Archive 2 – more indexed archived speeches and articles.

Aug 21, 2014 | Uncategorized

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Speech on the BBC’s Role in Society – 2003

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

Coercive Population Control in China – 2001

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

Paying the Price for Family Breakdown

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

Sunday worship from Didsbury -1999

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

Civic Virtue and The Beautiful Game: October 2003

Danny Smith’s book on Jubilee Campaign – an introduction

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

Knowing Your Genetic Identity: 11th August 2002

Liverpool Law Society Speech – 2003

First be reconciled – Lenten Address 2002

Living on the Edge – Lenten Address 2003

Walk of Faith – Lenten Address 2004.

The Politics of Cloning – 2003

Proceeds of Crime – and people trafficking – 2002

Darfur and North Korea – debate on the Queens Speech 2006

Human Cloning

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

Can We Get By Without God?

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

Speech on the BBC’s Role in Society – 2003

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“to serve the interests of all citizens”.

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

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

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

“Media violence contributes to a more violent society”.

One year ago the US Surgeon-General concluded that,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It seems to me that that plumbed new depths.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lord Hoffman noted this in his judgement in Bland:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Coercive Population Control in China – 2001

Extracts from Hansard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But, the paper says,

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

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

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

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

He also said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the same report, another case referred to,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elsewhere in her evidence, she said:

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

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

When referring to sterilisation she said:

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

She continued:

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

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

“In Communist China, grassroots PBP cadres”–

that is, planned birth policy cadres–

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amnesty International has pointed out that the Chinese,

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

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

“few would have received a fair trial”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

In one province the slogan,

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

has been used.

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

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First, Catherine Baber of Amnesty International, says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And he has subsequently been re-arrested.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

25 Oct 2001 : Column 1113

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

25 Oct 2001 : Column 1114

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

25 Oct 2001 : Column 1115

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

That PRI investigation took place in September of this year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Paying The Price For Family Breakdown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Stark Facts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Great Deceit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Price We Paid.

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

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

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

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

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

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


A Parable of Prodigal Fathers

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

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

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

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

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

A survey by Care for The Family found that

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unconditional love does not dispense time through an egg timer.

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

What Practical Things Might We Do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday Worship From Didsbury February 7th 1999


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

MUSIC: And Can It Be.


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

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

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

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


(chapter 5, extracts from verses 1 -23)

Moses said:

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

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

“You shall have no other gods except me.

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

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

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

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

“You shall not kill

“You shall not commit adultery.

“You shall not steal.

“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbours.

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

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


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

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

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

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

MUSIC: On Eagles Wings (Michael Joncas)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Move us on, God

move us on

from these wounded streets

for it seems

in our frozen twilight

we have rediscovered tenderness

and are noticing each other

We have become inexperienced pilgrims

bringing bouquets, small poems,

sleeping bags, our cluttered stories

our children and our candles of intention

Move us on, God, together

deep in the present

whilst holding to the past and future lands

With our hearts now all outside us

we should be ready

to enfold the desperate

and prod the powerful

Move us on God

move us on

we your faint unfinished psalms

now crave for your translucent palms.


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

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

MUSIC: Dear Lord And Father of Mankind.


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


(Deuteronomy, 30, 15-20).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MUSIC: Lead Kindly Light (John Henry Newman).


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


I John Chapter 2. v4 -11

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

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

We can be sure that we are in God

only when the one claims to be living in him

is living the same kind of life as Christ lived.

My dear people,

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

but an old commandment

that you were given from the beginning.,

the original commandment which was the message brought to you.

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

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

is a new commandment;

because the night is over

and the real light is already shining.

Anyone who claims to be in the light

but hates his brother

is still in the dark.

But anyone who loves his brother is living in the light

and need not be afraid of stumbling;

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

not knowing where he is going,

because it is to dark to see.”

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


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

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

PRAYER – St.Ignatius Loyola.

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

to give an not to count the cost

to fight and not to heed the wounds

to toil and not to seek for rest

to labour and not to ask for any reward,

save that of knowing that we do your will.

Announcement from Continuity:

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


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

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

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

Religion does indeed appear historically to have been the

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

fought under the banner of the Prophet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The discontent motivating fundamentalist Islamic militarism is not primarily, or

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

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

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

as a means of converting their frustration into direct action.

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

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

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

Fighting for Christian values, it would be incorrect to state that the Islamic militant groups are fighting principally for Islam, despite what the groups (or in some cases, States) themselves might claim.

For example, when Saddam Hussein, as the national socialist leader of a secular State, recently called for an international Jihad, most would have rightly seen this as

being nothing more than an act of political desperation.

If we seriously wish to tackle the growing threat of what is, somewhat simplistically, referred to as Islamic terrorism we in the West should look in depth at the whole range of underlying

causes of terrorism rather than attributing it to religious differences. The prime areas of interest at present must, of course, remain as the reconstruction of Iraq and the situation in Israel. Anyone who has visited Palestinian refugee camps knows that the hopelessness that is festering there will inevitably breed another generation of suicide bombers if it is not tackled.

If immensely complex issues such as these can be dealt with, then we would find that there is little remaining

reason for the peoples of the different Great Religions not to be able to live together, as indeed they have done very successfully for centuries in

the past. Countries such as Egypt and Indonesia are good examples of previously tolerant lands where Christians and Muslims peaceably co-existed and there is no reason why they could not be so again.

In addition to tackling underlying causes of alienation, a central declared tenet of western foreign policy should be the worldwide promotion of religious freedom and conscience. This would be the best antidote to religiously influenced terrorism. What regime anywhere is the world respects religious freedom and conscience and is also a haven for terrorism. Of course, there isn’t one.

A Government’s guarantee of religious freedom and conscience is a cornerstone of a democratic society. Without religious freedom, society is destabilised, deep tensions are created, and human dignity is impaired. Without religious freedom there can be no pluralism. Where freedom of religion and belief is protected, religiously motivated terrorism will not take root.

This will clearly be a major challenge for Islamic societies, but not exclusively so, as the rise of Hindu nationalism in India and growing religious tensions in Eastern Europe both illustrate.

We need to be better informed in assessing the situation in individual countries. We could do worse than emulate the U.S. International religious Freedom Act and their appointment of an Ambassador-at-large with a mandate to report annually on the situation in individual countries to Congress.

To conclude, If religious freedom and conscience are upheld and underlying political grievances addressed, we will see the causes of religious terrorism assuaged. If not, I fear that the future will be bleak with continued threats to global stability and security. It is timely and welcome, therefore, that your Lordships should debate these important matters.

Civic Virtue and The Beautiful Game: October 2003

Over 2000 people recently crowded into Liverpool Cathedral to hear the Liverpool Football Club manager, Gerard Houlier, deliver a lecture on the links between sport and citizenship. This was the most recent in a series that I have staged on behalf of Liverpool John Moores University.

Although Houlier’s Catholic faith is a private part of his life there is no doubt, when listening to him, how much his core beliefs have influenced his outlook and character. He told his audience that a cultivation of personal virtues is essential for all of us.

His emphasis on changing the inner man – if he is to be a coherent and effective team player – was one of his central themes; and he said that however famous or wealthy a footballer may be, he will have many anxieties and insecurities – and an effective manager must make time to understand these if he is to draw out the best from the player. But Houlier also has a great belief in providence – believing he was spared after his massive heart attack for some specific purpose.

He had strong words about those who bring the sport into disrepute – especially those who use racist language to abuse black players. He attacked the culture of blame and said that becoming resentful or bitter disables personal growth while enthusiasm and passion need to be cultivated.

His message about building a team spirit, setting clear targets, inspiring confidence and trust, and developing inspiring forms of leadership were messages for a football club but clearly they were messages for the wider society as well.

Gerard Houlier first came to Liverpool as a young teacher in the late 1960s. He quipped that he had “exchanged the atomic shelter of education for the minefield of club management.” Yet he has never lost his belief in the importance of education. His lovely wife, Isobel, who has a Ph.d in history from the University of Paris, wouldn’t let him even if he wanted to. Watching some of the young people who crowded in to hear him – and hanging attentively on his every word – it’s just as well that he understands how to use the unique influence which his position gives him.

Under his influence LFC has been deeply involved in the life of the community, especially in education. They have given support to terminally ill and mentally or physically disabled children and are also involved in a raft of educational projects for the able-bodied. These include Re-educate, the Vernon Sangster numeracy and literacy initiative called Never Too Late To Learn, the Knowsley Education Action Zone, and a new video that is being pioneered in conjunction with Merseyside Police on anti-social behaviour. They have also sponsored a web site for the John Moores University’s foundation for Citizenship where the stories of young recipients of the good citizen awards can be told.

Football is often described as “the beautiful game” – but some of the actions of its clubs, supporters and managers are more ugly than beautiful.

Houlier, with his emphasis on attributes such as loyalty, humour, solidarity, resilience and warmth, is one of the giants of the game who can restore respect and counterbalance the excesses.

Little wonder that in July the Queen awarded Houlier the O B E in recognition of his services to football; and in France he was given the highest civic honour, the Legion of Honour, to recognise his contribution to sport and civic life. Although he has brought home plenty of trophies to his adopted and much-loved City, in helping to cultivate the civic life of the community he is giving it something more enduring.


Danny Smith’s book describing the work of Jubilee Campaign: Introduction by David Alton. 2003.

Children at the school I attended as a boy were encouraged to write two Latin words at the head of each piece of work: Auctore Deo, The Enterprise is of God.

The extended thought is, of course, that if the enterprise is not of God then it is doomed to fail.

As I started to write this introduction for Danny Smith’s fast moving and inspiring account of the Jubilee Campaign those words came flooding back to me. I wanted to put them at the head and the heart of this text because I do not believe that Jubilee would have flourished without God’s blessing.

If I am straight-forward I don’t think that any of us who met in Westminster’s Jubilee Room all those years ago had any idea of what was being launched or how it would grow. Yet, notwithstanding the all-too-human mistakes made from time to time by everyone connected with Jubilee, its achievements have been significant.

As in any good story Danny opens his account by grabbing our attention. He does this by graphically describing a dangerous situation that required risk taking. The purpose was to expose a racket involving the sexual exploitation of little children.

Without a willingness to put himself on the line it would not have been possible to have engaged the media, parliamentarians and government agencies in addressing a grotesque and often brutal situation.

As you read the genesis of Jubilee’s work you will see that the three steps: See, Evaluate, Act, have always been present in its mission.

First, is the necessity of seeing what the world often chooses not to see.

Then, in arriving at an evaluation there needs to be a careful assimilation and assessment of the facts.

Finally, there is the requirement to act.

Initially, Jubilee’s work centred on the persecution of Christians in the former Soviet Union. So often their suffering had been overlooked. In the West we chose not to see.

Canon Michael Bordeaux, the inspirational founder of Keston College, who monitored the plight of the suffering church, has often described how it was politically convenient for church leaders and parliamentarians to hide behind the excuse that “intervening will only make their situation worse.” This was not the wish of many Christians – Orthodox, Protestant and Catholic – and, in the wake of the successful campaign to free the Seven Siberian Christians who had been holed up in the basement of the American Embassy in Moscow, Jubilee was determined that the world should see and understand the fate of their co-religionists on the other side of the Iron Curtain.

Seeing was believing. Once we had seen the scale of suffering, an evaluation had to be made about how best to act.

We knew that if we could harness the fire-power of individual MPs, Party leaders, and political parties, we could create a powerful phalanx of people agitating on behalf of the suffering. To enable them to do this with confidence it has always been essential that Jubilee’s information should be reliable. Often, therefore, this has meant seeing situations first-hand but also then building networks of information on the ground.

As years have passed, Parliamentarians have come to respect the quality of Jubilee’s reports and judgements, and they have then been prepared to act.

At first the action consisted of individual cases being taken up with ambassadors and heads of government. Later, MPs were briefed to table Motions, Questions or to speak in debates. Regardless of a parliamentarian’s own political views or religious beliefs (or lack of them), religious liberties became an issue many were willing to raise.

This often had an unexpected secondary effect.

It would be impossible to know the story of a persecuted believer and to act on their behalf without being affected by them. Through these cases you start to appreciate how much we take our own religious liberties for granted. You see clearly what secularisation has so often occluded, that some things are worth dying for.

One cold night at Mostiska, on the Polish border with the former Soviet Union, I began a Jubilee visit that brought the truth of this home to me most forcibly.

With two companions, David Campanale and Bill Hampson, we were ordered off the train and we and our belongings were searched. I had with me an ITN camera and several hundred Ukrainian prayer books.

Five hours later, after a lot of questioning, the prayer books and camera were carefully re-packed although a biography of Cardinal Basil Hume and my copy of the Liverpool Echo were confiscated. Despite Perestroika they clearly weren’t ready for the Scouse Mouse cartoon strip.

This was mildly irritating but like nothing in comparison with what we learnt from people we met during that visit.

Ivan Gel was the chairman of the Committee for the Defence of the (Greek Catholic) Church. He had spent seventeen years in prison. Bishop Pavlo Vasylyk had been incarcerated for eighteen years. A young priest had been caught illegally celebrating the liturgies and had just returned from his punishment: six months at Chernobyl clearing radioactive waste, without any protective clothing.

On our return Jubilee organised prayer vigils, letter writing campaigns and parliamentary action. Along with ITN we persuaded BBC Newsnight to broadcast our film material. In small ways the world knew a little more about what was happening in the Ukraine.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union Jubilee’s work refocused.

This time, the suffering of believers in the Islamic World and Far East became a central pre-occupation. With Wilfred Wong I travelled to the military zone in South East Turkey to see first-hand the plight of the Chaldean and Syrianni Christians. We took evidence from the Coptic Christians of Egypt and from other ancient churches.

We also entered Burma, illegally, to see the scale of the suffering among the Karen people. This was re-enforced by the campaign we launched on behalf of the jailed Christian human rights activist, James Mawdsley.

All the time, with Danny Smith’s encouragement and vision, Jubilee Campaign has engaged with regimes of every ilk, in championing the rights of people suffering for the religious beliefs. Primarily this has focused on Christians but not exclusively. Among the Karen, for instance, there are also Buddhists, Muslims, and people of traditional faiths, who have been persecuted too. In the former Soviet Union we championed the cause of Jewish dissidents, working with Jewish organisations, such as the women’s group, the 35s.

Perhaps one of Jubilee’s greatest strengths has been that in its inception we drew heavily on both the Evangelical and Catholic traditions. Pretty well all Christian traditions have been represented in Jubilee’s work – among those we have campaigned for and among those who have campaigned on their behalf.

Out of the work for the persecuted church came the work of Jubilee Action. Having seen the plight of children in many parts of the world, Danny wanted us to take the same three steps of Seeing, Evaluating and Acting, on their behalf.

New legislation before Parliament seeking to combat human trafficking follows a concerted campaign by Jubilee to get Government to take this issue seriously.

The United Nations’ drug control and crime prevention agency in Vienna, says human trafficking has become the fastest growing facet of organised crime. It is extraordinarily lucrative.

Powerful criminal organisations are estimated to earn about £4.3 billion a year from economic and sexual slavery. The trafficking of people is considered to be the third largest source of profits for organised crime after the trafficking of drugs and firearms.

The need for urgent action is underlined by the story of a young Romanian girl, Natasha, aged 18, who wound up in London penniless and confused, and which came to light last week. Natasha was sexually abused and terrified for her life. The victim of human traffickers, and of one particularly brutal man, called Alex, Natasha found herself imprisoned in a house in north London and threatened with enforced prostitution.

Natasha is on record as saying “I know he will follow me and hunt me down…He is angry with me and has threatened my friends and my parents back in Romania. He says the Russians” who are also involved in the underworld business of this trafficking, “will kill me”.

Girls like Natasha generate a small fortune for the men who own them and sell them.

In a highly lucrative business they are traded at between £5,000 and £10,000 each and they make their pimps up to £100,000 a year. That is not is Bangkok or Moscow but our own capital city of London.

“You don’t have to go very far upmarket from that to realise why this is such big business”, says Chief Superintendent Simon Humphrey, head of Scotland Yard’s vice squad. ‘In Soho, where there are about 70 brothels, each woman will generate more than double that figure'”.

Chief Superintendent Humphrey adds:

“If we don’t get our politicians to act, it’s going to radically alter our whole society and continue to wreck lives”.

Natasha’s case is the tip of an iceberg but no-one should despair and say “there’s nothing we can do.” Jubilee has already achieved some change.

One of the first successes was to change the law – making it a criminal offence in Britain to abuse a child overseas. Creating the all-party parliamentary street children group, of which I was one of the three founding chairmen, was also important. But, so were the reports that Jubilee began to publish on the scale of misery facing children, suffering various forms of modern slavery. Again, Seeing, Evaluating, and Acting.

One of the key continents for action is Africa.

In 2002 I visitted Southern Sudan and the remote Turkana region of Kenya.

Here the children have been caught up in a war ruthlessly pursued by the radical Islamic government in Khartoum. Two million have been killed and more than 4 million displaced.

In one little town, Narus I saw the effects of aerial bombardment. The dispensary serving Narus has been completely destroyed. The buildings are a mangled ruin. One local inhabitant, Moses March, took me to where a family of seven (five children, including an unborn child) all died in a direct hit on their hut. In addition to the massacre of Martin Lowie’s family 23 other people were killed last year in raids on Narus.

Many young people are forced into the militia. Bishop Akio Johnson – whose has survived nine attempts on his life – described to me one child soldier who told him that he had joined the resistance forces because “if I don’t take up a gun the government forces will come and take my mother and my sister.”

In the areas of southern Sudan where the conflict still rages children are being killed; women are being raped. UNICEF told me that “children are being crippled, nails put into their knees, and their Achilles’ tendons deliberately broken so they can’t run. There are serious serial human rights abuses. The government connives by arming the tribes who are involved.” All this in a country where 10% of children die before they are five; where life expectancy is just 56 years; where 92% live in poverty; and where, in a vast land mass, there are a mere 20 secondary schools.

The words “suffer the little children to come unto me” might have been uttered with Africa in mind. For with one million orphans often living rootless and disaffected lives, and the number rising exponentially, who can doubt that this will be the most serious challenge that a continent riven by so many crises must face? Africa is awash with feral children, faring little better than vermin.

Orphaned children are the sharp end of civil wars like the one raging in Sudan but they are also the victims of the Aids pandemic, urban drift, a collapsing education system, human trafficking, and corruption.

In a timely report, “Children On The Brink” several agencies including the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), have spelt out the scale of the disaster. They say that in 88 countries studied “More than 13 million children currently under the age of 15 have lost one or both parents to Aids, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa. By 2010, this number is expected to jump to more than 25 million.” World-wide, by 2010 UNICEF says the number of orphans in the world will have risen to around 106 million (about a quarter Aids related).

By the same year, in 12 African countries orphans will comprise 15% of all children under the age of 15.

There are already indications that this will not be the peak.

Poignantly one young Kenyan simply said to me during the Jubilee Action investigation “help us, Kenya is dying.”

The consequences of a vast dislocated and embittered underclass of orphaned children will be devastating for Africa. Tomorrow’s revolutionaries and tomorrow’s coups are already in the making in the festering slums to which children with no hope and no prospects migrate. Here is a fertile breeding ground for both Marxism and the radical fundamentalism of some Islamic groups.

Culturally disaffected young people will always create unrest but the numbers in Africa are without precedent. The crisis of orphans is shoed away; I see no evidence that national governments either understand the scale of this catastrophe or to what it will lead.

Here is Jubilee Action’s next great challenge. On behalf of these children it must See, Evaluate and Act.

And what else for the future?

The art of futurology is not very precise but I think it reasonable to predict that this side of eternity there will always be persecution and suffering. This came home to me most recently on a second visit to the Burma border and to Vietnam.

In Vietnam I heard terrible accounts of the continued suffering of Protestant and Catholic Christians. Take the case of Father Thaddeus Nguyen Van Ly.

Father Van Ly began a campaign for religious freedom in 2000 and was arrested after sending evidence to an American Congressional Committee in February 2001. He had called on the US Congress to postpone the ratification of a bilateral trade agreement while religious persecution persisted.

Father Van Ly is serving a fifteen-year prison sentence and during a visit to Hanoi with US Congressman, Joseph Pitts (Rep. Pennsylvania) on behalf of the Jubilee Campaign, I raised his case with Le Quang Vinh, head of the Vietnamese Government Committee on Religion.

Quang Vinh denies that religious persecution occurs in Vietnam and says that people like Father Van Ly have been arrested for acting subversively against the Communist Party: “It was not because he contacted the Congress” he said. “Van Ly tried to upset the people. He encouraged their illegal right to own land; he lied that there was no true freedom in Vietnam, and he refused to obey the authorities and accept their control. He armed his group to fight the authorities.”

When I asked him where Fr.Van Ly bought his guns and weapons he replied that “they had sticks and knives, not guns.”

The reality is that a group of about 35 frightened parishioners had gathered for sanctuary in his church. The church was surrounded by 600 armed security officers (Quang Vinh later contacted us to say the number was 200) and as Father Van Ly prepared to say Mass he was arrested. This report was confirmed by Dang Cong Dieu, the Chairman of the People’s Committee in Phy An.

Quang Vinh told us that we could not visit Fr.Van Ly but he did promise to place our plea for clemency before the Prime Minister, Phan Van Khai.

Fr Van Ly is only the latest and the most high profile of a series of prison sentences for Christians. The late Cardinal Van Thuan spent 13 years in Communist prisons, jailed after South Vietnam in 1975.

The beginnings of religious tolerance in Vietnam have come too late for Cardinal Van Thuan and there are worrying signs that ethnic minorities are to be excluded from the new dispensation.

In the central highlands of Vietnam the Montagnards, the Degar people, are facings systematic persecution. So are the Hmong.

There are about 600,000 tribal people from 30 different groups in the central highlands. Two thirds are Christian, both Catholic and Protestant. They assisted the US army during the Vietnam War and ever since 1995 they have not been allowed to forget it. Since 2001 they have been subjected to a massive crackdown.

Montagnard children have been denied education if their parent’s practice Christianity; soldiers and police have forced believer to renounce their faith and drink pig’s blood (a pre-Christian practice) and Martial law was imposed throughout the central highlands. A year ago the Cambodians deported 167 Montagnard refugees who had fled persecution. On their return they were tortured.

In Lai Chau province the Hmong have also suffered grievously.

Quang Vinh insists that he is working to ensure that “religious freedom is protected and improved.” Yet, last year Communist officials beat Mua Bua Senh, a Hmong Christian, to death when he refused to renounce his faith. His widow and six children, and three other families were forced to leave their home and their land.

Cases like Mua Bua Senh’s and Father Van Ly’s will ensure that Jubilee work will continue. So will the situation in countries like China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran, and Indonesia.

Often, when we look at seemingly intractable world problems we feel like Robert Louis Stephenson’s fictional boy who complains that “the world is so big and I am so small I do not like it at all, at all.” We could so easily be tempted into believing that there is nothing we can do.

When James Mawdsley went to Burma – to see, evaluate and act – he was thrown into prison, given a 17 year prison sentence and spent 13 months in solitary confinement. Jubilee gave his supporters small stones to carry. We said that the small stone represented the duty of each of us to carry one another’s burden. The small stone was a reminder to take the double action of pressure and prayer. But the small stone also reminds us that landslides happen when small stones move – and that is what we are, the small stones.

Jubilee hired a boat to take some of James’ supporters past Westminster on the first anniversary of his imprisonment. We heard from Burma human rights activists and from Karen speakers. There was political pressure and prayer. As the boat turned to make its way back up the Thames there was a moored dredging barge close to the bank. On an awning were the words “Landslides, No Problems.”

Perhaps, as Jubilee’s work goes forward we should see ourselves as the small stones working for the landslides and recognise that if the enterprise truly is of God then none of these great challenges is insuperable. That Jubilee has come so far is a great testimony to the persistence and vision of Danny Smith.


The Award on an Honorary Fellowship to Lech Walesa by Liverpool John Moores University: 2006.

Vice Chancellor, members of the university’s academic faculties, distinguished guests; it is my honour to bring before you Mr.Lech Walesa for admission as an honorary fellow of Liverpool John Moores University.

Born on September 29th 1943, it was in 1980 that Lech Walesa became the charismatic leader of millions of Polish worker.

The birth of Solidarity – Solidarnosc – Poland’s first independent trades union, became the catalyst for extraordinary and historic change. The cataclysmic events which led to the collapse of the Soviet Union, the peaceful re-emergence of a free Poland, the re-unification of Germany, and the freeing of the other Eastern European nations, also led to the honouring of Lech Walesa for the historic role which he had played.

In 1983 he became the first Pole to be awarded the prize founded by Alfred Nobel to recognise those whose endeavours peacefully bring the nations of the world closer together. In 1990 the Polish people elected him as their President.

Leader of Solidarity, Nobel Laureate, and President of Poland: for so many of us, Lech Walesa’s name became synonymous with our deepest yearnings and longings for true freedom and an end to tyranny.

Many of us gathered here in this Metropolitan Cathedral are of a generation whose parents and their relatives served in the armed forces or gave their lives in a conflict precipitated in 1939 by the Nazi invasion of Poland; and, poignantly, there are still among us a gallant few who participated in those terrible events.

Like so much of your beloved Poland, sir, this City of Liverpool sustained huge aerial bombardment and loss of civilian life during enemy raids. Merseyside’s shipyards and docks – crucial to the Battle of the Atlantic and our survival – were remorselessly pounded but never submitted. Liverpool’s narrative and its people’s characteristics will be celebrated next year on the 800th anniversary of the granting of our City’s charter. There is much in its story and its history, much in its tenacity and grit, much in its fortitude and faith, that will remind you of the suffering and endurance of your beloved Poles and especially of the workers of Gdansk.

There are many links between Poland and Liverpool. A quarter of a century ago many of us gathered in this great basilica to greet your countryman, Karol Wojtyla, Pope John Paul II. That visit is celebrated by the great tapestry which is part of the back-drop today. He famously said: “Whenever men exploit the weak; whenever the rich take advantage of the poor; whenever great powers seek to dominate and impose ideologies, there the work of making peace is undone; there the cathedral of peace is destroyed.”

It is not difficult to see how these same teachings inspired and shaped so much of your own outlook.

Today, in the aftermath of Poland’s accession to the European Union, our links are being further deepened. In addition to the ex-patriot Poles who stayed and settled here in the aftermath of World War Two, there is a flourishing community of Polish workers bringing their know-how and skills to our region. There are also Polish students among our 25,000-strong student body at Liverpool John Moores University. Their commitment to their studies and their determination to create a successful future is a credit to them and their families.

Physically, our commercial, social, and cultural links with your country are deepening daily. There is now a direct air link between Warsaw and Liverpool and between Liverpool and Gdansk – whose airport was re-named in 2004 in honour of Lech Walesa. At the time he quipped: “When I first heard of the idea, I asked myself shouldn’t I die first?” Happily, that was not considered a necessary requirement.

Along with our air links our maritime links are considerable. Gdansk is the Polish maritime capital and its origins date from AD 980. Liverpool’s maritime history is well known and is celebrated in our city’s claim to be “the whole world in one city”. Gdansk is a similarly cultural melting pot celebrating diversity and internationalism.

In 2008, Liverpool will celebrate its most recent achievement of being designated European Capital of Culture. I know that Liverpool people like George and Gosia McKane – who have their own marital British-Polish alliance – will, through their Yellow House project – be seeking to further strengthen our cultural links. We are indebted to them for facilitating our initial contact with you.

This historic visit will further entrench that relationship and as they study your life and the turbulent times in which you have lived I do not doubt that many will be inspired to become more active citizens. In every generation there are dragons: seemingly daunting tasks to perform, impossible odds to overcome. Your story should be a spur to those who feel powerless or excluded, trampled on or forgotten. That is one of the deep impulses of our university’s Foundation for Citizenship and represented a few minutes ago by the children who received the good citizenship awards which you presented. It’s about learning how to take a stand; how to make a difference.

Our students should be inspired by your personal story.

The son of a carpenter Lech Walesa was brought up in Popowa. As he has himself observed: “My youth passed at the time of the country’s reconstruction from the ruins and ashes of the war in which my nation never bowed to the enemy paying the highest price in the struggle…These were years of many wrongs, degradations and lost illusions. I was barely 13 years old when, in June 1956, the desperate struggle of the workers of Poznan for bread and freedom was suppressed in blood….The memory of my fellow workers who then lost their lives, the bitter memory of violence and despair has become for me a lesson never to be forgotten.”

After graduating from a vocational technical school – very much a part of the traditions of this university – Lech Walesa worked as a car mechanic before serving for two years in the army. In 1967 he went to work in the Gdansk shipyards as an electrician before, two years later, marrying Danuta Galos.

As early as 1970, in the years when Poland had exchanged Nazism for Soviet totalitarianism, he was detained following a clash between the workers and the communist government. Inscribed on the monument erected at the entrance to the Gdansk Shipyard in memory of those who

Were killed in December 1970 are the words of the Psalm: “The Lord will give His people the blessing of peace”. It would take an epic struggle of biblical proportions for those blessings to become manifest. Lech Walesa never wavered although he must have often wondered what trials awaited him.

In 1976, because of his activities as a shop steward, he was arbitrarily dismissed and the family was plunged into penury as he sought one temporary job after another.

In 1978 Lech Walesa began to work with others in organising the country’s first free non-communist trades union. He became increasingly involved in direct action and protests and the notorious secret services kept him under continuous surveillance and regularly detained him.

Then on August 14th, 1980, the 37-year-old electrician took a series of actions which would change history. Lech Walesa first scaled a wall of the Lenin Shipyard a began a strike. Within days this would lead to the closure of factories all over Poland and would ultimately lead to the end of the Cold War, lead to the liberation of millions of people well beyond the borders of the Polish state, and lead to the re-configuration of European and global political dynamics.

During that period I led a number of human rights missions to Eastern Europe. A favourite sentiment of many of those who wanted to see change was scrawled in the memorable graffiti slogan: “If not now, when? If not us who?” It took real courage to answer those questions in the affirmative: to believe you were the man or woman and that this was the favoured time.

Many paid a terrible price; some, like Lech Walesa’s countryman, Jerzy Popieluszko, the ultimate one.

Popieluszko had presided over many public masses during the rise of Solidarity. Consistently he urged his listeners – Solidarity’s numbers were approaching some 10 million people by the peak – to refuse to be goaded into violence. He said:

“Do not struggle with violence. Violence is a sign of weakness. All those who cannot win through the heart try to conquer through violence. The most wonderful and durable struggles in history have been carried on by human thought. The most ignoble fights and most ephemeral successes are those of violence. An idea which needs rifles to survive dies of its own accord. An idea which is imposed by violence collapses under it. An idea capable of life wins without effort and is then followed by millions of people.”

Popieluszko was appointed by Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski as chaplain to the steel worker in Warsaw and became a central spiritual advisor to many who followed Lech Walesa and his Solidarity movement. The price he paid was brutal murder. 400,000 Poles attended his funeral in 1984.

After the collapse of the Berlin Wall the stories of those who suffered the real heat of persecution for their political or religious beliefs became known. We called it a Cold War but for men like Lech Walesa or Alexander Ogorodnikov – a Russian dissident who spent 8 years in prison and whose moving testimony some of you will have heard at a meeting I chaired in the Crypt of this Cathedral some 15 years ago; or Martha and Vladimir Slepak, two Russian Jews whom I was able to bring to Greenbank Synagogue after their release from the Soviet Union – it was not a Cold War but one in which they suffered in the furnaces.

In “The Gulag Archipelago” Alexander Solzhenitsyn describes the corrupt and evil nature of the edifice which Stalin and his cohorts had constructed. He says of this society: “There is – only a wall. And its bricks are laid on a mortar of lies…There is no law. The same treacherous secrecy, the same fog of injustice, still hangs in our air, worse than the smoke of city chimneys. For half a century and more the enormous state has towered over us, girded with hoops of steel. The hoops are still there. There is no law.”

During the dark days of the 1980s – the drama of which many of us followed in our newspapers on a daily basis – ordinary people began to unpick the bricks on which that edifice of lies had been constructed. And they paid a price.

In their defence of Solidarity, some lost their freedom; some were sentenced to prison terms or were held for months without trial; some paid the highest price: the price of life.

During those bleak times the name Lech Walesa became synonymous with the deepest human desires for freedom. As the Strike Coordination Committee evolved into Solidarnosc we waited with baited breath to see whether, like the uprising in Hungary in 1956 or the Prague Spring of 1968, Russian tanks would once again roll and Solidarity’s flickering light would be snuffed out.

Driven into an underground existence by the totalitarian regime of General Wojciech Jaruzelski, the movement resisted the attempts to crush it. A new strike and the 1988 occupation of the Gdansk shipyard forced the Polish Government to give Solidarity legal status and to permit the first limited free elections. The Warsaw Pact would never recover.

Walesa said of those years: “During the 15 months of Solidarity’s legal existence nobody was killed or wounded as a result of its activities. Our movement expanded by leaps and bounds…Solidarity grew into a powerful movement for social and moral liberation.” He went on to quote his friend, John Paul II: “The working man is not a mere tool of production, but he is the subject which throughout the process of production takes precedence over the capital. He is ready for sacrifices if he feels that he is a real partner and has a say in the just division of what has been produced by common effort.” But Walesa lamented: “It is, however, precisely this feeling that we lack.”

For those of privileged to travel in Poland at that time there was a fevered atmosphere of endless activity, of brinkmanship, of steely courage and nerve. As Vaclaw Havel, the former President of the Czech Republic, correctly observed, when Solidarity was born 26-years ago, “The events in Poland had a definite influence on future changes here and in other countries from the Communist bloc.”

Solidarity’s final victory, in 1989, was not the end of the struggle.

In 1942, after the Battle of El Alamein, Winston Churchill said of our own nation’s fight against tyranny:

“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

1989, the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the election of a free Polish Government, the subsequent game of grandmother’s footsteps played out across Europe and which led all the way to Mikhail Gorbachev’s Kremlin, was also the end of the beginning. It was greatly to Gorbachev’s credit that he was no longer prepared to military force to keep communist parties in satellite states in power but it was to Walesa’s and Solidarity’s credit that the Kremlin had become convinced that the military solution was no longer an option.

Think for a moment about the genocide in the former Yugoslavia, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, or the continuing dictatorship of Alexander Lukashenko, Belarus’s Moscow-backed dictator, and you will quickly appreciate that the transformation and renewal of Europe has not been without suffering and is by no means complete even now.

In the face of tyranny it is worth recalling Lech Walesa’s own words when he received the Nobel Peace Prize:

“We desire peace – and that is why we have never resorted to physical force. We crave for justice – and that is why we are so persistent in the struggle for our rights. We seek freedom of convictions – and that is why we have never attempted to enslave man’s conscience nor shall we ever attempt to do so…We respect the dignity and the rights of every nation.”

Lech Walesa has continued to be honoured by those who understand his central significance in these momentous events.

In 1989 he became the third person in history, after the Marquis de Lafayette and Winston Churchill, to address a joint session of the United States Congress. In December 1990 he was elected for five years as President of Poland. He has been honoured with honorary degrees by many universities, including Harvard and the University of Paris. He is the recipient of the European Award of Human Rights and the Italian Grand Order of Merit. He is a Knight of the Order of the Polish White Eagle and he was raised to the status of Knight of the Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath by Her Majesty the Queen. He is a recipient of the French Grand Cross of the Legion d’honneur and many other decorations.

Among his publications are “A Path of Hope”, “The Road to Freedom”, “The Struggle and the Triumph”, and “Everything I do, I do for Poland.” Ten years ago he established the Lech Walesa Institute Foundation which seeks to safeguard Polish national heritage and the tradition of independence and solidarity as well as consolidating democracy and the free market economy in Poland, as well as permanently integrating Poland into European structures.

And what more might we briefly say about Lech Walesa – the man?

Among his interests are crossword puzzles and a love of fishing – although I doubt that very often you would have seen the words “Gone Fishing” on the door of his frenetically busy office. In between all of his other activities he and Danuta have found time to rear four daughters and four sons.

A man who has lived though such turbulent times might be indelibly scarred by those experiences. Lech Walesa has emerged with integrity and even humour in tact.

During Margaret Thatcher’s visit to Gdansk in 1988 the Prime Minister met with Lech Walesa and asked him how he intended to convey Solidarity’s thinking to the Polish Government: Walesa laughed, pointed to the ceiling, and replied: “There’s no trouble. They have got this meeting bugged.”

Last year he joked with his successor as Polish President – a former communist – “We can forge a trade union for former presidents of Poland.”

“I’m in favour” Mr Kwasniewski replied: “but I think I know who is going to be chairman.”

Vice Chancellor, Lech Walesa has said that he will be an active citizen, taking part in public affairs “until they nail down the lid of my coffin.” We hope that day is far off and doubtless there will be many chairs to fill before then.

It is with great pleasure that I present him to you for the conferment of an honorary fellowship.


The Glories of Islamic Art Brought to Life By A Jewish Collector – January 9th 2005

Just before Christmas I hosted a visit to Liverpool by a remarkable man – David Khalili. He was in the City to give a Liverpool John Moores University Roscoe Lecture.

Professor Khalili has spent 30 years drawing together a priceless collection of over 20,000 pieces of Islamic art. He has always said that his aim in creating this collection was to engender “goodwill between the West and the Muslim world.” Over the summer in a characteristically generous remark, commenting on his decision to put his collection on permanent public display, he said “it is much better to give with a warm heart than a cold hand.”

Pieces from his wonderful collection have been exhibited at the Louvre, at The Hermitage in St.Petersburg, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and other world museums. The most recent exhibition, Heaven on Earth, was at Somerset House in London and he has promised to bring the collection to Liverpool during 2008 when the city will be Europe’s capital of culture.

When he was 14 years old Professor Khalili wrote a book about geniuses of the world. He decided to put pen to paper after an argument with one of his teachers – and he wanted to make a point. Arguably, he has been making a point ever since.

Professor Khalili learnt about art at his mother’s knee. Being born the son of Jewish parents in Ishfan in Iran he also learnt the art of survival as part of a small minority always at risk.

After studying in New York he came to live in Britain. He founded and is chairman of the Maimonidies Foundation and is a member of the governing body of the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, where he has also endowed a chair of Islamic studies. At Oxford University he recently gave £2.25 million to fund a centre for the study of Islamic art and that of other religions in the Middle East. His actions are a good example of learning to glorify difference.

Our Chief Rabbi, Dr.Jonathan Sacks, reminds us that in the Hebrew bible we encounter a God who first chooses a family, then a people. He commands them to be different.

In doing this, He created an extraordinary challenge for the Jews and for the people among whom they would live. In every generation Jews have had to face the heart-wrenching dilemma of whether to simply conform or to be different. Then the rest of the community have had to face the challenge of how to accommodate difference.

The same challenges have, from time to time, faced adherents of other faiths. Are we or they to be forcibly assimilated? If not, are we to be debased by rabid anti-Semitism or hatred of others – perhaps through the burning of their effigy on a bonfire in

Lewes – because their faith or outlook is not the same as ours? Can we see God’s image – the imago Dei – in the face of another who is not of our tribe? Have we the capacity to hear God’s voice or see His touch in the language or the story of people who are different from us. The dignity of difference and the centrality of diversity are at the heart of this.

The good news is that faith creates and holds together communities. The bad news is that those communities will often be set at odds against one another.

The good news is that strong faith communities can heal the wounds of politics and economics, foster co-operation where market forces merely foster competitiveness and faith communities can foster loving, giving and respect. And faith can fire our imaginations and sense of creativity. The bad news is that when faith becomes tribal, prejudiced and narrow, it can wreak terrible havoc.

The good news is that faith can be an inspiration that can fire imaginations and when channelled creatively can produce great art and enrich our culture.

In learning how to handle religious belief society has three options. The first two are unworkable – that is to force either the total privatisation or the syncratisation of religion. The third option is to learn the art of tolerance.

David Khalili says that his aim in drawing together his unique collection was “to create goodwill between the west and the Muslim world.” In today’s climate we need more people like David Khalili.

Knowing Your Genetic Identity: 11th August 2002

I recently made a submission to a Department of Health consultation on whether offspring who are conceived using sperm, eggs or embryos provided by a donor should be able to obtain identifying and non-identifying information about their genetic parents.

At the very least the children should know something of their ethnic and genetic heritage. This will help to give them a sense of their cultural and social identity and will also allow them to be informed as to the susceptibility to certain forms of disease and illness. We all want to know exactly who we are.

The consultation document acknowledges that the schedule of potential non-identifying information is virtually infinite and may include information about religion, blood type, bone structure, right or left handedness, educational background and academic ability, sporting and travel preferences.

Once you start to extend the range of non-identifying information being collected it becomes difficult to legitimately withhold any form of non-identifying information. The greater the amount of non-identifiable information about a donor that is made available, the greater the risk that this information will enable the donor to be identified. This is why, in the interests of transparency, identifying information should be disclosed and any change in the law should operate retrospectively. This is view I share with Baroness Warnock, the architect of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, and she has written to me promising to support a change in the law.

Disappointingly the consultation document has not sought responses on retrospective identification but has merely restricted itself to the identification of future donors.

If the child’s welfare is paramount there is an inherent contradiction between allowing future donor offspring to access identifying information on their biological parents and denying this right to existing donor offspring. In both cases the same considerations apply – that donor offspring have a right to full disclosure of their personal, family and genetic history.

Donor conceived children should have the right to establish the identity of the donor in the same way as adopted children have the right to find out the identity of their birth parents. If we truly hold the child’s interests, rather than the donor’s, as paramount then we should allow the child to access this form of personal information.

Potential donors should be told that identifying information will be made available. This might help impress upon them the enormity of what they are about to undertake – that they will become the biological parent of at least one child. If they are not happy about this, they do not have to agree to donate.

It is hugely disappointing that, in the light of the difficult ethical and legal issues concerning artificial reproductive techniques, the Government’s consultation document makes no reference to natural fertility programmes that seek to work closely with couples to overcome the root causes of infertility rather than by-pass them through recourse to donated gametes and embryos. These programmes are a well kept secret and deserve greater publicity, and indeed more funding. If they are to flourish the Government and others who may be in a position to help those engaged in natural fertility programmes need to take note.


Liverpool Law Society Dinner. 13th November 2003.

Speech by Lord Alton of Liverpool.



There is a story about an argument that ensues between three men who all believe that theirs is the oldest profession. There is a doctor, a lawyer and a politician.

The doctor insists that his is the oldest profession: “because a doctor took a rib out of Adam in order to make Eve.”

“No,” says the lawyer, mine is the oldest profession because a lawyer created order out of the chaos that existed in the firmament before time began.”

“No”, insisted the politician, “mine is the oldest profession, because we created the chaos.”

In reality, both the politicians and the lawyers can take some of the credit, and the blame, for many examples of order and of chaos. The link between the making of law and its administration hardly needs stating – and perhaps that’s why, down the generations, so many lawyers have been attracted into politics.

As politicians seek to meddle in the administration of the law – and, as Lord Woolf warned last week – risk unravelling the complex relationships between the judiciary, parliament and the government – it is worth reflecting on how easily political interference can wreak havoc and bring chaos; but how, also, as Mr. Justice Judge said last week, how political interference can ultimately lead to the corruption and subjugation of an independent judiciary.

Perhaps it is more important then ever, therefore, that those who have a love of law and its independence from political taint should themselves think about how they can help to strengthen public and civic life.

I was struck, when thinking about what to say this evening, by the crossover into the political realm of so many Liverpool lawyers: many of whom have brought important gifts into our civic life. Let me remind you of some of them.

One of the most colourful of these was F.E.Smith, Lord Birkenhead, who won the Liverpool Walton Division as a Conservative against the tide in the 1906 Liberal landslide. A close friend of the young Winston Churchill, Smith would rise to the post of Attorney General in 1915 (a post held today by Peter Goldsmith – whose connections with this Society and this City are well known). Smith became Lord Chancellor in 1919.

Another local lawyer, Gruffydd Evans, the late Lord Evans of Claughton, once told me his favourite FE Smith story. Each morning Smith would be observed leaving the National Liberal Club near Whitehall. One day his friend, Churchill, who was then Liberal Home Secretary, bumped into him and asked him why he was so often seen coming in and going out of the National Liberal Club: “Is that what it is?” he asked: “I though it was the public convenience.”

In the words of GK Chesterton’s acerbic poem, directed at Lord Birkenhead, the lawyer/politician he most despised: “Chuck it Smith.”

Gruffydd Evans, the late Cyril Carr – who was the first parliamentary candidate I campaigned for -, and Rex Makin – just honoured as the first Liverpool solicitor in 100 years to be given the freedom of the City – were all deeply influenced by Professor Lyon Blease, who, until 1949, was the Queen Victoria Professor of Law at Liverpool University. He also mixed law and politics, having been the unsuccessful Liberal candidate in the Garston Division.

Among the many other local lawyers who blended their professional commitment to the law with public service included the former Lord Chancellor, Sir David Maxwell Fyfe (Lord Kilmuir) (sacked in Harold Macmillan’s night of the long knives), Selwyn Lloyd, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Speaker of the Commons; his political opponent, Peter Howell Williams – and Selwyn Lloyd’s successor as Wirral MP, David Hunt; Sydney Sliverman, a close friend and adviser to Bessie and Jack Braddock, and who in 1965, saw the successful culmination of his long campaign to end the death penalty; the former deputy speaker of the Commons, and Toxteth MP, Colonel Dick Crawshaw; my predecessor in Liverpool Edge Hill, Sir Arthur Irvine, the Solicitor General in Harold Wilson’s Government; and Hartley Shawcross, Attorney General and MP for St. Helens, who had Chambers in Liverpool, and was Chief Prosecutor for the War Crimes Trials at Nuremburg.

In his closing speech at Nuremburg Shawcross remarked, “In all our countries, when perhaps in the heat of passion or for other motives which impair restraint, some individual is killed, the murder becomes a sensation. Our compassion is roused, nor do we rest until the criminal is punished and the rule of law vindicated. Shall we do less when not one but 12 million men and women and children are done to death, not in battle, not in passion, but in a cold calculated deliberate attempt to destroy nations and races.”

Shawcross reminded his generation that such tyranny and brutality could only be resisted in the future not simply be “military alliances but firmly on the rules of law.”

This passionate belief in the upholding of law and in the administration of justice is central to the upholding of civilised values; to the maintenance of human rights and hard won liberties. The rule of law determines the way in which we govern ourselves in Britain. It is the very bedrock of our parliamentary system and the corner stone of our democratic institutions. Without it we all descend into chaos.

Sometimes we take our freedoms and liberties for granted.

Last month I visited North Korea, China and the refuges camps on the Burma border. In North Korea, they enjoy few political or religious liberties. I heard of a group of believers whose church was destroyed by the communists 55 years ago but who have continued to meet in the rubble ever since. The recently published Hawk Report documents the suffering of countless detainees held in North Korean gulags. There have been arbitrary arrests, detentions and murders. I went there because a year ago I met a Korean refugee who had seen his wife and child shot dead and then saw his other child die as he made the perilous journey out of the country.

On the Burma border I saw a child whose parents had both been shot by the military junta; he had been sold over the border to a Thai family and then run away to the camp at Mela, where I me him. All this before the age of 8.

This time last year I went into Southern Sudan with the SPLA – into a country where 3 million have died over two years as attempts are made to forcibly impose Sharia law; and daily aerial bombardment has been used to try and intimidate and subjugate a whole people.

There stories reminded me of the priest I met who had been sent by the former Soviet authorities to Chernobyl, to clear radioactive waste as a punishment for being caught celebrating the liturgies in the open, or the bishop who had spent 17 years in prison for his faith; or the Jewish dissidents I visited in the former Soviet Union who had been denied basic rights and liberties. As those people and the people of far-flung countries such as Cambodia, Rwanda and the Congo can testify, the Nuremburg Tribunals did not, sadly, denote an end to the sufferings.

As I think of these people – or indeed the people of our own community on Merseyside, who face all the domestic vicissitudes that life can throw at them – it simply renews my belief in our democracy and the privileges we enjoy. Aristotle, the father of democracy, wrote in his great work “Politics” that we “are not solitary pieces in a game of chequers” and he said that aidos – shame – would attach to the man who refused to play his part. Cicero -in his work “On Duty” – said that we each become more virtuous, simply by accepting the duty to be engaged in civic and public affairs.

For my money, Liverpool’s greatest citizen was William Roscoe, and if anyone personifies the great calling into public life, it is he.

He began his career as an Attorney but found it “an employment which preys upon my happiness and disgusts me with myself and with mankind.”

Born in Mount Pleasant in 1753, he left school at the age of 12, working first in his father’s market garden. In 1769 he became articled to an attorney, John Eyes Junior, and after Eyes’ death to Peter Ellames. Five years later he was admitted to the Court Roll of the King’s Bench and formed a partnership with Samuel Spinal.

At times he became disillusioned with the law, writing on one occasion to his beloved wife that the law could both be “sometimes wilful and sometimes (suffer) involuntary blindness, which prevents the appearance of truth.” Roscoe would have shared with Ben Johnson the belief that a man should “stand for truth: it’s enough.”

When Roscoe retired from practice, in 1796, he was able to concentrate all his energies on writing, on philanthropy, and on public life.

It was no exaggeration when the great historian of Liverpool, James Picton, said that ‘no native resident of Liverpool has done more to

elevate the character of the community, by uniting the successful

pursuit of literature and art with the ordinary duties of the citizen

and man of business’.

In the heat of the commercial boom which hit Liverpool at the end of

the eighteenth century, Roscoe became a successful banker and lawyer.

But he never lost sight of his other values. Take his attitudes towards slavery, the war with the French and the French Revolution.

Liverpool’s prosperity was based on the slave trade. Ramsay Muir,

the Professor of Contemporary History at Liverpool University at the

turn of the twentieth century, estimated that slavery generated a staggering £15 million in Liverpool in one year alone. In the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century that would have been wealth on a scale only equalled today in the City of London’s money markets.

The slaves were not brought directly to Liverpool; they were just one

part of a triangle. Manufactured gods were shipped from Liverpool to

Guinea. These cargoes were exchanged for slaves who were then taken

direct to the West Indies and sold. In the Liverpool newspapers of

Roscoe’s day there were many advertisements urging Liverpool

gentlemen to try their luck and to amass their fortunes in this trade

of human misery.

It would have been easy for Roscoe to turn a blind eye to these

lucrative but evil practices. The slave traders dominated Liverpool

and it was highly unpopular to speak out against it. He and William

Rathbone were two of the few who did. Roscoe went further and joined

with the Quakers, and the political leaders like Fox and the

political reformer, William Wilberforce, to challenge the slavery


In 1787 and 1788 he published tracts and poems attacking the

inhumanity and evil of slavery. In his poem The Wrongs of Africa are

lines which retain their strength and poignancy to this day: ‘Blush

ye not, to boast your equal laws, your just restraints, your rights

defended, your liberties secured, whilst with an iron hand ye crushed

to earth the helpless African; and bid him drink that cup of sorrow,

which yourselves have dashed, indignant, from Oppression’s fainting


Roscoe showed admirable courage as shunned popular acclaim,

vigorously admonishing his Liverpool readers and reminding them that

for all of us there comes a time of reckoning: ‘Forget not, Britain,

higher still than thee, sits the great Judge of nations, who can

weigh the wrong, and can repay’.

Two decades later, in 1807, he was briefly elected to serve as a

Liverpool Member of Parliament. He ignored the hatred which his

position might engender and strongly supported Wilberforce. Other

abolitionists told him his vote in the House was worth twenty. After

just three months in the House of Commons: ‘I consider it the

greatest happiness of my existence to lift up my voice on this

occasion, with the friends of justice and humanity’.

Roscoe showed similar courage in supporting the ideals – though not

the fanaticism – of the French Revolution. From his political position, as a Whig, he bitterly attacked Edmund Burke, who changed sides and became an opponent of political reform. Roscoe subsequently opposed the Napoleonic Wars – again risking adverse public reaction – and by keeping alive the ideal of political reform,

he and the Whigs paved the way for the reforming legislation of the

1830’s and probably helped avert a bloody revolution.

Two hundred years ago, in the 1790, he penned these lines about the

revolution in Europe: ‘Too long had the Oppression and Terror

entwined those fancy-formed chains that enslave the free mind . . .

Seize then the glad moment, and hail the decree that bids millions

rejoice, and a nation be free’ words which today should resound

around the capitals of Eastern Europe. Roscoe fought against slavery

and championed individual liberty. He was adamantly opposed to the

Test Acts which debarred and discriminated against Dissenters and

Roman Catholics – another unpopular cause in the Liverpool of his

day. He argued for ‘general toleration’. As a dissenting Christian

himself – he was a Unitarian – he refused to compromise when offered

the position of the Deputy-Lieutenancy of the County (which the law

said could only be held by a member of the Established Church). Even

when he was assured that the law would not be invoked against him, he

held that bad laws should be repealed not ignored. Nearly two

centuries later the American Civil Rights leader, Martin Luther King,

said, “Do not ask if it is politic, do not as if it is timely,

ask if it is right”. Roscoe saw clearly the difference between

right and wrong and lived his life accordingly.

Nor was Roscoe simply long on words and short on actions.

He supported every project calculated for the public good. The

extent of his private charities were considerable. The foundation of

Liverpool’s Athenaeum and the Botanic Gardens were largely at his

instigation. And his commitment to his city and his family was

second to none.

He lived successively at Mount Pleasant, Dingle, Islington, and

Allerton Hall and died in 1831 at his home in Toxteth’s Lodge Lane.

He wrote often about the city he loved. But his children’s poem, The

Butterfly’s Ball, is my favourite. Written for his son Robert, he describes some of the guests at revels in the insect world: ‘And there was the gnat, and the dragon fly too, with all their relations, green orange and blue; and there came the moth with his plumage of down, and the hornet, in jacket of yellow and brown’. King George III liked it so much that he had the poem set to music for his three daughters, the Princesses Elizabeth, Augusta and Mary, and it was publicly performed for the first time since the War at the Roscoe Exhibition that I opened at the Picton Library earlier this year.

Many of those who formed your Society in 1827 would have personally known William Roscoe and would have been influenced by him. Perhaps his spirit is one of the reasons why so many others have subsequently played their part in the public and political life of our City and Nation. men like Roscoe and Shawcross should inspire this generation to consider how they might use their own gifts for the common good. As Liverpool rejoices in its new found title of “City of Culture” let it also understand that culture and civilisation depend on laws to thrive; and that if we are not to descend into chaos, we will always need lawyers committed to the highest ideals and ready to enrich our civic life by their willingness to contribute to the body politic.

May I invite you to raise your glasses and to toast the Society’s past contribution and in anticipation that the best may still be to come:

The Toast: The Liverpool Law Society


First Be Reconciled…. A Lenten Address by David Alton. Liverpool Parish Church, February 22nd, 2002

Some years ago I heard the story of a man who decided to get involved in his church’s ministry of healing. Having taken the decision, he became depressed and troubled. He knew that it was 30 years since he and his brother had quarrelled bitterly and that the ensuring family feud had led to them not uttering a word to one another over the intervening 30 years.

He resolved to put things right and having tracked down his younger brother he was initially rebuffed and rejected. He gently persisted and reconciliation followed. Healed of this personal unresolved pain he was freed up to be of use to others.

This man’s story reminds me of how often we prescribe remedies for others that we reject for ourselves. It is easy to tell people in far away places to end their savagery or their rivalrous factionalism, to lecture warring tribes in central Africa, or to demand peace processes on the West Bank or the Falls Road, and yet permit domestic warfare in our own homes and families.

Is the physician not commanded first to heal himself? Do we not first need to take out the plank from our own eyes before we can see the needs of others.

At the weekend Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, the President of the Family Division of our courts, was reflecting on the level of bitterness between estranged couples and the effects on their children. Under British law it is true that you can divorce your wife or husband, but you cannot divorce your children.

There has been a 600 per cent increase in marriage breakdown over the last 30 years and one in five children now see their parents divorce before they are 16. With 43% of our marriages breaking up some 800,000 children now have no contact with their fathers. It is estimated that 40% of non-resident parents lose contact with their children within two years of separation or divorce.

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

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

If that is true for the most senior members of our judiciary how much more so must it be true for each of us.

In Saint Mark’s account of the gospel, Our Lord says, “If a kingdom is divided against itself that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself that house cannot stand.”

At one level many people have grander houses than ever before, but broken and divided homes. That is why we need first to be reconciled.

The undermining of binding promises in a family context – the breaking of personal covenants, which for the Christian are made sacramentally between a man, a woman and God Himself – has led to a broader breakdown of communal responsibilities. Trust between people weakens as covenant comes to mean less and less; and in the absence of reconciled parents – willing to make sacrifices at least, as earlier generations put it, “for the sake of the children” – can we be surprised when the same children make our

messed-up values their own?

The increasing instability of family life and the very serious consequences of widespread family breakdown have a deleterious and fundamental impact on society at large. As well as the tragic personal suffering – and it is considerable – the massive economic impact of family breakdown should not be underestimated. Nor, too, should the effects of increased child poverty, poor educational achievement, and dysfunctional behaviour. Addressing both the cause and the consequences of family breakdown is central to the future health and vitality of the nation.

Private and public attitudes and policy must march hand in hand. All of us can play a part in strengthening marriage and family life. Governments can help remove pressures on families such as job insecurity, poor housing, poverty and debt and by improving the support for those who are left to bring up a child alone. The rampant commercial pressures of longer working hours and Sunday trading leaves many families with little or no shared time together – the precious moments in which quarrels and misunderstandings are settled and when space is made to allow the healing and reconciliation to begin.

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

But instead of reconciling and strengthening our family relationships, they’ve been under siege. The great deceit has been perpetrated that we can use and dispose of one another at will and that there are no consequences.

A comment by Will Carling plainly reveals who deeply the Great Deceit has now become engrained. He said, “I didn’t believe I should stay in a relationship just for the sake of the child. I don’t think that is what life is all about” (Guardian 7.10.98).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some men are missing because they simply are not there from the start. The role of men has been reduced or demeaned. For instance, by the payment of money to young men for their sperm so that artificial insemination techniques can be used to create their child in an anonymous woman’s womb. The young man has been paid for sex and surrendered his child.

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

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


With three of my children I have worked through the process of preparation for the sacrament of Reconciliation. For this particular adult it was especially helpful to rediscover the importance and the beauty of this most underused and underestimated of the seven sacraments.

As the children prepared each week we studied a chapter of the preparatory booklet together. The first thing we did was to take apart the word reconciliation. One of the best interpretations that we could place on the word was that it meant putting broken things back together. Prodigal fathers and prodigal sons need to be put back together again – and fathers need to tell their sons and their daughters that they love them. Following Our Lord’s own baptism God the Father was not abashed about proclaiming his love for His son: “And suddenly there was a voice from heaven, “this is my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on Him.” (Matt 3:17)

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

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

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

A survey by Care for The Family found that

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contrast the father who has walked out on his children with the deep and enduring love that Jesus had for the Father: “I and the Father are one” he said. So many people today would give so much to be able to say that.

We all know how quickly the child becomes a man and that one day we will wake up to the experience of a child who says that they are too busy to spend time with their parent – perhaps the inevitable result for parents who declined to spend time with their children. No one was ever heard to say on their deathbed that they wish they had spent more time at the office. If families are to be reconciled, a good beginning is to set aside organised time to spend with the family or with the child – insisting that Sunday, for instance really will be a different day – giving

some space to build relationships.

Giving expensive pieces of technological equipment to a child can be a substitute for giving yourself. Someone wisely remarked that you can be so busy giving your child what you didn’t have that you fail to give them what you did have. Do we express our love through our presence or through the materialism of an expensive present.? Perhaps during Lent we could designate some television free evenings. The flickering box in the corner has too often taken the place of the flickering lights of the hearth, around which family conversation and crack could take place.

Einstein said that if you want your child to be a genius “read aloud to them.” Children should be valued whether or not they are geniuses but the cultivation of a love of books and reading aloud to them will provide a lifelong source of enjoyment that can be shared across the generations. In the context of the chosen stories there can be conversations that transmit values and facilitate healing.

In earlier generations a boy would work in the fields or at the smithy or mill alongside his father. Skills would be transmitted and the child would learn about responsibilities, duties and obligations. Today children are taught about rights and entitlements by media gurus and politicians but who transmits these far more important timeless values? If we want our children to share faith and our values we have to take the time to pass them on.

Someone made the calculation that if your child is aged ten, they have already lived 3650 days. That leaves another 2920 before their childhood is over. The sand is always flowing through the egg timer but it is never too late in life to begin. However old your child, your brother, your sister, your mother or your father may be it is never too late to begin.

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

Above all we must contradict the mythology that fathers are a feckless bunch who couldn’t care less about their progeny and who regard parenting as someone else’s problem. Without responsible fathers we will not produce responsible children or, for the future, responsible citizens. And if we wish to heal the conflicts in those far away places let us first be healed in our own homes; let us first be reconciled.

A Concluding Prayer:

This is a prayer of Fr.Nicholas Postgate, who was arrested while baptising a baby, taken before the Lenten Assizes in York in 1679, and executed at the age of 82. In recalling his words we thank God that we live in more tolerant times, learning to honour and respect one another’s traditions:

O gracious God, o Saviour sweet,

O Jesus, think of me;

And suffer me to kiss Thy feet

Though late I come to Thee.

Behold, dear Lord, I come to Thee

With sorrow and with shame

For when Thy bitter Wounds I see

I know I caused the same.

O sweetest Lord, lend me the wings

Of faith and perfect love,

That I may fly from earthly things

And mount to those above.

For there is joy both true and fast,

And no cause to lament,

But here is toil both first and last,

And cause oft to repent.

But now my soul doth hate the things

In which she took delight,And unto Thee, the King of Kings,

Would fly with all her might.

But oh, the weight of flesh and blood

Doth sore my soul detain;

Unless Thy grace doth work, O God!

I rise but fall again.

And thus dear Lord I fly about

In weak and weary case,

And like the dove that Noah sent

I find no resting place.

My wearied wings, sweet Jesus mark,

And when Thou thinkest best,

Stretch forth Thy hand out of the ark,

And take me to thy rest.


Liverpool Parish Church.

Speech on 4th April 2003, at 1.00pm.

By David Alton.

Living on the edge.

As we approach Easter, our thoughts turn towards the Resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday, and towards new life. It is a joyful festival, and one that we in the West celebrate often lavishly, especially since Easter Sunday for many of us represents the day when the better things of life, such as wine, cake or chocolate, come back onto the menu after the sobriety and self-restraint of Lent.

But while we think of new life, it is not life and happiness, but rather death and hardship that will be prevalent in the minds of many this Easter. And the tragedy – as we have seen so graphically in Iraq and in Israel and Palestine – is that so often it is the children that suffer the most.

As I reflect on the twelve months that have passed since my last Lenten Address in this Church, and wondering about how best to address this year’s theme of “living on the edge”, I feel compelled to talk today about the plight of so many of the world’s children.

How appropriate are the words of Our Lord: “suffer the little children to come unto me,” and his warning that if we deliberately hurt one of them it would be better to have a millstone tied around our necks and to be thrown into the depths. Suffer the children do, and reach out to them we must. I want today to talk about four situations that I have seen or heard about first hand.

Last autumn I was in Southern Sudan and Kenya and Jesus’ words might have been uttered with Africa in mind. For with one million orphans often living rootless and disaffected lives, and the number rising exponentially, who can doubt that this will be the most serious challenge that a continent riven by so many crises must face?

Orphaned children are the sharp end of the Aids pandemic but urban drift, civil war, a collapsing education system, human trafficking, and corruption are all playing their part. In September I saw some of the implications of this new crisis – and some of the ways we can respond.

In a timely report, “Children On The Brink” several agencies including the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), have just spelt out the scale of the disaster. They say that in 88 countries studied “More than 13 million children currently under the age of 15 have lost one or both parents to Aids, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa. By 2010, this number is expected to jump to more than 25 million.” World-wide, by 2010 UNICEF says the number of orphans in the world will have risen to around 106 million (about a quarter Aids related).

By the same year, in 12 African countries orphans will comprise 15% of all children under the age of 15 and there are already indications that this will not be the peak.

In Zimbabwe, for instance, 17. 6% of children are already orphans (three-quarters left parentless by Aids) and, in Kenya, HIV prevalence among pregnant women ranges from 3% in Mosoriot to 31% in Chulaimbo. Bishop Patrick Harrington, the bishop of Lodwar, in Kenya’s remote Turkana region told me that the District Medical Officer reports 34% of the population infected by the HIV/Aids virus. Poignantly one young Kenyan simply said to me “help us, Kenya is dying.”

The consequences of a vast dislocated and embittered underclass of orphaned children will be devastating for Africa. Tomorrow’s revolutionaries and tomorrow’s coups are already in the making in the festering slums to which children with no hope and no prospects migrate. Here is a fertile breeding ground for both Marxism and the radical fundamentalism of some Islamic groups.

Aids is a major contributor to this crisis but not the only one. The ravages of African civil war and tribal killings also take their terrible toll. In Southern Sudan the vicious policies of the Sudanese government have caused 2 million deaths and 4 million internally displaced people – including vast numbers of children.

Development is impossible in places like Sudan’s diocese of Torit, which is being pounded into the ground. The auxiliary bishop, Akio Johnson, showed me where bombs had showered down on their schools and the shelters where children take refuge “like foxes in holes.” For most children there is no education at all. There are just 20 secondary schools in an area the size of Western Europe.

In neighbouring Kenya the picture ought to be better. However, I didn’t meet a single Kenyan who wasn’t hoping for a change of government after elections later this year. A senior schools inspector, Samuel Lepati told me that “the country’s children have become marginalised.”

I visited the slum town of Kibera, where 700,000 people, one third of the population of Nairobi, are living in 21,115 structures. It would be hard to call them homes or even dwellings. It is said to be the largest slum in sub-Saharan Africa. In rooms six-foot by six foot whole families try to survive. They live among garbage heaps where typhoid, TB, cholera and HIV are rampant. Drug abuse, incest, crime and prostitution equally so. At 15, children must leave and find someway to make a life on their own.

But what is being done about this scandalous neglect of Africa’s children?

The African Network for the Prevention and Protection Against Child Abuse and Neglect (ANPPCAN) provides more than thirty pro bono lawyers to champion children’s rights and in two respects Kenya has begun to address the challenge. They have put new children’s courts and children’s laws in place. But they need an Enforcement Unit, as the laws are not yet biting.

In opening ANPPCAN’s latest initiative, a textile factory employing former prisoners, many of them little more than children, I saw plenty of evidence that given a chance people can make it on their own. I reminded them of the prophet’s words that “where there is no vision, the people will perish.” Along with clearer vision there are practical things that can be done to relieve the suffering of the children. Jubilee Action’s new dormitory for blind Rendille children in northern Kenya is an example: a sign of hope.

But it is not only in Africa that such suffering takes place.

In January of this year, I travelled to the Burma border where I was taking evidence, along with American Congressman, Joseph Pitts, on behalf of Jubilee Campaign. We collected truly shocking accounts of the latest violations of human rights. Although the British Government still refuses to categorise these crimes as genocide there is no doubt in my mind that no other word adequately describes the realities in Burma’s Karen State.

The story of one small child I met at a refugee camp near Mae Sot illustrates how the brutality and violence of this perfidious regime continues.

Saw Naing Gae is just eight years old. He saw the Burmese military shoot dead his mother and his father. He was then trafficked across the border and sold to a Thai family. Desperately unhappy he managed to escape and made his way to the camp, where he is staying with a group of thirty other orphans. Even as these children sang and welcomed their visitors Saw Naing Gae seemed unable to join in or even to smile. Every trace of joy and innocence had been stamped out of him; and all of this by the age of 8.

Saw Naing Gae squatted alongside four other children, brothers and sisters, whose parents had also been brutally murdered. The oldest girl, aged about 12, and now head of their family, dissolved into tears as she recounted their story.

In another case, Naw Pi Lay aged 45, mother old five children and pregnant with her sixth, was murdered in June of last year by the Burmese militia. During a massacre in the Dooplaya district of the Karen State, twelve other people were killed, including young children.

The Burmese Junta have turned their country into one vast concentration camp. They are Nazi thugs who deploy Nazi methods. Like their Nazi predecessors they fail to appreciate the strength of the human spirit and the capacity to endure and survive.

Typical are the joint secretaries of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. Bo Kyi, a student leader who spent seven years in Burmese jails, told me that “torture is designed to break down your identity, to turn you into a non-entity with no connection to the world outside of the torture chamber.”

In amongst it all are people trying to bring hope and help – like the Karen priest I visited who is simply known as “the jungle priest.” He is running an illegal school for young people denied education. Or the Thai nuns, inspired by the vision of one of their number, Sister Love. They have created a wonderful centre and school for six hundred children. The Life Centre for girls rescued from traffickers, the Bible School in the heart of one of the camps, and the non-governmental organisations are all doing wonderful work.

These words from Psalm 61 were handed to me as I left the Karen refugee camp on the Burma border: “Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to you. I call as my heart grows faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.”

They represent a plaintive and last desperate cry by a people who have suffered beyond reason. Their cry is indeed issued from the ends of the earth and it is a cry for Burma’s children – for its future. How much longer will they have to wait for the rest of the world to respond?

Elsewhere in the Asian continent, there is another brutal dictatorship, North Korea, where the people are also living on the edge.

President Kim Jong-il, the son of Kim Il-sung, the former president, has no claim to any democratic election, and has treated his own people with unbelievable brutality and viciousness.

The people are starving, the hospitals are without medicine and a whole generation has grown up stunted and mentally retarded because of malnutrition. 60% of the people starve. During the past decade up to 3 million people are estimated to have died of famine and aid agencies estimate that 70,000 children will die in the next few months.

Those who dare to dissent are sent to re-education camps or prison.

Last October, a North Korean Christian who had escaped from the country came to see me here at Westminster. His story was harrowing and disturbing.

He told me how he had seen his wife and all bar one of his children shot dead by Kim Jong-il’s militia. Subsequently he escaped across the border to China with his son. The boy died en route.

He encouraged me to read the prison memoirs of Soon Ok Lee, in which she describes in detail the brutality and barbarism of the system in North Korea. If anyone is in any doubt as to the horror of life in North Korea, they should read The Eyes of the Tailless Animals, Soon Ok Lee’s account of the sham judicial system, the show trials, the starvation, the forced labour, the degradation, humiliation and rape of prisoners. Through her eyes we get a glimpse of this corrupt, paranoid and tyrannical regime.

Becoming a Christian in North Korea is a serious crime. Many are thrown in camps or prison – where they are kept in horrific conditions. There is evidence of water torture, severe beatings, sexual assault and violation, as well as psychological and verbal abuse. Up to 1 million people are incarcerated in these gulags of North Korea.

On March 2nd at the 4th International Conference on North Korean Human Rights and Refugees, held in Prague, the catalogue of human rights abuses was systematically documented.

Professor Man-ho Heo, Professor of Law at Kyungpook National University listed the human rights abuses in the detention camps. According to the Sunday Times of March 9th, children of the elite in addition, bizarrely, to triplets are taken from their parents by the age of 2 and are placed in special schools to break family bonds and to indoctrinate them with the ideology of the regime.

The regime teaches its children to hate the outside world, especially the United States. Simultaneously the late Kim Il-sung has been elevated and is revered as a god to be followed with unswerving obedience.

In 1998, Medecins Sans Frontieres pulled out of North Korea because aid agencies were denied access to the so-called 9-27 camps in which sick and disabled children were dumped under a decree issued by Kim to “normalise” the country.

From North Korea, Burma, Sudan and Kenya let me give my last example of how children are caught up in far away places in disasters and situations not of their making.

Last week I met the Interior Minister from the Central American republic of Honduras. It is a country where a staggering 50 children and young people are being murdered each and every single month. Between 1998 and the end of last year around 1500 children and young people, including street children, were put to death. The number is rising inexorably – with 67 children butchered last month alone. This is a bloody stain on the reputation of a small country of just six million people.

Jorge Alcerro, the Honduran Interior Minister, admitted to me that two thirds of the instigators of these crimes remain unidentified. He says that the have set up a Special Unit to investigate the deaths of the children but that progress has been painfully slow.

When I asked him about the 5,000 youngsters involved in the country’s gangland – and from whom come many of the perpetrators and victims – he admitted that only one third of children of secondary school age are actually being educated in schools: “Most of the gangland members have failed in their education. Many would leave the gangs if education and resources were available,” Senor Alcerro claimed.

He also told me that “drugs have become a way of living for gangland members – and that their usage leads to criminality. There are also links between the criminal fraternity, organised crime and the police.”

The plight of Latin America’s 40 million estimated street children, and the suffering children of Honduras in particular, has been exposed by Casa Alianza – Covenant House – which was founded in 1981 by a Catholic nun. Today, its Chief Executive is a Briton, Bruce Harris. He says that Casa Alianza is serving a phenomenal 9,000 children a year – most of whom have been orphaned by civil war, abused or rejected by dysfunctional and poverty-stricken families, and left to fester by indifferent and callous political leaders.

Chillingly, some Honduran newspapers have even suggested that the killings might be an answer to the country’s internal insecurity and crime. 66,000 criminal acts were committed last year alone according to Senor Alcerro.

Casa Alianza says that in Honduras the legal process simply doesn’t work. The Special Unit set up to investigate the murders has been ineffective and totally understaffed. So far only one of the 24 cases given to the Unit by Casa Alianza has resulted in a conviction: “Last month,” they say “64 more children were murdered, some on the doorstep of Casa Alianza. We see these tragedies on a daily basis. We end up burying a large number of the children.”

Amnesty International tell me that since coming to office in January 2002 President Ricardo Maduro has

been saying the right things but “in spite of numerous promises and government initiatives, there has in reality been no decline in the number of deaths.” Amnesty say that 22% of cases involve members of the security forces and “other people acting with the implicit consent of the authorities.”

Senor Alcerro paid tribute to the work undertaken by the Church and by Casa Alianza in working for justice and in providing practical help. Casa Alianza reunites 28 former street children with their families each month – 85% of whom never return to the streets.

The importance of that work is underlined by these moving lines written by Ludvin Omar Valdes, a 17 year-old murdered in 1998:

“To you my dear friend I say

don’t let yourself be forgotten,

you that has no father

and therefore has slept on the streets

making a doorway your only nest

that the rich have invaded

to be able to finish you off.”

Sudan and Kenya, in Africa, Burma and North Korea in Asia, and Honduras in Latin America.

In all these countries and in many more children are living on the very edge of what is bearable or tolerable.

It is all too easy to look at these awful situations, and to throw up your hands up in despair: to feel like Robert Louis Stephenson’s fictional child who plaintively utters the words “The world is so big and I am so small I do not like it at all, at all.” We may not like it very much but each of us can do something to help.

Sixteen years ago, I helped to set up the Jubilee Campaign, a Christian group which lobbies worldwide for human rights, runs targeted campaigns on behalf of people, especially children, who suffer in just the sort of situations that I have spoken about today.

You can help by becoming involved with Jubilee and supporting them in their campaigns. Find out more about them on their website,

There are many other organisations and charities which you can join and become active in, and I would urge you to do so.

So as Easter approaches, and as we celebrate the day when Christ rose again from the dead, let us give new life and hope to the children of the world, let’s suffer the children to come back from the edge and into the centre of all our considerations and calculations.

A Prayer of St Ignatius of Loyola

Teach us, good Lord, to serve thee as thou deservest;

to give and not to count the cost;

to fight and not to heed the wounds;

to toil, and not to seek for rest;

to labour, and to ask for no reward,

save that of knowing that we do thy will;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.




Lenten talk, Liverpool Parish Church 2004.

David Alton.

A couple of years ago I published a book called Pilgrim Ways, where I write about the traditional places of pilgrimage in Britain and Ireland – everywhere from Glastonbury to Walsingham, Croagh Patrick to Holywell.

Writing that book reminded me that the point of pilgrimage is to hep the pilgrim understand that the whole of life is a pilgrimage: a long journey with its ultimate destination, a final reconciliation with the God who made us. All of us have to undertake the walk of faith.

When I thought about what to say today I wondered whether to reflect on those places of pilgrimage. Then I wondered whether to share with you some of the remarkable stories I have heard on recent visits to the isolated Hermit Kingdom of North Korea or to the violent favelllas of Latin America, recently captured in that remarkable film, City of God – and where 4 to 5 children and adolescents die every day. In those places the walk of faith is fraught with danger and diffidult. 80 kilometers north of Pyongyang I visited a town called Anju – where 55 years ago, during the Korean war, the Communists bombed the churches as they tried to obliterate all religious faith. Yet, despite the ensuing years of misery and persecution, I learnt how believers had continued to worship in the rubble of their bombed church, and continue to do so to this very day.

By comparison we take our right to walk our walk of faith very much for granted.

But, in the end, I decided I would share with you a story I heard first hand just a week ago. It’s a story of change: of metanoia. It’s a story of a woman willing to admit she was wrong, and who has undergone a deep conversion experience. Hers is a story that I found personally challenging – one that I hope will one day be better known by society at large, not least because her walk of faith is a journey I should like us all to join. I tell you the story because I passionately believe in the truth of the words in the book of Genesis that we are each made in the image of our maker. As the late Archbishop Worlock used to say, we must reverence each God-given life, “from the womb to the tomb.”

My encounter with the remarkable woman I will talk about began a few months ago. I was in Washington DC speaking at a hearing in the US Senate. After it was over, we talked informally about the contrast between the urgency and passion surrounding the American debate about abortion – compared with the indifference in the UK. I told my hosts that I very much wanted to talk to Norma McCorvey about why this is so.

It was her legal case in the Supreme Court, fought under the pseudonym, Jane Roe, which legalised abortion in America in 1973. One of the details of that case that few people know is that having won her case she delivered her baby and gave her up for adoption: it was never aborted.

Norma McCorvey’s reappraisal of the abortion issue is synonymous with the sea change that has taken place in the US. Although she says “The British have never needed a Jane Roe. I heartily wish I had never been Jane Roe for my country” I suspect we now need a Norma McCorvey.

The decision of this one-time icon of the abortion rights movement to changed her mind, and to spend her whole life working for the right to life, has acted as a catalyst in the US.

Following her decision to take a pro-life position she later asked to be be baptised and she become a Catholic. Her personal journey mirrors that of the 1940s activist, Dorothy Day, and that of Dr.Bernard Nathanson, the New York abortionist who, having been responsible for 75,000 abortions, could no longer collaborate in a lucrative but merciless industry. It was film footage from his clinic that was the basis for the film “The Silent Scream” – that shows the unborn child trying to escape Nathanson’s instruments.

My friends in Washington did arrange for Norma McCorvey and I to have our conversation.

I asked her whether she would visit Britain as the guest of the All Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group (not the anti-abortion group as the BBC have instructed their journalists to call us: we’re not “anti” anything we’re positively pro-life, for the woman and her child).

With the help of Right To Life and LIFE – whose annual conference she addressed in Northampton last Saturday – the visit to the UK was arranged.

Her testimony to Peers and MPs was a moving story and a poignant challenge from a woman who has had the courage to change her mind.

Norma McCorvey’s address was given in Parliament on the same day that a survey of 5,000 British teenagers was published by Bliss magazine It reported that two thirds of our teenage children believe that there are far too many abortions in Britain.

In truth, who could disagree?

There have been 6 million abortions in Britain since 1967 – 600 every working day. Last year there was a small, 0.5% fall in the total number of abortions – to 175,600: 78% of which were funded by the tax payer.

One in five pregnancies now ends in abortion.

Notoriously, we even permit it right up to birth on a disabled child: for reasons such as cleft pallet – an issue I raised on Tuesday in a short debate I will initiate in the House of Lords. This follows the brave decision of a young Anglican curate in Chester to challenge the legality of such abortions.

And to what else has unlimited abortion led?

Britain’s abandonment of a belief in the sanctity of human life has paved the way for one million human embryos to be destroyed or experimented upon in the past ten years. It has also led to the routine creation and destruction of human embryos for so-called therapeutic cloning. We create life, only to plunder it for life-giving stem cells and then we destroy the donor. It’s the ultimate in consumerism.

We destroy life before birth with barely a thought and now disabled people and the terminally ill are in our sights.

Just the night before Norma McCorvey spoke in Parliament the House of Lords debated the latest euthanasia Bill seeking to permit the killing of the terminally ill. The Bill was referred on Wednesday to a House of Lords Select Committee.

Despite the protests of Lady Warnock and others, who dispute “the slippery slope” argument, when you authorise a little killing, you can quickly see to what it leads.

The picture in America has been little different.

There have been 44 million abortions since the Supreme Court upheld Norma McCorvey’s claim that the decision of the Texas district attorney, Henry Wade, had infringed her constitutional right to seek an abortion.

Roe V Wade was heralded as a fundamental breakthrough in human rights. In reality it has left a trail of bitterness and blood.

There are about 1.3 million abortions each year in the US, over 3,500 every working day: 150 every hour, 1 every 24 seconds.

The sheer scale of abortion is a key reason why Americans have become so passionate about this issue.

It is a fact that in the millennium year of 2000 more children died from abortion than Americans died in the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World Wars I and II, and the wars in Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf and Iraq combined. More nascent American lives lost in one year than in all those conflicts combined.

As Norma McCorvey ruefully said at Westminster “I don’t feel heroic over a law that has killed millions of babies.”

Yet, she is also entitled to the comfort of knowing that her brave decision, in 1995, to say she was wrong, has started to change minds and hearts in the US.

After reaching a high point of 1.6 million in 1990, the number of abortions performed annually in the US has dropped to levels not seen since the late 1970s – and targeted and highly effective advertising in some States, pointing to the alternatives and offering practical help, has seen truly dramatic falls.

Yet Norma McCorvey knows better than anyone that she has taken on a powerful and well-organised industry. Last year alone the US abortion industry generated $400 million – and like its British counterpart it employs “doctors” and “nurses” who do nothing else. One doctor told a committee chaired by Lord Rawlinson of Ewall QC that he had personally generated over £3 million in income from the abortions he had undertaken.

Norma McCorvey says she was used by lawyers out to make a name for themselves in 1973: “As Jane Roe I was a guinea pig for two ambitious lawyers with their own agenda.” They didn’t even bother to tell her about the Supreme Court decision. Like everyone else “I read it in the newspaper.”

But if she saw the abortion lobby from the inside she also saw the industry the same way.

For several years she worked in abortion clinics, which, she told parliamentarians, were often so filthy that they were no better than the back street premises which legal abortion was supposed to replace.

She also began to understand that few abortions had anything to do with hard cases.

In the UK last year just 1% (1800 abortions) were under ground E (risk of disability). 98% are done under the social clause.

If ever you needed proof that “hard cases make bad laws” this surely is it.

Norma McCorvey saw first hand how abortion was being used to get rid of babies because of their gender, for social convenience, or because it was simply a new form of contraception.

In the clinics she met women who were on their eight and ninth abortions “who’s counting? one of them asked me.” Another told her she was having the abortion because the baby was a girl “but we wanted a boy.”

She also describes how a woman in her second trimester began her abortion, “suddenly coughed and the baby was flushed out, still in the placenta sac. A new girl who was working with me lifted the sheet and said to me: “I thought you said they weren’t babies.” She was right. The foetus was very much a baby.”

Devastated by all of this, she became chronically depressed, began drinking heavily, and started to use drugs. She kept questioning what it was with which she had become synonymous.

When women presented for abortion she began urging them to “search their heart and their soul: talk it over again with the child’s father, with your parents, with your friends,” she would urge. “Why not carry the baby to full term and let it be adopted?” she asked. She was soon sacked.

In 1995 she literally moved next door from the abortion clinic at which she was working into the offices of the pro-life group Operation Rescue.

In 1998 she published her testimony “Won By Love” and established her own lay ministry, Roe No More. Later in the year, she was received into the Catholic Church. She says that through her Christian faith she has been able “to taste true love and the sense of forgiveness” that each of us needs. Roe No More says its mandate is “to spread the truth and to know things as they are.” Her statement that “I’m being true to myself and that is all that matter to me and God” is profoundly challenging to anyone who takes the trouble to listen to her.

At the end of her address to Peers and MPs Norma McCorvey handed me copies of 1,000 affidavits that she has collected from post-abortive women.

These sworn statements make for harrowing reading. They give the lie that choices carry no consequences. The law may say it’s just “my right to choose” but these accounts tell a very different story.

You cannot trivialise the taking of your own child’s life. The developing life of a child cannot be reduced to yet another of life’s choices. You may be able to scrape the baby out of a mother’s womb, but never out of her heart.

What Norma McCorvey’s story illustrates is that we don’t need false moralising about all of this. Few of us are in a position to do that. But what we do need to do is to get real.

As Norma McCorvey concluded: “This has long ceased to be a feminist issue about a woman’s right to choose.” Perhaps her courage in coming to Britain and telling her story might trigger a new debate about what it is we permit with barely a murmur of protest.

As each of us walks our walk of faith perhaps we too should pray for the courage to admit we can be wrong, and the courage to speak out, even when it makes us unpopular. If we truly believe in the “imago Dei” – that each is made in the image of God – and of infinite importance – we surely cannot be indifferent to these, the very least of our bretheren. For as Jesus said: “when we do it to the least of our bretheren we do it to Him.

The Politics of Cloning

The Politics of Cloning – 2003

At a time when occasional voices are being raised to assert the acceptability of human cloning and even to put it more rapidly into practice, it is important that we reiterate our determination to defend human dignity against the abuse of scientific techniques, and to defend vulnerable human life.

Reproductive Cloning:

We have just heard claims of success in reproductive cloning. However, owing to the extremely high failure rate of animal cloning, such claims will not be accepted by the scientific community, unless independent scientific proof is provided, such as comparison of the DNA of the child with that of the person from whom it was cloned, with the investigation carried out by independent, reputable scientists.

It is clear from current scientific evidence that the vast majority of clones would die in the womb, and the few that developed to birth would be likely to die within a few days, or would be severely handicapped, or would die early.

The most famous animal cloner is Professor Wilmut, who is best known for the creation of ‘Dolly’ the sheep. In an article this month in Nature Reviews Genetics, he says: “Our experience with other mammals shows us that any attempts at cloning humans are inherently unsafe at present. On these grounds alone, scientists should not condone human reproductive cloning, even without taking into account the equally important ethical and moral issues.” (Rhind et al., 2003).

An article in the New Scientist paints a graphic picture of the fate of cloned animals that do survive to
birth: “Abnormalities in those surviving to term frequently include oversized hearts and lungs, enlarged tongues, squashed faces, poorly functioning kidneys, intestinal blockages, immune deficiencies, diabetes, shortened tendons causing feet to twist into useless curves, a remarkable degree of obesity and impaired intelligence.” (Cohen and Concar, 2001). However, in many cases, even severe abnormalities in reproductive cloning may be undetectable until the animal dies unexpectedly. An animal which is apparently completely healthy one day, may die the next. “Foetuses that look robust at 60 days may die at 61… a clone that dies after five days of life can have normal chromosomes and genes while still in the womb.” (Cohen and Concar, 2001).

Cloned animals that survive longer than a few days can still die at a young age. For example, in one study it was found that many cloned mice died early owing to severe lung disease, tumours and liver necrosis (Ogonuki et al., 2002).

Professors Wilmut and Jaenisch state, “There is no reason to believe that the outcomes of attempted human cloning will be any different…if human cloning is attempted, those embryos that do not die early may live to become abnormal children and adults; both are troubling outcomes.” (Jaenisch and Wilmut, 2001)

Some have claimed that it would be possible to screen out abnormal embryos and not to implant them.

However, Professor Ian Wilmut, in his article in Nature Reviews Genetics, states clearly that it is not possible currently to reliably predict which cloned embryos are safe, because firstly, current screening techniques using pre-implantation diagnosis only check specific genetic abnormalities, whereas cloned embryos have profound epigenetic abnormalities as well as genetic defects. Secondly, even if epigenetic abnormalities were examined, it would be impossible to carry out adequate checks because (a) abnormalities in cloned embryos have been found to be different from cell to cell. Therefore testing individual cells would not give an indication of whether other cells in the embryo were normal or not; and (b) it would require knowledge of all of the potential adverse epigenetic effects, which is currently not possible.

As Professors Wilmut and Jaenish state: “We believe that attempts to clone human beings at a time when the scientific issues of nuclear cloning have not been clarified, are dangerous and irresponsible.” (Jaenisch and Wilmut, 2001)

Therapeutic cloning:

Concerning “therapeutic” cloning, ontologically, of course, there is no difference between so-called ‘therapeutic’ and reproductive cloning. Both involve the manufacture of human embryos. If anything, in its consequences, ‘therapeutic’ cloning is even more ethically and scientifically unacceptable than reproductive cloning. The cloned embryo will be used as a donor without its consent; it will be manipulated, plundered and then destroyed. Furthermore, there are serious potential health risks with “therapeutic” cloning, which I will expand upon later in the talk.

Politics of the debate on cloning and embryonic stem cells:

Approximately two years ago, in a landmark report to the House of Lords, the Science and Technology Committee stated that after the effects of BSE on public confidence in agriculture and science and after the saga of genetics crops, science is facing an emerging crisis of confidence in Britain. They said: “many are deeply uneasy about the huge opportunities presented by areas of science including biotechnology and information technology, which seem to be advancing far ahead of their awareness and assent. In turn, public unease, mistrust and outright hostility are breeding a climate of deep anxiety among scientists themselves….Science’s relationship with United Kingdom society is under strain.”

The UK Parliament’s decision to authorise the cloning of human embryos for therapeutic purposes without allowing proper scrutiny and debate has, I believe, exacerbated that strain and mistrust.

Developments in science are racing ahead of ethics. Parliament is struggling to catch up. The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee has recently announced an inquiry into the operation of 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act. I hope that this inquiry will help give Parliament an opportunity, at long last, to properly analyse human reproductive technologies and in particular, the threat that human cloning poses to the future of the human race.

When we debated the Human Fertilisation (Research Purposes) Regulations in January 2001 and in particular the proposal to establish a retrospective Select Committee to look into the issues of stem cell research and human cloning I likened this to a situation where a judge were to give “out the verdict and sentence before hearing the defence, the prosecution and the witnesses.” (Hansard; 22.01.01 Col. 23). It could also be likened to shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.

Sadly, the suspicion that I and others held about this whole investigative process has been confirmed, not least because the neutrality of the scientific advice to the Committee may have been compromised. The scientific adviser chosen to advise the Committee stated in an article in BusinessWeek Online five months before the Committee completed its report that, “We (the MRC) are definitely going to be putting more money into this area (that is, embryonic stem cell research), but it’s still too early to say how much….” (BusinessWeek Online, 10th September, 2001).

Considering that the Select Committee was set up to investigate whether or not the right decision had been made to permit embryonic stem cell research and “therapeutic” cloning, this is not a comment that one would expect from a neutral scientific adviser, since it presupposes that the Committee will agree that embryonic stem cell research should go ahead and that there are no suitable alternatives.

Considering also that this comment was made before either he or the Committee had heard or read evidence on the astonishing advances with adult stem cells or on the dangers of embryonic stem cells and “therapeutic” cloning, it would appear that the scientific adviser to the Select Committee had already made up his mind regardless of what scientific evidence was put before him.

In the report of the Select Committee, the Committee says that it is “greatly indebted” to their scientific adviser “for the careful and impartial way in which (he) elucidated the complex…scientific issues with which we are concerned.” (chapter 1:24). However, in view of his comments on BusinessWeek Online, one perhaps has to question the impartiality of the advice that was given.

Concerning the ethical debate, many individuals, such as Baroness Warnock, profoundly disagree with me on the ethics of embryonic stem cell research and cloning. What we do agree on is the need to restore public confidence in science and ensure that the fears of the general public surrounding genetics and the new reproductive technologies are heeded.

It is worth repeating the concerns expressed by the noble Baroness, Baroness Warnock, during our debate in January 2001:

“I deeply wish that there had been time to set up a Select Committee ahead of our having to agree to the regulations. That has been a mistake. We have been bullied and pushed to do things more quickly than we should, which I deplore…….It follows my reading of the moral obligation we have to society to follow every path that will alleviate suffering but at the same time to ensure that people who do not understand the issues, and, even more importantly, people who fear them, are given some hope that their fears may be listened to.” (Hansard; 22.01.01 Col. 45)

We are the only country in the world to allow human cloning without making it the object of primary legislation. Contrast this with the inordinate amount of time Parliament has spent debating fox hunting which will be the object of primary legislation.

When the Government does not allow Parliament to properly debate these matters, decision making authority becomes vested in unelected and unaccountable quangos such as the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), a body which has shown itself singularly unable to effectively regulate the IVF industry and is patently unable to regulate human cloning.

The report of the House of Lords Select Committee on Stem Cell Research, which was established after Parliament approved regulations authorising embryonic stem research and human cloning, was disappointingly predictable, bereft of any new insights, ethically compromised, and is already being eclipsed by exciting new scientific developments in adult stem cell research.

The House of Lords Select Committee failed to fulfil its remit. Prior to the establishment of the Select Committee I questioned the wisdom of appointing a retrospective Select Committee to look into cloning and stem cell research after Parliament had approved hastily prepared and ill-conceived Regulations authorising such research. There is little point in wasting months of parliamentary time going through the motions of an inquiry when the conclusion is fixed at the outset. The process only adds to the general contempt in which Parliament is held.

The Committee’s remit was to “examine the ethical, legal, scientific, medical and commercial issues surrounding the Regulations” approved by Parliament in January 2001 authorising embryonic stem cell research and so-called “therapeutic” cloning.

It failed to do this.

No peer who had spoken in favour of my amendment to establish a Select Committee to investigate the crucial issues at stake prior to approval of the draft regulations was appointed to the Committee. This follows a depressingly similar pattern.

In the late 1990s when the HFEA and the Human Genetics Advisory Commission asked a Committee of four people to act as an advisory body it appointed them knowing that all four were from scientific backgrounds, that all four had previously expressed support for cloning, and that two had links with the pharmaceutical industry. The Chief Medical Officer’s 14 strong Expert Working Group on Therapeutic Cloning did not contain any dissenting voices. It has always troubled me that anyone who upholds the sanctity of human life from fertilisation is automatically excluded from the debate, and especially from key committees.

All 26 witnesses who were called to appear before the Select Committee on Stem Cell Research to give evidence from a scientific or medical perspective were from the pro-‘therapeutic’ cloning, pro-embryonic stem cell lobby.

No scientists, ethicists or regulators from abroad were called to submit oral evidence. Contrast this with the President’s Council on Bioethics in the US which recently received oral submissions from Suzi Leather, Chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) and Baroness Kennedy QC, Chair of the Human Genetics Commission.

The Committee received no oral evidence from a legal perspective, despite the very serious significance of legal issues raised by the Judicial Review of the ProLife Alliance and despite the fact that major legislative concerns were aired during the January debate by various speakers including the former Attorney General, Lord Rawlinson of Ewell QC and Lord Brennan QC.

Christian denominations outside the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church were not invited to submit oral evidence. Input from the Muslim community was minimal and there were no witnesses from the Sikh or Hindu communities.

By way of contrast, plenty of time was found to receive oral evidence from individuals who, as well as being scientists with expertise in this area, also sit on bodies which are very firmly in the pro-cloning, pro-embryonic stem cell research lobby. In many cases, these individuals also have vested financial interests in ensuring that embryonic stem cell research and so-called ‘therapeutic’ cloning is given the green light.

Oral evidence inevitably carries more weight than written evidence. In its failure to invite oral evidence that would have provided a true representation of scientific fact and its failure to invite oral evidence from a broad spectrum of legal, ethical, religious and international focus groups, the Committee failed to fulfil its remit.

The Cloning Debate in the United Kingdom: ethics and science:

I would like to make two particular criticisms of the manner in which the cloning debate has been conducted in the UK by Government, by the House of Lords Select Committee on stem cell research and by the scientific and medical establishments. Firstly, the debate has been characterised by bad ethics and a flawed philosophical analysis. Secondly, outdated scientific concepts and evidence have been continually propagated, whilst dissenting or alternative scientific voices have been suppressed with possibly devastating consequences for human health.

Looking first of all at the ethics. I maintain that human embryos are nascent human beings and that all destructive research on human embryos, regardless of the potential benefits, is unethical. I remain profoundly concerned about the effect on society of our treating nascent human life as a natural resource to be mined, exploited and commodified and about so-called bioethicists who are happy to bestow their moral blessings on the latest innovation – to be sure, not for love, but for money. Since the passage of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, over 925,000 embryos have been created through in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment. Just 4% of these embryos have ever seen the light of day.

In the light of these shocking figures, what remains of the ‘special status’ of the human embryo.

Professor Leon Kass, Chair of the US President’s Council on Bioethics, said in an address he gave in London last year that I was privileged to attend:

“We are desensitized and denatured by a coarsening of sensibility that comes to regard these practices as natural, ordinary and fully unproblematic. People who can hold nascent human life in their hands unblinkingly and without awe have deadened something in their souls.”

I recognise that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 allows embryos to be created for research purposes and that we already accord an inferior value to the human embryo in its first 14 days of life. Baroness Warnock has acknowledged the “absurdities” this has produced. In a debate in the House of Lords last December she expressed “regret” that her 1984 report that led up to the 1990 legislation used the words “respect for the embryo”. She went on, “You cannot respectfully pour something down the sink”.

However, the 14 day cut off point becomes ever more obsolete in the light of new research demonstrating the sheer wonder of the human embryo.

The significance of conception as the starting point of our human existence is illustrated by an article in the prestigious scientific journal ‘Nature’ dated 4th July 2002. Headed, ‘Your destiny, from day one’ the article states, “Your world was shaped in the first 24 hours after conception. Where your head and feet would sprout, and which side would form your back and which your belly, were being defined in the minutes and hours after sperm and egg united.”

In this same article, embryologists such as Alan Handyside from the University of Leeds confirm that cells in early embryos already appear to have determined what they will become, and warn that removing a cell could therefore have adverse consequences – “It’s possible you could be removing a cell with a predictable fate and causing damage,”

This article also states that, “What is clear is that developmental biologists will no longer dismiss early mammalian embryos as featureless bundles of cells.”

However, when reading the chapter in the House of Lords Select Committee’s report entitled ‘The Status of the Early Embryo’, one would think that our understanding of the human embryo has not advanced one iota since 1990.

Incredibly, the report makes no reference to an unprecedented written submission by an ad hoc group of eminent Christian theologians from the Anglican, Catholic, Orthodox and Reformed traditions on the ethical status of the human embryo. There is far more unanimity within the Christian tradition on the sanctity of early human life than the Committee and its Chairman the Bishop of Oxford would have us believe.

Futhermore, in the New England Journal of Medicine a letter to the editor was published calling previous Journal articles addressing the ethics of “therapeutic” cloning and embryonic stem cell research “inadequate”. The letter was signed by a number of experts including C. Everett Koop, M.D., former Surgeon General, and other leading doctors and bio ethicists.

A utilitarian outlook dominated the Select Committee’s report and continues to dominate Government thinking on this issue. The Select Committee’s failure to effectively analyse the ethical issues surrounding embryo experimentation reinforces the perception that its conclusions were fixed from the outset and that tricky ethical questions would not be allowed to frustrate matters.

My second point is that the cloning debate in the UK has been characterised by outdated science and deliberate attempts to obfuscate and mislead on the science of cloning and stem cell research.

Yet look at what the leading scientific journals are saying:

“Like stuck records, ministers and policy makers continue to enthuse about therapeutic cloning even though the majority of bench scientists no longer think it’s possible or practicable to treat patients with cells derived from cloned embryos. They have already moved on to investigating the alternatives.” ‘New Scientist’ Editorial – December 2001.

“the idea of ‘therapeutic cloning’ seems to be on the wane…..most now believe that it will be too expensive and cumbersome for regular clinical use.” ‘Nature’ Magazine – December 2001.

Even Professor Alan Trounson, once a leading proponent of embryonic stem cell research and so-called ‘therapeutic’ cloning says that stem cell research (both adult and embryonic) has advanced so rapidly in the past few months that ‘therapeutic’ cloning is now unnecessary.

“My view is that there are at least three or four other alternatives that are more attractive already.”

However, regarding the main alternative to “therapeutic” cloning and embryonic stem cells, the House of Lords Select Committee report inexplicably implies that no clinical or pre-clinical trials have been carried out with adult stem cells, despite the clear evidence provided from peer-reviewed journals of success in trials using adult stem cells in diabetes, severed spinal cord, demyelinated spinal cord, heart attack, stroke, traumatic brain injury, liver failure, Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease, various forms of blindness, full-thickness burns, severe bone disease, and so on.

Human patients have already been successfully treated with adult stem cells for serious diseases. For example, treatment of heart attack with adult stem cells in animals has had such outstanding success, that clinical trials using human patients have already commenced in Germany, using the patient’s own adult stem cells (Strauer et al., 2002). Parkinson’s disease has also been improved by 81% in a human patient, using their own stem cells (Levesque and Neuman, 2002), while the biotechnology company Schering is now in Phase III clinical trials for Parkinson’s disease, also using adult stem cells. There has also been great success in treating human patients for severe bone disease which causes multiple fractures (Horwitz et al., 2001). Following the reversal of diabetes with adult stem cells in animals, Massachusetts General Hospital is now also planning clinical trials with human patients.

Regarding safety issues, the Government and the House of Lords Select Committee report have ignored the known serious risks of tumour and cancer formation using embryonic stem cells and, despite all the available evidence and clear warnings from a number of witnesses, stated that embryonic stem cells are safe.

However, formation of a particular type of tumour is so characteristic of embryonic stem cells, that scientists use the development of this type of tumour to confirm that they have indeed isolated embryonic stem cells. An article in the Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow and Metabolism this summer (Erdo et al., 2003) demonstrated from animal research that embryonic stem cell therapies would be expected to result in 75 – 100% tumour formation. (This article also found that the few articles that had claimed a lower percentage of tumour formation were flawed in their experimental procedure, and would have to be repeated.)

On the other hand, tumour formation has not been found with adult stem cells.

Yet incredibly, the Select Committee’s report (chapter 3:6) states that, “there is no reason to believe that (tumour formation) is a significantly greater risk for embryonic stem cells than for other stem cells!”

Futhermore, Professor Ian Wilmut admits that cells used in “therapeutic” cloning may lead to disease, and particularly to tumour formation, as a result of epigenetic abnormalities in cloned tissue. He calls for more studies to test the safety of “therapeutic” cloning:

It also appears that there may be inherent biological barriers to the success of ‘therapeutic’ cloning of primates (that is, the cloning of monkeys and humans). Professor Jaenisch of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who studies cloning in mice states, “The failure to clone any primate so far has been startling.” (Vogel, 2003). One of the most prominent embryonic stem cell scientists who has been attempting CNR with human oocytes, Roger Pedersen, published an article in the September 2002 issue of Nature Biotechnology (volume 20, pages 882-883. “Feeding Hungry Stem Cells”), in which he states with reference to ‘therapeutic’ cloning in humans that, “discouraging results so far suggest that there may be intrinsic biological impediments to the use of this strategy with primates.”

Professor Pedersen has recently been proved correct, when research was published earlier this year in the journal Science by Professor Schatten (Simerly et al., 2003; Vogel, 2003; Schatten et al., 2003) showing that there are indeed intrinsic biological impediments to the cloning of primate embryos. It was found that the location of certain proteins involved in cell division was unique in primate cells, and that this caused profound abnormalities in cell division, in 100% of cases in cloned primate (monkey) embryos. This resulted in cells with the wrong numbers of chromosomes. It appears that this abnormal cell division may be the cause of the total failure of all attempts to clone monkeys from adult cells.

There appears to be the same problem with human cloned embryos as there is with monkey cloned embryos. Professor Schatten, who has carried out this work, says that preliminary research suggests that human eggs have the same biological characteristics that cause abnormal cell division in cloned monkey embryos. “Primate eggs are biologically different,” he states. (Vogel, 2003). He also believes that, “with current approaches, primate nuclear transfer to produce embryonic stem cells may prove difficult – and reproductive cloning unachievable.”

It should also be noted that if these cloned cells with wrong chromosome numbers were to be used for “therapeutic” cloning they could cause tumours, as this defect is characteristic of cancer cells.

Scientists are attempting to find ways around the problem of abnormal cell division with cloned primate embryos. However, this has not yet been achieved, and it is uncertain whether it can be overcome. However, there are even more fundamental problems with cloning:

There are widespread abnormalities of gene expression in cells of cloned embryos. This could result in various unpredictable abnormalities in cells used for “therapeutic” cloning, resulting in a medical risk to the recipient of the cloned tissue. Furthermore, no solution has yet been found to the profound epigenetic defects in cloned embryos, which could result in a risk of cancer and other diseases in “therapeutic” cloning.

Despite all these problems, the House of Lords Select Committee recommended that, “even if CNR is not itself used directly for many stem cell-based therapies,” it should still be permitted as a research tool to enable cell-based therapies to be developed. The Government concurs with this recommendation. The Select Committee report takes the view that CNR research provides “the only realistic means” of studying the process of dedifferentiation. The report believes this to be essential for adult stem cell therapies to be developed (chapter 3, paragraphs 17 and 18).

However, first, cell nuclear replacement is a very faulty model to use for studying dedifferentiation. The vast majority of early embryos produced by cell nuclear replacement are abnormal. Therefore, the vast majority of cells used to study the biochemical processes of dedifferentiation would provide erroneous data.

Second, owing to advances in adult stem cell research over the last two or three years, it is clear that dedifferentiation of adult stem cells prior to their redifferentiation is completely unnecessary for a number of reasons.

It is most unfortunate that the Select Committee report ignored the wealth of peer-reviewed evidence that it was provided with, which detailed the various ways in which the idea of dedifferentiation of adult stem cells is now redundant. As a result of this, the report takes the very definite, but completely erroneous, view that it is essential for adult stem cells to first be dedifferentiated in culture and then redifferentiated into new cell types. It is claimed that basic research using CNR and embryonic stem cell research are essential if adult stem cell therapies are to be fully developed.

However, there are various ways in which adult stem cells can be used which completely bypass the need for dedifferentiation before redifferentiation.

For example, there are many trials demonstrating the very effective treatment of serious diseases in animals, and even in human patients, where adult stem cells have been safely injected into the bloodstream, and found to travel to the injured area and have been very effective in repairing the damage. No prior dedifferentiation, or even redifferentiation in culture were required, as the body appears to have all the relevant signals to direct appropriately both migration of the stem cells to the damaged area, and their differentiation once they arrive. This has already been found to be highly effective for heart attack, a severe bone disease, liver failure, stroke, traumatic brain injury and demyelinated spinal cord.

Mobilisation of adult stem cells from internal stores in the body to damaged tissues, with subsequent differentiation to replace the damaged cells has also been highly effective in treating heart attack, and it is to be expected that this will be an effective strategy for other diseases. Activation of existing adult stem cells in the brain has also achieved a remarkable level of healing in Parkinson’s disease in animals (Fallon et al., 2000). None of these procedures require prior dedifferentiation or redifferentiation of the adult stem cells in culture.

Furthermore, there are alternative ways of studying differentiation. In particular, an adult stem cell has been discovered that automatically differentiates in culture into the type of tissue that it was extracted from. Since it has been found in every tissue type examined, this provides an ideal model to study differentiation in adult stem cells (Vacanti et al, 2000).

The Committee received this information, but unfortunately derived its conclusions through utilising completely outdated information. There is no need for research on CNR to provide information on dedifferentiation or redifferentiation of adult stem cells.

The efficacy and safety of various procedures which do not require dedifferentiation or differentiation of adult stem cells in culture has been demonstrated by the remarkable level of healing that they effect with a variety of serious diseases – heart attack, severed spinal cord, demyelinated spinal cord, stroke, traumatic brain injury, diabetes, Parkinson’s Disease, severe bone disease and liver failure.

Therapeutic cloning – impracticality and medical risks of egg donation:

Notwithstanding the massive scientific problems with human cloning, it is also unworkable at the practical level, a point that those who have been promoting ‘therapeutic’ cloning at the political level have chosen to ignore. Vast numbers of eggs would be required for ‘therapeutic’ cloning.

Scientists involved in animal cloning have estimated the numbers of eggs that would be required for therapeutic cloning for one patient as, “optimistically, about 100 human oocytes” (Mombaerts, P., 2003) and, “at least 280 oocytes.” (Colman and Kind, 2000).

Thomas Okarma, chief executive officer of the lead cloning company Geron Corporation says, “The odds favouring success are vanishingly small, and the costs are daunting…It would take thousands of (human) eggs on an assembly line to produce a custom therapy for a single person.” (Los Angeles Times, 10th May, 2002).

Taking the minimum estimate of at least 100 eggs for one patient: If one considers that one patient group alone that it has been claimed could be helped by ‘therapeutic’ cloning – type 1 diabetes – has 350,000 sufferers in Britain, and another has 385,000 (Alzheimer’s), an absolute minimum of 73,500,000 eggs (and probably far greater numbers) would be needed just to treat these two patient groups. Since an average of about 10 eggs is produced in one forced ovulation induction cycle, this means that at least 7,350,000 forced ovulation induction cycles of women between the age of about 20 and 35 would be required to treat these two patient groups.

These eggs would either have to come from egg donors, or from women undergoing IVF who give some of their eggs for cloning, and who would therefore have to undergo extra IVF cycles to produce enough eggs to achieve pregnancy as well as to donate eggs. A small but significant percentage of women have serious complications of egg donation, both from surgery to retrieve the eggs, and from the severe form of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, particularly if they are given high levels of hormones to increase egg numbers. What about the serious health risks to these women? How many women would end up in hospital from severe complications of egg donation from 7,350,000 forced ovulation induction cycles?!

Fortunately, these (and numerous other serious) diseases have already been significantly helped by adult stem cells. Type 1 diabetes, for example, has been reversed in animal models of the disease, using adult stem cells obtained from the pancreas, spleen or liver (Ramiya et al., 2000; Kodama et al., 2003; Yang et al., 2002). Alzheimer’s disease in animals has been significantly helped with stem cells from umbilical cord blood, with a considerable extension of life span (Ende et al., 2001).

Regulation of “therapeutic” cloning and embryonic stem cell research, and the role of the HFEA:

Regarding the competence of the HFEA to regulate the area of cloning and embryonic stem cells, in view of the serious health risks associated with embryonic stem cell research and cloning I am profoundly concerned that the Government continues to express confidence in the work of the HFEA, an organisation in disarray, and entrusts regulation of embryonic stem cell research and ‘therapeutic’ cloning to this body. Even the HFEA’s most ardent supporters recognise that it is in trouble.

In July last year this year the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, in its report, “Developments in Human Genetics and Embryology, was highly critical of the HFEA:

“The Lords Stem Cell Research Committee reported that the HFEA’s is ‘highly regarded, both at home and abroad….. [and] has the full confidence of the scientific and medical research community’. We are unclear on what evidence it based this assertion.”

Recent ‘mix-up’ scandals at IVF clinics that the HFEA is supposed to be monitoring, and the shocking disclosures from the embryologist Dr Sammy Lee in the Sunday Telegraph last year demonstrate that the criticisms of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee are certainly not unfounded. Dr Lee wrote that he knew of at least six cases where the wrong embryos were put into women. He maintains that it is “galling that the HFEA, which purports to protect patients, has sought to brush aside any meaningful discussion of why mistakes occur in IVF clinics, and how frequently.”

Stem cell technology and human cloning are not extensions of assisted reproduction, but involve a multitude of scientific and medical fields which embrace nearly all aspects of disease. We need a new and completely independent organisation to monitor and assess developments in this field.

The international situation:

Regarding the international situation, our wholly inadequate ethical and scientific analysis of the cloning issue, taken with what is already one of the most liberal regimes for embryo experimentation in the world, leaves the United Kingdom isolated internationally.

Notwithstanding the deeply regrettable recent decision of the European Parliament to authorise European funding for embryonic stem cell research, the European Union has banned EU funding for experiments using cloned embryos.

In the US, the majority of the President’s Council of Bioethics recommended a ban on cloning-to-produce-children combined with a four-year moratorium on cloning-for-biomedical-research. Their conclusions are endorsed by the current US administration.

At the UN, a worldwide ban on both reproductive and so-called ‘therapeutic’ cloning was supported by the US, Costa-Rica and 43 other countries. By comparison, an alternative proposal banning just reproductive cloning was supported by only 14 countries. In the end this powerful minority, backed by the biotech industry, was able to thwart moves towards a comprehensive cloning ban and the UN agreed a two year moratorium on cloning.

I look on with a mixture of envy and admiration at the seriousness with which the current US administration and the previous one has sought to handle this sensitive issue. Rather than rush through ill-conceived regulations and then establish a retrospective Select Committee to rubber-stamp them, the President’s Council on Bioethics in the US was convened to thoroughly investigate stem cell research and human cloning and then advise the President. Only then would a decision be made.

Membership of the Committee is balanced, reflecting a number of scientific and ethical perspectives. Unlike us in the UK, our American allies are not afraid of disagreement and the publication of a minority report if unanimity amongst the members of the Committee proves impossible.

In Germany destructive embryo research is prohibited. In Norway the Government has proposed legislation encompassing a ban on all destructive embryo experimentation including ‘therapeutic’ cloning.

The UK has isolated itself from international opinion on this issue. It is therefore wrong to caricature opposition to the report and Government policy as restricted to a narrow group of pro-lifers and religious fundamentalists.


I recognise the impossibility of reclaiming, at present, absolute status for the embryo. However, this does not excuse the inadequate consideration afforded to the vital issue of cloning by the House of Lords Committee on stem cell research, by the scientific establishment and, above all, by our Government.

In the absence of unanimity on the ethical status of the human embryo there is a broad consensus that destructive embryo research should not be permitted if there is a viable scientific alternative.

The Government has acknowledged this. The then Health Minister Lord Hunt said in 2001 that “the 1990 Act already provides the answer to the question of what happens if and when research into adult cells overtakes research using embryos: embryonic research would have to stop because the use of embryos would no longer be necessary for that research.” (Hansard; 22.01.01 Col. 120)

Adult stem cell research is a viable scientific alternative and has clearly overtaken research using human embryos. It is delivering results, not merely demonstrating potential. Embryonic stem cell research companies are struggling to survive.

In reproductive cloning we are creating for the first time a human entity, by asexual reproduction, with no gametes and no parents. The psychological damage to cloned children who would have no real parents, but who would watch an elderly identical “twin” ageing rapidly, is incalculable. The UK Government has expressed its opposition to live birth, or ‘reproductive’, cloning and rushed legislation through Parliament to ban this practice. But the knowledge of early embryonic development acquired through so-called ‘therapeutic’ cloning inexorably paves the way for full live birth cloning. It is disingenuous to express opposition to the latter and yet support the former.

We are staring into an abyss. Human reproductive cloning has the potential to destroy the human race as we know it. Cloning in all forms is unethical, medically dangerous, and is something that the human race can do without. I hope that the international community, by uniting in opposition to all forms of cloning, will be able to draw the UK back into line with mainstream opinion.


Text of a speech by Lord Alton of Liverpool

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

Can We Get By Without God?

David Alton

Throughout Europe the twin incursions of secularism and radical Islam have triggered a fundamental debate about philosophy and theology, relativism and absolutism, values and virtues, the individual and the community.

Recently, leaders of Al Queada boasted that they will occupy and conquer Rome. This should not be seen as the vituperative threats of a braggadocio but as a metaphor for the systematic erosion and displacement of Christianity in Europe. That our foundations have been so weakened as to make possible by incursion what failed through force at Lepanto and at the gates of Vienna, we have to thank secularisation and the widespread displacement of Christian practice.

Secularisation, entrenched by relativism, the abandonment of Judaeo-Christian values, and the false elevation of individualism and materialism, have all played their part in this insidious process. We shouldn’t therefore be entirely surprised that such weakened foundations should be so susceptible to radical Islamisation.

While abandoning their own faith many western liberals have chosen to close their eyes to the reality of some Islamic teaching and practice. These include the consequences of apostasy, the place of Dhimmi – non Muslims – in an Islamic society, the nature of Jihad, the imposition of Shaira law, and the persecution and systematic asphyxiation of Christian minorities in many Islamic countries. These are all issues which sit pretty uncomfortably with Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and with western concepts of liberty of conscience and freedom of the individual.

True tolerance and mutual respect can never be based on wilful ignorance or indifference.

As I will argue later, Pope Benedict’s Regensburg Lecture calling for a new realignment of reason and faith should act as a wake up call to western liberals.

It should be the basis of our dialogue with other faiths. It should also remind us that Christianity – like Islam –is a missionary religion and that only through new evangelisation will we counter the twin threats to Christian Europe of secularisation and Islam.

For Christians from the Catholic tradition we can either see these two new challenges as a time to retreat into our ghettos, where we might hope to survive as a curious remnant, or as a moment for approfondimento – for the deepening of our theological thought – and for the re-evangelisation of Europe. There is no “middle way”, no neutrality in a sort of spiritual Switzerland. We respond by either losing our nerve and our heritage or by remembering those who went before us – the martyrs and witnesses – and showing the same courage and zeal of Peter and Paul, and the men and women of the catacombs and the Coliseum. Only by exhibiting confidence in the teaching of our faith can we hope to withstand these new challenges; and, as I shall argue, Europe is in desperate need of Catholic teaching.

The State of The Nations: The Condition of Europe Question

In 1839 the English writer Thomas Carlyle coined the phrase ‘the Condition of England Question’ to describe the social and political conditions – and the associated working-class deprivation and social and political agitation – which the English population experienced in the early decades of the Industrial Revolution.

The preceding eighteenth century had been a time of huge social change and, in England, a time of religious decay. There are a number of comparisons which can be made with our own era – although the accelerated pace of technological and social change means that adjustments made over half a century are occurring now at little less than the speed of light. But let me pursue the parallel with our own times further, especially the hopeful lessons to be learnt from what occurred.

At the turn of the nineteenth century there was widespread disenchantment with the decaying established church, there was a newly mobile working class, detached from its traditional rooted ness in the ancient rooted ness of rural communities, the break down of social order and lack of family cohesion. People were also feeling the effects of the Napoleonic Wars, the exploitation by factory and mill owners, and the misery of urban squalor.

It was into this quagmire that the Holy Spirit stepped. He touched men like John and Charles Wesley. The church authorities became so alarmed by their new enthusiasm for their faith that church doors were literally barred against them. It was in the fields and at make shift venues that the re-evangelisation of England began. George Whitfield and others deepened the religious renewal and social reformers such as William Wilberforce spearheaded many of the social and political causes in which newly energised Christians had begun to interest themselves.

Next year will be the bi-centenary of the abolition of the slave trade in Britain. That was the first great achievement of the newly radicalised Christians, led by Wilberforce. They campaigned under the slogan “Am I not a man and a brother.”

Subsequently, it would be other Christians, like Lord Shaftesbury, who would introduce key domestic social reforms – ragged schools for the poor, the Factory acts, the establishment of asylums for disabled people, and many others.

Unwittingly, perhaps, they were putting into practice a maxim of St.Francis of Assisi who said of evangelisation: “Use words, but only when you have run out of deeds.” They did both.

As with the great European religious movements of earlier centuries – for example,

the monastic movement of St.Benedict, the teaching movement of St.Dominic, the call to simplicity and holiness of St.Francis and St.Clare, or the Reformation of Luther and Calvin, the Counter-Reformation of St.Ignatius of Loyola, the zeal of St.Philp Neri, who re-evangelised Rome – religious impulses led men and women to renew their faith and their societies.

Religious revival led to personal renewal and this in turn led to political and social reform and on to the reconstruction of society as a whole. Religious Revival…Renewal….Reform…Reconstruction. This lesson needs contemporary application. The urgent need is self-evident.

If, as in 1839, Thomas Carlyle were here to ask his famous question about “the condition of England” – and by extension we were to apply the same criteria to the rest of Europe – what would a survey of post-Christian Europe reveal?

p>Let’s call it “the condition of Europe question.”

If we were to measure the health of European society less by economic indicators – such as the value of the Euro against the dollar or the pound; or the value of the Dow Jones Index, and more by a human happiness index we would come to some pretty startling conclusions.

In a book by the psychologist, Oliver James (Century: November 1997), Britain on the Couch, the author asks “Why are we unhappier than we were in the 1950s despite being richer?” Clinical depression, he suggests, is ten times higher among people born after 1945 than among those born before 1914. Women under the age of 35 are the most vulnerable. The paradox is that we are told that we have never been more materially affluent and yet, says James, modern life seems less and less able to meet our expectations. We feel like losers, “even if we are winners” because materialism itself is not enough to satisfy human needs.

The material indicators would point to an array of high tec apparatus that most of us own. But does the ideology of virtual reality which allows us, in our homes, through computer software, to kill, to maim, to brutalize or to abuse another, without any apparent consequences, induce feelings of happiness or holiness?

No, we start to feel like gods, as creators of the world with all of life’s chances at our fingertips. God and creation become nothing but human invention. For some this is confirmation of Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophy that man creates the universe and that creation is a new extension of the serpent’s promise in the Garden. In the Middle Ages Thomas Kempis well understood this impulse when he wrote in The Imitation of Christ that “because men wanted to become God, God wanted to become man – to sanctify and redeem us from this conceit.”

Where this conceit has taken us is revealed in some of the data I want to look at. Draw your own conclusions as to whether a non-religious society is a happier and more fulfilled society than a religious one:

* Children’s Lives Ruined:

* Over 60,000 children live in care; 98% are admitted due to family breakdown

* 32,465 children and young people are on child Protection registers

* 384,200 children in England alone are categorised as “in need.”

* In one school term alone 82,400 children were expelled from school in England and Wales, 14% due to violence against another pupil.

* According to the Children’s Society, 100,000 children run away from home each year.

* 1 in 3 (4.4 million) British children are living in poverty compared with 1 in 10 in 1979.

• Family Life In Tatters

*The number of divorces has doubled since 1971, from 80,000 to 157,000 p.a.

*The UK has the third highest divorce rate in Europe.

*13% of divorces occur within 3 years of marriage

*Family breakdown is estimated to cost the economy £30 billion a year.

• Dysfunctional Families

*In the past 20 years there has been an increase from 12% to 41% of births outside marriage.

*In the UK between 1971 and 2003 the number of single parent families increased from 8% to 23%.

*90% of births to teenage mothers are outside marriage

*1.7million children are being raised in single parent families

*Up to 40% of fathers lose contact with their children within two years of separation

*Three quarters of a million British children have no contact with their fathers following the breakdown of their relationship.

• The Destruction of Life

*There have been more than 6 million abortions in Britain since it was legalised in 1967.

*1 in 5 pregnancies ends in abortion: 600 every day.

*Eugenic abortion is permitted up to an even during birth on a baby with a disability.

*More than a million human embryos have been destroyed or experimented upon.

*The cloning of human embryos for “therapeutic” purposes has been legalised

*Attempts are under way to follow Holland and Belgium by legalising euthanasia.

* Loneliness, Despair and Suicide.

*Indebtedness and Homelessness

*Personal indebtedness has never been higher – British households are £1 trillion in debt; personal debt is greater than the UKs annual income and is rising by £1 million every four minutes.

*In the past six years there has been a 44% increase in the number of people seeking help for debt related problems. Indebtedness is a major factor in family quarrels, depression and loss of homes.

*The number of homeless people in the UK is 380,000 – the same as the population of the city of Bristol.

*Dependency on Drugs.

*The number of 11-15 year olds taking drugs in England has doubled since 1998.

*1987: 26,000 drug offences 1998: 128,000 drug offences

*15 million Britons admit to having used cannabis; 2-5 million are regular users.

*According to the BMJ “cannabis could kill 30,000 people a year”

*“It is quite worrying that we might end up in 10 or 20 years with our psychiatric hospitals filled with people who have problems with cannabis” –Prof.Hamid Ghodse, former President of the UN’s Narcotic Control Board.

*2005: Scotland had 55,800 registered heroin addicts.

*7.7 million ecstasy-type tablets were seized in one recent year alone.

*There are more than 900 organised gangs involved in the trade of heroin and cocaine in the UK.

* 2005: Just 3 drug dealers who were convicted had no record of violent crime.

* More than 160 babies were born addicted to purified cocaine during one recent twelve month period alone; and a study by the University of Manchester found that in the North West, 71 per cent of the region’s adolescents had been offered drugs over a twelve month period.

• Crime And Disorder

*Offences involving firearms have doubled since 1997

* Gun crime in the UK claims 30 victims daily

*The average life span for people who get involved in gun crime in Manchester is 24 years.

*Prison population is up 85% since 1993. It’s now more than 77,000 and projected for 90,000 by 2010.

*7,000 under 18s go through the juvenile prison system annually – a 50% increase since 1992.

*1in 10 doctors are physically assaulted by patients or their relatives each year.

*In one recent year 27% of people were victims of crime

*The Head of the Home Office Statistics Unit accepted that the true level of crime in the UK is around 60 million crimes a year.

*Growing dishonesty has led to massive benefit fraud – estimated at £2 billion in 2003, while fraud is estimated to cost the economy more than £13.8 billion a year.

* Virtual and Violent Lives: Pornography and the Loss of Innocence.

*57% of 919 year-olds have come into contact with pornography while online

*British telecom said it was blocking up to 20,000 attempts daily to view child pornography.

*5 million images of child abuse are in circulation on the internet featuring some 400,000 children

*260 million pages of the internet are now classified as pornography

*Violent scenes on TV have doubled in the last four years.

*An average adult in Britain spends 27 hours a week in front of the television.

*In an average week more than 400 killings are screened, along with 119 woundings and 27 sex attacks on women.

Now examine some of the other contours of Post Christian Britain.

Example One: The drudgery of the Servile State

There is an old Haitian Proverb that “if work were such a good thing, the rich would have kept it all for themselves.” Most of us, however, want the self respect and the independence that having a job can bring. But instead of fulfilment we now have exploitation. In Britain we have never worked longer hours. The elimination by Parliament of Sunday as a special family day for rest and recreation was one notable example of the erosion of family time. Its abolition as a special day was yet another stab at what Professor Richard Dawkins calls “The God Delusion”, the title of his new book. If He tells us to keep one day special then we mustn’t do it. Because a day for worship was also a day for rest, we lose the latter because we don’t want to countenance the former. And look at the effect on families. Didn’t those Christians have a point when they said that families needed at least one day a week which they could spend together?

Ridiculously long hours are now spent at work. Once in five (21%) of managers and directors are at work by 7.30 a.m.; one in three (28%) regularly work later than 8.00p.m.; and seven in ten regularly work at weekends or on bank holidays.

Women are encouraged to work away from home and families become trapped by commitments which rely on two incomes. It becomes impossible to escape the treadmill as millions of children have increasingly fewer encounters with their parents and more and more children are left with child minders. The depersonalising effect of parenting and the creation of a servile state has shattered the lives of many families.

Occasionally, people try to get off the tread mill. When the high flying, highly paid, President of the Pepsi Cola Corporation announced that she was quitting her job to spend some time with her baby, from whom she felt increasingly estranged, it made some significant ripples. She had her priorities right but then again she had the resources to make such a decision possible. Most couples would want the same opportunity but the way in which we have modelled the dynamics of family economics put this same choice out of their reach.

In many European countries parents choosing to care for their children in their own homes receive the worst treatment of all under the tax and benefits system. Politicians try to bolster the system by huge after-school provision and an army of carers. But they will never be a substitute for a parent at home and they will consolidate the make-shift arrangements that give children dangerously precarious lives.

Better priorities would recognise a child’s need for a full-time mother and a committed father; recognise that when a parent opts to stay at home to care for their child it is amongst the most loving sacrifices which a person can make. Why did Christians lose their nerve in arguing that a just tax and benefit system, along with employment laws, would allow women the economic freedom to be full-time mothers. How true is the old Jewish saying that “God could not be everywhere at once so he gave each child a mother?” We are fearful of stating these old truths in case we are labelled as misogynists or worse. Political correctness has taken the place of political courage.

Women who have raised families have a crucial contribution to make to the economy. But the decision about when and if they should return to work must rest entirely with them. Government could usefully assist this process by providing for more retraining and for more part-time and term-time working.

If Government properly assessed the potential impact of their policies on families; if they spent as much time facilitating “staying together” as they do in facilitating “breaking up”, we might all be rather better off. A significant proportion of the £100 billion social security budget is directly attributable to the breakdown of the family. The Treasury say that the cost of broken relationships alone is £4 billion each year.

Christians treasure the story of St Monica – the mother of the rebellious Augustine. Her son pleaded with God, make me pure, but not just yet. His mother never gave up on him even believing for him in his own unbelief. Her faithfulness and years of waiting were finally rewarded. Perhaps we need to dedicate Europe’s wayward sons to St.Monica’s care.

Example Two:

My second “case study” is illustrated by our pagan

attitude towards the sanctity of human life.

It has taken only

40 years for a criminal offence to become routinely practiced

and left largely unquestioned by the medical profession,

philosophers and law makers.

In Britain there are 600 legal abortions daily. We also

permit abortion up and even during birth.

I do not have an idealised or romantic view of disability.

But I do have a trenchant view about the dignity and rights

of disabled people and the duty of society to speak up for

them and to protect them. I feel the same way about the

terminally ill and about the unborn.

In the Roman Empire unwanted babies were ‘exposed’ and

left to die. Our degraded view of the intrinsic value of every

person is little better. These life issues go to the very heart of

what it is to be human. In many respects they are the

defining issues of our age.

In the last couple of years I have been to countries whose

people have been plagued by genocide and atrocities –

Darfur, Southern Sudan, Congo and Rwanda have seen the

deaths of nearly seven million people – Africa’s world War

One – ; I was also illegally in Burma, in the favellas of Brazil – where between four and

five children and adolescents are killed daily – and on North

Korea, where two million died during the famine or in the

State’s concentration camps. I never cease to be staggered

by our capacity to degrade our common humanity.

But can we see no link between the violence we inflict on the

innocent child before birth and what happens afterwards?

Can we not comprehend that if you sanction the taking of

life of a sick patient through euthanasia it desensitises and

diminishes us. From conception until natural death – from

the womb to the tomb we should have a consistent view of

the dignity of the human person, of the importance of the

common good, and of the intrinsic value of every life.

In 1990 when I told Parliament that a new disability

provision would be used to abort babies for trivial

reasons – such as cleft palate or club foot – I was

accused of scaremongering and irresponsibility. I was

told it would never happen.

Joanna Jepson – who is a young Anglican curate –

has been waging a brave fight to prove it does happen

and to expose and challenge eugenic abortions.

Joanna was herself born with a congenital jaw defect.

This personal experience prompted her to take the

police to court. She says that they failed to investigate

an unlawful late abortion of an unborn child with a

cleft palate carried out in Herefordshire in 2001.

Joanna herself has said “When I found out about this

‘cleft-palate’ abortion by looking at the National

Abortion Statistics it just felt so close to home. I

thought to myself, I know people who have had cleft

palates repaired and how many operations they went

through, but I think I have had more major surgery

than they’ve had.

Even if I hadn’t had my surgery, even if I’d chosen to

stay the way I looked before, that’s no good reason for

me not to be alive.”

The current abortion legislation gives no definition of

“seriously handicapped”. It merely allows for

“choice.” Twenty-six abortions on unborn children

with a cleft palate have taken place since 1995, two of

which were performed after 24 weeks.

Eugenic abortions paved the way for experimentation on

human embryos and therapeutic cloning. One of the leading

advocates has been Professor Lord Winston. He told

Parliament that “science does not have a moral dimension.”

Scientists say they simply need to clone human beings in

order to extract embryonic stem cells for use in treatments.

To call this “therapeutic” is a misnomer. It isn’t therapeutic

for the human embryo – who is created, manipulated,

plundered and disembowelled, and then destroyed. Nor, of

course, is it the only way of extracting stem cells.

The recent evidence points to the use of adult stem cells –

without any of the moral hazards of embryonic stem cells.

But if, as Lord Winston says, science has no moral

dimension, it becomes impossible in post-Christian Europe

to have a rational debate. You are simply accused of being

“in favour of pain and suffering” and “anti-science.”

In reality, embryonic stem cells could pose dangers to

public health. Despite all the hype, there have been no

clinical treatments involving embryonic stem cells; there

had been few successes in animal models; they are difficult

to obtain as pure culture; difficult to establish and maintain;

have problems with immune rejection ; have potential for

tumour formation and there is generic instability.

Yet barely a day passes without a new claim being made for

the curative powers of stems cells derived from human


Where good science and good ethics march hand in had

there is no dispute between us.

But even if it could be proven that embryonic stem cells –

cells taken from a blastocyst, a several-days-old human

embryo – could remedy every known ailment, the argument

hinges on the lethal nature of the technique. The human

embryo is plundered and then trashed. With equal certainty,

a life that has undoubtedly begun is just as certainly ended.

Our law is quite explicit in permitting the human embryo to

be created and to be cloned and is quite explicit in making it

illegal for the human embryo to live beyond 14 days. British

law says it must then be done-away with. What we have

made illegal is not the creation and manipulation of human

life but its continuation. This turns around all our

traditional beliefs in the sanctity of human life.

And there are other issues – such as the effects on

women’s health.

The feminist group, Hands Off Our Ovaries, say that in

the US there have been “25 deaths and over 6,000

complaints of medical complications attributed to “Ovarian

Hyper-Stimulation Syndrome” and they have called on the

American authorities to examine the possibility that ovarian

cancer, infertility and subsequent birth defects may arise

from the increased demands science is placing on women to

provide human eggs.

That scientists are demanding and using women’s eggs in

significant numbers is illustrated by the 2,221 female egg

cells used by South Korea’s Dr.Woo-Suk Hwang during his

now infamous fraudulent experiments. Are women’s eggs to

become yet another tradable commodity enabling

Dr.Hwang’s associates and successors to experiment as they

will – with little or no regard for the safety and health


If mere “choice” is to be the only parameter the answer

will of course be “yes.”

But surely the biggest concern should be the inflated

claims which are made for the use of human embryos.

It is implied that any of us who have voted against their

use are somehow in favour of Alzheimer’s disease, juvenile

diabetes, macular degeneration, Parkinson’s and the rest.

Dr.Ian Wilmut, – who cloned Dolly the sheep – though

hopeful about the use of embryonic stem cells in the case of

macular eye degeneration (because, tellingly, they are not

rejected as aggressively in the eye as much as they are

elsewhere in the body) says that “several of the conditions

that are mentioned as candidates for cell therapy are

autoimmune diseases” (such as juvenile diabetes) and they

are “expected to induce…rejection.”

Professor Lord (Robert) Winston goes further, now

believing that “I am not entirely convinced that embryonic

stem cells will, in my lifetime, and possibly anyone’s lifetime

for that matter, be holding quite the promise that we hope

they will.”

o we are dazzled by false claims and willing to

collaborate in any piece of scientific vanity. We do so

because our philosophical and ethical framework is no

longer Judaeo-Christian and is simply not fit for purpose.

In Britain, Mary Warnock has been the leading

philosopher to argue that it is permissible to use the unborn

in experiments and treatments.

She has now pronounced that there might well be

circumstances in which reproductive cloning should be

permitted as well.

Mary Warnock has at least been consistent.

In Parliament she said she regretted ever saying that the

human embryo should be accorded “special status” or

“respect.” She said this was not possible if you were going

to flush them down the drain.

Endearingly honest though this is, it graphically illustrates

how the previously unthinkable has occurred. Since her

1990 report nearly a million human embryos have been

destroyed or experimented upon, with only 4% seeing the

light of day. In saying that it is impossible to equate this

destruction with high sounding phrases like “special status”

and “respect” we are at least agreed. Heaven spare us from

the lawless modern philosopher.

Doesn’t all this demonstrate conclusively that these

anti-life positions follow logically one from another?

Abortion has led to embryo experimentation and this has led

to cloning. At the other end of the spectrum it has led to the

current demands for assisted suicide and euthanasia to be


These two examples – and there are plenty more – and my snapshot of “the condition of Europe” reveals a society that is in deep social, moral and spiritual crisis.

This deep sickness and disintegration of society illustrates all too clearly what happens when God is banished from our national life. We call ourselves rich, successful, sophisticated and prosperous. But in respect to the values that matter most is this really so? Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta was not convinced.

After visiting London’s homeless in “cardboard city” – where the homeless sleep rough under sheets of cardboard – she commented that it was London rather than Calcutta which was the poorer city because we had infinitely more resources to tackle the problem.

At a meeting with our then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, during which the Prime Minister detailed the British laws providing social security, welfare etc etc. Mother Theresa simply asked the Prime Minister “But do you have love?” It is the defining question.

A couple of years later, after her encounter at Downing Street, Mother Teresa, at the White House national prayer breakfast she described to President Clinton and his guests how she had visited a home for the elderly where they had no shortage of material conveniences, but “why” she asked “does everyone sit looking at the door?”

“It is because they are looking for the relatives who never come to visit them and who have no time for them?” In the UK we have an estimated 1 million elderly people who do not see a friend or a neighbour in an average week. “Do you have love?”

As we reflect on “the condition of Europe question” we must surely see that religious impulse can often lead to a generous out-pouring for the common good.

In “The God Delusion”, Richard Dawkins repeats the canard that faith has been the principal malefic source of violence and suffering throughout history. As he proceeds to demolish the proofs of St.Thomas Aquinas for the existence of God, he shows no understanding of the dramatic changes which have occurred in individuals who have come to believe in God, and whose religious faith has then inspired them to serve the common good.

Whilst it is undoubtedly true that too many throats have been cut in God’s name, and that we are plagued by religious strife and division, in the twentieth century it was not religion but man made ideology which inspired Hilter, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao Zedong, and the rest. Those experiences give us a pretty shrewd idea of what it would be like to live in a world where religious faith is absent. It’s too simple to blame what people do in the name of religion for all our troubles. As Dr.Jonathan Sacks, our Chief Rabbi says: “Don’t ask where was God at Auschwitz. Ask where was man.”

We jettison God at our peril.

Dawkins and the many other academics who write in a similar vein too quickly overlook the Judaeo-Christian inspiration of so many features of our society – charitable, political and social – which have always ensured that the needy were cared for, the weak respected, the poor not forgotten.

Think also of the central role which Pope John Paul II and the Catholic church played in securing the freedoms now enjoyed in Eastern Europe; remember that in Africa the biggest provider of relief, succour and help for the sick and poor is overwhelmingly the Church; think of our schools, hospitals, hospices and unending range of charitable endeavours. And why do we do this?

It stems from our fundamental belief – contained in the Book of Genesis – that all human beings are made in the image and likeness of God. From the generality of humanity we turn to the specific and our faith demands that we practice humility, justice and peace. It teaches us that we, and every other member of the human race, were made by a Creator. The Jewish Book of Leviticus insists that each of us must “Love your neighbour as yourself” (19:18) and Jesus tells us to “Do unto others as you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matt.7:12).

Building on the Scriptures and the pre-Christian teachings of Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas bequeathed us the virtues of justice, wisdom, temperance, courage, magnanimity, tolerance, munificence, prudence and gentleness. As secular Europe has turned its back on its Christian heritage many of these virtues are in short supply.

For Aristotle, koinonia- community –arose primarily through the qualities in man which made civic co-existence a possibility. Man alone, he argued, had the logos – the ability to speak, but more than that: the ability to use reason and to act as a moral agent. “Man alone has the special distinction from the other animals that he also has perception of good and bad and of the just and the unjust” (Aristotle’s Politics & Athenian Constitution, edited and translated by John Warrington, London: Dent, 1959 page 7).

Aristotle described the polis as “an association of free men” which governed itself; where the citizen “takes turn to govern and be governed.

For Aristotle, the polis was the school of life. The polis, through its laws, religion, tradition, festivals, culture and participation in its common institutions, shaped each citizen common life and all required the commitment of the citizens.

It was a duty to engage in the polis and to share in its glories as well as its burdens. A man who withdrew from the life of the polis was not perceived as simply minding his own business, living a private life, but instead, of being a worthless good for nothing. The city’s business was everyone’s business and participation in the life of the city was crucial to a person’s development. Taking part was not an optional extra.

These Hellenistic ideals, married to our Roman system of laws and our rooted belief in Holy Scripture were the bedrock of our society.

In his masterly book Faith in the Future Dr. Jonathan Sacks, says that the repudiation of our traditional values accelerated in the post war period. He observed that “it is as if in the 1950s and 1960s we set a time bomb ticking which would eventually explode the moral framework into fragments. The human cost has been colossal.”

As we have seen our abandonment of what the Church has called “the common good” in favour of rapacious individualism has had disastrous consequences.

Individualism, when defined as “Looking out for number one”, has had a poisonous effect. It encourages people to opt out and to privatise their lives – becoming limited by the narrow confines of their job or their home.

We have squeezed out the numinous and the spiritual and replaced it by a Grad grind existence in servile states.

The rapid pace of technological change has outstripped our ability and willingness to develop an ethics suited to it. Vast institutions govern our democracy, our workplace and our home-life. So often this has incapacitated citizens. We have come a long way from Athens, Jerusalem, and Rome and on the road we have been robbed of our inheritance. Unlike the ancients, we no longer educate our citizens to an expectation that each should seek to serve the common weal. Rather we now exaggerate self-importance and individual interests against community or communal claims.

Ill-prepared to meet the ethical and moral dilemmas raised by everyday life because robbed of the concepts of duty and service, utility and functionalism have turned us into slaves of everything from a genetically manipulated reproductive system to the servility of consumerism.

Less like citizens, more like slaves, we are told we live in a permissive age, but many of the things we were permitted to do as children – such as playing alone in local parks – we are no longer able to do because these activities are no longer safe. The breakdown of civic life has left us trapped like prisoners in our cars and in our homes and, therefore, increasingly at the mercy of the advertising industry, media moguls, and new technologies.

Meanwhile, educators have become what C.S. Lewis in The Abolition of Man (Collins, Fount Paperbacks, 1943), called “conditioners.” These `conditioners’ have made `men without chests’ from whom we expect `virtue and enterprise’. Lewis concluded that through modern education “we castrate and then bid the geldings to be fruitful.”(ibid).

The conditioners- today’s educators- say that everything is a matter of individual opinion and that individuals are not responsible for their actions.

The consequences of this approach were alluded to in a speech to Catholic educationalists by the Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, in a speech two weeks ago

Following a report on a three-year study of the spirituality of Generation Y, a joint initiative by Monash University, the Australian Catholic University and the Christian Research Association, it was found that only 10 per cent of young Catholics believe in only

one true religion. This compares with 34 per cent for other

Christians, including Anglicans.

Many young Catholics were not committed to core Catholic doctrine, with 75 per cent believing it acceptable to pick and choose beliefs. More than half – 56 per cent – believed morals were relative, much higher than for Anglicans – 39 per cent.

The Survey found that by the time young Catholics reach 29 about a quarter had left the Church, and there was little prospect of their return, Cardinal Pell

said. “They are also poorly equipped for any return to the fold when

they have little instinct for or understanding that there are truths

of faith and morals, which are sought after and judged according to

rational criteria.

“More of them seem to believe that life offers a smorgasbord of options from which they choose items that best suit their passing

fancies and their changing circumstances.”

The Generation Y survey was unable to detect any religious effect from attendance at Catholic schools which has been at the vanguard of the church’s attempts to reconnect with the young. Indeed, Cardinal Pell says one third of more religiously committed students reported being made fun of at school.

I doubt that if a similar survey was undertaken of young people in our European schools that the findings would be very different. We need to be more honest about the scale of the problems which we face.

Let me turn now to how we can reverse this situation.

Remember what I said about the early nineteenth century experience: Religious Revival led to Renewal, Reform and Reconstruction.

How do we begin the process of Religious Revival?

1. We need to regain our nerve and develop a new confidence.

2. We need to build new alliances.

3. We need to let God in.

1. Regaining Our Nerve.

As Cardinal Pell’s speech indicates, our starting point in reversing the present situation must be with ourselves. We need to re-evangelise our Church and become missionary in the world around us. Explaining our faith, through apologetics, – like the successful Alpha Course – would be a good beginning.

We need to share and explain the teachings of the Church – especially the encyclicals of Pope John Paul II and the writings of Pope Benedict XVI. Television broadcasting, like that pioneered by Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) is the best way to reach the masses. But alongside this must be street by street contact through our parish network, with every parish organising an annual outreach mission. Our young people in Catholic schools need to be reached and inspired.

A confident Church will not hesitate to contradict society when society errs. It will always stand on the side of life and human dignity and it will encourage each of us to work for the common good.

Instead of individualism we must cultivate the belief that each of us is a gift for others.

In Dives in Misericordia (On The Mercy Of God) Pope John Paul II said that every person is called to communion and to self-giving. He said that society “reveals its whole truth in the community of persons” and that the family is the “primary place of humanisation” for the person and society.

Pope John Paul also told us never to be afraid of standing for Truth.

The whole Christian church can use the wonderful gift of Pope John Paul’s teaching encyclicals to speak to our deaf world. Let me give some brief examples of their relevance to “the condition of Europe question.”

Listen to these quotations from Evangelium Vitae and other encyclicals…

A rudderless world, drifting into anarchy, will not be alienated by coherent teaching authority and young people especially are all too often waiting for someone to tell them about the purpose of life and how we should try to live it. Notwithstanding our own individual propoesnity to sin and our individual and collective failings, people will respond to prophetic voices; they want to be told to raise their game and how to chart a course out of the abyss.

2. Building New Alliances

Pope Benedict’s Regensburg Lecture was a prophetic challenge to those who would use violence to seek conversion: clearly stating that “Violence is incompatible with God’s nature.”

His lecture was also a challenge to rationalists who seek to eliminate God. He calls instead for a profound encounter between faith and reason saying “…the fundamental decisions made about the relationship between faith and the use of human reason are part of the faith itself.”

The Pope categorically stated that “ the positive aspects of modernity are to be acknowledged unreservedly: “ we are all grateful for the marvellous possibilities that it has opened up for mankind and the progress in humanity that has been granted to us.”

He continues: “While we rejoice in the new possibilities open to humanity, we also see the dangers arising
from these possibilities and we must ask ourselves how we can overcome them. We will succeed in doing so only if reason and faith come together in a new way, if we overcome the self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically verifiable, and if we once more disclose its vast horizons.”

For stating these truths, Pope Benedict provoked an extraordinarily hostile reaction – mainly from people who have never read his lecture. In reality, much of what he said should commend itself to orthodox believers of all faiths, and to those who wish to see a co-existence between people of faith and those who have none.

I was recently struck by some comment by the professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University, John Barrow, who was this year’s winner of the Templeton Prize for “expanding human perceptions of divinity.” His remarks are in stark contrast to those of Professor Dawkins in his “The God Delusion”.

Tracing the links between religion and scientific truth he argues that astronomy illuminates the glory of God -and certainly does not disprove His existence, as Professor Dawkins would have us believe.

John Barrow compares the universe to an experience which

he had in the beautiful Venetian Basilica of St.Mark. He says

that we still do not understand the processes which were

used by the craftsmen of 700 years ago to produce the 11,000

square feet of gold mosaic in St.Mark’s. Nor, he says, did

those master craftsmen live to see the fruits of their labours.

He says “our universe is a bit like that” and says that

modern science has revealed a universe “far bigger, more

spectacular and more humbling than we ever imagined it to


Professor Barrow says that “There are some who say that

because we use our minds to appreciate the order and

complexity of the universe around us, there is nothing more

to that order than what is imposed by the human mind. That

is a serious misjudgement.”

And he adds that “Our scientific picture of the universe has revealed how blinkered and conservative our outlook has often been, how self serving our interim picture, how mundane our expectations, and how parochial our attempts to find or deny the links between scientific and religious approaches to the nature of the universe.”

It is with scientists like Professor Barrow that we must build bridges, deepening each other’s understanding.

An ancient title of the Bishop of Rome is “pontifex maximus” – the greatest bridge builder.

The most important bridge of all will be the bridge to other orthodox Christians. A “tolerant orthodoxy” will unite those who hold firm to their beliefs but who refuse to persecute their opponents. This idea was heralded in the great teaching document, Dignitatis Humanae, issued by the Second Vatican Council in 1965. Freedom of faith must not become contingent on having to doubt faith’s certainties.

The great twentieth century theologian, Karl Barth, in “Credo” (1935) put it like this: “If we listen to Christ, we do not live above the differences that divide the church but in them. We should not try to explain the multiplicity of churches at all. We should treat it as the way we treat our own sin and those of others: as sin We should see it as part of our guilt…We can only be shocked by these divisions and pray for their elimination.

Responding to Barth, the Catholic theologian, Hans urs von Balthasar had this to say:

“Unity cannot be found in some neutral no man’s land between the confessions; it can only be found within the respective ecclesial spaces of each denomination…Then new life will at last begin to flow again through the Church’s limbs, grown so sclerotic over the centuries… This whole project must begin with the admission that unity can only be the grace of the Church’s Founder; this is no human project…only the faith that can move mountains will be weapon enough for such a task.”

Most of us have long since grown weary of the grim old quarrels and arguments between the Christian denominations; we look around and see the consequences; but it would be absurd to believe that gargantuan efforts are underway to bridge the yawning chasms that still separate us. And while, in dereliction of our duty “to be one”, we sleep at our posts, the citadels of Europe are under attack. Our generation are Gethsemane Christians who have fallen asleep when the Lord asked us to stay awake at His most needful hour.

We need a penetrating discourse about why we are not one. We do not need a false empty tolerance – tolerance for its own sake – but a new determination to understand the warnings of St.Paul’s warnings in 1 Corinthians of the scandal of division and his appeal that “for the sake of Our Lord Jesus Christ, make up the differences between you.” (1 Corinthians, 1:10)

New bridges and new alliances urgently need to be built ; first among orthodox Christians of all denominations; then we must at least discourse with people of the other Abrahamic faiths, especially those countless Muslims who share the Pope’s abhorrence at the use of violence;

And, as I have said, also with those who want to see reason and faith, ethics and scientific endeavour marching hand in hand. None of this is a call for syncretism: quite the reverse. We need to start from the confidence of a tolerance orthodoxy.

Of course the building of bridges requires much more engineering competence than the building of walls and the ultimate purpose of a bridge is to be walked over: that’s called Christian humility.

But without new alliances and a new understanding of the forces at work in our world today we will suffer the fate of the city of that erudite Byzantine Emperor – cited in Pope Benedict’s Regensburg Lecture – Manuel II Paleologus. Within two decades of his death Constantinople was over-run and its Christian places of worship defiled and its tradition and heritage destroyed. Today, Turkey’s tiny Christian minority – like so many of the ancient churches of Asia Minor – is a minority under siege. The stories of the genocide against the Armenians and the asphyxiation of the Greek Orthodox church in Turkey are a continuing rebuke to those of us in the West who have turned a blind eye to their plight. Let us at least stand together is speaking out for our persecuted brothers and sisters. Our failure to do so is a scandal.

3. Letting God In

Too often we rely on our own strength to bring change. I freely admit that abhorrence of tyranny and dictatorship can often make me want to resort to force rather than prayer. We can learn a thing or two from Rome’s Sant Egidio Community – which successfully brokered the end to the war in Mozambique and has played such an outstanding part in reconciling divided communities in Algeria, Kosovo, Burundi and the Congo. Sant Egidio puts prayer and service at the heart of their work. They let God in.

Too often we look for spectacular initiatives and great programmes.

By contrast, Mother Teresa of Calcutta said (Daily Readings With Mother Teresa, Harper Collins, London, 1993) that faithfulness and personal responsibility comes through small things:

“We must not think that our love has to be extraordinary. But we do need to love without getting tired. How does a lamp burn? Through the continuous input of small drops of oil. These things are like the small things of daily life: faithfulness, small words of kindness, a thought for others, our way of being quiet, of looking, of speaking, and of acting. These are the true drops of love that keep our lives and relationships burning like a lively flame.” She also used to say “you’re not called upon to be successful, you’re called upon to be faithful.”

As a child I was given a jig saw puzzle. On one side was a complicated picture of the world. On the other was a picture of a man. I could never get the world right but the great thing about the jigsaw was that once you got the man right, and turned it over, the jigsaw came right anyway.

We must let God into our own lives and in to the lives of our families and nations.

Europe’s human landscape is littered with the wreckage of collapsed family life, broken communities, the instability and insecurity in employment which accompanies market forces, and a widespread sense of isolation and alienation. Hardly a family or community in Britain is untouched by violence or by drugs. It is all fuelled by the cult in individualism and the language of individual rights and choices never measured. To reverse this, we must let God in.

Think about what happened when Naomi was widowed, and robbed of her sons who, if still alive, would have taken responsibility for her care. She went back to her clan territory. She had the security of knowing that in that community she would be cared for. Why? Because it was a God-fearing community.

The beautiful story of Ruth, accompanying her mother-in-law, illustrates the strength of the family and its obligations and benefits as a model which cares for the individual but also the health of the whole nation. Naomi’s kinsman, Boaz, gladly undertook his responsibilities for Ruth and Naomi – including the care of their land. Although not the nearest kinsman Boaz stepped forward, and – in the presence of the elders, – the family, kinship responsibilities, rights and duties, were all transferred to him. They did it because they had let God in.

The story of Ruth and Boaz, ancestors, of course, of Jesus of Nazareth, beautifully illustrate our inter-dependence on each other, and our dependence on God.

We too must be faithful citizens to a faithful God. From the earliest time in the history of Israel God was known as a faithful God. In Deuteronomy Moses teaches the people: “Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands (Deut 7:9).” Many of the Psalms speak of God as the faithful one who keeps his promises and who remains faithful for ever. Hosea says that even when there was no faithfulness among the people, God remained faithful (4:1). Hosea saw this contrasting faithlessness and God’s faithfulness as an almost unbelievable tragedy. It could only be countered by letting God back in. That is Europe’s only hope: its only salvation.

To Conclude,

You asked me to look at the implications of losing our Judaeo-Christian heritage and our ethical foundations.

I have tried to set out what happens to the health of a nation that tries to get by without God.

I have instanced the effect of on our values, our attitudes, our communities, our families, and ourselves.

I have tried to remind you at what cost our ethical framework was constructed; not least by the blood of the Roman martyrs.

I have argued that to achieve reconstruction there has to first be religious revival and that renewal, reform and reconstruction will then follow.

And I have lastly suggested that we must recognise the reality of the challenge we face; regain our nerve; forge new alliances; and above all else, let God back in.


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

A child came home to his parents with an end of term report. “Music”, it said,” failed the theory, passed the practice; science, failed the theory passed the practice; religion, passed the theory, failed the practice.”

Let me attempt this afternoon to blend some theory with some practice, beginning with an overview of what I mean by citizenship and civil society, and then, with the aid of a power point presentation, reinforcing the theoretical points with some down to earth practice.

Perhaps I am well suited to this task of trying to match theory and practice. I am a professor of citizenship at a British University but I have also served in both Houses of Parliament for the past 23 years.

People in politics often have a very elevated idea of their own importance – although the truth is that there is a fair amount of public cynicism about them.

There is a story about three men who were arguing about whose is the oldest profession. There was a doctor, a planner and a politician and their claims illustrate that they had not had the benefit of a Scranton education. .

The doctor claimed that his was the oldest profession because he said it was a doctor who had taken a rib out of Adam to make Eve; the planner said his was the oldest profession because a planner had created order out of the chaos that existed in the firmament before time began; and the politician, always keen to cap anybody else’s claims, said his was the oldest profession “because we created the chaos.”

Politicians may well leave a trail of chaos in their wake but in a democracy it is impossible to do without them. It has been remarked that “if you cut down all the trees there will be nowhere left for the birds to sing” and as we cut down our political institutions, the Church, and many aspects of our traditions and culture we are in grave danger of leaving nowhere from which the birds will be able to sing.

So, essentially, my central call today is a call to engage actively in the life of the world. At the conclusion of my remarks I will argue that those formed in the Judaeo-Christian tradition have a special obligation laid upon them to do so.

So let me say something about the theory.

Arguably the first person to draw a distinction between the state and civil society was Thomas Paine (Common Sense, 1776). Paine saw the State as a contrived entity “the badge of lost innocence.” The lost innocence that the state represents was the usurping of the role of individual and voluntary endeavour. The State will always encroach on the freedoms we enjoy as citizens if we allow our democratic institutions and our virtuous impulses to be eroded.

Paine held that personal virtue was best cultivated in a climate of personal endeavour; that “society is produced by our wants and government by our wickedness” the one cultivating and uniting our best impulses the other restraining our vices: “the first is a patron, the last a punisher.”

Be that as it may, we know that we cannot dispense with the State. The issue is surely how we find a bridge between the individual and market forces on one hand and the apparatus of the state on the other. It is surely in this no-man’s-land of civil society that individual citizens can find better ways of living and ensure that their liberties and freedoms are not encroached upon by the State.

Civil society can only flourish through an outpouring of civic virtue – implying as it does, charity, philanthropy, public spirit and a whole host of voluntary activity. Civic virtue is the best buttress against totalitarianism and against excess.

Civic virtue can also colonise the best religious impulses and provide the most helpful route of uniting religious values with political ones. Civil society has rightly been described by Quentin Skinner as ” a moral space between rulers and the ruled” (Liberty Before Liberalism, 1998). Although the concept of civil society as the place where voluntary institutions mediate between the individual and the state is of relatively recent origin, the ancients placed great value on the role of individual citizens acting individually and together.

Aristotle wrote that shame, aidos, would attach to the man who failed to play his part; that we are not “solitary pieces in a game of chequers” (Politics); but civil society was not for him a buttress against government but something to be understood in high political terms. In his era public spirit was perceived as military or political service; for us, the concept has much wider implications.

Aristotle set out the ancient virtues that are the bed rock of civil society: justice; wisdom; temperance; courage; magnanimity; tolerance; munificence; prudence and gentleness.

How we exhibit these virtues and how we act as moral agents affects everything from how we treat our neighbours to how we treat the environment. Beyond the appreciation of the theory lies the practical effect that engagement in civil society has on the individual. Cicero understood this when he wrote in “On Duty” said that participation in the common life improved the character of the individual: “the whole glory of virtue is in activity.”

Alexis de Tocqueville was on to the same point when he counselled that an impressive practical wisdom and power of judgement may be developed simply from participating in the affairs of a free society.

But it was Paine who saw the value of civil society as more than the fountain head of personal altruism, arguing that his ideal republic – a place of liberty free of arbitrary rule – would flourish only when there were dynamic free associations beyond the control of government.

Civil society would form a bridge between those who expressed their sense of duty by benevolence or charity and those who worked for social cohesion through politics. This welter of activity invigorates a community or nation and is ultimately communitarian – for it links autonomous individual citizens together. Tocqueville said that “The greater the multiplicity of small affairs, the more do men, even without knowing it, acquire facility in prosecuting great undertakings in common.”

The English Catholic historian and liberal thinker, Lord Acton, presciently observed that religion “locates and strengthens the notion of duty. If men are not kept straight by duty, they must be by fear. The greater the strength of duty, the greater the liberty.” He also understood that the goal of reconciling religion and liberty is not easily reached: “the paths of both are stained with blood.” Yet how much more blood will flow if religion is to be a force for reaction, aggression and sectarianism rather than as a force for liberty.

Civil society and the outpouring of a person’s gifts for the common good is the way to real human progress. Whether in post Communist society, in the developing world or in the West a common enemy is materialism.

In the west democratic institutions have been under increasing attack from crude material values that eat away at civil society. Disillusionment with too great an emphasis on the market, fears about globalisation, and a failure to reconcile deep religious beliefs with a commitment to democracy, all pose a considerable threat.

As someone who has spent thirty years in public life in Britain I understand the reasons for public cynicism but as Winston Churchill once observed about democracy “it is the least worst system” available to us.

Chaotic though many democratic societies may be, nevertheless they offer the best model for the development of a civil society. Let me begin with some admissions of failure. Britain is by no means a perfect society. I know from my time in that we are faced with widespread civic disaggregation and a loss of civic responsibility. Low turn out in elections, for instance, in some of the poorer areas points to alienation.

There has also been a loss of patriotic commitment as an exaggerated emphasis has been placed on individual autonomy and rights rather than on duties and obligations. The cult of individualism has led to a loss of good citizenship and damages civil society.

The challenge for us is to make democracy effective.

The history of the twentieth century was a history of societies ravaged by ideologies. Some reduce man to a series of social and economic relationships where the whole concept of the person as an autonomous subject linked to others through a network of mutually important personal and communal relationships, and encouraged to take moral decisions, disappears.

The responsibility of the individual to face good or evil is eliminated and social order becomes distorted.

Any understanding of human freedom which detaches it from obedience to the truth – and consequently from the duty to respect the rights of others, especially the most vulnerable – breeds a self-love and self interest which militates against the demands of justice

After World War Two, and in reaction to its horrors, the founding fathers of the European Community – who were mainly inspired by their Catholic faith – saw the desperate need for an alternative to these options. Theirs was not an ideological response but one that was based on a more lively sense of human rights and the rights of nations.

They appreciated that how a person acts as a moral agent affects everything from how they behave towards their neighbours and their environment to how they uphold ethical standards in politics or commerce. We begin building a civil society by our own actions towards one another – by our willingness to serve rather than to dominate and by our willingness to embrace values which run counter to those which may prevail throughout mainstream society.

Thomas Hill Green, a great nineteenth century idealist, moral philosopher and exponent of ethical liberalism, held that virtue was best understood as a personal outpouring for the common good.

The common good presupposes legal institutions that protect liberty and prevent the exercise of the suffrage from being distorted. It also implies – and perhaps this above all else – the education and formation of the masses.

The wolves are always waiting at the door, – the Vikings at the gate – waiting to destroy civil society. Education is our best defence. The bad comes to pass more frequently than the good. All the more reason to create political and civil structures and institutions that are organised in accordance with the order of nature and justice and centre on the common good.

The Common Good and a Civil Society require the progress of social justice; the organic development of institutions of law; the participation in more and more extensive ways of people in political life; the creation of conditions that really do offer each an equal opportunity to bring their gifts to fruit and that rewards the efforts of its labour for common use; and the cultivation of that inner liberty which gives mastery over self; and, finally, a love of knowledge and truth.

My Irish speaking mother brought me up to believe in the common good. An Old Irish saying has it that: “It is in the shelter of each other’s lives that the people live.” Nelson Mandela uses the word ubuntu to express the same thought: “It is the sense that we can only be human through the humanity of others.” The English poet, John Donne, captured the same thought in his famous words: No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.”

So much for the theory of citizenship and civic engagement. Let me capture some of these points through a power point presentation and outline some of the specific ways in which we can put the theory into practice.


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