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/

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The United Nations:  Missing In Action:  June 2017

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

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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.

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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.

Defence of Western Values and Civilization in 2017

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Western civilization has entered a dangerous period of disarray. It is weakened internally by overindulgence and self-doubt, and besieged by forces hostile to its bedrock values of liberty and tolerance. The West can reverse the decline, though, by resolutely returning to its Christian roots

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If Western Christian civilization collapses, a brutal and pitiless world will take its place Western humanism has religious and transcendent sources without which it is incomprehensible to itself. This civilization’s very survival now hangs on its ability to rediscover Christian truth and the values which it represents – and enable that truth to renew its eviscerated politics and tarnished institutions

Published by Geopolitical Intelligence Services https://www.gisreportsonline.com/

Defence of Western Values and Civilization in 2017  – David Alton   

Every generation faces new challenges – and as Europe gazes at the horrors of Aleppo and Mosul, or considers the challenges posed by resurgent nationalism – we are surely right to think of Flanders, Dresden, and Stalingrad.   

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Just one century ago, in humanity’s deadliest conflict, largely played out on Europe’s soil, 17 million lost their lives and another 20 million were wounded.     

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In 1919 the Irish Poet, W.B.Yeats, wrote his poem The Second Coming.    

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He describes a brutal, disintegrating, and chaotic world in which the falcon, the hunting hawk, loses touch with its keeper.       In place of Christianity, the agnostic Yeats asks “what rough beast, its hour come round at last/ Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?”  

With Western values and Western civilisation caught in a pincer movement between radical Islam and hollowed-out secular liberal institutions, have we, too, lost touch with the keeper?  Are rough beasts slouching towards us, dressed in the garb of new nationalisms?   

In 1919, Yeats foresaw a pitiless much harsher world which will replace Christian civilisation. A world in which “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;     Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.  The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned”    

Looking back at 2016 we see a world of rough beasts, where things are falling apart, and where the centre has failed to hold. From the rhetoric of Donald J.Trump to the rise of new nationalism – expressed by the likes of Marine Le Pen, Nigel Farage, Geert Wilders and Beppe Grillo – the evidence is all around us.

And, like Yeats’ rough beasts, this xenophobia has found its point of entry because the centre failed to understand the depth of disaffection felt by millions of people and has failed to renew itself.

The battle is afoot but it is not yet lost and in 2017 the task of safeguarding civilised values will pass from liberal elites to Angela Merkel and François Fillon – and to their English cousin, once removed, Teresa May. All three are shaped by Christian faith and all three (despite and because of Mrs.Merkel’s handling of mass migration) understand the dangerous levels of alienation.

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On becoming British Prime Minister, Mrs.May, a Vicar’s daughter, said she had a “mission to make Britain a country that works for everyone”.

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In eschewing class warfare, Marxist economics, and Statist elitism, they are heirs of Konrad Adenauer, Alcide De Gasperi and Robert Schuman, all Christian Democrats winnowed by the horrific events that had calamitously befallen Europe for a second time.

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In turn, those post-war leaders had been shaped by the ideals of Jacques Maritain, the French Catholic philosopher. Maritain’s lodestar is captured in the title of one of his greatest works: “The Person and the Common Good” (1947). Maritain reflected that “Western humanism has religious and transcendent sources without which it is incomprehensible to itself…Not only does the democratic state of mind stem from the inspiration of the Gospel, but it cannot exist without it.”

Maritain knew that a radical self-centredness, that elevated the individual or the State, rather than the person made in God’s likeness, would corrupt Europe. He held that we do not need a truth to serve us, we need a truth that we can serve. In these cavalier “post truth” days, the ninth commandment is honoured daily in its breach.

Think of the untruths routinely trotted out in the British referendum campaign or the US election: little wonder that people have lost confidence in the political classes. Discourse has been reduced to personal attacks; argument over ideas to banal sloganeering; complex questions, ranging from migration, refugees, and freedom of movement to xenophobic nationalism and the scapegoating of difference.

Disinformation, propaganda and false news fill the echo chambers of the anti-social media. Worse still, everything has to be said sound bites or in 140 characters – or it isn’t worth saying. This is re-enforced by a media which distorts, dishonours and revels in people’s failings. When we hack down all the trees, from where are the birds supposed to sing in the future? Disillusionment and the breakdown of trust in the political classes has led to voters – from Brexit to Clinton/Trump – making it clear that they do not trust “expert” opinion. 

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In the UK, the serial banking failures, such as HBOS and HSBC, the failure of managers to take responsibility for shocking lapses, the phone hacking scandal, the collapse of trust in MPs and many others, all points to why the centre is not holding. Instead of ethical leadership we are confronted by poor governance, lack of accountability, regulation found wanting, insufficient boundaries and the connivance of those in authority, who should have known better. Little wonder folk feel betrayed.

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Edmund Burke laid great emphasis on the transmission of values from one generation to the next, talking of a “partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born”.

How many feel part of such a partnership? How many know the story of how Western civilisation was formed? Do we know the price that was paid for what we enjoy? Do we cherish and hold in trust what we have been given? Do we pass on our values and beliefs with a mother’s breast milk? A year after Maritain wrote “The Person and the Common Good” Eleanor Roosevelt helped bring to birth the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In the aftermath of the Holocaust this was a landmark annunciation of what western civilisation believed it stood for. But from what well was this water drawn? Its radical attempt at universal application was rooted in the Pauline injunction that “There is no longer Jew or Greek; there is no longer slave or free; there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one”.

Meanwhile, as angry, intolerant atheists seek to purge all public reference to religious faith, Maritain’s belief that our civilisation has “religious and transcendent sources without which it is incomprehensible to itself” is just as hotly contested.

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In the nineteenth century, Émile Durkheim questioned how a society can remain cohesive when traditional social and religious ties can no longer be assumed. Whether, in these years of disillusionment and crisis of civilisation, we can rediscover and defend Christian truth and the values which it represents – and enable that truth to renew our eviscerated politics and tarnished institutions (from banks to legislatures) – is surely the question for our time: especially in a world caught between these twin dangers of radical Islam and hostile atheism. Many atheists work to tear Christianity from the fabric of our societies. But they should be careful about what they wish for – and of what will be lost.   

As The Guardian newspaper correctly observed in May of this year: “The idea that people have some rights just because they are human, and entirely irrespective of merit, certainly isn’t derived from observation of the world. It arose out of Christianity, no matter how much Christians have in practice resisted it. Although human rights have become embedded in our institutions at the same time as religious observance has been in decline, they could become vulnerable in an entirely post-Christian environment where the collective memory slips from the old moorings inherited from Christian ethics.”

Along with the development of human rights the Christian faith has also radically shaped politics, governance, and social activism.  For much of the last seventy years Christian Democracy – whether called by that name or not – has informed the best of our politics.

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It defied Nazism and Communism and with its emphasis on social justice, subsidiarity and solidarity, has offered an alternative to unfettered market economics and hedonism. Today it represents the best hope of defeating resurgent nationalism and safeguarding western civilisation. Indeed, for most of the last two millennia Christianity has underpinned the whole edifice of Western culture and, notwithstanding some of the things done in the name of religion, Christianity has been a stabilizing and unifying force, demanding better of us, and safeguarding tradition. Combined with Hellenistic ideals and Roman law, Judaeo-Christian beliefs have shaped our western civilisation.

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The Oxford historian, Diarmaid MacCulloch, rightly says that religion is “a force that shaped the English soul” – a sentiment that has applicability throughout Europe.

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In November, speaking in Paris, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Rt.Revd.Justin Welby, said: “Values emerge from histories of interaction and are rooted in stories of virtue, above all in Europe the stories of the Judaeo Christian tradition”. 

It is not too great a claim to say that this tradition and the efforts of the Church, both as an intermediary and as an institution, have provided the glue for many of our democracies. At its best the Christian faith gave birth to some of our most important centres of learning, to the upholding of God-given Commandments, to a belief in the dignity of man, to social solidarity, to the cultivation of the virtues, and to the promotion of the common good. In the UK, in the nineteenth century, significant Christian men and women, such as William Wilberforce, in galvanising the opposition to slavery, Lord Shaftesbury, in demanding an end to the exploitation of children in factories, Elizabeth Fry in promoting prison reform, and Cardinal Henry Manning and William Booth, by reaching out to the masses, used their values to shape their deeds and to improve the common lot.

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In the twentieth century, Christianity produced the courageous defiance of men like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Claus Graf von Stauffenberg, and Maximillian Kolbe. It gave us the Christian Democratic leaders who reconstructed Western Europe and, later, the dissenting Christians of Eastern Europe – such as John Paul II and Lech Walesa – whose actions ushered in radical change.

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By contrast, in the twenty-first century, we are far more likely to say that Christians should remain silent about their faith – or risk ridicule or dismissal from their workplace. And to what does this lead? Instead of upholding the sanctity of every life we are, for instance, far more likely to dismiss a midwife (as happened in Scotland) for refusing to abort a baby; or tell a mother with a Down’s Syndrome child that she should abort it, rather than provide love and practical support; far more like to say to a Dutch alcoholic that he should be euthanized rather than help him conquer his addiction.

Paradoxically, the liberal elites who promote eugenics and are so hostile to religious beliefs, drive people – many of whom live in the “rust belt” urban communities of Europe and who refuse to accept this paradigm – into the hands of the very forces they claim to avowedly oppose. And in these circumstances, as Yeats foresaw, “the centre will not hold.”

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As these neo-pagan values take a grip, and attempts are made to deliberately de-Christianise Europe, we step into the unknown. Perhaps not entirely the unknown. Marx, after all, denounced the opiate of religion while Lenin said that to even postulate the existence of God was “an unspeakable abomination and a detestable plague”. Nietzsche pronounced God’s funeral rites: “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? ….Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?”

Those Marxist-Leninist societies shaped on God’s funeral pyre are hardly a hopeful indicator of life without Christianity or God. Nor are the attempt to make men into gods rather than by cultivating a relationship between God and humanity or by building a bridge between faith and reason.

The obligate, symbiotic nature of the relationship between society and Christianity is well illustrated by Einstein’s famous maxim about science and religion: “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”  Today we are more likely to echo Christopher Hitchens:  “One must state it plainly. Religion comes from the period of human prehistory…To ‘choose’ dogma and faith over doubt and experience is to throw out the ripening vintage and to reach greedily for the Kool-Aid…. God did not create man in his own image. Evidently, it was quite the other way about.”

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Yet, many people instinctively see the burial of God as a loss – both to us as individuals and to society as a whole. They comprehend the truth of the remark in Dostoyevsky’s great novel The Brothers Karamazov that “If God does not exist, everything is permitted.” Whilst, to make a point, that may be over-stating the case, it has a certain resonance today – especially in the virtual world of the internet – where you can incite hatred and promote everything from suicide sites to bomb making.

With our failure to mind the gaps in society this is spawning a crisis of confidence and a crisis of values. The hollowing out of our institutions and our loss of identity is leading to a crisis of civilisation. All around us we can hear the distress calls but too often we stay silent rather than jeopardise our economic or political interests. And into this crisis of Western Values now steps radical Islam and Jihadism. Inspired by Judaeo-Christian ideals, the thirty articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is emblematic of what the West stands for. Smell the coffee, its values are not the values of the Islamists or Jihadists.

In 1948 Saudi Arabia declined to sign the Declaration stating that it was incompatible with Sharia law –detecting both its Judaeo-Christian inspiration and its acceptability to a secular world. Countries like Pakistan (influenced by its far sighted leader, Muhammad Ali Jinnah) and Iran did sign.

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M.A.Jinnah – Pakistan’s Founder, who called for a State which respected and protected its minorities and gave them equal rights.

But by 1982 Iran’s representative to the United Nations, Said Rajaie-Khorassani, said the Declaration was “a secular understanding of the Judaeo-Christian tradition” which Muslims could not implement without being in conflict with Sharia. 

So, despite the conflict between Sunnis and Shias, Saudi Arabia and Iran, here is something that unites them. And what kind of world does this create? Last year Iran’s brutal theocratic regime executed 1,000 people. Iran’s values can be characterised by executions, stonings, torture, restrictions, arrest, conviction, imprisonment, harassment, interrogation, solitary confinement, floggings, and by the denial of political, social and religious freedoms. Hundreds of human rights defenders and political prisoners continue to be detained in Iran.

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Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee, a young female Iranian author and human rights activist is languishing in jail having been given a six year prison sentence for writing an unpublished novel about stoning. A Christian Pastor, Youcef Nadarkhani, and three others, have been arrested on charges of action against national security. Three of them face charges related to consumption of alcohol for drinking wine during a communion service.

They were each sentenced to 80 lashes—a barbaric and inhumane punishment. Iranian theocracy and Saudi Wahhabism both threaten western civilisation and values today. Their ideologies underpin every Islamist group, with devastating consequences for millions of people worldwide.  In Saudi, Wahhabism determines the value placed on a woman’s evidence in a Sharia court; refuses to accept a person’s right to change their religious beliefs (or to be atheists); uses barbaric punishments; publically flogs and beheads citizens.  Honour killings, enslavement, arranged marriages, and such like, that follow in its wake, are all incompatible with western values.

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These practices also run counter to the beliefs of many Muslims and Islamic supremacism is not, of course, the only way of interpreting Islam – and is rejected by millions of Muslims. Yet it does lead to jihadist violence. Yet, instead of understanding the catastrophic consequences of Saudi’s spending of almost $100 billion on exporting global Wahhabism, we go on feeding the crocodiles.

The idea that ISIS, Boko Haram, and the rest, are nothing to do with Wahhabi Islam is a blatant lie. Yet we are wilfully ignoring this axis and are told that great progress is being made because Saudi Arabia might one day let women drive a car and may remove some of its hate mongering from school text books.

Even more dangerously, we continue to naively suggest that Saudi is our key counterterrorism ally. Recall that fifteen of the nineteen jihadists involved in the slaughter of 9/11 were Saudis. Here is a Janus face that feigns moderation when talking to the west but promotes fundamentalism; that says it opposes terror while exporting its ideology.

Saudi warns the West that we will be far worse off if Jihadists take control of their wealth and oil but then does precious little to challenge or reform the precepts that give rise to this threat.   What is driving this foolishness? Here’s one clue.

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Britain alone, in the period since the conflict in the Yemen began, has sold £3.3 billion of arms to Saudi. This is a world in which everything has a price and where values count for nothing. 2017 will continue to throw these contested views into sharp relief.

Western civilisation is clearly under threat from those who, by force, wish to promote Islamist supremacism. That in turn threatens our values of mutual respect, coexistence, democracy, diversity, equality, human rights, and the rule of secular law. To defeat this threat we urgently need to remember who we are and what made us who we are. And, in the presence of Yeats’ rough beasts, and a centre that has not held, we might pause and reflect for a moment on how things will turn out unless, in our generation, we learn to defend our Western values and our civilisation.

Professor David Alton is an Independent Crossbench Peer

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

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

Scroll down for earlier stages and background to this legislation:

 

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Report Stage amendment on Supply Chain Transparency:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lord Alton of Liverpool (Crossbench)

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

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

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

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

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

The amendment says that the consultation should,

“end no later than 1 January 2016”.

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

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

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

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

Amendment 30

Moved by Lord Alton of Liverpool

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

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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9.15 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amendment 30 withdrawn.

 

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

Clause 40: The Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner

Amendment 27

Moved by Lord Warner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I repeat:

“My independence will be unwavering”,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

23 Feb 2015 : Column 1473

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

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

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

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

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

7.15 pm

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

23 Feb 2015 : Column 1474

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

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

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

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

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

23 Feb 2015 : Column 1475

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

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

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

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

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

7.23 pm

Division on Amendment 27

Contents 154; Not-Contents 178.

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

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

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

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

modern slavery

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

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

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

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

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

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

Human Trafficking

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

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

Human trafficking 2

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

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

The Morecambe Bay Cockle Pickers

The Morecambe Bay Cockle Pickers

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

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

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

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

cockle pickers2

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

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

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

modern slavery victims

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

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

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

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

modern slavery domestic workers

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

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

child labour india

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

kiln workers pakistan

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

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

flawed fabrics

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

slave ship2

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

slave ship

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

Roscoe

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

roscoe statue

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

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

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

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

modern slavery william wilberforce 2 modern slavery and wilberforce

HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS DEBATED IN THE HOUSE OF LORDS

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

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

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

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

PROVISIONAL HANSARD

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

Human Rights

Motion to Take Note

11.37 am

Moved by

Lord Alton of Liverpool

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

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Please use your liberty to promote ours”.

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

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

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

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

11.52 am

Lord Selkirk of Douglas (Con):

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

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

“There are huge advantages to having pluralistic societies”,

and went on,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11.58 am

Lord Parekh (Lab):

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baroness Northover (LD):

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

12.04 pm

Baroness Hollins (CB):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12.09 pm

The Lord Bishop of Derby:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12.14 pm

Lord Finkelstein (Con):

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

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

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

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

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

12.18 pm

Baroness Falkner of Margravine (LD):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12.25 pm

Baroness Scotland of Asthal (Lab):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12.30 pm

Lord Singh of Wimbledon (CB):

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

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

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

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

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

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

12.34 pm

Baroness Kennedy of Cradley (Lab):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12.41 pm

Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12.46 pm

Lord Patten (Con):

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

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

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

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

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

12.51 pm

Baroness Suttie (LD):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12.56 pm

The Earl of Sandwich (CB):

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

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

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

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

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

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

That seems to sum things up very well.

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

“if you show genuine affection”,

but that if you are,

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

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

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

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

1.03 pm

The Lord Bishop of Wakefield:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1.08 pm

Baroness Berridge (Con):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1.13 pm

Lord Mendelsohn (Lab):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1.18 pm

Baroness Howells of St Davids (Lab):

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

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

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

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

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

1.23 pm

Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick (CB):

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

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

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

and—

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1.27 pm

Lord Anderson of Swansea (Lab):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1.32 pm

Baroness Cox (CB):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A senior officer in the Shan state army said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1.38 pm

Lord Clarke of Hampstead (Lab):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1.45 pm

Lord Cormack (Con):

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

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

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

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

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

1.50 pm

Lord Hannay of Chiswick (CB):

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

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

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

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

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

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

1.55 pm

Lord Triesman (Lab):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2.36 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2.27 pm

Lord Alton of Liverpool:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Foreign Secretary has rightly said:

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

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

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

Motion agreed.

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