International Scandal As Escaping Christians Continue To Suffer -Ijaz Paras Masih died in Detention Centre. Read report on”The United Nations: Missing In Action.” Also – Celebration in Parliament of the 126th Birthday of Dr.Babasaheb Ambedkar and the campaign to Make Caste History.

International Scandal As Escaping Christians Continue To Suffer

 

Thailand’s Government and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Bangkok have been accused of “negligence” after a Pakistani Christian asylum seeker died in a detention centre last month.

 

https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/2017/06/unhcr-accused-negligence-pakistani-christian-dies-thai-detention-centre/

 

I contacted UNHCR about the death of Mr. Ijaz Paras Masih, the Pakistani Christian asylum seeker who died while in the Immigration Detention. They simply said that “UNHCR’s position globally, as enshrined in the 1951 Refugee Convention, is that no refugee or asylum seeker should be prosecuted or detained merely on grounds of illegal entry or overstay of a visa, save in the most exceptional situations.  While Thailand is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention, we continue to advocate for alternatives to detention for person of concern to UNHCR based upon existing Thai law. We also look forward at least to enhanced access to bail as stated by the Royal Thai Government in its 15 November 2016 responses (paragraph 130) to the Human Rights Committee’s List of Issues in Relation to the Second Period Report of Thailand under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

 

I have asked them what progress they are making with enhanced access and how many more Christians escaping persecution in Pakistan are still held in these atrocious conditions. I have personally been inside this detention centre and you can read my report at: https://davidalton.net/2015/09/04/international-scandal-of-95-detainees-held-in-one-cell-including-children/

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

The United Nations:  Missing In Action:  June 2017

https://www.gisreportsonline.com/opinion-the-united-nations-missing-in-action,politics,2232.html

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

The United Nations – missing in action

Dag Hammarskjold was one of the great secretaries-general of the United Nations.

The Swedish economist turned diplomat began work at the UN in 1950, serving as the organization’s second secretary-general from 1953 until 1961. That year, while trying to negotiate a ceasefire in the Congo, he was killed in a plane crash in Zambia. Questions remain about the circumstances in which this courageous man died.

 

Today, different questions are being asked about the future of the Organization he once led.

 

Why, as the world confronts so many challenges, is the UN so often missing in action?  What can be done to reform the organization so that Hammarskjold’s successors might reconnect with its mission?

 

A different world

The UN was created in 1945 following the collapse of the League of Nations (1920-46). The world had come through the Great Depression, the Second World War and the Holocaust. In a flurry of hopefulness at the end of these horrors, the international community promulgated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Genocide Convention. It also created a raft of international organizations – all with the avowed intention that international cooperation would prevent such catastrophes occurring ever again.

 

This was also the era of the Truman Doctrine and the United States government’s astoundingly generous $13 billion Marshall Plan (worth $189 billion today) – although the rationale behind the plan was more than simple altruism.

 

Truman told Congress that “the seeds of totalitarian regimes are nurtured by misery and want. They spread and grow in the evil soil of poverty and strife. They reach their full growth when the hope of a people for a better life has died. We must keep that hope alive.”

 

Truman’s world would be one of free institutions, representative government, free elections, guarantees of individual liberty, freedom of speech and religion, and freedom from political oppression.”

 

In 1947, U.S. Secretary of State George Marshall had insisted that “it is logical that the United States should do whatever it is able to do to assist in the return of normal economic health to the world, without which there can be no political stability and no assured peace.”

 

In parallel, this repudiation of isolationism and xenophobia gave birth to the Bretton Woods principles, which provided an international architecture governing investment, free trade and the flow of money.

 

This euphoria of internationalism was echoed, in 1951, by the creation of a common market, the European Coal and Steel Community, which would ultimately morph into the European Union.

 

In 1950, Robert Schuman, the French foreign minister, said the community’s purpose – especially in controlling coal and steel, the main ingredients of war – was to “make war not only unthinkable but materially impossible.”

 

Taken together, this remarkable period of enlightened statesmanship enabled the regeneration and economic renewal of Europe’s fractured cities and regions.

 

Truman saw it as the best hope of defeating new forms of National Socialism, creating prosperity on the Western side of Stalin’s Iron Curtain, and offering ways forward for the emerging new postcolonial nations in Africa and Asia.

 

This, then, was the hopeful climate in which Dag Hammarskjold assumed leadership of the United Nations in 1953.

 

Road from hell

Profoundly aware of the League of Nations’ ultimate failure, Hammarskjold had a realistic view of what the UN might achieve, declaring that the organization “was not created to take mankind to heaven, but to save humanity from hell.”

 

In his Inferno, the 14th-century poet Dante Alighieri depicted hell as nine concentric circles of suffering located within the Earth. This accurately represents the post-Hiroshima 20th-century world in which Hammarskjold’s UN found itself.

 

Every century and every generation is confronted by those same concentric circles – torments of mankind’s own making. In saving us from hell, Hammarskjold believed that the UN had to take the international community beyond the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia and the conduct of international relations through the nation state.

The UN was to be an instrument that encouraged dialogue and cooperation in resolving conflict.

 

Today, in a world facing powerful political, technological, environmental and social challenges, the United Nations seems to talk endlessly and at best gets to apply bandages to the world’s wounds.

 

The hellish intractability of many crises facing the contemporary world is underlined by a cursory look at the issues high on Hammarskjold’s agenda in 1953. These included attempts to smooth relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors; a 1955 visit to China to negotiate the release of U.S. pilots captured in the Korean War; and the creation of an Emergency Force geared to resolving violent crises in countries like the Congo.

 

Interestingly, and following his belief that if you didn’t understand religion you couldn’t understand the world, Hammarskojold overcame opposition in allowing the Holy See to participate at the UN. He had a profound understanding of the enduring significance of religion in a world where, even today, 84 percent say they have a religious affiliation.

 

Overwhelmed by demons

More than 60 years on, Hammarskjold would surely question the UN’s effectiveness in addressing the dangers facing humanity today: resurgent nationalism; varying forms of totalitarianism; ideologies hostile to free societies; the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; the abject failure to resolve conflicts, whether in Sudan, Syria or Afghanistan; and the blights of famine, poverty and inequality.

 

Does the UN remain the linchpin of a rules-based international order? Has it moved us beyond Westphalia, by encouraging cooperative resolution of conflicts?

 

Why does it struggle so badly to relate its work to religion (with more than 1 billion Catholics and 1 billion Muslims in the world) and fail to understand the role of the great faiths in human development and the fight against terror?

 

The UN’s effectiveness must be measured against the challenges posed by Islamist terrorism; refugees and mass migration; globalization; nuclear proliferation; digital technology and cyber warfare; and a crisis of confidence in the political elites and institutions that are supposed to meet these threats.

 

While the demons of hell have been upping their game, it appears that the UN’s angels have been at least temporarily overwhelmed.

 

Yet, Hammarskjold’s fundamental proposition still holds true: not one of these challenges can be resolved on a national basis, without international cooperation.

 

Reform or die

Part of the UN’s problem has been an inability to come to terms with a world in which 45 percent of the population is aged 25 or under.

 

Hammarskjold lived in a pre-internet age and would be amazed to see how cyberspace shapes, for good and ill, our transnational relationships – be they personal, political, social or economic.

 

For example, recall the role of social media in the Arab Spring, in connecting pro-democracy campaigners in countries like Burma, in cyber warfare, fake news, in hate speech, in coded messages inciting Islamist terror, or in the hands of a tweeting president. The UN’s own narrative seems missing in this dangerous new world.

 

And beyond cyber space, transnationalism has been reinforced by the unprecedented ease of travel. Globalization allows assets and taxable income to be transferred across the world by legal or illegal means, the same way people can be transported by a low-cost airline or a human smuggler.

 

This is the world that Hammarskjold’s successor, Antonio Guterres, must come to grips with after taking office on January 1. Mr. Guterres set out with three top priorities: peacekeeping, sustainable development, and reform of the UN’s internal management.

 

The new secretary-general is right about the urgent need for restructuring and renewal – without which the UN may suffer the fate of the League of Nations. If he fails, the Security Council’s five permanent members – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the U.S. – will bear a great deal of the responsibility.

 

The omens do not look particularly favorable.

 

Losing America

As Guterres assumed office, a new occupant arrived at the White House.

 

Throughout his election campaign, Donald Trump had only negative things to say about the UN, describing it as a “club” for people to “have a good time.”

 

By signaling support for the use of torture, a disinclination to finance the UN’s peacekeeping budgets, lack of support for the International Criminal Court, and an unwillingness to help to fund obligations to refugees, President Trump has set the U.S. on the path of disconnection.

 

Simultaneously, however, Mr. Trump has understood popular disillusionment with the political classes and their chosen priorities. He correctly identified the misuse of international funds to promote coercive population control and abortion programs.

 

In the past, UN agencies indirectly aided and abetted China’s grotesque one child policy. In Africa, politicians complain that UN agencies blackmail recipients of aid by threatening to cancel other programs. That is neither a moral nor a practical choice – and President Trump is right about that.

 

By behaving like arrogant neocolonialists, unaccountable elites gradually lose public and political support. That can cost an institution dearly, as the European Union, Britain’s Left and American Democrats have discovered.

 

Affront to values

The reason so many Americans – especially Republicans – are skeptical (and even worse) about the UN is that it appears incapable of resolving big issues while taking up minor causes that affront deeply held American values.

 

For instance, the overwhelming majority of Americans believe that Jews are entitled to live in safety in their homeland – and that it is a miracle of God’s providence that the land of Israel was restored. They therefore find it unconscionable that the UN endlessly criticizes the only pluralist, liberal society in the Middle East – even if it is a deeply flawed one.

 

Last December, the UN General Assembly ended its annual legislative session by adopting 20 resolutions against Israel and only six resolutions on the rest of the world combined – three on Syria, and one each on Iran, North Korea and Crimea.

 

In April 2016, the UNESCO Executive Board in Paris adopted a resolution that ignored Jewish ties to its holy site of the Temple Mount and the Western Wall area in Jerusalem’s Old City. It referred to the Temple Mount area solely as Al-Aksa Mosque/Al-Haram Al Sharif, except for two references to the Western Wall Plaza that were put in parenthesis. This just makes UNESCO look anti-Semitic.

 

Not only are these decisions unjust, they make the UN irrelevant in the eyes of Americans – whether they are Democrats (a party with a historically strong Jewish constituency) or evangelical Republicans. Ignore religious sensibilities and you become a waste of time for decision-makers in Washington.

 

The UN should never forget that it relies on assessed and voluntary contributions from member states. It should never forget why it was set up – principally to maintain international peace, to promote security, to champion human rights, to encourage sustainable development, to safeguard the world’s environment and heritage, and to provide relief where natural disasters, famine or violent conflict occur.

 

If it wants to retain support, it should stick to its day job, not try to peddle an ideology.

 

Root and branch

As part of a fundamental reform, the UN needs to examine how secretaries-general are elected. The point is to find contemporary Hammarskjolds – men or women of talent – rather than rotating through the usual suspects.

 

There is a great deal to be said for a seven-year, nonrenewable term of office.

 

The current arrangement of reelection after five years, perhaps by design, makes the incumbent more susceptible to pressure from those with the power to propel or block his or her candidacy (and so far, it has always been “his”).  Secretaries-general should also have better things to do than canvassing for votes.

 

Leadership positions at the UN should be based on qualifications and the ability to do the job. The 17 members of the Geneva Group (the UN’s major funders) should be driving forward this urgently needed reform. Many posts will come vacant during Mr. Guterres’ first term, presenting an opportunity to do things differently.

 

The UN seeks to halt our slide into hell through its main organs –the deliberative General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council, the Secretariat, the International Court of Justice – and through its agencies, which include the

World Bank Group, UNESCO, the World Health Organization, the World Food Programme and the Human Rights Council.

 

These agencies have a very mixed record.

 

In Nairobi, for instance, I challenged an indifferent UN official about funds that had been embezzled from phantom projects for much-needed water catchment dams and reservoirs in northern Kenya.

 

In the Congo and South Sudan, I protested about the role of so-called UN peacekeepers whose actions had ranged from incompetent to illegal.

 

Policing the peacekeepers

Mr. Guterres would do well to examine the recommendations of the Westminster Committee on Sexual Violence in Conflict, which called for an international jurisdiction to root out and hold to account peacekeepers accused of sexual violence against the people they were supposed to protect. Such misconduct brings peacekeeping into terrible disrepute.

 

At present, responsibility for deal with these matters rests with the countries contributing the troops. Some – among them Uruguay, Pakistan and South Africa – have court-martialed soldiers charged with offences on peacekeeping missions, but these actions have only scratched the surface.

 

Nor does any of this come cheap.

 

The UN spends more than $8 billion a year to deploy 86,000 troops. With civilian employees, the total personnel on peacekeeping missions is around 120,000.

 

President Trump’s proposal to cut $1 billion in funding from UN peacekeeping work would jeopardize these operations. It is not unreasonable, however, to demand value for money and better outcomes.

 

In assessing the future role of its blue helmets, the UN should also place greater emphasis on training them to prevent conflict in the first place.

 

When Dag Hammarskjöld was found dead in his plane, in his briefcase they found a copy of Thomas a Kempis’s Imitation of Christ.  He would have been familiar with Jesus’s admonition: “Blessed are the peacemakers.”

 

The UN should be putting more resources and time into making peace and preventing conflict rather than keeping peace and boots on the ground. This also points to the need for the secretary-general to open channels to non-state actors such as the free Kurdish cantons of northern Syria.

 

Failure to do this will bring new horrors. Consider the world’s newest country, South Sudan, where the abject failure to prevent conflict has produced a catastrophic famine, entirely man-made and wholly avoidable.

 

Confronting inertia

Here we must say something about the Security Council. More than any other arm of the UN, its success or failure will determine whether we slide into the abyss.

 

At the end of the Cold War, it was rather naively assumed that Security Council would overcome the incapacitating effect of the veto (often by Russia), which had frequently stymied coherent and coordinated action.

 

Instead, communism gave way to the Vladimir Putin era, and the tensions and divisions within the Security Council have continued.

 

Most recently, in February and April 2017, Russia used its veto to block UN sanctions over the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons. An effective response was left to President Trump, who ordered a Tomahawk missile strike against the Syrian airbase from which the chemical attack was launched.

 

In dealing with an evident war crime, the UN was again found missing in action. Its statisticians, however, have been very active – busily counting the dead.

 

They estimate that some 400,000 Syrians have been killed and more than 5 million have fled the country since the war began in 2011. Another 6.3 million people are internally displaced.

 

The UN has failed to end the war, failed to protect civilians, and failed to bring the perpetrators to justice. What does the agony of Aleppo say about the impotence of the UN and the collective shame which this war has brought on the international community?

 

It is not only the colossal loss of life and the vast displacements of people that shame us, but also the UN’s failure to set in motion Nuremburg-style trials for those responsible for crimes against humanity and genocide.

 

Scourge of genocide

This scandalous failure to provide justice – or even to establish mechanisms for trying those responsible for mass executions, sexual slavery, rape and other forms of gender-based violence, torture, mutilation and the enlistment and forced recruitment of children – shames the UN and its members. That is, all of us.

 

Genocide – as the UN itself has declared – is never a word to be used lightly. It is not determined by the number of people killed, but by specific genocidal intent.

 

In 1948, in the wake of some of the worst atrocities in history, the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

 

The culmination of years of campaigning by the Jewish lawyer, Raphael Lemkin, it laid upon the signatories a moral and legal duty to “undertake to prevent and to punish” genocide – the crime above all crimes.

 

Once it is recognized that genocide is being committed, serious legal obligations follow, but in our own times states have been reluctant to accept their responsibility to prevent a recurrence of this “odious scourge.”

 

Notwithstanding resolutions by the European Parliament, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the British House of Commons and the U.S. Congress identifying atrocities against Christians, Yazidis, and other minorities in Syria and Iraq as genocide, the UN has conspicuously failed to act.

 

The Security Council’s failure to refer evidence to the International Criminal Court (ICC) – or for any other court to act ­­– has become a scandalous circular argument. Some 124 states are signatories to the ICC’s Rome Statute, but the Court’s authority is fatally undermined when great nations do not demonstrate their belief in the rule of law. Already we see some states withdrawing from the ICC.

 

Who’s to blame?

The West says that Russia will use its veto to prevent any referral on atrocities in Syria.

 

The same diplomats say that China will use its veto if an attempt is made to bring North Korea before the ICC.

 

This comes after a UN report in 2014 found that North Korea’s violations of human rights and crimes against humanity make it “a state without parallel.”

 

The Commission of Inquiry called for the ICC to bring to trial those responsible for “extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation.”

 

On reading the report, it is difficult to identify any of the 30 articles comprising the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that are not violated every day in North Korea.

 

Yet, three years after the report’s publication (and as the world watches nervously while Pyongyang contemplates a sixth nuclear test), the regime wallows in impunity – making a mockery of the UN’s proclaimed doctrine of a “duty to protect.”

 

Veto versus duty

Not to act is to act. It sends a very dangerous message that state and non-state actors can behave as they wish, since international institutions are incapable of holding perpetrators to account.

 

Changing the veto powers of the Security Council’s permanent members is no simple business. Such a step would be resisted by those who wield the veto, and it would require amendment of the UN Charter. But Mr. Guterres needs to consider the question, and perhaps referral of crimes to the ICC could be exempted from the veto.

 

It is true that the permanent members are unlikely to take measures to curb their own influence. Gaining a two-thirds vote in the General Assembly will not be easy, either ­– but this is not an issue Mr. Guterres can dodge if he wants to fundamentally reform the UN.

 

Imperfect and indispensable

Dag Hammarskjold was not naïve about the UN’s capacity. As he once said: “We should … recognize the United Nations for what it is – an admittedly imperfect but indispensable instrument of nations working for a peaceful evolution towards a more just and secure world.”

 

He also had some hopeful words that Mr. Guterres might want to pin above his desk: “Setbacks in trying to realize the ideal do not prove that the ideal is at fault.”

 

The UN may be missing in action, but it is not in our interest to confirm reports of its death.

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

Remarks by David Alton, Lord Alton of Liverpool, at a meeting on April 26th 29017, in the British House of Lords, to celebrate the 126th Anniversary of the birth of Dr.Babasaheb Ambbedkar

 Also, listen to this BBC radio programme about Dr.Ambedkar.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b090wtq1

 

Dalit voice Dr.Ambedkar2

Dr.Babasaheb Ambedkar who was born into a family of untouchables in 1891

 

On a visit to West Bengal I was once given a small terracotta pot, which I keep on a shelf in my study.

Such pots must be broken once a Dalit – an untouchable – has drunk out of them so as not to pollute or contaminate other castes.

This is the 21st century. It is not the pots which need to be broken, not the people, but the system which ensnares them.

Two hundred years ago, on 22 June 1813, six years after he had successfully led the parliamentary campaign to end the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, William Wilberforce made a major speech in the House of Commons about India.

He said that the caste system,

“must surely appear to every heart of true British temper to be a system at war with truth and nature; a detestable expedient for keeping the lower orders of the community bowed down in an abject state of hopelessness and irremediable vassalage. It is justly, Sir, the glory of this country, that no member of our free community is naturally precluded from rising into the highest classes in society”.

 

Two centuries later the caste system which Wilberforce said should be abolished – and which the British during the colonial period signally failed to end and used to entrench its rule – still disfigures the lives of vast swathes of humanity.

Lest you think that these are historic questions let me make absolutely clear that hardly a day passes without some new horror being perpetrated against the Dalits.

Take Dalits and Tribals together, both of whom fall outside the caste system and experience discrimination: they comprise a quarter of India’s population and one twenty fourth of the world’s population.

It is estimated that every day three Dalit women are raped; Dalit women are often forced to sit at the back of their school classrooms, or even outside; on average every hour two Dalit houses are burnt down; every 18 minutes a crime is committed against a Dalit; each day two Dalits are murdered; 11 Dalits are beaten; many are impoverished; some half of Dalit children are under-nourished; 12% die before their fifth birthday; 56 per cent of Dalit children under the age of four are malnourished; their infant mortality rate is close to 10 %; vast numbers are uneducated or illiterate; and 45% cannot read or write; in one recent year alone, 25,455 crimes were committed against Dalits, although many more went unreported, let alone investigated or prosecuted; 70 per cent are denied the right to worship in local temples; 60 million Dalits are used as forced labourers, often reduced to carrying out menial and degrading forms of work;

Segregated and oppressed, the Dalits are frequently the victims of violent crime. In one case, 23 Dalit agricultural workers, including women and children, were murdered by the private army of high-caste landlords. What was their crime? It was listening to a local political party, whose views threatened the landlords’ hold on local Dalits as cheap labour. The list of atrocities and violence is exponential.

If you are a Dalit in India you are 27 times more likely to be trafficked or exploited in another form of modern slavery than anyone else.

 

Caste should be recognised as a root cause of this misery and a root cause of trafficking, of modern day slavery and poverty and unless we raise the profile of the oppressed Dalits nothing will change.

dalits cast out caste

Cast out Caste – Make Caste History

Dalits are trafficked and exploited. Who will raise their voice on their behalf?

Voice of Dalit International were good enough to send me a copy of Dhananjay Keer’s admirable biography of Dr.Babasaheb Ambedkar who was born into a family of untouchables in 1891 and the anniversary of  whose 126 th birthday we celebrate today.

Dalit voice Dr.Ambedkar

Dr.Ambdekar’s own struggle may now be history; caste is not. In our generation it is surely time to make caste history.

Dr.Babasaheb Ambedkar who was born into a family of untouchables in 1891

When Dr. Ambedkar died on December 7th, 1956, Prime Minster Nehru adjourned the Lok Sabha for the remainder of the day having told parliamentarians that Ambedkar had been controversial but had revolted against something which everybody should revolt against – all the oppressing features of Hindu society.

Nehru with Ambdekar

Nehru with Ambdekar

 

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

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

Ambedkar’s life was a life of relentless struggle for human rights. Born on a dunghill and condemned to a childhood of social leprosy, ejected from hotels, barber shops, temples and offices; facing starvation while studying to secure his education; elected to high political office and leadership without dynastic patronage; and to achieve fame as a lawyer and law maker, constitutionalist, educator, professor, economist and writer, illustrates what the human spirit can overcome.

In 1927, the young Ambedkar famously led a march to the Chavdar reservoir, a place prohibited to Dalits. On arriving at the reservoir, he bent down, cupped his hands, scooped up some water, and drank—an act completely forbidden by the caste system. The Brahmins, or upper castes, responded by furiously pouring 108 pots of curd, milk, cow dung, and cow urine into the reservoir – a ritual act which they claimed would “purify” the water polluted and defiled by untouchables.

 

Ambedkar could so easily have taken the path of violent revolution, spurred on by bitter hatred or a need for revenge – but although others regarded his shadow as a sacrilege and his touch as a pollutant, he demonstrated why it is the caste system which deserves to be put beyond human touch not the men, women and children condemned by it.

Ambedkar made untouchability a burning topic and gave it global significance. For the first time in 2500 years the insufferable plight of India’s untouchables became a central political question. Among untouchables themselves he awakened a sense of human dignity and self respect. He repudiated the helplessness of fate, the impotent, demoralised incapacity that insisted that everything is pre-ordained and irretrievable.

Ambedkar made untouchability a burning topic and gave it global significance. For the first time in 2500 years the insufferable plight of India’s untouchables became a central political question.

He began a war against a social order that allowed caste to condemn millions to a life of irreversible servitude and social ostracism. This was an existence he had shared. “You have no idea of my sufferings” he once said. Having personally experienced life below the starvation line, the effects of destitution and squalor, the humiliation of ejection, segregation, and rank discrimination, “having passed through crushing miseries and endless trouble” 

 

Ambedkar determined to challenge these evils by entering political life: becoming renowned as a scholar-politician, sadly, a combination so little in evidence today.

 

Ambedkar understood that the great nation of India would never achieve its potential if it remained disfigured and divided by caste. Without freedom to marry, who they would; to live with, who they would; to dine with, who they would; to embrace or touch, who they would; or to work with, who they would, the nation could – and can – never be fully united or able to fulfil its extraordinary potential.

“the roots of democracy” are to be found “in social relationships and in the associate life of the people who form the society.” He said that “if you give education…the caste system will be blown up. This will improve the prospect of democracy in India and put democracy in safer hands.”

He believed that “the roots of democracy” are to be found “in social relationships and in the associate life of the people who form the society.” He said that “if you give education…the caste system will be blown up. This will improve the prospect of democracy in India and put democracy in safer hands.”

Education is still the best hope for social transformation. Once people are empowered by education – as Ambedkar was himself – they can begin to address issues of poverty, lack of dignity, discrimination and other dehumanising attitudes.

Once people are empowered by education – as Ambedkar was himself – they can begin to address issues of poverty, lack of dignity, discrimination and other dehumanising attitudes

 

While still a young man of twenty, Ambedkar perceptively wrote: “Let your mission be to educate and preach the idea of education to those at least who are near to and in close contact with you.” He said that social progress would be greatly accelerated if female and male education were pursued side by side. He later insisted that “We will attain self elevation only if we learn self-help, regain our self-respect, and gain self knowledge.”

dalit advice to educate, organise and agitate, Dr.Ambedkar

While still a young man of twenty, Ambedkar perceptively wrote: “Let your mission be to educate and preach the idea of education to those at least who are near to and in close contact with you.” He said that social progress would be greatly accelerated if female and male education were pursued side by side. He later insisted that “We will attain self elevation only if we learn self-help, regain our self-respect, and gain self knowledge.” He said dalits should “educate, agitate and organise.”

He said the challenge was to “educate, agitate and organise.”

 

Ambedkar rightly perceived the negative effects which caste has on economic development – and in his booklet “Annihilation of Caste” he argued that caste deadens, paralyses and cripples the people, undermining productive activity by frequently denying opportunities to those with natural aptitude and through the entrenchment of servitude. Caste amounts to the vivisection of society.

annihilation of caste

The Annihilation of Caste b y Dr.Ambedkar

In India you can’t make poverty history unless you make caste history. 

 

Through Dr.Ambedkar’s colossal labours caste began to decay but even now it has not died.

 

Although untouchability was barred by the constitution, the system was not dismantled. Most of the worst forms of exploitation are proscribed by statute, but all too often the laws are simply not implemented and the police further entrench, rather than protect against, caste prejudice.

Tens of millions of India’s citizens are subject to many forms of highly exploitative forms of labour and modern-day slavery. This often plays into the problem of debt bondage and bonded labour, which affects tens of millions. It perpetuates a cycle of despair and hopelessness, as generations are bonded to the family debt, unable to be educated and unable to escape. Tragically, the debt is often the result of a loan taken out for something as simple and essential as a medical bill.

 

At times, Britain and India have had a turbulent relationship; but what is often called “the idea of India” is one that continues to captivate and enthral anyone who has been fortunate enough to travel there and in 1949, India and Britain were founding members of the Commonwealth, which exists to promote democracy, human rights, good governance, and the rule of law, individual liberty, egalitarianism, free trade, multiculturalism and world peace.

 

India is the world’s largest democracy—home to one-sixth of the world’s population. It can be proud of its many fine achievements. Like all our democracies, it is a work in progress, and there are many bright spots. India produced one of the first female Heads of Government; a Dalit, Dr.Ambedkar, wrote the constitution; a female Dalit became a powerful politician; a Muslim has been head of state four times; and a Jew and a Sikh are two of India’s greatest war heroes. So an astounding amount has been achieved.

 

However, India cannot be proud of the more general fate of the Dalits, the caste system, or the extremism which feeds off ostracism and alienation and which threatens modern India.

Although Dr. Ambedkar was able to have India’s Constitution and the laws framed to end untouchability, for millions and millions of people, many of those provisions have not been worth the paper on which they are written.

Ambdekar’s own struggle may now be history; caste is not. In our generation it is surely time to make caste history.

Dalit rally Dr.Ambedkar

Ambedkar made untouchability a burning topic and gave it global significance. For the first time in 2500 years the insufferable plight of India’s untouchables became a central political question.

Dalit voice Dr.Ambedkar

Dr.Ambdekar’s own struggle may now be history; caste is not. In our generation it is surely time to make caste history.

Parliamentary Questions and Interventions – Autumn 2014: Pay Day Loans Advertising, EBOLA, Iraqi Refugees – and using Afghanistan’s British tent city for Iraqi refugees – , South Sudan and other issues

To see all of the questions tabled recently click on:

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201415/ldhansrd/ldallfiles/peers/lord_hansard_3643_wad.html

Pay Day Loan Advertising Aimed At Children

Amendment 102
Moved by Lord Alton of Liverpool
102: After Clause 86, insert the following new Clause—

Promotional activities by sellers in the high cost consumer credit market

Where a lender in the high cost consumer credit market is selling a service which may only be purchased by a consumer aged 18 years or more, public communications about that service, including promotional material and any promotional activities, shall not be targeted at people below the age of 18.”
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, in moving Amendment 102 I am returning to an issue which I raised at Second Reading. I tabled this amendment just before the Summer Recess, which seems a long time ago, but it has lost none of its topicality or, I would argue, its importance.
Amendment 102 is designed to address promotional activities by sellers in the high cost consumer credit market, an issue that I know is of widespread concern in your Lordships’ House and outside it. My amendment complements those which follow in this group and which I also support. It requires anyone selling their
3 Nov 2014 : Column GC606
services in the high cost consumer credit market to behave in a specific way: that is, they must ensure that if their service is only purchasable by a consumer aged 18 years or over, it must be communicated in a responsible way such that any promotional material or activity is not targeted at people below the age of 18. In simple terms, the aim of my amendment is to ensure that children are protected from advertising for high cost loans which is both ill suited for children and corrosive in the impact it has upon parents and families as a whole.
This amendment should be seen as part of a suite of measures, alongside Amendments 105B and 105C, to protect vulnerable consumers, although I find the term “consumer” sometimes makes it easier for us to forget that these consumers are families, many of whom are struggling already without the added pressure of intrusive and inappropriate advertising. Debt is an awful blight on families and communities that often are struggling to survive. Certainly in neighbourhoods in the city I once had the privilege to represent in another place—the City of Liverpool—I encountered this frequently over the years. Debt destroys relationships and it can trap large numbers of people.
Sad to say, we are not doing enough, or anything like enough, to educate the generations who will follow us about the management of money. When payday loans are increasingly seen as a normal means of money management then we have a serious problem. This is not scaremongering. In September, the Children’s Society published a report entitled Playday not Payday, which I commend to all noble Lords. Among the headline findings from the report, which I am sure many other noble Lords will refer to in supporting amendments, it states that 61% of parents surveyed believe that seeing payday loan advertisements makes children assume that these are a normal way to manage money. In addition, 72% of children aged 13 to 17 said that they had seen at least one payday loan advertisement in the preceding week; more than two-thirds—68%—said that they had seen at least one on television.
The Children’s Society and the StepChange Debt Charity have provided some very useful information for today’s debate. For instance, in a note circulated to noble Lords, they make the point that 80% of payday loan ads are shown before the watershed. Their research found that more than half of children said that they had seen payday loan ads often or all the time, with 21% saying their school taught them about debt and money management—but therefore that four out of five do not. Playday not Payday discovered that more than half of children aged 13 to 17 recognised at least three payday loan companies, with 93% recognising at least one such company. Some 74% of parents thought that payday loan ads should be banned from television and radio before the watershed, and one-third of children aged 13 to 17 described payday loan ads as fun, tempting or exciting; those children were considerably more likely to say that they would use a payday loan. The Children’s Society says:
“Far from being an inevitable knock-on effect of successful marketing to adults, there is evidence to suggest that children exposed to particularly suggestive loan adverts are then asking and pressuring their parents to take out a loan to pay for things which they have not been allowed”.
3 Nov 2014 : Column GC607
Its polling found that parents who had used a payday loan in the past were significantly more likely to say that their children had suggested that they take out a payday loan.
Another organisation, Christians Against Poverty—CAP—a national charity seeking to lift people out of debt and poverty by providing debt help and money management courses, found in a 2013 survey that 20% of its clients had taken out payday loans. When taking out the loan, 61% were asked nothing about their income, 85% nothing about expenditure and 63% nothing about their work status; 77% used their payday loan to buy food.
At Second Reading I referred to The Debt Trap: Exposing the Impact of Problem Debt onChildren, another Children’s Society report, published in May this year. I want to remind noble Lords of some of the report’s findings. Families trapped in problem debt are more than twice as likely to argue about money problems, leading to stress on family relationships and causing emotional distress for children. Evidence suggests that problem debt can lead to children facing difficulty in school. Problem debt can also have a profound impact on children’s ability to engage in social activities.
I am not trying to browbeat the Committee but to drive home how important it is that we do something about the current situation. Children—who certainly consume what they see even if they are not able to purchase the service—are not an acceptable market for payday loan advertising. Additionally, these children will one day be consumers in the sense that they will be able to purchase the services they have been exposed to, once they reach the age of 18. The recent Children’s Society report to which I referred earlier would seem to indicate that the normalisation of payday loans as a means of borrowing is already beginning to happen, with 30% of parents aged 18 to 24 describing them as an acceptable means of managing day-to-day expenses—significantly more than older parents.
Developing responsible attitudes towards money must begin at an early age but this becomes much more difficult when a rising generation of younger parents are already influenced by the lure of high-cost credit. My amendment aims to begin the process of nullifying that problem by requiring a greater degree of responsibility from high-cost credit lenders to advertise conscientiously, ensuring that their service is not targeted at those aged 18 or under.
6.45 pm
In other contexts, there are strict rules on how goods and services are marketed to children and young people so that they are protected from unfair pressure to buy products and are not encouraged to engage in dangerous behaviour. Alcohol advertising, for example, cannot be shown around children’s programmes—rightly—or on channels likely to have a particular appeal to children; nor are gambling advertisements that are seen to appeal to young people permitted. I put it to the Minister that this is a logical inconsistency in the current approach. The desire to avoid the normalisation of potentially harmful behaviours is
3 Nov 2014 : Column GC608
evident in the way in which alcohol is advertised, yet a similar, measured approach is not being taken with regard to payday loans. I think it should be.
I understand that the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice is currently conducting a review into the compliance of adverts for short-term loans and is due to report its findings this month. While I welcome this, and while the Government have pointed to the Advertising Standards Authority and Financial Conduct Authority as sufficiently robust arbiters which may ban irresponsible rule-breaking advertising, there is a broader point here. Ad hoc regulation or advert-specific banning simply does not send a strong enough message. My amendment meets this challenge by placing in statute a responsibility on high-cost credit lenders to target their advertising appropriately.
As recently as last week, the Work and Pensions Secretary expressed concern that:
“Too many children suffer poor outcomes due to the instability of their families”.
I am quite sure that the Minister and the Government are serious and concerned about the well-being of children, parents and families. My amendment provides an opportunity today for us to get our house in order in relation to payday loan advertising. I look forward to the debate that will follow and hope that the Minister will be in a position to accept my amendment, or at least the principle that underlies it, and say how the Government see this problem and how they will address the concerns that I have raised in my remarks. I beg to move.

Default-on and ISPs not Covered by the Agreement

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, in the very best parliamentary traditions, my noble friend has been persistent, dogged, assiduous and determined. I have been privileged to support her on earlier occasions when she raised this issue. I will speak briefly in support of her excellent amendment today.

All of us, especially those with teenage children, know how important the arguments are that she has advanced to the Committee today. Her three basic arguments are incontrovertible. First, it cannot be right to say on the one hand that default-on is an important protection for children and yet to settle for an arrangement where over 10% of households are serviced by ISPs that are not party to the agreement and where some are completely opposed to that form of protection. Those ISPs that object simply will not introduce a protection unless they are obliged to do so by law.

That recalls an argument I had in the 1990s, when a Member of another place had promoted legislation to protect children from video violence. During a meeting with the then Home Secretary and his civil servants, I was pretty shocked to hear one of them say, “Really, this legislation will affect only a small number of people”, as though those people who were not protected did not really matter. My noble friend made the point that 10% of children will not be covered by the current arrangements. Can the Minister say, when she comes to reply, how many families that means and how many children the Government estimate that 10% represents? If there was only one uncovered household left in this country with children in it, surely it would be our duty to protect those children.

Secondly, it cannot be right that we settle for a form of age verification that is not age verification at all. Anyone seeking to opt in to access adult content and to disable adult content filters must obviously be age verified before doing so, as mandated by this amendment.

Finally, if we care about children and protecting them, we must afford them protection through the law, backed by sanctions. As my noble friend said, it is absurd to have protections offline but not online; there has to be some logical consistency in the way we view these issues. If this issue is important—and it clearly is—we must bite the bullet and place the obligations on ISPs and mobile phone operators to provide default adult content filters that can be lifted subject to prior expeditious age verification on a statutory footing. We do not allow a child to buy an 18-rated DVD offline, so why do we afford them less protection online?

4.15 pm

I suspect that when the noble Baroness comes to reply, she will suggest that the Government are doing enough already because they are planning to introduce regulations that will simply require websites live-streaming R18-type content online to do so behind robust age verification. I very much welcome that, but I suggest that it is no substitute for Amendment 104 because they largely deal with different things. First, unless the Government have widened their proposals, the

5 Nov 2014 : Column GC698

requirement relates only to R18 video on demand content and not all adult content, which could be 18-rated video on demand or indeed the vast majority of adult content that is not video on demand but photographs and articles. Secondly, it relates only to R18 video on demand content that is live-streamed from the United Kingdom. Of course, the vast majority of the content accessed in this country is from outside the United Kingdom and will be outside the scope of their proposed regulations.

I very much look forward to the regulations being laid, but they are no reason not to back Amendment 104. The amendment is vital because we do not live in a world where all online adult content, or even most online adult content, comes in the form of video on demand live-streamed from sites based in the United Kingdom. The basic issue is: do the 10% really matter? Does protection matter? If it does, the Government will surely accept this amendment.

EBOLA: November 6th 2014

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, in her powerful opening speech the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, referred to the tragic legacy of the number of orphans who will be left in these west African countries as a result of the Ebola epidemic. Last week I attended an international conference which highlighted the plight of the world’s orphans. The number of orphans worldwide is already estimated to be around 150 million and, compounded by HIV/AIDS, we know that many of those are in Africa. If the WHO’s estimate is correct that more than 1 million people in west Africa will die from Ebola, and that by Christmas there will be 10,000 Ebola orphans, the noble Baroness,

6 Nov 2014 : Column 1795

Lady Kinnock, is right to have made this a key question in her remarks. I hope that when the Minister comes to reply, she will tell us how we can develop a long-term plan for the care of those orphans.

I would like to ask the Minister a number of other questions, some of which I have raised previously with the Government. How have they responded to the motion on Ebola passed by the BMA last month, especially its call for the provision of more protective clothing and the training of staff? Is she in discussion with the BBC World Service to see how it can sustain and expand its excellent African initiative to disseminate public health information about the disease? Can the Minister also tell us—I have raised this point with her on the Floor of the House before—what response the Prime Minister received from the 27 European leaders to whom he wrote asking them to step up their donations after it was revealed that the Swedish furniture manufacturer, IKEA, had given a bigger donation than the Governments of Spain, Norway and Luxembourg combined? Can she say whether the first part of the 700-bed facility which we are constructing in Sierra Leone opened on schedule at the end of last month; and when the rest of the facility will be functional? Are they keeping under review the use of merchantmen and cruise ships as potential hospital ships capable of providing immediate beds and isolation? Is she truly satisfied that British personnel can be cared for adequately in west Africa rather than being flown home, should they contract the virus? Given its successful use in the case of the British nurse flown home after being infected with Ebola, are there sufficient supplies of ZMAP available to immediately treat others, or are those supplies exhausted?

Among all the things that can be said about Ebola, it represents a major setback to development. I hope the Government will reconsider their opposition to putting universal healthcare at the heart of global development, for without such provision the festering conditions in places such as Monrovia and Freetown are a perfect breeding ground for the further spread of epidemics of this kind.

3.26 pm

ATOS Healthcare and Disability Benefits

5 Nov 2014 : Column 1612

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, in his reply to the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, the Minister said that the new contract between Maximus and the DWP had now been signed. In view of the phenomenal sums of public money which are involved in this, can the Minister tell us when that contract will be placed in the public domain, whether it will be possible properly to scrutinise it and whether it will be possible for the public to see the operating systems and all the other issues involved, in contrast to way in which the Atos Healthcare contract was administered?

Lord Freud: Details of the new contract will be published on Contracts Finder by the end of November.

EBOLA

Ebola
Question 22 Oct 2014 : Column 634
3.38 pm

Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the international response to Ebola.
Baroness Northover (LD): My Lords, the UK has been at the forefront of responding to the Ebola outbreak. We are leading the international response in Sierra Leone with more than £125 million in assistance committed already. We are urging our international partners to scale up their support for the worst-affected nations and to contribute to the UN trust fund.

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, in the light of disclosure that the Swedish furniture manufacturer, IKEA, has provided more funds than Spain, Luxembourg and Norway combined in responding to the Ebola crisis, will the Minister tell us what response the Prime Minister has had from the letter that he sent to 27 European leaders last week asking them to increase their contribution to match that of the generous response of the United Kingdom? Will the Government raise with the international community the possibility of providing hospital ships to relieve the acute shortage of beds in west Africa? Will the brave British personnel risking their lives routinely every day be flown home for treatment should they be unfortunate enough to contract the virus?

Baroness Northover: The Government are extremely active at the moment in seeking assistance internationally. The European Council is coming up and the Prime Minister will attend. He has sought €1 billion from European countries. All embassies across Europe are very active in seeking funds for this extremely important and pressing crisis. The key thing about hospital ships
is to make sure that there is capacity in Sierra Leone rather than seeing capacity as being offshore. In terms of being flown home, as my noble friend Lord Howe said the other day, sometimes it is not in the best interests of a patient to be flown home. The important thing is to make sure that if we have medical staff working there they are supported there if that is judged to be clinically the most effective way to look after them.

13 Oct 2014 : Column 41

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, does not the handful of cases to which the noble Earl has just referred contrast very sharply with the prediction that 1 million people may die in West Africa? Given the fetid conditions and grinding poverty in places such as Monrovia and Freetown, does he not agree that this public health epidemic has been brought about because of the conditions that we have allowed to fester for so long?

Would the noble Earl not agree that the WHO was very slow in responding when this was first identified? Does he not also agree that an immediate problem is the disposal of corpses, which carry the risks of contagion? Furthermore, when will the 700 beds in Sierra Leone to which he alluded actually come on line?

Earl Howe: My Lords, I believe that the WHO itself has acknowledged that its response could have been swifter. It is easy to say this in hindsight, but I am sure that the noble Lord’s view on that is shared by others. Nevertheless, the WHO has not been slow in rallying support for efforts in the three countries affected. It is now working energetically with many developed countries to provide support, and I would not wish to criticise the WHO in those respects.

On the disposal of corpses, the noble Lord makes an important point. We know that many cases of Ebola in the three countries have arisen as a result of people being in contact with the corpses of people who have died from the disease. That has been as a consequence of the cultural traditions in those countries, which are very hard to displace or persuade people not to follow. It is nevertheless part of our effort in Sierra Leone that we should inform people there that their burial customs need to be set to one side for the duration of the epidemic. This is a very difficult thing to do, for understandable reasons, but that is the effort we are making and it is bearing fruit.

As to the programme for building 700 beds, I do not have a precise date to give the noble Lord but if I receive advice before the end of this debate, I shall tell him.
———–
To answer the earlier question of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, I shall write to him with further details, but the 700-bed facility is under construction now. The first facility as part of that will be open by the end of October in Kerry Town.

EBOLA October 15th 2014

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB):⁠

My Lords, has the Minister seen the comments of the director-general of the World Health Organisation, Dr Margaret Chan? She said that this is,

“unquestionably the most severe acute public health emergency in modern times … I have never seen a health event threaten the very survival of societies and governments … I have never seen an infectious disease contribute so strongly to potential state failure”,

and that,

“the whole world is put at risk”.

Will the Minister detail to the House the ways in which this country, admirable though our efforts in Sierra Leone are with the provision of 700 beds, is bringing together the international community to fight a disease that is already predicted to take the lives of 1 million people in west Africa?

Baroness Northover:⁠

The noble Lord is right, and so is Margaret Chan. The noble Lord will no doubt be reassured to know that the Foreign Secretary is chairing a COBRA meeting on EU co-operation this afternoon—in fact, as we speak. It is extremely important to get that international engagement. The Prime Minister will chair another meeting of COBRA tomorrow at 3 pm. We have sought to galvanise international reaction to this. As the noble Lord said, it is absolutely critical that we do so.

Written question…

Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the remarks of Dr Margaret Chan, Director General of the World Health Organisation, about the ebola outbreak; and what is their current assessment of the projected number of fatalities in West Africa. [ DfID ] HL2103

IRAQI REFUGEES

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB):⁠

My Lords, in her reply, the Minister mentioned the importance of an inclusive Government in Baghdad. Given the number of Sunni Muslims who have been antagonised by the kinds of policies that have been pursued in the past, can she say what more is being done to prevent them becoming a fertile breeding ground for IS? Will she say a word also about the position of the Yazidis, Christian minorities and others, who are without adequate accommodation as the winter months now approach?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns:⁠

My Lords, there are two different strands there; I will refer to the humanitarian effort first. Clearly, as winter draws in fast, the humanitarian effort has to be directed at preventing people from dying of hypothermia. It is a most serious matter. I know that DfID has clearly worked hard on that, and, I understand, so have our partners. I discussed those matters with the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross when I was in Geneva last month. With regard to the way in which minorities have suffered in the existing crisis, it is clear that life in the whole area for Christians and other minorities is deeply distressing. We certainly discussed repeatedly with the Government of Iraq how that might be resolved. I can say to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that when Foreign Office Ministers visit the region, they always meet the Christian communities to discuss their concerns. My honourable friend Mr Ellwood, in his visit at the end of August, specifically raised the persecution of Christians with the then Foreign Minister Zebari and other senior officials. It is something that we take very seriously.

The Archbishop of Canterbury:⁠

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her last answer, which was very reassuring. However, given that the terrible events in Iraq and Syria are the result of a global phenomenon of ideology, what steps are the Government taking to support other areas such as Nigeria, Kenya, Somalia, Pakistan and Sudan where similar problems need to be either prevented, mitigated or contained?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns:⁠

My Lords, this is a matter that I discussed this very morning with a group set up by my noble friend Lady Warsi at the Foreign Office. She did most important work; the group is considering freedom of religion or belief. I can say firmly not only that this is one of the six priorities for this Government, but, as when my noble friend Lady Warsi led on this, it is a personal priority for me to ensure that throughout government and throughout our discussions, we consider exactly those points. It is not just a matter of looking at one area but of considering how a breaking down of religion or belief around the world can undermine the very societies in which people need to have security.

AWAITING ANSWER…

IRAQI REFUGEES…

Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress has been made so far by the International Humanitarian Partnership with establishing the proposed three camps, each to house 15,000 persons, for refugees who have fled from the fighting in Iraq; how that progress compares with the anticipated schedule; how many refugees are believed to be in need of shelter; which ethnic or religious groups are being assisted in those camps by the International Humanitarian Partnership; and what assessment they have made of what is likely to happen to those who are not provided for by those camps. [ DfID ] HL1961

SEE..
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/16/british-army-equipment-afghanistan-help-iraq-refugees

Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of a report by Human Rights Watch that Islamic State is detaining Yezidi men, women and children from Iraq in Iraq and Syria; and what they know about their situation. [FCO] HL2002

Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the report by Human Rights Watch that Islamic State has removed Yezidi boys and made them convert to Islam and is holding captive civilians from other religious and ethnic minorities, including Christians and Shia Shabaks and Turkmen. [FCO] HL2003

Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the safety of Christian and Yezidi refugees in the Kurdish region in Iraq and the likelihood of an IS-led genocide against them. [ DfID ] HL2074

Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with other European Union member states about scaling up the resettlement programme for refugees displaced by fighting in Syria and Iraq; and what is their policy in regard to applications for asylum from displaced Yezidis and Christians from those countries. [HO] HL2075

Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have considered relocating tented facilities from Afghanistan to the Kurdish regional area to house displaced refugees; and what discussions they have had with the Kurdish authorities about providing adequate shelter for refugees during the winter months. [ DfID ] HL2076

15 October (29 October)

Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what consideration they are giving to the future of the tented camp used by British Forces in Kandahar; whether Agility and those involved in its disposal have been instructed to examine urgent humanitarian uses to which it could be put; whether any discussions have taken place with non-governmental organisations willing to purchase it; whether commercial interests will be given priority; and what plans they have for assistance to be given by the Department for International Development to enable the camp to be transported for use by refugees in the Kurdish region of Iraq. [ DfID ] HL2102

MITOCHONDRIAL REPLACEMENT…

Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the risks of clinical trials of mitochondrial replacement therapy; and what safeguards will be put in place in such trials. [DH] HL1962

SOUTH SUDAN…

South Sudan
Questions

Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they are engaged in or supporting any action to help protect women at risk of sexual violence as a result of the ongoing conflict in South Sudan.[HL1870]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Anelay of St Johns) (Con): South Sudan has endorsed the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict and as an endorsing country participated in the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict in London in June. We continue to press the Government of South Sudan to act on the commitments it has made to design and implement a national action plan against sexual violence.

The UK remains closely engaged with the South Sudan non-government organisation (NGO) Forum and associated NGOs to help protect women and girls from sexual violence. Foreign and Commonwealth Office Ministers have stressed to the South Sudanese government the need for a comprehensive investigation into human rights abuses in South Sudan, including cases of sexual violence. At this year’s UN General Assembly in New York in September, the Minister for Africa, my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East (Mr Duddridge), and the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Sexual Violence in Conflict, co-hosted an event to mark a year since the launch of the Declaration, at which he encouraged all 155 member states who have now endorsed the Declaration to deliver on the practical and political commitments they have made to end the use of rape and sexual violence as a tactic of war.

Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to encourage women to participate in the peace process in South Sudan, and to ensure that women from all sections of society are represented.[HL1871]

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: The UK continues to underline the need for the Intergovernmental Authority on Development-led South Sudan peace process to be inclusive and represent the people of South Sudan, especially women. We raised this issue on 24 September at the UN Human Rights Council, and emphasised the importance of the participation of women in the peace process, in line with UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security.

13 Oct 2014 : Column WA22

Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will ensure that the recommendations of the Oxfam Report From Crisis to Catastrophe, food security in South Sudan, published on 6 October, are implemented. [ DfID ] HL1964

Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the Oxfam Report From Crisis to Catastrophe, food security in South Sudan; and, in particular, how they will (1) assist the humanitarian efforts to create better conditions in United Nations camps, (2) improve co-ordination and delivery of aid to where people are, particularly in hard-to-reach areas, (3) ensure that diverse and sustainable interventions are made, building on local systems, and (4) improve management and planning to prevent future delays. [ DfID ] HL1965

Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress is being made in South Sudan to ensure that all parties to the conflict and all armed groups (1) end violence and respect all agreements signed to date, including the Cessation of Hostilities and humanitarian agreements; (2) stop attacks against civilians, their homes and livelihoods, and end the forced recruitment of children; (3) guarantee protection of and respect for humanitarian staff; and (4) guarantee safe and unhindered access for humanitarian aid. [ DfID ] HL1966

REFUGEES AND MIGRANTS IN PERIL

Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of Amnesty International’s report Lives adrift: Refugees and migrants in peril in the Central Mediterranean. [HO] HL1998

BOKO HARAM…

Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to halt the killing and displacement of people, and the destruction of churches, in the Nigerian states of Borno and Adamawa by Boko Haram; what is their assessment of the amount of territory which has been seized by Boko Haram; and what is their assessment of how many people have been killed or displaced and how many churches destroyed. [FCO] HL1999

CORRUPTION…

Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they plan to emulate the United States Justice Department’s “Kleptocracy Initiative” in which assets are seized from corrupt foreign officials and politicians living in the United States. [HO] HL2001

MESOTHELIOMA

Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government, with reference to the letter from Lord Faulks to Lord Alton of Liverpool on 18 September and the High Court judgment on 2 October that the review under section 48 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 about mesothelioma proceedings was not lawful, whether they intend to initiate a further review; if so, how it will differ from the last review; and what will be the timetable for it. [ MoJ ] HL2000

Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government how many claims for compensation have so far been generated under the terms of the Mesothelioma Act 2014; how that number compares with predicted numbers of claims; what, if any, underspend against budget has resulted; and whether they intend to allocate any underspend for research into finding cures for mesothelioma. [DWP] HL2104

Why Britain Needs The Sharp Compassion of the Healer’s Art Maranatha Lecture October 3rd 2012. Manchester.

  https://davidalton.net/media/  

Click on this link for the power pont presentation which accompanies this lecture and which is in the Media section of the web site.

Click on the linkbelow for a link to the video recording of the lecture:

http://maranathacommunity.wordpress.com/2012/10/09/maranatha-lecture/

Why Britain Needs The Sharp Compassion of the Healer’s Art

Maranatha Lecture October 3rd 2012. Manchester.

David Alton

Thanks

I am very pleased to have been asked to deliver this Maranatha Lecture tonight, especially as it gives me the opportunity to thank Dennis and Sheila Wrigley for their friendship and encouragement over these past 40 years.

Let me also thank Kevin McKenna for his work in organising tonight’s event.

Maranatha’s call for unity, renewal and healing has always been close to my heart and although all three of those words are each worth an entire lecture I have chosen tonight to concentrate on the damaged and wounded world in which we live and the need for healing in our own lives; in our families; in our communities and in our nation.

 

Explaining the title of the Lecture

 

For the lecture’s title I have used a phrase which appears in T.S.Eliot’s Four Quartets – the second of which is called East Coker.

East Coker is a village in Somerset, mentioned in the Doomsday Book and with evidence of Roman habitation.   Eliot’s ancestors came from the village and his ashes were brought there after his death in 1965.

Eliot, an American who took British citizenship and went on to win the Nobel Prize for poetry,  visited the village in 1940, as war raged throughout Europe; and it was against this fiery and chaotic background, and in this context of a nation facing catastrophe, that Eliot composed  East Coker:

“The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer’s art”

The Four Quartets  (“Burnt Norton,” “East Coker,” “The Dry Salvages,” and “Little Gidding”) are the clearest and richest exposition of Eliot’s Christianity and move us beyond the spiritual desiccation and sense of defeat represented in  his 1922 poem, “The Waste Land” and deftly take the reader from chaos to renewal, from damage to healing, from despair to hope.

The wounded, bleeding, surgeon capable of treating the distempers and afflictions visited upon us is Christ, the true physician: the wounded healer who applies the hard steel of the scalpel to cut away the infected and gangrenous decaying tissue.

Bloody and risky though it can be, exposing ourselves to this sharp compassion is the only way to new life and new hope.   East Coker is a call to put ourselves trustingly into God’s hands.

Anyone who has undergone surgery will concur – and I had surgery on my spine last year – the decision to place yourself in the healer’s hands requires careful deliberation and total trust. This is easier said than done in a world which encourages us to be autonomous and to believe that your destiny is in your own hands alone.

A twelfth century Welshman, Walter Map, understood that the hard sharpness of the surgeon’s implements is a prerequisite in the accomplishment of healing: “Dura est manus cirurgi, sed sanans:  The hand of the surgeon is hard, but healing.”

That Eliot had the healing of the nation in mind, as well as each of us as individuals, is clear from the war time context in which the poem was written. It contains profound insights into the human condition and the suffering from which none of us is immune.

East Coker is a poem about agonised redemption.

The Problem of Pain

 

It was written in the same year that his contemporary, C.S.Lewis, composed “The Problem of Pain”.   Like Eliot, Lewis, too, was trying to make sense of the troubling and unsettling perennial question of how belief in a loving and omnipotent God may be reconciled with the existence of suffering.

It was a problem which particularly disturbed my father, who fought at El Alemain and Monte Casino, and whose brother, an airman, was killed in 1942. How could God allow such terrible suffering? The temptation is always to blame God.

Why do some people die in car accidents and others do not? Why does a child get abducted or abused, and others do not?  Why do some families face starvation, civil war, life as refugees or become homeless, and others do not? Why were some of us among the tube passengers killed on July 7th 2005 by terrorists but others not?  Why Hitler, why Stalin, why Syria, or Congo?  Last week I stood at the River Tumen, in North East China. It’s the border with North Korea, where escapees are shot dead by border guards if they try to cross the river. Why them and not us? Why are Christians persecuted in Nigeria, Sudan, and 60 other countries, but not us?  Why do terrible things happen to good people but not others?

Straightforwardly, none of us know the answer to this “why” question. Our faith is simply incapable of giving us all the answers to these and other vexed questions.

In St.Matthew’s Gospel we are told He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt: 5, 45) and no explanation is given as to why this is so. Our faith simply gives us the strength to live with the unanswered and unmediated questions which besiege us.

Even if we did know the answers, our loved ones would still be sick or dead, others would be hungry or living in fear, and evil would still be stalking the world.

It could be that we have been looking in the wrong place and asking the wrong questions.

Asking the Right Questions

Discovering the healer and His art enables us to find peace about the questions which cannot be resolved while questions like “what”, “how” and “who” – as in “what can I do to help?; “how should I put my private faith into public action?” and “who is my brother and my sister?” will deliver answers worth having.

It is against a questioning and doubting backdrop that Eliot writes the memorable stanzas of The Four Quartets – his last poem.

East Coker encourages us to spend less time wrestling with the question “why?” and to place ourselves instead in the hands of a “wounded surgeon” who is bloodied and wounded so that we might experience healing. The powerful metaphor of Christ as the wounded surgeon is accompanied by the metaphor of “the dying nurse” to   describe a Church which helps us pass through birth, life and death into Christ’s promise of eternal life.

Eliot understands that “time is no healer: the patient is no longer here” and that some questions are beyond answer.

Against the loss and pain experienced by so many, Eliot tells us that “in my beginning is my end” and that “There is only the fight to recover what has been lost and found and lost again and again”.

None of this may seem propitious but the poet reflects that “perhaps neither gain nor loss, For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.”

Eliot concludes East Coker with words drawn from the fourteenth century English mystic and anchoress, Julian of Norwich, who at the age of 31, while suffering from a severe illness and believing she was on her deathbed, had a series of intense visions of Jesus. Eliot writes that despite the unanswered questions:

“And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flames are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one”

 

East Coker was written at a time of utter uncertainty for this nation.It was composed as Winston Churchill was telling the House of Commons, on June 18th 1940, that “the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin.”

It was written as the German High Command announced that ‘The British army is encircled and our troops are proceeding to its annihilation’.

It was written as King George VI, on May 26th called the nation to prayer and repentance – following which Hitler ended his general advance; a storm of great fury grounded the Luftwaffe; and, as calm settled on the Channel, some 335,000 men of the British army were evacuated from Dunkirk.

It was written as the German Air Force, that summer,  would send 800 aircraft to begin their systematic and lethal bombardment of our cities.

The survival of Christian civilisation.

 

In preparing the nation for the battle which lay ahead, Churchill cast up what he called “this dread balance sheet” which pulled no punches in carefully assessing the scale and the nature of the threat which faced our country at the hands of the Nazis:

“Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization.  Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be freed and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands.

“But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, this was their finest hour.”

In every generation new battles have to fought; new enemies to be faced.  Eliot wrote that “Houses live and die: there is a time for building And a time for living and for generation.”  Healing and renewal will go together.

Facing Today’s Challenges

The challenge today may not be aerial bombardment  but what Churchill called the survival of Christian civilisation, our British way of life, the freedoms and liberties which we cherish, must be defended in our own and in every time.

In the debris of wrecked and ruined homes, of prematurely ended lives, of embattled and frightened communities, must come the same desire to move towards the sunlit uplands and to do this we will need more than ever “the sharp compassion of the healer’s art.” Only then shall in Mother Julian’s phrase shall“all manner of things be well.”

So much, then, for the ispiration behind the title of this lecture. What if, like Churchill, we were to examine the dread balance sheet of Britain today?

 

Christianity and Social Order

 

In 1942, while we remained at war, Archbishop William Temple published his “Christianity and Social Order”.  He insisted that “The Church must announce Christian principles and point out where the existing social order at any time is in conflict with them. It must then pass on to Christian citizens…the task of re-shaping the existing order in closer conformity to the principles.”

That is the challenge, too, for this generation.

The Dread Balance Sheet in 2012

 

To utilise Churchill’s phrase, if we carried out an evaluation of Britain today how would our Dread Balance Sheet appear?

A faithless society has become an atomised, lonely, and selfish society; a faithless society has become a culturally diminished society; a faithless society has become a fatherless society and a broken family society. What has been done in the name of freedom has created a world of CCTV cameras; to high streets which have become no go areas after dark; and to binge drinking and shelves full of anti depressants. How has this made us freer or happier? In 2006 a report by University College, London stated that “The UK has the worst problem with anti-social behaviour in Europe.”   It has increasingly felt like a world rapidly going to hell in a basket.

 

The Children Test

A good place to begin in examining the Dread Balance Sheet would be to ask how British children fare in Britain 2012.

 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once remarked that “The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children”
The Dread Balance Sheet would reveal that three-quarters of a million British children have no contact with their fathers following the breakdown of their relationships.

A quarter of our children live with one parent, not two, and a third of these live below the poverty line. Many single parents struggle valiantly – and some very successfully – to bring up their children. But I doubt that many believe their situation is better than having two parents to shoulder the responsibility.

Men particularly need to understand that you may be able to walk away from your girlfriend or to divorce your wife but you can’t divorce your children and to them you have an unending responsibility.

In 2002 the think tank, Civitas, in a report entitled “Experiments in living: the fatherless family”, found that children being brought up without a father are more likely to live in poverty and deprivation; to have emotional or mental problems; to have trouble at school; to have trouble getting along with others; to have a higher risk of health problems; that they are more likely to run away from home and are likely to be at greater risk of suffering physical, emotional, or sexual abuse.

Britain’s Dread Balance Sheet reveals that, according to the Children’s Society, 100,000 children run away from home every year.

Save the Children says that 3.9 million children are living in poverty and that a staggering 1.7 million children are living in severe, persistent poverty in the UK-which is, after all, one of the richest countries in the world. Every day 4,000 children call Childline. Since it was founded in 1986, it has counselled more than a million children.

The Child In The Womb

Before they are born, each day we abort 600 of our children, some up to birth if they have a disability or defect such as a cleft palate or Down’s Syndrome. Blessed John Paul II once observed that “a nation that kills its own children is a nation without hope” and that “A society will be judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members and among the most vulnerable are surely the unborn and the dying,”

The latest abortion statistics reveal that taxpayers spent £118m on abortions in 2010, of which £75m went to private clinics; that of 6.3 million abortions, just 143 were where a woman’s life was in danger; and that 48,000 people have had more than one abortion– some as many as eight. In the north west of England 24,933 people had between 2 and 10 abortions.

And consider three recent reports.

The first concerns a group of ethicists linked to Oxford University who argue that newborn babies are not “actual persons”, don’t have “a moral right to life” and can legitimately be killed after they are born. It’s called infanticide although they prefer the euphemism “after birth abortion.” A child is then represented as a threat rather than as a blessing:  

 

   The second, the result of investigative journalism at its best, revealed how nine British abortion clinics were willing to abort babies on the grounds of their gender. The Health Secretary branded it immoral and illegal but The British Medical Journal blog carried an article stating that sex-selection abortions were justified on the grounds of “choice”.

   The blog asserts that “health professionals, and everyone who is pro-choice on abortion, should support pro-choice doctors and women seeking abortions, whatever their reasons, even when sex selection may be involved.”

 “Our Kingdom” – a group which includes doctors, writes supporting this view: “… sex selective abortion is not gender discrimination. Gender discrimination applies only to living people.”

 

   Once more there’s a chilling logic. It just a question of “my right to choose” – the slogan against which all our values are now shaped. The mantra puts “me” centre stage, not the needs of another; it promotes “rights” not duties; and it admires “choice” without a thought for the consequences. 

 

  Personal choice has eclipsed the sacredness, or otherness, of life itself. It is profoundly disturbing, indeed shocking, to see the way in which opinion formers within the medical profession have ditched the traditional belief of the healer to care for two patients, the child and its mother, and to unfailingly uphold the sanctity of human life.  Gender abortions are justified by this choice-driven, impoverished, and inhumane defence of child destruction.  

  The third story concerns a Court ruling that Catholic midwives may not object, on grounds of conscience, to being required to supervise or assist staff involved in abortions.

For me, forcing unwilling people to be complicit in the taking of innocent life smacks of neo-fascism, not intelligent or tolerant liberalism.

All we need to comprehend about abortion can be found in the words of the Fifth Commandment.

Apply those words to the eugenics used to kill 90% of babies with Down’s Syndrome in the womb – 90% of whom are now hunted down and aborted before their births. Now we’re now seeing attempts to eliminate them and to let them die rather than treat them in our NHS Hospitals.

Is this the same NHS that we were celebrating in the Olympic Stadium? What a contrast, too, with the inspirational achievements of disabled athletes, during the Paralympics celebrated in the same stadium, and who have taught us so much about courage and the overcoming of seemingly impossible odds.

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

Remember the sharp compassion of the healer’s art not the surgeon’s knife, or hypodermic syringe, used to hunt you down and kill you. Doctors should always be defenders of life not its destroyers.

Victor Frankl in The Doctor and the Soul said “sometimes the unfinished are among the most beautiful of symphonies.”  One in five of our children remain“unfinished”, not making it to birth and many of those who do, never experience the beauty of innocence or hope.

Britain’s Dread Balance Sheet reveals that if you abuse and kill the child in the womb you are unlikely to have much respect for the child after birth.

Life After Birth

 

Consider that five million images of child abuse are in circulation on the internet, featuring some 400,000 children. In Edinburgh, figures published in 2010 showed a 75 per cent increase in the number of babies addicted to drugs because of their mothers’ addiction.

Last year, Samaritans answered 4.6 million calls from people in despair, which is one call every seven seconds.  Samaritans say that ‘A conservative estimate is that there are 24,000 cases of attempted suicide by adolescents (10-19 years) each year in England and Wales, which is one attempt every 20 minutes” As they grow up suicide accounts for 20 per cent of all deaths among young people aged 15 to 24.

Britain’s Dread Balance Sheet would reveal that more than 140,000 people attempt to commit suicide every year; that 29.4 million anti-depressants were dispensed in one recent year – a 334 % increase since 1985 at a cost to the National Health Service of £338 million; that 7 million are now living alone in Great Britain – entirely unprecedented in our history.

26% of British households comprise just one person and on present trends, by 2016, 36% of all homes will be inhabited by a single person – a trend accelerated by family breakdown and phenomenal divorce rates – the highest in Europe.

This has led to huge pressures for additional accommodation and to toxic loneliness.

 

How we treat the elderly: better off dead

 

Britain’s Dread Balance Sheet also reveals that our treatment of elderly people is fast becoming a national scandal, with an estimated 1 million elderly people who do not see a friend or neighbour during an average week.

I was in China last week a country which still shows respect for the elderly. Here we talk endlessly about making it easier to kill the elderly by legalising euthanasia.

Instead of the sharp compassion of the healer’s art many legislators now believe that a lethal injection would be preferable.

A new Bill to legalise assisted dying is to come before Parliament and last week the Liberal Democrats said that we should introduce Dutch and Belgian style euthanasia laws.

Consider what this will mean.

In Belgium there are calls for euthanasia for prisoners and it is reported that they have been harvesting organs from people who have been euthanized.

In Holland statistics indicate that the number of euthanasia deaths in 2011 in the Netherlands increased by 18% to 3,695. This follows increases of 13% in 2009 and 19% in 2010. Euthanasia now accounts for 2.8% of all Dutch deaths. A House of Lords Inquiry in 2005 predicted  that Dutch-style Liberal Democrat laws would lead to 13,000 euthanasia deaths annually in Britain.

The proposed new British law would use the framework and provisions of the 1967 Abortion Act as a template – paving the way for the same outcomes. Instead of approaching seven million unborn children, it will be legions of disabled, sick and elderly people whose lives will be ended.

The proposals will be disguised with words like compassion and dignity but the reality will be doctors who will be required in future to kill patients; disabled people made to believe they would be better off dead; patient safety compromised; and politicians using the new law as a pretext to withdraw resources from the care of the sick.

Far from providing dignity in dying these proposals will sound the death knell for Britain’s outstanding hospice movement and palliative care. To die with dignity we don’t need doctors to kill us. The so-called right to die will soon become a duty to die quickly!
The Bill is to be based on the findings of Lord Falconer’s Commission on Assisted Dying.
Hopelessly biased and distorted, the Falconer Commission was stacked full of euthanasia sympathisers and was established by Dignity in Dying (formerly The Voluntary Euthanasia Society).
The British Medical Association (BMA) – who oppose any change in the law – passed a 5 point resolution that undermined the Commission credibility by questioning its impartiality and independence.

The euthanasia lobby decided to set up their Commission because when two genuinely independent Parliamentary Select Committees carefully examined the issue they did not recommend a change of law.

When votes were then taken in the House of Lords it resulted in large defeats for their proposals (148-100 and 194-141). The last attempt at legalization in Scotland also resulted in a heavy defeat (85-16) for Margo Macdonald’s Bill in 2010.

For the record, and to give some idea of the scale of the parliamentary Inquiry, the Select Committee covered some 246 Hansard columns and two volumes of 744 pages and 116 pages respectively, 15 oral sessions, 48 groups or individuals giving evidence, with 88 witnesses giving written evidence; 2,460 questions were asked and the committee receiving 14,000 letters. Compare the coverage given by the BBC and others to the parliamentary Inquiry with the media circus and feeding frenzy generated by the Falconer Commission.

An unbiased and impartial account of this debate might mention the opposition to a change in the law expressed in Parliament – predominantly on the grounds of public safety – and by the British Medical Association, the Royal Colleges, the hospices and Disability Rights Organisations – who eloquently set out all the negative outcomes which would result from a change in the law.

There is a systematic propaganda campaign being orchestrated by the media aimed at changing the law and for several years we have been treated to a barrage of propaganda. Even the BBC’s Radio Times joined the pack, claiming on its cover that watching a man die in Switzerland would be “5 minutes of television that will change our lives”.

The sub editor who chose that caption perhaps failed to appreciate its irony: that the 5 minutes it took to change our lives, irredeemably ended another’s life.

The BBC are in danger of being reduced to the role of mere cheerleaders, producing five programmes in the past three years in favour of a change, while signally failing to present the other side of the argument. But this isn’t just about bias.
The BBC’s recent programmes celebrating assisted suicide not only break their own Code about providing balance when discussing ethical issues but, even more seriously, they also breach the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) guidelines, published in 2000.
The WHO clearly set out the responsibilities and duties of the media. Consider some of these strictures in the context of the programme featuring Terry Pratchett and the euthanasia centre in Switzerland.
The WHO begin by reminding the media of the incredible impact which it can have in informing attitudes and behaviour:
“Media strongly influence community attitudes… media can also play an active role in the prevention of suicide.”

The WHO points to the way in which television can negatively influence suicidal behaviour. One study showed an increase in the number of suicides for up to 10 days after television news reports of cases of suicide.

They also warn against publicising suicide stories where celebrities are involved and warn against sensational coverage – which they argue should be assiduously avoided. The coverage should be minimized to the greatest possible extent possible. The WHO is right when it says:
“Suicide is perhaps the most tragic way of ending one’s life. The majority of people who consider suicide are ambivalent. They are not sure that they want to die. One of the many factors that may lead a vulnerable individual to suicide could be publicity about suicides in the media. How the media report on suicide cases can influence other suicides.”

A person’s death should not be a form of prime time entertainment, part of the battle for programme ratings – dressed up in the name of a hollow compassion.

In this country 550,000 people die each year. Very rarely do any make the newspapers or the media. Why does one lethal cocktail – but not 549,999 deaths – warrant wall to wall campaigning coverage?

Macmillan nurses, hospices and palliative care give the overwhelming majority in Britain a dignified death which does not involve commissioning doctors and nurses as patient killers. By all means agitate for improvement where the provision or practice isn’t good enough but let the BBC end this one sided and relentless campaign.

Consider what is at stake.
Chillingly, Baroness Warnock, who shaped the laws which have led to the destruction of millions of human embryos, has said that the sick are “wasting people’s lives” because of the care they require: “If you’re demented, you’re wasting people’s lives – your family’s lives – and you’re wasting the resources of the National Health Service.” Suggesting that we have a “duty to die” she said “I think that’s the way the future will go, putting it rather brutally, you’d be licensing people to put others down.”
This turns the argument into a worth based on someone’s economic value rather than on their true human value and their human dignity.

In case you think “putting people down” just “couldn’t happen here” consider the situation in Holland.

Just before Christmas the Dutch announced that they are considering mobile units to kill people in their own homes. 1,000 of the 4,000 euthanasia deaths in Holland each year are now done without the patient’s consent.

Not content with this, the Dutch say that 80% of people with dementia or mental illnesses are being ‘missed’ by the country’s euthanasia laws. They say that the death-on-wheels mobile units are necessary because some GPs have refused to administer lethal drugs to their patients.  And, in March this year euthanasia clinic launched six mobile euthanasia teams in the anticipation that they will achieve 1,000 deaths per year.

These mobile death units are targeted at “unmet need” including people with chronic depression, disabilities, Alzheimer’s, loneliness and those whose request to be killed has been refused by their doctors. It’s as if the Dutch have forgotten the last time mobile death squads were deployed in Europe.
This isn’t giving people “dignity in dying”. Sending out mobile units to administer lethal injections, to “put people down”, will strike fear into the hearts of the vulnerable.

It diminishes the dignity and humanity of the sick and elderly and diminishes those of us who condone it.
Imagine what will happen in Britain if the proposed laws are implemented. You have a terminal incurable disease. You have the option of palliative care at £1,000 a week or a glass of barbiturates at £5. What will happen if we accept Lady Warnock’s proposition that “you’re wasting the resources of the National Health Service.”

How many relatives would put an inheritance before a life? One in eight current cases of elder abuse currently involves financial abuse by relatives and it would inevitably increase if we change the law. And health ministers, counting their pennies in a recession, will be tempted to go for the cheaper option – one Conservative Health Minister has already announced her support for assisted dying. A Bill allowing assisted suicide will carry the seeds of its own extension. If we allow it for some why deny it to others?

So how long before the Dutch mobile killing units arrive in a street near you?

To imitate Holland is unnecessary, dangerous and unethical.

As the distinguished lawyer, Lord Carlile QC, puts it we have “a hard law, with a kind face.” We should keep it that way.

Lord Carlile says: “The real concern was, and remains, public safety — the potential for collateral harm to the great majority of terminally ill people from giving a few individuals a “right” to prescription suicide pills. The so-called safeguards… were paper thin.”
Baroness (Ilora) Finlay – herself a professor of palliative says we don’t understand the difference between euthanasia and indefinitely continuing inappropriate treatment:
“Doctors regularly discontinue futile treatment. But they don’t do it in order to end a patient’s life: they are simply recognising that death cannot be prevented by treatment… end-of-life decisions, which are made every day by doctors, aren’t the same thing as ending-life decisions.”
When the physical, psychosocial and spiritual needs of the patient are met, requests for euthanasia are actually extremely rare. Less than 1,000 people persistently ask for it. 95% of Palliative Medicine Specialists are opposed to a change in the law. The Association of British Neurologists warn that severe depression will lead to cases of assisted dying  and that a law which says two doctors can determine such cases will offer few safeguards.

There will be no requirement that either of the two doctors should have any knowledge of the patient concerned. It isn’t required that they should have seen the patient’s case notes – or even examined the patient. The whole casual process could take place over the phone.

There is no requirement that either of these doctors should have any expertise in, or experience of, the medical condition in question. And yet this is an essential pre-requisite for determining the presence of a terminal illness and for giving a prognosis of its course.

There are no arrangements for seeking an expert opinion in cases of doubt – what will happen, for instance, if a patient is suffering from cognitive impairment or their judgement is clouded by depression?

To suggest that vulnerable people could be protected by two doctors being “of the opinion in good faith” is dangerously naïve at best and deceptive at worst.

Such a casual system of assessment is totally out of proportion with the gravity of the decision that is being taken.
Proponents of change insist that public opinion favours such a change. But public opinion probably would re-introduce capital punishment, too, and are we to suspend prudent judgement in that case too?
Rather than imitating the Dutch, we need to get behind groups like the admirable Care Not Killing Alliance, to defend and care for the sick and elderly and to put our energy into extending compassionate palliative care and hospice provision, and practical loving support – let’s demand “dignity in living” with the same fervour as those who want to license the routine killing of the most vulnerable in society

Recall, too, the story that when Mother Teresa was the guest of the White House at the National Prayer Breakfast she described to President Clinton and his guests how she had visited a home for the elderly where they had no shortage of material conveniences, but “why” she asked “does everyone sit looking at the door?”

She received the reply “It is because they are looking for the relatives who never come to visit them and who have no time for them”. Care and kill should never be used as synonyms and have no place in the healer’s art.

 

The loss of human dignity and corrupted values

 

If we have scandalous concern for human dignity at the beginning and end of life Britain’s Dread Balance Sheet shows that the deficit is not much better when it comes to other vulnerable groups. 2,000 people  are sleeping rough in England the number increased by a fifth last year;  84,900 households (which may contain more than one person) are classified as homeless; the prison population has increased by 85 per cent since 1993 with 87,673 men and women are in our jails; gun crime in the United Kingdom claims 30 victims every day; the average lifespan for people who get involved in gun crime in Manchester is a mere 24 years; that one woman in every four will be the victim of violence in her own home during the course of her lifetime.

Britain’s Dread Balance Sheet   reveals that individuals now owe more in debt than the wealth generated by the entire country in a year.  At the end of July 2012 total UK personal debt stood at a revised £1.410 trillion – up from £1.406 trillion at the end of July 2011.

331 people every day of the year will be declared insolvent or bankrupt. This is equivalent to 1 person every 60 seconds during a working day.  Almost 30 of every 10,000 people living in the north west of England are destined for insolvency.

Britain’s Dread Balance Sheet reveals a society where too many people think they owe nothing to anyone except the pursuit of their own desires.  We increasingly fail to participate.

Opting Out of Society

 

The Caravan Club and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds have more members than all of the UK’s political parties combined. Just 1% of the population are members of a political party in the UK. We have come a long way since the Liberal, Conservative or Labour Club sat in the heart of every community. Trimdon Labour Club – the scene of Tony Blair’s Sedgefield triumphs – closed a year ago.

In 1951 the Conservative Party had 2.9 million members, Labour, 876,000; today they have 177,000 and 190,000 respectively and the Liberal Democrats have seen a reduction of their membership by 30,000 to 66,000.

Involvement in church life has also declined. While almost 2 out of 3 still identify themselves as Christians around 15%, 4 million people, go to church at least once a month – the fourth lowest attendance rate in Europe. Intriguingly many still claim a personal relationship with God but decline to make the effort to take part in church life. They believe without belonging; believe without participating.

There has also been a decline in membership of trades unions from 13million to 7 million in little over 30 years; and representative organisations, such as Women’s Leagues and the Mother’s Unions, also experiencing significant falls.

For a society to be healthy we have to be participators and the trustees, not the owners, of what we possess. Social, political and economic activity must ultimately centre on the common good rather than individual acquisitiveness or the hegemony of the state.

Living and partly living: the abolition of man

TS Eliot could have had our diminished and dehumanised society in mind when he suggested that we are “living and partly living”, while CS Lewis prophetically foresaw a society where we would see what he famously called “The Abolition of Man”.

And how do we intend to address the deficit on Britain’s Dread Balance Sheet?

What can we learn from what has gone before?

During the eighteenth century men like John and Charles Wesley, their hearts warmed, as they said, by the Holy Spirit, stepped into the quagmire that was Britain then. Their new enthusiasm so alarmed the church authorities that church doors were literally barred against them.

In the fields and at make shift venues the re-evangelisation of England began.  The Wesleys, George Whitfield, and others, deepened the religious renewal – followed in the nineteenth century by the Oxford Movement and the Tractarians, and then by the Catholic Spring and Cardinal John Henry Newman and Cardinal Manning.  The religious awakening was accompanied by a commensurate awakening of social virtue and work for the common good,and among the achievements of Christian social reformers such as William Wilberforce and Lord Shaftesbury were the abolition of slavery, the ending of child labour, public health legislation, ragged free schools, and significant social progress.

A century later, in 1904, Joseph Jenkins led an extraordinary Welsh religious revival which brought 100,000 converts in a year. Many became the flag bearers for political and social activism. The chapel spearheaded reform and deterred revolution.

Through these examples of religious and spiritual revival we can trace personal renewal and then national reconstruction.  We can also see the path we need to take.  Having understood the Dread Balance Sheet and analysed the root causes we then need to commit ourselves to act.

Be clear: a nation or State will not survive for long if its communities and civil structures are decaying or if its rulers do not pursue civic virtues. A society where individual autonomy and individual choice become trump cards in every game lives dangerously close to the edge.   A respect for law, a sense of personal responsibility, public spirit and munificence, firmness of purpose, discernment and foresight, perseverance, and a sense of duty might be chief among the civic qualities to which we aspire; and our gifts must be used for the common good.

It is self evident that our civil society has become increasingly uncivil as modern citizenship has revolved around the flaccid language of rights alone and with a weakened sense of ethics and a lack of virtue, and with no shared framework for reaching conclusions because there are so few shared values.

We have created a dehumanised society where we breed unrealisable demands, a cult of selfishness and materialism. The Jewish sage Hillel said: “If I am not for myself, who will be? But if I am only for myself, what am I?”

 

And what will be the fate of those who are only for themselves?  Eliot puts it like this in East Coker:

“O dark dark dark. They all go into the dark
The vacant interstellar spaces, the vacant into the vacant
The captains, merchant bankers, eminent men of letters
The generous patrons of art, the statesmen and the rulers
Distinguished civil servants, chairmen of many committees
Industrial lords and petty contractors, all go into the dark…

…And we all go with them, into the silent funeral…”

 

Does it have to be like this?

When Europe was facing the challenge of Nazism the Protestant theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, prophetically wrote: “The most important question for the future is how we can find a basis for human life together, what spiritual laws we accept as the foundation of a meaningful human life.”    

And to meet this challenge Bonhoeffer argued that we each have a duty to take a stand:  “We have been the silent witnesses of evil deeds. What we shall need is not geniuses, or cynics, or misanthropes, or clever tacticians, but plain, honest, straightforward men.”

 Bonheoffer also warned that “Silence in the face of evil is evil itself” while Dr.Matin Luther King said Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter”

In every sphere of life today we need plain, honest, straightforward men and women willing to speak up about the condition of our nation.

Like Bonhoeffer, St.Edith Stein died at the hands of the Nazis.

A German-Jewish philosopher, who became a Catholic nun she died in the gas chamber at Auschwitz. At a time when the Nazi State was stifling dissent and corralling its citizens into conformism with the tenets of National Socialism, Stein wrote tellingly about the responsibility of every citizen to be an agent for good or ill; and about  the way in which the values of the individual citizen determine the nature of the State in which they live. Both society and the State consist entirely of persons. These are not mysterious entities.  They are made up of men, women and children whose strengths and weaknesses, talents and needs, are all too real.

“The state is not an abstract entity. It acts and suffers only as those individual agents through whose actions the functions of the state are discharged act and suffer… Moral predicates apply to the state only insofar as they apply to the relevant individuals.’  

The State, then, takes its inspiration from the values of its citizens.

If Britain is to be remade it will require a huge effort to persuade every citizen to take seriously the promotion of the commons good.Out of the present malaise and crisis is an opportunity to proclaim a belief in human dignity, the worth of each life; the duty we each have to the communities of which we are a part: a call for an outpouring for the common good.

Crisis or Opportunity?

The Chinese calligraphy for the word crisis can also be used for the word opportunity.  Dire situations can be turned around.

Winston Churchill wept when he saw the destruction of the East End of London by Nazi bombardment. He understood the importance of drawing a whole nation around a common cause:  “All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom, justice, honour, duty, mercy, hope.”

Today, our nation faces a new common enemy and a new peril. It is both external and internal.  But it can also become a common cause; and one of the best weapons we have remains Churchill’s belief in those single words which we in Great Britain cherish: freedom, justice, honour, duty, mercy, hope.

Britain urgently needs to feel the sharp compassion of the healer’s art – and think what our country would be like if healing became a central mission of the Church in every family, neighbourhood and across the nation.

In the Four Quartets Eliot tells us that “The only hope, or else despair, Lies in the choice of pyre of pyre- To be redeemed from fire by fire.”

He is referring to the fire of the Holy Spirit and to “The dove descending breaks the air,  With flame of incandescent terror,  Of which the tongues declare,  The one discharge from sin and error … Love is the unfamiliar Name, Behind the hands that wove, The intolerable shirt of flame, Which human power cannot remove, We only live, only suspire, Consumed by either fire or fire.”

Touched by the sharp compassion of the healer’s art our hearts can be repaired and as we are healed we may then heal our families, our communities and our nation.

There is no other way and our task must surely be to persuade our fellow citizens to join us in seeking the balm of the wounded healer.