point.

The innocence of the Christmas Crib scene – St.Francis of Assisi’s timeless gift to us – still captivates the hardest and most cynical of hearts. But even as we gather around our parish crib we mark a beginning and an end. How do we begin our Christmas celebrations? At Midnight Mass we commemorate the death of Jesus, not His birth; we recall the inhumanity of His accusers, not their love. And, if we didn’t know that Easter is not far behind, Christmas would be about as pointless as celebrating the mid-winter solstice.

Dorothy Sayers was right to say we need a sense of reality as we think about the Christmas message. Perhaps it would be a good time for the BBC to broadcast again her “Man Born To Be King.”

Ends.

archive2

Column By David Alton (Sunday 19th January 2003)

The BBC And Shooting the Messenger

In ancient Greece the messenger was always in danger of being executed when the recipient didn’t care for the message he delivered. The modern parallel is with todays’s media and the desire to shoot the messenger because we don’t always like their message.

When the criticisms are fair, and the coverage balanced, we should accept this as part and parcel of life in an open society. When it isn’t, we should say so. And, as international Catholic broadcasting networks such as EWTN (Eternal Word)are demonstrating, alternatives can also be created that make a virtue of truth and fairness.

It would be absurd to suggest that nothing good any longer comes out of the BBC but, as Britain’s largest minority, Catholics have every right to voice their concerns when public broadcasting defames, caricatures or misleads. Millions of us, after all, pay our licence fees towards the BBC network.

When BBC broadcasters appear on platforms attacking the principal of Christian schools and then trying to play the role of independent arbiter on “Newsnight” we have every right to some scepticism.

Should also simply be quiet about the BBC’s recent travesty of the life of Mary? This attempted to put on one side the ‘myth’ of the Virgin of historic, orthodox tradition – and promoted the BBC’s other ‘real’, ‘historical’ Mary, who the programme suggested had sex with Joseph before marriage and an adulterous relationship with a Roman legionary.

This was yet another attempt to ‘demythologise ‘ and to deconstruct the Bible.

It surely crosses the boundary of making a scurrilous attack on Christianity and ridicules the faith not just of Christians but Muslims too. Why is it that when it comes to the historicity of scriptural texts, the BBC seeks to undermine and criticise, rather than celebrate or examine the consequences for human action?

Some of today’s programme makers should stand at the entrance of Broadcasting House and take a look at the Latin dedication on the building proclaiming that “This temple of the Arts and Muses is dedicated to Almighty God by the first Governors of Broadcasting in the year 1931, Sir John Reith being Director-General. It is their prayer that good Seed sown may bring forth a good harvest and that the people, inclining their ear to whatsoever things are beautiful and honest and of good report,

may tread the path of wisdom and righteousness.”

The dedication – like the BBC motto, Quaecumque (“whatsoever”)are inspired by St.Paul’s letter to the Philippians .

Nine years after Reith’s dedication, as Britain braced itself for the aerial bombardment of its cities, it needed all the strength that these high sounding phrases implied. Unlike his contemporary successor, Dr.James Welch, then the BBC’s Director of Religion, was a committed Christian. He knew that bewildered people, dreading the arrival of telegrams heralding the loss of loved ones or the drone of German bombers, needed explanations about where God was in all of this. That is why he asked CS Lewis to begin the series of religious broadcasts that inspired Britain’s beleaguered people (and which formed the basis of his later book “Mere Christianity” ).

Our needs are in many respect no different today. Yet, instead of drawing out the finer impulses of religious faith, programme after programme on the TV takes this deconstructionist, negative approach.

The consequences of this hostility for employees of the BBC is particularly illustrative. One wrote to me before Christmas and said “we work in a subtle atmosphere of harassment, blame and

ridicule (the jokes from some about my own faith are becoming a frequent

occurrence).” So much for BBC liberal tolerance!

Perhaps it says something about how the BBC has changed since the days of Reith that over Christmas, as well as offering its attack on he Virgin Mary, we were being served up extra helpings of Philip

Pullman. This avowed atheist has described CS Lewis’ writings as the most “ugly and poisonous” things he has ever read: “it’s propaganda in the service of a life-hating ideology.” He said that his own writings are an attempt to destroy the legacy and influence of Lewis.

So, although we may be reluctant to shoot the messenger we would be naive not to understand that this is the message we are being sent.

Column: June 16th 2002 David Alton.

The Church and State End Discrimination Not CofE Establishment

In this year when we celebrate the Queen’s Jubilee relations between Church and State have, not surprisingly, come under renewed scrutiny. Most notable have been the calls for the disestablishment of the Church of England.

Following a House of Lords debate on this subject there is no doubt that prompt action on two matters would help kill the ongoing debate about the position of the established Church.

Firstly, the Act of Settlement should be repealed and the Bill of Rights amended so as to remove from the statute book all measures that discriminate against Catholics. In the House of Commons Kevin McNamara has been calling for this.

Secondly, the appointment of the Archbishop of Canterbury should be made the responsibility of the Church of England Commissioners and not the Prime Minister of the day. A simple way to achieve this would be for the Prime Minister to ask for only one nomination from the Commissioners, the nominated individual in effect representing their choice.

I have written to the Prime Minister outlining this proposal.

We certainly do not need to disestablish the Church of England to secure these two modest changes. It is important that we do not allow ourselves to confuse the issues involved.

Disestablishment would give the signal that religion, and more particularly Christianity, no longer matters.

Those who argue for disestablishment seem content for religion to become a purely private matter that should not interfere or impact upon public life. Martin Luther King described that as a “dry as dust” religion.

Christianity is woven into the fabric of our nation, and can be seen in the symbols, rituals and stories that pervade public life and that people cling to at times of national celebration, crisis and mourning.

Disestablishment should be recognised as part and parcel of the secularist agenda. Already there is a drive towards the removal of blasphemy laws, the removal of prayers in Parliament, the removal of prayers and RE from schools and challenges to the role of chaplains in prisons, hospitals and the army.

Thirdly, establishment is broadly welcomed by other faiths and other Christian denominations, albeit that its precise form may well evolve. People like Dr.Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, believe the public affirmation of Christianity through the established church can give others the courage to witness publicly to their beliefs.

When secularists argue that we live in a religiously plural society, they usually don’t actually want to take those religions seriously at all. Today, no belief is regarded as true except the belief that no belief is true – and that has become a new dogma.

The clarion call is ‘inclusivity’ but this is often so much rhetoric. Being socially included is becoming a mask for enforced conformity. The truth is that because many have lost the faith of their fathers, some insist that we must lose the faith of ours.

The Church of England will need to consider new ways of meeting the contemporary challenge but to destroy a relationship that has served our nation well would be foolish and dangerous.

Ends.

archives1

Human Cloning Bill

By David Alton. November 2001

Ban Human Cloning

Legislate in haste and you will repent at leisure.

Invariably, when Governments steamroller through Parliament hastily prepared Bills they soon come to regret it.

This week they have been pushing through a tightly worded little Bill to stop the Italian scientist, Severino Antinori, from coming to the UK to clone a human being. So tightly worded that even “friendly” amendments couldn’t be tabled to help them achieve their objective. So yet another flawed Bill will reach the Statute Book and it will not be long before they will be forced to return with further Bills.

Two years ago I urged the Government to ban all forms of human cloning. They failed to do it. In January they promised to outlaw reproductive cloning if so-called therapeutic cloning was permitted. They failed to do that either.

Instead, in January they pushed through unamenadable Orders permitting experimental cloning – only to be told in the High Court two weeks ago that this was unlawful.

So now they have introduced a Bill to outlaw reproductive human cloning. But does it?

The Bill makes it an offence to place a cloned human embryo in the womb of a woman. Good.

But it will still remain legal to create a cloned embryo – and then to implant it into an animal, into an artificial womb or even into a man. The fertility doctor, Lord Winston, says “male pregnancy would certainly be possible” and Dr.Simon Fishel says “there is no reason why a man could not carry a child.” Most of us would regard these scenarios as a horrifying and repulsive possibility – and this Bill does nothing to outlaw them.

Revealingly, Lord Winston told Parliament that “science does not have a moral dimension.” But shouldn’t it have? Just because something is scientifically possible, it doesn’t make it desirable or right. Science for its own sake, rather than for the common good, may become a negative and destructive force.

Scientists say they need to clone human beings in order to extract embryonic stem cells for use in treatments. They call this therapeutic cloning. This is a misnomer. It isn’t therapeutic for the human embryo – who is created, manipulated, plundered and disemboweled, and then destroyed. Nor is it the only way of extracting stem cells.

All the recent evidence points to the use of adult stem cells as a better scientific bet but also as an ethical alternative to the use of embryonic stem cells. They are also safer.

A week ago three top scientists warned Parliament that embryonic stem cells could pose dangers to public health; that there had been no clinical treatments involving embryonic stem cells; that there had been few successes in animal models; that they are difficult to obtain as pure culture; difficult to establish and maintain; have problems with immune rejection ; have potential for tumour formation and there is generic instability.

By contrast, adult stem cells avoid the problem of transplant rejection – and do not carry the same public health risks. Serious and unpredictable medical risks in embryonic stem cells include teratoma and teratocarcinoma formation – and unregulated growth.

Dr.Ian Wilmot of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute – who cloned Dolly the sheep after 277 attempts – has warned about the dangers of reproductive cloning but the dangers of using embryo cloning in therapies is also becoming clearer.

Britain’s refusal to sign up to international protocols banning these unethical techniques is a national disgrace – and seems to be driven by a multi-billion pound vested interests.

Our go-it-alone approach is also out of line with American and European legislation. Ten days ago the European Parliament voted to ban any funding of experimental or reproductive cloning. Congress voted by a majority of over 100 for a complete ban.

During the debate in the House of Lords this week I argued that Scotland’s national Parliament should have been involved in determining these crucial issues. I argued that there had been insufficient public debate. And I accused the Government of riding rough-shod, once again, over the democratic process.

This is a bad way to make public policy and it subverts the role of Parliament. Instead of scrutinising and improving legislation, Parliament now has about as much effect as a rubber stamp.

Ultimately, this question cuts to the core of what it is that makes us human and unique. Cloning is dabbling in the grotesque. Our failure to ban all forms of human cloning is nothing short of a national disgrace.

Column November 30th 2003. by David Alton.

Don’t Make Drugs Misuse Easier or Legal

The Government have reclassified cannabis as a class C drug. This puts it into the same category as sleeping tablets and anabolic steroids.

The Home Office website states that.

‘Reclassification of cannabis should help the Government to convey an effective and credible message – to young people in particular – about the dangers of misusing drugs.

The reality is that reclassification sends the message that cannabis is harmless, not addictive, that it is ok to take cannabis and that it has been legalised. A survey of school children by Life Education Centres shows that 86% of primary school children thought that cannabis was now legal, and 79% thought it was safe. This is a message that is neither effective nor credible – just plain dangerous.

The confusion about the legal status of cannabis following the proposed reclassification however does not stop with pupils. The Chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, Jan Berry says that members of the police force believe that cannabis had now been legalised not simply reclassified.

The Government claims that reclassification is based on the medical evidence. That

is contradicted by the evidence.

Since the Advisory Committee on the Misuse of Drugs reported in 2001, recommending reclassification, significant new evidence has emerged linking cannabis with serious mental illness. The majority of psychiatrists now accept a link between cannabis and serious mental illness. Two years ago, this was not the case.

Schizophrenia, psychotic symptoms, depression and anxiety are strongly associated with cannabis abuse.

Cannabis is strongly associated with mental illness such as schizophrenia, psychosis, depression and anxiety. Recent research confirms that cannabis can trigger psychosis even in those with no predisposition to mental illness. The earlier cannabis use begins, the greater the risk.

● 18 year olds who have used cannabis 50 times have a nearly seven-fold increased risk of developing psychosis over the next 15 years.

● Teenagers who use Cannabis by age 15 have more than a four-fold increased risk of developing schizophrenia symptoms by age 26.

● Early cannabis use – by age 15 – increases the risk of schizophrenia compared to later cannabis use by age 18.

A recently published study examined patients with recent onset of psychosis. It was found that patients with this disorder are twice as likely to have used cannabis compared with a population without psychosis.

This evidence was only published last year, and, again, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs could not have taken it into account when recommending reclassification in 2001.

It is also a disgrace that the Home Secretary so far has refused to meet eminent scientists and leading researchers on cannabis including four Professors who want to present new research evidence to the Home Secretary. These include Prof Robin M Murray Professor of Psychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry, London;

Prof John Henry of Imperial College London;

Prof Heather Ashton, of the School of Neurosciences, Division of Psychiatry, University of Newcastle;

Prof Colin Drummond Professor of Addiction Psychiatry at St George’s Hospital Medical School, London;

Dr Clare Gerada MBE FRCGP MRCPsych head of substance misuse training Royal College of General Practitioners, London; and

Mr Hamish Turner HM Coroner for the Torbay and South Devon District – immediate past President Coroners Society England and Wales.

Does the Government think that none of these eminent voices were worth listening to?

Not to have heard their evidence is an insult and a disgrace. To have ignored new research and to have relied on a Committee whose membership included representatives of 13 organisations in favour of weakening the law on drugs (and which included none of the organisations who take a contrary view) shows how decisions are driven through in this country. Insulting and undemocratic, yes, but it’s worse than that. What word do you use to describe a decision that will simply put at risk many more young lives? Irresponsible seems too mild.

Ends.

December 28th 2003 David Alton

The Looming Threat of Euthanasia

If you’re looking for a New Year’s Resolution, look no further than the need to fight the looming threat of euthanasia. The battle will be crucial and is taking place on several fronts. It will be vitally important to get the right target and the right tactics.

Last year a joint Committee of the House of Lords and House of Commons met to consider a draft Bill on Mental Incapacity. As predicted, the Bill was not included in the Queen’s Speech and is still in draft – it is not before either House of Parliament and it is a complete waste of time asking MPs or Peers to vote against a non-existent Bill.

The All Party Parliamentary Group – led by its excellent Chairman, Jim Dobbin MP – have been engaged in meetings with Ministers raising a number of concerns. The Government state categorically that it is not their intention for the Bill to be used to legalise euthanasia – but we have pointed to proposals that could never-the-less allow euthanasia “by omission.”

Whilst we do accept that the Government is not seeking to legalise euthanasia through the draft Bill we maintain that unless key aspects of the Bill are amended, in particular those dealing with best interests, advance refusals and lasting powers of attorney, then euthanasia could be introduced ‘through the back door’.

This is because euthanasia can be committed by action or omission which of itself and by intention causes death. Euthanasia cannot be restricted to deliberate interventions undertaken with the express intention of ending life as the Government has argued.

We are particularly anxious about the use of legally binding advance directives that rarely, if ever, meet the standards of informed consent that is required from patients with capacity. An ill informed advance decision can hardly be considered a genuine exercise of autonomy.

The Government have responded to us that “no advance decision would be automatically effective under the Bill” – and we welcome this. If this is the case, and if, as they say, the clinician would be required to consult with colleagues and with family members and would only be able to proceed where there is agreement between the medical team and the family, then why make advance statements legally binding? Legally binding advance refusals of treatment will make it very difficult for practitioners faced with the need to make rapid decisions in acute medical emergencies to easily and clearly decide when an advance decision is valid and applicable. Fear of litigation may well result in doctors withholding appropriate care with resultant harm to the patient.

Non-legally binding advance statements can, however, be very helpful to patients, their families and the healthcare team. One of the leading experts in the field, Baroness Finlay, acknowledged when she gave evidence before the Joint Committee. “Advance refusals are very helpful for communicating with patients. It is terribly helpful as an idea of what patients want. My concern is that they are legally binding and then you may have to sit back and watch something happen that you just feel terribly uncomfortable with.”

It may be that in the end the Bill will have to be opposed outright – but it is much too early to say that as the consultation process is still underway and no Bill will be laid before Parliament before next autumn at the earliest. It simply makes you look stupid to announce outright opposition to a Bill that doesn’t yet exist.

At this stage MPs and Peers should simply be asked to monitor the Bill’s progress and, in particular, to express their in principled opposition to making advance directives legally binding.

Of far more immediate concern is the decision to allow a new Select Committee to be established in the Lords to examine the proposals in Lord Joffe’s Private Member’s Bill. This will meet after Easter and the first battle involves its membership. It would be a scandal if, like the Select Committee that examined the use of human embryos for experimental purposes, it contained no-one who upholds the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death.

During last year’s debate on Lord Joffe’s Bill – which seeks to introduce Dutch-style euthanasia laws into the UK – a majority of Peers spoke against the Bill. The Select Committee membership should therefore reflect that opposition. Government Ministers and MPs should be asked why their Party supported the creation of a new Committee to consider an issue already investigated by an earlier Select Committee? Could it be because the first Committee didn’t come up with the verdict they wanted? How does it square with their oft repeated statements that they oppose the legalisation of euthanasia?

If that Committee’s membership is loaded in favour of euthanasia and it recommends in favour it will be powerful ammunition in the hands of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society.

Letters could very usefully be sent to the Prime Minister, leaders of the other parties, and to parliamentarians, demanding that the process is not manipulated.

The pro-life parliamentarians – in both Houses – are agreed about these targets and these tactics. It would be a good New Year’s Resolution for everyone involved in this battle to unite behind their leadership and to act intelligently, coherently, and in a disciplined way.

Ends.

Column January 1st 2006. David Alton

Death and Suffering In the Congo

Just imagine that you woke up tomorrow and read a newspaper headline that told you that the whole of the population of Ireland had been wiped out. You’d be shocked into disbelief. But, in the case of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) that’s exactly what has happened – 4 million dead over just ten years. This is the biggest loss of life in any single conflict since World War Two.

Twice as many have died in the Congo over a comparable period than have even died in Iraq, yet lives in the Congo hardly rate a column inch, let alone a television report.

For all the proper political interest in Africa during 2005 nothing was done to stabilise the Congo – and when the Prime Minister recently appeared before a Parliamentary Committee it was significant that in two and a half hours of exchanges Africa was not mentioned once.

The greatest losers in the Congo have been children.

At a recent meeting of the Parliamentary Committee on Street Children it was said that 40,000 children are living on the streets of the country’s capital, Kinshasa, with 6,000 more in Lubumbashi, 7,000 in Kananga, 7,000 in Bukovu and 2,000 in Goma. This crisis has been brought about by the continuing conflict in the east and north east of the country, by the spread of AIDs, by poverty and by a negative view of orphaned children.

As many as 300,000 children have been recruited into the competing militias and the demobilisation process – and subsequent reintegration into society – has proved to be a painstakingly slow business.

Organisations like Warchild, Jubilee Action and the Princess Diana Memorial Fund have all identified this as the world’s worst humanitarian disaster and have committed themselves to highlight Congo’s plight and to offer some practical small scale help.

When Warchild gave evidence to the parliamentary committee they told the story of a boy called Jacques whose mother and father were used as human shields and burnt alive. He is now on the streets in Bunia.

They also told the story of Jean, aged 12, who fled Bosinga after bombardment by rebel militia. Her mother and father were both killed and she fled to Gbadolife, over 100 miles away, and is now living on the streets.

So what can we do?

Governments like our own can insist that the declarations in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child are put into effect. Likewise the International Crisis Group’s Congo Action Plan needs implementing – and we should be writing to MPs asking them to exert some real pressure.

But there are individual actions we can take, too. The children at St.Martha’s Catholic school in London have set us all a great example by filling a container with books, games and equipment for children and sending it out to Kinshasa.

Likewise Jubilee Action’s, Jedidiah project is providing a street shelter in Kinshasa – and every little you can send them will help.

Jubilee can advise you on how small initiatives can make a real difference in a country that has been decimated. Committing to help would make a great new year’s resolution. They can be reached on 0148 3894787 (info@jubileeacton.co.uk

Column January 4th 2003, by David Alton.

Beware the Moves To Permit Cloning – Remember Dolly The Sheep

Just before Christmas I took part in a rather scary Conference on human cloning. It was scary because also on the platform was a representative of Cloneaid – who could see no ethical objection to reproductive cloning and who, in the face of worldwide opposition, claims that she and he colleagues have already cloned babies and intend to clone more. There simply could be no meeting of minds because there was no common ground.

Not only does the pro-cloning lobby seem completely disinterested in the ethical arguments and international opinion it also seems oblivious to the huge risks to public health.

It is clear from current scientific evidence that the vast majority of cloned babies would die in the womb, and the few that developed to birth would be likely to die within a few days, or would be severely handicapped, or would die early.

The most famous animal cloner is Professor Wilmut, who is best known for the creation of ‘Dolly’ the sheep. In a recent article in “Nature Reviews Genetics”, he says: “Our experience with other mammals shows us that any attempts at cloning humans are inherently unsafe at present. On these grounds alone, scientists should not condone human reproductive cloning, even without taking into account the equally important ethical and moral issues.”

Another article, in “New Scientist” paints a graphic picture of the fate of cloned animals that do survive to birth: “Abnormalities in those surviving to term frequently include oversized hearts and lungs, enlarged tongues, squashed faces, poorly functioning kidneys, intestinal blockages, immune deficiencies, diabetes, shortened tendons causing feet to twist into useless curves, a remarkable degree of obesity and impaired intelligence.”

However, in many cases, even severe abnormalities in reproductive cloning may be undetectable until the animal dies unexpectedly. An animal which is apparently completely healthy one day, may die the next. Scientiests say that foetuses that look robust at 60 days may die at 61; that a clone that dies after five days of life can have normal chromosomes and genes while still in the womb.

Cloned animals that survive longer than a few days can still die at a young age. For example, in one study it was found that many cloned mice died early owing to severe lung disease, tumours and liver necrosis .

Professors Wilmut and Jaenisch state, “There is no reason to believe that the outcomes of attempted human cloning will be any different…if human cloning is attempted, those embryos that do not die early may live to become abnormal children and adults; both are troubling outcomes.”

Some have claimed that it would be possible to screen out abnormal embryos and not to implant them. However, Professor Ian Wilmut, states clearly that it is not possible currently to reliably predict which cloned embryos are safe, because firstly, current screening techniques using pre-implantation diagnosis only check specific genetic abnormalities, whereas cloned embryos have profound epigenetic abnormalities as well as genetic defects. Secondly, even if epigenetic abnormalities were examined, it would be impossible to carry out adequate checks because (a) abnormalities in cloned embryos have been found to be different from cell to cell. Therefore testing individual cells would not give an indication of whether other cells in the embryo were normal or not; and (b) it would require knowledge of all of the potential adverse epigenetic effects, which is currently not possible.

Professors Wilmut and his colleague, Professor Jaenish graphically spell out the dangers: “We believe that attempts to clone human beings at a time when the scientific issues of nuclear cloning have not been clarified, are dangerous and irresponsible.” (Jaenisch and Wilmut, 2001)

There is also considerable evidence about the dangers to public health if human embryos created for the purpose of experimental cloning are then used in treatments and therapies. Even proponents of embryo experimentation, such as Lord Winston, have admitted that freezing embryos increases the risk of disability when the embryos are used for fertility treatments.

Shouldn’t all of this make us pause for thought? Not if the people from Cloneaid have their way.

Ends.

Column March 21st 2004

David Alton

Why the BMA Opposes Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide

A new attempt has been made to put Dutch-style euthanasia laws onto our statute books. Lord Joel Jofee’s Assisted Dying Bill will go before a Select Committee of the House of Lords – that will deliberate after Easter.

The redoubtable Baroness Finlay of Llandaff will lead the opposition to the Bill on that committee. As a professor of palliative care she knows better than most what a disaster it would be for the medical profession if this Bill were to be enacted. Illora Finlay passionately believes that good hospice care is the alternative to killing patients; that care and kill cannot be used as synonyms; and that dying with dignity doesn’t mean telling doctors that they have to kill you.

Powerful oppositio