For 18 years David Alton was a Member of the House of Commons and today is an Independent Crossbench Life Peer.
Qualified as a teacher in 1972, working in socially disadvantaged neighbourhoods, teaching immigrant children and later children with special needs.
David Alton was elected as Member of Parliament for Liverpool Edge Hill at a by-election in 1979 for the former Liberal Party (the party of Gladstone), when he became the “Baby of the House” – the youngest member – achieving a record swing of 36.8% and 64% of the vote.
He won the seat the day after the Callaghan Government was defeated in a vote of confidence and the 1979 General Election being called. He became the shortest lived MP, a Member for less than a week, and made his Maiden Speech within three hours of taking his seat. Five weeks later he was re-elected and went on to serve as a Liverpool MP for 18 years, before standing down in 1997. He was the only new member of a Parliamentary Party of 11 MPs. He campaigned on the slogan “Everyone Knows Someone Whose Been Helped by David Alton.”
He was his Party’s spokesman on Home Affairs, Northern Ireland, Overseas Development and the Environment, and served as Chief Whip, Chairman of the Party’s Policy Committee and national President of the National League of Young Liberals.
From 1979 to 1988 he served at various times as spokesman on the environment, overseas aid,home affairs, Northern Ireland and as Chief Whip. He was Chairman of his party’s Policy Committee and its Candidates Committee.
He is known for his strongly pro-life position on abortion, and in 1987 he resigned as Chief Whip to campaign for his unsuccessful private member’s bill which aimed to stop late abortions. The Bill achieved a record 296 votes and a majority of 45 in the House of Commons – and never lost a vote at any stage – but was filibustered by opponents.
He served on the House of Commons Privileges Committee and was one of the MPs asked to investigate the Cash for Questions scandal.
In 1990, with Ken Hargreaves MP, he co-founded the nonpartisan Movement for Christian Democracy which emerged from the Epiphany Group which he had convened the previous year. It published its Westminster Declaration based on six principles: social justice, respect for life, active compassion, empowerment and good stewardship.
In 1992, after his Party moved from a “conscience” position on abortion to making the issue a matter of party policy (on the same day on which a motion was passed calling, among other things, for protection of goldfish sold in amusement arcades and funfairs) he announced that he would not contest again on the party’s platform. In 1997 he stood down from the House of Commons, and from party politics, and was nominated by the Prime Minister, Sir John Major, to the House of Lords, where he sits as an Independent Life Peer, speaking regularly on human rights and religious liberty issues.
During his time in both Houses of Parliament he has participated in numerous campaigns, successfully moving amendments against gratuitously violent videos; to remove Easter and Christmas from the Sunday Trading legislation; and to provide redress and support for victims of mesothelioma.
He was one of the six MPs who first called for the televised broadcasting of Parliament; one of the officers of the parliamentary committee that opposed anti-personnel land mines; one of the six signatories of the Motion that challenged the safety of the convictions of the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four; and one of the four Peers who moved the “Dubs amendment” to provide sanctuary in the UK for unaccompanied refugee children.
In the Commons he questioned the safety of the Hillsborough football ground before the tragedy that claimed 96 lives on April 15th 1989 and he gave evidence to the Hillsborough Inquiry.
He has introduced Private Members Bills in Parliament on the rights of private tenants; minimum housing standards; victims of violent crime; the upper time limit for abortion; the right to establish housing co-operatives; the right to establish directly elected neighbourhood councils; the re-export of arms; a Bill to require research into the causes and cures for mesothelioma; and a Bill to create new mechanisms to bring to justice those responsible for genocide or crimes against humanity.
Lord Alton is Founder and co-chairman of the British-DPRK All-Party Parliamentary Group, and visited Pyongyang on four occasions, including in October 2010 when he had talks with leaders of the North Korean government including Choe Thae Bok, chairman of the Supreme People’s Assembly, the country’s rubber-stamp parliament and when he protested about human rights violations in that country, raising specific cases with their Ministers. He details his experiences in his book, written with Rob Chidley,”Bulding Bridges: Is there Hope For North Korea?” (Lion 2013) one of eleven books he has authored.
In March 2017, as a member of the Sages Group (to which he was appointed in 2016), he spoke at a forum of the 34th Session of the UN Human Rights Council, alongside His Honour Judge Michael Kirby (chairman of the UN Commission of Inquiry into North Korea) and Dr.Marzuki Darusman, former UN Special Rapporteur on North Korea, and called for the regime’s leaders to be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court.
He also successfully campaigned for the creation of BBC World Service broadcasts to the Korean Peninsula.
In 2020 he was appointed to the House of Lords International Relations and Defence Select Committee – and involved in the Committee’s reports on Sub Saharan Africa and Afghanistan. In 2021 the Committee agreed to a new Inquiry into China, Trade and Security.
In 2020 he moved amendments to Telecommunications and Trade legislation challenging the links between Huawei, the Chinese Communist Party and the use of Uighur slave labour.
During lockdown he hosted several Webinars and participated in conferences on issues such as the abduction, forced marriage and forced conversion of girls and women, on Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and on the failure to respond to mass atrocities in Nigeria and Burma.
In 2021 he promoted the All Party Genocide Amendment to the Trade Bill which secured large bipartisan majorities in the House of Lords and was narrowly defeated in the House of Commons.
He was listed as one of the top ten most active Peers by the BBC
and profiled in their series, Political Lives:
Human Rights Work
In 1987, with Danny Smith, he launched the human rights group, Jubilee Campaign, which led to campaigns, visits and reports on the plight of Jewish and Christian dissidents in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe: http://www.jubileecampaign.co.uk/ On several occasions had trees planted in his name in Israel in recognition of his work for Soviet Jews.
Lord Alton campaigned against the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008, opposing the creation and use of animal human hybrid stem cells for medical purposes and in Parliament has spoken against designer babies, gender and eugenic abortions, and euthanasia.
In 2008, he spoke out against the British Olympic Association when it forced athletes to sign an agreement forbidding them from criticising China’s human rights record before or during the 2008 Summer Olympics. and has been a leading opponent of China’s one-child coercive abortion policy, successfully campaigning for Chen Guang Chen, the blind Chinese human rights activist, imprisoned for four years for opposing the policy, to leave China. Lord Alton presented him with the Westminster Award for Human Rights, Human Life and Human Dignity at Parliament. In 2018 and 2019 he has raised the plight of Chinese Muslim Uighurs and the coercive harvesting of organs in China.
Throughout 2016 and 2017 he spoke in Parliament, moved amendments and a promoted Private Members Bill on Genocide, chaired hearings and collected evidence, detailing the genocide against Syrian and Iraqi Christians, Yazidis and other minorities. Until 2019 he served on the Board of Aid to the Church In Need, a charity which helps those affected by the genocide.
In 2016 he instigated “Red Wednesday” – a day of action to draw attention to those who art persecuted for their religion or belief.
In Parliament, he is co-Chairman of the All Party Groups on North Korea and Pakistan Minorities.
He is Secretary and a past Chairman of the All Party Group on Sudan and South Sudan, visited the South during the civil war and visited Darfur. He has regularly highlighted the atrocities committed there, including a 2016 letter to The Times about the alleged use of chemical weapons in Darfur.
He serves as Vice Chairman of the All Party Groups on Egypt, Tibet, Eritrea, Haiti, and Uganda, War Crimes, and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Democracy in Burma; and is Vice Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hormone Pregnancy Tests which was established to investigate and highlight the use of the drug ‘Primodos’. He was a Founder of the All Party Group on Freedom of Religion or Belief. He is a Patron of the London-based rights group Save the Congo!
In 2016 he was appointed as one of the “Sages” International Advisory Group on North Korea’s Human Rights
In 2015 he visited a detention centre in South East Asia where fleeing Pakistani Christians and Ahmadis are being held; subsequently chaired an in Inquiry into their fate; and in 2018 undertook a fact finding human rights visit to Pakistan. During 2018 he has also been part of an Inquiry into the treatment of Pakistan’s Ahmadis and spoken on the persecution of Egypt’s Coptic community at a conference in Washington DC.
During 2018 he has initiated a debate in the House of Lords about the increasing level of violence in Nigeria and secured a further debate on the ineffectual response to genocide.
During a debate he initiated on genocide he said that through questions and intervention in the House he had raised the plight of Yazidis and Christians in northern Iraq on 65 occasions, since 26 November 2008; the plight of Rohingya Muslims in 58 interventions since July 2006; and 204 questions or interventions about Darfur since 2003; and that the failure to prevent genocide meant that “never again happens all over again.”
In 2018 he also chaired a hearing on Eritrean religious minorities and refugees and subsequently opened an exhibition on Eritrea in London; he launched a campaign and published a letter in The Times opposing the use of Chinese corpses in an exhibition; he visited Pakistan and raised human rights cases and visited slum areas which are home to the country’s persecuted minorities.
In November 2018 he visited Pakistan, travelling to Lahore and Islamabad, and raised the case of Asia Bibi the plight of minorities. In Washington he spoke at a meeting in Congress about the persecution of Copts and in New York at a Summit on the infringements to Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
In 2019 he visited Northern Iraq and took evidence in a Kurdish refugee camp and met Yazidi and Assyrian survivors of ISIS genocide. He was part of an international team who monitored the elections in Hong Kong and in Taiwan met human rights defenders and pro democracy advocates. He spoke at Brigham Young University in Utah at a conference on freedom of religion or belief.
Outside of Parliament
In 1997 he was appointed as Professor of Citizenship at Liverpool John Moores University and established the hugely successful Roscoe Foundation for Citizenship: http://www.ljmu.ac.uk/roscoe/ He retired from this role in 2016.
In June 2016 David chaired the last of over 140 Roscoe Lectures and after twenty years he retired as Professor of Citizenship. In July 2016 he was made a Fellow of Liverpool John Moores University.
He also established the University’s Good Citizenship Awards that have been awarded in around 800 schools in the North West. David Alton explains the background to the Awards at
and the background to the Roscoe Lectures at
In 2012 he was made an honorary professor at Yanbian University in China and delivered a lecture there on the power of education.
In 2017 he was appointed as a Visiting Professor at Liverpool Hope University with a mandate to examine the causes of conflict and their resolution.
In 2019 he was given a US State Department award for his Article 18 work on freedom of religion or belief.
Christ College Liverpool (achieved academic distinctions); St. Andrews University, Scotland (fellowship): Professor of Citizenship, Liverpool John Moores University (1997-2016); Hon.Professor at Yanbian University, China. Visiting Professor Liverpool Hope University.
He has also authored several reports on human rights in countries such as North Korea, Burma, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Brazil, Sudan/Darfur, Tibet and Rwanda – all of which he has visited.
David Alton is a Patron, Trustee, President, or Vice President of a number of voluntary organisations: they include:
Among the international awards he has received are the Michael Bell Memorial Award for Initiatives for Life, the Korean Mystery of Life Award presented by the Cardinal Archbishop of Seoul , and the Good Samaritan Advocates International Award for human rights work.
In 2008 he was made a Knight Commander of the Order of St Gregory in recognition of his work for human rights and religious liberty. In 2012 he was awarded an honorary professorship by China’s Yanbian University of Science and Technology. In 2014 he was given an award for his human rights work by the Coptic community and in 2016 was made an honorary fellow of Liverpool John Moores University for his work on citizenship.
0207 219 3551
House of Lords, London SW1A OPW.
- Liverpool Edge Hill March 29, 1979 – June 9, 1983
- Liverpool Mossley Hill June 9, 1983 – March 8, 1988
- Liverpool Mossley Hill March 8, 1988 – May 1, 1997
Titles in Lords
- Baron Alton (Lord Alton of Liverpool, of Mossley Hill in Liverpool) 1997 –
First recorded, on April 3, 1979 FINANCE BILL Commons
Last recorded on this site , on March 17, 2005 Mental Capacity Bill Lords. For later contributions (2005-present) visit www.theyworkforyou.com and see http://www.publicwhip.org.uk/mp.php?mpn=Lord_Alton_of_Liverpool&mpc=Lords&house=lords. Information presented on this page was prepared from the XML source files, together with information from the History of Parliament Trust, the work of Leigh Rayment and public sources. The means by which names are recognised means that errors may remain in the data presented.
Citation: on receipt of LJMU Fellowship, 2016:
13/07/2016 | LJMU News release | Distributed by Public on 13/07/2016 15:39
Ambassador Fellowship: Professor The Lord David Alton
13th July 2016 | Written by Corporate Communications