Carnage at Westminster -as parliamentarians hear from some of those who face terror every day of their lives

Carnage at Westminster – as parliamentarians hear from some of those who face terror every day of their lives

http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/commentandblogs/2017/03/23/westminster-has-seen-worse-now-it-must-show-persecuted-christians-that-terror-wont-win/

Business Not Quite As Usual

P.C.Keith Palmer

Police Constable Kevin Palmer Murdered in the Westminster Precinct

In her Statement, in the aftermath of the attack at Westminster, the Prime Minister defiantly insisted that parliamentary business would today continue as usual.

theresa_may_commons_tribute_cfyasf

The Prime Minister

During the morning sittings in both Houses, there was a united and wholly unambiguous message that those who would destroy our democracy and fundamental freedoms will not succeed. But in the sombre atmosphere that inevitably prevailed, it wasn’t quite business as usual. 

And we always need to remind ourselves that this is not the first, and will not be the last attack on Westminster – both on the buildings and on the values which are its foundation stones.

Nearly forty years ago, on March 30th 1979, on the day after I was elected to the House of Commons in a by-election, Airey Neave was murdered by the Irish National Liberation Army, blown up just yards from where P.C. Keith Palmer – a father-of-two and a member of the Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection Squad – was yesterday murdered by an Islamist terrorist.

Keith had worked at Westminster for fifteen years and he was one of our gallant band of men and women who protect us and every day greet us, and endless visitors, with great courtesy but who also know that Westminster is far more than a tourist attraction.

It is an iconic building that stands for democracy and freedom and is therefore bound to be a target for those who wish to destroy those things and impose hate driven ideologies.

P.C.Palmer’s body lay just yards from the entrance to Westminster Hall – which was subjected to Nazi bombs at the height of World War Two. 

westminster bombed during world war 2

Westminster silhouetted by the light of fires caused by Nazi bombs

In 1940 a high explosive bomb fell into Old Palace Yard. In 1941 an incendiary hit the Victoria Tower and a police sergeant showed great courage when he climbed the scaffold and extinguished the burning magnesium with a sandbag. Then the western courtyard was hit and two auxiliary policemen were killed.

Next, the Commons Chamber was hit along with Westminster Hall – built by William Rufus in 1097. As the Commons burnt, firemen with axes broke down the doors of the Hall and as the medieval rafters burnt they pumped in water from the Thames to save the Hall.

westminster hall bombedhouse of commons destroyed

Westminster was bombed by the Nazis – the House of Commons was destroyed.

P.C.Palmer stands in a long and heroic tradition of extraordinary bravery placed at the service of their country.

If the walls of Westminster Hall could speak they could tell this nation’s history – of its struggles for political and religious freedom, its belief in human rights and its belief in the rule of law.

From its construction in 1097, and the first meeting of Parliament in 1265, to the trials of William Wallace in 1305, of St.Thomas More in 1535, and Charles I in 1649, to the lying-in-state of Kings, Queens and Prime Ministers, there is little that this Hall could not tell us about who we are and what we stand for as a nation.

My first visit to Westminster Hall was as in 1965, as a school boy, when we came to pay our respects to Sir Winston Churchill whose body had been brought to the Hall – and whose leadership saw this country through its darkest hours.

Yesterday, after being locked down for several hours in Central Lobby many of us were taken into the Hall – where hundreds of people waited as events continued to unfold.

Here were Peers, MPs, secretaries, researchers, ancillary and catering staff and visitors to the House– the complete diverse mix that makes up the Westminster community on any working day.

 westminster hall

Peers, MPs, Staff and Visitors Congregated in Westminster Hall

I wondered what some of the school children, who had been singing songs to keep up their spirits, would make of this their first visit to Westminster. Beyond the tragedy I hope they will be inspired and realise that in every generation the baton must pass to the one which follows.

As the attack was taking place I was meeting with the Egyptian Coptic Bishop, Angaelos. A few months ago he had spoken in Westminster Hall at the annual parliamentary prayer breakfast.

During our meeting we had been talking about recent attacks on his church community – many driven out by ISIS killers from the Sinai Peninsula. We talked about the Copts who had been murdered by ISIS in Libya – who went to their deaths refusing to renounce their faith.  We were recalling that the last time we had been together was to stand outside Westminster Abbey at a service of remembrance to mark the deaths of 25 people at Cairo’s Cathedral of St.Mark.

coptic martyrs 2Icon of the 21 Coptic Christians beheaded in Libya in February 2015

Coptic Christians Executed By ISIS

Then, interrupting our conversation, one of our Doorkeepers urgently asked us to follow him – and he took us to Central Lobby. Among many we spoke to there was Lord Tebbit – who in 1984 had survived the Brighton bomb and whose dear wife Margaret had been paralysed by the attack.

Bishop Angaelos and I spent five hours in the lockdown in Central Lobby and in Westminster Hall. Horrible, but nothing in comparison with what happened to those who were killed, maimed or wounded.

At 4.00pm I had been due to chair a meeting on North Korea and I still don’t know if anyone hoping to come into the House for that hearing was hurt but I do know that South Koreans were among the casualties on Westminster Bridge. The intended speaker, who had escaped from North Korea, and his translator, sent me a text to say that they had got safely away.

This morning I arrived at the House at 7.30 am to prepare for a meeting I was due to chair on the Committee Corridor about the plight of Christians in Erbil, and who had escaped from ISIS genocide in Iraq and Syria.

The meeting had been organised by the charity Aid to The Church In Need. They had flown over Mr Stephen Rasche, who heads the humanitarian and resettlement programmes for more than 70,000 displaced Christian families in northern Iraq.

WP_20170323_09_54_43_Pro

Stephen Rasche met with Parliamentarians, Ministers and Officials

Although we were unable to get members of the public into the building we went ahead with the meeting and Mr.Rasche spoke to Peers such as Baroness (Helena) Kennedy QC, Lord Hylton, and Lord Gordon and he met the DFID Minister, Lord Bates.

Mr.Rasche’s visit comes at a critical time for Christians in the wake of the expulsion of ISIS from the Nineveh Plains, the region of northern Iraq which for centuries had been home to Catholic and Orthodox communities as well as other minorities. What sort of message would it have sent to them if that meeting had to be cancelled because of Islamist terror on the streets of London?

It’s almost a year since the House of Commons voted to declare events in Iraq and Syria to be a genocide against Christians, Yazidis and other minorities. 

christian genocide

Stephen Rasche said that the programmes he organises on behalf of Chaldean Archbishop, Bashar Warda of Erbil, are running out of medicine, food – and hope. He described what it is like to live every day under the shadow of terror: “Christians are hanging on as a people – just barely” . 

He pointed out that British aid simply doesn’t reach those we have declared to be the subject of genocide because the aid goes instead into UN camps in which the minorities would be too frightened to stay  as many of those who persecuted them are in those very same camps.

Without help “medicine will run out in 40 days, food in two months.” Without help no-one from these ancient communities will be left: “we will become custodians of a caretaker culture.”  

Archbishop Warda in the UK

Archbishop Warda in Parliament in 2015

They are praying for the day when it will be safe to return to the Christian villages of Nineveh Plain and Mosul – but meanwhile they are a people whose story is written in mass graves, enslavement, rape and torture.

Yesterday, London had a glimpse of the brutality and unforgiving hatred that fuels this global ideology. 

But, as Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, reminded us when we assembled in the House later in the morning, hatred need not win. 

Westminster has withstood far worse, and in displaying traditional British stoicism and resilience, Parliament must also inspire and encourage beleaguered communities, the world over, by displaying leadership and determination in resisting those who would destroy the values for which P.C.Palmer gave his life.

 

David Alton (Lord Alton of Liverpool) is an Independent Crossbench Peer.

 

 

houses of parliament on red wednesday

The Houses of Parliament lit in red on “Red Wednesday”, November 2016, to commemorate all those who have died or are persecuted for their religious beliefs.

Primados – The Secret Drugs Scandal. Congratulations to Jason Farrell and Sky TV – Why there should be a full Public Inquiry

primados 1

 

Primados – The Secret Drugs Scandal. Congratulations to Jason Farrell and Sky TV

This evening (March 21st) a brilliant Sky TV documentary, Primados The Secret Drugs Scandal, is being broadcast by Sky TV. Congratulations to Jason Farrell and the team that put this forensic examination together. Sky News state that “in January 1975 the British regulator warned manufacturers Schering of a five-to-one risk that the drug could cause malformations.”  It is alleged that collusion between the medical establishment and the drug company led to the failure to warn the public about the dangers involved.

http://news.sky.com/video/primodos-the-secret-drug-scandal-10801048

The Government now needs to tell us when they first became aware that no toxicology or testing had been undertaken before the licensing of the drug Primados; whether they have examined the alleged collusion of the pharmaceutical company who manufactured Primados and the regulatory bodies; why the regulator alerted the drug company to a 1 in 5 risk of abnormality occurring in an unborn child, but not the public; when they first learnt that Primados was being used in some parts of the world as an abortafacient while being sold in the UK fir pregnancy testing. and what Government what funding is being provided to research scientists in Cambridge examining   the composition of the drug Primados and its likely affects on the child in the womb.

I have today called for a full Public Inquiry to be established  and also tabled the following questions :

Lord Alton of Liverpool

To ask HMG, in the light of the scientific review of the regulation of the drug Primodos to be undertaken by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, what progress has been made on the inquiry into the drug which was established in 2014; whether they have determined when regulators first became aware that (1) no toxicology or testing had been undertaken prior to the licensing of that drug, and (2) Primodos was being used in some parts of the world as an abortifacient whilst being sold in the UK for pregnancy testing; whether they have examined alleged collusion between the drug manufacturer and the regulatory bodies; and what assessment they have made of the decision of the regulator to alert the drug manufacturer of the risks associated with the drug but not the public.

=========================================================================

In 2010 I pressed the Government about this scandal – and these were their replies:

 

Asked by: Alton of Liverpool, Lord | Party: Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the safety of the drug Primolut; and whether the licence for its sale has been reviewed.

Answering member: Howe, Earl | Party: Conservative Party

Primodos first became available in the United Kingdom in 1959 and was discontinued in 1978. Primodos was used as a hormonal pregnancy test and for the treatment of various gynaecological complaints. The licensed dose of Primodos as a pregnancy test was one tablet on each of two consecutive days. Each Primodos tablet contained two sex hormones, a progestogen (norethisterone acetate, 10 milligrams) and an oestrogen (ethinylestradiol, 0.02 milligrams). No licensed medicines currently available in the UK contain norethisterone acetate and ethinylestradiol at the same doses as Primodos. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has no information on the number of children who were born with disabilities to mothers who took Primodos during pregnancy. A total of three reports of suspected adverse drug reactions (ADRs) in association with Primodos (spina bifida, cleft palate, congenital abnormality and pre-eclampsia) via the UK’s Yellow Card Scheme are on the MHRA database. None of these cases reported the dose that was administered to the patient. As of 13 October 2010 the MHRA had received a total of 32 UK spontaneous ““suspected”” ADR reports associated with the combination of the drug ingredients norethisterone and ethinylestradiol (other than Primodos) which describe a congenital abnormality. These reports were received over a period of 45 years. The former Committee on Safety of Medicines (CSM) advised on the safety of a number of hormonal preparations, including Primodos in 1975 and 1977. The CSM letters and the minutes from the CSM meeting have been placed in the Library. The advice of the CSM was that these hormonal preparations should not be indicated for, or promoted as, a pregnancy test; that a warning about a possible hazard in pregnancy should be inserted in all promotional literature; and that pregnant women should not use these products. In the absence of any significant new scientific evidence that has become available since Primodos was discontinued, a meeting such as that suggested would be unlikely to benefit any of those concerned. Local clinicians and multidisciplinary teams assess the health and care needs of people who consider that they have been adversely affected by Primodos or other hormonal pregnancy tests. The MHRA therefore has no current plans to meet members of the Association for Children Damaged by Hormone Pregnancy Tests, people suspected to have been adversely affected by the drug Primodos, or with the pharmaceutical company, Bayer. A large number of medicines currently available in the UK contain norethisterone and ethinylestradiol. These are licensed for hormone replacement therapy, contraception, various gynaecological conditions and in the treatment of some cancers. When used for oral contraception the doses of norethisterone and ethinylestradiol are lower than Primodos. Norethisterone is also currently available as progestogen-only contraception. In common with all licensed medicines, warnings relating to potential side effects of medicines that contain norethisterone and ethinylestradiol are provided in the patient information leaflet that accompanies each medicine, including information about use in pregnancy. All medicines on the UK market are continuously monitored to ensure the benefits outweigh the risks. Primolut N is one of the norethisterone-containing medicines currently available in the UK. Primolut N tablets are licensed for use in a range of gynaecological conditions and contain five milligrams of norethisterone, a progestogenic sex hormone. Advice and warnings relating to potential side effects of Primolut N are provided in the summary of product characteristics for health care professionals, and the patient information leaflet that accompanies each packet of medicine. As with all medicines used in the UK, the MHRA, together with advice from an independent advisory body, the Commission on Human Medicines keeps the safety of Primolut N under continuous review. The MHRA is not aware of any current safety issues with Primolut N.

26 Oct 2010 | Written questions | Answered | House of Lords | 2593 | 721 c264-6WA

Date answered: 26 Oct 2010

Subject: Licensing; Safety; Primolut N

show related items (1)

Asked by: Alton of Liverpool, Lord | Party: Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will meet with members of the Association for Children Damaged by Hormone Pregnancy Tests, people adversely affected by the drug Primodos, and with the pharmaceutical company, Bayer, to discuss the consequences for people adversely affected by the drug Primodos.

Answering member: Howe, Earl | Party: Conservative Party

Primodos first became available in the United Kingdom in 1959 and was discontinued in 1978. Primodos was used as a hormonal pregnancy test and for the treatment of various gynaecological complaints. The licensed dose of Primodos as a pregnancy test was one tablet on each of two consecutive days. Each Primodos tablet contained two sex hormones, a progestogen (norethisterone acetate, 10 milligrams) and an oestrogen (ethinylestradiol, 0.02 milligrams). No licensed medicines currently available in the UK contain norethisterone acetate and ethinylestradiol at the same doses as Primodos. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has no information on the number of children who were born with disabilities to mothers who took Primodos during pregnancy. A total of three reports of suspected adverse drug reactions (ADRs) in association with Primodos (spina bifida, cleft palate, congenital abnormality and pre-eclampsia) via the UK’s Yellow Card Scheme are on the MHRA database. None of these cases reported the dose that was administered to the patient. As of 13 October 2010 the MHRA had received a total of 32 UK spontaneous ““suspected”” ADR reports associated with the combination of the drug ingredients norethisterone and ethinylestradiol (other than Primodos) which describe a congenital abnormality. These reports were received over a period of 45 years. The former Committee on Safety of Medicines (CSM) advised on the safety of a number of hormonal preparations, including Primodos in 1975 and 1977. The CSM letters and the minutes from the CSM meeting have been placed in the Library. The advice of the CSM was that these hormonal preparations should not be indicated for, or promoted as, a pregnancy test; that a warning about a possible hazard in pregnancy should be inserted in all promotional literature; and that pregnant women should not use these products. In the absence of any significant new scientific evidence that has become available since Primodos was discontinued, a meeting such as that suggested would be unlikely to benefit any of those concerned. Local clinicians and multidisciplinary teams assess the health and care needs of people who consider that they have been adversely affected by Primodos or other hormonal pregnancy tests. The MHRA therefore has no current plans to meet members of the Association for Children Damaged by Hormone Pregnancy Tests, people suspected to have been adversely affected by the drug Primodos, or with the pharmaceutical company, Bayer. A large number of medicines currently available in the UK contain norethisterone and ethinylestradiol. These are licensed for hormone replacement therapy, contraception, various gynaecological conditions and in the treatment of some cancers. When used for oral contraception the doses of norethisterone and ethinylestradiol are lower than Primodos. Norethisterone is also currently available as progestogen-only contraception. In common with all licensed medicines, warnings relating to potential side effects of medicines that contain norethisterone and ethinylestradiol are provided in the patient information leaflet that accompanies each medicine, including information about use in pregnancy. All medicines on the UK market are continuously monitored to ensure the benefits outweigh the risks. Primolut N is one of the norethisterone-containing medicines currently available in the UK. Primolut N tablets are licensed for use in a range of gynaecological conditions and contain five milligrams of norethisterone, a progestogenic sex hormone. Advice and warnings relating to potential side effects of Primolut N are provided in the summary of product characteristics for health care professionals, and the patient information leaflet that accompanies each packet of medicine. As with all medicines used in the UK, the MHRA, together with advice from an independent advisory body, the Commission on Human Medicines keeps the safety of Primolut N under continuous review. The MHRA is not aware of any current safety issues with Primolut N.

26 Oct 2010 | Written questions | Answered | House of Lords | 2592 | 721 c264-6WA

Date answered: 26 Oct 2010

Subject: Congenital abnormalities; Side effects; Primodos

show related items (1)

Asked by: Alton of Liverpool, Lord | Party: Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government which drugs currently available in the United Kingdom contain Norethisterone and Ethinylostradiol; what are the known disabilities which have occurred in the children of users of drugs containing these constituents; and whether any warnings are given to those who take them.

Answering member: Howe, Earl | Party: Conservative Party

Primodos first became available in the United Kingdom in 1959 and was discontinued in 1978. Primodos was used as a hormonal pregnancy test and for the treatment of various gynaecological complaints. The licensed dose of Primodos as a pregnancy test was one tablet on each of two consecutive days. Each Primodos tablet contained two sex hormones, a progestogen (norethisterone acetate, 10 milligrams) and an oestrogen (ethinylestradiol, 0.02 milligrams). No licensed medicines currently available in the UK contain norethisterone acetate and ethinylestradiol at the same doses as Primodos. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has no information on the number of children who were born with disabilities to mothers who took Primodos during pregnancy. A total of three reports of suspected adverse drug reactions (ADRs) in association with Primodos (spina bifida, cleft palate, congenital abnormality and pre-eclampsia) via the UK’s Yellow Card Scheme are on the MHRA database. None of these cases reported the dose that was administered to the patient. As of 13 October 2010 the MHRA had received a total of 32 UK spontaneous ““suspected”” ADR reports associated with the combination of the drug ingredients norethisterone and ethinylestradiol (other than Primodos) which describe a congenital abnormality. These reports were received over a period of 45 years. The former Committee on Safety of Medicines (CSM) advised on the safety of a number of hormonal preparations, including Primodos in 1975 and 1977. The CSM letters and the minutes from the CSM meeting have been placed in the Library. The advice of the CSM was that these hormonal preparations should not be indicated for, or promoted as, a pregnancy test; that a warning about a possible hazard in pregnancy should be inserted in all promotional literature; and that pregnant women should not use these products. In the absence of any significant new scientific evidence that has become available since Primodos was discontinued, a meeting such as that suggested would be unlikely to benefit any of those concerned. Local clinicians and multidisciplinary teams assess the health and care needs of people who consider that they have been adversely affected by Primodos or other hormonal pregnancy tests. The MHRA therefore has no current plans to meet members of the Association for Children Damaged by Hormone Pregnancy Tests, people suspected to have been adversely affected by the drug Primodos, or with the pharmaceutical company, Bayer. A large number of medicines currently available in the UK contain norethisterone and ethinylestradiol. These are licensed for hormone replacement therapy, contraception, various gynaecological conditions and in the treatment of some cancers. When used for oral contraception the doses of norethisterone and ethinylestradiol are lower than Primodos. Norethisterone is also currently available as progestogen-only contraception. In common with all licensed medicines, warnings relating to potential side effects of medicines that contain norethisterone and ethinylestradiol are provided in the patient information leaflet that accompanies each medicine, including information about use in pregnancy. All medicines on the UK market are continuously monitored to ensure the benefits outweigh the risks. Primolut N is one of the norethisterone-containing medicines currently available in the UK. Primolut N tablets are licensed for use in a range of gynaecological conditions and contain five milligrams of norethisterone, a progestogenic sex hormone. Advice and warnings relating to potential side effects of Primolut N are provided in the summary of product characteristics for health care professionals, and the patient information leaflet that accompanies each packet of medicine. As with all medicines used in the UK, the MHRA, together with advice from an independent advisory body, the Commission on Human Medicines keeps the safety of Primolut N under continuous review. The MHRA is not aware of any current safety issues with Primolut N.

26 Oct 2010 | Written questions | Answered | House of Lords | 2591 | 721 c264-6WA

Date answered: 26 Oct 2010

Subject: Congenital abnormalities; Drugs; Warnings; Side effects; Ethinylestradiol; Norethisterone

show related items (1)

Asked by: Alton of Liverpool, Lord | Party: Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have produced any data concerning the dosage of Norethisterone and Ethinylostradiol contained in the drug Primodos compared with the dosage given to patients.

Answering member: Howe, Earl | Party: Conservative Party

Primodos first became available in the United Kingdom in 1959 and was discontinued in 1978. Primodos was used as a hormonal pregnancy test and for the treatment of various gynaecological complaints. The licensed dose of Primodos as a pregnancy test was one tablet on each of two consecutive days. Each Primodos tablet contained two sex hormones, a progestogen (norethisterone acetate, 10 milligrams) and an oestrogen (ethinylestradiol, 0.02 milligrams). No licensed medicines currently available in the UK contain norethisterone acetate and ethinylestradiol at the same doses as Primodos. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has no information on the number of children who were born with disabilities to mothers who took Primodos during pregnancy. A total of three reports of suspected adverse drug reactions (ADRs) in association with Primodos (spina bifida, cleft palate, congenital abnormality and pre-eclampsia) via the UK’s Yellow Card Scheme are on the MHRA database. None of these cases reported the dose that was administered to the patient. As of 13 October 2010 the MHRA had received a total of 32 UK spontaneous ““suspected”” ADR reports associated with the combination of the drug ingredients norethisterone and ethinylestradiol (other than Primodos) which describe a congenital abnormality. These reports were received over a period of 45 years. The former Committee on Safety of Medicines (CSM) advised on the safety of a number of hormonal preparations, including Primodos in 1975 and 1977. The CSM letters and the minutes from the CSM meeting have been placed in the Library. The advice of the CSM was that these hormonal preparations should not be indicated for, or promoted as, a pregnancy test; that a warning about a possible hazard in pregnancy should be inserted in all promotional literature; and that pregnant women should not use these products. In the absence of any significant new scientific evidence that has become available since Primodos was discontinued, a meeting such as that suggested would be unlikely to benefit any of those concerned. Local clinicians and multidisciplinary teams assess the health and care needs of people who consider that they have been adversely affected by Primodos or other hormonal pregnancy tests. The MHRA therefore has no current plans to meet members of the Association for Children Damaged by Hormone Pregnancy Tests, people suspected to have been adversely affected by the drug Primodos, or with the pharmaceutical company, Bayer. A large number of medicines currently available in the UK contain norethisterone and ethinylestradiol. These are licensed for hormone replacement therapy, contraception, various gynaecological conditions and in the treatment of some cancers. When used for oral contraception the doses of norethisterone and ethinylestradiol are lower than Primodos. Norethisterone is also currently available as progestogen-only contraception. In common with all licensed medicines, warnings relating to potential side effects of medicines that contain norethisterone and ethinylestradiol are provided in the patient information leaflet that accompanies each medicine, including information about use in pregnancy. All medicines on the UK market are continuously monitored to ensure the benefits outweigh the risks. Primolut N is one of the norethisterone-containing medicines currently available in the UK. Primolut N tablets are licensed for use in a range of gynaecological conditions and contain five milligrams of norethisterone, a progestogenic sex hormone. Advice and warnings relating to potential side effects of Primolut N are provided in the summary of product characteristics for health care professionals, and the patient information leaflet that accompanies each packet of medicine. As with all medicines used in the UK, the MHRA, together with advice from an independent advisory body, the Commission on Human Medicines keeps the safety of Primolut N under continuous review. The MHRA is not aware of any current safety issues with Primolut N.

26 Oct 2010 | Written questions | Answered | House of Lords | 2589 | 721 c264-6WA

The only way to establish why public safety was compromised and why there was a total failure of the regulatory framework is to establish a Public Inquiry under the chairmanship of a senior judicial figure.

 Also see

And

Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency Consultation:

 The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency launched a consultation, ‘Hormonal Pregnancy Tests: Call for Evidence’ on Hormonal pregnancy tests on 25 March 2015 which closed on 30 June 2015. The consultation website states “we are analysing your feedback” and “visit this page again soon to download the outcome to this public feedback”. The press release, ‘Medicines Regulator Launches Call for Evidence on Previously Licensed Oral Hormonal Pregnancy Tests’ 25 March 2015 provides further information.

 

Digital Economy Bill – and why we need to be vigilant in combatting gratuitous violence and hatred on the net

Digital Economy Bill – and why we need to be vigilant in combatting gratuitous violence and hatred on the net  – March 20th 2017.  Parliamentary Debate:

internet

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB) I support Amendment 25YD in the name of my noble and learned friend, to which she spoke so well earlier on, and the comments of other noble Lords in the debate so far. The problem with coming to this point in legislation, which has proceeded all the way through the other place and is now on Report in your Lordships’ House, on a day when some 174 government amendments have been laid, is that it is very hard to do justice to genuine discussion or indeed scrutiny, which is what this House is supposed to do with these measures. Although I welcome the measured way in which the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Ashton of Hyde, introduced the amendment today and his assurance that there will be a Green Paper, I was also very taken by my noble and learned friend’s comment about the difficulties there would then subsequently be in having legislation. That is all the more reason not to legislate in haste, lest we end up repenting at leisure.  3.45 pm   Secondly, and in parenthesis before I turn to my substantive points, I was struck by what my noble and learned friend said about public opinion on this issue. Although some might think this a very narrow view, polling over the weekend showed significant opposition to the Government’s proposal. Indeed, support for it ranged from 5% to 10% in the ComRes poll. Some 82%, rising to 86% in the case of women, thought that online standards should be the same as those offline or stronger—the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Gordon. Only 4% thought that online standards should be weaker but sadly, as we have heard, that is the ultimate, though probably unintended, consequence of the amendments before your Lordships’ House. I have long had an interest in the subject of children and media safety, after the tragic death in February 1993 of James Bulger, near the constituency in Liverpool which I represented when I was in another place. The 24th anniversary of his murder has just passed. I promoted a cross-party amendment to bring in increased protections for video material. As a result, the Government introduced the amendment, which is now Section 4a of the Video Recordings Act 1984, into this House on 14 June 1994. That section has become known as the “harm test” and I hope noble Lords will indulge me while I quote what was said in this House at the time by Earl Ferrers, who was speaking for the Government: “There may be some works which the board believes would have such a devastating effect on individuals or on society if they were released that there should be the possibility of their being refused a video classification altogether, and the clause leaves the board free to do that. The criteria mean that the British Board of Film Classification must consider who is in fact likely to see a particular video, regardless of the classification, so that if it knows that a particular video is likely to appeal to children and is likely to be seen by them, despite its classification being for an older group, then the board must consider those children as potential viewers. That does not mean that the board must then ban the video altogether. The board will still have discretion on how, or whether, to classify it; but it must bear in mind the effect which it might have on children who may be potential viewers … our amendment goes wider and is not confined to psychological harm or harm only to children. Harm to adults and to society in general can be taken into account”.—[Official Report, 14/6/1994; col. 1592.] Earl Ferrers was right then and those words stand the test again today. This framework has underpinned video regulation since and was adopted into the regulation of video on demand in 2014. It was totally logical that it should be included in this Bill when it was introduced in the other place. In parenthesis, and before saying anything further, I commend the Government for taking on the regulation of pornography on the internet through the Bill. I particularly support what the Minister has been saying about age verification and the effort he has been putting into that issue. Our principal, but not only, concern is the protection of children; hence the emphasis on age verification. However, we should not delude ourselves into believing that this can be enough to meet the significant challenge. The evidence of the damage being done to children and young people through easy access to pornography is deeply disturbing and should give us all pause. Last November, the Justice Minister, Dr Phillip Lee, the Member for Bracknell, said that the internet is, “driving greater access to more worrying imagery online. In the extreme, the sexualisation of youth is manifesting itself in younger conviction ages for rape”. Hopefully, this legislation will make a significant dent in the amount of material seen by children and will lead to a reduction in the concerns that have been so extensively documented over the last couple of years. However, having stepped on this worthy but difficult road, some potholes have appeared, not least whether and how we should regulate what adults see. I am aware that some noble Lords are of the view that it is out there; we do not need to worry about it; it has all been going on for ages; adults should be able to see what they like and we should not interfere. However, we have not taken that view in the offline world, under the Video Recordings Act 1984. One reason for that is that it became abundantly clear that children were accessing gratuitously violent material because adults simply left it lying around. It also became clear that what we see influences our behaviour, whether we are children or adults. The advertising industry certainly believes that what we see influences us. I looked at figures for advertising over the weekend. In the last 12 months, more than £5 billion was spent on TV advertising—a record amount. Taking UK advertising expenditure as a whole, in 2016 it increased by 7.5% to £20 billion, and internet ad spend increased by 17.3% to £8.6 billion. What we see affects what we eat and wear, how we spend our money and how we behave. What is true for the advertising industry is manifestly true for these other influences too. Indeed, Parliament has rightly rejected a disinterested, laissez-faire approach to the online world of video on demand, as is evident in the Communications Act 2003. We have had to say that some material simply is not appropriate, even behind age verification, with the harm test being a consideration in what the British Board of Film Classification will classify. The Government are saying that nothing will change with their Amendments 25H, 25W and 25YC: what is illegal offline is, and will remain, illegal online. Yes, but only up to a point. For instance, we are saying, “Don’t possess explicit animated images of children, but it is okay for a website to supply this to you if it is behind age verification as it does not meet the definition of extreme pornography”. We are telling retailers that they cannot supply an unclassified video work without committing an offence, but that if they are a website the regulator will not bother them unless the work is unclassified because it contains extreme pornography. Extreme pornography is a very narrow definition of very violent pornography. It is a much narrower category than prohibited material, against which the law is enforced offline and against which the Digital Economy Bill currently suggests that the regulator should enforce the law. Violent pornography will be caught via the extreme pornography offence only if it is life threatening or likely to result in not just injury but serious injury to specifically named body parts—as we have heard from my noble friend Lady Howe—clarifying that serious injury to other body parts would not be caught, as she mentioned. Rejecting the current prohibited material standard would also mean making space for sexually violent material that would not fall within one of the criminal offences but which the BBFC would not classify, “in line with the objective of preventing non-trivial harm risks to potential viewers and, through their behaviour, to society”. I understand that some may say that even with these amendments the provision of an age verification regulator with the power to enforce the law online would be beneficial to the extent that it means extreme pornography would be caught. For me, however, and I suspect much of the country, the presenting issue is quite different. We are at Report stage of a Bill that has completed all its stages in the Commons and almost all its stages here. These issues should have been more widely aired and these amendments should have been considered in the House of Commons and in depth in Committee in both Houses. There should be a public debate about the changes the Government are proposing and how they will impact on other media standards, which they inevitably will over the longer term. Unless there is evidence that there is no detrimental impact, the definition of extreme pornographic material will revert to that originally used for prohibited material and the ability to provide all this material via age verification with impunity will be removed. Amendment 25YD would give us all time for reflection and to review what the evidence says on the impact of violent pornography on women, and whether the Government have got the regulatory framework right. Twenty-four years ago, I was talking about concerns arising from violent videos. Technology and accessibility to media have changed dramatically over that time but human nature has not. The same principles of harm to children, adults and the wider society need to be weighed and confronted. It was this House that introduced the harm test in 1994 and it is this House that should now ask the Government to reflect further, which is precisely what my noble and learned friend’s amendment seeks to do. 

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Lord Alton of Liverpool My Lords, I supports the amendment proposed by the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones and Lady Janke, but also the remarks of my noble friend Lady Howe. I want to ask the Minister, when he comes to reply, about an issue that I raised in your Lordships’ House previously, and that is the issue of suicide sites on the internet. It concerns me that young people can be encouraged to visit those sites and take their own lives. I attended a school prize giving in a north-west school, and the headmaster told me, when I arrived, how a child in that school had taken their own life only the day before. As noble Lords can imagine, that was a terrible tragedy not only for the family but for the whole school, and it certainly changed the atmosphere on that occasion. That child had been visiting one of the suicide sites on the internet, and the headmaster discovered that several other children had been doing the same. It can be revenge porn or the kind of trolling to which the noble Baroness referred, the harassment of young women in particular, or the whipping up of xenophobia, racism or anti-Semitism, and it is right that there should be a code of practice, and we should get on with it. I hope that the Minister will tell us more about the Green Paper, what the framework will be for it and when we are going to start to seriously look at these issues 

internet

Mesothelioma – and the threat to pupils and teachers in schools

 

Mesothelioma – and the threat to pupils and teachers in schools – March 2017

Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to their written answer ( HL5810)

( http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Lords/2017-03-06/HL5810/ ) for their response to the remarks of Mr Phil Keay, former head teacher of Hetton School in Sunderland, that on more than one occasion pupils needing to be ‘de-dusted’ and hosed down due to asbestos exposure

 

Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to their written answer ( HL5810) why it was that  in response to a Freedom of Information request made by Lucie Stephens, whose mother Sue Stephens, a teacher, died from mesothelioma in summer 2016, no reports of asbestos exposure were recorded for Hetton School, even though asbestos was registered as being present and whether they accept that public confidence is compromised when exposure incidents are reported and acted upon but redacted from  official responses to freedom of information requests?

  http://www.sunderlandecho.com/news/education/pupils-had-to-be-hosed-down-over-asbestos-risk-as-school-building-crumbled-1-8438840

The reference to a Freedom of Information request relates to an FOI request made by Lucie Stephens whose mother Sue Stephens, a teacher, died from mesothelioma last summer. https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/user/lucie_stephens

Schools: Asbestos:Written question – HL5810

Asked on: 06 March 2017
Department for Education
Schools: Asbestos
HL5810
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they intend to take to protect children and teachers from the dangers of asbestos, in the light of the findings of the Education Funding Agency in their reports published in February, and of the information released in the Freedom of Information request 201607236, of August 2016, that 319 teachers have died of mesothelioma since 1980, published by the National Union of Teachers.

A

Answered by: Lord Nash
Answered on: 13 March 2017

The department takes the issue of asbestos in schools very seriously. The findings from the asbestos in schools data collection show that the vast majority of schools that responded appear to be managing asbestos well and are fully compliant with legislation and guidance. For those that did not have fully documented plans, processes and procedures in place, the department provided immediate advice on the actions needed to address these issues and sought assurances of compliance from responsible bodies and schools.

We have also recently published updated guidance which provides information on how those legally responsible for asbestos management in schools – local authorities, schools and trusts – should manage asbestos. This includes new supplementary guidance to help duty holders understand where asbestos is commonly found, so that they can work with qualified professionals to assess and manage the risks. We also intend to further enhance scrutiny on duty holders for managing asbestos in their schools, by developing an assurance process for all duty holders to report on the management of asbestos across their respective education estates.

Alongside this, we continue to provide significant funding to schools to help those legally responsible for maintenance to keep their school buildings in a good state of repair. We are investing £10billion to maintain and improve the condition of the schools estate by 2021, and schools and responsible bodies are able to use the funding that is available to them to remove asbestos where that is appropriate.

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Debate on Mesothelioma: October 27th 2016

https://davidalton.net/2016/03/01/mesothelioma-why-are-servicemen-and-women-excluded-from-help-call-in-the-house-of-lords-for-an-annual-impact-statement-to-monitor-the-number-of-fatalities-and-progress-on-research-into-causes-an/

Also see:

https://davidalton.net/2014/10/11/liverpool-conference-on-mesotheioma-and-the-law/

October 27th 2016

5.20 pm

My Lords, I am delighted to be able to support the noble Lord, Lord Wills. It gives me the chance to say how much I have appreciated working with him, the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, and other noble Lords in trying to push this issue up the list of political priorities. An indication that the message is bearing fruit was contained in the former Chancellor’s Budget announcement on 16 March that £5 million would be approved for a national mesothelioma centre, which I greatly welcome.

This is also a chance to say that after the Second Reading of my Private Member’s Bill on mesothelioma research the Minister has been unstinting in his efforts to draw together the medical and scientific community, the insurance industry and diverse political interests. It is good to be able to put on record my appreciation of his commitment and engagement. That Private Member’s Bill emerged from a narrowly defeated amendment in your Lordships’ House that would have required the more than 120 insurance companies to contribute to mesothelioma research. The former Minister told the House that he was confident that the four insurance companies that were then voluntarily supporting research would be joined by others. The sad reality, as we have heard, is that the four fell to two, Aviva and Zurich.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, just told us, insurance companies that represent employers whose employees were exposed to fatal asbestos must recognise their moral obligation, but it is also in their own self-interest to help find the causes of and cures for mesothelioma—a public health disaster that should never have happened. I recently heard from a patient support group that is concerned by media reports that Companies House proposes to destroy defunct company files after a period of five years. Perhaps the Minister will either say a word about this or agree to write to me.

The admirable British Lung Foundation says that we are now at a point in mesothelioma research where we can see real potential. For example, Dr Sarah Martin at Barts Cancer Institute has found that 50% of mesotheliomas lose the enzyme ASS1, which makes the amino acid arginine. As these mesotheliomas depend on a steady supply of arginine from the bloodstream and other cells to grow, Dr Martin is exploring the potential of using existing drugs to block the flow of arginine to these cells, in turn starving them.

Resourcing this and innovatory adult stem cell work, which the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, and I heard about more than two years ago and which we were told would require £2.5 million to bring to clinical trials, is imperative in a country that has the highest recorded incidence of mesothelioma in the world, with 40,000 recorded deaths already, and, as we have heard, a further 2,500 deaths annually. One in five work-related deaths are attributed to mesothelioma. What is the Government’s current estimate of the cumulative number of British people who will die of mesothelioma over the next 30 years? Perhaps we can also be told how many of the 3,000 cancer nurse specialists specialise in mesothelioma care.

With tens of thousands destined to succumb to this fatal disease, it greatly disturbs me that we have no national programme, plan or timetable for the removal of asbestos from our environment, although, by contrast, we have devised one for the Palace of Westminster. Significant quantities of asbestos remain in our homes, workplaces and public buildings, not least in the schools referred to by my noble friend Lady Finlay, and there is a growing incidence of mesothelioma among schoolteachers. As my noble friend said, we should carefully consider the effects on children.

When the Minister replies, I hope that he will refer to the need for a national strategy and to what he might be able to do to draw cross-departmental Ministers together to consider what it should consist of. I hope too that he will look at properly resourced research in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Wills, described, as well as at an examination within his own department of the significant variations in the levels of care, treatment and support, which have been referred to during this short debate.

5.25 pm

Full debate follows:

Mesothelioma – Hansard Online

MESOTHELIOMA

 27 October 2016
Volume 776
 Question for Short Debate
 5.00 pm

Asked by

      • To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to support those who have contracted mesothelioma.

      • My Lords, I asked for this debate to highlight, again, the urgent need for progress in research into effective treatments for mesothelioma. This is not a new topic for your Lordships’ House, and the fact that we are returning to it again, and that so many of your Lordships signed up for this short debate, indicates its importance.

        As your Lordships’ House has heard many times before, mesothelioma is a terrible disease, among the most cruel of all fatal illnesses. It is inflicted too often on those who contracted it through their occupation which exposed them to the asbestos which causes it, and too often through public service, so members of the armed services and teachers as well as factory workers have been disproportionately affected by it. Yet those suffering from it, and their families, were appallingly treated for decades. It took years of struggle to force insurance companies to discharge their obligations to pay compensation, in the end taking legislation by the previous Labour Government—I am delighted to see my noble friend Lord McKenzie on the Front Bench today, as he was the Minister who did so much to make that happen—and the coalition Government to force them to do this.

        There have been inexcusable delays in providing adequate resourcing for research into effective treatments for this dreadful illness. More than twice as much is spent on breast cancer research per sufferer, for example, than on mesothelioma. This matters. Although these are projections and, given the long gestation periods for this illness, they could well be underestimates, more than 50,000 people are projected to die in this country alone. There will be many more times that number in the rest of the world. Mesothelioma is a global problem. It affects almost everywhere in the world, including some of the poorest countries in Asia and Africa, countries ill-equipped to develop such research on their own.

        However, for all these problems, in the past few months since the last time the House debated the issue, there has been significant progress. The most recent Budget allocated £5 million towards research and the setting up of a national mesothelioma centre. I take this opportunity to thank the Minister who did so much to make that possible and who has always been a stalwart supporter of efforts to improve the situation of those suffering from this disease. There is also now the possibility of matching funds from a charitable donor, thanks in large part to the efforts of my noble friends Lord Giddens and Lord Alton and the British Lung Foundation, and two insurance companies, Aviva and Zurich, have over the past two years, to their credit, donated a combined £1 million to the British Lung Foundation’s mesothelioma research programme. However, all this is only a start. It has been estimated that a national centre for mesothelioma research, on a hub-and-spoke model, will need set-up costs of £15 million to £20 million and projected running costs of £3 million to £5 million annually. So much could be done with this funding. Medical science has made extraordinary progress in the past decades. Once-dread diseases have become manageable through the efforts of brilliant and dedicated researchers, and the combination of developments in genomic science and the dazzling new power to process data digitally promises so much more.

        We have the infrastructure in the form of the MesobanK, a biobank unique in Europe and one of only two worldwide, which collects tissue, blood samples and clinical data from mesothelioma patients to help accelerate research across the UK and internationally. Sequencing technology is being used to observe gene mutations in mesothelioma which will support the development of future therapies. Advances are being made in immunotherapy and radiotherapy. Other developments in genetic research could produce advances in treatment if sufficient funding is found to run appropriate clinical trials. So where is the extra money going to come from to build on these developments and make further progress possible?

        The Government obviously have it in their power to provide it by increasing the sums of money available for research, and the arguments for doing so are compelling. I shall run through them briefly. Apart from the alleviation of terrible suffering in patients, it would save taxpayers money. Of course, there is no guarantee that any research will produce results, but the experience of research into other cancers suggests that a combination of money and time will produce significant advances in treatment, saving taxpayers some of the huge sums involved in treating mesothelioma sufferers, currently upwards of £75,000 per patient, with total annual costs exceeding £185 million. By 2050, the total is likely to rise above £5 billion. Investing in mesothelioma research can only help to build on our world lead in biomedical research.

        Even in these difficult times, £3 million a year would more than treble the amount currently spent and fund a national centre to co-ordinate and develop research. Perhaps a little of all those savings that leading figures in the Government promised us would result from leaving the EU could be made available for research into this terrible disease. I suspect that this will not be the last time the Minister hears that particular argument in the months ahead.

        If not from government, where else might funding come from? The insurance industry has historically been implicated in the way mesothelioma sufferers and their families have been failed over generations, but the Mesothelioma Act 2014 offers an opportunity to start a new chapter in that relationship, building on the good examples set by Aviva and Zurich. Surely, the time has come for others in the industry to stand beside them in providing the relatively small sums, in terms of their turnover and profits, to fund research. After all, the more effective treatments can be found, the less they will need to pay out in the long run.

        Perhaps the time has come also to look to another business sector that has been heavily involved in these issues over the years. Law firms have received huge sums in fee income from mesothelioma claims over the years. Of course, much of this has been justified, as they fought for justice for sufferers, and no one should ever want to see the victims of this disease denied appropriate legal representation. However, the Mesothelioma Act has streamlined the process for compensation, so perhaps the time has come to look at those fees, with a view either to fixing them, and thereby releasing more funds that could be made available for research, or for the legal industry to step up beside insurers to ensure that research is adequately funded.

        Progress is waiting to be made, and there are ways of making it quickly and relatively painlessly, but, if none of these things happen, this campaign will still continue. As we have seen over and over again over the past 10 years, neither your Lordships’ House nor the other place will accept the status quo. I hope that there is action that the Government can and will take, and I hope that the Minister will indicate today that they will at least be prepared to explore one or more of the ways that I have suggested to ensure that the funds so desperately needed for research into this cruel disease will be made available, and soon.

5.08 pm

      • My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Wills, for introducing this very important topic. Unfortunately, at the beginning of this year, someone I know extremely well was diagnosed with mesothelioma. She is a middle-aged woman who does not have any connection to the building industry and has not lived or worked in a building under renovation—and nor has any of her family. As noble Lords can imagine, therefore, it was an incredible shock. Over this year, I have become quite familiar with the disease and its treatments, so this afternoon I am speaking from the point of view of the patient.

        What has really struck me is the stark contrast in the drugs you receive if you treated under the NHS and those you can receive if you are being treated under private healthcare and are wealthy enough to be able to afford the best possible treatment available. Those treatments can extend life expectancy, which on diagnosis if you undergo all the chemotherapy, is on average about 18 months. The NHS provides the chemotherapy and does an absolutely wonderful job. An operation can be undertaken, although it is a very complex one, to remove the multiple tumours associated with mesothelioma. It can involve removing the diaphragm, the pleura around the lungs and the membrane around the heart. Skilled surgeons are required to undertake the operation and some healthcare companies provide cover for it, although the NHS will not. The cover that most healthcare providers offer does not necessarily meet the full costs of the surgeons, who have to be very highly skilled. Undertaking the operation means that you can double the life expectancy of an individual.

        At the end of chemotherapy, what are the options? You can continue with a drug called Avastin, which is licensed for breast cancer but not for mesothelioma. It can be taken in conjunction with the rest of the chemotherapy. It costs £5,000 a pop. Some health insurance companies and providers will cover it, but the NHS will not. You take it once every three weeks, so more than £86,000 a year is required to cover the cost. Some patients have been on it for more than two years without recurrence. Its success varies as people vary, but there have been some great successes.

        If—or unfortunately more like when—the mesothelioma returns, what are the options? You can try the chemo again, although sadly it is not always effective. The NHS will provide that chemo. What health insurance companies and the NHS do not cover is access to the latest drugs. The one that is most recommended costs a quarter of a million pounds—it is a one-off treatment and it has to be funded. Under the NHS you have access to UK trials, but because this disease is incredibly rare and has multiple sub-types, the trial you would be best suited to is not necessarily taking place in the UK, so if you want to get on a trial you have to fund your own transport and accommodation costs, possibly for several months while you undergo the trial. Life expectancy can and has been proven to be extended in people who have been fortunate enough to be able to afford this.

        As the noble Lord, Lord Wills, mentioned earlier, there are many civil suits as people are able to identify the source of asbestos that triggered their mesothelioma. However, a group of people are unable to identify the source and are totally reliant on the Government’s compensation scheme, which goes nowhere near covering the costs that will prolong their lives. I therefore ask the Government to please look at the compensation scheme to see whether the payments can be upped so that everybody, regardless of their own wealth, can have access to these drugs. It involves a relatively small number of people because only about 2,500 a year are diagnosed with mesothelioma, and only a percentage will not have a civil action. It therefore should not cost the Government that much. It seems only right and fair to make sure that everybody has the opportunity to prolong their life as far as possible.

5.12 pm

      • My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wills, for securing this important debate, and the noble Baroness, Lady Couttie, for outlining the clinical scenarios that people face, often when they are young, as they suddenly realise that they have this devastating disease. More than 2,500 cases are diagnosed each year.

        I will focus initially on the iceberg effect; we are seeing just the tip because of asbestos in schools and the worry about that. Some 94% of cases of mesothelioma are effectively preventable because they are associated with chronic exposure to asbestos in one way or another, and we know that three-quarters of our schools have asbestos in place. The number of teachers dying of mesothelioma has been going up from around three a year in the early 1980s to 22 in 2012 alone. That is a marker of developing mesothelioma following chronic exposure.

        The Committee on Carcinogenicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment has pointed out that we do not know whether children are intrinsically more susceptible to developing mesothelioma following asbestos exposure. However, it seems that the lifetime risk if they are exposed at the age of five is about five times that of someone aged 30 who is exposed to the same amount of asbestos. Therefore it seems that exposing children is storing up problems for the future.

        I would like to coin the term “pre-mesothelioma” for the number of people in the population who will probably go on to develop mesothelioma but have no idea about it at all. If we are undertaking research, we have to get to earlier diagnosis, so we have to find ways much earlier on of picking up the markers of transformation to malignancy in the areas where asbestos fibres are stored. At the moment we do not know of any actionable drivers of the disease in order to pick up and identify early markers. There are multicentre trials, as the noble Baroness has just outlined, but the problem is that they are very disparate. That is why there is a desperate need for a single centre in the UK to co-ordinate them. That reminds me of when I was a very junior doctor and the MRC co-ordinated trials into the leukaemias, and it was from those that some advances were made. There needs to be a driver with just about everybody being recruited into a trial if that is at all possible. Currently, patients have to find out about trials and they do not really know where to go. They want to contribute because they do not want the same thing to happen to other people. The other problem is that of course while the MesobanK is in place and the cell lines are coming along, they are not there yet. We need to identify how tumour surface antigens are expressed and detect better markers of early disease.

        I remind noble Lords that 60% of patients diagnosed with mesothelioma are dead within a year; in other words, they are palliative care patients. I am afraid that some clinical commissioning groups are not commissioning specialist palliative care services adequately, not at a level that allows them to be integrated with cancer and chest disease services. That is essential to provide psychosocial support as well as support for the rest of the family, and to deal with the devastating symptoms of the disease. Those groups of specialists also want to research some of the effects of the disease when it is not curable.

        Lastly, we need data. I declare an interest as chairman of the National Council for Palliative Care. I was very concerned to discover that Public Health England does not plan to carry on collecting a minimum dataset from specialist palliative care services. Without that data we will not know whether what we are doing is improving services for patients. It would cost only £200,000 to refresh the collection and data management process, which in the greater order of things is nothing. Without good data on the number of patients, the people who transform from what I would call pre-mesothelioma into mesothelioma, and the numbers that need palliative care services, we will have no idea whether we are improving.

5.16 pm

      • My Lords, I had always associated mesothelioma with the construction trade. It came as a complete shock that a dear friend—Sylvia, a retired maths teacher, an energetic walker and a very active grandmother—should be diagnosed with the disease. It may well have been contracted 50 years ago when she worked as a teacher in west Africa. It was even more of a shock to discover that it was a death sentence. Sylvia died a troubled and dreadful death five months later. As her husband Geoff said, “This cancer doesn’t allow for peace. There are more sorts of pain than those that can be, and were, dulled by opiates”.

        What shocked me almost as much was the struggle of medical researchers to raise money to find improved treatments for the disease. The British Lung Foundation —BLF—and Mesothelioma UK have campaigned tirelessly for more research but with only limited success. Do funders regard it as a marginal cancer? Perhaps they think it will be reduced over time because products containing asbestos were banned in the UK in 1999. How have we become so complacent? Some 2,500 people in the UK are predicted to die each year of mesothelioma. The incidence is increasing, as has been mentioned, for example among schoolteachers. How have we become so blind to the immense suffering of those who contract the disease and of the families who care for them? Although we can hope that the rate will eventually decrease, no such hope is available in developing countries where asbestos continues to be used and where committed people just like my friend Sylvia will continue to work, as will countless members of the local populations.

        Research is key yet the BLF’s figures show that funding is absolutely parlous compared with other cancers that kill a similar number, and even the published figures are thought to be an overestimate. I talked to the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at UCL—I declare an interest as a member of council at UCL. UCL, along with Leicester and Barts, is doing innovative and exciting work with a small amount of funding into genomic damage which might lead to targeted new treatments. Other centres are similarly innovative. How much more could be done if they were better funded?

        Companies such as Hugh James, Simpson Millar and Shield Environmental Services have donated. Insurers have helped in the past. Two which have already been mentioned, Aviva and Zurich, have increased their contribution to £1 million over two years, but the final grant is this year. The £5 million grant from the Government this year for a national centre for research is indeed welcome. I hope it will enable increased collaboration with other centres, but it will take £5 million each year to put mesothelioma on a par with other cancers, such as skin cancers, that have the same mortality levels.

        A more sustainable model is required. Where is the rest of the insurance industry? Insurers are likely to pay out £11 billion in compensation to people who were exposed to asbestos in the workplace. If only a tiny fraction of this were donated to research, it would be transformational. Saving lives by donating to research could potentially save insurers millions. Will the Minister commit to some strong arm-twisting to persuade the industry to make this a comprehensive and permanent commitment, if necessary on a statutory basis?

        I want to make a final point about the carers of those affected. My friend’s husband Geoff said, “Sylvia’s progress wasn’t predictable, no routine could be established, every day involved new challenges”. He was part-retired and had a pension. Supported by the GP and the district nurse, he was able to provide the care that enabled Sylvia to live and die at home as she wanted, where her dignity was preserved in a way she felt it could not have been even in the kindest institution. If he had been on a limited income and had to go out to work, how would that have been managed? Will the Minister tell us what the Government are doing to make that kind of caring an option for anyone suffering a terminal illness of this kind?

5.20 pm

      • My Lords, I am delighted to be able to support the noble Lord, Lord Wills. It gives me the chance to say how much I have appreciated working with him, the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, and other noble Lords in trying to push this issue up the list of political priorities. An indication that the message is bearing fruit was contained in the former Chancellor’s Budget announcement on 16 March that £5 million would be approved for a national mesothelioma centre, which I greatly welcome.

        This is also a chance to say that after the Second Reading of my Private Member’s Bill on mesothelioma research the Minister has been unstinting in his efforts to draw together the medical and scientific community, the insurance industry and diverse political interests. It is good to be able to put on record my appreciation of his commitment and engagement. That Private Member’s Bill emerged from a narrowly defeated amendment in your Lordships’ House that would have required the more than 120 insurance companies to contribute to mesothelioma research. The former Minister told the House that he was confident that the four insurance companies that were then voluntarily supporting research would be joined by others. The sad reality, as we have heard, is that the four fell to two, Aviva and Zurich.

        As the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, just told us, insurance companies that represent employers whose employees were exposed to fatal asbestos must recognise their moral obligation, but it is also in their own self-interest to help find the causes of and cures for mesothelioma—a public health disaster that should never have happened. I recently heard from a patient support group that is concerned by media reports that Companies House proposes to destroy defunct company files after a period of five years. Perhaps the Minister will either say a word about this or agree to write to me.

        The admirable British Lung Foundation says that we are now at a point in mesothelioma research where we can see real potential. For example, Dr Sarah Martin at Barts Cancer Institute has found that 50% of mesotheliomas lose the enzyme ASS1, which makes the amino acid arginine. As these mesotheliomas depend on a steady supply of arginine from the bloodstream and other cells to grow, Dr Martin is exploring the potential of using existing drugs to block the flow of arginine to these cells, in turn starving them.

        Resourcing this and innovatory adult stem cell work, which the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, and I heard about more than two years ago and which we were told would require £2.5 million to bring to clinical trials, is imperative in a country that has the highest recorded incidence of mesothelioma in the world, with 40,000 recorded deaths already, and, as we have heard, a further 2,500 deaths annually. One in five work-related deaths are attributed to mesothelioma. What is the Government’s current estimate of the cumulative number of British people who will die of mesothelioma over the next 30 years? Perhaps we can also be told how many of the 3,000 cancer nurse specialists specialise in mesothelioma care.

        With tens of thousands destined to succumb to this fatal disease, it greatly disturbs me that we have no national programme, plan or timetable for the removal of asbestos from our environment, although, by contrast, we have devised one for the Palace of Westminster. Significant quantities of asbestos remain in our homes, workplaces and public buildings, not least in the schools referred to by my noble friend Lady Finlay, and there is a growing incidence of mesothelioma among schoolteachers. As my noble friend said, we should carefully consider the effects on children.

        When the Minister replies, I hope that he will refer to the need for a national strategy and to what he might be able to do to draw cross-departmental Ministers together to consider what it should consist of. I hope too that he will look at properly resourced research in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Wills, described, as well as at an examination within his own department of the significant variations in the levels of care, treatment and support, which have been referred to during this short debate.

5.25 pm

      • My Lords, mesothelioma, if I may put it in this way, has a past and a future. The past has seen a long struggle to get the origins of the disease recognised and then to achieve adequate compensation for those suffering from it. That struggle is well documented in the book by Geoffrey Tweedale, Magic Mineral to Killer Dust. Asbestos was originally a magic mineral. He shows in detail just how much industry resistance there was to accepting the link between asbestos and mesothelioma.

        I wish to pay tribute to MPs and noble Lords. If your Lordships will forgive me, I should like to single out—it is like a little boys’ club—the noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Wills, with whom I have worked closely, but many have been involved in pressing for proper recognition of the disease and for increased compensation for sufferers. That struggle, of course, continues. The British Lung Foundation has been mentioned, and a range of other, more local groups have had a significant impact. It is good news that former members of the armed services who have contracted mesothelioma will henceforth be entitled to significant compensation. However, on the issues of adequate compensation and giving the disease a higher profile in the public consciousness, plainly a lot more needs to be done. I am afraid that Action Mesothelioma Day, designated as Friday 1 July this year, received only scant coverage in the press.

        When I say that mesothelioma has a past but also a future, I mean that it is time to stop it being seen as simply a legacy disease—a hangover from a time when asbestos was widely used. I believe—and I hope that people who work more directly in medicine than me will agree—that we are entering a period of potential breakthroughs on the frontiers of medical research, especially as concerns the diverse forms of cancer. The awesome algorithmic power of supercomputers is making possible advances in genetics that could not have been achieved before. A good example—perhaps the most well known—is the supercomputer Watson, which won the amazing game of “Jeopardy!” on American television. It is an ordinary-language, everyday knowledge game. At one point, no one thought that it would possible for a computer to win it, as it depends on so much everyday knowledge. In terms of being applied to cancer research, as is now the case, Watson and other supercomputers have massive capacities compared with any human researcher. They may not have the same innovative capacities, but their algorithmic powers are extraordinary. Watson can sift through literally millions of scientific papers and use data-mining to suggest hypotheses to be subject to further tests. One should also mention the supercomputer Beagle at the University of Chicago, which is being used to radically accelerate genome analysis.

        For the first time ever—perhaps because of the digital revolution, which is one of the things we are talking about—there is a truly global community of scientists working at the cutting edge of medical issues once thought to be intractable. As a result of such ongoing research, we now know that mesothelioma shares certain components, on a genetic level, with other types of cancer. Cancers are in general now increasingly identified genetically rather than described on a more macro level. This means that research into the nature of mesothelioma is of broader significance than was once thought to be the case, and that advancing knowledge about other forms of cancer can in turn be brought to bear on mesothelioma. For these reasons, like other noble Lords, I very much welcome the £5 million towards establishing a research centre, which the noble Lord, Lord Prior, has played such an important part in. As the noble Lord knows, I would like us to raise further sums, which I believe one can do once this funding exists. I would like the centre to have a global orientation linked to, for example, the Pacific Mesothelioma Center in Los Angeles. We should drive research onwards to look not just for improved treatments but for something that is perhaps no longer completely impossible: some kind of cure.

5.30 pm

      • My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Wills, for securing this debate and giving us an opportunity to discuss this subject once again.

        I shall focus my remarks today on how we might improve mesothelioma surgery in the NHS. It is a subject that rarely gets discussed, but one that deserves much more attention than it gets at present. I was delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Couttie, was able today to highlight some of the options available.

        When my sister Annabel was diagnosed with mesothelioma a couple of years ago, one of the treatments available to her was radical surgery. This meant removing her pleura, the lining surrounding each of her lungs. Finding a surgeon with the right experience was not a straightforward process and relied entirely upon a Rolodex network of surgeons that her oncologist had built up over many years, often scattered around the country. Eventually, she found someone to evaluate her, but it took a long time to arrange and the procedure proposed was very risky, which was due in part to the fact that her tumour had grown so rapidly since her original diagnosis. On top of that, the surgeon, although very experienced, had not performed the procedure very often and lacked the familiarity of approach that specialisation usually provides. Given its radical nature and the need for complete tumour removal, should not surgical resection be concentrated at one centre of excellence, where patients can receive immediate attention, new techniques can be researched and surgeons can benefit from training and others’ experience? I am sure that patients will be willing to travel as far as needed to be in the hands of super-specialists.

        Given the highly specialised procedure of removing pleura, what research is currently being carried out on resection methods? How does the NHS plan to optimise its approach to such surgery? Does it, for example, appear in the National Institutes of Health research plan? If not, why not? Again, there is huge scope for improvement here.

        With regard to new drugs, what research is currently taking place on the impact of preoperative non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents, given their success in other forms of cancer surgery? This should be another research priority for the NIHR, especially given the chronic inflammation component of mesothelioma. The synergies are such that we ought to be applying the benefits of such cancer research wherever possible. This is a cheap intervention, given that the drugs are generic.

        All these issues point to the need for a specialist surgical registry and surgical outcome transparency in mesothelioma. Even transparency on the basics of annual volume and 30-day mortality by surgeon, centre and surgical approach would allow the supervising oncologists to find experienced surgeons in a timely manner. It will also allow for continuous surgical method improvement and best-practice dissemination. This holds true not only in mesothelioma but in less common and rare cancers requiring radical high-risk surgery. These cancer surgical registries should be a priority for the NIHR and NHS England. We need clarity about which body is responsible for their funding, given that they span both quality control and research. I hope that the Minister will encourage the bodies responsible to outline how they plan to drive and develop surgical registries and associated research in these cancers.

5.34 pm

      • My Lords, I, too, would like to focus on the patients—the 2,500 British people who are expected to die each year of mesothelioma, most of whom have contracted the disease as a result of exposure to asbestos. The use of asbestos in industry and construction, although now banned, was a practice that has had a detrimental effect on many lives, and it is our duty now to offer sufficient aid to those it has affected.

        Asbestos lurks in many strange places, including, as we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Alton, this very building. My husband and I recently demolished an old cottage on our property, and we discovered that there was asbestos in the floor tiles with which my late mother-in-law had been living for 40 years. We had to have them removed by specialists. In the 1970s, when I lived in an old farmhouse, I used an asbestos product to fill the rather irregular holes that I used to drill in the walls to hang pictures and bookshelves, having no idea that there may be a problem with it. Concerns about the dangers of asbestos were first raised early in the 20th century, but its use was not outlawed until 1999. For the thousands of cases now arising 40 or 50 years after first exposure, it is our responsibility to ensure that they are given the compensation and support they require. Unfortunately, the median survival time for pleural mesothelioma, once it has taken hold, is 12 months from diagnosis, but this time, and beyond for the dependents of those affected, must be made as comfortable as possible for those who need help.

        Over the years, there have been many shortcomings in the handling of asbestos-related cases across the globe, one such case being the fire at the central ordnance depot in Donnington, Shropshire, in 1983. The blaze which released a huge cloud of asbestos into the air has had a huge repercussion which is still being felt today. Paula Ann Nunn, Ellen Paddock, Susan Maughan, Richard George and Marion Groves are just five local people who contracted mesothelioma and unfortunately passed away as a direct result. Mrs Maughan died only last October. Her daughter told the inquest that it took the local authority five days before they told the community so they were exposed to asbestos for all that time. The ash cloud which spread over an area of 15 square miles attracted many small children who played in it as if it were snow which fell in local gardens for days before people were told it was unsafe. We have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, how very harmful that could be to those children. My colleague and noble friend Lady Pinnock has told me about many cases in her area of Kirklees, resulting from working for a brake linings factory, long since closed down.

        Mesothelioma is generally resistant to conventional cancer treatment. Long-term survival and cures are extremely difficult, but that does not mean that the mistakes of government and industry alike over the past century should not be paid for by compensation to those affected. The current range of available benefits, both lump sums and long-term allowances, must get to the right people at the right time. The Mesothelioma Act 2014, for which we have to congratulate several noble Lords present today, went a long way to help those who had been unable to access compensation because of the passage of time or a lack of effective record-keeping identifying those responsible. Since 2014, a total of £62.2 million has been awarded. However, of those who were unhappy with the result and requested a review of what they were awarded, 25% had their compensation rate altered—I presume upwards. Given that this illness is still an issue affecting thousands of British people every year and that the nature of mesothelioma’s progress means that time is literally of the essence, it is essential that the correct support is awarded without delay in all cases. Given the significant number of cases reviewed since the launch of the scheme, how do the Government intend to learn from those cases and improve the process so that the right decision is made the first time in as many cases as possible?

        Can the Minister also outline the ways in which the Government are promoting the compensation scheme, so that those most in need are fully aware of the support available? Given the vital work done by the charitable organisation, Mesothelioma UK, and its invaluable lung nurse specialists, do the Government intend to follow its lead and introduce more specialist nurses into hospitals to support patients?

        Finally, to safeguard against mesothelioma cases slipping under radar given the disease’s lengthy latency, are the Government willing to begin actively seeking out those involved in previous incidents, such as the Donnington fire, so as to promote early identification of their disease and to get immediate support to them?

5.40 pm

      • My Lords, this has been a brief but exceptionally well-informed debate. We have heard from noble Lords whose understanding of mesothelioma has been driven by a family experience, a colleague’s experience or a friend’s experience. We have also heard from the medical fraternity and its expertise. I thank my noble friend Lord Wills for initiating this debate and acknowledge the work which he, together with the noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Giddens, and others, have done since our last debate on this topic a year ago. We should remember, as have others, the tireless efforts of Lord Avebury, who campaigned persistently for the sufferers of mesothelioma.

        Obtaining justice for sufferers of mesothelioma has been a long and tortuous journey. I think that it is fair to say that, until recent times, efforts have been concentrated on seeking to ensure that sufferers and their families have received material support—money—to help them cope with the traumatic effects of this invariably fatal and excruciatingly painful condition. This journey has encompassed access to the industrial injuries disablement benefit; the 1979 compensation Act for work-related mesothelioma where the employer no longer exists or their liability policy cannot be traced; efforts to improve retracement policies; the 2008 diffuse mesothelioma scheme, where there is no nexus; and then the diffuse mesothelioma payment scheme, which is funded by insurance companies. Each of these in its own way has made access to support more secure, however inadequate. We have praised before the work of the noble Lord, Lord Freud, in delivering the 2014 payment scheme and condemned the historic reluctance of insurers to meet their moral obligations. We note that the payment scheme was able to raise payment levels to 100% of average civil claims in 2015. Perhaps the Minister can confirm that this has been maintained. It is understood that it is driven by the benefits of better tracing of employer liability insurance policies. Again, perhaps the Minister could confirm that.

        Last year, the Minister acknowledged that it was wrong to look at mesothelioma as a legacy issue. The projections are that it may have peaked, but it will be with us for a very long time. Moreover, the causes of mesothelioma—exposure to asbestos—are still too prevalent in our environment, especially, as we have heard today, in schools. We may be more aware about how it should be managed—the HSE gives advice on it—but we know that practice is not always followed and people will cut corners. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, spoke about the effects of this on children. Seeking a cure remains the imperative. When we discussed the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, there was some disagreement about precisely how much research had been undertaken previously—how much might be generic and how much was specifically focused. The Minister argued that the problem was not lack of funding but a lack of quality research proposals—I think that this was the position asserted by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, in the previous debate on that Bill. Can the Minister now bring some clarity to this issue? What has been the outcome of the strategy to stimulate more research projects?

        The Government should be congratulated on their allocation of £5 million of LIBOR fines to establish a national mesothelioma centre. The announcement, of course, made specific reference to service veterans, but this centre is to be a collaboration, it is understood, between four leading institutions which will form a hub—I presume that it will be a virtual hub. It would be good to hear from the Minister, as a practical matter, how the funding of this is to be organised and how it is to go about undertaking and supporting research. It is to be welcomed, but this is still not on equal footing with the rest of cancer research. Nevertheless, “progress is waiting to be made” was the expression, but not without continuing pressure from a range of noble Lords and Members of the other place, those noble Lords who have participated in this debate and, of course, the continuing suffering of those who endure this terrible condition.

5.45 pm

      • My Lords, this has been another really excellent debate on this subject. I join others in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Wills, for raising it again—it is really important to keep it in the public eye. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Giddens and Lord Alton, for collaring me on this subject many times over the last year. It is one of the privileges of being in this House that one is able to take an interest in these issues and try to do something about them—otherwise, what the point of being here? The point is to make a difference. What this has demonstrated is that if there is persistence—real, dogged persistence, often in the face of all kinds of tribulations—you can make progress. It has been a long and tortuous journey, as the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, said, but there are signs of progress.

        I shall pick up a few points before I get into my speech. First, I cannot answer the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Couttie, in detail today, but the level of compensation is certainly something I shall look at in view of her comments about the cost of these new drugs. This is probably an issue more for NICE and NHS England than the compensation scheme. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, asked whether we are learning from the reviews of these cases, in view of the importance of time. I will certainly look at both those issues. They are, in a sense, related to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, about the huge benefits of specialisation. I have the guidance from NHS England on the treatment of mesothelioma here. I shall not read it out today, because there is not time, but the noble Lord’s point about having a centre of excellence and looking at the improved outcomes from people doing these things repetitively, many times, rather than spreading very complex surgery over many different sites, is absolutely true. Having proper data in registries which can be made transparent is also a hugely important driver of change.

        The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, raised the issue of data. Data are hugely important. In a way, if one looks at all the advances that are coming along in cell therapy, gene therapy and the like, in health analytics and big data, the artificial intelligence and machine learning that come from these offer huge potential for improving healthcare in this country. I should also mention that it is clear that many people here have been touched, directly or indirectly, by this devastating disease. That adds not just poignancy but urgency to our discussions. It is interesting how often a patient’s story can bring data to life—data on their own are not enough. It is when you hear about individuals who have suffered and whose lives have been changed or who, indeed, have died, that it is brought home to all of us just how important it is.

        We expect the rates of mesothelioma to increase in coming years, due to high exposure to asbestos in the 1960s and 1970s. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, raised the issue of schools. It is the responsibility of the Health and Safety Executive, as she will know. The advice is often to leave it where it is and not disturb it—it is not dangerous to children if it is left dormant. If anyone has any evidence that the HSE is not doing the rounds or that there are local authorities in the country where schools are in need of repair, they should bring it to my attention and I will ensure that the HSE follows that up.

        Rates of mesothelioma have increased by nearly five times in Great Britain since the late 1970s. In 2014, there were 2,343 registrations of mesothelioma in England: 1,954 men and 389 women. The incidence is expected to peak in the 2020s but, as has been mentioned, it will remain a significant health problem into the 2050s. It is not a legacy disease. It is going to kill many people over the next 30 or 40 years. In 2014, 2,236 deaths were caused by mesothelioma in England, and the latest survival figures suggest that 46% of men survive for one year, compared with 51% for women. Five-year survival is much worse: only 5% for men and 11% for women. It is a death sentence—there is no getting away from that. Others have mentioned that this is a worldwide issue. One research group estimates that, on average, 14,200 cases are diagnosed worldwide every year, and that will be going up, not down.

        On the research aspect, there is some better news. On 16 March, the Chancellor announced an award of £5 million to establish a national centre for mesothelioma research. A number of noble Lords have said how important it is that this is co-ordinated—that various universities and research centres around the country do not all have a crack at it, but there should be a national centre for research. This announcement was in response to an application from Imperial College to urgently address the anticipated imminent high mortality rate among Royal Navy veterans and dockyard workers. The award is one of a series funded by the LIBOR fines that have been made since October 2012.

        It is envisaged that the national centre will be a collaboration between four leading institutions which have a major interest in the treatment of mesothelioma: the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College, the Royal Brompton Hospital, the Institute of Cancer Research and the Royal Marsden Hospital. It is pretty impressive standing here naming four institutions that are absolutely world class. This is an extraordinary country when it comes to research. The Marsden, the Brompton and all these institutions are fantastic. They bring together expertise in the genetics of cancer susceptibility and in targets for treatment. Of course, the work being done in genomics will have a huge impact on this in years to come—not quite yet but soon, I hope.

        The Department of Health has been in discussion with the British Lung Foundation to work together to bring about the establishment of the research network. The plans are not yet finalised, but the aim, which the department supports, is to attract further donations, to be channelled by the British Lung Foundation so that it can continue its role as the body through which voluntary donations for mesothelioma research are being channelled competitively to the best science centres across the UK. As the organisation which currently administers mesothelioma research grants funded from insurance industry donations, the BLF is well placed to do this. I add my thanks to Aviva and Zurich, the only two insurance companies which have lived up, I think, to a very important moral obligation. We should not give up in our talks with the insurance industry to persuade it. It owes a moral duty but, as pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, it is not just a moral duty; there is also some enlightened self-interest in this. Maybe the lawyers would like to chip in as well; that would be good.

        We understand that on 1 November—next week—the BLF, alongside the Association of British Insurers, will be hosting a seminar in this House on the future of mesothelioma research. The seminar will focus on the previous research which the insurance industry has funded across the UK, how it can be built on, and how to ensure that mesothelioma projects across the country tie into the work of the new national centre. Together, the MRC and the NIHR spend more than £1 billion annually. In 2015-16, they spent more than £3 million on mesothelioma research. I will be sending a copy of this debate to Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer, and Chris Whitty, the Chief Scientific Adviser, to ensure that they pick up all the important arguments that have been made today.

        Last month the Government announced £816 million over the next five years for the biomedical research centres across the UK. These centres host the development of ground-breaking new treatments, diagnostics, prevention, and care for patients in a wide range of diseases. Around £118 million of the funding will be for cancer research and we would expect some of that to support mesothelioma research. The fact that we have this £5 million ought to attract more money from the more conventional cancer research programmes.

        In March 2016 the National Cancer Research Institute co-ordinated a meeting with the British Lung Foundation, the MRC, Cancer Research UK and the Department of Health to discuss research opportunities in mesothelioma. This was followed up with a community workshop at the International Mesothelioma Interest Group meeting in Birmingham in May this year and has led to the formulation of a draft research priorities document. This will be further developed at a second workshop currently scheduled to take place in February 2017.

        There is room for hope that some progress is being made here. We have to keep the momentum going and the profile high. I think we all accept that some cancers seem to have caught the public imagination to a greater extent than this one, which in a sense puts a greater obligation on us to keep it in the public eye. I have been delighted to do what I can and will continue to do so. Again, I thank all noble Lords for continuing to raise this very important topic.

Committee adjourned at 5.56 pm.

meso1meso UK

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Calls Made In Geneva To Hold North Korean Regime To Account for Crimes Against Humanity

Calls Made In Geneva To Hold North Korean Regime To Account for Crimes Against Humanity 

 Remarks by David Alton (Lord Alton of Liverpool), co-chairman of the UK All Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea, March 9th 2017, at a forum held during the 34th Session of the UN Human Rights Council, and speaking alongside His Honour Judge Michael Kirby (chairman of the UN Commission of Inquiry) and Dr.Marzuki Darusman, former UN Special Rapporteur on North Korea.

I have four points.

Let me deal with impunity and accountability first:

The Korean regime has committed egregious and enormous outrages so great that they constitute  crimes against humanity.

With China increasingly unhappy with a regime that it has protected thus far, new efforts should now be made to persuade China to consider not using a veto and to allow a resolution referring Kim Jong-Un’s regime to the ICC.

Failing that, an ad hoc Regional Tribunal, allowing victims to detail the crimes committed against them, should be established.

Three years ago a referral to the ICC was a key recommendation of the United Nations damning report on North Korea’s appalling human rights record. 80 witnesses, and more than 240 confidential interviews with victims and witnesses, led Justice Kirby’s Commission of Inquiry to conclude that “the gravity, scale and nature” of the human rights violations in North Korea “reveal a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world”.

It detailed a catalogue of crimes against humanity, that included “extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions”, as well as severe religious persecution, enforced disappearances, and starvation and that the “unspeakable atrocities” faced by up to 120,000 prisoners in the country’s system of prison camps “resemble the horrors of camps that totalitarian States established during the twentieth century”. No official or institution is held accountable, the inquiry concluded, because “impunity reigns”.

On their website the ICC says this about the crimes it was established to investigate:

1. 27. What are crimes against humanity?

“Crimes against humanity” include any of the following acts committed

          murder;

·         extermination;

·         enslavement;

·         imprisonment;

·         torture;

sexual violence;

·         persecution against an identifiable group  – such as – on religious grounds;

·         other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering or

serious bodily or mental injury.

– The small group of people that rule North Korea (the 5-6, 80 years old-plus men who run the Organisation and Guidance Department; and KJU) will never put themselves in a position to be prosecuted. But, like Sudan’s Field Marshall Bashir they can be tried in absentia. He was indicted for genocide.

The new UN Special Rapporteur, Tomas Ojea Quintana, rightly insists that the international community must “ensure that serious human rights violations, especially those amounting to crimes against humanity, do not go unpunished.”

Countries like the UK should be laying a Resolution to that effect before the Security Council.

Ultimately, accountability and justice for millions of North Koreans will come through transitional justice mechanisms (Truth Commissions, memorials, evidence taking sessions etc) where communities come to terms with the horrors of the past decades that have been committed by people they know. 

Shining a light on these outrages and making it clear that a Nuremburg moment awaits those who continue to carry out such outrages and atrocities.

Secondly, in the UK:

In Parliament we have an effective and active all-party group that regularly raises questions and debates.

Among its achievements have been to focus on breaking the information blockade and persuading the BBC and the British Government to support BBC World Service broadcasts to Korea.  Other Parliaments all over the world should be urged to establish similar groups and to co-ordinate specific initiatives.

But even in the UK – with an embassy in Pyongyang and an active parliamentary presence – 

– The Government has not assigned any funding to promoting human rights inside North Korea, and should support UK-based NGOs who work on North Korea.

– However, to its credit, the UK Government has long supported General Assembly and Security Council resolutions, often helping draft them, and enforced appropriate sanctions.

Thirdly, In the EU:

– The media focus has been on forced labourers in Poland and Malta. This has achieved some success in that Poland claimed it had stopped issuing visas to North Korean workers and the company that hired North Koreans in Malta sent them home. However, we hear that Poland’s claims and realities don’t match and that North Koreans still enter and disperse across the Shengen area, as per their visas allow.

– Moreover, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of North Korean ‘businessmen’ living legally in Europe that operate for the state and pass almost undetected. It is worth noting that one of the suspects in the  killing of Kim Jong Nam was living perfectly legally in Malaysia, but can be considered a sleeper cell. The same is true all over Europe – especially in Southern Europe.

– The EU remains too focused on the nuclear issue.

Less so on the human rights issue.

Finally,

It was encouraging to note the Group of Independent Experts report issued last week, and the UN Special Raporteur’s first report, both of which contain helpful ideas- some of which I and other raised during a Question on the floor of the House of Lords last week. 

This is precisely the sort of information – along with the COI Report – that needs to be regularly despatched to parliamentarians and governments. 

To those who suggest that there have been improvements on human rights in North Korea, I would say that all the evidence suggests the opposite.

Human rights of ordinary North Koreans continues to decline in the KJU-era. . Individual human rights based sanctions have been instituted by the US, but not the UK or EU.

No on-the-ground action has been taken to prevent the Kim regime from continuing their depredations.

Meanwhile, even as we meet, children in North Korea are taught to hate South Koreans, Japanese, Americans and the ‘West’ in general. A new report, Forced to Hate: North Korea’s Education System, analyses text books in North Korean schools. In their classrooms children are fed on a diet of distorted history and Kim worship along with hateful propaganda against those denounced as their enemies.

Kim Jong-nam’s cruel assassination in Malaysia using a banned toxic nerve agent – in a country that has an estimated 5,000 tonnes of chemical weapons – is a wake-up call to us all, including China, that the North Korean regime is not simply a pariah to be ridiculed, but a dangerous threat to the world; that human rights and security are two sides of the same coin; and that, if this is truly a State without parallel, then our efforts to expose what it does to its own people must surely be without parallel too.

Ends

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

U.N. urged to prepare N.Korea case for alleged crimes against humanity

NK Michael Kirby

The COI comments in its conclusions that “the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea…has for decades pursued policies involving crimes that shock the conscience of humanity. This raises questions about the inadequacy of the response of the international community” and it trenchantly tells the international community that it “must accept its responsibility to protect the people of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea from crimes against humanity, because the Government of the DPRK has manifestly failed to do so.”

Dr.Marzuki Daruzman

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA, March 9 (Reuters) – A veteran investigator urged the

United Nations on Thursday to appoint an international legal

expert to prepare judicial proceedings against North Korea‘s

leadership for documented crimes against humanity.

His call came amid an international furore over the murder

of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean

leader Kim Jong Un and critic of his rule, in Malaysia last

month.

A U.N. commission of inquiry, in a 2014 report issued after

it conducted interviews and public hearings with defectors,

catalogued massive violations in North Korea – including large

prison camps, starvation and executions – that it said should be

brought to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Marzuki Darusman, a former Indonesian attorney-general who

served on the U.N. commission of inquiry on North Korea, said

the U.N. Human Rights Council must pursue North Korean

accountability during its current session.

“There is a need for the Human Rights Council to appoint an

independent special expert to oversee the judicial prosecutorial

process which will lead up to an eventual mechanism of

accountability,” Marzuki told a panel held on the sidelines of

the Geneva forum.

The landmark 2014 report, rejected by Pyongyang, said North

Korean leader Kim Jong Un might be personally responsible for

crimes against humanity.

Evidence recorded over the past decade or more by U.N.

investigators should be given to a new U.N. mechanism for

prosecution, he said, adding: “Let us prevail in the end-game.”

Experts hope an ad hoc tribunal on North Korea may be set up

someday, as China would be expected to veto any move in the U.N.

Security Council to refer its ally to the ICC.

The “assassination” of Kim Jong Nam ought to be a “wake-up

call”, Lee Jung-Hoon, South Korean ambassador for North Korean

human rights, told the event.

“That is why I think this assassination is such a

game-changer because a general audience is seeing for the first

time live what kind of regime we are really dealing with,” Lee

said.

“If North Korea is able to do this to the older brother of

Kim, to the uncle of Kim (Jang Song Thaek executed in 2013), and

all the elite purging left and right, can you imagine what life

might be like if you are a prisoner in a North Korean prison

camp, with over 100,000 of them?” he said.

Australian Justice Michael Kirby, who chaired the 2014

inquiry, said witness statements would be used once a tribunal

and prosecutor were appointed. “Accountability is the name of

the game in human rights, otherwise it’s all rhetoric.”

====================================================================================================================================================

During the Session at Geneva Lord Alton also met with Tomás Ojea Quintana, the UN Special Rapporteur on North Korea:

Tomás Ojea Quintana
GENEVA (Issued as received) – A call to firmly assign responsibility for gross human rights violations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) will be made by the UN Special Rapporteur, Tomás Ojea Quintana, when he presents the first report to the Human Rights Council since his appointment in June 2016.

The report* will be discussed amid increasing political tensions between the DPRK and its neighbours after the authorities in Pyongyang resumed nuclear tests and missile launches using ballistic technology. The UN Security Council has already strengthened sanctions against the DPRK as a result.

The report of the Special Rapporteur highlights the need to hold perpetrators of gross human rights violations accountable, and practical options towards accountability are further explored in the report by the group of independent experts, Sonja Biserko and Sara Hossain, who were mandated by the Human Rights Council to support the Special Rapporteur on issues of accountability.

Mr. Ojea Quintana argues that recent political developments and the push for militarization have further isolated the country from the international community and reduced opportunities to discuss human rights. He says: “It is clear that the deteriorating security and political situation, and the prospect of instability, do not make room for an easy conversation about human rights.”

There have been a few attempts to set up a dialogue between the DPRK and UN human rights mechanisms, including through the submission of long-overdue national reports to the Committee on the Rights of the Child and the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

“These are important channels for the DPRK to discuss ways to implement their international human rights obligations, and I urge the authorities to make the most of them,” the expert said.

The report provides an overview of developments in several key issues, including deficiencies in the public food distribution system, restrictions on access to information, and violations of international labour standards concerning overseas workers. The report also expresses continuing concern over the grave situation in political prison camps and the unresolved cases of enforced disappearances involving the DPRK, including the abduction of citizens of Japan and the Republic of Korea.

Mr. Ojea Quintana says the information he received came from several sources including people he met who had recently left the DPRK. He said he was “impressed that they were well aware of their rights and despite all the obstacles they faced, looked forward to the future.”

“The testimonies I have received confirm what the international community has been saying for years regarding the critical nature of the human rights situation in the DPRK, and the need to take immediate steps to protect people. The current tensions should not distract us from pursuing that goal,” Mr Ojea Quintana added.

The Special Rapporteur is calling on all parties to implement without delay the recommendations in the report of the group of independent experts on accountability, which is annexed to his report.

The group of independent experts said: “We call for a framework for accountability that is human rights-based – ensuring that the rights and needs of victims of human rights violations are at the centre of any accountability measures.” They added: “this goal can be achieved only through a fully participatory process involving victims and affected communities, to ensure that accountability measures reflect their experiences, views, and their expectations of justice.”

The group of independent experts emphasized that given the severity and complexity of the human rights situation in the DPRK, “a comprehensive and multi-pronged approach is required, in line with international norms and standards.”

This approach should encompass measures to establish individual criminal responsibility of perpetrators, as well as measures to ensure the rights of victims and societies to know the truth about violations, the rights of victims to reparations, and guarantees of non-recurrence.  In this context, “accountability requires coordinated efforts on all these fronts and in multiple forums,” the group added.

In their report, the independent experts mapped options for accountability within the domestic system of the DPRK and other countries; through international and internationally assisted courts; as well as through the international human rights machinery. The group of independent experts reiterated that “the DPRK is the primary duty holder of the obligation to bring perpetrators of violations in the country to account,” while the group concluded that it appeared that no viable options for accountability were in existence or had been used in the DPRK.
Given these findings, the group of independent experts called on the international community to “continue to pursue a referral of the situation in the DPRK to the International Criminal Court. The scope for the establishment of an ad hoc international tribunal must also be duly considered – including as a deterrent for future crimes and a signal that victims will be heard,” the group added.

Finally, the report of the group of independent experts identified practical steps that should be taken immediately to contribute to a comprehensive approach towards accountability.
The group of independent experts stressed that: “concrete steps towards making accountability a reality are needed now”. The group said practical steps should include conducting awareness-raising of victims and affected communities, as well as coordinated and comprehensive consultations with victims and other stakeholders. Additionally, the group called for sustained and sound information and evidence gathering and storage, and for an assessment of available information and evidence to be undertaken in order to identify gaps and develop possible investigation and prosecution strategies and blueprints for suitable international court models.

The Special Rapporteur and the experts will hold a joint press conference on Monday 13 March at 14:00 in Palais des Nations, Press Room 3. Once delivered, their statements will be available here.

(*) Check the advance edited reports by the Special Rapporteur (A/HRC/34/66) and the Group of Independent Experts (A/HRC/34/66.Add1):
Mr. Tomás OJEA QUINTANA (Argentina) was designated as the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK by the UN Human Rights Council in 2016. Mr. Ojea Quintana, a lawyer with more than 20 years of experience in human rights, worked for the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, and represented the Argentinian NGO ‘Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo’ in cases concerning child abduction during the military regime. He is a former Head of OHCHR human rights programme in Bolivia, and served as the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar from 2008 to 2014. Learn more:
Ms. Sonja Biserko (Serbia) was designated by the High Commissioner as a member of the Group of Independent Experts. She is the founder and President of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, a founding member of the Centre for Anti-War Action in the Belgrade Forum for International Relations, and a senior fellow in the United States Institute of Peace. She has received several human rights awards, including the Human Rights Award of the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights in New York and the Human Rights Award of the University of Oslo. She was a member of the former commission of inquiry on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Ms. Sara Hossain (Bangladesh) was designated by the High Commissioner as a member of the Group of Independent Experts. She is a Barrister, practicing in the Supreme Court of Bangladesh for over 20 years, with a focus on constitutional and public interest litigation, including on freedom of expression, economic and social rights, and gender justice. She ran the South Asia Programme at INTERIGHTS from 1997 to 2003. She served as a Commissioner of the International Commission of Jurists, and founding Director of the South Asia Women’s Fund. She is a recipient of awards, including from the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights.
Learn more:  The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.
For more information and media requests please contact Tarek Cheniti (tcheniti@ohchr.org) or Sebastiaan Verelst (gie-dprk@ohchr.org)
For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Bryan Wilson, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9826 / mediaconsultant1@ohchr.org)
You can access this news release online here: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=21350&LangID=E
Tag and share – Twitter: @UNHumanRights and Facebook: unitednationshumanrights

__________

Also see:
http://www.christianpost.com/news/north-korea-must-face-justice-for-torture-sexual-slavery-killings-of-christians-and-others-groups-177249/

https://davidalton.net/2016/10/22/some-recent-parliamentary-replies-on-north-korea/

North Korea

28 February 2017

Question

2.58 pm

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of the sanctions imposed by China against North Korea following the assassination of Kim Jong-nam and the recent ballistic missile test, whether they will call in the North Korean Ambassador.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In so doing, I should mention that I am co-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea.

My Lords, on 14 February we summoned the ambassador for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in response to its ballistic missile test on 11 February. We made it clear that such actions were in violation of UN Security Council resolutions and a threat to international security, and that such destabilising activity must stop. We continue to be deeply concerned by its actions, including reports that it is responsible for the killing of Kim Jong-nam.

My Lords, does not the horrific use of VX, a toxic nerve agent, to assassinate Kim Jong-nam serve to remind us of North Korea’s total disregard for international law, whether through the use of banned chemical weapons, of which it has some 5,000 tonnes, its nuclear and missile test, or the execution and incarceration of hundreds of thousands of its own citizens? Has the noble Baroness noted that at the 34th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, which is currently meeting in Geneva, there are recommendations to establish an ad hoc tribunal or to refer North Korea to the International Criminal Court? Will we be endorsing this and seeking China’s support to bring to justice those responsible for these egregious and systemic violations of human rights?

The noble Lord is right in his condemnation of the DPRK’s complete disregard for international norms. Dealing with those is a difficult matter. We certainly support the UN Commission of Inquiry and want to see how we can take forward its recommendations.

With regard to the alleged use of VX, Malaysia has gathered its own information. We have no reason to doubt its conclusions that it is VX, a highly toxic nerve agent, and that the DPRK is responsible, since it has the capacity to produce it. Until there is an international awareness of that information, we cannot take action internationally to condemn what has happened and provide the evidential link between the DPRK and the murder of Kim Jong-nam.

My Lords, there was a very similar assassination on British soil not a mile from here—that of Alexander Litvinenko—by the Russian Secret Service. Can my noble friend please tell us when she last called in the Russian ambassador, and what progress has been made on that inquiry?

My Lords, I cannot recall the exact date because, of course, I do not call in the Russian ambassador. But I can reassure my noble friend that I am aware that the Russian ambassador has been called in on at least one occasion last year with regard to Russia’s disregard for international norms. Whatever country uses international murder to dispose of people who are inconvenient to it is wrong and should face international opprobrium.

My Lords, China is the key player in relation to North Korea, and its action appears to complete the isolation of that country. How do the Government interpret its sanctions? Are they temporary, or can we expect a sea change in China’s policy?

The noble Lord is right to point to the fact that China has now made it clear that it is compliant with the UN Security Council resolution on sanctions on the coal trade between the DPRK and China. On 18 February this year, China declared that it would be fully compliant. It had actually been in breach in December, so it has made sure that throughout the whole of this year it will now be compliant. We welcome that public declaration and look forward to receiving further details about how it is observed. It was an important step forward.

My Lords, I have a particular interest in those who escaped from North Korea, both through my membership of the all-party group and the link that we have in the diocese of Peterborough with the diocese of Seoul in South Korea, which does a lot to support escapees. Can the Minister please tell us whether our Government are talking to the Government of China about their apparent policy of sending refugees straight back to North Korea, where they face execution or incarceration in camps, and whether we will ask China to allow people freedom of passage to those countries which welcome them?

The right reverend Prelate raises an important issue on which we are at variance with the Chinese. They believe that those who flee the DPRK to save their own lives are in fact economic migrants and are therefore subject to return. I can assure the right reverend Prelate that we did indeed raise the issue of forced repatriation of refugees on numerous occasions with China, most recently at the UK-China Human Rights Dialogue in October, and we will continue to do so, including in international fora. We have also discussed the UN Commission of Inquiry report with senior Chinese officials in Beijing. It is important that we keep up pressure on this matter.

The imposition of sanctions is all the more significant having regard to the previous ambivalence of the Chinese Government towards North Korea. Should not these sanctions be warmly welcomed, not only here but in the White House, so that, whatever their differences, China and the United States can make common cause in the containment of North Korea?

The noble Lord is absolutely right. As the new Trump Administration have taken office, it is important that they and China find accord on this matter.

My Lords, what is Her Majesty’s Government’s assessment of the security of North Korean defectors here in the United Kingdom and the potential security threat of the North Korean embassy in this country?

My Lords, it is a matter of fact that we have, of course, concern for all those who are in this country, whatever their nationality. We have a duty of protection in general terms. We do not provide individual protection for those who are not British citizens, as such, but we are aware that some persons are at particular risk. Because of security matters and the safety of those individuals, it would be wrong of me to go further than that.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware of the United Nations Commission of Inquiry report which urged all democratic countries to help break the information blockade that engulfs North Korea. The All-Party Parliamentary Group has organised a successful campaign to persuade the BBC World Service to broadcast to North Korea. Is the Minister able to tell your Lordships’ House when those broadcasts will begin?

My Lords, I am not at present able to do so, but we strongly support the BBC’s mission to bring high-quality impartial news on this matter, including, of course, providing information about DPRK. I will see whether the BBC has come forward with any further information that I have not heard about recently.

My Lords, does my noble friend have any information about the number of Christians who are now incarcerated in North Korea for the sake of their religion? It is one of the countries where they are most harassed and oppressed.

My noble friend is right to raise the plight of Christians in North Korea. Although the constitution in DPRK provides the right to have freedom to believe, those who practise religion outside very closely state-controlled faiths find themselves subject to appalling persecution. It is matter that we raise frequently with the North Korean Government through our embassy in Pyongyang, the United Nations and the Human Rights Council. But it is a continuing, appalling, flagrant breach of international norms.

==============================================================================

8 Million Too Many – 50 years Too Long: the Right To Be Born

8 Million Too Many – 50 years Too Long

Burnley 2017 A Matter of Life And Death – click here for power point slides

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.

During a meeting organised by the Knights of Saint Columba, in Burnley, Lancashire, (March 10th 2017), to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the abortion legislation, the Crossbench Independent Peer, David Alton (Lord Alton of Liverpool) said that during those fifty years some 8 million unborn babies had been aborted in Britain: “8 million too many, 50 years, too long” he said.

The meeting had been organised by Burnley Knight, James Capstick who, with his wife, had taken part in last year’s Right To Life Walk in Ribble Valley.

Mrs.Capstick told the meeting that she had been horrified when a young girl told her that her R.E. teacher had said the unborn child was “just a thing” – and that she wanted young people to know the truth about the humanity of the unborn baby.

Lord Alton quoted Pope Francis in saying: “It is not progressive to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life…the right to life is the first among human rights. To abort a child is to defend someone who cannot defend himself.”

 

Lord Alton thanked Right to Life for its parliamentary campaigning and the charity, LIFE, for its caring work.  He said that the existing legislation should “be challenged incrementally – chipping away at it.” He said that abortion up to birth on a disabled child is “obscene and discriminatory”  and said that in the last month an attempt had been made in Parliament to legislate to allow disabled babies to be killed after birth, adding that  “euphemistically, infanticide is now called after birth abortion.”

He said that 90% of all babies with Down’s Syndrome now lose their lives.

He said parliamentarians should seek new protection for the right to conscientious objection – citing the case of two Scottish midwives who lost their jobs for refusing to take the life of an unborn child.  

He called for legislation to criminalise anyone who inflicts pain on an unborn child and for counselling to be separated from what he called “the abortion industry” and new legislation to introduce prison sentences for anyone found aborting baby girls in gender abortions.

He challenged the Government to clamp down on the Marie Stopes Organisation, whose Chief Executive was paid more than £400,000 in one year – “more than three times the salary of the Prime Minister, who has to run the country” – and 22 others more than £100,000:   “Among other things the Care Quality Commission criticised Marie Stopes – named for a woman who was a racist and a eugenicist – for dumping unborn babies in open bins. It’s time we followed the German example and completely separated the abortion industry from the provision of counselling and care, for both the unborn child and its mother.”  And he criticised the way that aid money “that should be used to feed the starving and promote development is being syphoned off into abortion programmes.”

 

He highlighted countries that have been involved in coercive abortion policies saying that in China “the one child policy has led to a distorted population balance as girls have been aborted in their millions. There are now 33 million more males than females.”

  

He said that fifty years after the enactment of the legislation, and the consequential abortion of 8 million babies, it was time for a new generation to challenge the slogan “it’s my right to choose”,  saying that all choices carry consequences, and that the rising generation should  question both attitudes and law and campaign for “the right to be born.”

lord alton

Pictured with Lord Alton are Burnley Knights Trevor Ireland and James Capstick.

Also see:

https://davidalton.net/2017/02/25/report-stage-of-the-shinkwin-bill-february-24th-the-shinkwin-bill-on-equality-discrimination-disability-and-abortion-law-has-been-given-a-second-reading-and-news-of-an-operation-in-the-womb/

https://davidalton.net/2016/05/06/january-2016-nhs-trust-apologises-unreserrvedly-and-puts-new-protocols-in-place-after-the-issuing-of-non-resuscitation-orders-to-patients-with-downs-syndrome-also-see-fatwa-issued-by-isis/

https://davidalton.net/2013/09/06/the-abortion-of-baby-girls-and-the-public-interest/

John Milton Lecture, Mansfield College, University of Oxford on “Freedom of Religion or Belief” – March 3rd 2017

mansfield-college-milton-lecture  – Power Point presentation to accompany the following lecture

Mansfield College March 3rd 2017

David Alton

John Milton Lecture on “ Freedom of Religion or Belief”

In setting the scene for this lecture on Freedom of Religion or Belief and, in thanking Baroness Kennedy, who is one of Britain’s most formidable and principled jurists and human rights advocates, and a deeply admired and respected parliamentary colleague, I would like to invoke the words of John Milton, for whom these Mansfield College Lectures are named.

 

In 1644 at a time of religious flux and political upheaval, John Milton wrote his Areopagitica, a prose polemic, addressed to the Parliament of England, opposing licensing and censorship.

 

To a twenty first century audience those circumstances of religious flux and political upheaval have an uncannily familiar ring.

 

Within the Areopagitica are useful signposts to the importance of upholding difference; the place of conscience; the use of violence; and the confronting of evil.

 

Milton’s detestation of narrow imposed conformity is expressed in these words:

 

“I fear yet this iron yoke of outward conformity hath left a slavish print upon our necks.”

His belief in the paramount nature of conscience in these words:

 

“Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.” 

 

His Christian belief in the sanctity of life and disavowal of violence in the insistence that:

“he who kills a Man kills a reasonable creature, God’s Image”

And his belief that each of us has to choose between good and evil:

Good and evil we know in the field of this world grow up together almost inseparably…. It was from out of the rind of one apple tasted, that the knowledge of good and evil, as two twins cleaving together, leaped forth into this world. And perhaps this is that doom which Adam fell into of knowing good and evil, that is, of knowing good by evil.” 

In the twentieth century, in the aftermath of the Holocaust, the world was forced to confront the nature of good and evil and how best to defend plurality and difference of religion and belief.

 

The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights became the civilised world’s response to the infamies of the 20th century—from the Armenian genocide to the depredations of Stalin’s gulags and Hitler’s concentration camps; from the pestilential nature of persecution, demonisation, scapegoating and hateful prejudice; it emerged from warped ideologies that elevated nation and race.

Article 18 of the Universal Declaration specifically addressed the right of every human being to believe, not to believe or to change their belief.

 

 

 

 

Article 18 –promulgated in the aftermath of the defining horrors of the Holocaust, and which has acquired a normative character within general international law, insists that:

 

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

 

The declaration’s stated objective was to realise,

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

Eleanor Roosevelt, the formidable chairman of the drafting committee, argued that freedom of religion was one of the four essential freedoms of mankind an “international Magna Carta for all mankind”.

 

She said

“Religious freedom… must be freedom of all religious people”, and she rejoiced in having friends from all faiths and all races.

 

Yet, not all were fortunate in having an Eleanor Roosevelt to defend their right to freedom of religion or belief.

 

The four great murderers of the 20th century—Mao, Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot—were united by their hatred of religious faith. It was the bloodiest century in human history with the loss of 100 million lives. And now, in the twenty-first century, often in the name of a religion, millions more have died or been forced to flee their homelands.

 

When the 30 articles of the UDHR were adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948, the eight abstentions included the Soviet Union and Saudi Arabia – which argued that there was a conflict with Sharia Law, although other Islamic countries, including Pakistan, believed that there was compatibility.

 

The UDHR evolved from the United Nations Charter, promulgated in 1945, and which committed all States to “promote universal respect” for “fundamental freedoms” “without distinction to race, sex, language or religion”.

 

Alongside the Charter and the UDHR, in 1948, the Genocide Convention defined the crime of genocide – the crime above all crimes.

 

The Polish Jewish lawyer, Raphael Lemkin – who had lost 49 of his relatives in the Holocaust –developed the concept of genocide based on his own family’s experience, the 1915 genocide of Armenian Christians, at the hands of the Ottoman Turks, and the massacre of Assyrian Christians at Simele, in Iraq, in 1933.

 

In that same year Franz Werfel published, The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, a novel based on a true story about the Armenian genocide. His books were burnt by the Nazis, no doubt to try to erase humanity’s memory, Hitler having famously asked, “Who now remembers the Armenians?” The Armenian deportations and genocide claimed the lives of an estimated 1.5 million Armenian Christians.

 

Raphael Lemkin argued that “international co-operation” was needed, “to liberate mankind from such an odious scourge”.

 

The Convention states that the 147 signature countries have a moral and legal duty to, “undertake to prevent and to punish.

 

In reality, as William Hague has observed, there is a significant “gap between the commitments states have made and the reality of their actions.” Too often, never again has happened all over again.

 

If there is no basis for enforcement, rights, such as Article 18, become meaningless. Unless those whose rights are being infringed have access to a remedy the promulgated words are little more than a fig leaf.

To try and address this mismatch the International Criminal Court (ICC) was established. It began functioning in July 2002 when the Rome Statute came into force and has the jurisdiction to prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

By ratifying the Statute, States become members of the ICC and there are currently 124 member States.  Three have given notice of their intention to withdraw (Burundi, South Africa and Gambia, although the latter intends to reverse this) and last month, at its conference in Addis Ababa, the African Union was reported to have called on all African countries to withdraw.

The British Government say that the AU wishes to see reform rather than complete withdrawal.  Chad’s president, Idriss Déby, who was elected African Union chairman at the two-day summit criticised the ICC for focusing its efforts on African leaders.

“Elsewhere in the world, many things happen, many flagrant violations of human rights, but nobody cares,” Déby said at the close of the AU summit.

Never-the-less, notwithstanding an outstanding ICC warrant for his arrest on genocide charges Sudan’s Field Marshall Omar al Bashir Bashir has travelled with impunity to Kenya, South Africa, China, Nigeria, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Qatar and Egypt. All of which makes a mockery of the Court and its jurisdiction.

Bashir says the ICC is part of a “Western plot against him” and meanwhile, he continues to attack civilian populations in Blue Nile and South Kordofan and is accused of using chemical weapons in Darfur.

 

Or, take North Korea.

 

Three years ago the United Nations Commission of Inquiry, chaired by Judge Michael Kirby said North Korea’s human rights violations make it a “state without parallel.”  Kirby said evidence adduced by the inquiry “was very similar to the testimony one sees on visiting a Holocaust Museum by those who were the victims of Nazi oppression in the last century” and that the “witnesses told their stories in a low key way, without exaggeration“. Fear of a veto by China has forestalled a U.N.referral to the ICC

 

The ICC is in the invidious position of being “damned if it does and damned if it doesn’t” and has struggled to obtain widespread international acceptance with the US, India and China, as well as most Middle Eastern states, declining to ratify the Rome Statute which established the Court; and Russia announced in November that it will not now ratify the Statute.

It did so one day after the ICC published a report classifying the Russian annexation of Crimea as an occupation. Mr. Putin’s spokesman said the tribunal had failed to live up to hopes of the international community. He denounced its work as “one-sided and inefficient.” Tanya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch said “This is a symbolic gesture of rejection, and says a lot about Russia’s attitude towards international justice and institutions.”

Russia may also be concerned about ICC jurisdiction in Syria, where its forces have been repeatedly accused of war crimes, while the House of Commons Resolution of April 2016, that ISIS should be referred to the ICC for genocide against Yazidis, Christians and other minorities, has never been acted upon.

Meanwhile, on January 26th The New York Times reported that the Trump Administration would not continue to fund the ICC. Perhaps unknown to Mr.Trump, the US has never actually been a member and does not directly fund the ICC. Like Putin, Trump fears ICC criticism and possible prosecution (in the case of the US the investigation of troops in Afghanistan). The ICC’s Chief Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda said that losing U.S. cooperation to capture indictees would deal a blow to a court that depends on governments that have no enforcement powers of their own, stating, “It was significant to have U.S. cooperation.” Bensouda fears that complete US disengagement will embolden critics of the ICC and that “When increasingly international criminal justice is being challenged, it is this moment that the court needs its supporters. This is critical for the court’s existence.”

Building on the UDHR and the Genocide Convention the great hope for the ICC was that the pursuit of justice would temper behaviour, and be an instrument for peace. The withdrawal of members and the failure, in too many instances, to bring principal offenders to justice risks the emasculation and discrediting of the ICC.

Meanwhile, the resurgence of nationalist politics, to the fore in Brexit, Donald Trump’s presidential election victory and with the rise of the Far Right in Western Europe, suggests the tide may be turning against international organisations and institutions, just when they are most needed.

Fatou Bensouda, says that “Any act that may undermine the global movement towards greater accountability for atrocity crimes and a ruled-based international order in this new century is surely – when objectively viewed – regrettable.”

Seventy years after Nuremberg, global justice is clearly still a work in progress. For the UK, the entrenchment and development of the ICC should be a long term priority ensuring that perpetrators of genocide and crimes against humanity are brought to justice and their victims across the world are treated equitably and without fear or favour.

However long it takes, we have a duty to bring to justice those responsible for abhorrent mass executions, sexual slavery, rape and other forms of gender-based violence, torture, mutilation, the enlistment and forced recruitment of children, and persecution of people for reasons of religion or belief.

Now, lest my remarks thus far appear purely theoretical let me divide the rest into a snap shot of what the reality is on the ground and how we might respond.

 

 

 

  1. A snapshot of the state of the world:

 

 The annual Pew study found that 74% of the world’s population live in the countries where there are violations of Article 18.

In every country where there are violations an estimated 250 million Christians are persecuted.

 

Put simply, it is a moral outrage that whole swathes of humanity are being murdered, terrorised, victimised, intimidated, deprived of their belongings and driven from their homes, simply because of the way they worship God or practise their faith. As secular liberalism has become increasingly intolerant of religion, old certainties have been displaced while Islam has been used by some to pursue their beliefs in a manner that countenances no alternative view of life.

In this new dispensation the ignored infringement of freedom of religion and belief very easily morphs into persecution and then all too easily morphs into crimes against humanity and genocide.

Jonathan Sacks says:  “The persecution of Christians throughout much of the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and elsewhere is one of the crimes against humanity of our time, and I am appalled at the lack of protest it has evoked. What is happening to Christians in these places is the religious equivalent of ethnic cleansing.””

But many others suffer too.

People like Alexander Aan, imprisoned in Indonesia for two years after saying he did not believe in God; or Raif Badawi, the Saudi Arabian atheist and blogger sentenced to 1,000 public lashes for publicly expressing his atheism.

Or Asia Bibi – condemned to death for so called blasphemy. Having spent five years in prison, her case has again been adjourned.

One quarter of the world’s countries have blasphemy laws –more than one in 10 have laws penalizing apostasy: both used to falsely accuse, intimidate, and persecute.

Whether judged by Asia Bibi’s case, the Lahore massacre, or the assassination of the country’s Christian Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, and his friend, Salman Taseer, the Muslim Governor of the Punjab – who both questioned the blasphemy laws, Pakistan has wallowed in a culture of impunity.

Following a visit I made a year ago to a detention centre where escaping Pakistani Christians and Ahmadis are incarcerated, I collected evidence and launched a report cataloguing this systematic campaign.

One escapee recounted how his friend, Basil – a pastor’s son – was targeted by Pakistani Islamists. Having failed to convert him Basil, his wife and child were burnt alive.

The assailants then turned their attention to his friend.

Attacked and beaten, he reported this to the police. They informed the assailants, who threatened to kill him, his wife, and little girl. They fled the country.

Recall that in 1947, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan’s great founding statesman, called to the Bar at Lincoln’s Inn, crafted a constitution which promised to uphold plurality and diversity:

Jinnah said: “You may belong to any religion, caste or creed—that has nothing to do with the business of the State…Minorities, to whichever community they may belong, will be safeguarded…. They will be, in all respects, the citizens of Pakistan without any distinction of caste and creed”

Note that none of the £1 billion of British aid, given to Pakistan over the past two years, has been specifically used to promote Article 18 and UK policy insists that what is occurring in Pakistan is “discrimination” not persecution. Words like discrimination, persecution and genocide have direct implications for asylum and aid policies and that is why it matters that we use words accurately.

 

Think, too, of Iran – with almost 1000 executions last year -including the execution of Baha’is;  or how Saeed Abedini, was imprisoned for 10 years for “undermining national security” by hosting Christian gatherings in his home. Lady Kennedy and I both spoke in a recent House of Lords debate about the egregious violations of human rights in Iran.

Violation of Article 18 has led to Chinese Catholics like Bishop Cosmas Shi Enxiang, who died last year aged 94, having to spend half his life in prison; to Chinese Protestants, since the beginning of 2016, seeing 49 of their churches defaced or destroyed, crosses removed and a pastor’s wife crushed to death in the rubble as she pleaded with the authorities to desist; and to the harvesting of organs of Falun Gong practitioners.

 

Think, too, of countries like Sudan and Nigeria.

 

In Sudan, Meriam Ibrahim, – a young mother of two was charged, and sentenced to death for apostasy and to 100 lashes for adultery. Refusing to renounce her faith, and before being freed, she was forced to give birth shackled in a prison cell.

Three pastors are currently languishing in Khartoum’s jails – one was given a life sentence last month. Archaic and cruel laws lead to stoning and lashings, with Al-Jazeera reporting that in one recent year, 43,000 women were publicly flogged.

 

 

Meanwhile, Sudan’s leaders, indicted by the International Criminal Court for genocide, continue to carry out their bombing of Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile – home to many who do not share the regime’s religious ideology.

 

In Nigeria think of the 200 schoolgirls abducted in Chibok by Boko Haram – whose jihadist ideology also seeks to stamp out difference and to eradicate diversity.

And who can ever forget the execution by ISIS of Egyptian Copts in Libya – after they refused to renounce their faith – or the burning or bombing of more than 50 of Egypt’s churches in Egypt’s Kristallnacht?

Think of the plight of Rohingya Muslims in Burma or North Korea, which I mentioned briefly earlier.

I co-chair the All Party Group and have been there four times.

The United Nations Commission of Inquiry into North Korea concluded that around 200,000 people are incarcerated. Along with assassinations, executions and torture “there is an almost complete denial of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion” and that “Severe punishments are inflicted on people caught practising Christianity”.

One escapee, Hae Woo, a Christian woman gave graphic evidence in Parliament of her time inside a camp -where torture and beatings are routine, and where prisoners were so hungry they were reduced to eating rats, snakes, or even searching for grains in cow dung. She said that in such places “the dignity of human life counted for nothing.”

And think of benighted Syria and Iraq.

The House of Commons, the American Congress, the European Parliament and many other legislative bodies have all declared today’s crimes in Syria and Iraq, against Christians and Yazidis, to be genocide under the terms of the Convention.

The Times said the destruction of Christians “now amounts to nothing less than genocide…while  Boris Johnson said “Isis are engaged in what can only be called genocide …..though for some baffling reason the Foreign Office still hesitates to use the term genocide.”

In Hillary Clinton’s view:

“What is happening is genocide,” Pope Francis said that Christians are subject to genocide. In a recorded message for that launch, His Royal Highness the Princes of Wales condemned “horrendous and heart-breaking” persecution, and spoke of his anguish at the plight of Christianity in the Middle East, in the region of its birth, describing events in Syria and Iraq as an “indescribable tragedy”. This annihilation of Christians is one of the crimes against humanity of our time, and I am appalled and deeply shocked by the lack of protest that has accompanied it.

 

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

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

How will we answer that woman? Do we intend to use our voice in the Security Council on behalf of the Yazidis and Assyrian Christians?

Words matter: and words like genocide, persecution, and discrimination all have legal definition, but deeds matter even more.

This Baedekers Guide of discrimination and persecution is by no means comprehensive. And less you dismiss this as simply about far-away places, of little concern, who among us expected, 120 years after the Dreyfus case and 70 years after the Holocaust, to hear again the cry of “Death to the Jews” on the streets of France and Germany or to learn of the murder of an Ahmadi shopkeeper in Glasgow punished for wishing his Christian customers a happy Easter?

All this underlines the scale and the urgency of the task.

Like the canary in the mine, early indications of abuses of freedom or religion or belief are a harbinger of far worse that will come.

 

 

Conversely, societies that make Article 18 a corner stone see their societies stabilise and prosper.

 

2.What Might We Do?

First, we need to understand the nature and scale of what is happening. Then we need to promote Article 18, consider better ways to hold those to account who violate it, and create widespread debate about the benefits that flow from the promotion of freedom of religion or belief. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, executed by the Nazis, said that “not to speak is to speak, not to act is to act” – and too often we are guilty of silence and inaction.

Understanding the central importance of freedom of religion or belief is a sine qua non – both in a domestic and international context, whether fashioning measures to counter extremism or promoting community cohesion or, or in trying to understand global conflict and consequences  like the 55 million people now living as refugees.

 

 

 

 

 

The BBC’s courageous chief international correspondent, Lyse Doucet, reminds us that

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

When President Trump announced that he was going to ban Muslims from the US did this demonstrate an understanding of the biblical injunction to recognise the stranger standing at the door? Did it understand the difference between someone committed to Jihaddism and someone who is not? And by conflating Shias and Sunnis it bizarrely links Iran to ISIS while Iranian Shiites are enemies of ISIS.

Although 90% of Americans believe in God it doesn’t necessarily mean they understand religious belief. And the public expectation is that, notwithstanding Alistair Campbell’s assertion that his Government did not “do God”, the public believe politicians should have such an understanding.

A poll last week by Com Res found that nearly half of all British citizens expect their politicians to understand religion and belief. Barack Obama was right when he said that it is a “practical absurdity” for politicians to ask people to “leave faith at the door.”

Perhaps he had in mind those political elites who, like the Soviets of the 80s, thought the world would inevitably become secular and that it was their job to make certain that religion was eradicated.

In 1917 after they seized power the Communists, who adopted atheism as the State philosophy, banned any kind of religious awareness. Lenin called “any religious sense, even toying with the idea that God exists, an unspeakable abomination and a detestable plague.” In 1923, a revolutionary court in the Soviet Union sentenced God in absentia to death. They shared the belief of the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche who triumphantly proclaimed: “God is dead and we killed him.”  In the 1980s, travelling in the former Soviet Union, I saw the closed churches and met the families of Christian and Jewish believers sent to gulags or psychiatric institutions. Millions of believers died but God didn’t.

And, despite their best attempts religion remains part of the human condition.  For most people in the world religion is not just about their personal belief but is the prism through which they view all other things and through which communal and individual identity is fashioned.

Worldwide, more than eight-in-ten people identify with a religious group with 5.8 billion religiously affiliated adults and children around the globe, representing 84 percent of the world’s 6.9 billion people, and with 84% of the world’s population declaring a religious faith – refusing to eliminate God – it is clear that the world is not conforming to the premise that religion is in its death throes. This begs the question, just who is on the wrong side of history?

And certainly, if you don’t understand and respect what makes people religious you can’t possibly understand the world.

But understanding is one thing and the insistence on the right to believe, to change your belief or to have no believe is another.

Article 18 is a foundational human right—many would say the foundational right. While there should be no hierarchy of rights, and all rights are interdependent, without the freedom to choose, practise, share without coercion and change your beliefs, what freedom is there?

At every opportunity, we must promulgate freedom of religion or belief. When we in the UK say we don’t need a special envoy to promote this because “every ambassador will do so” we need some way of benchmarking the effectiveness of their efforts.

And when the Government say this is “one of the Government’s key human rights priorities”, we need to provide resources which are commensurate with the scale of the challenge – certainly more than one full time FCO desk officer. Compare the £34 billion spent on military operations since the Cold War with the paltry resources deployed in promoting Article 18.

We also need a consistent, coherent international strategy.

It is inconsistent to denounce some countries while appeasing others, complicit in jihadism, through financial support or the sale of arms.

For example, since the present conflict began in Yemen, we have sold £3.3 billion of arms to Saudi Arabia. We are perceived as hypocrites when business interests determine how offended we are by egregious human rights violations.

And we can be much more proactive in galvanising an international strategy.

Nelson Mandela once said that the Commonwealth makes the world safe for diversity. We need to use it more.

Kofi Anan called the BBC World Service “Britain’s greatest gift to the world” and it now reaches some 265 million people. In deploying smart power what better vehicle is there?

And social media: ruthlessly and grotesquely used by ISIS.

The next generation are being reached via the internet and smartphones – but the religious and secular communities are failing to counter this with common perspectives, common ethical ideals of and underlining how we can learn to live together.

We urgently need a persuasive new narrative capable of forestalling the unceasing incitements to hatred which pour forth from the internet, capturing unformed minds, and manifesting themselves in hate crimes, discrimination, persecution and worse.

 

As General Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army observed, the devil needn’t have all the good tunes. The Facebook for the Bible page has 4.5 million followers while the God Wants You Too

 

 

Now app has 2 million active users each month.

Note also – as John Milton would most certainly have done – that there are 44 countries world wide that censor the internet – and the five worst offenders when measured against the criterion of “an open and free” internet are Saudi Arabia, China, Vietnam, Yemen and Qatar – while North Korea completely bans the internet. Look at the direct correlation with the curtailment of freedom of religion or belief.

 

If we are to successfully combat this, Jews, Christians, Muslims and others must no longer see one another as an existential threat. The media and scholars must help with this task.

 

As part of a deeper inter-faith dialogue scriptural texts must be placed into their proper context and not turned into a pretext for violence or as a justification for the ridiculing or demonising of others. Genuine dialogue would seek common ethical imperatives and understanding that can guide us in the complex times in which live.

 

 

People of faith and of no faith must understand and enter in to one another’s stories.

Jonathan Sacks reminds us how the displacement narratives of Isaac and Ismael, Jacob and Esau, Leah and Rachel, can all be used to promote, mutual respect, coexistence and reconciliation.  As Lord Sacks says in “The Dignity of Difference”:The great faiths provide meaning and purpose for their adherents. The question is: can they make space for those who are not its adherents, who sing a different song, hear a different music, tell a different story? On that question, the fate of the 21st century may turn”.

 

Those societies that make space for those who sing a different song see many blessings.

We should better emphasise – as Dr.Brian Grin has done – the tangible benefits that accrue to a society that protects its minorities, encourages diversity and promotes freedom of religion or belief. On the credit side of the balance sheet never forget the contribution people of faith have made to the development of our institutions and to society.

Religious networks are often at the forefront in opposing corrupt or authoritarian regimes, in fighting for the dispossessed and most vulnerable in our society, and in shaping peace and reconciliation.

In 1965, Dignitatis Humanae, the Second Vatican Council’s proclamation on religious freedom, correctly observed that a society which promotes religious freedom will be enlivened and enriched and one that does not will decay.

 

And, finally, perhaps we also need a new Convention on Religious Freedom to sit alongside the Convention on Genocide – but if we promote such Conventions let’s dedicate ourselves to upholding and enforcing them too – and with universal application – making sure that words like genocide, persecution and discrimination are matched by deeds and are reflected in the way we do business with; sell arms to; or provide aid programmes to those who violate Article 18.

In examining the obligations that flow from Article 18; in providing a snapshot of the state of the world and in suggesting some things we might do, you might still be asking is freedom of religion and belief relevant?

It is because, as Lyce Ducet pithily remarked:  If you don’t understand religion —including the abuse of religion — you won’t understand what is happening in our world.

It is because it is a moral outrage that, in the 21st century, men, women and children are being executed, terrorised, and relentlessly persecuted because of the way in which they worship God and it is because every person should have the right to be able to do so without fear or favour.

 

Ends.

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