The Plight of former President Mohammed Nasheed of the Maldives

We Must Send the Maldivian Regime a Clear, Unambiguous and Robust Message: Their Behaviour Is Unacceptable

 

Best known for its luxurious tourist resorts, pristine beaches and glistening sapphire-blue ocean, the Maldives is currently facing a human rights crisis and the destruction of its nascent democracy.

Seven years ago, the Maldives was held up as a rare example of a Muslim-majority country which made a peaceful, seemingly stable transition from authoritarian rule to multi-party democracy. Mr Nasheed, who led the struggle for democracy for almost two decades and spent many years in prison, solitary confinement and house arrest, defeated Asia’s longest serving dictator Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who had ruled for thirty years, in the country’s first democratic elections in 2008. A transition to democracy which was begun by reformist ministers in the final years of Mr Gayoom’s rule appeared to have been successful.

That lasted for just under four years. In 2012 allies of Mr Gayoom struck back in a coup d’etat, forcing Mr Nasheed to resign the presidency. He was surrounded by mutinying police and soldiers, and threatened with death if he did not step down.

The following year fresh elections were held, but when Mr Nasheed was once again ahead in the first round, the regime cancelled the election and called for a re-run.

Several months later, Mr Nasheed just failed to win an outright majority in the first round, and was narrowly defeated in the second round by Mr Gayoom’s brother, Abdullah Yameen. The Gayoom family is now back in power, his brother as president, his daughter as Foreign Minister, and the old man manoeuvring behind the scenes.

Mr Nasheed is a graduate of Liverpool John Moores University, where I hold the chair as Professor of Citizenship and hosted a Roscoe Lecture delivered by the former High Commissioner for the Maldives, Dr Farah Faizal, after she resigned in protest at the overthrow of Mr Nasheed.

Throughout his ordeal, he has shown extraordinary good grace. Despite irregularities, he accepted the election result in 2013, in the interests of ‘stability’, and vowed to serve as leader of the opposition. Yet the regime has shown itself determined to get Mr Nasheed out of the way – for good. And so they seized on an incident from the final months of his presidency, and pressed charges.

Mr Nasheed was accused of “abducting” a judge, Abdulla Mohamed and charged under terrorism laws. Two such accusations against the Maldives’ symbol of non-violent democracy are in themselves absurd. Assassination threats have been made against his family and there are fears for his life.

During his presidency, Mr Nasheed tried to reform the judiciary but, consisting of Mr Gayoom’s appointees, he came up against vested interests. When allegations of corruption and misconduct were made against Judge Mohamed, the government tried to take action – but again the judiciary closed ranks. Judge Mohamed was accused of repeatedly acquitting known criminals, including murderers, who immediately re-offended, and thus was deemed to be a threat to national security. The Defence Minister ordered his arrest.

Mr Nasheed’s trial was an extraordinary farce. He was manhandled by the police, violently dragged into court, his shirt ripped, his arm injured. He appeared in a sling, but was denied medical treatment. For much of his trial, conducted late at night, he was refused access to legal representation. Two of the judges hearing the case provided witness statements for the prosecution. One of the judges already has a criminal record. The court refused to hear Mr Nasheed’s defence witnesses. Prosecution witnesses were allegedly coached by the police. It resembled the trial in Alice in Wonderland.

Upon hearing the verdict and sentence, on his twenty-first wedding anniversary, Mr Nasheed responded with typical courage and conviction. He called on Maldivians to take the streets, peacefully, in protest, and to begin a new movement to challenge the dictatorship. But he also displayed a remarkable absence of bitterness. “In this time of profound injustice, I harbour no hatred,” he told the court. “And to those who seek to destroy me, I say: I wish upon you good grace and blessings. I wish for good blessings upon us all, in this world and the next.” Comparisons with Nelson Mandela or Aung San Suu Kyi are deserved.

In new rules rushed in just before Mr Nasheed’s trial, an appeal must be lodged within ten days of sentencing. Mr Nasheed filed an appeal against his arrest, which the High Court was due to hear just two days after he had been sentenced. Yet the court insisted on a closed session, which Mr Nasheed rightly refused. Now, in the latest blow to due process, the Criminal Court only released the summary of the trial proceedings two days before the deadline for lodging an appeal against his sentence. They have still not released the full record of the proceedings, which are required for an appeal to be heard. His legal team have described this as “an obstruction” of his right to appeal.

Such a gross miscarriage of justice cannot go unchallenged by the international community. As an MDP spokesperson put it: “Democracy is dead in the Maldives. In its place, we have thuggish authoritarian rule.” Hundreds of Maldivians have been peacefully protesting every night in recent days – at least 120 of whom have been arrested and charged with “terrorism”. Police and criminal gangs have violently attacked peaceful demonstrations. there are also fears for Nasheed’s safety and that of his wife – following assassination threats.

The international community has started to speak out. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has expressed concern about the “hasty and apparently unfair trial”, while the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers has said the trial makes a “mockery” of the Maldivian Constitution.

It is clear that Mr Gayoom’s regime does not respond to soft diplomacy. It is therefore time to speak to the regime in language it will understand, hitting it where it hurts: in its wallet. Targeted sanctions are needed. The European Union should freeze the assets of senior regime officials and their crony backers. A travel ban should be imposed on senior regime leaders. And a carefully targeted tourism boycott, aimed at resorts owned by regime associates, is needed. Sir Richard Branson has already called for such a boycott, and others should join that call.

Democracy, justice and human rights cannot be trampled on with such impunity in a country which had previously made such progress towards these values. This is a Commonwealth country and, given the Commonwealth Charter’s commitment to the rule of law, democracy and human rights, the Commonwealth has a particular responsibility to engage directly. If necessary, the Maldives should be suspended from the Commonwealth. Mr Nasheed should be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. It is in all our interests to send the Maldivian regime a clear, unambiguous and robust message: their behaviour is unacceptable. Mr Nasheed must be released, the charges dropped and the democratic process restored.

At the very minimum, President Abdullah Yameen Gayoom could allay fears for the safety and well being of Mohammed Nasheed and his family by allowing them to leave the Maldives and travel to a country, such as the United Kingdom, where their safety could be guaranteed. In the longer term this might also permit some form of reconciliation, dialogue, and the restitution of due processes of law and democracy.

House of Commons Amendment To Safeguard The Lives of Unborn Girls Defeated – 201 votes to 292 votes – Full debate follows

 

 

The unborn child at 18 weeks gestation. 600 babies are aborted daily in the UK - some, up to and even during birth, with the full force of British law. 7 million have been aborted since abortion was made legal and some have had up to 8 legal abortions. sex selective abortions

 

House of Commons Amendment To Safeguard The Lives of Unborn Girls Defeated – 201 votes to 292 votes – Full debate and the Division List of how MPs voted follows:

 

The Background:

On January 22nd, 73 Members of the House of Commons signed an amendment to the Serious Crime Bill based upon the Abortion (Sex-Selection) Ten Minute Rule Bill.

At the conclusion of its Committee Stage , Fiona Bruce laid an amendment to Section 65 of the Serious Crime Bill 2014, clarifying that the Abortion Act 1967 does not permit a pregnancy to be terminated on the grounds of the sex of the unborn child.

Fiona Bruce MP

Fiona Bruce MP

The amendment was selected by Mr.Speaker for debate at Report Stage and was voted upon. If it had succeeded it would have become law when the Serious Crime Bill receives Royal Assent.

This short amendment would have gone into Part 5 of the Bill which deals with crimes which have a disproportionate effect on girls, including female genital mutilation. Together with clause 74(2), which deals with how the Bill’s provisions can be followed-up, the amendment achieves the same effect as the 10 minute Rule Bill, which received near unanimity in a vote on the 4th November in the House of Commons where a motion approving the Abortion (Sex-Selection) Bill was passed 181:1.

sex selection abortions

Speaking about the amendment, Fiona Bruce MP said:

“The amendment has two aims. First to oblige the Government to think of ways to support women who are under pressure to abort on grounds of the sex of their baby. Second, to consolidate current law, which is necessary to prevent false information being distributed to women. Still today, BPAS, Britain’s biggest abortion provider, insists that sex-selective abortion is not illegal. We must battle the prejudices which give rise to the abhorrent practice of sex-selective abortion. It would be wrong to look the other way as women and girls continue to suffer.” *

Mary Glindon MP said:

“If opposing the abortion of baby girls – often under coercion – makes me anti-choice, then I will wear the label with pride.”

JasvinderSanghera CBE, founder and CEO of Karma Nirvana and spokeswoman for www.stopgendercide.org said:

“Sex-selective abortion is a reality in the UK. This is widely known in diaspora communities and beyond. The Government has a responsibility both to women suffering under cultural pressures and to their baby girls.”

Rani Bilkhu, founder of Jeena International, and spokeswoman for www.stopgendercide.org said:

“The Government has been clear that sex-selective abortion is illegal. But the UK’s biggest abortion provider BPAS continues to contradict them. It has been very upsetting to see some people claim that there is no evidence of sex-selective abortion in the UK. We know it is happening because we have been continually supporting women for nearly a decade who have had them or are being forced or coerced in having them. In their desperation to oppose this initiative, some radical commentators have said that there is no way to help women like those we deal with except through racial profiling. This is nonsense, and if the same argument were made about FGM and forced marriages, people would run a mile. We know sex-selective abortions are happening in the UK and the time has come to face up to it. People speak about choice. The women who we deal with rarely have a choice. Many are forced or coerced to abort simply because they are girls, this is the first act of violence against women and girls. We are supporting Fiona Bruce and her colleagues because it is the right approach, making a clear statement about the law, and providing the means for the Government to take practical action and to send a clear message to all stakeholders including communities that practice sex selection abortions is not only acceptable but against the law.”

sex-selection-ad-2

For questions regarding www.stopgendercide.org email info@stopgendercide.org

For interviews, phone www.stopgendercide.org spokeswomen:

A full media kit including video feature, images and further information is available here: http://www.stopgendercide.org/media/

A feature video on the campaign including interviews with Jasvinder Sanghera, Rani Bilku and Fiona Bruce MP is available here: http://youtu.be/nJCMkb8R1Rw

Also, see:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/11362298/Gender-abortions-could-be-outlawed-within-months.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/11362379/Gender-abortion-Its-time-for-urgent-action.html

SEX-SELECTIVE ABORTION AMENDMENT TO THE SERIOUS CRIME BILL

Short briefing

What does the amendment say?

“Nothing in section 1 of the Abortion Act 1967 is to be interpreted as allowing a pregnancy to be terminated on the grounds of the sex of the unborn child.”

What would this achieve?

The amendment has two aims.

  1. To oblige the Government to think creatively about ways to help women who are under pressure to have sex-selective abortions.
  2. To clarify that sex-selective abortion is impermissible in UK law.

How would this amendment oblige the Government?

Clause 74(2) of the Serious Crime Bill provides that “the Secretary of State may by regulations make provision that is consequential on any provision of this Act”. Regulations would be an opportunity for the Government to consider and implement measures offering concrete help these women.

Why does the law need clarification?

While the Prime Minister and Department of Health are clear that ‘abortion on the grounds of gender alone is illegal’[1], they are flatly contradicted by the British Medical Association[2] and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service[3], who between them represent those who vast majority of the sector. This is despite numerous clear ministerial statements and new Government guidance reiterating the illegality of the practice. The Government’s view is therefore reduced to an interpretation.

The ‘Sex-Selection’ amendment clarifies existing abortion law in line with the Government’s interpretation.

Would this require singling out a particular community or racial profiling?

No. As with FGM and forced marriage, the problem does seem to be prevalent in some minority communities. Like FGM and forced marriage, the Government has a duty to work out a way to help those affected with sensitivity. Mandating changes to doctors’ and counsellors’ guidance does not require racial profiling, and is just one idea.

Is sex-selective abortion an issue in the UK?

Yes, but on a very minor scale when compared with China or the Indian subcontinent. In 2012, the Telegraph ran investigations proving that it was possible to get doctors to refer for a gender abortion in the UK[1]. Researchers from Oxford and Imperial College have found that gender selective abortion could be detected from birth and census data[2]. In May 2014, the Department of Health produced an in-depth breakdown of birth data statistics, showing that there was no statistically significant gender ratio imbalance in the UK across ethnicities.[3] However, there is a growing body of anecdotal research comprising the experiences of a number of women have spoken about their experiences of UK residents having sex-selective abortions in the UK as well as abroad.[4] Rani Bilkhu, director of Jeena International which works with women who have had sex-selective abortions said “Saying that there is no evidence is tantamount to saying that these women are lying and that our organisation is making things up.”

Notes:

[1] Prime Minister, Oral Answers to Questions 19 March 2014, c780 (Official Report)

[2] British Medical Association Press Release ‘Abortion guidance Ignores Gender Complexity, Say BMA’ 27th May, 2014 http://bma.org.uk/news-views-analysis/news/2014/may/abortion-guidance-ignores-gender-complexity-says-bma,

[3] British Pregnancy Advisory (BPAS) ‘Britain’s Abortion Law’ poses the question. ‘Is abortion for reasons of fetal sex illegal under the Abortion Act?’ They answer ‘No. The law is silent on the matter’ http://www.bpasresources.org/product_info.php?ID=11244 (registration necessary)

[1] Newell, C and Watt, H Abortion Investigation: Doctors Filmed Agreeing Illegal Abortions, No Questions Asked, Telegraph, 22nd Feb 2012

[2] See https://www.spi.ox.ac.uk/fileadmin/documents/PDF/WP35__Sex-ratio_of_births_to_India-born_mothers.pdf and http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/the-lost-girls-illegal-abortion-widely-used-by-some-uk-ethnic-groups-to-avoid-daughters-has-reduced-female-population-by-between-1500-and-4700-9059790.html

[3] See Department of Health Birth Ratios in England and Wales, May 2014

[4] See for example Connor, S: ‘I had to terminate my pregnancies because I was carrying girls’ The Independent, 14th March 2014.

Also see:

https://davidalton.net/2012/03/02/infanticide-gender-abortions-subversion-of-conscience-wake-up-britain-before-its-too-late/

 https://davidalton.net/2013/06/22/gender-based-abortions-question-if-its-illegal-and-immoral-andrew-lansley-in-these-cases-why-is-it-legal-and-ok-in-other-cases-i-thought-it-was-all-just-a-matter-of-choice-june-2013-d/

https://davidalton.net/2012/10/31/its-a-girl-premiered-at-the-british-parliament-exposing-the-scandal-of-gendercide/

 

 

Scroll down for 1. Division List. 2. Some Media Comment. 3. Full Debate

 

Some Cabinet Ministers who voted for the Bruce Amendment:

 

 

Theresa May

Jeremy Hunt

Iain Duncan-Smith

Patrick McG

Oliver Letwin

David Cameron abstained, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband voted against..

Those in favour:

Tellers for the Ayes:

and

Those against:

NOES

Tellers for the Noes:

and

Question accordingly negatived.

Some media comment:

The Times: 

Tim Montgomerie comment piece:

http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/opinion/columnists/article4362098.ece

 

The Telegraph:

Dominic Grieve debunking legal myths about amendment:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-politics/11428460/Why-we-need-to-clarify-our-abortion-laws.html

 

Steven Swinford

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/labour/11427987/Labour-torpedoes-attempt-to-outlaw-same-sex-abortions.html

 

Daily Mail:

Asian communities hit out at those who whipped against the amendment.

http://dailym.ai/1DIfaQi

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2964610/DAILY-MAIL-COMMENT-Union-meddling-question-morality.html

 

The House of Commons Debate:

New Clause 1

Termination of pregnancy on the grounds of the sex of the unborn child

‘Nothing in section 1 of the Abortion Act 1967 is to be interpreted as allowing a pregnancy to be terminated on the grounds of the sex of the unborn child.’—(Fiona Bruce.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Dawn Primarolo): With this it will be convenient to discuss New clause 25 —Termination of pregnancy on grounds of sex of foetus—

‘(1) The Secretary of State shall arrange for an assessment to be made of the evidence of termination of pregnancy on the grounds of the sex of the foetus in England, Wales and Scotland.

(2) The arrangements made under subsection (1) shall be such as to enable publication of the assessment by the Secretary of State within 6 months of the date of Royal Assent to this Act.

(3) The Secretary of State shall consider the assessment made under subsection (1) and—

(a) determine and publish a strategic plan to tackle substantiated concerns identified in the assessment made under subsection (1); or

(b) publish a statement and explanation in relation to why a plan under subsection (3)(a) is not required.

(4) Any strategic plan under subsection (3)(a) must include, but need not be limited to, steps—

(a) to promote change in the social and cultural patterns of behaviour with a view to eradicating prejudices, customs, traditions and all other practices which are based on the idea of the inferiority of women and which may amount to pressure to seek a termination on the grounds of the sex of the foetus;

(b) to ensure best practice exists in identifying women being coerced or pressured into seeking a termination on the grounds of the sex of the foetus, or at risk of being so, and in the provision of protection and support to potential victims; and

(c) to promote guidance to service providers, health professionals and other stakeholders.

23 Feb 2015 : Column 114

(5) The Secretary of State must lay a copy of the plan, determined under subsection (3)(a), before each House of Parliament within 6 months of the publication date of the assessment under subsection (2).’

Fiona Bruce: New clause 1, which I wish to be put to a vote, is supported by more than 100 MPs. The arguments for it are straightforward. First, it is to clarify beyond doubt, in statute, that sex-selective abortion is illegal in UK law. This new clause is not seeking to change the law on abortion as some have said, but to confirm and clarify it. It also provides the Government with an opportunity to address the problem by bringing forward best practice regulations and guidance to support and protect women at risk.

New clause 1 is necessary because there is no explicit statement about gender selective abortion in UK law. The law is being interpreted in different ways because when the Abortion Act 1967 was passed, scans to determine the sex of the foetus were not available. That has led to a huge amount of confusion and mixed messages. That is despite the fact that the Government have repeatedly said that abortion on the grounds of gender alone is illegal. Health Ministers have said so; the Prime Minister has said so; the Department of Health has published guidance to that effect; and the chief medical officer has written to doctors about it. Despite all of that, abortion providers and others, staggeringly, are still refusing to accept the Government’s interpretation of the law.

Only last week, the country’s largest abortion provider, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, republished its controversial guidance in a booklet entitled, “Britain’s abortion law: what it says and why”. The following question is posed: is abortion for reasons of foetal sex illegal under the Abortion Act? To this, it answers, “No, the law is silent on the matter.” The former Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, has said:

“The law does not in terms expressly prohibit gender-specific abortions.”

Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): All we are trying to do is simply clarify what everyone in the House of Commons wants to be the law: we should not have abortion on the basis of gender. That is the reply to the DPP. We just want the law to be made absolutely clear.

Fiona Bruce: Absolutely right. That is the purpose of new clause 1. I will come on to explain why it is so important to many of the women who are suffering as a result of the lack of clarity in the law.

This House must make the matter clear. If we cannot get a consistent line from abortion providers on whether or not it is illegal to abort a girl—it is usually girls but not always—for the sole reason that she is a girl, then the law is not fit for purpose. To do so constitutes a gross form of sex discrimination. Indeed it is the first and most fundamental form of violence against women and girls. Surely no one can object to a clause that simply states that that is wrong.

New clause 1 will do more than that, because if it is passed, by virtue of clause 79 (2) the Government will be able to issue guidance to help address this abuse and support affected women. That is why new clause 25 is inadequate when taken alone. What it is proposing is a

23 Feb 2015 : Column 115

Department of Health assessment or review of the issue. The Department can already do that. Without new clause 1, it is inadequate, because it fails to go to the heart of the issue and to clear up the very real confusion that exists. It fails to clarify the law, as new clause 1 does, that sex election abortion is illegal in this country.

Let me turn now to some of the objections to new clause 1. Much of them have misrepresented its impact and some have been plain scaremongering. First, it is said that it will criminalise women. That is flatly untrue. The clause applies only to authorising doctors; it does not affect an expectant mother’s standing in law. We have also heard that it will stop abortion for disability where there is a sex-linked condition. That is also totally incorrect. I can reassure colleagues that there is nothing in this new clause to prevent a doctor from diagnosing substantial risk of serious handicap via the sex of the baby. In such cases, the ground for the abortion is the risk of the disability, not the sex of the baby. New clause 1 will not change that, and I have been careful to obtain expert legal opinion to that effect.

Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): The hon. Lady spoke rightly a few moments ago about the importance of clarity in law. Does she not agree that there would be reluctance and confusion when the grounds for a termination were the genetic disorder, but the only way in which that genetic order could arise is in relation to the gender of the foetus?

Fiona Bruce: Not at all. We can trust our medical practitioners to be professional in that respect. It is quite clear that the ground for the abortion in such cases would be the genetic condition and not the sex of the child.

Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Kilburn) (Lab): Will the hon. Lady give way on that point?

Fiona Bruce: I will, but then I need to make progress.

Glenda Jackson: There are certain genetic diseases that are transmitted by the mother to a male foetus. They are not passed on to a female foetus. So the hon. Lady’s argument is invalid.

Fiona Bruce: That is exactly the point that I am making. If the handicap, or the condition, is diagnosed via the sex of the baby, in such cases the grounds for the abortion, through that diagnosis, is the risk of serious handicap, and on that ground the abortion can be legitimately carried out.

Mr Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): Perhaps I can help my hon. Friend, although I do not think that she needs assistance. Of all the arguments that have been put forward on this matter, the one that has no traction at all is the suggestion that enacting this new clause would lead to the confusion that the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Glenda Jackson) fears. It plainly would not. There might be other arguments that can be advanced and of course there will be different views across the House, but that could not possibly happen if the new clause were enacted.

23 Feb 2015 : Column 116

Fiona Bruce rose—

Glenda Jackson: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Fiona Bruce: No, I am going to continue. I thank the former Attorney-General for making that point so lucidly.

We have also heard that the new clause could introduce racial profiling of expectant mothers, but has anyone argued that for female genital mutilation? The term “family balancing” goes wider than any one particular community.

Then there is the argument that the new clause will do nothing to help abused women. It will indeed. It will clarify the law and as Polly Harrar of Jeena International powerfully told me:

“What we’ve found with the Forced Marriage Act 2007 was that we were able to use that piece of legislation as a bargaining tool to negotiate with parents, so a young woman could say, ‘You do realise this is a criminal offence?’”

In the same way, Polly says,

“with sex-selective abortion: having clarity in the law means that women could use this clarification to protect themselves against pressure to have a sex-selection abortion.”

She continues that

“as with FGM having a higher profile, legislation does effect a step change in cultural attitudes. So while legislation alone is not enough, it has real power to change behaviour, and that’s what is needed.”

That addresses clearly the Royal College of Midwives’ objection that new clause 1 will do little to alleviate the external pressures or coercion that these women face. As Mandy Sanghera said:

“We also we hope this will act as a deterrent—it will enable women to have more control over their own decisions.”

Is that not what many objecting to the clause want?

What does not help women under pressure to have an abortion simply because they are carrying a girl or a boy, whether that pressure comes from violence or coercion or is more subtle, is allowing that abortion to take place and sending the woman back to an abusive situation. To do so is to condone the very culture behind the pressure for such abortions and to exacerbate such abuse. The new clause does nothing to diminish services for those suffering abuse. Indeed, if it is followed by sensitively crafted regulations it should certainly improve them.

Then the quite offensive point is made that there is no evidence for sex-selective abortions in the UK. That is offensive as it is insulting to women such as those I have mentioned who have been campaigning for many years to stop this practice. Yes, the numbers are small compared with those in China or India, but they are real. Should we have to wait until those numbers grow before we take action? Rani Bilkhu, who, incidentally, is pro-choice, says:

“I have been supporting women dealing with sex-selective abortions…for almost a decade. Saying that there is no evidence is tantamount to saying that the women we work with are lying and that my organisation”—

Jeena International—

“is making things up.”

Interestingly, Rani also says that “nobody is collecting data”, so it is no wonder that opponents of the new clause say that there is none.

23 Feb 2015 : Column 117

I know of many examples of women who have suffered. One had one daughter, conceived a second girl, had an abortion and then could not conceive again. Another had three abortions on the basis of gender, including of twins. Another’s husband punched and kicked her in the stomach when he discovered she was having a girl. Yet another says that

“women suffer depression after these abortions. What is not always considered is the emotional and psychological impact.”

These women deserve our support in the manner that they say will really help—through legislation and by clarifying the law. That does not stop a review, but it is essential that we clear up the confusion, support these women and pass new clause 1. In doing so, we would reflect the overwhelming public mood. A recent ComRes poll showed that 84% of the public agree that aborting babies because of their gender should be explicitly banned by law. More than that, we should support new clause 1 because it is, quite simply, the right thing to do.

 

Ann Coffey: I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in support of new clause 25, tabled by me, the right hon. Member for Cardiff Central (Jenny Willott), my right hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Dame Tessa Jowell), my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) and the hon. Members for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton) and for Totnes (Dr Wollaston). I will seek to test the opinion of the House on the new clause.

The Offences Against the Person Act 1861 makes it a criminal offence intentionally to unlawfully procure a miscarriage, including for a woman to procure her own miscarriage. The Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1929 makes it a criminal offence intentionally to kill a child capable of being born alive before it has a life independent of its mother. The Abortion Act 1967 creates exceptions to those offences in limited circumstances and abortion on the grounds of gender is not one of those exceptions. It is therefore illegal and subject to criminal prosecution. Indeed, guidance was reissued as recently as May 2014 by the Department of Health that said again categorically that abortion on the grounds of sex was illegal. I am therefore not quite sure why the new clause proposed by the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) is needed or how inserting it into the 1967 Act would address her concerns.

8.15 pm

Sir Edward Leigh: If the hon. Lady thinks that such abortions are illegal under the 1967 Act, what possible objection could there be to making that explicit in law?

Ann Coffey: If the hon. Gentleman will wait, I am coming to that point.

The statement the hon. Member for Congleton proposes would sit alongside the existing seven grounds for termination in the 1967 Act, but of course the sex of the foetus can be a factor in causing so much distress for the woman that she meets the existing medical criteria for a termination. The British Medical Association supplied two case studies that demonstrated how that can occur. In both cases, gender was a key factor in affecting the state of mind of the pregnant woman and her wish not to continue the pregnancy. It is not clear how new clause 1, if added to the Bill, would affect the decision

23 Feb 2015 : Column 118

of doctors on the legal grounds on which they might agree a termination, if at all. It would inevitably be subject to legal challenges that would, I believe, dilute the clarity of the 1967 Act. As far as I am aware, there is no evidence that doctors are granting terminations to women who do not meet the medical grounds laid down in the Abortion Act 1967.

Mr Burrowes: Does the hon. Lady agree with the TUC interpretation of the law, which is that it would be right in some circumstances for a doctor to approve an abortion if, for example, a woman did not want to have a girl for cultural reasons?

Ann Coffey: I repeat that as far as I am aware there is no evidence that doctors are granting terminations to women who do not meet the medical grounds laid down in the Abortion Act 1967. That would be a criminal offence.

Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD): I am sure that the hon. Lady is right about there not being evidence for that. Is she aware of whether there is evidence of doctors refusing permission for a termination on the grounds of one of those criteria? Are there statistics to demonstrate that that happens?

Ann Coffey: As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, part of the new clause proposes a proper assessment of some of the issues surrounding this question. I hope that during the assessment we would get much better facts about what is and what is not happening.

Women are pregnant in very different circumstances, subject to different pressures—economic, familial and community—that can all influence a pregnant woman’s state of mind and her attitude to continuing her pregnancy. If there is no substantiated evidence that doctors are granting abortions on the grounds of gender alone, we might be dealing with a more complex issue, which is how wider community and cultural attitudes to girls and women affect the physical and mental health of the pregnant woman.

Therefore, before legislating we should examine the facts relating to this complex issue, because I am concerned that the insertion of the proposed statement might have the unwanted consequence of women who might otherwise have access to an abortion on the grounds of physical and mental welfare being denied a termination. New clause 25 would arrange for an assessment of the evidence of termination of pregnancy on the grounds of the sex of the foetus in England, Wales and Scotland to be published within six months of Royal Assent. Of course, included in that assessment should be the experiences of women who feel that they have been pressured to have their pregnancies terminated.

Like other hon. Members, I have received briefings from many organisations and groups on the issue, and they demonstrate its complexity. One group that is in favour of new clause 1 talked about a growing body of research comprising the experiences of women who have talked about having sex-selective abortions in the UK as well as abroad. It states:

“We know from experience that women are having sex-selective abortions in the UK, and we feel their experiences—which reflect a much wider problem—should be taken seriously before the situation worsens.”

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Another group that is opposed to new clause 1 has said that it would

“have far reaching and unintended consequences for the very women it purports to protect.”

It talked about the need to locate the protection of women from sex-selective abortion within a safeguarding framework. It states:

“There is a need to examine the issue alongside other forms of gender discrimination that impact on the practice, including the practice of dowry, domestic violence and honour based violence.”

It therefore calls for a wide-ranging inquiry, including on available support services.

Sir Edward Garnier: The arguments that the hon. Lady is making are those that I have read and that have persuaded me against supporting new clause 1, which I had originally intended to do when it was first mooted. I am persuaded that the real difficulty we face is getting evidence to court, and nothing that my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) has said will improve the quality of the evidence. I horribly disapprove—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Dawn Primarolo): Order. This is not an opportunity for the hon. and learned Gentleman to make a speech. This debate must end at 9 o’clock and many Members wish to speak, so interventions must be brief. I think that we have the gist of what he was saying—

Sir Edward Garnier rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker: No, I think that we have the gist. Thank you.

Ann Coffey: I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman has made his point.

I agree that the connection between cultural preferences for one sex and the factors that might then lead to a state of inconsolable distress for the pregnant woman needs to be better understood to enable us to protect women from coercion and to support them in their pregnancies. We should certainly look at the facts before agreeing to any change in the wording of the 1967 Act, because we must be careful not to worsen the situation for already vulnerable women.

New clause 1 assumes that restating that sex-selective abortion is illegal will offer women protection from pressure to terminate their pregnancies, but women subject to intolerable pressure to abort will continue to be subject to coercion. My concern is about how women would interpret the inclusion of the new clause. They might feel that Parliament has legislated that if the sex of the child is at all an issue, irrespective of their mental distress, they will not have access to a termination. Sometimes it is not what legislation says that has a powerful effect on behaviour, but what people believe it says. That might lead them to pursue alternative routes as a first resort, rather than a last one. We do not want to go back to the days of the botched backstreet abortions that took place prior to the 1967 Act, which throughout the ages have been the resort of desperate women. I remember the lengths to which women would go to terminate their pregnancies prior to that Act, in spite of the risks to their own health.

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If the assessment that we propose uncovers substantiated concerns that there is pressure to seek terminations on the grounds of gender, we need to put in place a plan to deal with what is giving rise to those pressures and how we can better support women who might be being coerced. That is the proposal in the second part of new clause 25. I hope that in bringing forward those proposals there would be extensive consultation with women from all cultural backgrounds.

Finally, I would like to share a story with Members. On a recent train journey I started talking with an Asian woman who was originally from Bangladesh. In the course of the conversation she showed me a photo of her three daughters, who are now grown up. I said that they were beautiful and how lucky she was to have three daughters, at which point she looked very distressed. She then told me that she had never enjoyed any of her pregnancies because she knew that she was carrying a girl and that her then husband saw girls as being of no value and, in turn, viewed her as having no value as a wife because she had not produced a son. He eventually abandoned her. However, I am happy to report that my travelling companion went on to have her own career and that her girls are confident young women who are finding their own ways in life.

When I asked her what she thought could be done about those attitudes to girls, she said that the answer was education, education, education. She of course is right. We understand that from our own history of fighting for women’s equality—a fight that many of us still feel is a work in progress. I hope that this cross-party amendment will be supported by the House and that it will mean that when the Secretary of State reports back in six months’ time on her assessment, with accompanying proposals, we will be better informed about a way forward in addressing concerns that I agree we should not ignore. No woman should feel pressured into seeking a termination for any reason, including gender.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Jane Ellison): I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate, and I will try to do so relatively briefly in order to allow more Back-Bench contributions. New clause 1, which stands in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), and new clause 25, which stands in the name of the hon. Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey), both relate to the very important matter of addressing the abhorrent practice of sex-selective abortion.

The Government have been consistently clear that abortion on the grounds of gender alone is already illegal. The Department of Health repeated that in guidance issued in May 2014, and it is important to stress that all independent sector providers have agreed to comply with, and operate on the basis of, the Department’s guidance and that they must do so as part of their licensing conditions. The Care Quality Commission monitors compliance with that, including through its inspection visits.

Mr Burrowes: On the welcome guidance that was published, I understand from freedom of information requests, and from an e-mail sent on 21 January, that there was a request for joint badging of that guidance to ensure that all the stakeholders signed up to it. Why did that not happen? Why was it left only to the Department to publish it?

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Jane Ellison: It was the Department’s own guidance, which is why the Department published it. In the course of forming the guidance, we spoke with all the people we would be expected to speak to.

The chief medical officer for England has written twice to all doctors—in February 2012 and November 2013—reminding them of their responsibilities under the 1967 Act and reiterating the Government’s position on gender-selective abortion, and that was reiterated by professional bodies.

The Department has also undertaken detailed analysis to investigate whether the gender birth ratio in the UK varies by the mother’s country of birth beyond the range that might be expected to occur naturally. The analysis, first published in May 2013 and updated in 2014, concluded that, when broken down by the mother’s country of birth, no group was statistically different from the range we would expect to see naturally occurring. The Department has quite rightly committed to repeat that analysis annually when new birth data become available. However, I stress that the Government will remain vigilant, will continue to monitor data and will be fully open to any other evidence that comes to light.

My hon. Friend the Member for Congleton cited poignant anecdotal reports of sex-selective abortion, as she did on her ten-minute rule Bill. As I said to her at the end of that debate, I urge her and anyone with evidence of individual cases to report this to the police to investigate. I invite her once again to come to the Department with such evidence.

Considerable concern has been expressed about the impact of new clause 1 and it is right that we touch on that. The Government consider that the new clause would restate our long-standing position on the issue—that abortion on the ground of gender alone is illegal. However, hon. Members will have heard the concerns expressed by a number of groups about the practical implications of new clause 1. Although the Government do not consider on balance that ground E would be affected by the new clause, it is naturally worrying for me as a Health Minister to hear from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Royal College of Midwives about the concerns that new clause 1 has caused among health professionals providing termination of pregnancy services to women.

Mr Grieve: I am very grateful to hear from my hon. Friend that ground E would not be jeopardised. The Government have access to good legal advice—[Interruption.] I trust that they have access to good legal advice, and it must be the case that the Government have a position on the matter. I am grateful to hear from my hon. Friend that that particular anxiety is completely misplaced.

Jane Ellison: I am concerned about the fears that some people have about the practical implications of the new clause, and I think others share that concern. I hope to come on to that

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists highlighted the potential impact on abortions for foetal abnormality—I hear the point that was made on that in two interventions—where an inherited gender-related condition may be indicated, and the possibility that the new clause, if passed, may result in further concerns. The RCOG says:

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“Parents with a family history of such a condition may not have the option of Ground E.”

The RCOG also says, in relation to how doctors might feel about the practical implications, that “doctors deciding not to provide this aspect of gynaecological care”

might do so

“because it is deemed to be too ‘risky’ to them professionally.”

The House will want to be aware of these and other concerns regarding the practical implications of the new clause from the body that represents the doctors who provide these services and whom we entrust with the training, support and education of our future work force.

Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes) (Con): Does the Minister agree that one of the issues is that there are some types of X-linked genetic disorders affecting only one sex that cannot be detected by genetic testing for the specific condition in question, and that that is where the uncertainty arises? In other words, it would be entirely on the basis of the sex of the child. That is why the concern and uncertainty would be increased by the new clause.

Jane Ellison: My hon. Friend exactly describes the concerns as they have been expressed to me by the RCOG.

It may be helpful for me to give the House some figures on abortions in our country. The House is aware that the vast majority of abortions—91%—are carried out at under 13 weeks’ gestation. This is before the gestational age at which the sex of the foetus is routinely identified at the second scan, at around 18 to 21 weeks’ gestation. Disclosing the sex of the foetus is a local decision and is based on clinical judgment about the certainty of the assessment and the individual circumstances of each case. Some 98% of all abortions were carried out at under 18 weeks’ gestation in England and Wales in 2013. It is also the case that 98% of abortions performed in the independent sector in 2013 were carried out at under 18 weeks. By contrast, in 2013, 94% of reported abortions for foetal abnormality were performed in NHS hospitals. In the light of this, the House would want to consider that the new clause could be thought likely to have greatest potential impact on those health professionals working in our NHS, rather than on independent sector providers.

As the hon. Member for Stockport explained, new clause 25 would require a further assessment of the evidence that terminations are taking place on the ground of the sex of the foetus alone. I have already outlined the analysis that the Department of Health is undertaking on an annual basis in this area. We will also take into consideration any other evidence that comes to light. I stress to the House that we take the issue of coercion and abuse very seriously. Women who present for an abortion will always have the opportunity to speak to a health professional on their own at some point during the consultation. From my perspective as public health Minister, this is the sort of issue that would sensibly be considered as part of any further review, and the Department of Health is already considering what further sources of evidence can contribute to our knowledge on this important issue.

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Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): Does the Minister accept that clauses 73 and 74 of this Bill precisely help to protect women from family coercion to have an abortion?

Jane Ellison: That is a useful point to draw out about other parts of this important Bill.

It is for the House to decide whether it wants to place the commitment to a further review on a statutory footing by supporting new clause 25.

As is the convention with such issues of conscience, as a Government we do not take a position either for or against new clauses 1 and 25. If the matter is pressed to a Division, Government Members will have a free vote. However, I hope that it has been helpful to hon. Members in forming their own opinion on these two new clauses for me to set out the Government’s actions to date in this area, the facts in relation to the gestations at which most abortions are performed, and the concerns raised by professional bodies. As I have said, it is for the House to decide whether it wants to support either of the new clauses, or indeed both or neither of them, but I reiterate that abortion of a foetus on the grounds of gender alone is already illegal.

Luciana Berger (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab/Co-op): The impassioned speeches that we have heard in this debate are testament to what a sensitive and complex matter this is. New clause 1 would amend the Abortion Act 1967 and proposes that a pregnancy could not

“be terminated on the grounds of the sex of the unborn child.”

New clause 25 would require a review of the evidence relating to abortion on the grounds of gender alone and for this to be followed by a strategic Government plan that addresses concerns about the prevalence of termination on the grounds of the sex of the foetus in England, Scotland and Wales.

I am in favour of new clause 25 as the best way to address concerns about sex-selective abortions. Outwardly, the intentions behind new clause 1 might seem reasonable. However, a wide range of well-respected organisations and experts have raised concerns, pointing out a number of unintended and troubling consequences. The organisations include the Royal College of Midwives, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the British Medical Association, the TUC, the End Violence Against Women Coalition, Genetic Alliance UK, Imkaan and the Southall Black Sisters, among many others.

Sir Edward Leigh: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Luciana Berger: I am going to continue because we have a lot to get through and many Members wish to speak.

New clause 1 represents a significant departure from the current principles on which abortion law in this country is based. Given that this is a matter of huge significance, the new clause deserves fuller debate and scrutiny than we have the opportunity for in the remaining 24 minutes of this debate.

Choosing to terminate a pregnancy simply because the foetus one is carrying is not the sex one wishes for is a notion that most people find abhorrent. As the hon.

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Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) confirmed, sex-selective abortion is already illegal under the Abortion Act 1967.

Sir Edward Leigh: Will the hon. Lady give way on that point?

Luciana Berger: If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I am not going to take his intervention.

The Government, along with the chief medical officer, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and the Royal College of Midwives, have said that abortions carried out on the sole premise of foetal sex are illegal. As we have heard, updated guidance and instructions to doctors published within the past 12 months have clarified this. All independent sector providers have also agreed to follow the revised guidance as part of their licensing agreements. Let me be clear: we do not need new clause 1 to make sex-selective abortion illegal. However, it is right that we should send a strong message from this Parliament that gender-selective abortions are wrong. We can do that today by requiring the Government to carry out a thorough assessment and produce an action plan to address the root causes of this practice. That is what new clause 25 would do.

The change to the law proposed in new clause 1 would not only fail to address the root issues that lie behind the problem but have serious unintended consequences. I listened closely to the hon. Member for Congleton and to the former Attorney-General, the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), but I point to the text of new clause 1, which it is worth reading out:

“Nothing in section 1 of the Abortion Act 1967 is to be interpreted as allowing a pregnancy to be terminated on the grounds of the sex of the unborn child.”

It says that nothing is to be so interpreted, so that includes medical grounds, the well-being of the mother, and gender-specific abnormalities. At best, this would create uncertainty and doubt for doctors who administer abortions in these situations and a legal grey area for women who are already facing a very difficult decision. I heard the former Attorney-General’s intervention, but I have listened to many legal experts who have written on the pages of many papers—

Mr Grieve: I appreciate that there may be policy arguments and all sorts of good arguments to make, but it is simply incorrect to argue that the new clause would have the consequences that have been claimed of preventing, for example, abortion from taking place where, because of the gender, there was a likelihood of disability. The Minister confirmed that. She was a bit hesitant about it, but she eventually did so when I intervened on her, so I repeat her assurance. My view is that this argument is completely groundless.

Luciana Berger: I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his intervention, but, as we have heard, many legal experts dispute that position. I refer to the specific text of the new clause, which says nothing about, and is in direct conflict with, paragraphs (a) to (d) of section 1(1) of the Abortion Act.

The Genetic Alliance has said that

“the consequences of this amendment could be devastating to women and couples at risk of having a child affected by a serious x-linked condition.”

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I have heard from one family where two sisters were carriers of x-linked severe combined immunodeficiency, a disease that affects only boys. After years of thinking, one sister decided not to have any children, because she did not want to risk the chance of having to choose between having a very poorly son or a termination. Her sister decided—also after many years of consideration—to have children and went on to have three healthy daughters. Those were the choices that those women made after much consideration and deliberation with their families. How can Parliament take that decision away from them? I am sure that no one would wish to deprive their daughter, sister or partner of that choice. It is surely not for Parliament to rush this through in the short time available and deny families the opportunity to have children or a healthy baby.

Another serious concern is that new clause 1 is not just a clarification of the law, but a fundamental reform of the essential principles on which existing abortion law in this country been based for 47 years. The Abortion Act 1967 places the physical and mental health of the woman as the overriding concern of a doctor authorising abortion. Our current legislation refers to the foetus rather than the unborn child. That is because, across our legislation and common law, children are accorded a wide range of protections and rights that Parliament has previously agreed should not be accorded to the foetus.

Changing the language of the Abortion Act, as this new clause would do, would send a very different signal to the courts and open up different judicial interpretations of abortion or new consequences and restrictions that would go far beyond the issue of sex selection. For the first time since legislation in 1929, new clause 1, if passed, could afford the foetus rights that would be in conflict with those of the mother and it could seriously jeopardise the future of safe, legal abortion in the UK.

Fiona Bruce: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Luciana Berger: I am not going to give way. I am going to wrap up, because I am conscious of the time and Madam Deputy Speaker wants me to conclude.

There are many other points that I would have liked to address, particularly the issue of custom and practice and why new clause 25 addresses the issue of coercion in communities, which is something we all want to deal with.

Voting against new clause 1 is not an indication of support for sex-selective practices, but an acknowledgement that it would do nothing to address the causes or reduce the incidences of sex-selective abortion and that some serious negative unintended consequences would result from enacting this proposed change to the Serious Crime Bill.

Few people would support the idea that families should be able to have abortions on the grounds of gender alone. That is why it is illegal under our current law. New clause 1 represents a significant departure from the current principles on which abortion law in this country is based. Instead, new clause 25 would require a review of the evidence relating to abortion on the grounds of gender alone, to ensure that we have a full understanding of the practice and the extent of the problem, and for that to be followed by a Government strategy to tackle it accordingly, based on the evidence

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of what works. I sincerely hope that Members on both sides of the House will vote against new clause 1 and in support of new clause 25.

Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): It is important that we try as far as possible to develop a consensus on subjects such as this. Everyone across the House is against abortion on the grounds of gender alone. We have communicated that view, the Government have written it in guidance and we want to make it clear in statute. It is as simple as that. We do not seek to have a Trojan horse or to upgrade the status of the unborn child. On that point, one simply needs to look at section 1(1)(d) of the Abortion Act 1967, which refers to “child” as a legal term, so that definition is not unknown.

We could support new clause 25, which aims to develop further research and have a plan, but it is not an alternative to new clause 1. Yes, we should develop more understanding and evidence, but we should not ignore the main point of this debate, which is what brought together more than 50 Members from both sides of the House—whether they were pro-choice or pro-life—when they signed a letter in 2013. Some of them have now signed different new clauses and are seeking to divide one another when we should be coming together to show that we want to clear up the law.

We have talked about different legal experts. Why not take one, Keir Starmer, the then Director of Public Prosecutions? On 7 October 2013, he said:

“The law does not…expressly prohibit gender-specific abortions”.

That no doubt came as a surprise to many members of the public. To put it simply, that is what new clause 1 is about—it would expressly prohibit such abortions. What does the law do? As Keir Starmer went on, rather the law

“prohibits any abortion carried out without two medical practitioners having formed a view, in good faith, that the health risks of continuing with a pregnancy outweigh those of termination.”

8.45 pm

What drew Members from both sides of the House and all sides of the ethical debate to be concerned in 2013? They jointly said that the Crown Prosecution Service’s decision not to prosecute

“could lead to the conclusion that gender-specific abortion is merely a matter of professional misconduct rather than illegal.”

The issue is whether we simply delegate this matter to professionals’ judgment in performing a balancing act and to their conduct, or deal with it—as we as parliamentarians should do and are charged with doing—by recognising that at the very least we must ensure that the law is clear.

What did the Department do? It responded to the concerns expressed in 2013 by deciding to issue departmental guidance to set out its interpretation of the law. As we have already heard, and we have been bombarded with lots of briefings from many organisations —the royal colleges, the TUC, the BMA and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service—there are different interpretations of the law.

Sir Edward Leigh: We have to base the law on the law. There is no mention of this in the 1967 Act. There was no possibility of mentioning it in the Act, because it

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was not possible to determine gender when it was passed. Keir Starmer is therefore absolutely right: the law is unclear.

Mr Burrowes: That is right. The Department issued helpful guidance that abortion on the grounds of gender alone was illegal. However, guidance is not sufficient. We do not simply rely on guidance in many areas of policy.

As freedom of information requests have revealed, the Government’s attempt jointly to badge all stakeholders together did not succeed, because the BMA rejected the very guidance published by the Government. It said that gender selection abortion is “normally unethical”, but that the guidance

“fails to reflect the…full legal situation regarding abortion and gender.”

The BMA therefore had a different interpretation. It also said that, separate to the issue of gender-related disability that has quite properly been raised,

“in some cases doctors may come to the conclusion that the effects of having a child of a particular gender are so severe to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman as to provide legal and ethical justification for an abortion”.

We need greater clarity than can be given in guidance; we need to be sure that such a prohibition is clear in statute. The law as it stands is not clear. We have a duty not just to leave it to a doctor to perform a balancing act. No longer should we be silent on this issue. I urge hon. Members to support new clause 1.

Several hon. Members rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Dawn Primarolo): Order. May I ask Members to make their comments very brief, because the debate will end at 9 pm and I want to get in as many as I can?

 

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): Many Members, including myself, strongly support new clause 1 as a means of clarifying the law to make it absolutely clear that sex-selective abortion, which is plainly discriminatory, is illegal in the United Kingdom. In so doing, we seek to inspire the Government to develop interventions that will address the issue of why boys are more desired than girls—the issue of son preference.

In setting out my position, I want to address head on the argument that the new clause will criminalise women. That is not the case: the legal standing of women would in no way be changed, but doctors would instead be held to account, and rightly so. Sex-selective abortion is already illegal in the United Kingdom. In fact, the Prime Minister suggested in March 2014 that abortion on the grounds of gender was not only unacceptable, but illegal. It is alarming that medical organisations, such as the British Medical Pregnancy Advisory Service and the British Medical Association, have suggested that that is not the case, or that at the very least the law is silent on the matter. That must be addressed.

Mr Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP): Thankfully, we do not have the Abortion Act 1967 in Northern Ireland. One of the difficulties is that organisations, such as the BMA and others, which

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constantly call for clarification of the law in Northern Ireland by seeking to extend the level of abortion there are quick to say that we do not need to clarify the law when it comes to tightening the law on abortion in Great Britain.

Jim Shannon: I thank my right hon. Friend for making that clear and salient point.

If abortion laws are unclear on whether sex-selective abortion is legal, let us tighten them up using new clause 1, so that it is clear beyond reasonable doubt that the practice is unacceptable. The new clause would inevitably clarify the law by stating explicitly that the termination of pregnancy on the grounds of the sex of the unborn child is illegal. It would add clarity and certainty for women and medical professionals, so that neither party would be left wondering what their rights and obligations were.

New clause 25 would not provide adequate means for holding doctors to account, because a prosecution would still hinge on the ambiguity of section 1 of the Abortion Act 1967. It is clear that it would do nothing to move forward the debate on the clarity of the law. New clause 1 would make it certain, without a doubt, that sex-selective abortion is illegal. There would be no conflicting interpretations, just the black letter of the law. It would force the Government not only to clarify the law, but to create initiatives to address the issue of son preference.

I will conclude, because I am conscious that others want to speak and I want to allow time for that. New clause 1 is vital for at least two reasons. First, at the moment it is possible to ask whether sex-selective abortion is illegal and to get three different answers that appear to be contradictory, but that are all correct. That will not do. If there are varying interpretations of the law and the legality of a practice is unclear, the law must be amended to thwart any confusion, particularly for women, who should be in no doubt as to their rights in this area. It is therefore important that we support new clause 1.

Secondly, campaigners such as Jeena International and Karma Nirvana suggest that a prejudicial attitude towards girls is a phenomenon that is occurring in the United Kingdom. Therefore, the time to act against sex-selective abortion is now, not when our sex ratios become distorted to the same levels as those of India and China. New clause 1 sends a clear, unequivocal message to doctors and medical practitioners that sex-selective abortion is illegal and cannot be tolerated in our society. I urge right hon. and hon. Members to vote for it tonight.

Dr Wollaston: We all agree that it is abhorrent to terminate a pregnancy on the grounds of a belief that daughters are less valuable than sons. However, I will vote against new clause 1 for three reasons: it is unnecessary, there would be unintended consequences and we have insufficient time to debate what would be a fundamental change to an underlying principle of the Abortion Act 1967.

We have heard clearly that it is already illegal to terminate a pregnancy on the grounds of gender alone, and rightly so. That has been clarified since many of us agreed that there was an issue. I agree that there was an issue. It was not possible to bring prosecutions until the clarification was issued by the Department of Health and the chief medical officer.

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The updated data on this issue, which examines not only ethnicity but birth order, shows that there is no evidence of a systematic practice of gender-based abortion in this country. It happens in other parts of the world, where it is having a serious distorting effect on societies and on the status of women, but there is no systematic practice here, although I have no doubt that there are individual cases.

New clause 1 would have unintended consequences. At present, women may have the confidence to disclose to a doctor in the confidence of a consulting room that they feel under pressure. If we brought in the new clause, women might feel that they may be criminalised. That would do more harm than good and bring about the exact reverse of the intended consequence of the new clause. We also risk stigmatising communities through the implication that this is a widespread practice, which it is not in the UK. We have to be clear about that.

New clause 1 uses the very emotive term, “the unborn child”. That would change the meaning within the Abortion Act. We have to be very careful about that. My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) mentioned that the word “child” appears in the Abortion Act. I accept that, but we must look at the context in which the word is mentioned. It is mentioned in the grounds for terminating a pregnancy when there is a grave risk that a child may suffer a serious abnormality. In other words, it does not confer personhood on the foetus in the way that this change would. It may be the view of the House that that needs to change, but let us come back and debate this incredibly serious ethical point with the time it deserves, not shoehorn it on to the tail end of a new clause with which it is difficult to disagree—as I said earlier, we are all agreed that termination on the grounds that a daughter is somehow of less value than a son is totally abhorrent.

I urge hon. Members please to come back to this issue and give it the time it deserves. Let us debate it on its ethical merits, not try to pretend that we are talking about something else. We are all agreed on the fundamental premise, so let us give it the time it deserves and reject new clause 1 tonight.

Fiona Mactaggart: I speak as one of the 13 MPs who co-sponsored the original ten-minute rule Bill of the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce). I did that because I think she was right to make people aware that sex selective abortion is illegal, and I thought her Bill was a powerful and good tactic to do that. However, I feel a bit as though I have been pulled along by a Trojan horse because, as the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) said, the new clause confers the status of an unborn child on the foetus, and that radically changes our abortion laws in a way I believe is dangerous.

As I said in an earlier intervention, clauses 73 and 74, which deal with coercive behaviour, contain a powerful tool that we should use to prevent the kind of coercion to which the hon. Member for Congleton referred. In those references she quoted extensively from an organisation based in my constituency, but personal experience of how that organisation has failed to help individual constituents has led me to the conclusion that it is not possible to depend on the accuracy of what it says. I am therefore concerned that we are using anecdote from an unreliable source to make legislation on the hoof.

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Having supported the hon. Lady’s original ten-minute rule Bill, I have since read something from an organisation in America that is closely linked to the all-party pro-life group that she chairs. The head of that group stated:

“I propose that we—the pro-life movement—adopt as our next goal the banning of sex…selective abortion. By formally protecting all female fetuses from abortion on the ground of their sex, we would plant in the law the proposition that the developing child is a being whose claims on us should not depend on their sex…This sense of contradiction will be further heightened among radical feminists—”

I think he means people like me—

“the shock troops of the abortion movement. They may believe that the right to abortion is fundamental to women’s emancipation, but many will recoil at the thought of aborting their unborn sisters.”

My final reason for arguing that we should reject the new clause is the concern of the British Medical Association that it will make doctors more fearful of providing abortion services and training to carry out abortions. One of the biggest risks for young women seeking help to terminate a pregnancy is not getting that help in time, as a result of which we end up with late abortions and women who cannot have abortions when they are entitled to them. One reason for that is the growing number of doctors who are reluctant to perform abortions because they practise defensive medicine. I have no doubt that the new clause is unnecessary and likely to increase that and make it more difficult for women to access their right to termination—a right that I am afraid the hon. Member for Congleton, although I agree when she says that we all agree that abortion should not be available on the basis of gender, does not support at all.

Sir Edward Leigh: If the whole House is agreed that it is morally repugnant to destroy a foetus simply on the basis of its gender—it is usually a girl—let us make that explicit in law.

Dame Angela Watkinson (Hornchurch and Upminster) (Con): Very briefly—

9 pm

Debate interrupted (Programme Order, 5 January).

The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (Standing Order No. 83E), That the clause be read a Second time.

The House divided:

Ayes 201, Noes 292.

 

October 19th 2015 Modern Slavery Act Regulations debated in Parliament , followed by December 19th article for Huffington Post – Committee Stage of the Modern Slavery Bill – Amendments to Create a Fund from the Seized Assets of Traffickers – to help victims, charities and law enforcement agencies, – Amendments on Domestic Workers Visas, Gangmasters, Supply Chain Transparency

modern slavery and wilberforce

House of Lords Debate: October 19th 2015

Modern Slavery Act 2015 (Transparency in Supply Chains) Regulations 2015

Motion to Approve

7.01 pm

Moved by Lord Bates

That the draft regulations laid before the House on 7 September be approved.

Relevant document: 4th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Bates) (Con): My Lords, I beg to move that the draft Modern Slavery Act 2015 (Transparency in Supply Chains) Regulations 2015, which were laid before this House on 7 September, be approved.

The Modern Slavery Act 2015 includes a ground-breaking transparency in supply chains provision. Once commenced, this provision will require all commercial organisations that carry out business in the UK and are above a certain turnover threshold to disclose what steps they have taken to ensure that their own business and supply chains are slavery-free.

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Many businesses are already taking action to prevent modern slavery but the legislation will encourage business to do more and create a virtual race to the top. Requiring commercial organisations to be transparent about the activity they are undertaking will give the public, consumers and investors the information they need to make informed decisions about whom they do business with and where they shop.

Recognising the importance of the provision in the Modern Slavery Act, we decided to consult on whom the provision should apply to. The Government have always wanted to create a level playing field between businesses with the resources and purchasing power to take action, while at the same time avoiding placing any undue burdens on smaller businesses. The regulations before this House today set the threshold determining which businesses need to comply.

Between February and May 2015, the Government held a formal consultation on the threshold level and the content of statutory guidance for businesses. The consultation generated over 180 responses from a range of businesses, business groups, trade bodies and NGOs. It asked respondents for their views on the level of turnover threshold and they overwhelmingly supported setting the threshold at £36 million. Many respondents noted that setting the threshold at that figure would align with the definition of a large company in the Companies Act 2006, providing clarity and consistency for businesses.

Having listened to businesses and their representative groups carefully, the Government have determined that the transparency provision should apply to all commercial organisations with a total turnover of £36 million or more per year. The Government believe that setting the turnover threshold at this level is ambitious and creates the broadest level playing field for those businesses affected.

These regulations also specify how the total turnover of a commercial organisation should be defined for the purposes of this provision. It is calculated as the turnover of that organisation and the turnover of any of its subsidiary undertakings. This means that in calculating their total turnover, parent companies will have to include the turnover of all their subsidiaries when considering whether this provision applies.

The Government are determined to ensure that this important provision works effectively on the ground in the long term. That is why these regulations also require the Secretary of State to publish at least once every five years a report that sets out the objectives of these regulations, and assesses the extent to which these objectives are being achieved and whether they remain appropriate. This will ensure that the provision remains relevant and effective for businesses tackling modern slavery risks in the future.

The UK is the first country in the world to introduce such transparency in supply chains legislation in relation to modern slavery. This ambitious legislation will help to ensure that UK consumers do not unwittingly drive demand for modern slavery anywhere in the world and that the UK is recognised as a world leader in this area.

For this ground-breaking legislation to work effectively, it is vital that it applies to the right businesses—those with the resources and purchasing power to effect real

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change—and that it is kept under close review. These regulations will ensure that that is so, and I commend them to the House.

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, in welcoming the Minister’s speech to the House tonight, I will ask some questions and make a couple of observations about the regulations.

I will start by drawing the Minister’s attention to Regulation 4(2)(c), which suggests that the objectives in the provision,

“could be achieved with a system that imposes less regulation”.

I wonder whether the phrase “a system that requires more effective regulation” would have been better. Perhaps the Minister might spell out the difference between less regulation and effective regulation.

Secondly, can the Minister say why the regulations do not provide more specific guidance to the Secretary of State on the timescale for publishing the report? While the draft regulations stipulate,

“at intervals not exceeding five years”,

more frequent reporting could uncover issues that need to be addressed to enable the provision to have its intended effect.

Thirdly, I understand that the independent review of the overseas domestic worker visa, which was committed to in Committee during the passage of the Modern Slavery Act, is now being carried out by James Ewins and was due to report to the Home Secretary in mid-July. The report has been delayed, and I understand that it is now expected in mid-November. It is important to have that in time for our debate in your Lordships’ House on the Immigration Bill. Can the Minister give us some clarity on that?

The Modern Slavery Act 2015 enjoyed all-party support and is, as I think we all agree, a very good start in combating modern-day slavery and trafficking. The Government have placed a great deal of emphasis on the role of the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner; perhaps the Minister will confirm that some £350,000 has been set aside to support his office this year. When spelling out the sums of money involved, perhaps the Minister could also say what resources are being made available by his department to non-governmental organisations that support vulnerable people who are trafficked—sometimes over several years if they are to be helped to avoid the siren voices of their traffickers.

The House will not be surprised to learn that I want to return to an issue which I raised at Third Reading on 4 March of this year—at col. 230—when introducing Amendments 3 and 6 to Clauses 54 and 57 during the passage of the Modern Slavery Act. Those amendments, on which I divided the House and which I had raised on Second Reading, in Committee and on Report, would have required the Secretary of State to make regulations to appoint an organisation or an individual to collate slavery and human trafficking statements and to maintain a website—a repository—on which to publish those statements, in a form searchable by members of the public without charge.

The proposal was supported not only by many noble Lords from all parts of your Lordships’ House. It has been consistently asked for by civil society

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groups, which have so much experience of working with businesses on supply chains, including Amnesty International, Anti-Slavery International, CAFOD, the CORE coalition, the Dalit Freedom Network, the Evangelical Alliance, Focus on Labour Exploitation, the Law Society, Quakers in Britain, Traidcraft, Unseen,War on Want and the Equality and Human Rights Commission. I argued that without the incorporation of a central repository for slavery and human trafficking statements, it would be very difficult—if not nigh impossible—for civil society, investors, consumers and other agencies to hold big business to account.

Consider for a moment the substantial obstacles to accessing annual turnover information which indicates those companies that fall within the compliance threshold, let alone the vast number of different websites that would have to be trawled through, and it is patently obvious why a central repository must be established. One estimate was that if the threshold figure of more than £60 million had been used, more than 12,000 businesses would be obliged to produce a statement. The Minister has said to the House this evening that the threshold is now being set at £36 million. When he replies, I would be grateful if he said what he anticipates will be the number of businesses affected by that threshold; however, it will be a large number of businesses. The site would enable easy filing for business with secure verification of reports, so that spoof reports cannot be submitted. Businesses would not find themselves in the invidious position of not knowing whether they should be on that site. It must be a robust database with scalable secure storage, as over time there will be a growing number of reports to be stored, sorted and compared. This year-on-year comparison will enable clear evidence that the reports are iterative and that progress is being made year on year by businesses in combating modern slavery in their operations around the globe.

During the passage of the legislation, some noble Lords tried to cast doubt on whether the proposal for a central website enjoyed the full support of Kevin Hyland, the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner. He wrote to me, stating:

“I can confirm I fully support the suggestion of a website as the central repository for reports as suggested by yourself and other noble Lords”.

He said that without such a website and adequate resources,

“it will be unlikely to achieve the objective”,

but the creation of such a,

“repository with the right resource would, I believe, make a very positive difference”.

Experience from overseas supports his judgment. Groups involved in the implementation of the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act of 2010 urged the House to learn from their experience. The Californian organisation Not For Sale says that the American failure to create a central repository of information has made it,

“difficult to know which companies need to comply with the law, and which do not”.

A coalition of major UK companies, trade unions and non-governmental organisations—including many familiar high street names—that would be required to

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comply with this measure supports this proposal. They say that they strongly support a published list of,

“all companies that are required to publish their statements on modern slavery in an accessible central website so that effective monitoring and accountability can be assured. We believe this would go a long way to levelling the playing field for ethical and responsible businesses, ensuring that they are not undercut by unscrupulous companies that operate under the radar of public scrutiny”.

The Minister himself said on Report that he accepted the principle, stating that:

“we want to see these statements in one place so that people can monitor and evaluate them to ensure that the intended action takes place”.—[

Official Report

, 25/2/15; col. 1750.]

Therefore, my question to him is: why are we not moving towards that by regulation? Is the Home Office doing it without regulation? How much progress has been made since the House divided on this issue? At the time, the Minister said,

“we are more or less on the same page. The question is: do we at this stage want to have this written on the page, or do we want to leave it to something that we will come to a little later?”

Well, we are still here, at a later stage, and I would be grateful if the Minister told us how much longer we have to wait. At the time, in urging patience, he said that we should await the outcome of the consultation with the Ethical Trading Initiative. He said that the consultation was,

“a concession; it was something which we said we would do in response to concerns raised in your Lordships’ House. We launched the consultation and it is open until 7 May”.

He added:

“We are using this opportunity to talk directly to technology companies and to some of the businesses that will be producing these statements to determine the best options. I am pleased to say that discussions have already highlighted a number of interesting ideas which we want to pursue with the businesses as quickly as we can”.—[Official Report, 4/3/15; col. 237-38.]

I welcomed that at the time and I welcome the sentiment again this evening. But I told the House then, and I repeat, that although the Minister told us that we should wait for the consultation, I cannot think of an organisation—and I cited many—that we would consult about this proposal that has not already come out in favour of a central repository, which should be available to prevent people having to trawl across the internet to find individual companies.

7.15 pm

In conclusion, developing a central repository and website for annual statements on slavery and human trafficking as part of the transparency measures in the Modern Slavery Act will enable easy access to all reports in one place, rather than needing to search perhaps 12,000 websites. It is vital that this be a neutral site, but it must be run by an anti-trafficking charity, as opposed to a commercial organisation, in order to give credibility. The site would not be passing judgment on the quality of reports but would be a publicly and fully searchable database of reports, enabling comparisons between companies or sectors, and over time could analyse what is being reported—that is, actions in a particular country or across a sector of business, and potentially, in due course, by product. It would also be able to highlight companies that are not in compliance with the legislation.

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Creating a repository will more effectively fulfil the Home Secretary’s stated desire that civil society and consumers drive the impact of transparency in supply chain reporting, as there will be one central place to read the reports. I look forward to hearing from the Minister about the outcome of the consultation and when such a repository will be established. Tonight is a rare opportunity to press the Minister further on these points. I think he was expecting this issue to be raised, so we look forward to hearing from him.

The Earl of Sandwich (CB): My Lords, I supported my noble friend’s original amendment on the question of monitoring, and I will return to that in a moment. Whether we should go as far as the website and central information, I still am not certain in my own mind.

Having looked through the original consultation and the Government’s response, I am very impressed by the detailed work that has been done on this issue. It is rather a contrast with the Energy Bill, where the Government were castigated for bringing everything in at the last minute. I think that the whole process of pre-legislative scrutiny and consultation on the Modern Slavery Bill has been a model. I believe that the Government are genuinely behind this legislation, especially the Minister, who has shown commitment over many years, including his Nike research in China, his links with Gateshead and Traidcraft and his promise to consult widely following the Bill. This is where my noble friend’s amendment is very relevant. We are delighted that he has come up with the regulation, and I warmly welcome the decision to go for the lower threshold. This was the clear view of the respondents and I am glad to see also that companies will be given some flexibility on the form of the statement. So we are proceeding gradually in the right direction.

This does not mean that I have no misgivings. The first one is about monitoring. I notice that under section J of the impact assessment, the Government undertake to engage with businesses for a further 12 months after commencement. However, it seems that this will be only a limited assessment about reporting requirements and whether organisations have any difficulty in providing information. What about the monitoring of performance by the companies themselves after 12 months? Who is going to assess whether the companies have adequately researched their own supply chains to the point where they can revise earlier statements? I suspect that much of the monitoring will fall to civil society.

I remember the discussion under Section 54 on 10 December, when the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, questioned the Minister very closely on the amount of information that would be required from a company to enable civil society, for example, to make a judgment. This is an important point because it might be easy for a company to make very brief statements with so little content that the Government and NGOs would hardly be able to question them.

Presumably the Government will be involved after the 12-month period. Will they create a forum involving the NGOs, or will the anti-slavery commissioner, Mr Hyland, be involved in the process? I see that he has just published his impressive strategic plan: his

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workload is formidable. I know that he works with the NGOs a lot but surely he will have to stick primarily to policing and law enforcement and will not have the extra time that is required.

If the aim of the regulations and the Act is to,

“ensure there is no modern slavery in … supply chains”,

and to,

“aid the detection and elimination of modern slavery”,

surely a lot more needs to be done in the direction that my noble friend has mentioned than publishing what could be very limited information.

Finally, I ask the Minister whether charities are covered by the regulations. Section 54 of the Act refers to a “commercial organisation”, but the Explanatory Memorandum to the regulations says at paragraph 10.1:

“The impact on … charities or voluntary bodies is small”.

Perhaps he could clarify this point, because there are charities with substantial overseas trading interests.

Baroness Hamwee (LD): My Lords, this is indeed a significant statutory instrument. Whether it will fulfil its potential depends on its implementation and the practice that is adopted by organisations, as well as the response by the public. Like other speakers, I think that the content of the statements is more important than the process, and inevitably the statutory instrument is focused on the process.

Actions beyond the legislation—the statute and the statutory instrument—will be important. Like other noble Lords, the first point that I wrote down related to monitoring and whether there would be a central repository and a website to cover what may be, according to the impact assessment, 17,000 or 11,000 companies—a number of figures are given. It seems to me that the demand for that was reflected in the responses to the consultation, as reported on the Home Office website. This is not just for citizens, NGOs, civil society or indeed government to check and to hold companies to account; surely the repository, or depository, also has a function in spreading good practice and disseminating information about methodologies. The responses to the consultation seemed to show a need on the part of companies for assistance in how to identify slavery. The section on supply chains in the commissioner’s strategy, to which the noble Earl has just referred, under the heading “How will we know that the response is improving?”, says:

“Best-practice models of business and supply chain transparency to be established and widely adopted”.

Clearly there is a lot of work to be done in this area, so the guidance on how to do it is important. We are told that this is to be,

“published to coincide with the duty coming into force”,

which, I understand, will be in October. Can the Minister help the House as to whether the guidance will be published before then? Surely if a duty is in effect, one needs to know beforehand how to comply with that duty in the way that, I hope, the guidance will cover.

I note, too, that transitional provisions are to be developed, and I wonder whether the Minister can explain what that means. The first point that occurred to me on this was that the duty comes into effect in

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October, but how does that relate to any given company’s financial year? Presumably that will be a basis for making a statement and an assessment. The Government must have thought through whether, for instance, the duty will apply to a report only after there has been a full financial year of experience. I may be barking up the wrong tree here but if the Minister can help the House on what is anticipated in the transitional arrangements, it would be useful.

The responses asked whether the provisions could apply to companies below the threshold. I assume that there is no reason why not. In our debates on the Bill, we talked about the reputational benefits of providing statements.

More widely—I do not know whether the Minister can answer this—what sense does the Home Office have of a buy-in of enthusiasm for this process, for instance among institutional investors? During the progress of the Bill, we talked about the position that shareholders have and the influence that they may have on companies, so the institutions, as the biggest shareholders generally, will be in an important position. I used a search engine to see what was being said about this subject and found that a number of City lawyers and accountants are including advice on the subject in their newsletters, but it will be the shareholders—and the concern not to upset shareholders—that will be central to the operation of this measure.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred to the effectiveness of these arrangements. In that connection, I noted that the impact assessment seems to deal with the regulatory burden, not with the costs of the investigation leading to the content of the statement. Checking that there is no slavery in the chain is the objective, despite the get-out of the “no statement”, so it seemed to me that there was a danger that the impact assessment might be sending an inappropriate message.

I was interested, too, that quite a lot of respondents disagreed with providing key performance indicators—not a majority by any means, but the indicators are referred to in the legislation and they are important because they will show trends. We are talking here about not just snapshots but trends. I do not know whether the Minister can say anything about that.

Almost finally, we have heard about the requirements on the Home Secretary to report. Is there an intention to report more frequently than the statutory minimum? And finally—this matter was raised by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, during the passage of the Bill—can the Minister tell us what the Government are doing to check on their own procurement?

Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab): My Lords, first, I generally welcome these regulations but have a few concerns. I am delighted that they have appeared before your Lordships’ House as close as we could get to Anti-Slavery Day, which was yesterday. Slavery and human trafficking are appalling crimes. Estimates have suggested that anything up to 13,000 people who are victims of modern slavery could be living here in the UK, and the Walk Free Foundation has estimated that there are 35.8 million people in modern slavery throughout the world. Those are appalling figures.

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During the passage of the then Modern Slavery Bill through your Lordships’ House, many examples were given of multinational businesses using very long and complicated supply chains across the world, which, due to their nature, can sometimes allow slavery to thrive. The regulations before us require companies with a turnover of £36 million or more to produce a statement that sets out the steps that the organisation has taken during the year to ensure that slavery and human trafficking are not taking place in any of its supply chains or in any of its own businesses, or a statement that the organisation has taken no steps at all. The statements must be published on the organisation’s website with a link in a prominent place on the home page of the website.

I am pleased that following the consultation the Government opted to include within this legislation companies with a minimum annual turnover of £36 million and that they did not go for a maximum threshold as a possible option. It was also clear from the consultation exercise that this figure was supported by most—more than 70%—of the people consulted. Like the noble Lord, Lord Alton, I noted that the Home Secretary has to produce a report. Regulation 4(2)(c) refers to “the extent to which” the objectives,

“could be achieved with a system that imposes less regulation”.

I would have preferred something that referred to more effective regulation rather than the word “less”. This is such an important issue that “less” lays the wrong emphasis on the regulation.

The Home Secretary is required to publish a report within five years of the regulations becoming law and thereafter every five years. Five years seems a terribly long time. We should have more frequent reporting—say every two or three years—which would enable us to more quickly identify issues that need to be addressed. This would ensure that the regulations are having their intended effect rather than to having to wait for just one chance in every Parliament.

7.30 pm

The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Bates, about allowing consumers to make informed choices is very important. During the passage of the Bill through your Lordships’ House, the question of whether a website should be maintained where details of company statements could be kept in one place was discussed. Again, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, raised this point. However, the Government were not persuaded as to the merits of the proposal, which is most disappointing. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Bates, could tell us whether he intends to keep that proposal under review. Could he also tell the House what his view would be if the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner decided to set up such a website—if, of course, he had the necessary funds to do so? There is concern that it is going to be very difficult, if not impossible, to keep track of all these company statements when there is not a simple reference point or repository to go to.

Could the noble Lord also tell the House whether in any published guidance there will be some explanation of what the company statement should look like and what it should cover, or will it be up to each individual company to put down whatever if feels like?

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Page 19 of the impact assessment refers to engaging with business through,

“informal consultations and ongoing engagement”.

Can the noble Lord tell the House a little more about this?

Finally, I notice that post-legislative scrutiny will take place between three to five years after the Bill became an Act. Does the noble Lord, Lord Bates, think that we need the first report to the Home Secretary before we get into that position?

On these Benches we generally welcome these regulations, as we welcome the Act—we have been in the same place on many points—but this is such an important issue that it needs to be reviewed carefully to avoid unintended consequences. I hope the noble Lord will come back to us and tell us what the Government are going to do in the future.

Lord Bates: I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate and welcome the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, to his new role and responsibilities. He has shown a great interest in the area of modern slavery for some time and we look forward to continuing that discussion. He is right to say that this has been—certainly in my time in both Houses—model legislation in the way that it had pre-legislative scrutiny before the Bill was published. It is interesting that the original Bill was published without a clause on the supply chain. That came later between two stages. There have been a number of commitments to review and consultations which have led to that role. When we consulted on the range it varied from £100 million to £60 million, and the noble Lord is right to state what we have come forward with. During those debates there was a little suspicion in some quarters of the House as to whether it would be under £100 million but it has come down on the side of £36 million, which is the right level.

This is new legislation—a new initiative that we are undertaking—so all aspects of it have to be constantly under review to see how it is being introduced and how it is working. I will come to specific questions but I particularly wish to make reference to the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, referred to the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner and his priorities. He produced his strategic plan for 2015-17 last week and it sets out clearly what he aims to do. His first priority of course—it is important to put this on record in the context of a debate on the supply chain, although we all want to do more in every area—is the identification and care of victims. We all felt that that should be his priority. The supply chain is important. It comes in at number 4 in the section on what he intends to do to promote awareness of these new obligations on businesses. There is also an element which runs on from that about international co-operation. It is a crucial element. We are leading the way in the international community and we want this to help us build relationships with other organisations and to encourage them to have similar regulations in place.

I turn now to the specific points, but not in the order in which they were made. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked about the transitional provisions

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and whether the company will need to report only up until the end of the full financial year. When we commence this transparency and supply chain provision, we will include a transition provision so that the first organisations required to comply will be those whose financial year ends on or after 31 March 2016. This will ensure that all organisations have sufficient time to consider the new provision and the statutory guidance before publishing their first statement. A follow-on from that was to say how long after that period they will have to file that report; the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, referred to this. We anticipate that a period of six months should be sufficient.

The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, asked whether this provision applied to charities, universities and other organisations. The organisation will be caught if it engages in commercial activities irrespective of the purpose and whether profits are made. Ultimately it will be for the individual organisations to take legal advice, consider whether they meet the requirements of the Act and determine whether they need to comply. I have touched upon the transitional arrangements.

As to whether guidance will be published before October to coincide with the duty coming into force, our intention is to publish guidance at the same time as we bring this provision into force, which we expect to be next week, subject to approval of these regulations.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked what buy-in has been detected in the Home Office from institutional investors. A wide range of businesses and investors called for this legislation to be introduced. This included a prominent campaign led by a range of major investment firms, which wrote letters on a number of occasions calling for transparency in supply chain legislation. These include Rathbones Investments, BNP Paribas Investors, Pardes and Aviva Investors. We are therefore confident that investors welcome this provision and will provide more information. In fact, during the debate the most effective voices to be heard by organisations will be from their own shareholders. It is for institutional investors—whether they be trade unions or other investors—to make sure their voice is heard at annual general meetings. We know from experience in some areas—for example, female representation among non-executive directors on boards—that that very powerful voice has been heard. We hope that institutional investors will ensure that the voice is heard and that companies will give an adequate response.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked whether the Home Secretary intends to report more frequently than the statutory minimum infills. The regulations set out,

“before the end of a period of five years”.

Of course, “before the end” can be open-ended but it is certainly worth putting in a limit. While the requirement is to report only once every five years, if the Home Office receives clear evidence that the regulations are not achieving their objectives at an earlier point, we will of course consider conducting a formal review at an earlier stage.

I think that the message needs to go out to business that we are commencing this in a way which, while I do not want to use the term “light touch”, tries to work with businesses to get their supply chains in

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order. But the clear message is that we expect action to be taken, and if it is not taken it is of course open to this or future Governments to come forward with further measures for consideration.

I was asked what HMG were doing about their own procurement. The transparency provision was specifically designed with the private sector in mind. The Government are of course subject to parliamentary scrutiny and freedom of information requests in terms of their duties, but this is a key element. We have a cross-government procurement policy so that modern slavery considerations become a key part of procurement processes. I believe that imminently, if not already, a question relating to the compliance of supply chains with the Act and the regulations is being inserted into that policy.

The noble Earl asked about the role of the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner. His remit includes promoting good practice in the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of modern slavery offences, which includes encouraging good practice among businesses to prevent slavery from occurring in their supply chains. The whole point is that the anti-slavery commissioner is independent, which is another change that was made in the process of the legislation. We cannot instruct him on what to do, but the Home Secretary will ensure that she listens carefully to his recommendations and requests.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, raised a number of points, one of which was echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy: why is there a reference in Regulation 4(2)(c) to “less regulation” rather than more effective regulation? The reference to “less regulation” reflects the standard-view terminology applicable to all business regulations. It reflects the fact that these regulations are from a Government who have as one of their aims a deregulatory culture. We have committees and processes that scrutinise what we do to ensure that what we put forward is consistent with the wider government approach. In any event, the review of these regulations will seek to ensure that they remain effective.

The noble Lord also asked when James Ewins’s report would be published. He has asked for more time to complete his work, but we expect Mr Ewins to publish his report on migrant domestic workers around mid-November, and we have made a commitment that we would seek to come forward with actions in that area by the end of the year. If that is not correct—

Lord Alton of Liverpool: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. He will know that organisations like Kalayaan gave evidence to Members of your Lordships’ House when we were debating these issues, and he will recall that my noble friend Lord Hylton and I divided the House on this question. I hope that we will have the opportunity to have, first, briefing sessions with the Minister when the report is available so that proper discussion can continue to take place. Secondly, I hope that at some point there will be a chance either in the House or in Committee to have a debate before any final decisions are taken. I wonder if the noble Lord is able to give some assurances on the process of how the issue of domestic migrant labour will be taken forward.

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Lord Bates: I thank the noble Lord for his questions. We have not made a commitment on that, but I can certainly give a commitment that I will reflect on what he has said about how we should handle the report once it is received and I will come back to him.

The key element in a number of contributions was about the central repository for these forms. The Government are not launching an online repository. However, we are aware of a number of proposals from third parties who have suggested that they could develop a website to host these statements and help people search for businesses and compare them. In California the non-governmental organisation Know The Chain has set up a website that allows the public to see which companies have complied with the legislation. The UK could adopt a similar approach to support a transparency provision. In essence, we believe that this is something that it would be valuable to have, but it is for civil society, not for government, to actually maintain the repository.

We were asked how many businesses it was likely that this would apply to. Of course, applying the threshold at the lower level captures more businesses, and according to the Mint Global database as set out in the impact assessment, 17,257 businesses will be involved.

7.45 pm

The Earl of Sandwich: Can the noble Lord clarify whether the commissioner has any role in this? It is quite an undertaking to leave it entirely to the voluntary sector.

Lord Bates: In the strategy which he published, the commissioner did not say that he felt that it was for him to do this. He did not express that as a view and he set out other priorities. Of course, whatever the sums are that he has to work with, we know that many demands will be made on those resources, and he wishes to target them in a particular way. I am aware that discussions are going on with third-party organisations which might be willing to step forward in this area, but we feel that it is not something for the Government themselves.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: Again, I am grateful to the noble Lord. Could he clarify what he means by civil society and third-party organisations? In my earlier remarks I was careful to distinguish between commercial organisations and, say, universities, charities and NGOs. I would be perfectly happy about any of those, but I would have some reservations about commercial organisations, which could have some direct vested interest and might not inspire the same confidence as what we might loosely call third sector groups would. Can the noble Lord explain what he means by the civil society groups which are in discussion with the Home Office at the present time?

Lord Bates: They might be better described as non-governmental groups. It could be that private sector groups or even charitable organisations are interested in putting this together. All I am saying is that there is possibly an interest out there, but the key

19 Oct 2015 : Column 524

element for the purpose of these regulations is twofold. First, we recognise that it would be of interest, but we should remember that the whole purpose of insisting that this was not in a published, hard-copy annual report and accounts but was a statement on a website is that such a statement is searchable. A number of people, organisations and NGOs took part in the consultation and have shown a real, forensic interest in how people are doing, and they will be able to search those. That sort of social media activism, which we see so much of in many areas, could be brought to bear in order to shine a light in this particular area. That might be more effective than simply, as it were, designating one particular organisation to take responsibility for it.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark: The noble Lord is absolutely right. We will have the company statements on the company website, but the only issue with the central repository, of course, is that if you have 7,000 to 10,000 companies, it will be difficult if they are not all in one place. I think that there has been some movement from the Minister tonight, but can he explain why he thinks that this should not be done by government? Why should it be left to civil society or a third-party organisation? It is an important point and it seems to be the missing part in all this.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I wonder if I could add to that, because it is part of the same question. I am sure that the Minister does not mean it in this way, but the more it is said that this is not a matter for government, the more one worries about how the Home Secretary is going to fulfil her duties in keeping the matter under review if she does not have that facility available to her. The information is very much a matter for government and therefore the Government must have an interest in ensuring that it is easily accessible.

Lord Berkeley of Knighton (CB): In order to save the Minister from popping up and down like a jack-in-the-box, perhaps I may add one point which may help my noble friend Lord Alton. If by civil society one were able to define that by ruling out commercial interests, that would go a long way towards meeting the point being made.

Lord Bates: I am grateful for all those points. Let us remember that as this Act went through we debated whether it should be a statutory responsibility to do this or whether it should be something on which the Government should take the lead. The Act has come through in its present form. I hear the voices saying that all these points are needed. If an organisation does not file its statement on its website for the financial year, on or after 31 March, there are remedies set out in the Act as to what can happen as a result of that. Therefore, this is a very serious statement, but it is an added tool for people to use.

For example, many times we have seen stories in the press about practices in the supply chains of organisations. Now, to go along with those investigations in the press, there would be an ability for them to say, “Well,

19 Oct 2015 : Column 525

of course, this is what the said company said on its own website about its supply chain”. People can then draw an additional conclusion from that statement.

We are moving further down this route. These are early days and we will need to see how it comes about. Guidance will be published, on which we have consulted extensively. It will provide further information about what should be done and how it should be presented. However, we are where we said we would be when we passed the Act and we should allow these regulations to come into force so that it can be seen to work and can be evaluated after a period of examination. I beg to move.

Motion agreed

Huffington Post December 19th 2014

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/lord-alton/ethical-christmas-modern-slavery_b_6355308.html?utm_hp_ref=uk

Stocking Up for Christmas: Tackling Slavery in Our Supply Chains
Posted: 19/12/2014 18:23 GMT Updated: 19/12/2014 18:59 GMT

As usual, the approach to Christmas is marked by many challenging and contradictory messages vying for our attention.
There’s the oldest message that seeks to remind us of the origins of Christmas, emphasising peace and goodwill.
Then there’s the message from retailers who every year move the starting blocks further forward to gain an advantage over their competitors.
Another insists that Christmas should emphasise sharing, through the giving and receiving of presents.
The reality of “Christmas present” is that many of our gifts will have been produced by people in other countries. What is less well known and deeply shocking is that some of these people are victims of modern slavery. This practice that we hoped had been consigned to “Christmas past” is very much alive today.
Anti-trafficking group Walk Free has just released a frightening estimate that there are more than 35 million victims of the slavery worldwide – including those in forced labour.
There are numerous examples illustrating the global nature of the problem. The US Department of State calculates that more than 109,000 children in the Ivory Coast’s cocoa industry work under the worst forms of child labour.
Anti-Slavery International’s research has uncovered the routine use of forced labour of girls and young women in the spinning mills and garment factories of five Indian clothing manufacturers, previously linked to major Western clothing brands.
Earlier this year, a Guardian investigation revealed how workers in Thailand are subject to appalling violence in the supply chains of seafood products sold by major US, British and other European retailers.
This country is not immune; the Home Office estimates that up to 13,000 people are victims of forced labour in the UK alone.
The Modern Slavery Bill is currently making its way through Parliament. Peers from all parties have been working with civil society, business and investor groups to ensure that the Bill includes effective measures to tackle slavery in the supply chains of large companies in the UK.
At Committee Stage we tabled an amendment to achieve this and to build on the Government’s welcome acceptance of the principle. Our amendment includes specific requirements for all big companies operating in the UK to report on what they are doing to tackle slavery within their supply chains.
In the New Year when Parliament resumes we will continue to maintain the pressure on Government to include the right details in the Bill so that when we prepare for “Christmas future”, we can make informed decisions about our purchases in the knowledge that we are not contributing to modern slavery and forced labour here and around the world.

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/lord-alton/ethical-christmas-modern-slavery_b_6355308.html?utm_hp_ref=uk

The Committee Stage of the Modern Slavery Bill: December 1st 2014

Creating a Provision for the Protection of Children on the Face of the Bill
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): Before the noble Baroness goes any further, I wish to reinforce the point that she made. She referred to the work that she has done with the Metropolitan Police. I suspect that she will have seen the debate in another place that took place on 4 September. I will cite the quotation given during that debate from a chief inspector of the Metropolitan Police who pointed out the flaws of the current proposals from a prosecution perspective. These were his words:
“If I was reading this from a lay perspective, I would not read into this Bill that a child begging, or using children to obtain fraud which is to their detriment, or putting a child out on the street to steal for sometimes 12 to 18 hours a day is trafficking and exploitation”.
Is that not the main thrust of the argument of the noble Baroness and why, between now and Report, we need to take very seriously the amendment that she has moved?
1 Dec 2014 : Column 1154
Baroness Doocey: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for that interjection, which is very timely and demonstrates clearly the points I am trying to make.

modern slavery domestic workers

Providing Protection for Domestic Migrant workers
7.30 pm

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, I would very much like to support my noble friend Lord Hylton, and I follow the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, in his support for Amendments 28 and 95. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, has rightly reminded us that when we get to Amendment 94 there will be a chance to have a wider debate about the whole question of the overseas domestic worker visa.
Many of us would say that the subject of denying someone the right to go to an employment tribunal—that is what my noble friend’s Amendment 28 specifically deals with—is a sort of curtain-raiser to the debate that will come later. Enabling migrant domestic workers to change employer, to apply to renew their visa annually if in full-time employment, and to have the right to go to an employment tribunal, would be a significant step towards preventing abuses against migrant domestic workers, including forced labour for their employers, and would enable them to seek redress without fearing deportation from the United Kingdom.
My noble friend Lord Hylton has a long and honourable record of raising this question for all the years that I have been in your Lordships’ House, so it comes as no surprise to me that he has tabled these
1 Dec 2014 : Column 1179
amendments. He is not, of course, alone in raising this question. Amnesty International UK, the Anti Trafficking and Labour Exploitation Unit, the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group, Human Rights Watch, the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association, Kalayaan and Liberty are among those who support moves in this direction.
Evidence since the introduction of the tied ODW visa in 2012 demonstrates how the current tied visa system facilitates the abuse of migrant domestic workers in the UK and therefore undermines the objectives of this timely and very welcome Bill and the Government’s efforts to fight modern slavery. Because of its deleterious effects, the 2012 decision, whether it was made wittingly or otherwise, is something we need to return to in the course of our deliberations, to see what we can do about it.
The Joint Committee on the draft Modern Slavery Bill identified the 2012 policy as having,
“unintentionally strengthened the hand of the slave master against the victim of slavery”,
and said:
“Tying migrant domestic workers to their employer institutionalises their abuse”.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights reported that it,
“regards the removal of the right of an Overseas Domestic Worker to change employer as a backward step in the protection of migrant domestic workers, particularly as the pre-2012 regime had been cited internationally as good practice, and recommends that the Bill be amended to reverse the relevant changes to the Immigration Rules and to reinstate the pre-2012 protections in the Bill”.
We have heard a great deal already today about the importance of having what my noble and learned friend Lady Butler-Sloss described earlier as flagship legislation. I know that it is the Government’s wish that this should be seen as an international gold standard piece of legislation that others will be able to imitate, and that they hope it would be capable of implementation worldwide. But that is in doubt unless we put right this defect that was incorporated into our legislation. I recognise that it may not be possible to do that today, but I hope that when the noble Baroness replies to the debate she will indicate to my noble friend that we will continue to discuss this issue to see what we can do to remedy something that was done in 2012 and has, wittingly or unwittingly, brought about these consequences. One of those consequences is, as is highlighted in Amendment 28, that people are prevented from having access to employment tribunals.
Using the Proceeds of Crime to Create a Fund to Support Victims of Trafficking, the Agencies which work to Protect Victims and to fund the work of the Police and others working to deter and prosecute those responsible for Trafficking

modern slavery william wilberforce 2

Amendment 32
Moved by Lord Alton of Liverpool
32: After Clause 7, insert the following new Clause—
“Proceeds of crime: MSV Fund
(1) The Secretary of State shall by regulations establish the Modern Slavery Victims’ Fund (“MSV Fund”) to receive and distribute the proceeds referred to under subsection (2) which have been recovered under a confiscation order, where that order is made in respect of a person who has been convicted of an offence under section 1, 2 or 4.
(2) The MSV Fund shall receive no less than 50 per cent of any money recovered under a confiscation order.
(3) Subject to subsection (4), the proceeds referred to under subsection (2) shall be distributed by the MSV Fund as follows—
(a) 50 per cent of the proceeds shall be distributed as compensation to the person or persons identified as victims of slavery or victims of human trafficking;
(b) 25 per cent of the proceeds shall be distributed to the charities or other organisations listed in the regulations, which provide services, assistance, support and protection to victims of slavery and victims of human trafficking; and
(c) 25 per cent of the proceeds shall be distributed to the organisations listed in the regulations, whose purpose is to prevent slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour or to help to investigate or prosecute people who commit offences under this Act.
(4) For the purposes of any distribution under subsection (3)—
(a) for victims of slavery or victims of human trafficking under paragraph (a), the monies paid—
(i) shall be distributed equally between those persons who have been directly identified as the victims of slavery or victims of human trafficking to whom the conviction referred to under subsection (1) relates; and
(ii) shall not be reduced or diminished by reference to any other compensation that such person or persons may receive from other sources,
1 Dec 2014 : Column 1213
(b) for the charities and organisations referred to in paragraphs (b) and (c), the monies paid shall be distributed equally between those charities and organisations.
(5) The regulations referred to in subsection (1) shall provide rules determining the composition, management and financial accountability of the MSV Fund together with such other provisions that the Secretary of State may consider necessary for the exercise of its functions.
(6) The Secretary of State must appoint the Commissioner as a member of the management board of the MSV Fund.
(7) Before making any regulations under this section the Secretary of State shall consult such persons as he thinks fit.
(8) Regulations under this section shall not be made unless a draft of them has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.
(9) In this section—
“the Assets Recovery Agency” means the Agency referred to in section 1 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002;
“the Commissioner” means the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner appointed under section 40;
“confiscation order” means a confiscation order under section 6 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.”
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, Amendment 32 stands in my name and that of my noble friends Lady Cox, of Queensbury, and Lord Hylton. I thank them for their support for the amendment. I also thank the Public Bill Office of your Lordships’ House, which gave me a lot of help with the drafting of the amendment. The purpose of the amendment is to give the Secretary of State power by regulation to,
“establish the Modern Slavery Victims’ Fund (“MSV Fund”) to receive and distribute the proceeds referred to under subsection (2) which have been recovered under a confiscation order, where that order is made in respect of a person who has been convicted of an offence under section 1, 2 or 4”.
If the amendment were to be incorporated in the legislation, it would enable the MSV fund to receive,
“no less than 50 per cent of any money recovered under a confiscation order. Subject to subsection (4), the proceeds referred to under subsection (2)”,
would then be distributed by the fund, with 50% of the proceeds given as compensation to victims, 25% distributed to the charities and other organisations listed in the regulations, and 25% distributed to the organisations whose purpose is to prevent slavery. I would have in mind, obviously, the police, but also others such as the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner.
Modern slavery is very profitable. The International Labour Organization estimates annual profits from slavery to be around $150 billion a year. For example, a child trafficked and forced to pickpocket on the streets of London can, according to Anti-Slavery International, bring traffickers yields of £5,000 to £10,000 every month. Modern slavery is a high-profit, low-risk crime. Most of those involved escape justice and, even where there is a conviction, asset seizure is often considered too late in the process so the perpetrator has had a chance to move their assets elsewhere. Even where confiscation is made as part of the criminal proceedings, compensation is very rarely ordered.
The amendment would address this by bringing confiscation of assets and compensation to the very heart of the Bill and, in doing this, it would be similar to the United States anti-trafficking legislation. Confiscation has the effect of hitting the perpetrators where it hurts and its deterrent effect is potentially
1 Dec 2014 : Column 1214
more significant than the threat of a long prison sentence, which can easily be avoided by entering a plea bargain. As the average prison sentence for modern slavery offences has been relatively low— around five and a half years—unless the perpetrator is stripped of their assets they can come out of prison and enjoy a luxurious life, while victims continue to suffer.
Restorative justice is also a function of compensation for victims and is the key to this amendment. By awarding damages to the victim, their suffering is acknowledged in a way that convicting the perpetrator rarely achieves. Victims who act as witnesses are of course often re-traumatized in the process. Furthermore, compensation gives victims stability and a chance to rebuild their lives. For example, one victim who was compensated has invested the compensation to pay for university education and is now pursuing a law degree.
I first raised the possibility of using confiscated assets to help victims and deter traffickers in 2002, during the passage of the Proceeds of Crime Bill. I argued that there were simply insufficient resources to adequately address a crime which, too often, was out of sight and out of mind. Yet even then, the United Nations had identified people trafficking as the fastest growing facet of organised crime and the third largest source of profit for organised crime, after the trafficking of drugs and firearms. At the time, the Government admitted:
“At present there is no specific offence of trafficking in human beings and so no data exist about the confiscation of assets of those engaged in this practice”.—[Official Report, 18/6/02; col. WA 70.]
My 2002 amendment called for the proceeds of trafficking to be channelled into the support of victims and the resourcing of a strategy to tackle this scourge at source. Supporting the amendments then and the use of confiscated assets to hit the traffickers where it hurts, the late Lord Wilberforce, a Law Lord and a descendant of William Wilberforce, described trafficking as,
“a pervasive crime committed in all kinds of areas by all kinds of people. It must be dealt with by a great variety of authorities”—
I repeat, a great variety of authorities—
“and police forces all over the country, many of which have no idea of the nature of the crime or the remedies available to deal with it”.—[
Official Report
, 25/6/02; col. 1225.]
Since 2002, the Government have been persuaded to develop the principle of confiscating assets which have been accumulated through the pursuit of crime. I strongly welcome this but it would help this debate if the Minister could describe what has been the experience of the Proceeds of Crime Act to date. It has been suggested that there may already be as much as £2 billion in uncollected POCA fines, so whether or not there is a dedicated dispersal fund, as the amendment would require, it would be helpful to know how the Government intend to improve the collection rate and what their estimate is of the sums currently outstanding.
Addressing Pope Francis at a Vatican conference on human trafficking held in April this year in Rome the Home Secretary, the right honourable Theresa May MP, said:
“Our efforts must also focus on going after the profits of those involved, and compensating victims with seized assets”.
1 Dec 2014 : Column 1215
The Bill itself recognises that the first call on seized assets should be to provide reparation to the victims of the modern slavery offence. Where there are seized funds left over, the Government say that they will benefit criminal justice agencies through the existing asset recovery incentivisation scheme. ARIS has the objective of providing all operational partners who use the asset recovery powers in the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 with incentives to pursue asset recovery as a contribution to the overall objective of reducing crime and delivering justice. It is not, however, specifically targeted at tackling human trafficking and modern slavery. However, that scheme is not on a statutory footing, although some of the moneys distributed under ARIS are used to fund improvements in asset recovery capabilities and on community projects, and I welcome that. This amendment would create a statutory scheme.
Around £80 million was returned to operational partners from ARIS in 2013-14. The Minister might like to say how much of that money is used specifically to deter and bring to justice the perpetrators of modern slavery. I would also be grateful if he would quantify what he believes will be necessary to fund this ambitious legislation, otherwise it risks becoming yet another declamatory law which sounds good but can make little difference. Will he say how much money will be set aside to support this legislation? We all recall the Climate Change Act 2008, which imposed what was called a “legally binding obligation” for reduction of 80% of greenhouse gas by 2050. It was never made clear how it was to be done, who was to be held to account if this target was not realised and what punishments there would be.
The Child Poverty Act 2010 was not much better, requiring the elimination of child poverty by 2020. If the Bill is not to be added to the list of declamatory legislation which has inadequate resources attached to it to ensure its enforcement, we need to insist on ways of providing adequate resources. Although the Minister says that the Government are unconvinced about the need to ring-fence these assets for this dedicated use, he has indicated his willingness to discuss the amendment and said, in a letter to me:
“There is a great deal of common ground between us on the principles of how seized assets should be used, in terms of using the funds raised to compensate victims and support law enforcement agencies”.
I welcome that greatly.
The Government tend to suggest that the police is the agency which needs to be funded to bring perpetrators to justice. Of course, there is a lot in that argument. However, as the late Lord Wilberforce recognised, a great variety of authorities need to be involved and many, along with the police, are completely underresourced. At Second Reading, I highlighted the position of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, established in 2006 in the aftermath of the tragic death of 23 Chinese cockle-pickers who died in Morecambe Bay, part of a criminal racket exploiting workers all over England, and estimated to funnel £1 million per day back to China.
In 2013, Professor Gary Craig of Durham University, working with the Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation and the Joseph Rowntree
1 Dec 2014 : Column 1216
Foundation, published
Forced Labour in the United Kingdom
, a report which specifically said that the GLA was insufficiently resourced. The report found that:
“The scope of the GLA should be extended to cover all sectors using labour providers and greater resources should be available for the GLA to be able to fulfil its role effectively”.
The three-year study draws on data from legal, policy and regulatory bodies and calls for the Government to reconsider some key policies and take a broader view of the problem. The report also found that:
“Monitoring for severe labour exploitation is generally weak and needs to be strengthened”.
Professor Craig, who is professor of community development and social justice, says that workplace enforcement agencies are now doing fewer inspections, becoming focused on only the most serious offences rather than tackling all types of serious labour exploitation. Commenting on the scale of the problem he says:
“Criminal activity of this nature is difficult to monitor, but conservative estimates are that there are currently at least several thousand cases of forced labour in the UK and 880,000 across the European Union”,
and that those trafficked for labour exploitation would soon exceed those trafficked for sexual exploitation.
I turn to the need for public education, something which many noble Lords have raised today and which the Government acknowledge the need for. No one has said how that would be resourced. Professor Craig remarks that there is a “real problem” getting people to acknowledge not only that slavery exists in the UK, but that, as his research suggests, there may be upwards of 10,000 people at any one time in conditions which we would class as modern slavery. I noticed over the weekend that the BBC added another 3,000 to that number.
In addition to recommending the extension of the mandate of the GLA, providing powers of arrest and investigation, Professor Craig argues that the GLA should be able to keep fines to fund its work, adding that the resources directed to the GLA are totally inadequate. If the dedicated fund specified in the amendment were created, it could be used to extend the mandate and work of the GLA and other agencies involved in this most serious of crimes. The Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner, Kevin Hyland, has also said in an interview in the Sunday Times that the resources needed should be raised as a result of using the confiscated assets of funds that have been seized.
10 pm
Sometimes Ministers, instructed by the Treasury, raise the old bogey that Governments do not support the use of hypothecated funds, and that revenues must be directed to the Treasury for subsequent allocation. That is manifestly not true, and even the Bill itself accepts the principle that some of the funds will be specifically used to address the challenge of modern slavery and human trafficking—the Home Secretary said so. There are plenty of precedents, from the fossil fuel levy to the levy on the pig industry to eradicate Aujeszky’s disease, that have created levies or funds to tackle specific hypothecated challenges. If we can hypothecate funds for pigs, surely we can do the same thing for humans.
1 Dec 2014 : Column 1217
To reiterate and conclude: the amendment takes a moderate, incremental approach. The fund would receive no less than 50% of any money recovered under a confiscation order; 50% of the proceeds would then be used to support the victims, 25% distributed to those charities and agencies combating slavery and 25% to those organisations preventing, investigating or prosecuting those responsible. Under the terms of the amendment, the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner would serve on the management board of the fund, which itself would be established by the Home Secretary by regulation.
I accept that there may be better formulae to determine the shape of the fund and its administration, and the amendment is not designed to be definitive. It is an attempt to create a scaffold to ensure that adequate resources are made available to fund what the Government described as world-class legislation, and to force those who have profited from this evil to pay for measures to combat it, to support victims and to bring the perpetrators to justice. I beg to move.
……..
Lord Alton of Liverpool: I am grateful to the Minister. As a young Member of another place, I was once given the quite good advice always to beware Ministers
1 Dec 2014 : Column 1223
when they are promising reviews, but in this case the Minister has said that the review is already under way. I am very grateful to him for saying that. He says that it is going to report in December. Will that be in time for us to be able to come back on Report acting on the outcome of the review? What is his estimate of the timetable?

Lord Bates: In the matter of the timetable and in many other matters I am grateful to have the Chief Whip, my noble friend Lord Taylor, on the Bench beside me. He has signalled his assent to the suggestion that this may be something where the report will be published, in all likelihood, before Report. Therefore, there will be an opportunity to revisit it then.
I should also say, as I have found the note, that the current distribution of the scheme provides that 50% of the proceeds go to the Home Office; 18.75% to investigation agencies; 18.75% to prosecution agencies; and 12.5% to HM Courts and Tribunal Service, which enforces the orders. That is the current distribution. I hope that is helpful.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: The noble Lord has been incredibly helpful to the Committee. It is very late and I do not intend to detain the Committee for long now. I simply want to thank my noble and learned friend, and thank the noble Lord, Lord Warner, for putting his argument so effectively. He is right that we have to generate the funds in the first place to provide the pots in order to do the things that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and my noble friend Lord Hylton all recognise need to be done. Indeed, the Minister himself has recognised that the principle behind this is not a bad one and is worth looking at further. He has engaged with the arguments in his usual courteous and characteristically helpful way. I am extremely grateful to him at this stage. We will see what the review holds and will keep open the possibility of coming back on Report if his noble friend is able to timetable events to ensure that the chronology works out that way. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment standing in my name.

Amendment 32 withdrawn.

The Morecambe Bay Cockle Pickers

The Morecambe Bay Cockle Pickers

Human trafficking 2

December 10th 2014.

Domestic Migrant Workers
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, with her customary clarity, passion and eloquence, my noble friend Lady Cox has set out the arguments for Amendment 94, to which I am a signatory and which other noble Lords support, too. I was very struck in the representations we received about this amendment by what was said by the Trades Union Congress. It supported the recommendations of the Joint Committee and particularly highlighted paragraphs 224, 225 and 227, to which I shall come in a moment.

Before referring to those paragraphs in detail I will simply make the point that a reinstatement of the position that my noble friend has described, the pre-2012 position, is what we should look towards; the one that was originally enacted in 1988, with very good reason. Her amendment also concentrates our mind towards those who are in domestic service attached to diplomats. We have heard from my noble friend Lord Sandwich and others during the course of these proceedings and during other debates about the particular circumstances that such workers often find themselves in.

Returning to the Joint Committee, it is worth the Government looking again at what the Joint Committee had to say. In paragraph 224, it said:

“The difficulties faced by this group of workers appear to have been compounded by changes made to Immigration Rules in 2012 which had the net effect of removing their right to change employer, and thus denying them one means of removal from an abusive situation”.

In paragraph 225, it said:

“Evidence we received challenges the assumption that such mechanisms provide adequate protection … Tying migrant domestic workers to their employer institutionalises their abuse; it is slavery and is therefore incongruous with our aim to act decisively to protect the victims of modern slavery”.

10 Dec 2014 : Column 1858

Paragraph 227 states:

“We recommend the Home Office reverse the changes to the Overseas Domestic Worker Visa. This would at the very least allow organisations and agencies to remove a worker from an abusive employment situation immediately. It would also enable the abuse to be reported to the police without fear that the victim would be deported as a result. This in turn would facilitate the prosecution of modern slavery offences”.

I do not think one can do better than to rehearse those arguments from the Joint Committee because it clearly looked at this issue in some detail and everything that is in my noble friend’s amendment would give statutory provision to what it said.

I was also struck by my noble friend’s comment about what happened in another place. David Hanson MP moved an amendment similar to the amendment moved by my noble friend. As she said, it was narrowly defeated in Committee on a Division only after the chair added his vote to the no votes—so opinion in another place is clearly divided. That is another good reason why we should revisit this issue.

Sadly, the Government have so far declined to accept the Joint Committee’s recommendations and have claimed that existing and planned measures will be sufficient to protect migrant domestic workers. They have put significant emphasis on the fact that theoretically all overseas domestic workers have the protection of UK employment law while working in the UK. While in theory that may be so, and in theory they can take a case against an employer to an employment tribunal, in reality and in practice that right is denied to domestic workers on a tied visa. In addition to barriers, such as cuts to legal aid, which we have already referred to, if they want to avoid breaching the Immigration Rules, tied domestic workers must take a case against their employer while remaining in that employer’s home. It is totally unrealistic for these workers to take any kind of legal action against an employer who has potentially trafficked them, exploited them and denied them their most basic rights while still living with their home.

The noble Baroness referred to the charity Kalayaan. It told me that of the 120 domestic workers that it had registered on the tied visa system in the two years since the April 2012 changes, fewer than five had taken an employment case and none had gone to a tribunal. Domestic workers often report to organisations such as Kalayaan that their employers confiscate their mobile phones or refuse them permission to make calls during working hours, which can be excessively long, thereby ensuring that they cannot access services such as ACAS.

I asked for an example to illustrate the situation, and I will briefly mention it. It is a case study of a young woman called Nerita. She was brought to the UK by her employer to work in their private household. She explained that she came from a poor family in south India and her husband, children and elderly parents are dependent on her remittances for their support. This is a very important point. If someone is dependent on the money that you are sending them, that plays into all the emotional arguments and the blackmail that can be used against people in that situation.

An agency found Nerita work with a family who lived in the Middle East. She described having to borrow the agency fee from various relatives. It took

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over a year to save the money on her meagre salary to repay the loan. She accompanied her employer to this country in 2014. Her conditions of employment changed little when she came to the UK. She worked seven days a week from 7 am until midnight. She was not permitted to leave the employer’s home unaccompanied. Her passport was taken from her when she started working for them and was never returned to her. She slept on a small mattress in the children’s room. Her salary was the equivalent of £150 a month while she was in the Middle East, but she was not paid at all during her time in the UK.

She described being regularly verbally abused by her employer. She was told that she should not speak because she was a servant. The employer also threatened to send Nerita back to India. Nerita speaks very little English and was not aware of the terms and conditions of her visa. Her family’s situation in India is desperate and she was distressed to learn that as she had come to the UK on a tied visa she could work only with the employer who brought to the UK—and then only for a maximum of six months. When she asked for Kalayaan’s support in getting her passport back, it had to explain that involving the police—the point referred to a few moments ago by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee—would almost certainly result in her being detained and her passport being confiscated until she left the UK. Kalayaan has spoken to Nerita about referral to the national referral mechanism, which we discussed earlier on, as a victim of trafficking. However, that would provide only short-term support for this very vulnerable woman. As she came to the UK on the tied overseas domestic worker visa, she will not get the justice she deserves. That is why we should support Amendment 94 in the name of my noble friend.

5.45 pm

Gangmasters

7 pm

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I support noble Lords who have spoken in favour of these amendments, moved and spoken to so ably by my noble and learned friend Lady Butler-Sloss and the noble Baroness, Lady Royall.

At Second Reading, and indeed in the debate on my Amendment 32 about the proceeds of crime and creating a victims’ fund that could be used to resource the authorities that are involved in trying to police trafficking, I referred to the tragedy that occurred in Morecambe Bay, which led to the initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, in helping to create this authority. Noble Lords will remember that 23 Chinese men and women drowned in Morecambe Bay, having been taken there by gangmasters in order to go cockle-picking. A local fisherman, Harold Benson, said at the time that what happened was,

“not only awful beyond words—it was absolutely avoidable”.

However, the lessons of Morecambe Bay have not been fully learnt. As we consider this legislation, which provides us with the only vehicle to tackle these kinds of issues—it is timely, it is good legislation and it is an opportunity—the question for the House is: is there more that needs to be done? At Second Reading, I referred to academic work that has been done at the University of Durham, which identified not only the need to extend the mandate of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority but the need for more resources. In 2011, 30 miles away from Morecambe Bay, in the River Ribble—not far from where I live—17 cockle-pickers of eastern European origin had to be rescued when they were in precisely the same situation as those in Morecambe Bay. We have not overcome the problem. We have set up an authority to deal with it but we have not adequately resourced that authority or put sufficient powers into its hands.

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Indeed, when I looked at the figures, I was struck by the fact that only 37 people are employed by the authority and they have to cover the whole of Great Britain. Between 2011 and 2014 its budget was cut by some 17% and in 2013—I asked for the numbers of convictions—only seven people had been convicted. That does not fill me with great confidence that it is able to do the job that it was asked by Parliament to do. The authority is a wonderful creation. It has been given reasonable powers but they need to be extended. It certainly needs more resources.

This enabling provision, which my noble and learned friend referred to as being a modest amendment, would provide Ministers with the necessary belt and braces in the future to do more as and when the authority feels it wishes to. Not to put such a provision in the Bill will lead, as my noble and learned friend said, to the messiness of having to come back to Parliament. As the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, told us, it would require parliamentary time. That seems to be the wrong way to go about this. We have the opportunity here to put something into the legislation that would give the Government the ability to act, and it is an opportunity we should seize.

Supply Chain Transparency and Post Legislative Scrutiny

Amendment 98
Moved by Lord Alton of Liverpool
98: After Clause 51, insert the following new Clause—
“Slavery and human trafficking statements
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(1) For each financial year, a commercial organisation within subsection (2) must prepare a slavery and human trafficking statement.
(2) A commercial organisation is within this subsection if it—
(a) supplies goods or services, and
(b) has a total turnover in respect of that financial year of not less than £60 million or such lesser amount as may be prescribed by regulations made by the Secretary of State.
(3) For the purposes of subsection (2)(b) an organisation’s total turnover is to be determined—
(a) by reference to the activities of that organisation worldwide;
(b) by aggregating the worldwide turnover of that organisation with any other organisation which forms part of the same group undertaking; and
(c) otherwise in accordance with regulations made by the Secretary of State.
(4) A slavery and human trafficking statement for a financial year is—
(a) a statement of the steps the organisation has taken during the financial year to identify and address slavery and human trafficking—and which complies with the minimum requirements set out in subsection (5); or
(i) in any of its supply chains, and
(ii) in any part of its own business,
and which complies with the minimum requirements set out in subsection (5); or
(b) a statement that the organisation has taken no such steps with an explanation of why the organisation considers such conduct to be appropriate.
(5) A slavery and human trafficking statement shall give details of—
(a) actions taken to assess the risk of the presence of slavery and human trafficking in the organisation’s operations and throughout its supply chains;
(b) who has been involved in the assessment of such risks and the extent to which such persons are independent of the organisation;
(c) what risks have been identified, and what action has been taken to mitigate any risks which have been identified;
(d) whether any slavery or human trafficking has been identified and, if so, what steps have been taken to address it, including action to support victims;
(e) the extent to which information for assessment and monitoring has been gathered directly at suppliers’ sites and whether such information has been verified by independent persons; and
(f) any such other matters that may be specified in regulations made by the Secretary of State under this section.
(6) The organisation must publish the slavery and human trafficking statement in each of the following ways—
(a) if the organisation has a website, it must—
(i) publish the slavery and human trafficking statement on that website, and
(ii) include a link to the slavery and human trafficking statement in a prominent place on that website’s homepage;
(b) upload the slavery and human trafficking statement report to the website maintained for that purpose by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills under subsection (8);
(c) an organisation which is obliged to prepare a director’s report in accordance with section 415 of the Companies Act 2006 shall include in that report—
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(i) the name of any director who has taken responsibility for slavery and human trafficking issues within the organisation (or a statement that no director has taken responsibility),
(ii) a fair summary of the slave and human trafficking statement, and
(iii) the web address where a copy of the report may be found, or if the company does not have a website a statement that a copy of the report will be provided on written request.
(7) If the organisation does not have a website, it must provide a copy of the slavery and human trafficking statement to anyone who makes a written request for one and must do so before the end of the period of 30 days beginning with the day on which the request is received.
(8) The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills shall maintain a website—
(a) on which it shall publish slavery and human trafficking statements which are uploaded to the website or delivered to it under subsection (6)(b);
(b) in a form in which the published data is freely searchable by the public.
(9) The Secretary of State—
(a) may issue guidance about the duties imposed on commercial organisations by this section; and
(b) must publish any such guidance.
(10) Evidence under subsection (9) may in particular set out the kind of information in addition or supplemental to that set out in subsection (5) which may be included in a slavery and human trafficking statement.
(11) The duties imposed on commercial organisations by this section are enforceable by any of the Secretary of State, the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the Financial Reporting Council; or such other person as may be specified by way of regulation, any of whom may bring civil proceedings in the High Court for an injunction or, in Scotland, for specific performance of a statutory duty under section 45 of the Court of Session Act 1988.
(12) Where a commercial organisation is in breach of any duty under this section the commercial organisation and every director, partner, or other person occupying an equivalent position shall have committed an offence.
(13) It is a defence for any person charged with an offence under subsection (12) to prove that he took all reasonable steps to ensure compliance with this section.
(14) A person guilty of an offence under subsection (12) is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum and on conviction on indictment to a fine.
(15) This section shall be reviewed by the Secretary of State 3 years after the section comes into force and following this review the Secretary of State shall lay before Parliament a report assessing the effectiveness of the section and recommending whether any amendments should be made.
(16) For the purposes of this section—
“commercial organisation” means—
(a) a body corporate (wherever incorporated) which carries on a business, or part of a business, in any part of the United Kingdom, or
(b) a partnership (wherever formed) which carries on a business, or part of a business, in any part of the United Kingdom,
and for this purpose “business” includes a trade or profession;
“group undertaking” shall have the meaning set out in section 1162 of the Companies Act 2006;
“partnership” means—
(a) a partnership within the Partnership Act 1890,
(b) a limited partnership registered under the Limited Partnerships Act 1907, or
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(c) a firm, or an entity of a similar character, formed under the law of a country outside the United Kingdom;
“slavery and human trafficking” means—
(a) conduct which constitutes an offence under any of the following—(a) section 1, 2 or 4 of this Act, (b) section 57, 58, 58A or 59 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 (trafficking for sexual exploitation), (c) section 22 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003 (traffic in prostitution etc), (d) section 4 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004 (trafficking for exploitation), (e) section 71 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 (slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour), (f) section 47 of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 (slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour), or
(b) conduct which would constitute an offence in a part of the United Kingdom under any of those provisions if the conduct took place in that part of the United Kingdom;
“supply chain” means those raw materials, purchases, processes, products, labour, services and transportation by means of which the company’s goods and services whether or not for sale to customers are acquired, manufactured, assembled or otherwise produced from their original source up to and including their sale or provision to the company’s customers;
but a company’s supply chain shall not include those products and services that are acquired, rented, leased or otherwise used by a company for a purpose which is incidental or ancillary to the matters referred to in the definition of supply chain above.”
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Bates, said, this is the second of three amendments that consider supply chains. It is an issue that I flagged up at Second Reading. The amendment emerged from a meeting which I chaired in this building with many of the charities and non-governmental organisations involved in this question. I particularly thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Kennedy of Cradley and Lady Mobarik, and my noble and right reverend friend Lord Harries of Pentregarth, who are all signatories to the amendment. I also thank those Members of your Lordships’ House, some of whom are here this evening, who signed a letter to the Timeslast Saturday supporting the arguments outlined in the amendment—about 20 Members from all sides. On the same day, the Daily Telegraph published a letter signed by 19 of the leading charities and non-governmental organisations, also supporting the proposal.
Inevitably, we want in the amendment to take the opportunity, while legislation is before your Lordships’ House, to tackle the problem, not to leave it, as the Minister said, to a consultation and review process, which can seem like the long grass. The Government have every reason to be very proud of the Bill. I welcome the fact that they introduced Clause 51—Part 6—at a late stage in another place, but clearly it was not subject to all of the same pre-legislative scrutiny that everything else in the Bill received. There was some, but not much, and it was not considered in Committee in another place. Therefore, we have a particular duty, while these issues are before your Lordships’ House, to spend some time on them. There are 16 subsections in the amendment, so I hope that the patience of your Lordships’ House, even at this late stage in our deliberations on the Bill, will not be too exhausted as I try to describe why so many Members and organisations outside the House feel that they are
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necessary. All the signatories of both letters I have mentioned welcome the inclusion of a new requirement for business to report on slavery and forced labour in their supply chains, but the provision must be strengthened if it is to drive real change in company supply chains.
8 pm
Part 6, and this amendment, should be read in the context of the International Labour Organization’s estimate that around 21 million men, women and children around the world are in a form of slavery, estimated to generate a profit of $150 billion every single year. Part 6 rightly recognises that we all have a responsibility—a point alluded to by the Minister in the earlier group of amendments—to encourage businesses to look deep into their supply chains to investigate the practices of their suppliers and subsidiaries and to then take action. That is why the Government have repeatedly emphasised that compliance with the transparency and supply chain measures will be driven by consumers, investors and campaigners.
As the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, said on the previous group of amendments, there is a temptation here simply to hope that it will be all right on the night. These amendments seek to provide real strength in putting into practice the sentiments which have been expressed by the Government. As currently drafted, neither the content of what is reported on, nor the location of the report are likely to produce the meaningful, accessible and comparable information that is so essential to take a proper view on how companies are tackling the risk of slavery in their supply chains. As it stands, the provisions will encourage superficial reporting, which is why the Ethical Trading Initiative, to which the Minister referred, the British Retail Consortium and many investors are demanding more specificity. Simply relying on follow-up guidance to fill gaps in the legislation is a doomed strategy, as only the leading companies are likely to pay heed to the guidance.
At present, there is no requirement on businesses to publicise what action they have taken to ensure that their supply and product chains are free from slavery. While some businesses are already taking positive action to address this issue, many clearly are not. I remind your Lordships that in 2013 a factory building collapse in Bangladesh killed more than 1,130 workers at one site, highlighting the life-threatening conditions faced by garment supply chain workers in low-cost sourcing countries. It is just one example of the gap between industry codes and the real situation on the ground. My noble friend Lord Hylton reminded your Lordships of other examples, such as kiln workers making bricks in inhuman conditions in Pakistan and children manufacturing matches in India. There is a growing public expectation that businesses should act ethically and take action to ensure that forced labour does not occur in their supply chains or business practices.
The Government’s own Modern Slavery Strategy recognises the importance of addressing slavery in supply chains. Paragraph 6.24 says that,
“if we want to ensure that the UK plays no part in perpetuating modern slavery we must ensure that consumers here are not unwittingly creating demand for modern slavery elsewhere”.
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Paragraph 6.25 says:
“This will take a concerted, collaborative effort by Government and business, within the right regulatory framework”—
not consultations or reviews, but the right regulatory framework—
“We will ensure that businesses investigate and report on modern slavery, and then help them to stamp it out”.
Paragraph 6.27 says that,
“we are committed to introducing measures that specifically address modern slavery. We will use the Modern Slavery Bill to introduce a legal duty on all businesses above a certain turnover threshold to disclose each year the steps they have taken to ensure that modern slavery does not take place in their business or supply chains anywhere in the world”.
The strategy is right and the Government have articulated the need; the question is, does the legislation do it? Clearly, there is a real need for measures to tackle modern slavery in company supply chains. This is amply demonstrated by abuses and exploitation of workers in such places as the cotton mills of Tamil Nadu in India. The mills in that region supply high-street retailers such as C&A, Mothercare and Primark. The Flawed Fabrics report, published by the SOMO Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations and the India Committee of the Netherlands in October, details many examples of forced labour abuses.
I suspect that my noble and right reverend friend, if he is able to speak a little later, will probably mention the situation he has regularly raised about the Dalits in India and say how many of those in the untouchable caste are doubly exploited because of the way in which they are used as forced labour and become part of these supply chains. That can include physical confinement in the work location, psychological compulsion and false promises about types and terms of work. The SOMO report also details trafficking abuses such as recruitment by deceit and by abuse of vulnerability, exploitative working conditions, coercion and abuse of vulnerability in the workplace.
The report highlights the severe restrictions on freedom of movement. Women and girls are mostly forced to live in hostels within the factory grounds. Rooms are shared by up to 35 people and the facilities are very basic. Toilets and bathrooms are shared by 35 to 45 workers. A local NGO reports that during recruitment some families were even shown photographs of the swimming pools that workers would be able to use—needless to say, these swimming pools did not exist. In the face of such stories, the Bill, as drafted, would not be effective, for the following reasons.
First, there is insufficient content in the Bill to deliver on what the Government has promised and desires. Secondly, there is a real risk that the Bill will not result in this issue being given the attention it deserves at the top of a company’s decision-making hierarchy. The reality is that slavery and forced labour in supply chains will need to be on the agenda and priorities of boardrooms if real and lasting change is to be achieved: this is the desire of many companies. Thirdly, there is no effective mechanism by which the provision will be monitored and enforced. Fourthly, there is no penalty for non-compliance.
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We should study with care the example of California’s Transparency in Supply Chains Act 2010. There is a great deal that we could learn from it. Indeed, this amendment seeks to build on the experience in California. Let me spell out the amendment’s provisions. Subsection (2) specifies a £60 million worldwide receipts threshold. This provides a consistent approach with the size and international nature of companies covered by the California Act, and is a similar provision to that which applies to companies operating in that state. Companies have expressed a desire for parity with California around the threshold level here in the United Kingdom. It also recognises the reality that large companies have the resources to do the initial heavy lifting, as it were. This experience will then be shared across business sectors and, over time, have application in smaller companies. Effective legislation will swiftly work its way down the procurement and subcontracting chain.
Subsection (3) introduces the term “group undertaking”, which allows for a definable aggregation of turnover. Subsection (4) proposes a modification of the Government’s wording, bearing in mind the reality of current corporate reporting and accountability mechanisms. The amendment requires a statement setting out the steps the organisation has taken to identify and address slavery and human trafficking in any of its supply chains or parts of its own business. It is vital to have minimum disclosure measures in the Bill because of the lack of transparency in many of the organisations which the requirement is designed to cover. Significantly, it is the business world which is calling for these minimum measures. I suspect that we will hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Mobarik, on that specific point. The Ethical Trading Initiative and the British Retail Consortium, as I have already explained, support the principles that underpin this amendment. The amendment encourages companies to identify the process they have gone through in identifying and addressing slavery in their supply chains. Subsection (5)(f) provides flexibility and allows for further measures to be specified by order as required.
Subsection (6) addresses this by requiring companies to publish statements on their website and, crucially, to include within their directors’ report the name of the responsible director and a fair summary and the web address of the full statement. Subsection (6)(c) will help to propel responsibility for tackling slavery in supply chains into the boardroom, so that it is not just delegated to an employee charged with the remit of corporate social responsibility. Subsection (7) makes provision for organisations that do not have websites.
Subsection (8) proposes a centrally maintained website which will assist with monitoring of compliance and public accountability, with reduced costs to government through self-uploading of statements by companies. Subsection (11) is important and relates to enforcement of the requirement. As we heard during the debate on Amendments 67ZC and 68ZA, in the name of my noble and learned friend Lady Butler-Sloss, there is a strong feeling that the commissioner should have an oversight and monitoring role in relation to supply chains. In fact, the commissioner-designate himself has already said as much, as reported in the Financial Times on 17 November. He said:
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“Once they know they are being monitored … they will want to have clean supply chains … If they fail they will be exposed—and no company in the world wants to be shown as employing slaves”.
Last Sunday, 7 December, the Sunday Times reported that Nigerian boys are being lured to England with promises of riches from playing football in the Premier League but are being forced into slavery once they arrive. The commissioner-designate immediately said that he would travel to Nigeria to investigate the claim. The issue was raised by John Onaiyekan, the Archbishop of Abuja, at an anti-trafficking conference in London hosted by Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales. It is clear that each of the specified organisations in Clause 11 may come across modern slavery issues, and it is important for there to be a direct enforcement route for any of them.
Clause 12 proposes a new criminal offence without which the measure would be completely toothless. Clause 15 provides for the requirement to produce slavery and trafficking statements to be reviewed three years after it comes into force, an issue that we will return to a little later in terms of post-legislative scrutiny. In Clause 16, there are a number of necessary definitions, most of which are existing government definitions. The definition of supply chains is new and would certainly benefit from discussion in your Lordships’ House.
Amendment 98 has the support of the business community. The Ethical Trading Initiative and the British Retail Consortium, which between them represent many of the companies that would be caught by the requirement, have published a briefing note on the Bill. At Second Reading, I mentioned the support of Rathbones, which holds £96 billion-worth of investments. It wants an amendment like this in the Bill because it says that it would better safeguard its investors and mean that it would be far easier to effectively enforce the sentiments in the Bill. In calling for the anti-slavery commissioner to be responsible for monitoring compliance with the reporting requirement, the legislation would set clear minimum criteria for reporting and specify the penalty for non-compliance, among other things.
The amendment also has the support of a wide coalition of civil society organisations that have been working on this issue and which include corporate accountability, fair trade, development and anti-slavery groups, as shown by their letter to the Daily Telegraph on Saturday. Finally, it also commands support from all sides of the House. I therefore hope that the Minister is able to listen to and reflect on this consensus, and that between now and Report there will be a chance to consider this part of the Bill further, as the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, was pressing in an earlier group of amendments. I have already spoken to the Leader of the Opposition, the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, and we have agreed that we will bring back the coalition of groups which came into the first meeting here. I hope that that may be an opportunity for the Minister to meet them and hear their arguments. I beg to move.
Lord Harries of Pentregarth: The noble Lord, Lord Alton, has set out the case in his usual full and very effective way, and I rise to speak briefly to support the amendment.
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I begin by addressing something that the Minister said at the beginning about consumers having a role and a responsibility here. I absolutely agree. If we pose the question of how consumers will be best educated and alerted to the issues, the answer is that it is by a good law. A good law is not one which just sets out certain generalities, but one that has some bite to it, some detail. As the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, stated so effectively on the previous group of amendments, however welcome it is to have Clause 51, there should be some requirement for more detail on the transparency statements and it should be possible for the general public and NGOs to have easy access to all these statements so that they can compare one thing with another.
The Minister talked about the discussions and dialogues which are going to take place with business. That is absolutely right because business has to be drawn along with this and to be fully supportive of it. I think the businesses involved would find it helpful to have a little more bite about this clause before they begin to think about how best to put it into practice.
I have a particular concern in this area, as already mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, as chair of the All-Party Group for Dalits because they suffer disproportionately in every aspect of trafficking and enslavement, particularly in this area of bonded labour and different kinds of exploitation. I very much hope that the Minister will feel able, after further consultation, to bring back a clause which has a little more bite to it. I think it would be warmly welcomed around the House. It may not require all the detail that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has, but perhaps the Minister could look at the amendment and the amendment put forward in the previous group by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, about statements and see whether there are certain details that he would be able to take out and bring back to the House on Report.
8.15 pm
Baroness McDonagh (Lab): I shall speak to Amendment 98A and support Amendment 98. I start by declaring an interest as patron of the Lily foundation, an anti sex-trafficking charity operating in India and the UK. Is it not absolutely fantastic that we are here on all sides of the Chamber to support a Bill that we all want to see enacted? That is a very unusual occurrence. In that spirit of unity, I am pleased that this amendment is being supported by me and the noble Lord, Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick.
Our concern is that this clause on supply chains will turn out to be warm words and good intentions. Indeed, when assemblies all around the world have sought to phrase legislation in these terms, they have rarely been able to meet their objectives. If the Bill cannot meet its objectives, what then? That is what this small enabling amendment covers. It would allow the Home Secretary to intervene and require extremely large companies to risk assess, create an action plan and audit. We think this is a very simple thing to do and would welcome a meeting with the Minister to discuss it further.
Let me be clear about the companies to which this amendment would apply. I understand that the Government would be concerned if it were to apply to
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all companies. I understand that placing such a regulatory responsibility on SMEs would be extremely difficult. Indeed, our amendment would not even apply to large companies; it would apply to really large global entities, which are very specifically defined as companies with a turnover of £1 billion per annum. Not only that, there is a secondary locking qualifier, which is that they would be in the wholesale, retail, manufacturing and construction sectors, in which you find more people who are working in servitude in the supply chains.
I ask the Minister and the Government to accept this small enabling amendment. It is a safety net to ensure that all the hard work in tackling this terror will not have been in vain. If it is needed—and if the Bill does what is intended, it will not be needed—it will apply to a small number of companies. Behaviour change in the 124 companies which would qualify would have the biggest impact on the greatest number of people and would bring up the standards of all.
Baroness Kennedy of Cradley: My Lords, I support Amendment 98, which was moved by the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool.
The case for legislating for transparency in supply chains as part of the Bill has been well made and it is very welcome that it is being progressed by the Government through Clause 51. Now, as many noble Lords have said, the task is to get the detail of the legislation right and agree between us a well crafted clause that levels the playing field for business, informs investors, shareholders and consumers and drives change to end slavery in supply chains. I support Amendment 98 because it would do exactly that.
Amendment 98 would rewrite Clause 51 by adding, where necessary, elements of detail to ensure that it is more meaningful, effective and workable. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, in line with the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act, which came into force in 2012, the amendment defines the threshold as not less than £60 million and, most importantly, includes the term “group undertaking” when determining the total turnover. That is important because it allows multinational companies that may have small operations in the UK to be covered by this legislation.
We all want the Bill to have global reach. Therefore, having a way to ensure the inclusion of all large foreign companies that provide services to the UK is vital. Clause 51 is ill defined in parts and Amendment 98 seeks to correct that in a number of ways. First, it suggests a simple change in the language to make the intent of the clause explicit. In the Modern Slavery Strategy the Government make it clear that they want this legislation to ensure that businesses investigate and report on modern-day slavery through the annual statements they are required to produce. It is therefore important that that aim is made explicit in the Bill. Subsection (4)(a) is consequently amended to confirm that the statement is specifically to “identify and address” the issue of slavery and human trafficking. It is its primary aim.
It is also important that the remit of this statement is more tightly defined. The clearer this legislation is, the better—for business and consumers alike.
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Subsection (5) of Amendment 98 provides a framework for the statements. It makes sure that minimum disclosure measures are included in the Bill: the need for risk assessments; the need to set out who has been involved in identifying the risks; what actions have been taken to mitigate the risks; and what has been the impact of those actions. The “how” should be left to guidance. Without those minimum criteria, as other noble Lords have said, comparisons between companies will be impossible to make and the level playing field desired by good businesses will be difficult to achieve.
We also need to look to and learn from the Californian Act and not repeat its mistakes. The learning from the application of the California legislation to date also shows us why it is necessary to be clear in the legislation about what you want to achieve and what you expect business to report. In California hundreds of organisations have issued statements in line with the Act, but there is a wide variation in the information provided in those statements. Some have disclosed meaningless information, some have disclosed misleading information, and a few—perhaps worst of all—have thwarted the legislation and disclosed that they do nothing and are indifferent to the issue of slavery in their supply chains. For example, Caterpillar Incorporated, a multinational company reported to hold $89 billion in assets, which manufactures its products and components in 110 factories worldwide in high risk countries such as India and Indonesia, issued a woefully inadequate statement. Krispy Kreme Doughnuts issued a statement of just 182 words, using them to say that as regards slavery it does not verify product supply chains, conduct audits of suppliers or require direct suppliers to certify materials.
Getting businesses to produce statements of that kind is not what this part of the Bill is about, and I do not believe it is what the Government intended it to be about. Clause 51 is not a paper exercise for businesses to write down in 200 words or less that they do not do any of this kind of work and do not intend to start. It is a serious measure that we need businesses to engage in and which good businesses want to engage positively with, properly and on an equal footing with each other. It is not fair that the good businesses that do excellent work, actively searching for evidence of exploitation, are being undercut and undermined. That is why having minimum criteria in the Bill is vital. Setting out those minimum criteria would not make the task more burdensome for business; the task—the production of the statement—remains the same. Minimum measures just give a framework for the task so that a level playing field between businesses is achieved.
Proper monitoring is also vital and, as the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, said, it is not currently clear how this part of the Bill will be properly monitored and enforced. Amendment 98 seeks to address that, too. Again, if we look to learn from the experience of the Californian Act, here some companies have ignored the Act completely. Research in January of this year quoted 85 companies as ignoring the legislation. That level of disregard is unacceptable, and we should make sure it is not replicated in the UK. Amendment 98 also ensures that a named
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government department receives and makes sure that the statements are easily publically available. It ensures that there will be consequences for blatant flouting of the legislation—as we have seen in California—by companies that do not comply or refuse to comply. Most importantly, it makes sure that compliance with this clause is a corporate responsibility. You need leadership from the top to change attitudes and make things happen.
I also very much support the requirement for a review after three years, which is included in Amendment 98. This part of the Bill in particular, as it is a completely new area of work, would benefit from a re-evaluation over a specified time period. Formally being able to hear the views of businesses, NGOs, trade unions and consumers on how this legislation operates in practice, and committing to bring forward changes where needed, would be a positive step forward.
I hope that the Government can accept much—if not all—of what is included in Amendment 98 and that they will look seriously at Amendment 98A in the name of my noble friend Lady McDonagh. She has clearly set out the impact multinational corporations can have in the fight against slavery. The 124 companies to which she referred, which operate in high risk sectors and which have a combined turnover of approximately $1 trillion, can clearly influence the working conditions in tens of thousands of workplaces and help many millions of workers across the world. The power of this small group of companies is huge. They have the power to reform their business models, insist on inspection regimes, support local efforts to empower workers and insist on decent wages and formal contracts for all workers here in the UK and across the world. Her amendment brings home to us that we cannot rid the world of slavery without the help of big business.
The provisions in my noble friend’s amendment would enable the economic strength of these companies to be a force for good—something they want to be and something we desperately need them to be. Many if not all those companies understand the reputational damage and loss of both consumer confidence and market share they will suffer if they are found to be sourcing from suppliers which use exploitative labour. Most companies want supply chains that reflect their brand, not brands that reflect their supply chains, so I am sure that, like Amendment 98, this amendment will not be seen as a burden but an advantage. I hope that both amendments and what they set out can be accepted by the Government.
Baroness Mobarik (Con): My Lords, I support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and I am grateful to him for tabling it.
I have put my name to this amendment because it would do two important things. First, it will give businesses more certainty and clarity when producing the slavery and human trafficking statements required of them. That clarity is vital in saving businesses time. Secondly, however, it would also provide consumers with the information they need to hold businesses to account. Without the clarity that the amendment would provide, I am concerned that stakeholders, investors
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and campaigners will not be able to play their part effectively in helping stamp out the abhorrent practices that exist in some of our supply chains.
The media have done an excellent job in highlighting just how far slavery and forced labour have penetrated the supply chains for many of the goods and services that we take for granted, from basic foodstuffs to electronic goods, clothing and fashion. But modern slavery exists across the globe, and whichever form it takes, business supply chains are involved in some way or another. Slavery in supply chains is closer than we often realise. A couple of weeks ago, the owner of a bed factory in West Yorkshire that supplied retail chains such as Next and John Lewis was charged with human trafficking and slavery offences.
8.30 pm
I believe that it is not for government to keep legislating. One could say that we should deregulate in order to get the economy going. Indeed, we must work with private sector organisations, such as the Federation of Small Businesses and the CBI, to take the lead in education within various industry sectors. However, when considering any new regulation to impose on business, we must answer three important questions: is it necessary, is it clear, and how much will it add to the bottom line?
On the first of these questions, I am left in no doubt as to the necessity of the amendment. It is rare for business groups and civil society organisations to reach common agreement on new regulation, but in this instance that is exactly what they have done. All are calling for minimum measures of disclosure, greater clarity in reporting, and tougher monitoring, enforcement and compliance. On the second question, the amendment would make it clearer for all those who have to produce these statements what they need to include, where the statements need to be lodged and what they can expect if they do not comply. Thirdly, I believe that the amendment would actually be good for business. It would help protect businesses, because constant stories about the failure of companies to monitor their supply chains will cause significant harm to their reputation and brand, and thus their bottom line.
Transparency in supply chains is the first step in the journey of rooting out slavery and forced labour from supply chains for good. The more explicit we can be at this stage, the more effective we will be over the long term. Both the Ethical Trading Initiative and the British Retail Consortium have written to me in support of the amendment. Their members include global companies with thousands of suppliers—familiar high street brands such as Asda, Debenhams and Marks & Spencer—so their views on this issue should carry significant weight.
As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has indicated, there is a consensus across civil society groups as well as businesses that the amendment is needed, and that it would provide the information they need to play their part. I would also bring to noble Lords’ attention the fact that more than 20 asset management providers have added their support for the inclusion of supply chain reporting requirements in the Bill, including Hermes, Rathbone Greenbank Investments and Alliance Trust.
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I recently spoke with Katherine Garrett-Cox, the chief executive of Alliance Trust, who is a highly respected figure in the Scottish business community. She says:
“We have been passionate advocates of a greater level of transparency in the management of supply chains and believe that the UK has a unique opportunity to lead the way in recognising those that do this well—by rewarding companies that promote and practise strong values. As a leading investor we also believe that by focusing upon this critical topic, our industry will increasingly differentiate between good and poor practice and can rightly hold those who violate basic human rights in their business models to account”.
Finally, I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Bates for all his efforts in steering this important Bill through the House, and ask him to bear in mind that Clause 51 has been added because there is a genuine effort on the part of the Government to progress this matter. I hope that he will be able to respond positively to the amendment, which I believe would make what is already a good Bill even better.
Lord Rosser: My Lords, I will be brief. These two amendments are wider-ranging than my amendment but their intentions and objectives are similar, and I wait to see whether they will elicit a more enthusiastic government response. I also await the response to what I believe to be the request of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, for discussions involving the Government on this matter before the next stage in the passage of the Bill through this House.
Lord Bates: I cannot quite match the noble Lord’s brevity, but I will try to go as far as I can, because some interesting proposals have been made. The first was the idea, suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, of reconvening, between now and Report, his group, including the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, on the issues of the supply chain. That would be a very helpful thing to do, and I would be happy to take part in it. The noble Lord talked about the process—the journey that we are on—starting when the new clause was tabled. Some may use the term “kicking and screaming”, but I think that a sinner who repenteth ought to be welcomed into the kingdom of heaven—and into Parliament. I believe we are making progress down that route.
Many points were made about the regulatory framework, to which the noble Lord referred in great detail. The regulatory framework is setting out the long-term strategy. That is where we want to be. There are some stages to go through, in relation to the point made by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth. He raised the desire to see more bite than there is at the moment. I cannot give any assurances that that will be there by the time the Bill reaches Royal Assent. However, by the time of the process of consultation is complete and the guidance has been issued—
Lord Harries of Pentregarth: I thank the Minister for giving way, but will he pay particular attention to the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Mobarik? She spoke from the point of view of business and emphasised
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the fact that businesses would value greater clarity in what was being required of them in these statements and how they were to go about it. I felt that she was making a very important point from the point of view of business.
Lord Bates: I agree, and my noble friend Lady Mobarik made a very good point by making it clear that it is out of enlightened self-interest that business ought to be pursuing these things. We also need to recognise that we introduced into the Companies Act the requirement for ports to carry a statement on human rights. As with so many of the issues raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady Kennedy and Lady McDonagh, this relates to human rights. You could almost say, without waiting for anything else, that the current legislation that requires a report on human rights could be broadened to include a statement on the human rights of the people involved in the supply chain. Those types of things might give urgency to it. On the assets idea, from my experience of business, nothing grabs the attention better of the chief financial officer, the chief executive or the chairman of the board and the people who invest. The noble Baroness, Lady Mobarik, referred to about 20 institutions of the size of Hermes, which is a huge fund, and Rathbone. When they put weight on that, when they hold shares and hold votes to determine who is the chairman of the board and the non-executive directors and what the remuneration of the senior employees should be—that is precisely the type of group that will grab more attention for these important issues than possibly even more specific legislation.
I am conscious of time, but I am also conscious that I want to pay respect to the two tablers of the amendment, the noble Baroness, Lady McDonagh, and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, with an undertaking to meet and continue the dialogue; and to give an assurance that we will do further work, if or when we meet between Committee and Report, when we will have the terms of reference for the consultation to look at. We can get some early responses to that and see what can be done further to reassure the noble Lord that the Government see this very much as a way of starting down the road. As with all these things, business should be aware that once you start putting down legislation such as this, it tends to be a one-way street. You do not go back. If people do not comply and if business does not take it seriously, this Government or future Governments will say that there is a demand and that they need to act to put more legislation down for businesses to comply with. So I hope, with that canter around the issues, but with some specific commitments to look carefully at this, that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, feels able to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, the Minister has been generous in how he has dealt with the issues that have arisen, especially at this late hour. I was struck that he talked about how sinners repenteth, when I was thinking more that Ministers are damned if they do and damned if they do not. I am personally appreciative of the fact that the clause is now in the Bill and, of course, it is incumbent on noble Lords to try to build on provisions in the amendment.
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One might use another metaphor about the bird in hand. On this occasion there is a Bill in hand, and a legislative opportunity. We cannot come back in another year from now with legislative proposals. This is the time to make them and I do not think that any of us wants to feel that the moment has passed without our doing justice. I reiterate that, because this is something that came into the Bill so late in another place, it is something to which, outside your Lordships’ House, we should give more time and attention. I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Kennedy of Cradley, Lady McDonagh and Lady Mobarik, as well as my noble and right reverend friend Lord Harries of Pentregarth for the contributions that they have made in supporting the principles that underpin this and the other amendment before your Lordships. I am also grateful for the Minister’s willingness to meet those who tabled the amendments and the large array of those involved in this issue.
The Minister said that the important thing was to grab the board’s attention to get them thinking about these things. He is right about the power of investment and resources. I was very struck that Matt Crossman at Rathbone Greenbank Investments, which has more than £900 billion of investment, said:
“It is in the best interests of business to join the fight against modern slavery … Specific, but proportionate, legislation can allow companies to continue making progress, whilst ensuring that firms can no longer turn a blind eye to these issues”.
Naheeda Rashid of Hermes, referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Mobarik, said:
“Companies which are able to demonstrate that they understand and are actively addressing the complexities of the risks in their supply chains will be better placed in managing both their reputation and disruptions to their operations”.
That is what these amendments seek to do—they put real flesh on the bones of Clause 51. I hope that, when the House resumes after the Christmas break, we will have a chance to hold the meetings to which the Minister referred. I hope that Report will not be reached for some weeks, which gives us some time to do that. With the assurances that the Minister has given us, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 98 withdrawn.
Amendment 98A not moved.
99: Before Clause 52, insert the following new Clause—
“Review
(1) Within 5 years of the passing of this Act, the Secretary of State must—
(a) carry out a review of the provisions of this Act,
(b) carry out a review more broadly about the current position of slavery, servitude, forced or compulsory labour, and human trafficking within the United Kingdom and internationally, and
(c) prepare and publish a report setting out the conclusions of the review.
(2) The report must in particular—
(a) set out the objectives intended to be achieved by this Act,
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(b) assess the extent to which those objectives have been achieved,
(c) assess whether those objectives remain appropriate and, if so, the extent to which they could be achieved in another way, and
(d) consider the strategic plans and annual reports submitted by the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner.
(3) The Secretary of State must lay the report before Parliament.”
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I fear I have drawn the short straw and may be exasperating one or two noble Lords, but this is the last amendment and I do not intend to delay the Committee for very long. In many ways, the amendment is self-explanatory: it calls for a review of the legislation within five years of the passing of the Act—the review could come much earlier than that, if it was so desired. The report would,
“set out the objectives intended to be achieved by this Act, … assess the extent to which those objectives have been achieved, … assess whether those objectives remain appropriate … and … consider the strategic plans and annual reports submitted by the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner”.
8.45 pm
A lot of emphasis has been placed on how successful the pre-legislative process has been. Surely, it is reasonable to talk about post-legislative examination of the Bill, too, and to put in the Bill a requirement for that to happen. I remind your Lordships that in 2004 the House of Lords Constitution Committee reported on the process and said that:
“Post-legislative scrutiny appears to be similar to motherhood and apple pie in that everyone appears to be in favour of it. However, unlike motherhood and apple pie, it is not much in evidence”.
The Constitution Committee, the Law Commission and the Government have looked at these questions. When the Constitution Committee reported in 2004, it found that there was significant room for much greater post-legislative scrutiny. The committee recommended that government departments should be responsible for producing a memorandum of the post-legislative review of the Act, which a Select Committee could then conduct an inquiry into. Acknowledging the Constitution Committee’s findings, the Government then asked the Law Commission to conduct its own inquiry into post-legislative scrutiny. The Law Commission reported back in October 2006, proposing a Joint Committee for post-legislative scrutiny.
The Constitution Committee argued that greater scrutiny might encourage the Government to reframe their definition of success from getting,
“their ‘big Bill’ on the statute book”,
to measuring the effect that it had. Given that we are sometimes inclined to pass declamatory legislation that looks good on paper and is a “big Bill”, surely it is right that we come back to have a look at how it worked out in practice. That committee, by the way, also warned that leaving any post-legislative scrutiny exclusively to the Government or solely to Select Committees might encourage selective scrutiny. Interestingly, the Government in their response said:
“the Government believes that strengthening post-legislative scrutiny further could help to ensure that the Government’s aims are delivered in practice and that the considerable resources devoted to legislation are committed to good effect”.
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I will not go through this in detail, but I was struck by evidence that one witness gave at the time that the Law Commission was looking at this issue. He said:
“If post-legislative scrutiny is to be effective … it should be owned by, and directed by Parliament. The Government will of course be a major contributor to that review but should not be in charge of the process or be in a position unduly to influence that process”.
The Law Commission concluded that a Parliament-based review process was popular, seeing it as an extension of the legislature’s existing remit to scrutinise and consider legislation wisely.
More recently, in 2010, the Leader’s Group on Working Practices in the House was appointed to,
“consider the working practices of the House and the operation of self-regulation”.
I note that it considered post-legislative scrutiny. At paragraph 139 it referred back to that statement about “motherhood and apple pie” in 2004, and went on to say that,
“neither Parliament nor the Government has yet committed the resources necessary to make systematic post-legislative review a reality. Like the Law Commission and the Hansard Society, we see merit in post-legislative review being undertaken by a Joint Committee. However, in the absence of Government support and bicameral agreement, no progress has been made towards this goal. We therefore believe that it is time for the House of Lords to establish its own Post-Legislative Scrutiny Committee. This could lead to the establishment of a joint committee in due course—but the desirability of joint action must not be a brake on progress”.
At paragraph 141 it said:
“We recommend that the House of Lords appoint a Post-Legislative Scrutiny Committee, to manage the process of reviewing up to four selected Acts of Parliament each year”.
The House debated that report in June 2011 and the Leader of the House at the time made the following comments:
“As regards post-legislative scrutiny, I am well aware of concerns that once legislation is passed, insufficient attention is devoted to its implementation and effects”.—[Official Report, 27/6/2011; col. 1553.]
Paragraph 38 of the Liaison Committee’s report, Review of Select Committee Activity and Proposals for New Committee Activity, states:
“Post-legislative scrutiny is potentially an important new area of Select Committee activity for the House of Lords”.
This legislation is not about motherhood and apple pie. As the Minister and noble Lords on all sides of the Chamber have said throughout all its stages, this is about one of the most awful evils being perpetrated in the world today. The Minister has rightly emphasised throughout our proceedings that this is legislation that we want others to emulate throughout the world. Surely, with such world-class legislation, we fairly rapidly should go back, look at it and see how it worked out in practice. My amendment would put in the Bill—and it is not without precedent—a commitment to doing that. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will feel that it is a modest and reasonable proposal and one that the Government might accept. I beg to move.
Lord Harries of Pentregarth: My Lords, the Government will be rightly congratulated when the Bill has gone through all its stages, but, as I think we
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are all aware, that is only the first stage. What really will count will be how effectively they get the legislation implemented. Therefore, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and I am very glad to support his amendment. It is crucial that we review the Bill within five years of its passing into law. In many respects the Bill is pioneering new ground. Obviously, it will turn out that some things are perhaps not quite as effective as we hope that they will be, but I regard this review as crucial to the effectiveness of this legislation. The thought of having a review in five years will also help to focus and sharpen people’s minds as they know that things will be assessed.
Baroness Butler-Sloss: My Lords, I also support the amendment. I am not sure in what year the review should be held. I think to say “within five years” is sensible, but it might well be wiser to do it within three years. This is such an important Bill. As I have said previously, the Government are to be congratulated on bringing it forward and for doing so much to make it work. Although we on the Cross Benches, like noble Lords on other Benches, have been critical from time to time, we are well aware of the effort that the Government have made. However, it is important to make sure that the Bill works. The strategies of government that are not in the legislative process will have to be reviewed, but in reviewing those it will also be important to see whether the legislation is strong enough and working well enough for it to manage the strategies that go with it. I urge the Minister to support the idea that there should, at some stage, be post-legislative scrutiny of this important Bill.
Lord Bates: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for proposing the amendment. The Government are committed to post-legislative scrutiny of legislation under the existing arrangements agreed with Select Committees. The Government believe that post-legislative scrutiny is generally preferable to ad hoc and potentially inconsistent specific statutory requirements in individual Bills. The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee’s report into legislative standards praised the Government’s record on post-legislative scrutiny, saying:
“We urge the Government to continue to produce these useful memoranda. In return, we will undertake, and we take this opportunity to encourage other Select Committees to undertake, more visible post-legislative scrutiny work when opportunities arise”.
Since 2012, the House of Lords has established committees on an ad hoc basis specifically to conduct post-legislative scrutiny. I am sure that the House will consider carefully whether the future Modern Slavery Act would be a good candidate for such scrutiny.
However, I would like to place on record once more the Government’s commitment to providing a post-legislative scrutiny memorandum on the Bill within three to five years of Royal Assent. The Government will consult the Home Affairs Committee on the timing of publication of the memorandum, but that is a commitment. In the longer term, the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner will continue to assess the response to modern slavery and how it is provided, and if new forms of abuse emerge. In addition to the commitment of a memorandum in three to five years,
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we will also have the update of the
Modern Slavery Strategy
, produced by the interdepartmental ministerial group on modern slavery. We will also have the anti-slavery commissioner’s annual report, which I am sure will be awaited with great interest by Members of your Lordships’ House.
There are therefore a number of opportunities for this type of scrutiny to happen. Having taken part in the Leader’s Group, which considered ways to improve the workings of your Lordships’ House and elsewhere, I have to say that one of the joys of this Bill is that it has been a textbook example of how legislation should work: first, producing a Bill, which is scrutinised in pre-legislative scrutiny. The Government then come back with a revised Bill and go through a meaningful stage in another place where amendments are made. The same happens in this place, so it seems to me absolutely logical that we should not leave the job unfinished but follow it through right to the end. That is why we are very much behind this commitment. We will produce the Explanatory Memorandum to ensure that that post-legislative scrutiny does arise.
Given that this may well be the last time that I am on my feet in Committee, I thank your Lordships for the way in which we have engaged in this very tough and passionate four days. It has given a huge amount of work for officials to think about and work on between now and Report. Somebody once said: “To govern is to choose”. There are going to be so many issues that we are going to have to work on that we will have to engage in some prioritisation about what is absolutely critical to get in the Bill before Royal Assent and what work can be continued under the watchful eyes of your Lordships and the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner thereafter. That work and the meetings will continue and we look forward to making further progress on Report. I thank the noble Lord and ask him to consider withdrawing his amendment.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, if, as the Minister has said, this legislation has been exemplary in the way in which it has been handled, and I think it has been, then I would also say, and I do not think I would be alone in saying this, that the Minister and the noble Baroness, Lady Garden of Frognal, have been exemplary in the way in which they have treated each of us. I can only speak for myself as a Cross-Bencher, but I suspect that it is a view shared across the Chamber that throughout proceedings we have been treated with great courtesy and thoughtfulness in the way in which the amendments have been considered, not least this amendment. I am grateful to the Minister for the way in which he has promised that post-legislative procedures will be put in place. Obviously, I would prefer it to be in the Bill, but he will not be surprised by that. However, I feel very pleased with the assurances that he has given to your Lordships. I am happy to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 99 withdrawn.
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Dalits, Untouchability, and the Caste System in India

House of Lords Debate November 26th 2014.

Cast out Caste - Make Caste History

Cast out Caste – Make Caste History

[Voice of Dalit International (VODI), Email: vodi@vodintl.org.uk , Web: http://www.vodintl.org.uk]

‘RESPONSE TO CASTE & DALIT POVERTY IN INDIA’ Report of DALITAID–INDIA – 2 DAY CONFERENCE –

National Biblical Catechetical and Liturgical Centre (NBCLC), Bangalore]

By lightning the lamp Mr. Roshan Baig, Honourable Minister for Infrastructure Development, Information and Haj, Government of Karnataka inaugurated the conference. His Excellency Rt. Rev Dr. A. Neethinathan, Bishop of Chingleput, Chairman, Department of Dalits, Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) and Patron of DALITAID-India on the Dias with DALITAID office bearers, Professor Mary John [Chair], Ms. Maglin Jerry, [Treasurer] and Mr. V.J. George, [General Secretary].
‘Dalit Struggle for Equality needs recognition’
Says Mr. Roshan Baig, Minister for Infrastructure Development, Information and Haj, Karnataka State.

‘Dalits in India are struggling for equality and development and it is high time that society gives them the deserving recognition and acceptance that they need to be brought to the mainstream of Society. Their acceptance must come from the hearts of the civil society members’, said Mr. Roshan Baig, Minister for Infrastructure Development, Information and Haj, Karnataka State, India

He was inaugurating a 2 Day National Conference on ‘Response to Caste and Dalit Poverty’, organised by DALITAID-India, at the National Biblical, Catechetical and Liturgical Centre [NBCLC] Bangalore held on 5th and 6th December 2014. The conference was attended by 190 delegates from Dalit led NGOs and movements across the country.
Most Rev. Dr. A. Neethinathan, Chairman of the Department of Dalits, Catholic Bishops Conference of India [CBCI] and Bishop of Chingleput, gave the keynote address. He said there is a strong correlation between Caste and Poverty of Dalits. Dalit poverty is caused mainly by caste and the Development agencies must have Dalit sensitisation to address the issue of caste, while attempting to reduce the poverty of Dalits.
Prof. Dr. M. Mary John, Chair, DALITAID –India, giving the opening remarks, said that the conference sought to address the issues of Dalit development by focusing on the right share of development resources, which are reaching the wrong hands. The conference unleashed deliberations for the strengthening of the stake of the Dalit led NGOs for the involvement in the development processes.
Speaking on the occasion, Mr. V.J. George, General Secretary, DALITAID India, said that the main reason for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) being off-track was due to neglect of the Dalit sector and the conference gave strong warnings to the Development agencies, National and Global, that Dalit poverty needs to be addressed through Dalit led NGOs .
Ms. Maglin Jerry, Treasurer of DALITAID India gave the Welcome speech and Mr. Alfred Culas, Director, DALITAID India made the Vote of Thanks.
The Conference discussed paper presentations by experts on various sections, subjects included, ‘Dalits among Global Poor’, ‘Impact of Caste on Dalit Poverty’, ‘New Understandings of Dalits and Poverty’, ‘Struggles within Struggles’, ‘Struggles for the Equal Rights of Dalits’, and ‘Dalit Development oppositions’. 24 papers were presented and discussed. The Conference deliberated and approved a ‘Bangalore Declaration’, which forms part of the news release.
Prof. Dr. Mary John Mr. V.J. George Ms. Maglin Jerry Mr. Alfred Culas
(Chairman) (General Secretary) (Treasurer) (Director)

Bangalore Declaration
190 Dalit activists, Dalit Rights workers, Dalit led NGO leaders, members of Research Institutions, Training, Development and Human Rights organisations, leaders of Faith Communities and Human Rights activists gathered from different states of India during 5th – 6th December 2014, at the National Biblical, Catechetical and Liturgical Centre [NBCLC], Bangalore for a 2 day National Conference on ‘Response to Caste and Dalit Poverty’ and have unanimously adopted this Declaration on this 6th day of December 2014.

We declare:
1. That the definition of Dalits shall be based on ‘untouchability’; those communities and their posterities who suffered untouchability in the past are to be considered as Dalits, irrespective of their religion.

2. That there is a positive correlation between caste and Dalit poverty; as the poverty of Dalits is due to the caste system and all the backwardness inflicted upon them by the caste system.

3. That the Development Sector should coin right terminologies to describe caste discrimination, in the place of using traditional terminologies which glorify and reinforce the caste system.

4. That Dalits in India form 1/3rd of the Global poor (444 Million) and hence Dalits deserve a legitimate share of 1/3rd of the Global resources which are set apart for addressing poverty.

5. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) failed to achieve the desired targets on Dalit poverty reduction, mainly due to the fact that they completely ignored a major chunk of the Global poor; i.e. Dalits who form 1/3rd of the Global Poor.

6. That the National and International Aid agencies, Governments, and the Corporate Social Responsibility of the Corporate sector must address the root cause of poverty rather than continuing and content with treating the symptoms of poverty.

7. That the Cannon of Equity shall be followed by the Aid Agencies in sharing resources, specifying ‘Dalits and Caste Discrimination’ as a thematic area, as against inequality and other similar jargons.

8. That the aid agencies must re-define their ideas of empowerment of Dalits. They must insist on disaggregated information for stopping caste discriminatory practices in their Monitoring and Evaluation methods, additional to the current trend of empowering people for their civic entitlements.

9. That the aid agencies must follow similar/ parallel Dalit affirmative policies of respective countries where they work and follow the principle of inclusion of people and personnel from the Dalit background in their International Development Departments and as Country Heads in South Asian Countries where 90% poor are Dalits. They must have Dalit Experts in their International Offices also.

10. The Aid agencies and International NGOs working in South Asia must review: the caste composition of their staff and their partner NGOs in South Asia and; their capacity to absorb the target population within its decision making circles, including who own the properties bought with aid money, who operate the bank accounts and who take the decisions.

11. That the International Aid Agencies working in India should support Anti- Caste Discrimination campaigns internationally and support the Global campaign against Caste Discrimination, as caste discrimination is practiced in 132 countries, including 110 countries, where South Asians have migrated to, such as the UK which has passed anti- caste Discrimination laws.

12. That the Overseas Governments with their India Offices and international Aid Agencies having their Indian country offices, should all have their country coordinators from Dalit backgrounds or trained in Dalit studies, as 90% of the poor in India are Dalits

13. That resources for the development of Dalits shall be routed through NGOs owned, managed and run by the Dalits themselves, in the place of the existing trend where these resources are cornered by NGOs run by Caste Perpetrators, who claim Dalits to be their target groups. Aid agencies must take mainly Dalit led NGOs as their partners while addressing Dalit poverty.

14. That, as the platform for Dalit led NGOs, DALITAID India shall be accepted by the Aid agencies and Corporate Social Responsibility Departments of the Corporate bodies and shall be promoted with priority.

15. That the National Model Community Development Project (NMCDP) which DALITAID-India has proposed and to be implemented in Odisha, shall be supported by Aid agencies, Church and Dalit-led NGOs.

16. That the rights of all Dalits, irrespective of religion, for equal rights and opportunities for development shall be accepted by the Aid agencies and governments, when addressing Dalit development.

17. That the Churches in India shall be more inclusive in their approach to Dalits and ensure Dalits get equal opportunities for inclusion in the various hierarchy of Church, leadership positions and educational and employment opportunities.

18. That the Central and State Governments in India shall take very strict measures to abolish the Bonded labour in the Textile Industry and other sectors, where victims are mostly Dalits.

19. That discrimination to Dalits in the educational opportunities and institutions shall be addressed effectively by the government and private educational institutions run by Churches and Church based institutions. Different forms of caste humiliations in Higher Education shall be addressed seriously.

20. We endorse the Motion adopted in its 2014 AGM by the British Overseas NGOs in Development [BOND] – Europe’s largest NGO network: that “This house recognises that caste and discrimination based on ‘work & descent’ actively contribute to the structural causes of poverty and inequalities among Dalits and other excluded communities. It calls for BOND members to express solidarity and work towards addressing this problem as appropriate”.

21. We call upon all NGOs and their networks around the world to implement the above BOND Motion and urge the UN to include Caste and Dalit poverty in all its deliberations on Global poverty and development, particularly in its forthcoming September 2015 Summit to declare ‘Beyond 2015’ development targets.

DALITAID-INDIA
27 Brigade Lane, Vikas Bhavan P.O, Thiruvananthapuram-695 033, S. India ,
Tel No: 0471-2306493 /2300122
E-mail: dalitaid2012@gmail.com , Web: http://www.dalitaid.com

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House of Lords Debate 26 Nov 20146.16 pm

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, no one has done more to keep the issues of caste, untouchability and the Dalits before your Lordships’ House than my noble and right reverend friend Lord Harries of Pentregarth. Earlier this year I was very privileged, as I feel I am again today, to share a platform with him at a conference here in London that looked at the issue of caste.

To prepare for that conference, I read Dhananjay Keer’s admirable biography of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, who was the architect of the Indian constitution, which the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, just referred to. He was born into a family of untouchables in 1891, and he said:

“Untouchability is far worse than slavery, for the latter may be abolished by statute. It will take more than a law to remove the stigma from the people of India. Nothing less than the aroused opinion of the world can do it”.

In the speeches we have heard already in this debate, we have heard the aroused conscience of the world.

No one, therefore, is attacking the state of India. It has done a great deal to try to address this question.

My noble and right reverend friend quoted Dr Manmohan Singh, and many illustrious Indian politicians have done their best to try to tackle this problem, but the sheer scale of it is what has struck me most in the contributions we have heard so far.

It was Ambedkar who, while still a young man, aged just 20, pointed to perhaps the best way forward in dealing with caste. He said:

“Let your mission be to educate and preach the idea of education to those at least who are near to and in close contact with you”.

As other noble Lords have said, education is the key to addressing the poverty and exploitation of Dalits in India. Education provides the knowledge, skills and qualifications that have the potential to help Dalits escape the cycle of poverty and exploitation.

The Indian Government have made considerable efforts to address this, not least through the right to education Act 2009, and initiatives such as Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, which aims for universal access and retention, the bridging of gender and social gaps in education and the enhancement of learning levels. Enrolment, attendance and retention levels have improved,

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but there are still significant issues around attendance and drop-out rates, particularly among Dalit children. The Human Rights Watch report, “They Say We’re Dirty”: Denying an Education to India’s Marginalized, which was published earlier this year, highlights the number of Dalit children who drop out of education and the persistence of discriminatory practices in the classroom.

The report calls for better tracking of pupils and greater efforts to ensure social inclusion.

I will develop that point about non-attendance at school because it plays into the arguments that we are discussing in the context of the Modern Slavery Bill and human trafficking.

The economic pressure on marginalised groups gives families little choice but to require their children to work or even in some instances in effect to sell their children.

Dalit Freedom Network, a trafficking prevention organisation, estimates that Dalits are 27 times more likely to be trafficked or to be trapped in bonded labour than anyone else in India. The organisation supports 100 schools, providing education to more than 25,000 children, mainly from the Dalit and tribal communities. It estimates that if the children were not in their schools, some 30% to 40% would be trafficked or in bonded labour.

Although enrolment levels have improved in Indian schools, there are still issues around obtaining school places, particularly where there is an insistence on identity documents. Some Dalits have had immense difficulty in getting hold of ID. There is a particular issue around children of Devadasis or Joginis—temple prostitutes—almost all of whom are Dalits. The nature of this practice means that their mothers do not have husbands, so when the school insists on having the name of the child’s father, the children are unable to provide this, and as a result, they are refused places. The authorities also need to focus not simply on enrolment but on retention of every child in school until at least the age of 14. A system to track and monitor children is essential, along with a protocol for identifying those have dropped out or who are at risk of dropping out.

Although current thinking in development often calls for education in the local language—and I will be interested to hear from the Minister on DfID’s thinking about this—there are particular reasons why Dalit leaders have asked for English-medium education. English is still the language of opportunity in India. It is the language of higher education, government, trade and commerce and the legal system. Why else would children of high-caste families be sent to private English-medium education? In the district of Banka, Bihar, the Dalit community has constructed a temple for,

“the Goddess English hailing her as a deity of liberation from poverty, ignorance and oppression”.

The goddess stands on a computer monitor, a symbol perhaps of economic advancement. I would be intrigued to hear from the Minister whether this is an approach that we are supporting. I hope it is.

I would also like to talk briefly about Dalits and the freedom of religion and belief. Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights insists that it is the right of anyone to hold the religion of their choice. Over the past several hundred years, many Dalits have changed their faith in order to come out of oppression

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and discrimination based on caste. Ironically, only untouchable Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists are considered “scheduled castes” and therefore registered castes with entitlements to state support, such as protective mechanisms under various pieces of legislation and quotas for places at university and for employment in government services. Freedom of religion is a value for society as a whole. It is universally agreed that the internal dimension of a person’s religion or belief should enjoy absolute protection. Have the Government spoken with the new Indian Government about whether they uphold Article 18?

Mahatma Gandhi said,

“Our struggle does not end so long as there is a single human being considered untouchable on account of his birth”.

India is incredible and amazing. It is one of the greatest countries in the world today. What is amazing and incredible is that there could still be untouchability, now, in the 21st century.

6.22 pm

The Annihilation of Caste b y Dr.Ambedkar

The Annihilation of Caste b y Dr.Ambedkar

What Gandhi had to say about untouchability

What Gandhi had to say about untouchability

mahatma-gandhi

Modern Day Slavery and Human Trafficking – update on the latest amendments and debates on the Modern Day Slavery Bill

Modern Day Slavery and Human Trafficking – update on the latest amendments and debates on the Modern Day Slavery Bill

Scroll down for earlier stages and background to this legislation:

 

modern slavery

Report Stage amendment on Supply Chain Transparency:

Lord Alton of Liverpool (Crossbench)   8:45 pm, 25th February 2015

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow my noble friend Lady Young of Hornsey. I strongly support her Amendments 93 and 94 and the government amendments in this group.

Like my noble friend, I thank the Minister for meeting me and other noble Lords and a number of civil society stakeholders earlier this month to discuss transparency in supply chains. Noble Lords will recall that I and the noble Baronesses, Lady Kennedy of Cradley and Lady Mobarik, raised this issue in Committee. I also spoke about it at Second Reading. The Minister kindly said that, unusually following the Committee stage, not only would he have a meeting with colleagues in the House but that he would invite all the interested groups involved in this issue to meet him and the Peers who were able to be there. With the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and others, we were able to have an extremely helpful and useful discussion.

I welcome the amendments that the Government have tabled for Report, and I believe that they could take us a step closer to delivering effective transparency and accountability on action to eradicate modern slavery from the supply chain. Of course, I hope that this evening the Minister can be enticed to take a few more steps down the road that we have been travelling.

While I welcome and am most grateful for the progress that we have made, there are three areas on which I want to speak and on which I am hopeful we can agree some way forward. My Amendments 97A, 98A and 99A each raise an important outstanding issue that we ought to address before the Bill completes its parliamentary passage if we are to ensure that the supply chain clause works effectively in practice as we all want. It might be helpful to the House if I mentioned that the groups that support these amendments include Amnesty International UK, Anti-Slavery International, CAFOD, the CORE coalition, Dalit Freedom Network UK, the Evangelical Alliance, Focus on Labour Exploitation, the Law Society, Quakers in Britain, Traidcraft, Unseen and War on Want. While I pay tribute to them for the support they have given, I link with them Ruth Chambers, who has done an extraordinary amount of work on this. Sometimes the real heroes and heroines behind legislation are the people who do the hard slog.

I heard today from the Equality and Human Rights Commission and had a chance to have a brief conversation with one of its representatives. It subsequently sent me a statement about this group of amendments and, in particular, Amendment 99A. The commission’s recommendation is to:

“Support Amendment 99A … insofar as it would give the Anti-slavery Commissioner power and sufficient resource to take enforcement action”.

The noble Lord, Lord Judd, raised the issue of resources in earlier debates, and they will be the make or break for this Bill. If resources are not provided, it will not be worth the paper on which it is written, but I am pretty confident that the Government are going to back up the rhetoric in this legislation with the necessary resources. I hope we will hear more about that when Minister comes to reply. The commission also says:

“In our analysis, extending this enforcement power to the Anti-slavery Commissioner would be desirable as it would strengthen his/her role and ensure that enforcement of the duty to prepare a slavery and human trafficking statement could be carried out independently of government. We consider that the Commissioner should be given a range of further powers, including the ability to require the disclosure of data and information, to conduct investigations and inquiries and to hold agencies to account for non-compliance with laws and policies”.

I am sure the Minister will have seen this statement. It was issued only today, and I am glad to be able to draw it to the attention of the House.

Government Amendment 97, as I have mentioned, is welcome as it sets out a number of areas on which slavery and human trafficking statements may include information, but I stress “may” in this context. The amendment does not go so far as to introduce minimum disclosure measures, which are really necessary if we are going to create a sort of equality of arms. As it stands, government Amendment 97 would still leave it entirely optional as to what companies put in their statements.

I listened very carefully to what the Minister said in Committee on this matter and recognise that different types of businesses will face different challenges in relation to their supply chains. It is a perfectly fair point that he has made, but he also indicated that the Government want a level playing field for industry.

This is also something that businesses have called for. Sir Richard Branson, for example, has been supportive, as has Associated British Foods, the parent company of Primark, which I was able to meet in January with my noble friend Lord Patel. I was particularly appreciative of their support. My noble friend Lady Young referred a few moments ago to the tragedy in Bangladesh, and it was partly arising out of what happened there that I felt it would be helpful to have a discussion with Primark. I believe that the wording I have suggested in Amendment 97A strikes an appropriate balance that will allow for some flexibility while ensuring a level playing field between businesses on what they must disclose information about. This will also enable comparison across industry sectors as we will then be able to compare like with like.

One area about which I am particularly disappointed that the Government have not changed their position is the need for a central place in which the slavery and human trafficking statements can be uploaded and scrutinised. This is a very reasonable proposition. My Amendment 98A would introduce a requirement to upload the statements on to a central website maintained by the office of the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner. Significantly the designate commissioner, Kevin Hyland, is supportive of this idea and I am grateful to him for meeting Ruth Chambers last week to discuss this.

Ensuring that each company uploads its own statement is a light-touch, practical way of spreading the administrative costs so it is onerous neither for business nor for government, but I am aware that the commissioner will have limited resources, so if this amendment is accepted then his budget will need to reflect this new responsibility. Why is this central repository needed? Quite frankly, without it the role that the Minister has described on many occasions for civil society, investors and the media to hold businesses to account for their supply chains—as he wants them to do—will be nigh on impossible to achieve. This is because of the time and the effort which would be needed to be spent just working out website by website which companies had reported and which had not. Then of course there are the difficulties that such stakeholders face in accessing the annual turnover information that would indicate which companies fall within the compliance threshold.

Amendment 98A would also require companies to include within the director’s report a fair summary of the statement and the web address of the full statement. This link to the director’s duties in the Companies Act 2006 would ensure that company directors took this provision seriously, and will help to propel responsibility for tackling slavery and supply chains into the boardroom. It would not be burdensome or costly to have this additional reporting and it reinforces a point that my noble friend Lady Young made in her remarks a few moments ago. It will also draw the slavery and human trafficking statement to the attention of mainstream investors who might otherwise not be aware of it and empower them to ask questions of the company. Making directors responsible for reporting on what the company is doing to eradicate modern slavery will ensure that it is part of core business. Boardroom responsibility will also change the culture of businesses and create an environment of a race to the top, thereby increasing

the pace at which slavery is tackled within supply chains. I think this would also be good for UK plc, if I can put it that way, as it would promote better business practices which would in turn lead to better profitability and enable UK businesses to play a more leading and competitive role on the global stage.

On Monday the almost ethereal presence of William Wilberforce was regularly drawn to your Lordships’ attention and he was cited on a number of occasions. It is significant that when William Wilberforce was campaigning for an end, first, to the transatlantic slave trade in 1807, and later to all slavery, some argued that to abandon slavery would be ruinous for UK business interests. Of course, that did not turn out to be the case at all. Indeed, our reputation worldwide was enhanced by the results that the Clapham group was able to bring about as a result of its concerted actions in both our Houses of Parliament.

Finally, Amendment 99A relates to the enforcement and review of the provision. In my view, the current lack of an enforcement measure is the Achilles heel; without that measure some might regard the provision as quite toothless. That becomes even more of a risk if the Bill does not specify any minimum elements, which a company’s slavery and human trafficking statement must cover. I therefore hope that the Minister will be able to commit to a three-year review of the transparency in supply chains provision, and that he will demonstrate how non-compliance will be dealt with in the absence of an enforcement provision.

I recognise that the hour is late, we are getting to the very end of Report on the Bill, and that time is therefore probably against us in achieving everything that I want in these amendments. However, I know how open the Minister has been to continuing dialogue—we are not quite at Third Reading—and at the very minimum I hope that he will feel able to consider some of the points that we have raised this evening and to see if there is anything further that the Government themselves might be able to do between now and when we finally lay the Bill to rest.

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The Bishop of Derby’s Amendment to Strengthen the Role of Gangmasters Authority: February 25th 2015

Lord Alton of Liverpool (Crossbench)

My Lords, I am a signatory to this amendment and am very happy to speak briefly in support of it this evening. I spoke on this issue at Second Reading and in Committee and I moved a separate amendment on the issue of the proceeds of crime. That was based on an amendment that I moved in your Lordships’ House nearly a decade ago and which was supported at that time by a retired Law Lord, Lord Wilberforce, who was a direct descendent, of course, of the great man who has featured so much in many of our debates. That amendment sought to provide a mechanism for the proceeds of crime committed

by those who had abused workers, exploited people, put them into servitude or slavery—the very things that the Bill seeks to address—to be used to support and provide assistance for those who had been exploited and to support those organisations that are charged with the responsibility of apprehending those who are responsible for such crimes.

Crimes they are. I recalled in Committee that the Gangmasters Licensing Authority—which the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, who is in his seat this evening, did such distinguished work in helping to create—was established after the fatalities that occurred in Morecambe Bay when some 23 Chinese cockle pickers, men and women, died while they were being ruthlessly exploited by gangmasters. I made the point that this problem has not gone away. As recently as 2011, an almost identical incident occurred not very far away from Morecambe Bay, in the Ribble valley estuary. I quoted a local fisherman, Harold Benson, who said that what had happened at Morecambe Bay had been wholly avoidable, but it was likely to be repeated at places such as the Ribble valley and Morecambe Bay because of the failure to apprehend those who were responsible and because of the failure to provide adequate safety equipment and to provide support and assistance to those who were being exploited in these unacceptable ways.

As a result of raising these issues I was pleased to be able to attend a meeting with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby and the noble Lord, Lord Bates, who has been so helpful on this and so many other issues during the passage of the Bill. I reiterate what I said on Report on Monday, that he and the noble Baroness, Lady Garden of Frognal, have been quite exemplary in the way they have treated all of us who have participated in these proceedings. This is a marvellous piece of legislation and one that I am sure is going to do great good in the future. Although we may disagree on some details here and there, the general thrust of the legislation is to be commended and we must look for other ways to improve it here and there. That is what this amendment does.

The right reverend Prelate has told us that if this is passed, or if the principle is accepted, the Secretary of State will then consult on ways to strengthen and improve the resources of enforcement agencies such as the Gangmasters Licensing Authority. Why do we need to do that? Well, I made the point at earlier stages that until recently only about 37 people were employed by that authority and that resources had been cut between 2011 and 2014. I would be grateful if the noble Lord would share with us some of the detail that he provided during the briefing sessions that we had with him and his officials as to how many people are now employed by that authority and how many convictions they have been able to bring about.

The amendment says that the consultation should,

“end no later than 1 January 2016”.

I think that that is a reasonable passage of time. It goes on in proposed new subsection (3) to say:

“The Secretary of State may by order amend section 3 of the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004 to include other areas of work where the Secretary of State believes abuse and exploitation of workers or modern slavery or trafficking may be taking place”.

This is reasonable; it does not ask for immediate action to be taken, but it asks the Secretary of State and the department to take a more detailed look at some of the issues that have been raised. I look forward to hearing the response that the noble Lord gives in due course.

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The International Dimension of Slavery: Amendment moved on Monday 23rd February 2015

Amendment 30

Moved by Lord Alton of Liverpool

30: Clause 41, page 31, line 15, after “practice” insert “, both in the United Kingdom and throughout the world,”

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB):

My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments 38, 39, 41 and 46. These amendments are to Clauses 41, 42 and 43. I put on record my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley, the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and my noble friend Lord Sandwich, who are all signatories to these amendments.

In moving the amendment, it is my privilege to take up—rather inadequately, I suspect—the cause so passionately espoused by my noble friend Lady Cox, who is unable to speak to this amendment due to a prearranged visit overseas. These amendments relate to an aspect of modern slavery that we are in danger of overlooking despite the efforts of my noble friend—who, while we are meeting, I might add, is currently in the war-torn areas of Sudan that she has frequented so often, where she will no doubt be seeing first hand some of the ravages of modern slavery that have been so familiar in that country. This was an issue that she highlighted at Second Reading and again in Committee. I know that, while grateful to the Minister for the meetings that he has arranged and for the letter that he kindly sent to Peers, she was nevertheless disappointed that that letter omitted any mention of this issue of the global nature of slavery, which had been raised by Members on all sides of your Lordships’ House.

I recognise that the Bill focuses on modern slavery in the United Kingdom, and that is right and proper. Yet modern slavery is by its very nature a global phenomenon; it cannot be tackled by one Government

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alone but requires a global solution. With the exception of the section on company supply chains, which we will come to on Wednesday, and which can address the issue only in a limited way—albeit a vital and necessary one—there is no mention of the global dimension of modern slavery at all in the Bill, let alone any measures requiring the UK to play its role on the world stage. These amendments therefore seek to address that omission. For every person trafficked in the UK there are dozens of children in forced labour in Uzbekistan’s cotton mills, hundreds of women and girls trafficked into Thailand’s brothels and thousands of men, women and children exploited in bonded labour in India and Pakistan.

The scope and scale have been rehearsed often enough during debates on the Bill and I will not repeat them all again here. Suffice it to say that far more people are affected today than throughout the era of the transatlantic slave trade, which is even more reason for us to take up the cause of Wilberforce, Clarkson, Equiano, Roscoe and the other abolitionists celebrated by one of the banners in Westminster Hall marking memorable parliamentary achievements. The Bill should deserve to be celebrated in the same way as those achievements, but it risks falling short if it does not address the global dimension of modern slavery.

The irony is that the Bill was announced amid a cacophony of claims that the UK was, or wanted to be, leading the world in the fight against modern slavery. That is of course a noble aspiration, but we can never make any realistic claim to be world leaders unless we tackle the problem globally and recognise that every country and sector of society has to play its part—business, the public, the Government and non-governmental organisations have to contribute. However, this will not happen until and unless countries move beyond the parochial and recognise that they face common issues; that there are often international links as well as the cross-border movement of people; and that there are groundbreaking approaches in one part of the world that could be used elsewhere, whether in legislation, enforcement, prevention and protection or the rehabilitation and reintegration of survivors.

In recent times there has been a change in language from government departments acknowledging that we are dealing with a global issue, and I welcome that. In particular, I welcome the stepping up of our international response within the Modern Slavery Strategy published last autumn by the Home Office. It is significant that the intention is to identify priority countries, not just those that are the source for significant numbers of victims trafficked into the UK but also countries suffering disproportionately from a high incidence of modern slavery. Moreover, the strategy includes the prioritisation of activity to tackle modern slavery in those countries by working with foreign Governments and civil society organisations. The Government are to be congratulated on this aspect of the strategy. However, as your Lordships well know, a strategy can be discontinued or changed at the drop of a hat. That is why it is essential to undergird this and to ensure continuing prioritisation by making annual reporting on global modern slavery a legislative requirement.

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On the previous group of amendments, I mentioned that Kevin Hyland wrote to me and other Members of your Lordships’ House on 20 February. On page 4 of his letter he said something which relates directly to these amendments:

“British Embassies and High Commissions will develop Modern Slavery Priority Country Plans, working with both international and locally based partners, including the UN, faith leaders and local NGOs. I want to see an increased focus on preventing modern slavery from happening in the first place.

I will support and challenge the development and implementation of these plans and will push to ensure a fully coordinated response when the crime does occur”.

In essence, these amendments place those responsibilities outlined by the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner in that letter of 20 February in the Bill, and require the commissioner to monitor trends in slavery and human trafficking around the world and the measures taken to address them in order to gain a better understanding of the problem, its causes and solutions and to identify best practice, as well as opportunities for co-operation and collaboration.

Amendment 39 requires each embassy and high commission of the United Kingdom to submit an annual report on slavery and human trafficking in its area of operation to the commissioner. Amendment 41 sets out aspects to be included in these reports. Requiring embassies and high commissions to report will ensure that the workload is not too heavy for the commissioner. I know that there will be some concern about adding to the duties of the commissioner, but he does not seem to be unduly concerned about that, certainly reading the letter I have just mentioned. This approach is a significant improvement on the Modern Slavery Strategy, which puts the inter-departmental ministerial group on modern slavery in the role that I am advocating. I am convinced that that is not appropriate. It requires an independent assessment, which is surely an appropriate task for the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner.

These measures are important because they set out a mechanism for gathering vital information to help build a comprehensive picture of modern slavery across the world and how it is being tackled. This is essential for developing a strategy that will address the issue effectively, hence the requirement in Amendment 38 for the reports to cover not only the extent and nature of modern slavery but legislative and enforcement measures and details of the care, rehabilitation and reintegration of survivors. This section also requires reporting to include any relevant initiatives supported by the UK Government, so that effectiveness can be monitored, and any relevant activities of international bodies or non-governmental bodies, so that we can learn from effective approaches and in the right circumstances support such activity to increase effectiveness. These requirements are deliberately not prescriptive in order to allow the precise format, coverage and emphasis to be developed according to the needs of the moment.

The amendments set out what the commissioner will do with the information reported to him. These reports from embassies and high commissions will inform and shape his strategic plan. They will also enable him to include in his report a statement of the nature and extent of slavery and human trafficking in these areas as well as in the United Kingdom.

23 Feb 2015 : Column 1499

My final amendment to Clause 43 ensures that, for the purposes of this section, “specified public authority” shall also include all embassies and high commissions of the United Kingdom. If, as the Home Office strategy indicates, tackling modern slavery around the world is our intent, it should be in the Bill. These amendments ensure that. They will also encourage joined-up thinking between the Home Office, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and DfID, something I know that the Minister of State at the FCO, the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, wishes to see. I know that efforts to achieve that have already begun. However, in many ways one of the strongest arguments for adopting these amendments is that they will certainly encourage the addressing of these conditions that are conducive to modern slavery, and will therefore support the work of the Home Office, the FCO and DfID.

Poverty, displacement and conflict are common root causes. Modern slavery is as much a gross abuse of human rights and dignity as it is a crime. It is all too common to discover that lack of access to education, healthcare and employment opportunities all play their part. A desperate need for medicine or treatment is all too often the push factor in driving individuals to succumb to apparent job offers that promise financial reward but deliver only despair and exploitation; for example, in the many forms of bonded labour found particularly in south Asia, the nexus of modern slavery.

We would be well advised to take note of Dr Aidan McQuade, CEO of Anti-Slavery International, when he reminded us in a recent Guardian article:

“How the UK and other governments comport themselves in the coming weeks will be a critical test of how serious they are”.

The rest of the world is looking on to see how serious we are; we really can lead the world, if we are bold enough to address the global issue. In her foreword to the Government’s strategy the Home Secretary wrote:

“The time has come for concerted, coordinated action. Working with a wide range of partners, we must step up the fight against modern slavery in this country, and internationally, to put an end to the misery suffered by innocent people around the world. Together, we must send a powerful message to all traffickers and slave drivers that they will not get away with their crimes. And we must do all we can to protect, support and help victims, and ensure that they can be returned to freedom”.

I wholeheartedly agree. To that end, I reiterate my thanks to other noble Lords who have offered their support and I beg to move.

Lord Judd (Lab): My Lords, I am very glad to support the amendment and I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for having introduced it.

This seems a particularly acute and disturbing example of how we live in a totally interdependent world. It is to live in a fool’s paradise to think that we can find the solutions by acting on our own within the confines of what we call the United Kingdom. This is an international issue—an international disease—and it has to be tackled internationally. Our credibility in building up the kind of international action that is necessary will relate very much, as the noble Lord has just emphasised, to how the world sees our serious commitment within the United Kingdom to putting muscle into our concern.

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I will say also that I am one of those who welcomed the bishops’ letter last week. I was thinking about this earlier in our deliberations this afternoon when we were talking about how we tackled this issue in the United Kingdom in courts, and about whether there had been prosecutions, convictions and the rest. All that is crucially important, but it is happening in the context of a values crisis. We have to ask ourselves very seriously what the prevailing set of values is that established the context within which all these things happen.

I am not a doctrinaire socialist—or, at least, not a dogmatic socialist. I am pragmatic in my socialism; there is a place for the market. However if you build up a culture in which the market is supreme, and it is, to say the least, an amoral market, where is the authority and the ethos within which you can make a success of these things because of the conviction that is there? There have to be other absolutes besides price as regards the kind of society in which we want to live. If we really want to be effective in this, we must have international action and effective legal arrangements in Britain. However, we must work at developing a sense of decency and solidarity—internationally, as well as within our own society—in which these things are unthinkable. If they are just another extension of the market, where people say, “Well, I can make money this way. Why don’t I do it?”, where will we be?

I remind the House, as I have done before, that Adam Smith, who made such an important contribution to the context and concept of economic liberalism and capitalism as it operates, did not at first, as a young man, write about economics at all. He wrote about ethics. He was a very strong Scottish Presbyterian. He took the ethics and values of society for granted and then approached the market. I am afraid that we have bred a society in which the market as a driving force has been seen as something that does not have to take values into account, unless it is forced to do so, and that is what we have to tackle in all these issues if we are ultimately to be successful. However, I really do congratulate the noble Lord on having reminded the House about the indispensability of international solidarity in this campaign.

9 pm

The Earl of Sandwich (CB): My Lords, as a former council member of Anti-Slavery International and a former member of the Christian Aid board, I support my noble friend’s amendments because they link contemporary slavery in the UK with slavery in the rest of the world. We forget that it was not long ago that non-governmental organisations explained that there was slavery in this country—it was not something that was far away—so we are following that line. The amendments become obvious when you realise that so much slavery is indivisible and that traffickers, and indeed victims, of slavery respect no boundaries.

I was unable to be present on 8 December when my noble friend Lady Cox moved similar amendments in Committee, but I have read carefully her contribution and the Minister’s reply. That there is an international dimension to modern slavery almost goes without saying, except that it is not mentioned in the Bill. We are all aware of the direct overseas experience of slavery and trafficking that my noble friends Lady

23 Feb 2015 : Column 1501

Cox and Lord Alton and the noble Lord, Lord Judd, bring to the House. In Committee, the Minister, at col. 1638, acknowledges that experience and says that we need to go further. But I ask him again: how can we go further? I am not sure whether the Minister has yet stated how the Home Office can go further, apart from referring to passages in the strategy document. My noble friend referred to the letter that we have received from the commissioner, which is of high quality and points out the country plans that he will be following. It strengthens these amendments to read those passages in the letter.

I was most grateful to the Minister for inviting us to meet the new commissioner a fortnight ago. In that conversation, it became clear that the commissioner is already closely in touch with foreign and UK embassies, and he sees this as an important part of his job. He will of course need adequate resources to cover this, as we have touched on elsewhere.

In practice, I do not think that the amendments commit the Government to very much. Apart from close regular liaison between the commissioner and embassies in the course of his work, all that is needed is annual reporting of relevant incidents by embassies and high commissions, rather in the way that this is done annually by the Foreign Office in the case of human rights. It is not an unreasonable request, and my noble friend has already described the more detailed arrangements for this. However, it is important to make the connection in the Bill. The Government are rightly taking all these issues very seriously, and the Minister has, again and again, shown his personal commitment—some of it, I have no doubt, from his experience in China when he was doing his MBA. Sensible changes have been proposed during the passage of the Bill. I suggest that this is one of them and I look forward to his reply.

Baroness Kennedy of Cradley (Lab): I support the series of amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, who seeks to insert a much-needed international perspective in this Bill. No one would dispute that modern slavery is a global problem and therefore no one should dispute that modern slavery needs an international as well as a national response. Our international response in this Bill is lacking, as other noble Lords have pointed out, and this is disappointing. That is why I support the noble Lord’s amendments. They would be effective in helping push the issue of slavery and trafficking up the world’s political agenda, especially Amendment 38. Having each embassy and high commission produce an annual report on government action to fight slavery and trafficking would mean more research into slavery across the world, more information collected and shared, and greater dialogue with a wide variety of the world’s government officials, NGOs, journalists, academics and, more importantly, survivors, monitoring, working together, and sharing and developing partnerships across the world. Learning what works best to tackle the causes of slavery and trafficking, to protect the victims and to prevent it happening in the first place is essential, and we can learn a lot from these annual reports. Through embassy engagement, we can create global solutions to eradicate this global problem.

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Finally, as we discussed in Committee, involving embassies and high commissions in preparing an annual report about trafficking and slavery in their areas of operation is not new. America has been doing it for the past 14 years. Since 2001, they have produced a Trafficking in Persons Report. I cannot see why we in the UK should not do the same. Therefore, I hope that the Government will accept these amendments.

Baroness Butler-Sloss (CB): In the letter from Kevin Hyland, on page 4 on international collaboration, it is clear that the commissioner designate sees it as an essential part of his role to bring together the necessary partners, nationally and internationally. He talks about working with British embassies and high commissions and wanting a significant increase in bilateral, multilateral and joint investigations, some of them supported by EU funding. In the past there have been some excellent bilateral arrangements, particularly one with Romania called Operation Golf, and there were other very good arrangements that worked with Europol and so on. Do the Government think that the current powers of the commissioner are sufficient for him to carry out all the duties that he talks about on page 4—and, if so, is it necessary to have it in primary legislation?

Lord Warner (Lab): My Lords, in speaking in support of the amendment I want to ask the Minister a question. We had a discussion earlier today about the Secretary of State fixing the budget for the commissioner and we had a debate about public bodies being required to co-operate with the commissioner. Is it the Minister’s understanding that the amendment on setting the budget for the commissioner embraces the whole area of overseas travel and maintaining those international relations? Why are embassies not included in the public bodies that are expected to co-operate with the commissioner? It would be helpful to have some clarification on those two issues.

Lord Rosser (Lab): I wait with interest to hear the Government’s reply. They have an amendment down, which refers to Clause 41(3)(f) and to,

“things that the Commissioner may do in pursuance of subsection (1)”,

which is about encouraging good practice. As it stands, the paragraph says that it may include,

“co-operating with or working jointly with other persons, in the United Kingdom or elsewhere”.

The amendment would make it read, “or internationally”. I have no doubt that the Minister intends to do this, but it would be helpful if he could explain the extent to which he feels that his amendment differs in spirit and objective from the one moved by the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bates) (Con): My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for proposing these amendments and to all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate.

This is yet another area where we have seen considerable progress since Second Reading. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred to powerful speeches made by a number of noble Lords at Second Reading, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, who spoke passionately

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and persuasively about this issue. That speech was very influential in shaping the Modern Slavery Strategy

. A particular element is involved here which I will come back to. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, that the strategy is helpful in that it is a cross-government strategy. Rather than being domestically focused—clearly, by definition, the Home Office is domestically focused—the strategy reaches across all government departments. Importantly, the Modern Slavery

Strategy complements the Bill as it says what the Government will do as a result of the legislation that is passed.

Page 10 of the Modern Slavery Strategy highlights the fact that, as part of Pursue, we will work internationally to,

“improve our own capabilities and cooperation with international partners”.

The work being done in the Santa Marta group is part of that. I pay tribute particularly to the work being done by the Vatican in that respect. On 9 and 10 April last year, the Home Secretary and international law enforcement representatives attended a historic event at the Vatican to discuss how the church and law enforcement could work together to combat modern slavery. At the conference, the Home Secretary announced the creation of the Santa Marta group—a group with senior law enforcement officers from around the world chaired by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, who will work on joint practical measures to strengthen and co-ordinate our response to tackling modern slavery globally. The Santa Marta group met again in London on 5 and 6 December 2014 and has committed to meet again in Spain later this year. The meeting in December was very successful. I think that it was attended by all the 40 or so country representatives from around the world and reflected the two sides of the operation—the country plans undertaken by DfID and the FCO, which have already been referred to, and the crucial work undertaken by the National Crime Agency in tackling the organised crime dimensions by placing people overseas.

The Modern Slavery Strategy goes on to describe in some detail on page 54 the overseas Protect work in which we are engaged. That is not to suggest that this is a sentiment or gesture comprising words only. In the past 18 months, 14 modern slavery projects have been delivered in seven countries. Does more need to be done? Of course, much more needs to be done. I am trying to paint a picture to show that even when this issue was being subjected to pre-legislative scrutiny, the Santa Marta group was involved in it. We recognise that the international dimension is absolutely critical in tackling this heinous crime, as the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, and the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said. We cannot do it alone. We need to have the Pursue and Prevent programmes. The aims of the Prevent programme will clearly be international.

The designate Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner, Kevin Hyland, wrote that he saw international collaboration as being a key part of his operation. I know that he is just about to visit Nigeria and he has been to Spain. All his visits have been facilitated, as one would expect, by the missions in the respective countries. That work is therefore being undertaken.

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9.15 pm

We have the documents, the strategy and the work of the international commissioner. Clearly, the international travel dimension will be reflected in his budget. He is of course independent, and I cannot say what he should do but, as a result of the Bill, in addition to all that, he will have to prepare his report and strategy. Given his remit—which he has described so eloquently; he gave more column inches to the international dimension in his four or five-page letter than to any other topic, which suggests how important he sees it being—it would be surprising if that aspect did not feature strongly in the strategy he puts forward and in the annual report he lays before Parliament.

As regards where we are going with this, we have had conversations. I met the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and I know that there has been great interest in this subject. We looked carefully at where we could put in the Bill something that indicated its international dimension. It seemed to us that the logical fit, given that the commissioner was involved in that, was very much that we should look to amend Clause 41(3)(f), which, rather than containing just a generic “elsewhere”, specifically puts “internationally” into the Bill.

I say to my noble friend, or, rather, the noble Lord—he is a friend—that I can see him grimacing, as if to say, “Is that it?”. I can totally hear him say that but, if that were it, I would have given a very weak response to a very serious problem. What I have tried to outline ahead of that is that we have serious international co-operation, which was commenced by the Home Secretary before this legislation started moving through the Houses of Parliament. We also have the clear commitment that this is a personal passion and belief of the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner-designate. Most crucially as far as we are concerned, the Government have clearly set out what they expect to do in terms of delivering on this in their cross-government strategy being worked on by the interdepartmental group.

I am conscious that the noble Lord will push further because he is a champion—in many ways in the model of Wilberforce—who has to keep going. It took Wilberforce 30 years to get his legislation through; at least we have some legislation heading towards the statute book. It may not be everything but it is a significant step forward, and it is vital that we do not leave NGOs or any other organisations—and, most crucially, victims in the wider community—in any doubt that we see the international dimension as absolutely central to tackling this crime. However, as we remove the plank from our eye, we might be able to see a little more clearly where we might operate better internationally. We have a major problem in our own country and it is critical that our first priority is to tackle that. Then, as we are successful in doing so, I believe that our efforts will be more recognised internationally. On that basis, I ask my noble friend to consider withdrawing his amendment.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bates. He certainly was reading my mind when he referred to Amendment 36 and the replacement of “elsewhere” with “internationally”. If

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that is all that the Government can offer, it is not just that I do not find that a very comforting or acceptable approach; it is more about what my noble friend Lady Cox will make of this when she returns from Sudan. I would not want to be in the Minister’s shoes when my noble friend comes back from those troubled parts of the world. I do not think that it will satisfy her either.

The noble Lord referred to William Wilberforce. I was thinking as he said that that Henry Thornton, one of Wilberforce’s supporters, defended him when he was accused of being interested only in issues overseas. William Hazlitt had criticised Wilberforce for not also taking up the cudgels to deal with things such as children being sent down the mines and public health issues at home. In defending Wilberforce, Thornton said that it was rather like criticising Christopher Columbus for discovering America but not going on to discover Australia and New Zealand as well. In other words, there is only a certain amount that you can achieve at any one time.

I recognise that the noble Lord has made huge efforts during the course of this Bill, along with many Members of your Lordships’ House, to make great progress. He has used the metaphor of being on a journey on a number of occasions. He struck that same metaphor in the response to this debate in reminding us that there is a strategy that will affect all departments from the Santa Marta Group. I pay particular tribute to the British ambassador to the Holy See, Nigel Baker, who has played a very important part in facilitating the discussions begun by that group and which have helped to concentrate the minds of people elsewhere in the world on these questions. He was also right to remind us that the appointment of the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner will be an important contribution to highlighting these issues overseas.

The noble Lord, Lord Warner, was right to remind us of the question of the budget. We did not get an entirely satisfactory reply from the Minister on that point. I thought my noble and learned friend Lady Butler-Sloss put her finger on it, as always, when referring to the letters sent by the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner in saying, “Are these powers sufficient?”. We still do not really know the answer to that. I am not in a position to make that judgment this evening.

I recognise that the Minister has shown a lot of good will, in his usual manner, in dealing with the amendment. Again reverting to the imagery he conjured of Wilberforce and his companions, it took them 40 years to get from the beginning of what they wanted to achieve to the end. In the immediate aftermath of the passage of the anti-slavery legislation—Wilberforce was on his deathbed when word was brought from Parliament that it had been enacted—it was very significant that all over the world, not least in the American Congress, other legislatures followed the example that had been set in the United Kingdom. We should look back to that period and remind ourselves that what we do here will affect what goes on elsewhere. That is why it is important that we get this legislation absolutely right. Although I want to reserve the position of my noble friend Lady Cox, who will no doubt be in

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touch with the Minister on her return—she may want to return to this at Third Reading—for the moment I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 30 withdrawn.

 

The independence and lines of accountability of the Independent Anti Slavery Commissioner:

Clause 40: The Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner

Amendment 27

Moved by Lord Warner

27: Clause 40, page 30, line 40, at end insert “and may bring any matter to the attention of either House of Parliament irrespective of other provisions in this Act”

Lord Warner (Lab): My Lords, Amendment 27 is in my name and in those of the noble Lords, Lord Patel and Lord Alton, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby. I shall also speak briefly to Amendment 29 in this group, which is in the same names.

I begin by acknowledging the efforts made by the Minister to respond positively to the many points raised in Committee by Members of this House from across the Benches. The House will recall that in Committee there was great concern that the Bill did not go far enough to ensure the independence of the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner. Simply to call the commissioner “independent” was not sufficient if the Bill did not fully reflect that description. The Government have eventually, after a struggle, recognised those concerns to some extent in their Amendment 28. However, I gently draw the Minister’s attention to the fact that it does not even go as far as the rather modest collective amendment we have put down as Amendment 29.

Unfortunately, there is a somewhat grudging flavour to Amendment 28, which makes me retain my concern about the extent to which the commissioner remains clearly on a leash—even if, admittedly, on a slightly longer one—from the Home Office. That is why I

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have tried to provide an override provision in Amendment 27, which would enable the commissioner to,

“bring any matter to the attention of either House of Parliament irrespective of other provisions in this Act”.

That means exactly what it says. If the commissioner at any time considers that he or she is being thwarted or nudged away from airing publicly any significant concern that he or she has, he or she can draw upon the provisions in Amendment 27 to access either House of Parliament to ensure that the issue is brought into the public domain.

7 pm

The amendment is not directed at any particular Home Secretary but is a provision based on what some of us have observed in Governments of all or any political make-up as reluctance to have difficult or embarrassing issues surface publicly. My colleagues want to ensure a stronger legal bulwark against any such temptation.

It is clear that Parliament has used such a bulwark elsewhere in relation to the Children’s Commissioner, whose functions are set out in the new Section 2 of the Children Act 2004 brought forward last year in the Children and Families Act 2014. New Section 2(3)(e) gave the Children’s Commissioner exactly the same access to either House of Parliament at any time he or she considered it necessary when discharging his or her functions. It states that the commissioner may,

“bring any matter to the attention of either House of Parliament”.

Therefore, not that long ago, this Parliament gave a commissioner with responsibilities for very vulnerable people—in that case, children—an absolute guarantee of access to Parliament should the need arise. Paragraph 436 of the Explanatory Notes to the 2014 Act makes it absolutely clear that the Children’s Commissioner can do this either through his annual report or by other means, such as writing to the chair of a relevant Select Committee. To put it graphically, if I may, if a Minister tries to gag the Children’s Commissioner or censor his utterances, the commissioner can go straight to Parliament.

We should also remember that other countries with equivalents to the anti-slavery commissioner give the person direct access to Parliament. The rapporteur from the Netherlands made clear to the Joint Select Committee on the Bill her ability to do this. She saw it as an important way of giving confidence to people outside that they could bring their concerns to the rapporteur.

As we discussed in Committee, the commissioner needs the trust and confidence of a wide range of agencies and interests if he or she is to be successful. That trust and confidence will be damaged, as the Joint Committee said, if there remain doubts or perceptions that the person’s independence is shackled by the Executive. No amount of warm words from Ministers can remove those doubts and perceptions. A statutory guarantee is required and Amendment 27 gives that guarantee. Having accepted that position in relation to the Children’s Commissioner as recently as last year, I hope that the Minister can do the same for the anti-slavery commissioner by accepting my

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amendment, which is framed in exactly the same way as the Children and Families Act 2014. If the Government are prepared to agree to Amendment 27, I will be strongly inclined not to press my Amendment 29. I beg to move.

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Warner, indicated, I am one of those who put my name to the amendment, and I am very happy to add my support to it in a short intervention this evening. Before doing so, I endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Warner, said about the thoughtfulness and thoroughness of both the noble Lord, Lord Bates, and the noble Baroness, Lady Garden of Frognal, in dealing with Members from all sides of the House during the passage of this legislation, whether in the series of meetings organised in your Lordships’ House or in the face-to-face meetings with some of us who participated at the Home Office. We are all grateful to them for that. It is exemplary and it should recommend itself to other Ministers who are keen to facilitate their legislation through Parliament. This, of course, does not mean that we have always been of one mind or that we are necessarily going to agree about Amendment 27 to Clause 40.

The issue is the accountability of the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner. I suspect that it may be one of those issues where we will not find agreement because it cuts right into lines of accountability through the Home Office. Departmental issues may take precedence over what I think may well be the private views of members of the Government but which they may not be able to voice here this evening.

The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Warner, is commendable for its clarity. However, as he also indicated, it is a shrewd amendment, not least because it is based on the Children and Families Act 2014. If what we did a year ago was right in that context, surely it is right to follow exactly that precedent here again this evening.

It seems to me that one of the most important things is to recognise that, however good the nature or good will of individual Ministers, they, and even Home Secretaries, come and go. We are in a period where we face a general election. There may be a different set of Ministers—perhaps from the same party or maybe from other parties—in the very near future, so assurances given on the Floor of your Lordships’ House in the course of debate, even though they are given in good faith, cannot carry over in the same way that legislation carries over. Parliament does not come and go, unlike individual Ministers, and that is why it is so important that we place these words on the face of the Bill.

There have been plenty of precedents where uncomfortable, inconvenient and untimely issues have arisen, and departments have endeavoured to shelve them or kick them into the long grass, to suppress them or simply to ignore them. This amendment would prevent that. If we deemed such a provision to be necessary to protect children, surely it is necessary to protect victims of slavery, many of whom will in any case be children.

In a letter to me just a couple of days ago, on 20 February, the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner, Mr Kevin Hyland, said:

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“My independence will be unwavering, whether that be toward law enforcement, government, the private sector or indeed any organisation”.

I repeat:

“My independence will be unwavering”,

in the direction of government, as he specifically states. Either he is independent or he is not, and this amendment gives him the parliamentary access which will guarantee him that unwavering independence. I hope that this evening the Government will indicate either that they will take this matter away and look at it between now and Third Reading or that they will recognise the spirit in which the amendment is being moved by the noble Lord, Lord Warner, and give some guarantees to the effect that he is seeking.

Lord Rosser: While the government amendment is welcome in extending the remit of the anti-slavery commissioner and allowing the commissioner to appoint his or her own staff, there are other areas where there still appear to be constraints on the commissioner’s independence.

The commissioner must still seek prior approval of strategic plans from the Home Secretary on his or her activities and areas of focus, and annual reports may also be subject to redaction before they are laid before Parliament and published. Apart from the impact on the commissioner’s independence, it is not clear within what timeframe this checking and seeking clearance has to be undertaken in order to avoid the prospect of delays, for example, in the publication of a report or the approval of a plan or programme. The delaying of the publication of reports by the Home Office is an experience apparently not unknown to Mr Vine, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration.

Annual reports from the anti-slavery commissioner may be redacted on the grounds that material may jeopardise the safety of an individual, prejudice an investigation or, in the view of the Secretary of State, be against the interests of national security. Perhaps the Minister could say how frequently it has been necessary to redact reports where the same conditions and criteria as it is proposed to place on the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner’s reports already apply in relation to comparable commissioners or bodies.

As has been said, following the passing of the Children and Families Act 2014, the Children’s Commissioner can bring any matter to the attention of Parliament. And again, as has already been said, the Explanatory Notes to the 2014 Act state that the commissioner might do this, for example, through annual reports to Parliament or by writing to the chair of a relevant Select Committee. Under the 2014 Act, the Children’s Commissioner must as soon as possible lay a copy of his or her annual report before each House of Parliament.

In his letter of 16 February, the Minister said that,

“the Government’s intention has always been that the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner will be independent”.

But it appears that there are varying degrees of independence—or lack of independence, depending on which way one wants to look at it. Perhaps the noble Lord could say whether the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner will be in the same position

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when laying his annual report before each House of Parliament or writing to the chair of a relevant Select Committee as is the Children’s Commissioner under the Children and Families Act 2014—and, if the answer is no, why that should be the case.

Lord Bates: The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, put a direct question to me that other noble Lords have asked. It is because the nature of the information often involves serious crime and young children, and there are matters that may not be appropriate. That is something that is applied to other organisations—for example, with Borders and Immigration, with which the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner shares an office.

I shall make some contextual remarks and thank the noble Lord, Lord Warner, for returning to this issue. He acknowledged that we have been on a journey with this Bill. The word “independent” was not in the Bill when it was in the other place. That was added and then, rightly, your Lordships asked what it actually meant in precise terms and whether the person has the right to appoint their own staff, or whether they should be able to draw them just from within the pool of the Home Office. Then we found out and were able to confirm that he had already been appointing staff from outside in his designate position, and that he had brought in people from NGOs working in this area to assist in this role.

One point that was helpful in the discussion when Kevin Hyland, the designate commissioner, came to speak to Peers, was that, from his own role, he wanted to be closely aligned to the Home Office because he felt that it gave him a certain amount of authority in dealing with modern slavery—not just within the Home Office but across government. We now have a cross-government strategy, which we have published. He felt that that was very important and that the fact of reporting to the Secretary of State at the Home Office would strengthen his ability to get the changes he wanted in engaging with police officers and other agencies. From his own point of view, he saw no contradiction—to pick up the point of the noble Lord, Lord Alton—and he wanted to be unwavering in how he put forward his case and reacted to his role, as he put it in his letter. I emphasise that that came out on 20 February; I do not think that anybody in the Home Office was consulted about it—and, of course, it was absolutely welcome. He wants to build a strong relationship with parliamentarians and to engage in that process.

The idea of any of us who have had the privilege of meeting Kevin Hyland thinking that he would be anybody’s poodle, let alone on a leash, is something that we do not accept. We want to make sure that he has a very serious statutory role to perform, charged by and answerable to the Secretary of State. His task is to ensure that victims are protected and perpetrators prosecuted. Under previous groups, we talked about how that might be done. This is a very good example of how that might be moved forward.

7.15 pm

I know that there are concerns that reports are reviewed by the Secretary of State, but there is another element here, which I want the noble Lord

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to be cognisant of in pursuing his amendment. Amendment 27 would effectively allow the commissioner to report to Parliament about anything without the important necessary safeguards which would avoid inadvertently jeopardising national security, putting victims’ lives at risk or undermining an ongoing prosecution. Moreover—I ask the noble Lord to think very carefully about this point—Amendment 27 would legislate outside the legislative consent Motions passed by the Scottish Parliament and Northern Ireland Assembly, which were agreed specifically on the basis of the current powers to safeguard matters of important public interest. The amendment would leave a Bill that, if passed, would breach the Sewel convention, and put this critical UK-wide part of the Bill at risk. That is a very serious point for the noble Lord, Lord Warner, to consider.

I have tried to make the point to the noble Lord that, in welcoming his amendment, we have introduced our own amendment, which guarantees the commissioner’s independence of role over his budgets and recruitment of staff and also ensures that it is open to any committee to request the commissioner to come and speak to it. It is entirely within its ability to do that, and any Member of Parliament is entirely at liberty to communicate directly or to meet him, as has already been the case on many occasions. We simply underscore the importance of that role, and have this hesitation only in accepting the noble Lord’s amendment at this stage—it could put at risk some of the prosecutions being brought forward, if information should be inadvertently released. Given that we are dealing with matters of organised crime, that would be a very serious matter, which I know will weigh heavily on the noble Lord, Lord Warner. I ask him to keep that in mind.

Amendment 29 would entirely negate the effect of these essential provisions by allowing the commissioner to report to Parliament about any matter and override existing statutory information safeguards and restrictions on disclosure, such as those in the Data Protection Act 1998 or the Official Secrets Act 1989. I urge noble Lords not to effectively remove the critical and proportionate safeguards set out in the redaction provisions. I must also bring an important issue to the noble Lord’s attention, in the Sewel convention. That is very important to bear in mind. He is aware that the Government cannot support amendments in breach of the Sewel convention. To raise such a controversial constitutional issue at this stage in the life of a Parliament would put at risk important provisions for a UK-wide commissioner.

Given these serious risks, and my assurance that the commissioner will already have his annual reports laid before Parliament and be able to appear before parliamentary committees, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment and support the government amendment to strengthen the independence of the commissioner.

Lord Warner: My Lords, that was all very interesting. I thought that there was a certain amount of scrabbling around by the Minister at the end when he went into the Sewel convention and letters of consent. He seemed to be struggling to put the old arguments together—and

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I can see that there has been some burning of the midnight oil in the Home Office to try to scratch together some of these arguments. It was interesting to hear the Minister talk of us going on a journey. It certainly has been a journey; it has been a rather hard slog through a lot of mud to try to get a bit more independence into this person’s role. I agree with him that this has been a journey. However, I have considerable doubts about whether it has been successfully completed.

I am genuinely grateful for all the work that the Minister has put in since the Bill came to the House, and I very much share the views expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. However, that does not alter the fact that we are legislating for the future, not just for now. I have heard nothing in the Minister’s arguments which convinces me that this House should not include in the Bill an ability for this commissioner that is the same as that of the Children’s Commissioner to have direct access to Parliament when the need arises. I say to the Minister—

Lord Bates: The noble Lord claims that he heard nothing, but what does he say to the point about the Sewel convention? It is a serious constitutional point about how this proposal would affect the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Lord Warner: My Lords, if I may be allowed to finish what I was going to say, it would probably be helpful to the Minister. I am not one simply to reject out of hand some of these constitutional issues. However, we are also concerned about the position in this country—England—as well as the position in Scotland and other parts of the United Kingdom. We have the largest population and we are probably dealing with the largest number of enslaved, exploited and trafficked children. If the Government consider that this amendment needs to be amended between now and Third Reading, they could do so and have negotiations with the Scottish Parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly and so forth. People have these discussions with other government departments when there is a reasonable period of time in which to do so.

In conclusion, on the basis of what I have heard, I see no reason for not testing the opinion of the House.

7.23 pm

Division on Amendment 27

Contents 154; Not-Contents 178.

On November 17th the House of Lords debated the new Modern Slavery Bill:

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201415/ldhansrd/text/141117-0001.htm#1411179000440

modern slavery william wilberforce 2
Article 4 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that :

“No one shall be held in slavery or servitude: slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms”.

modern slavery

The  Bill which had its Second Reading in the House of Lords yesterday is a genuine, welcome and long overdue attempt by the Government to address contemporary forms of slavery – particularly human trafficking and to meet our Article 4 obligations. I particularly pay tribute to the work of the Rt.Hon Frank Field MP, Sir John Randall MP and  Baroness Butler-Sloss, as well as many NGOs and individuals, particularly Anthony Steen and Danny Smith of Jubilee Campaign. Although there will be attempts to amend and strengthen the Bill, it would be churlish today not to congratulate the Home Secretary and her team for the work which has been done thus far.

The Government has also shown a welcome willingness to incorporate changes suggested during the pre-legislative process, particularly further support for victims, and their later decision to incorporate a new provision on transparency in business supply chains  although there needs to be clarity on the terms of reference for the consultation, the proposed end date for the consultation, and when the Government expects to present legislation on that issue.

In a letter to Peers last Friday the Government announced  that Mr. Kevin Hyland has been appointed as Anti-slavery Commissioner. He has great experience of law enforcement but I was surprised that this appointment preceded the parliamentary debate on what the role and mandate of the Anti-Slavery Commissioner will be. Is this role to be about policing or about leadership and strategy?  It would have been bettere if Parliament had been given the  chance to discuss the necessary skill sets before an appointment was made.

We also need to discuss the concerns raised last week in their Report by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, who suggested that the Bill provides insufficient protection for the independence of the Anti-slavery Commissioner, specifically in relation to appointment, staffing, powers to report on subjects other than those authorised by Government, and Government redaction of reports.  The Committee argued that without greater independence and a broader mandate the new post risks becoming an adjunct of the Home Office concerned mainly with law enforcement, rather than a vital new part of our national human rights machinery.

As to the main provisions of the Bill, I don’t think anyone could reasonably claim that the Bill as drafted is the last word. Rather, it is the like the proverbial Curate’s Egg: “there in parts”. This unfinished work is capable of significant improvement when the House reaches Committee and Report Stages.

Shortly after entering the House of Lords in 1997, and after visits to countries like Sudan, Burma, and North Korea, I began to press the then Government to legislate on modern forms of slavery and on human trafficking.

Human Trafficking

In June 2002 having been told by the Government that “At present there is no specific offence of trafficking in human beings and so no data exist about the confiscation of assets of those engaged in this practice” I attempted to amend the Proceeds of Crime Bill. People trafficking had become the fastest growing facet of organised crime, generating £4.3 billion a year – the third largest source of profit for organised crime after the trafficking of drugs and firearms.

I told the story of an Albanian woman, kidnaped, raped and , believing she had been rescued was brought London, only to be forced into prostitution by her trafficker. A year later I described Saw Naing Gae an eight years old Burmese child whose parents were shot dead by the Burmese military. He was then trafficked across the border and sold to a Thai family. Two cases among hundreds of thousands; cases which demonstrate that this is a global issue demanding global solutions.

Human trafficking 2

In 2002 my amendments called for the proceeds of trafficking to be channelled into the support of victims and the resourcing of a strategy to tackle this scourge at source – something I was glad to see the new Commissioner called for over the weekend.

Supporting me in 2002, the late Lord Wilberforce, a law lord and descendent of William Wilberforce, described trafficking as “a pervasive crime committed in all kinds of areas by all kinds of people. It must be dealt with by a great variety of authorities and police forces all over the country, many of which have no idea of the nature of the crime or the remedies available to deal with it.”

The Morecambe Bay Cockle Pickers

The Morecambe Bay Cockle Pickers

Two years later, the failure to combat human trafficking was underlined by the tragic death of 23 Chinese cockle pickers who died in Morecambe Bay – part of a criminal racket, exploiting workers all over England, and estimated to funnel £1m per day back to China.

In 2006 Parliament created the Gangmasters Licensing Authority but 2013 research by Durham University found it had insufficient teeth; and that those trafficked for labour exploitation would soon exceed those trafficked for sexual exploitation.

Professor Gary Craig, said there was a “real problem” getting people to acknowledge that “slavery exists in the UK” and that his research “suggests there may be upwards of 10,000 people at any one time in the UK in conditions which we would class as modern slavery.”

The mandate of the GLA should be extended, have powers of arrest and investigation and keep fines to fund its work. Professor Craig says the resources directed to the GLA are “totally inadequate.”

cockle pickers2

Part of the hold over migrant workers like the cockle pickers is the debt bondage which affects more than 20 million people. Modern-day forms of slavery—based on discrimination because of racial origin, forced labour, child labour, trafficking and debt bondage—all underpin the economic and trade relationships from which we and many other countries continue to benefit.

In confronting all of this does this Bill do enough? Does it justify the Government’s claim to be “world leading” and to be making “legislative history”? Measure the claim against, the independence of the Anti-Slavery Commissioner; the treatment of victims and migrant domestic workers; and the development of transparency of supply chains.

The European Convention on Human Trafficking and the European Directive require us to provide support services to victims. In 2012 report of the Group of Experts (GRETA) invited “the British authorities to enshrine in law the right to a recovery and reflection period” and recommended the UK should “ensure that all potential and actual victims of trafficking are provided with adequate support and assistance from their identification through to their recovery.” GRETA specified that among other things this should include:   “adopting clear support service minimum standards for victims of trafficking and the provision of adequate funding to maintain them.” It’s hard to see how we can comply unless, for instance, legal aid is restored for victims of trafficking and slavery?

modern slavery victims

By contrast with our provisions, in October, the Northern Ireland Assembly voted to introduce statutory support services for the victims of trafficking and to introduce statutory child trafficking guardians. Are we really going to provide victims of trafficking less protection in England and Wales than in Northern Ireland?

The most vulnerable group of victims will always be children. It is said that 60-70% of trafficked children have gone missing from care.

In April the House decisively supported Lord McColl’s proposal for introducing Child Trafficking Guardians. But compare the weakness of Clause 47, stating that the Home Secretary will merely produce guidance on support services with the definition of the role which we voted in favour of in April.

I would like to see the Bill introduce a specific offence of child exploitation and trafficking and include a statutory principle of non-prosecution so that children who have been trafficked are not detained, prosecuted or punished for offences committed as a direct consequence of their trafficking, slavery or exploitation.

modern slavery domestic workers

The Bill also fails migrant domestic workers. We need to provide minimum standards for protection and support and create a right of migrant domestic workers to change employer and to apply to renew their visa while in full time employment; and implement the strong recommendations of both the Joint Committee on the Draft Modern Slavery Bill and the Joint Committee on Human Rights who called for the reinstatement of the pre 2012 protections for migrant domestic workers.

Last week I met with the Transparency in Supply Chains Coalition and I strongly support their proposals to strengthen the Bill in five respects: (i) coverage; (ii) minimum requirements; (iii) reporting; (iv) monitoring and enforcement; and (v) review. These recommendations draw on their wide experience of corporate responsibility and supply chain management, and also in light of experience of the implementation of the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act of 2010,

child labour india

The need for measures to tackle modern slavery in company supply chains is amply demonstrated by abuses and exploitation of workers in cotton mills in Tamil Nadu, India. The mills in this region supply high street retailers such as C&A, Mothercare and Primark.

kiln workers pakistan

Or think of the children of brick kiln workers in India and Pakistan who have no future except to adopt the profession of their parents because they have no opportunity to access education.

The report – Flawed Fabrics – published in October details forced labour abuses, including physical confinement in the work location, psychological compulsion, and false promises about types and terms of work. These are modern slaves and our high street decisions keep them in servitude.

flawed fabrics

The findings included “prison-like conditions” in which the women are literally bonded, and girls as young as 15 recruited from marginalized Dalit communities in impoverished rural areas – some of which I have seen first-hand. It reports that workers were lured away with the promise of good wages and working conditions, only to experience “appalling conditions that amount to modern day slavery and the worst forms of child labour.”

 

The report makes several recommendations on brands, retailers and manufacturers it highlights the need for supply chain mapping, transparency and identifying risks.

Such monitoring needs to go beyond tick box approach. NGOs working on the issue have highlighted how easy it is for mills to welcome inspectors, make a presentation to them while behind the scenes the workplace is tidied up, health and safety equipment handed out temporarily, and move under-age workers out of sight. It is essential that the Bill include minimum measures of disclosure with an emphasis on a collaborative approach to monitoring. It is essential to have effective legislation requiring companies to effectively monitor their supply chains and to ensure that this is done beyond the first tier of suppliers. This needs to be done across all large companies to ensure a level playing field.

There should be a requirement on the face of the Bill that a company’s report on slavery in the supply chain must be referenced in the Directors’ Report for each financial year; a requirement in the Bill that reports should be placed in a prominent position on the company’s website (prominently linked to from their homepage); a central repository of the company reports on a government website; a clarification on the face of the Bill that the provision should be the responsibility of the Board and/or CEO; and a recognition that year on year reporting should be progressive.

I would also like to see a requirement for all UK embassies to prepare an annual account of trafficking and slavery in the countries where they are located, to form part of an annual report to Parliament by the Slavery Commissioner, comparable to the US State Department’s annual report of the Office of Trafficked Persons.

In 2006 in the run up to the bicentenary celebration, in 2007, I took part in a House of Lords debate on the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade.

slave ship2

I mentioned that the city of Liverpool, where I served as a Member of the House of Commons for 18 years, had been at the epicentre of the historic slave trade. Ships like the ironically and perversely named “The Blessing” literally stole people from their homelands and ferried them into servitude and misery.

slave ship

It is estimated that by the end of the 18th century, 60 per cent of Britain’s trading activities centred on Liverpool In total, British ships are estimated to have made 12,000 voyages and to have carried 2.5 million slaves. It is a poignant and shaming experience to stand, as I have done, at the Gate of No Return in Benin, from where so many of Africa’s slaves were wrenched away from their homes, their families, their culture and their identity.

Roscoe

I have a chair at Liverpool John Moores University and am Director of its Roscoe Foundation for Citizenship. William Roscoe was one of those who defiantly stood against the slave trade and, in 1807, during the three months he served in another place, he was able to join with William Wilberforce, in voting against the transatlantic trade. Sadly, he did not live to see the repeal of the slave laws in 1833. Men like Roscoe and Wilberforce, Thomas Clarkson, Grenville Sharpe, Ouidah Equiano and the Rathbone family, help to redeem that sordid period of our history.

roscoe statue

Many of our predecessors in Parliament argued against repeal insisting that to do so would spell ruinous economic disaster for England and her Empire. Economic interests remain a potent factor in the continuation of slavery and is why today even more people are enslaved than in those distant times.

According to the International Labour Organization around 21 million men, women and children around the world are in a form of slavery, estimated to generate a profit of $150 bn per annum.

It is significant that Rathbones – who can count Liverpool’s William Rathbone IV as one of the strong voices raised against historic slavery, have been at the forefront of the campaign for transparency in supply chains, saying: “The power of business needs be enlisted in the fight against modern slavery, as only business has the global reach and necessary resource to make a genuine difference.”   Rathbones have published a letter signed by investors with £950 billion of assets under mamanegement.

Along side investors like that the Modern Slavery Bill can also play its own part in that fight but we will need to strengthen it further before it is enacted if it truly is to set a world standard.

modern slavery william wilberforce 2 modern slavery and wilberforce

The world watches Hong Kong with apprehension tinged with hope – Desmond Tutu speaks out

The world watches Hong Kong’s umbrella protests with apprehension tinged with hope

hong kong protests 9

hong kong protests 6

Hong Kong's "democracy wall" where people have written their messages. The stairs in the picture leads up to one of the entrances of the Government HQ.

Hong Kong’s “democracy wall” where people have written their messages. The stairs in the picture lead up to one of the entrances of the Government HQ.

Anyone who loves China and the people of China will be watching events in Hong Kong with a combination of apprehension, fear and hope.

The apprehension and the fear is based on what happened in Tiananmen Square a quarter of a century ago ago but the hope must be that wiser leaders in Beijing today will not resort to brute force.

Hong Kong’s dynamic economy has been the model for China’s spectacular economic improvements it should now become the model for democratic change. Hong Kong’s success is inextricably bound up with the liberties, political and religious freedoms enjoyed by its citizens. Crush them and Hong Kong’s vibrancy would be destroyed. Embrace them, and it will enable China to develop in harmony and unity.

Hong Koing protests 1

The Washington Post
U.S. should send signal to China in support of Hong Kong democracy movement
By Editorial Board September 30 at 8:24 PM

IT’S HARD not to be inspired by the images of crowds in the centre of Hong Kong peacefully demonstrating in favor of democracy, their unlikely symbol not a clenched fist but an open umbrella. But it’s also difficult not to remember the similar mass demonstrations that filled Beijing’s Tiananmen Square 25 years ago and how those ended. The pessimistic consensus in and outside China is that the Communist party leadership of Xi Jinping, which has adopted a hard line against political dissent, is likely to forcibly crush this protest movement if it persists, just as the last one was crushed.

Beijing, however, has not acted yet; police in Hong Kong backed off on Monday and Tuesday after their use of tear gas over the weekend brought more people to the streets. Chinese authorities probably are weighing the risks of allowing the street occupations to continue against those of initiating a crackdown. That makes this a crucial moment for the United States to send a clear message to Mr. Xi: that repression is unacceptable and will damage China’s relations with the democratic world.

Unfortunately, the Obama administration’s response so far has been gallingly timid. White House and State Department spokesmen have carefully avoided offering explicit support for the demonstrators’ demands for free elections for the city’s leader, rather than a managed choice among nominees approved by Beijing. They have urged the demonstrators to be peaceful, though only the police have resorted to violence.

As a supporter of the 1984 agreement under which Hong Kong was transferred from British to Chinese rule, the United States has an obligation to speak up when China violates the spirit of its promise to allow an elected government – as it clearly has. Yet the U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong went so far as to declare that “we do not take sides in the discussion of Hong Kong’s political development, nor do we support any particular individuals or groups involved in it.”

Even more concerning is U.S. nonchalance about a possible crackdown. Asked about speculation that Chinese military units stationed in Hong Kong could be used against the protesters, the State Department’s spokesman said Monday that “I have not seen that potential at this point in time. I can check with our team to see if that’s a concern we have.”

State would do well to check with Chinese dissidents such as Yang Jianli, Teng Biao and Hu Jia, who know the regime’s capacity for repression all too well. In an oped published by the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, the three men pointed out that Chinese officials “have threatened repeatedly that Hong Kong-based units of China’s People’s Liberation Army will use force to suppress peaceful demonstrations,” adding, “this tragic outcome is becoming more likely.”

After the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, President George H.W. Bush and Congress imposed tough sanctions on China, though Mr. Bush soon backed down. Since then China has grown into a major power that is more resistant to outside pressure. The United States cannot protect Hong Kong’s democracy movement if Mr. Xi decides to crush it. But it can and should support its demand for genuine democracy and let China know that the use of force would have consequences for U.S.-Chinese relations.

Hong Kong protests 2hong kong protests 8

Hong Koing protests 1

Archbishop Desmond Tutu,

Archbishop Desmond Tutu,

ARCHBISHOP TUTU: ALL WHO BELIEVE IN DEMOCRACY SHOULD SUPPORT THE PEOPLE OF HONG KONG

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu on Wednesday released the following statement with respect to pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong:

“I salute the courage of the hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong citizens who have participated in mass demonstrations in the territory in recent days to assert peacefully their right to have a say in the election of their leaders. They are taking action not for themselves, but for their broader family, their community.

“Their struggle is one that all who believe in the principles of democracy and justice should support.

“Periods of societal transition are exciting because of the opportunities they present. With its handover from Britain to China in 1997, Hong Kong embarked on a 50-year transitory journey towards universal suffrage.

“The foundation stone of the handover agreement was promulgation of the Hong Kong Basic Law, which gives legal effect to what is known as the “one country, two systems” arrangement. The Basic Law guarantees Hong Kong residents the rights to freedom of speech and association, and the freedoms to gather and to demonstrate.

“Peaceful demonstrations present opportunities for various points of view to be ventilated, and for parties to demonstrate their commitment to the principles of freedom of expression, dialogue and rule of law.

“The scenes that have been filling our television screens and email inboxes reflect differences of opinion that have emerged over the route that should be taken to complete Hong Kong’s journey to democracy. Its people, led by the youth, are adamant that Beijing has no right, in terms of the handover agreement, to decide who should take over as the new chief executive of the territory in 2017.

“The firing of teargas at demonstrators, as happened on Sunday, was a bitter blow to what many still hope will be a peaceful, inclusive and dignified transformation process.

“I pray that the voices of the people of Hong Kong will never be stifled. And I pray for a compassionate and just government in Beijing that does not fear the will of its people.”

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

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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”.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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”.

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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”.

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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 …

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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.
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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.

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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.


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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.

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The Killing Of People With Down’s Syndrome: Richard Dawkins says it’s immoral to let a Down’s Syndrome baby be born. Since when have eugenics been moral or ethical? What would happen if you were diagnosed with Dawkins’ Syndrome?

Well written piece on Down’s Syndrome:
http://m.huffpost.com/uk/entry/5881256?utm_hp_ref=uk

See Photographer with Down’s syndrome who ‘sees the world differently’

9 September 2014 Last updated at 00:01 BST

Photographer Oliver Hellowell has Down’s syndrome, which his mother says means he sees the world differently from most people.

Oliver’s unique way of capturing the natural world has recently gained him a lot of fans.

Just over a year ago, his mother Wendy O’Carroll set up a Facebook page for the 18-year-old’s photography. That page now has more than 10,500 followers.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-29107894

Richard Dawkins has said that if you are pregnant with a baby who has Down’s Syndrome: “Abort it and try again.It would be immoral to bring it into the world” But since when have eugenics been moral or ethical? Since when has it been moral for a negative worth to be attached to the life of a person with a disability, disqualifying them from the right to exist? In 2012, 994 human beings with Down’s Syndrome were deliberately killed before birth in England and Wales. Does that make us a moral, ethical, civilised nation? If a test could be designed to discover whether you might become a zoologist with pretensions to philosophise would those be reasonable or rational grounds to end a person’s life? Perhaps a campaign should be launched to save babies suspected of having Dawkins’ Syndrome.

See: http://www.independent.ie/opinion/columnists/brendan-oconnor/abort-it-and-try-again-whining-dawkins-is-illogical-and-medieval-30531192.html

Also see: Blue Apple Theatre Company: Actors with Downs Syndrome challenge us with their production of Living without Fear:

https://davidalton.net/2013/04/30/drama-and-music-to-make-us-think-disability-hate-crime-religious-persecution-bullying-relationships-the-holocaust-north-korea-scapegoating-of-minorities/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-ouch-25979406

Better Off Dead?

“Not content with killing Down’s Syndrome babies – 90% of whom are now hunted down and aborted before their births – we’re now seeing attempts to eliminate them and to let them die rather than treat them in our NHS Hospitals. Is this the same NHS that we were celebrating in the Olympic Stadium? What a contrast, too, with the inspirational achievements of disabled athletes, during the Paralympics celebrated in the same stadium, and who have taught us so much about courage and the overcoming of seemingly impossible odds.

“As we rush pell-mell into Nietzschean-style eugenics and ethics, we should recall those inspirational moments, remembering that people with  Down’s Syndrome are human beings – not “a drain on public finances”; that disabled people would not be “better off dead” and that by allowing the elimination of the weak it is we who expose ourselves as the truly weak”  – David Alton

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13 September 2012 Last updated at 01:21

Down’s syndrome patient challenges resuscitation order

By Jane Dreaper Health correspondent, BBC News

A man with Down’s syndrome is suing an NHS trust over a hospital’s decision to issue a do-not-resuscitate order giving his disability as one of the reasons.

The instruction not to attempt resuscitation in the event of a cardiac or respiratory arrest was issued without his family’s knowledge.

Their lawyers describe the order as “blatant discrimination”.

East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust says it complied fully with guidance from professional bodies.

The family of the man, who can be identified only as AWA because of a court order, remained unaware of the do-not-resuscitate (DNR) decision until he had returned from hospital to his care home.

The DNR form, issued while he was in hospital in Margate a year ago, was listed as an indefinite decision, meaning it would cover the duration of his stay in hospital, with no provision for review.

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He has a good way of life now, but somebody wasn’t prepared to give him the time of day.”

The reasons given were “Down’s syndrome, unable to swallow (Peg [percutaneous endoscopic gastronomy] fed), bed bound, learning difficulties”.

AWA, 51, has dementia and was having a special tube fitted to help him with feeding.

The form says there was no discussion with his next of kin because they were “unavailable”, but the family say they visited him in hospital “virtually every day” – and a carer from his home sometimes attended too.

One of AWA’s close relatives, who is pursuing the legal action on his behalf, said: “Until his dementia started three years ago, he had a really hectic social life. He loved parties, discos and going to church.

“He was looked after at home for as long as possible, but then we got him into a nice care home. His health deteriorated a bit – he had eating problems and couldn’t swallow – so the decision was taken to have a Peg inserted so he could receive medication, foods and liquids.

“He was admitted to hospital for a fortnight. When he was discharged, one of the carers at his home was unpacking his bag and found the DNR form, to their horror.

“We weren’t aware of the DNR until then. We were very angry and quite distressed, especially as he’d been re-admitted that day because he’d got pneumonia.

“Since November last year, he’s been right as rain. He has a specially adapted chair, takes part in various activities and is conscious of everybody around him most of them time.

“He has a good way of life now, but somebody wasn’t prepared to give him the time of day.”

Continue reading the main story

“Start Quote

DNR orders are frequently being placed on patients with a learning disability without the knowledge or agreement of families.”

End Quote Mark Goldring Mencap

AWA and his family are represented by solicitor Merry Varney, from Leigh Day & Co.

She said: “This is definitely one of the most extreme cases we have seen of a DNR order being imposed on a patient without consent or consultation.

“To use Down’s syndrome and learning difficulties as a reason to withhold lifesaving treatment is nothing short of blatant discrimination.

“If an individual was physically preventing a doctor from administering life-saving treatment to a disabled relative, it would undoubtedly be a matter for the police, yet we see doctors taking this decision without consent or consultation regularly.”

Mark Goldring, chief executive of learning disability charity Mencap, said: “We are very disappointed to hear about this case, but unfortunately, we believe that DNR orders are frequently being placed on patients with a learning disability without the knowledge or agreement of families. This is against the law.

“All too often, decisions made by health professionals are based on discriminatory and incorrect assumptions about a patient’s quality of life.

“People with a learning disability enjoy meaningful lives like anyone else. Yet… prejudice, ignorance and indifference, as well as failure to abide by disability discrimination laws, still feature in the treatment of many patients with a learning disability.

Continue reading the main story

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We have a clear and robust policy in place on DNR which complies fully with national guidance from the professional bodies.”

End Quote Dr Neil Martin East Kent Hospitals Trust

“Health professions need to understand their legal duties when treating people with a learning disability, and be held to account when their fail to do so.”

Dr Neil Martin, medical director for East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust, said: “The trust cannot comment on this individual case because it is subject to ongoing legal proceedings.

“East Kent Hospitals has put a great deal in place in recent years to meet the needs of vulnerable patients, including practical steps to improve communication with people with learning disabilities and their carers.

“It has a clear and robust policy in place on ‘Do Not Attempt Cardio-pulmonary Resuscitation’, which complies fully with national guidance from the professional bodies.”

Ms Varney is leading a separate legal case to try to make the Department of Health issue government policy across England on DNR forms, rather than leaving it to professional guidance and policy decisions by individual NHS trusts.

That case is on behalf of the family of Janet Tracey, who died at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge. It will be heard in the High Court later this year.

http://thefuturesrosie.blogspot.co.uk/

http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/commentandblogs/2012/08/31/how-can-you-cheer-for-our-paralympians-and-support-britains-abortion-laws/

http://pjmedia.com/lifestyle/2012/09/04/9-reasons-down-syndrome-wont-ruin-your-life/?singlepage=true