Kirsty Williams – 2013 Speech to Liberal Democrat Conference

Below is the text of the speech made by the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, Kirsty Williams, to the Liberal Democrat Conference in Glasgow on 16th August 2013.

Conference,

In just over a year, the people of Scotland will come to a fork in the road.

As Liberal Democrats we must welcome the opportunity for the people of Scotland to have their voice heard in a referendum,

But also, as Liberal Democrats, we must campaign harder than ever before to persuade the people of Scotland to remain with us.

Our mantra of being stronger together in the European Union applies equally, if not more, for the union of the four nations that make up the United Kingdom.

And Conference, it is no surprise that Liberals have played such an important part in trying to create a federal Britain.

Gladstone, practically inventing the concept of home rule.

Lloyd George, championing home rule at the beginning of the last century.

Jo Grimond who called for a federal United Kingdom in his House of Commons maiden speech in 1950.

Liberals who have fought hard before us had the vision and the courage to call for greater autonomy for the people of these nations.

I would like to thank Sir Menzies Campbell for continuing that fight for home rule.

His commission, set up by Willie Rennie, seeks to put the United Kingdom on track to become a federal union.

Because we cannot allow the SNP to run the constitutional agenda of the UK.

It is up to us, Liberal Democrats, to steer that debate, and to bring it back from the extremes of separation towards a more balanced settlement.

A settlement that recognises the need for more autonomy across the UK

In Wales and Scotland  – yes

But also London, England, the regions.

On this most important of issues, people agree with us.

Only 9% of people in Wales want independence but they do want more powers

In Wales, the Welsh Liberal Democrats and I have been making a strong case for the devolution of fiscal and further powers for the National Assembly through the work of the Silk Commission.

It was hard work writing that commission into the coalition agreement in the first place

It was a struggle to get the Tories to make good on that agreement.

It will be harder still to get the Conservatives to implement its recommendations.

But I know that Nick Clegg, Danny Alexander and Jenny Randerson will push and push and push for the powers that Wales needs.

This isn’t power for its own sake.

Wales needs power over stamp duty to boost the housing industry.

Wales needs the power to vary income tax to ensure the Welsh Government takes responsibility for spending.

Wales needs borrowing powers to invest in infrastructure to stimulate the economy.

The Scots are not buying the idea of being separated either but they do want to have more say over their own affairs.

As Sir Menzies eloquently said in his commission,

“Liberal Democrats strive to ensure that individuals have the freedoms to control the circumstances of their lives for the benefit of themselves, their families and their community”.

“A federal framework with as much power as feasible exercised by the nations and regions”.

That is what our constitution says.

Because when the nations of the United Kingdom come together, we are stronger, it is a much fairer system.

Stronger and fairer because individuals and communities will have more say in the governance of their own lives.

Stronger and fairer because every part of the United Kingdom will have more responsibility over their own affairs.

Devolution and federalism, it’s not just a Scottish thing or a Welsh idea.

It is a key Liberal Democrat philosophy and a belief that we need to continue to fight for.

The Conservatives are conflicted.

Labour confused.

Nationalists just want separation.

Our view, the Liberal view for 100 years and more is the people’s view.

Now, while Willie and the Scottish Liberal Democrats are fighting the SNP government here in Scotland, the Welsh Liberal Democrats, on the other hand, are playing opposition to a weak and lacklustre Labour Government in Wales.

Labour, governing on their own, cannot be trusted to run a country.

Labour, in charge, by themselves, cannot run a decent health service that provides for those in need, or an education system that gets the best out of our pupils, or grow an economy that will give us those much needed jobs.

Ed Miliband has said that accident and emergency is the barometer of the NHS and that A&E waiting times hadn’t been met in England for the past two months.

According to Mr Miliband’s barometer “the NHS was in distress.”

I wonder what he says behind closed doors about the A&E waiting times in Wales – under the leadership of his colleague, Carwyn Jones, the most senior elected Labour politician in the UK, the First Minister of Wales, because those A&E targets have NEVER been met in Wales.

Last March, Mr. Miliband said that “We have a great deal to learn from the great things that Carwyn and his government are doing.”

Great things? Really?

If you need an ambulance urgently in Powys, the Welsh side of the border, there’s only a 50/50 chance that the ambulance will get to you within the target 8 minutes.

Are you waiting for an operation on the Welsh side of the border?

Good luck to you as you could be waiting more than 8 months for treatment while your neighbour just across the border waits 18 weeks.

Wales’ biggest hospital has been branded dangerous by the Royal College of Surgeons.

Senior medical staff are openly writing about lives being put at risk in our A&E departments.

We have cancer treatment targets that have not been met in five years, A&E targets that have never been met and ambulance response times that are by far the worst in the UK.

All this despite the huge efforts and commitment by NHS staff in Wales.

But don’t take my word for it.

Listen to senior Labour MP Ann Clwyd, who is conducting a review into the English NHS

Her verdict?

“Wales is behind England in every instance”

“Great things” Mr. Miliband?

What about education?

In Wrexham, a child on free school meals gets £450 under the Welsh pupil premium.

A child from a few miles across the border, in Chester, gets £1,300 towards their education.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats had to bring the Labour party kicking and screaming to fund the pupil premium in our budget deal. You would have thought that Labour would jump at the change of helping poorer students.

In the next budget round, my team and I are fighting to see that amount increased.

Because £1,300 per child compared to £450 per child. Well that’s simply not right.

Poorer Welsh children will fall even further behind their English counterparts.

So much for Labour’s commitment to social justice.

6 out of 22 local education authorities have been placed in special measures.

Over 65,000 children being taught in education authorities assessed as inadequate by the government’s own inspectors.

Great things, Mr. Miliband?

Or what about job creation and the economy?

On the Welsh side of the Severn Estuary, not a single brick laid and not a single job created in the Cardiff Enterprise Zone.

The Bristol enterprise zone on the other hand is employing hundreds of people since last April.

Unemployment in Wales is consistently higher than in England, especially amongst our young people.

There’s been a 35% increase in the number of apprenticeships offered in England since 2010.

In Wales, that number has fallen by a third and communities risk losing a generation of talented young people.

Welsh businesses complain

– of a muddled approach to small businesses.

– of a review of business rates sat gathering dust.

– of stifling bureaucracy and red tape.

But then the Welsh Labour Economy minister famously once said that she regretted capitalism.

Great things, Mr. Miliband?

For anyone who needs a reminder to see what Britain would look like under Labour, come to Wales.

We can show you what it’s like to have Labour in charge.

Miliband has tried to distance himself from the legacy of New Labour.

But in Wales we’ve never had new Labour, just 14 years of the same old Labour party.

So come and see for yourselves how Labour can’t be trusted to run the economy.

See for yourselves how Labour can’t handle public finances.

See for yourselves how our education system and health service struggles.

Labour has no vision for Wales.

Tom Jones may have famously sung about the Green Green Grass of Home,

But I can assure you.

The grass is not greener on Labour’s pastures.

Now if you think that Labour governing on their own is bad just what kind of country would we be living in if the Conservatives were let off the leash in Westminster?

When the Liberal Democrats were busy ensuring that the Queen’s Speech was full of new laws to strengthen our economy and ensure fairness in our society, Tory backbenchers were also busy conjuring up their own alternative legislation.

We had Steve Webb’s Pensions Bill ensuring that saving for retirement is simpler and fairer, while the True Blue squad wanted to decimate the overseas aid budget.

Ed Davey wants the Energy Bill to create as many as 250,000 jobs, creating that stronger, greener economy we all strive for.

The Tory climate change deniers want to abolish the Department of Energy and Climate Change altogether.

Liberal Democrats want to legislate to help families with the cost of childcare, supporting people who want to get back to work.

The Bone-Squad wanted to turn back the clocks and reintroduce national service for young people. And ban the burka, and abolish sexual harassment claims in the workplace, send all asylum seekers away, come out of the EU altogether, reintroduce capital punishment, and my favourite of all – a day celebrating Margaret Thatcher,

We may well laugh, but these people are serious.

And Peter Bone said those madcap ideas “could form the basis of a future Conservative manifesto.”

Well I don’t share his vision for Britain. I want my children to grow up in a country that is liberal, accepting of the fact that regardless of your sexuality, you should be able to marry the person you love.

And a country that is tolerant, recognising that diversity is a strength, not a threat,

And a country that is fair, where your future is determined by your abilities not your parent’s pay cheque.

The Liberal Democrat stamp was on that Queen’s Speech back in May.

Our Liberal Democrat team, Nick, Danny, Vince, Ed and the others, they’re all ensuring that a strong Liberal streak runs through the UK government’s policies.

Fighting to ensure that the coalition’s moral compass is pointing the right way.

A headline in the Daily Mail read……… Now, I know it’s not a promising start to a sentence in any speech but bear with me…

A headline in the Daily Mail last year read:

“I’d govern like a true Tory………… if it wasn’t for the Lib Dems.”

David Cameron’s own words.

He’s right.

If it wasn’t for the Lib Dems in government, regional pay would have been introduced, making Wales and our poor regions even poorer.

If it wasn’t for the Lib Dems in government, the police and the intelligence service would be allowed to read our emails, snooping into your affairs.

If it wasn’t for the Lib Dems in government, we would be on our way out of Europe, languishing on the side-lines without power and influence.

The Tory axe would have cut deeper into the welfare budget.

The super-rich would be hoarding more of their money, aided and abetted by Tory inheritance tax breaks.

And private companies would have taken over our schools and running them for a profit.

If it wasn’t for the Lib Dems, Britain would be a very different country now.

But with Liberal Democrats in government, we have a fairer tax system where millions of low and middle income workers see more of their hard earned money back in their pocket.

A policy that was on the front page of our manifesto.

In difficult times, these are the people who we should be helping.

Pushing the income tax threshold up and up is already having a huge impact on many people.

If you are on the minimum wage, the Liberal Democrat income tax policy means that you will have had your income tax bill halved.

In Wales, over 100,000 workers aren’t paying any income tax at all and over a million are seeing 600 pounds back in their pocket.

With Liberal Democrats in government, pensioners have seen the link between the basic state pension and earnings restored.

With Liberal Democrats in government, thousands of young people are being offered training as apprentices, ensuring them a good job with skills and a decent salary – and more importantly, a stake in our society.

But as much as I like seeing Nick stop the excesses of the Conservatives, we are not in government just to hold back the Tories.

We are in government to push forward our policies, our vision and our liberal agenda.

Liberal Democrats, we can be proud of what we are achieving in government.

We’ve stopped talking about how we want to make a difference.

In government, we are making a difference.

And I want us to continue turning party policy into the laws of this land after May 2015.

But conference, Nick, Paddy, Willie and I, we can boast, brag and blow our own trumpets about our achievements in government, about how we are actually creating a stronger economy and a fairer society

However, unless the people of Britain know what we’re doing and how hard we are working to deliver our policies on their behalf, we can forget about being in government in May 2015 and retreat back into opposition. On the side-lines.

The people of Wales and Scotland are used to coalitions.

Liberal Democrats have been in government twice in Scotland and once in Wales.

I know that the junior party in any coalition has to be able to show it has made a difference.

Not just on issues of concern to their core supporters, but on issues that matter the most to the rest of the voters in the country.

Welsh Liberal Democrats were proud of what we achieved in coalition, but when you have three other parties also campaigning in an election, also trying to catch the attention of the voters, your achievements can be lost in the political ether.

We weren’t rewarded in the ballot box for our successes in government because we didn’t concentrate on the issues that mattered the most to people.

So from now until 2015 we have to be more focused in what we say, our campaigning issues relevant to voters and the people in this hall and beyond, we must take ownership of that message and deliver it over and over and over again.

Jobs – A million plus new jobs and a million more on the way

The economy – Back from the brink of Labour’s disaster.

Fair taxes – £700 back in your pocket. The super rich paying more.

Pupil premium – enabling everyone to get on in life.

Liberal Democrats delivering.

Like all of you in this hall today, I am campaigner, with leaflet ink on my fingers and letter box scars on my hands.

Give me an evening, a village and a bundle of leaflets, and I will deliver and so will my team.

But we all need to deliver.

Like many of you in this hall today, my campaign is to get as many Liberal Democrat MPs back to Westminster as possible.

Because without Liberal Democrats in government, you know what will happen;

We’ll have a lacklustre, uninspiring, incompetent Labour Government, like in Wales, wreaking havoc on our public services.

Or an intolerant Conservative government, hell bent on protecting the very wealthy while trampling on everyone else.

With Liberal Democrats in government,

Britain is recovering, our economy, stronger

– our society, fairer

– our country, one where everyone can get on in life

Thank you.

Baroness Warsi – 2014 Speech Honouring Overseas World War One Heroes

baronesswarsi

Below is the text of the speech made by Baroness Warsi, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister, in London on 26th June 2014.

Your Royal Highness, Ladies and Gentlemen. It is a great privilege to welcome you here this afternoon, to commemorate the Victoria Cross recipients of the Great War.

I am delighted to welcome His Royal Highness The Duke of Kent, as our Guest of Honour. As President of The Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and through his military roles as Colonel-in-Chief of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, Royal Colonel of 1st Battalion The Rifles, and Honorary Air Chief Marshall of the Royal Air Force, His Royal Highness has connections to several of the VCs we are commemorating today and it is an issue that is as dear to his heart as it is to mine.

The bugle call to arms that sounded across Britain in August 1914 carried to the farthest corners of the world.

It was heard in Australia, Canada, and New Zealand; in the countries we know today as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Burma; and across Africa and the Caribbean – where men travelled at their own expense to enlist.

And around three million men responded, coming to Britain’s aid and joining the Allied cause. Tariqs and Tajinders fought shoulder to shoulder with Tommies in Flanders, Ypres, Gallipoli and Passchendaele.

And, it is very clear, that without all of them Britain, the Allies, could not have prevailed. Without them, we would not have the rights and freedoms that we all enjoy today.

A little over a year ago I visited the battlefields of France and Belgium. My own personal pilgrimage.

I saw the Neuve Chapelle Indian Memorial which honours almost 5000 soldiers from the Indian sub-continent who have no known grave;

I laid a wreath to Sikh soliders at Hollebeke in Belgium. And also then thought of Khudadad Khan, a Punjabi Muslim, who single-handedly held back the enemy long enough for reinforcements to arrive, making him the Great War’s first overseas recipient of the Victoria Cross;

And I paid my respects at Menin Gate in Ypres – which lists the names of the 54,000 British and overseas soldiers whose resting places are unknown.

Seeing names like Khan and Singh, Ali and Atwal listed alongside Smith, Jones and Williams and Taylor reminded me of a line by Rudyard Kipling, inscribed on the Tomb of an unknown Seypoy who fell in France, which reads: “This man in his own country prayed we know not to what powers; We pray to them to reward him for his bravery in ours.”

All deserve our enduring gratitude and respect for the hardships and horrors they endured, and for the selfless sacrifice they made.

To me, they are all heroes.

But, as we are here today to commemorate, the courage and fortitude of many of Britain’s overseas soldiers brought them particular distinction. 175 were judged to have acted “with most conspicuous bravery, or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice, or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy” to warrant the award of Britain’s highest military honour – the Victoria Cross.

Men like:

– Private John Kerr from Canada – awarded his Victoria Cross for “most conspicuous bravery” on 16 September 1916, towards the end of the Battle of the Somme. Knowing that bombs were running short, Private Kerr ran under heavy fire until he was in close contact with the enemy. He opened fire on them at point-blank range, and inflicted heavy loss. The enemy, thinking they were surrounded, surrendered. Sixty-two prisoners were taken and 250 yards of enemy trench captured.

– Or Captain Alfred Shout from New Zealand who fought with the Australian Imperial Force. Captain Shout won his VC for most conspicuous bravery at Lone Pine trenches, in the Gallipoli Peninsula.

– And Gobind Singh from India. He won his VC during the Battle of Cambrai in 1917 when, on three occasions, he saved his fellow men by volunteering to deliver urgent messages over 1.5 miles of open fire – despite having his horse shot from under him on each occasion and having to finish each journey on foot.

Today, there are just nine Victoria Cross recipients alive. And I am honoured that we have two of them here with us this afternoon: Sergeant Johnson Beharry VC and Corporal Mark Donaldson VC.

Sergeant Beharry’s story will be familiar to many of you gathered here today. He became the first living soldier in more than 30 years to be awarded the Victoria Cross. Twice, in direct face of the enemy, under intense fire, and at great personal risk, he showed heroism in saving the lives of his comrades.

Corporal Donaldson, who has travelled from Australia to be with us today, became the first recipient of the Victoria Cross for Australia in January 2009. While deployed in Afghanistan, his patrol was ambushed. He deliberately made himself the target of enemy fire in order to draw Taliban fighters’ attention away from the casualties and allow wounded soldiers to be moved to safety.

These acts go beyond bravery.

The word “hero” is bandied around too often these days. And I’m sure you will agree with me, all of these men are the true heroes.

Over the next four years, the centenary commemorations give us an opportunity to mark the important contributions of Victoria Cross winners, past and present, so that they become known and understood by a whole new generation. And 5 years since the last veterans of the Great War passed away, it is more important than ever to ensure future generations never forget.

That is why:

– we are providing funding support towards the restoration of the burial places of all VC winners;

– we will honour 400 British Victoria Cross recipients from the First World War with commemorative paving-stones in their place of birth;

– we will dispatch these beautifully handcrafted bronze plaque to the 11 other countries that the VC winners of the conflict came from;

And finally, why I’m pleased to announce we will be launching a digital archive later this year to memorialise all overseas VC recipients. Ensuring that people of all backgrounds, from all over the world can remember and learn from their stories of heroism.

To conclude, as I said at the beginning, it would not have been possible for Britain to prevail in the First World War without the massive contribution and sacrifice of countries from the Commonwealth and beyond.

I am proud that that both my grandfathers fought in the Bombay Royal Sappers and Miners Regiment in the Second World War. It is incredible that, like them, men were inspired to fight for a country they had never seen; pledge loyalty to a far away King…for the value of freedom. Something they themselves had yet to fully experience.

It shows the rich diversity of our shared history and that, whether you can trace your families heritage back to the Norman Conquest, or to a relative who gave his life for Britain a century ago; whether your grandparents came from Nigeria or your parents from Jamaica – this commemoration is relevant to us all.

And it puts paid to the idea that you cannot be a Muslim and British; serve your country; support the military – our ancestors were doing these things 100 years ago.

Today, we must ensure that the things they embodied and fought for: freedom, liberty, duty, courage, loyalty, sacrifice and caring for others are as alive today as they were in 1914 – regardless of race, creed or nationality.

But the centenary also gives us the opportunity to commemorate and honour those who truly went above and beyond the call of duty- the VC recipients from overseas, and I hope you will find that these plaques are a fitting tribute – a reminder that Britain will never forget their courage and a powerful message that people of all backgrounds and faiths can unite in the name of a common cause.

Baroness Warsi – 2014 Speech in Oman

baronesswarsi

Below is the text of the speech made by Baroness Warsi, the Minister for Faith, in Muscat, Oman on 18th February 2014.

Your excellencies, ladies and gentlemen.

It is a true honour to be here. I have had the privilege of speaking from the pulpits of Britain’s oldest cathedrals and from the lecterns of the world’s greatest universities…

But there is nothing quite like standing here at Muscat’s spectacular Grand Mosque, a place of deep spirituality and immense beauty.

For me, this is something of a home from home – not only because it is a symbol of the faith I hold so dearly, Islam, but because its construction was partly down to a British company!

And it is therefore the perfect backdrop for me to talk about religious tolerance. For Oman under His Majesty’s wise leadership is a symbol of that very co-existence we are all striving for. Proof that sectarianism is not inevitable – even when a religion is blighted by splits in a region that is constantly the focus of such tensions. Now I look forward to saying more about the lessons I think we can learn from your example later on in this speech.

Ladies and gentlemen, I serve in the British government, in which I am the first ever Minister for Faith. In 2010, I became the first Muslim to serve as British Cabinet Minister. Alongside my responsibility for South Asia, Central Asia, and the United Nations ….my remit covers faith at home and religious freedom abroad.

In both cases, I have made religious freedom my personal priority: promoting and protecting people’s right to hold a faith, to manifest their faith, or indeed to change their faith.

This is something which I believe is not only integral to personal identity but also leads to fairer, more secure and more progressive communities.

My own faith – Islam – has been shaped by my upbringing, coloured by the country I was born in, shaped by my experiences as a lawyer, a campaigner and a politician and my personal experience as a daughter, a wife and a mother.

In my country, for a politician to talk honestly and openly about faith, especially one’s own faith, is not particularly fashionable. As Tony Blair’s advisor famously said “ we don’t do God.”. But back in 2010, when we came to government, the first major speech that I made was to state that we would “do God”.

What I meant when I said that was that the way in which faith was being sidelined and marginalised was wrong, and that it had to change.

That faith should be an important informer of public debate and that the role of faith charities, voluntary organisations and individuals motivated by faith to serve their societies would be supported.

I said that we would tackle head on, the tough issues like the rising tide of anti-Muslim sentiment in Europe. In the UK I felt the bigotry of Islamophobia had increased, so much so that sentiment against Muslims had become acceptable even in the most civilised of settings.

I felt that it was time for government to respond. I’m delighted that this government has done so, including through working with partners such as the OIC.

I said that we would reach out to new faith communities as well as revive and restore some of our oldest relationships.

In 2012 I had the privilege to lead the largest ever British ministerial delegation to the Vatican, where I argued that Europe should be stronger in its Christian identity.

Why?

Because minorities are most welcomed and accepted in places where they are sure of their own identity, and that militant secularism creeping across our continent was alienating minorities rather than welcoming them.

I said that we would not shirk from our responsibility as a staunch defender of religious freedom. And it was right that last year, when I spoke at Georgetown University in Washington, I warned about religious persecution, especially against Christian minorities in parts of the Middle East. That is a tragic global crisis and it demands an international response.

These are difficult and complex subjects, which have the potential to arouse passionate and emotional responses. But I hope my approach is from a position of hopefulness and optimism for the future.

I also feel it is a responsibility – a responsibility to use my privileged position in politics to highlight injustice and encourage tolerance.

I am a proud Muslim. I am patriotically British – indeed, one who is at her proudest when standing here in a part British-built mosque. Despite the oft asked unanswerable question as to which I am first – whether I am Muslim first or British first – I see no conflict in these parts of my identity.

My patriotism and my faithfulness are both strong, positive forces which drive me.

But today ladies and gentlemen I want to focus on an aspect of my identity that I have rarely mentioned publicly: my Sunni-Shia upbringing.

The diversity of my religious teaching and the inquisitive approach to religion that was encouraged in our home. As a child Ashura was as much as part of my life as regular attendance at a Deobandi mosque.

In the past I have argued that faith forms the fault lines of modern conflict, something which has come into stark relief in recent years. But these cracks are as present – and often deeper – within faiths as they are between them. This infighting is rarely confronted; but it is something which, I feel, poses a great danger to faith and to our world.

Today I want to speak from a very personal perspective, in relation to my personal faith, Islam, and argue that hostile and violent sectarianism is not just un-Islamic: it is anti-Islamic.

It has no roots in the practice of our faith – indeed, I believe it is condemned in the founding tenets. It is tragically the cause of tension, turmoil and terrorism.

It should have no place in our world today, and is something we all have a duty to condemn and tackle. Now of course, sects, denominations, factions – in religions as in life – are nothing new. Cliques and rivalries are part of human nature. I should know that – I work in politics!

But whilst people have always defined themselves by a whole series of characteristics – I describe myself as British, as working class, as Muslim, as a mum – today, sadly, one’s sect is becoming the dominant identifier. With the faithful not only increasingly identifying themselves by sect, but also defining themselves in comparison and in superiority to others.

The hatred that can exist between sects – between people who follow the same God and share the same holy book – disturbs and saddens me.

And even in Britain we are not immune from this. With division being preached by some, and belittling another’s faith or denomination being used as a way of reaffirming one’s own faith. Often the strongest condemnation seems to be reserved for your brother or sister in faith.

The fact that their version of their faith does not replicate yours is no longer seen as an inevitable, healthy difference of opinion, but is seen as an insurmountable difference – to the point where sectarian difference is used as a way of justifying acts of religious extremism.

Around the world such violence is reaching an all-time high. In Iraq, according to the UN, at the height of the sectarian conflict, more than 50,000 Iraqis were killed as a result of terrorist violence. More than 8,000 Iraqis died in such violence last year alone.

In Pakistan, in the past two years, more than 1000 people have died in sectarian violence. Sectarian violence continues to blight in Lebanon. It takes place in Somalia, between al Shabaab and its opponents, and in Yemen, with the targeting of Shia Houthi Muslims. Now I accept that not all of these deaths were necessarily motivated by sectarianism alone. Some attacks were simply an attempt by terrorists to destabilise a community or a country.

But the fact that terrorists use sectarianism as a basis for their actions shows how deep and dangerous this problem has become.

It reflects an attitude that underpins a worldview that states you are only acceptable if you follow my version of my faith.

This Takfiri worldview, which rejects the longstanding Islamic tradition of ikhtilaf – of difference – is deeply worrying to me, where the faithful appear far more concerned with others’ faithfulness than with their own.

I’ve been a victim of this judgementalism myself; a few years ago attacked on the streets of Britain by a gang who accused me of not being a ‘proper Muslim’.

They didn’t approve of my involvement in politics and they didn’t approve of me appearing in public with my face uncovered.

They reduced my faith to a list of ‘don’ts’, defined only in the negative, defining their faith in terms of what they are against, rather than what they stand for. Stripping out the soulfulness and kindness of spirit that sits at the heart of Islam.

I believe that this approach is at odds with the teachings of Islam, and leaves the faithful vulnerable to extremists who justify violence in the name of Allah.

For I have always been taught that faith is at its strongest when people find their own way to the Almighty. And as Oman’s Religious Tolerance website so wisely states: “everyone must answer for himself before God”.

But there’s a deeply disturbing political element to sectarianism when negative political forces exploit these differences. And this approach takes on an even more sinister tone when sect is equated with nationality or loyalty to a particular country.

Where Shia Muslims in Sunni majority countries are seen as loyal to another country, and vice versa.

I’ve spoken about this previously, in relation to the tensions between different faiths, such as when Christians are persecuted in Muslim-majority countries because they are seen as agents of the west, and where Muslims in the west are held responsible for the actions of their co-religionists in the east.

Of course violent sectarianism isn’t peculiar to Islam. The United Kingdom knows all too well what happens when religious differences and divisions are used as a proxy for political problems.

Over decades the divisions in the historic struggle in Northern Ireland were aligned with religious difference – that of Protestants and Catholics.

Many lives were lost. The Troubles, and the scars remain.

Indeed, the course of our history – in the UK but more so elsewhere in Europe – has been shaped by the bitter and historic clashes within Christianity. One only has to recall during the Crusades the cry of Christians against fellow Christians “kill them all, God will know his own.”

Now Ladies and gentlemen, this is an incredibly complex problem. There are no easy solutions. But let me lay out an approach which I think we could start to tackle it.

Let me go back to basics. The universal Islamic definition of what constitutes a believer in Islam is extremely simple: la ilaha illallah Muhammadur rasulullah: a belief in God and Muhammad as his Prophet (peace be upon him). There are no other stipulations or conditions at all for belief. Even at the time of the Prophet, there were differences of opinion between his Companions over his religious instructions that were interpreted in different ways, even over sacred duties such as prayers. The Prophet viewed those differences of opinions as healthy, as an inevitable diversity, and even as a blessing of, the faith.

Therefore any notion of rejectionist sectarianism goes against the very foundation of the Muslim faith. Political and religious leaders must repeat this message, loudly and clearly, far and wide.

We need to point to history to show violent sectarianism is not inevitable.

We must look to times when different sects within Islam worked together and worshipped together.

They must look to the fact that Imam Jafar, a key figure in Shia Islam, was actually a teacher of Imam Malik and Imam Abu Hanifa, founders of two of the most widely followed Sunni Schools of Thought throughout the world today.

All of us, believers and leaders alike, must reclaim the true meaning of Islam, and focus on the things that unite us, rather than those that divide us.

And in reclaiming the true meaning of Islam we must also reclaim the language of Islam, much of which has been distorted and usurped for political ends So let me start by restoring the concept of ‘ummah’.

Ummah is, by its very nature, a definition of community, one that includes difference, not excludes it. The Prophet’s ‘Ummah’ in Medina was multi-faith and multi-ethnic. It was an Ummah of Conscience.

And let’s not forget: the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is constantly referred to as “Rahmat lil Alameen” – mercy for the world. There could not be a more clear statement than that of the inclusive concept of ummah in Islam.

So, we must reclaim the faith, and the language of the faith. But we must go beyond that.

We must highlight great living examples that show how violent sectarianism is not inevitable.

Oman is one such example.

It is an oasis of tolerance in a desert of division – proving that, right in the geographical centre of a troubled region, different sects can and do live side by side.

This is testament to His Majesty the Sultan’s wise leadership and the character of the Omani people.

The warm encounters between Ibadhi and Shia Muslims at the Al Lawati Wall; the praying side-by-side of Sunni and Ibadhi Muslims in mosques like this one.

The humility and openness seamlessly extended to other faiths; the welcome given to the new Christian church in Ruwi by the Omani authorities.

These are principles on which Oman thrives and I couldn’t put it better than the Omani Ministry for Religious Affairs, when it states: “Bloodshed due to theological differences is shameful.

Prayers in the mosques throughout the country are conducted with Sunnis and Shiites at the sides of the Ibadhis. The communal prayer to God knows no theological disputes. Everyone must answer for himself before God.”

And I couldn’t think of greater symbolism of this than His Eminence, the Grand Mufti of Oman, an Ibadhi, conducting a wedding between a Shia bride and Sunni groom.

So in conclusion ladies and gentlemen, those of us who have had the privilege of experiencing this social harmony must make the case for it, over and over again. To share, to provide, to demonstrate the benefits of such co-existence. To highlight the benefits of pluralism, and warn of the stifling impact of sectarianism.

In previous speeches I have made the case that Islam – by its very nature – is moderate. Today, I hope I have made the case that violent sectarianism isn’t just unIslamic, it is anti-Islamic. It is at odds with Islam’s principles and perspective and it jeopardises the future of the faith.

I want to thank my hosts for giving me the great privilege of allowing me to make this personal plea from yet another pulpit in the most soulful of surroundings. Thank you.

Baroness Warsi – 2013 Speech on the First World War

baronesswarsi

Below is the text of the speech made by Baroness Warsi on the First World War and the contribution from the Commonwealth. The speech was made at the Royal United Services Institute on 8th November 2013.

Introduction

In his speech ‘A Time of Triumph’, Winston Churchill praised those who came “from the uttermost ends of the earth” to fight alongside Britain in the Second World War. “From the poorest colony to the most powerful dominion”, he said, “the great maxim held: when the King declares war, the Empire is at war”.

Both of my grandfathers were among those brave men. And for that reason I have always known something of British India’s role in that conflict. But for many years I was unaware of the role their fellow countrymen played 30 years earlier. The 1,500,000 from modern day India, Pakistan and Bangladesh who served, fought and fell for Britain in the Great War.

So many others from what is now the Commonwealth served too. Nearly half a million from Canada. The same number from Australia, Tasmania, New Zealand and Newfoundland. 74,000 from South Africa. 16,000 from the West Indies. 30,000 from other dominions. And many more from beyond the British Empire.

As I’ve said on many occasions, our boys were not just Tommies – they were Tariqs and Tajinders too. And for far too long this has been overlooked, like a chapter torn from the book of our history. This project, the lectures, the multi-media presentations, are a way of using the forthcoming centenary to make us all better informed.

Real stories

It’s important that the focus is on the individuals. Using letters and photographs; war diaries and anecdotes. To reveal the stories behind the statistics. As the Prime Minister said: some will make you cry, some will make you laugh. Let me tell you one which inspired me.

Mir Dast, from Tirah, Pakistan, found himself in a poisonous gas attack on the Ypres Salient. There were no gas masks. His comrades resorted to makeshift measures to survive. Dipping their turban ends in chloride of lime and holding them over their mouths. Meanwhile, Mir Dast rallied all the men he could. He brought in 8 wounded officers, despite being wounded and gassed himself. For this, he won the highest military honour.

And this is how he described it to his family:

The men who came from our regiment have done very well and will do so again.

I want your congratulations. I have got the Victoria Cross.

What astonishing humility – putting his comrades first in his letter, just as he had done on the battlefield.

Interfaith co-operation

Earlier this year I visited the battlefields of Belgium and northern France. And those long, even lines of headstones give some insight into the scale of sacrifice. Each one representing a life extinguished and a family bereft. The inscriptions and symbols on the stones…Christian crosses. But also Stars of David. Urdu and Hindi script. Even Chinese lettering.

For me that diversity is the starkest reminder: that comradeship, companionship and co-existence cut cross all faiths.

Of course, this doesn’t sit particularly well with extremists’ views. And it doesn’t fit the extremists’ narrative that other faiths have no place in Britain. It dispels the myth that you cannot be both devoted to a faith and loyal to a country. Our shared history scuppers their argument. It says to the far-right: this wasn’t the all-white war you believe it was.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, we may have wrestled the Union Flag back from the extremists.

And I believe highlighting these multi-ethnic, multi-faith stories will reclaim our proud, patriotic history too. There will be many who don’t want these stories to come to light.

Whether it’s the extremists on the far-right. Or ignorant people like Anjem Choudary and his followers. Because this is about commemorating, honouring and, above all, learning – and it is good for Britain.

Conclusion

So I’m delighted to stand here and see this project come to fruition.

Can I thank the Curzon Institute, whose blood, toil, sweat and tears have especially helped to make this happen.

I know how important the support of the former chief of the defence staff has been.

Baroness Warsi – 2013 Speech to the UN Security Council

baronesswarsi

Below is the text of the speech made by Baroness Warsi to members of the the UN Security Council at Lancaster House in London on 11th February 2013.

I am delighted to welcome you here tonight.

We are honoured to be joined by both our current partners on the Council and by those who left at the end of last year.

And I would like to extend a particular welcome to my fellow parliamentarians and our guests from the United Nations Association-UK.

In January we said farewell to Germany, South Africa, India, Portugal and Colombia, who stepped down from the UN Security Council.

I want to thank their representatives here tonight for the excellent collaboration we have enjoyed over the past two years – without which the Council would have been unable to respond effectively to international crises, not least the huge changes we have seen across the Middle East and North Africa.

I now have the pleasure to welcome five new members onto the Council – Argentina, Australia, Luxembourg, the Republic of Korea and Rwanda.

Each of you will bring new perspectives and priorities to the Council’s agenda. I’m sure you will also bring with you a sense of pragmatism, and a commitment to working together to bring about peaceful resolutions to the myriad challenges to global peace and security.

Colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office – whether in London, New York or elsewhere in our overseas network – are ready to work closely with you on all UN issues…

…not just the issues we agree on, but those we may approach from different perspectives.

This is, after all, the purpose of the Security Council.

The Council is the fundamental UN instrument for maintaining international peace and security. It is what the world looks to when there are threats to international peace and security or humanitarian disasters.

It brings together different ideas and a range of perspectives. It is the forum for negotiation and debate, and for seeking international consensus on matters that affect all of us.

This is not an easy process, and it can at times test Council unity. But it is a process to which we must all remain committed and it is vital that we work closely together.

The issues at stake are too important for us not to.

I have been Minister for the United Nations for only a few months, but have already had the privilege to visit New York twice to see the UN and the Security Council in action.

My first was in September to attend the UN General Assembly Ministerial week where Heads of State, Government and Ministers from around the globe convened in New York to mark the start of an intense period of debate and negotiation on the full spectrum of international issues.

And last month I attended a debate in New York on Counter Terrorism chaired by Pakistani Foreign Minister Khar. In that debate I stressed the importance of a comprehensive global approach to countering terrorism in all its forms.

This shared commitment to tackling threats to our collective peace and security is the driving force behind Council business. And while 2012 was not without its challenges, we can still be proud of our achievements.

In Somalia we have ensured that the transition roadmap obligations are delivered and that there is adequate support for the peacekeeping mission, AMISOM…

In Yemen, which hosted a Security Council visit last month, we have supported the political process to help keep transition on track…

And in Sudan and South Sudan it was the Council’s action that gave the African Union’s roadmap the strength and resources it needed to successfully bring both parties to the negotiating table and prevent all-out conflict.

These achievements are all too often overlooked, amid questions of Council effectiveness.

It is of course right that we continue to set a high bar for the important work the Council does. But the examples I mention show just a fraction of what can be achieved when we come together and take decisive action.

And it is in this spirit that we should look ahead.

There’s little doubt that we will face new challenges in 2013.

In Mali, the Security Council and its members will be instrumental in supporting the pushing back of the armed militia, and in doing so protecting millions of civilians…

In Somalia, which remains a personal priority for my Prime Minister, the Council will need to set the long-term response and ensure stability…

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Council will need to support a unified process to ensure stability and prosperity in the eastern part of the country…

And, of course, the Council will need to put aside differences and commit to reaching resolutions in Syria and between Israel and Palestine. I cannot stress this point enough. The Council must united and act decisively to encourage all parties to come to the negotiating table.

It is clear that we have a lot to do. But if we work together, I believe we can achieve a great deal.

Before I wrap things up, I would like to thank again those member states who left at the end of 2012 for their contribution to the Council over the past two years.

We have greatly valued your tireless work and commitment in what has been an immensely busy period.

We look forward to continuing our work with you bilaterally and multilaterally in the years ahead, as we do with the new Council members.

Baroness Warsi – 2013 Speech at the Islamic Cooperation Summit

baronesswarsi

Below is the text of a speech made by the Foreign Office Minister, Baroness Warsi, at the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation Summit in Cairo on 7th February 2013.

Your Majesties, your excellencies, it is a pleasure to speak at this OIC Heads of State meeting – and a privilege that I’m the first British Government Minister to do so.

I am delighted to be here in Egypt, which among many other things is the home of Al Azhar, the ‘Manaratul ‘Ilm’ for many Muslims across the world. I was deeply honoured to have met his Eminence the Shaykh Al Azhar yesterday and His Holiness Pope Tawadros II today.

The invitation to speak here is a clear demonstration of the strengthening bonds between the OIC and the UK. I am grateful to our hosts, Egypt, who have of course taken over the OIC’s presidency this year.

I said at the meeting of OIC Foreign Ministers in Kazakhstan in 2011 that we in Britain are deeply committed to building our relationships with the Muslim world.

I am particularly pleased that we were able to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the OIC at the UN General Assembly in September.

This would not have been possible without the tireless efforts of His Excellency Secretary-General Ihsanoglu – whom I am sure you will agree has steered the OIC towards being a relevant and important player on international issues, and whom I personally consider to be a friend.

Freedom of Religion or Belief

We have heard today about many important issues. But I want to focus on one. One which threads into so much of what we have discussed. One which is in itself a challenge, but that if we get right, will unlock solutions to so many other challenges we face.

That issue is Freedom of Religion or Belief.

Islamophobia

Now, I know that the OIC has for many years been concerned about the scourge of Islamophobia, or anti-Muslim hatred, and other hate speech.

As a practising British Muslim, as a proud member of a minority faith in a majority Christian nation, and as a Government Minister, I am also deeply concerned about this issue. But concern alone will not bridge divides.

The question is, how do we address this scourge? How do we defeat it?

I believe that the answer is to tackle religious intolerance head-on where and when it occurs, and to protect the rights of all in society.

UK experience

In the UK we have sought to do exactly that. We legislate against incitement to hatred on the basis of religion or belief, be it behaviour that is anti-Muslim or intolerant of any other religion or belief. But legislation is not the only answer. While incitement to religious hatred remains an offence in Britain, a blasphemy law once on our statute book was abolished in 2008 – in part because we felt it was incompatible with the freedom of speech.

To truly achieve societies that are founded on tolerance and acceptance, on love and understanding, we need more than just legislation. We need to nurture these values, to engrain them into the way we look at the world.

There are no short-cuts here. It requires patience and time, sometimes a generation or two.

So in the UK we are seeking to combat negative media stereotypes…

To develop resources for teachers…To support victims……and to improve hate crime reporting.

Building a pluralistic society

But it’s not just about dealing with incidents when they arise. If we want to truly defeat this scourge we must put in place the building blocks that support a pluralistic society based on tolerance and inclusion.

A society where respect for the right to Freedom of Religion or Belief is universal.

One in which people are free to make the basic choices of how they decide to live their daily lives.

Those choices might include whether to be guided by one faith or another, or no faith at all…Whether to go to a church, a mosque or a temple…Whether to wear a cross around their neck, or to cover their head with a hijab or a kippah…Whether to read the Bible, the Torah or the Quran……or to send their child to a religious school or keep a religiously-proscribed diet.

In short, this is all about real life. It is about the choices that people across the world, myself included, make every day.

Over the past two years, people across this region have taken to the streets calling for dignity, for freedom, for jobs…demand for basic rights.

And of these, the Freedom of Religion or Belief is absolutely fundamental; a universal right for all.

And yet people across the world are still denied this basic freedom. They can be victimised or unfairly imprisoned simply for having a religion or belief, and some pay with their lives. For me, being a Muslim is about humanity.

I believe that human rights underpin Islamic values, and that those rights are not limited to a specific religious belief or ethnic grouping.

This is what motivates me to speak as passionately as I do about the rights of Christians, Jews and others of faith, or indeed of no faith – as I do about the rights of fellow Muslims. The basic duty of governments is to provide security for their people. That responsibility can have no exceptions.

So if there is just one message that I hope you will take back from my contribution, it is the universality of Freedom of Religion or Belief.

Your Excellencies, some peddle the notion that people of different faiths and beliefs cannot co-exist peacefully, with respect for each other’s views.

This misguided notion is held in the West, as it is in the East. Some use political ideology to justify this viewpoint…others use extremist religious views.

But I reject that notion. I reject it because history tells us otherwise, and I reject it because of my own experience.

The UK’s culture of tolerance

The UK is by no means perfect. But I am proud of its culture of religious tolerance; of its position as a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious state.

It is a country in which people have traditionally been confident of their nation’s Christian heritage and cultural identity. That confidence, together with a history of freedom of speech, has I believe made Britons open to the identities and religions of others.

So yes, I accept that there are challenges in tackling this problem, and that overcoming them is not easy. But I have seen through my own experience that in Britain we are rising to them.

Consider this simple question: in how many other countries could someone like me, the daughter of a poor Muslim immigrant, rise to a seat at the Government Cabinet table?

I believe that we can build consensus and lead efforts to influence cultural norms in our countries in support of religious tolerance. Tolerance between religions, but also tolerance within religions.

UNHRC Resolution 16/18 and the January Ministerial

And the foundation has already been laid.

UN Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18 on combating religious intolerance, now under the umbrella of the Istanbul process, provides a strong basis from which to work. UN member states have all jointly signed up to a call to action to implement the resolution.

But what we need is greater political will.

Since the meeting in Istanbul in 2011, the discussions and debates on this agenda had only taken place within UN fora or among experts. I felt that we needed to go further.

Two weeks ago I hosted a high-level meeting in London on this very issue. I was delighted that His Excellency Secretary-General Ihsanoglu was able to join us, along with Ministers from Canada, Pakistan, the United States and representatives from a wide spread of other countries.

I hope that the discussions we had in London will be the beginning of this dialogue. A dialogue in which we speak with confidence and openness, learning from one another and sharing best practice about how we have tackled these issues in our own countries.

I am grateful that His Excellency the Secretary-General has agreed to host the next meeting as part of the Istanbul process.

This is important, because an honest, open and frank dialogue on Freedom of Religion or Belief and tackling religious intolerance is something we must sustain.

Conclusion

Your Excellencies, we live in an interconnected world; one in which we can communicate more quickly and over greater distances than we have ever been able to in our history.

I believe that it is outdated to view this world through the prism of Christians in the West and Muslims in the East. This is simplistic and historically untrue.

Solutions that accept the reality of the pluralistic nature of our nations – long-term solutions – may well be led by Christians in the East and Muslims in the West. By people of faith across the world. Because, like the OIC, I don’t accept that religion is constrained by national boundaries.

We need to continue to span these boundaries, to build a better future for our people.

It is why as a Muslim from the West, representing the United Kingdom, it is a pleasure and a privilege to be invited to speak and be allowed to play a small part in reaching out to better understanding.

Baroness Warsi – 2012 Speech on World Day Against the Death Penalty

baronesswarsi

Below is the text of the speech made by Baroness Warsi on 10th October 2012 to mark the World Day Against the Death Penalty.

I would like to thank the APPG for hosting this event, members of the expert group who have taken time out to attend this event, the other speakers on the panel, all of you who are here to support and most of all to Baroness Stern, for her tireless work and continued outspokenness on this issue over many years. It is clear there are issues which need to be spoken about and she should continue to be outspoken on this issue.

One of the important things that Baroness Stern said in her remarks was that this is not a European initiative. Being British, of Asian origin, Muslim by faith and Conservative in politics, and seeing the other speakers on the panel today, it is clear that those who oppose the death penalty come in many shapes and sizes.

In the early nineteenth century there were about 230 different offences carrying the death penalty in the UK. If you were caught stealing a sheep, cutting down the wrong tree or were judged to have “damaged Westminster Bridge”, you risked death.

Things have, quite rightly, changed. The UK’s journey towards abolition of the death penalty has taken us from the first Parliament-imposed restrictions in 1957, to abolition for all ordinary crimes in 1969 and for all crimes apart from in times of war in 1998, up to Britain’s commitment to abolish the death penalty in all circumstances in 2004. We have been on a journey.

Today as much as ever before, the death penalty remains a subject of the utmost importance. Over the next few minutes I want to make clear one, why we oppose the death penalty; two, talk about the global landscape on this issue; and three, set out what we are doing to encourage its abolition globally.

Why we oppose the death penalty

There was a question about reintroducing the death penalty in Britain on Radio 4’s Any Questions a couple of weeks ago following the murders of two women police officers – and you could tell from the audience reaction quite how strongly people felt against it.

That isn’t surprising: the question of a state’s right to take life set against a legitimate wish to punish and deter serious crimes is among the most difficult of moral dilemmas.

In Britain our view is clear: our long standing policy is to oppose the death penalty in all circumstances as a matter of principle. And by extension, to work towards its worldwide abolition.

Fundamentally, we believe that its use undermines human dignity; that there is no conclusive evidence of its value as a deterrent; and that any miscarriage of justice leading to its imposition is irreversible and irreparable.

The UK perspective

When talking about this, it’s easy to slip into abstractions. But we shouldn’t, because it’s about people.

When Timothy Evans and Derek Bentley were executed in 1950 and ’53, after flawed trials that led to posthumous pardons, it catalysed steps towards abolition in Britain.  It reminded us of the inhumanity of capital punishment.  And the risk – and tragedy – of getting it wrong.

In a world with countries that retain the death penalty, that risk still exists.  Right now, there are twelve British nationals facing the death penalty overseas. One of the first things I did when I started my role was to ask my officials to print photos of them and give me information on their families. It is important to see them as people, not statistics.

Foreign Office staff are in constant touch with them. We do our best to give support to them and their families, and we forcefully make the case to the governments concerned that these people, no matter what they are believed to have done, should not die at the hands of state authorities.

Over the past year we have made representations on behalf of British citizens in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, China, the Central African Republic, the United Arab Emirates, Indonesia, Pakistan, Thailand, and the US, to name a few.

It makes a difference: we judge that our interventions have helped to prevent death sentences, or to delay execution dates, giving time for further representations.

International trends

There has been growing international momentum towards abolition, particularly over the past two decades. Last year only 21 countries carried out executions, a figure which has fallen by more than a third over the last decade.

Steps taken towards abolition in recent years by Benin, Gabon, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia and the US States of Illinois and Connecticut are very encouraging; as is last year’s decision by the State of Oregon to introduce a moratorium on executions.

This progress is welcome – because no legal system is error-proof, and the death penalty leaves no room for error.

But despite this trend, some disturbing exceptions remain. We are deeply concerned by the increasing use of the death penalty: in Iran and Saudi Arabia, where public executions still take place; in Iraq, where 26 executions were recently recorded in a single week; and in the Gambia, which in August carried out nine executions after a moratorium of 27 years.

UK action

So, what does the British Government do?

We work relentlessly with our EU partners and others to gain support for abolition of the death penalty, or at least a moratorium on its use.

We seek dialogue with governments of countries which use the death penalty – to urge them to impose a moratorium, and to take steps towards abolition.

And the FCO continues to fund projects throughout the world to support those campaigning against it.

And whist doing this at the macro-level, we have an ever-watchful eye on the individuals.

UN resolution

In a few weeks’ time, the UN General Assembly will vote on the biennial resolution on the death penalty. It will again call for a moratorium rather than full abolition, allowing states that have suspended but not abolished capital punishment to give it their support.

There has been good progress since the last resolution in 2010. Several countries have either abolished the death penalty, or taken steps such as ratifying the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which addresses the death penalty. In addition, there are many states which keep the death penalty in their legislation but do not use it.

Our appeal, and my personal appeal at the UN General Assembly just a few weeks ago, is for countries to register an affirmative vote – or at least an abstention, if they have previously opposed the resolution.  Doing so would send a clear signal of their desire to join the growing worldwide movement towards abolition.

Of the specific countries I have Ministerial responsibility for, five supported the resolution.  These were from the Central Asian states and I am pleased to see some of their representatives here today.

Conclusion

Amnesty International has called the death penalty the “ultimate, irreversible denial of human rights”.

If we continue to work together and spread our message, I believe we can win the argument. And it’s important that we do, because capital punishment should have no place in the world today we live in today.

Lord Wallace – 2013 Speech on Devolution

Below is the text of the speech made by Lord Wallace at the Our Future Conference in Kirkwall, Orkney on 20th September 2013.

Introduction – the road to devolution

Congratulate the Islands Councils on holding this conference

Very often I hear people speak at conferences about the welcome they have received and how they have been made to feel at home.

In my case, I am very much at home here in Kirkwall today.

I have had the honour of serving as the elected Member of the UK Parliament for Orkney and Shetland for over 18 years; and Orkney’s Member of the Scottish Parliament for 8 years.

I joined the Scottish Liberal party at the age of 17, not least because of its policy of a Scottish Parliament within a United Kingdom.

But consistent with that Liberal outlook, I argued during the 1997 referendum and beyond that devolution doesn’t stop in Edinburgh. The new Parliament should be sensitive to the needs and aspirations of Scotland’s many diverse communities and not least the islands.

The Scottish Parliament is responsible for many areas of policy that affect each of us and our families every day. It was a milestone in the decentralisation of power.

And it has delivered changes that matter, not least in its operation and policies for our islands.

Tavish Scott, when Transport Minister, delivering the air discount scheme;

Kirkwall Airport having an instrument landing system;

EMEC established in Stromness;

a power of local initiative given to local authorities.

I recall the significant reform of the Common Agricultural Policy in 2004-05. The input and level of consultation with local NFUs in shaping that policy was greater than could ever have been achieved when the decisions were Whitehall-centric.

You may recall how the first Scottish Government pursued a relocation policy – often in the face of opposition from vested interests – decentralisation, taking civil servants out of the centre, changing minds sets and perspectives. For example, Crofting grants to Tiree; gov telephone no to call centre in Kinlochleven and yes, SNH to Inverness.

It is worth reflecting that today’s young Scots cannot remember a time without a Scottish Parliament, and no one seriously suggests putting the clock back.

But even from a Westminster perspective, devolution didn’t stop in 1999. This Government has continued that process of devolution.

The Scotland Act 2012 will see fundamental reforms to the way that we all pay our tax.

From 2016 the Scottish Parliament will have responsibility for setting a tax rate, that will determine what services we can afford, and what competition we want to provide for our businesses and communities to thrive.

UK Government working with communities

And as a Government we firmly believe in devolution – not just transferring power from London to Edinburgh.

As Cllr Gary Robinson from Shetland Islands Council said yesterday – devolution should not just stop at Edinburgh. We agree. Nor, indeed, should it stop at Kirkwall, Lerwick or Stornoway.

One of the challenges of today is to identify the most appropriate level for decision-making, As a Government, we believe in passing power right to the individuals and communities who know the best decisions to take for local people, and we are open to discussions on how to pursue that.

I am well aware of local views on management of the Crown Estate, and the calls for more involvement in decision-making.

There are ways to make this work sensibly, and some have already happened.

In fact, I probably have longer experience than most here in dealing with the Crown Estate.

A historical perspective will remind us that because of the Zetland County Council Act and the Orkney County Council Act the islands authorities were responsible for the works licences for aquaculture developments in harbour area waters.

The councils to all intents and purposes undertook a marine planning role, which the Crown Estate performed in other coastal areas.

It is almost certainly a testimony to the effectiveness of that arrangement that marine planning responsibilities were subsequently extended to all relevant local authorities

Coming up to date, earlier this year, Local Management Agreements were finalised, with North Uist and Skye serving as pilot projects. These are now bedding in as a vehicle for local asset management, and showing positive results.

Indeed, North Uist can take much credit for pioneering these agreements, not just in a Scottish but also a UK context.

I am delighted to announce today that the Crown Estate has agreed to invest £380,000 to support development at Lochmaddy in North Uist, as a result of this agreement. And Gigha has just confirmed that they too will adopt a Local Management Agreement for their community.

The Coastal Communities Fund is also a step forward. Drawing on 50% of the Crown Estate revenues from marine renewables, this is helping communities benefit directly from the advances that we see around us.

Last month, the Fund was boosted by 5% to £29 million, and the next round of successful bids will be announced later this autumn.

So far, the Fund has granted hundreds of thousands of pounds to some excellent, creative projects in the islands, including creation of a new modern harbour in Barra and refurbishment at Ardminish Bay on Gigha.

With this funding, both ventures have been able to do something practical to assist the fishing industry and marine tourism.

And there is encouraging institutional change underway – much of it as a result of the Calman Commission – with establishment of a Scottish Commissioner and new structures at the Crown Estate’s operations in Scotland.

There is more to do – something I have discussed with both the Secretary of State and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury in recent days. But we are witnessing a real shift in how the organisation is doing its business in a more flexible, open way.

Things have moved on since the late 1980s when the First Crown estate Commissioner, the Earl of Mansfield, reportedly described a lunch with the six Highlands & Islands MPs as the most radical bunch of lefties he’d ever sat down with. And I think it’s fair to pay tribute to those locally engaged by the Crown Estate in seeking to transform and improve the organisation.

The UK Government is also firmly committed to collaborate with the islands to realise renewables potential and create green jobs.

Here in Orkney, the renewables revolution is staring us in the face.

The European Marine Energy Centre – supported by millions of pounds of funding from both the UK and Scottish Governments – is something that we can be extremely proud of.

The islands have plenty of natural resources and the UK Government is working hard to get the right economic framework in place for investment to take off.

Earlier this week, my colleague Energy Secretary Ed Davey confirmed a unique draft “strike price” for onshore wind energy produced on the Scottish islands.

The proposed higher strike price of £115 per MegaWatt hour will provide an incentive for renewables companies to invest in wind and attract green jobs.

This is great news for the industry and for island communities. And there are two relevant lessons here.

Firstly – this is the first time that the UK Government has announced a different strike price for a particular part of the UK.

And this was made possible by clear commitment by the UK Government, Scottish Government and island councils to recognise the unique circumstances and potential of Scotland’s Islands.

But secondly, this measure is economically viable only because of the islands’ unimpeded access to the large UK consumer market.

Matching the same levels of subsidy from a smaller Scottish consumer base alone would inevitably affect energy bills.

Benefits of the UK

This brings me to my central point about the benefits for those of us who live on the islands gain from being part of the United Kingdom.

We here in the islands are very comfortable with more than one identity – Orcadian, Shetlander or from the Western Isles – Scottish, British, European. A decision to lose one of those must be based on more than misplaced sentiment or disagreeing with a particular aspect of government policy.

This is a fundamental decision. One for which there is no going back. And we need to consider the facts of what the United Kingdom offers.

This Government has a track record of using the advantages of the size and scale of the UK to help recognise the unique nature of island life.

The rebate on fuel duty, the new strike price, the Coastal Communities Fund – we are tapping into the economic strength and diversity of the UK to address the particular circumstances of island communities.

Think of some of our islands’ key industries and how closely ingrained they are to the UK’s economic priorities.

North Sea oil and gas production – so important to Shetland in particular – will be sustained for the longest possible period by billions of pounds of fiscal incentives by the UK Exchequer.

Exports for world-class products like Harris Tweed, the whisky industry and the wider food and drink sector are supported through one of the largest, most well-regarded trade promotion networks in the world, UK Trade & Investment.

With more than 1,000 staff in over 100 countries, UKTI has helped over 500 Scottish companies to export last year alone. With a bigger UK market, we have greater ability to break down trade barriers and get our local products into new markets.

And I don’t want to see that diminished in any way.

And like every other community up and down the country, the islands too benefit from the certainty and pooled economic strength of the UK – retaining the pound as our currency, safeguarding pensions, backing the banks – things we all rely on, and so often take for granted.

Powers and principles

There are real benefits for the islands as part of the UK, and our constitutional settlement already allows us considerable flexibility to change our governance arrangements. We just need to make the case.

From the Prime Minister down, the Government has made clear our commitment to keep transferring power away from London.

We have a track record of delivering devolution in Scotland and in passing power to local authorities in England.

On our part, we are open to change.

And for this to make sense, it’s important that we establish some key principles to guide decisions.

The Secretary of State has always considered there to be three conditions for transferring power – (1) that granting new power to one part of the UK is not done at the expense of another; (2) that there is widespread consensus, across parties and the community in support of change; and (3) that proposals for change are solidly based on evidence.

Those three tests were applied during the development of the Scotland Act 2012. They should apply here too.

And to do that, we must work together to examine the evidence and look at the facts.

Working together not just as Government and Council leaders, but with our communities and people across the Islands.

Many of the opportunities for change identified by the Councils – on agriculture, transport, education, culture, language, public sector reform – are for the Scottish Government to consider as devolved matters.

There are some important areas that are for the UK Government to consider as well – control of the seabed, energy, relations with the European Union.

And we will consider these.

As the Secretary of State’s three conditions highlight, it is important that proposals for change are not just a wish list. They must be robustly planned and justified.

I readily understand the Councils’ desire to use the referendum debate to focus on what is best for the islands. But we must not just be opportunistic – we must have solid, thought through plans.

So the Secretary of State, when he meets with the three Council leaders later this year, will want to examine the detail of the proposals from the Islands.

Thinking through the consequences, considering the evidence.

That was the way of the Scottish Constitutional Convention and of the Calman Commission.

It is a proven process. It works. We should apply those principles again.

Conclusion

So as a member of the UK Government, a long-time believer in devolution – as an islands resident now for over 30 years – I welcome the campaign that the Island Councils have launched.

I look forward to seeing the outcome of the work that the UK Government and the Islands will take forward together.

George Young – 2010 Speech to Hansard Society

Below is the text of the speech made by Sir George Young to the Hansard Society on 18th March 2010.

Thank you, Peter, for that introduction – and thank you also to the Hansard Society for inviting me to speak to you this evening.

I’ve had the good fortune to be closely involved with the Society over many years, including as a former Vice President. Everyone who works in politics knows what a tremendous contribution it makes both to the public’s understanding of Parliament and to the way Parliament works.

It not only monitors the health of our democracy – it’s also on hand to prescribe the right medicine when the body politic is under the weather. We’ve seen that recently, with the unexpected but welcome progress that has been made introducing the reforms of the Wright Committee on the Reform of the Commons; issues on which the Hansard Society has been campaigning for many years.

I’m particularly delighted to be winding up this series of three talks on parliamentary reform. If you put all the speeches from the different parties together, you can see where we agree; where we disagree; and work out how, in the next Parliament, things might be different if the Conservatives win.

The last few weeks have seen the House of Commons make some big – and positive – decisions to change the way it operates. Given the disastrous year Parliament has endured, these are necessary reforms. The challenge before us is to implement them in the little time that remains before the election; and then to build on them in the next Parliament. The House has suffered something of a cardiac arrest; our task must be to revive it and ensure that it becomes the beating heart of democratic life.

What’s gone wrong?

I’m not suggesting that there is a mythical golden age to which Parliament can return. I agree with Jack Straw that no such time ever existed. Governments of all colours and from all ages have sought to erode Parliament’s authority and compromise its ability to assert itself. The enduring tension between the executive and the legislature lies at the centre of British politics.

But we risk looking at least complacent, at worst fully detached, if we fail to recognise that the current public mood relates to a widespread sense of dissatisfaction with the way Parliament does its job.

Trust – or the lack of it – plays its part. Last week, newspapers reported the headline finding from the Hansard Society’s annual Audit of Political Engagement as “expenses scandal does not cause collapse in trust”. MPs rushing to read the good news will have been disappointed. Underneath the headline was the depressing realisation that the 70 per cent who said they distrusted politicians 7 years ago haven’t changed their mind. Suspicion has just hardened into cynicism.

What concerned me more was the indifference with which an increasing number of people appear to view Parliament. This message is strikingly conveyed by the finding that just one in five people think Parliament is one of the institutions that have the most impact on their lives – a sharp decline from previous years.

To borrow from Oscar Wilde, the only thing worse than Parliament being talked about, would be for Parliament not to be talked about. The House depends for its relevance on the strength of its relationship with the electorate. When it speaks to the concerns of the nation, the Chamber is lively and constructive; but when it retreats into itself, debate becomes ritualistic and purposeless. It is this sense of purpose which Parliament has lost. And in a moment I will outline our proposals to make it more relevant and effective.

Labour’s record

It would be unfair to lay the blame for this state of affairs entirely at Labour’s door.

I was shadow Leader of the House in their first term; and now I am shadow Leader in what I hope will be their last. This has given me a good perspective on their approach to reform. And it’s not all been bad.

Under the banner of modernisation, real improvements have been made to the working practices of the House. Our sitting hours are more sensible and more reflective of the patterns of modern life. No one wants to return to all-night sittings to tramp the lobbies in their dressing gowns. We work now in a more balanced and professional environment. To prospective MPs who are women with young families, it will seem a less intimidating place of work.

There have been other successes. Westminster Hall – for which I was the sole and lonely cheerleader on Conservative benches – has opened up greater opportunities for backbenchers to raise constituency issues. Public Bill Committees are a considerable improvement on Standing Committees benefiting from formal evidence sessions before the detailed scrutiny.

The Prime Minister’s appearance before the Liaison Committee twice a year is another welcome innovation, which has provided a more reasoned forum for scrutinising the Prime Minister than the hurly-burly of Question Time. Though I say in passing that they have not in my view reached their full potential. Two and a half hours interrogation of the country’s Prime Minister by the country’s top inquisitors should elicit more information than it has done to date about what makes Prime Ministers tick and, if it was more effective, it would get more coverage than it does at the moment. As a former participant, I take my share of the blame for this.

While Parliament needed modernizing, it certainly needed strengthening; and too often the measures that modernized it, weakened it. Lasting reform can only take place when there is agreement between the competing interests in the House – but too often the Government proceeded on the basis that what was good for it, was good for everyone. That has sadly not been the case.

The main vehicle for reform – the Modernisation Select Committee – initially managed to foster a sense of collaborative engagement. But instead of being chaired by a senior backbencher, to speak with the authority of Parliament, it has instead been led by a Cabinet Minister, who acts under the direction of the Government: a clear conflict of interest that we have promised to end. The Leader of the House is the member of the Cabinet charged with delivering the Government’s legislative programme through the House of Commons. It is a constitutional affront that that same person should also chair the Committee which decides how the House of Commons will scrutinise that programme.

Inevitably, having such a powerful executive presence on the Committee has led to a divisive approach to reform. Instead of the process being owned by the House – as it should be – it has been at the whim of the Government. When it has suited the Government, reforms have made progress; when it doesn’t, they don’t.

We have seen how ready the Government are to push through unwelcome proposals, even using the casting vote of the Leader of the House to introduce the unpopular regional select committees – which we propose to abolish.

I witnessed this at first hand as a former member of the Modernisation Committee, when for the first time in my 35 years in the House the Government broke with all-party consensus to force through a report on programming. The minority report that I produced with my Conservative colleagues to protest against these changes was voted down. The Government simply deployed its majority both in the Committee, and then on the floor of the House, to introduce what was in effect an automatic guillotine on all Government legislation.

The then Leader of the House Margaret Beckett argued that the guillotine was a way to cut down on late sittings and allow MPs to invest more time in their families. But it was heartening last week to hear Jack Straw publicly accept that programming had undermined effective scrutiny. I hope that Labour will now follow my pledge to return to the more collaborative approach to timetabling business that existed before. As a seasoned campaigner for a stronger Parliament, you will forgive my scepticism.

Constitutional Reform

Too often the Government offers words of support, and then fails to act on them. The initial spark of enthusiasm for one morning’s good headline never seems to burn as brightly the following day.

You only have to look as far as Labour’s flagship Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill to see the divorce between the rhetoric and the reality. In the week that Gordon Brown entered Downing Street in 2007, he announced plans for a “new British constitutional settlement”1 to thrust power into the hands of Parliament and the people.  I welcomed his statement.

But what happened? A Bill was published in draft form; it was put before a joint committee for urgent consideration; the committee completed its work in haste at the request of the government by July 2008 – and then the Bill was lost without trace into the legislative Bermuda Triangle for a whole year. Having just about made it through the Commons low on fuel, it will now be glimpsed below the clouds by their Lordships at Second Reading on March 24 before being downed in thick fog in the remaining days of this Parliament.

There has been little or no progress on nine of the twelve areas where Brown pledged action – such as a Commons vote to trigger dissolution – to transfer power from the executive. Rather than strengthening parliamentary accountability, the Bill itself was so tightly programmed in the Commons that at least 28 clauses – about a third of the Bill – were not debated at all. And although this was designed to reinvigorate democracy, the last minute insertion of a referendum on AV was a pre-election stunt that serves only to undermine it.

This has not been, as the Prime Minister predicted, “an important step forward” – but rather, as the former Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer pertinently called it, a “constitutional retreat”.

Wright Reforms

The Government was also in headlong retreat on Commons reform – though I’m pleased to say they are now finally running, if you’ll excuse the pun, in the right direction.

The vote on Wright was doubly significant because the proposals that the House overwhelming endorsed on 4 March were not dictated by the Leader of the House and pushed out by the Modernisation Committee. Instead, they were introduced by a committee whose chairman, Tony Wright, is a well-respected backbencher and whose members were elected by their peers, not nominated by the Whips. Instead of enabling the Government to break the consensus on reform – as it has previously done – a consensus in the House broke the Government.

Harriet Harman implausibly argued during the debates that the Government was always on the front foot. But while they have dragged their feet, it was the reformers, supported by the Conservatives, who have been pushing the pace of reform.

We opposed the Government’s attempts to restrict the terms of reference, which would have strangled the House Business Committee at birth. We pressed them for time to debate the report after it was published. We forced them to give the House a vote on all of the proposals. We called for the establishment of the Backbench Business Committee at the beginning of the next Parliament – something even the Wright Committee appeared reluctant to see. And it was only after I threw our weight behind the creation of a House Business Committee that Harriet Harman conspicuously reversed her previously stated opposition and indicated that she would support it.

The Government failed to recognise that the harder they tried to resist, the more effectively their own actions made the case for the executive relinquishing its iron grip on the business of Parliament. As the Labour MP Martin Salter memorably put it, “The power of these shadowy forces at work behind the scenes demonstrates more clearly than ever why the Wright Committee recommendations need to be implemented in full, and that the clammy fingers of the whips and Government business managers are prised once and for all off matters that are for Parliament rather than for party”.

Reformers from across the House should be delighted by the results of the votes a fortnight ago. It was a March Revolution – a definitive victory for Parliament over the executive. The decisions that the House took to elect select committee chairmen and members, create a Backbench Committee and lay the path towards a more collaborative way of handling our business were necessary and long overdue.

The challenge now is to put these sensible changes into practice. I was particularly struck by the words of Tony Wright during the debate when he warned that setting up new structures is easy, but it is more difficult to make them work. As he said: “In a way it is easy when we can blame the Government for everything, but from now on we shall have to attend to ourselves and take responsibility for ourselves. If we do not do that, this is not going to work; it will be sunk”.

We now have just 9 or so days in the remainder of this Parliament to implement the decisions. There is no room for error within such a tight timescale.

Harriet Harman said today that she will find time to debate all of the necessary changes to Standing Orders. But there is a growing concern that this may not happen before dissolution. Such a delay would jeopardise the ability of the Backbench Committee to be up and running in time to set the first topical debate of the new Parliament.

What’s next?

The big question that remains is: what should happen next? Given Parliament’s self-inflicted wounds, have we done enough to stop the bleeding?

My answer is emphatically, no. Parliamentary reform is not a single day’s work. To many people, it may seem a painfully slow and arcane process, but when the circumstances are right – as they are now – it has the opportunity to transform not just Parliament, but the way we do politics as well.

I want to make it clear to you tonight that, if we win the election, the Conservatives will not rest on the achievements of the last few weeks. But we will use the momentum created by the Wright Report, build on the consensus that has been established and feed off the energies of a new generation of MPs.

Yes, there will be other big priorities for the next government – not least paying down the national debt. But we know that urgent action is needed to cut the democratic deficit too. Just as we will rebalance our finances to get growth back into the economy, we will also rebalance the power between government, Parliament and voters to bring confidence back to politics.

So let me outline a number of areas where we will help make Parliament more independent; increase its role in national debate; sharpen its tools of scrutiny; and strengthen its accountability to the people it serves.

Conservative proposals

Many of Parliament’s current problems stem from the over-interference of the executive. The Government is formed from Parliament – it doesn’t own it and it shouldn’t have so much say over how the House is run. We are committed to abolishing the Modernisation Committee and will return its agenda to a revitalised Procedure Committee, chaired by a senior backbencher, elected by secret ballot of the whole House.

But the new rules on electing the heads of select committees will also lend new authority to the Liaison Committee – whose chairman should now take a greater lead than before in charting the direction of reform. Other than their landmark report “Shifting the Balance” in 2000, they have focused more on their evidence sessions with the Prime Minister than spelling out their vision for the House in greater detail. In the future, I believe they should do that.

To help them meet this challenge, we will break the monopoly on statements currently held by ministers and hand to the Liaison Committee a quota of 12 statements a year, which can be drawn on to enable select committee chairmen to launch their reports to the House and answer questions on them. So when select committees have got something important to say, such as today’s report from the Defence Committee on the need for a comprehensive approach to securing peace after military operations, it won’t be buried in a press release and relegated to a few columns in a newspaper; but broadcast live to the nation in prime time.

This will help the House become a platform for debating the issues of the day. And we’ll go further. Too often the Chamber can seem like a sea of green benches, particularly during thinly attended Opposition debates. So we will allow the Opposition to trade the time allocated on those debates to force the Government to give topical statements on the issues of the day – again in prime time.

As the Wright Report observed, all too often MPs themselves do not see the point of making the House the primary focus on their activities. But our proposals will seek to transform this by replacing long and turgid debates with short and punchy statements that will get far greater air time. You only have to compare the amount of media interest that was shown in Tuesday’s statement on BA with the equally topical but less gripping debate later that afternoon on higher education to understand the impact. Parliamentary theatre can be as gripping as the real thing – but we need to make better use of the stage.

Backbenchers aren’t in Parliament just to talk – they’re there to scrutinise legislation and improve the law. While we give them more of a voice, we must also sharpen their teeth.

Making law is a two-sided process: the executive should keep a handle on the volume of legislation that it tries to pass, while the legislature needs to have enough time to give proper attention to every part of every Bill. At the moment it’s going wrong in both respects. There is currently too much legislation, produced too often, with too little effect. And while the Government churns out Bills like press releases, there has been no effort to give the Commons the time and the tools it needs to examine them in detail.

We all know what happens when our brains don’t get enough oxygen. Time is the oxygen of Parliament. At the moment, the sheer volume of legislation is suffocating the House. We will give it the breathing space to be able to undertake its scrutiny in a measured and considered manner, without forcing it to hyperventilate.

We will start from the premise that there should be fewer Bills, more thought-through and better prepared for their journey through the House. I applaud the work of the Better Government Initiative in this area and their principles will inform our approach, should we win the election.

Legislation is too often drafted on the hoof; which forces Parliament to do the heavy lifting that should have been done at an earlier stage by officials. In the 2007/ 08 session, the Government tabled well over 5,000 amendments to its own Bills. It is absurd to expect the House to take the hit for inadequate preparation in Whitehall.

We’ll abolish the automatic guillotine for Public Bill Committees, as I said earlier, which will give backbenchers more time for proper scrutiny. And we need to look closely at the Report stage of Bills where real issues of timing remain. I’m in favour of more split committee stages, where some of the committee stage is taken on the floor of the House, so that more backbenchers would have an opportunity to contribute at an earlier stage of the Bill – as well as stricter time limits on speeches so that some of the pressure is taken off timing.

More effective mechanisms such as these will help to make the Commons better at holding the Government to account – which in turn will build public confidence in what MPs do.

Lords Ministers in the Commons

The work of MPs has for decades stretched only as far as the Committee corridor and the Chamber of the Commons. But over the last three years, we have had to confront a new beast on the political landscape.

These stubborn, independent and wily creatures initially bred in great numbers – and in one case spent his time acquiring vast tracts of territory across Whitehall. But these animals are evasive too; and while they have been allowed to roam free and unrestrained, there is currently no means of bringing them to heel.

These are, of course, the Goats – those ministers appointed from outside Parliament to sit in the Lords and form Gordon Brown’s famous Government of all the talents.

Since July 2007, there have been ten peerages awarded to individuals so that they can function as ministers including two secretaries of state: Lord Mandelson, who needs no further introduction, and Lord Adonis, at Transport.

This is not a new development – there have been nine secretaries of state sitting in the Lords since 1979. What is unusual is for their departments to be accountable to the Commons only through junior ministers. Under Conservative governments, there was typically another minister of Cabinet rank who handled departmental business in the Commons.

There is no such equivalent today. Lord Mandelson delegates Commons work to Pat McFadden; Lord Adonis to Sadiq Khan. Both are doubtless competent ministers.

But it is frustrating that at a time of economic fragility, with industrial strikes brewing, that the Cabinet Ministers with responsibility for industry and transport are unaccountable to the House.

I have made clear in a submission to the Procedure Committee that the current state of affairs must now end and a way should be found for Lords Ministers to be cross-examined, like the rest of their peers in the Cabinet, by MPs.

We should start in Westminster Hall, requiring ministers who sit in the Lords to respond to debates where responsibility for that particular issue rests with them. The Committee will publish their report on Monday; and I hope they will agree with me that it is time to tether the goats.

Cutting the size of Parliament

Our proposals will help to make Parliament a more formidable inquisitor of the Government; and a more relevant force for the public.

But we cannot start work on cutting the democratic deficit without acknowledging that the first priority of the new Government will be to tackle the financial deficit.

We all know that whoever is in power after May 6 is going to have to make some difficult decisions on spending. These won’t just be taken by the Chancellor; or even the Cabinet; they will require the collective will of Parliament. And at a time when we are calling for restraint from the public and the private sector, it’s vital that Parliament leads by example and does everything it can to search for efficiencies.

Over the last thirteen years, the cost of politics has doubled. But we haven’t seen double the benefits. So just as we try to achieve more with less in the public sector, so we must in Parliament.

There are too many MPs. The House of Commons is the largest lower house of any major Western democracy. Even the world’s largest democracy, India, makes do with 545 MPs.  By comparison, the UK has 20 per cent more MPs but just 1/20th of their population.

This is why we have pledged to create a smaller House of Commons. If we win, we will introduce legislation to instruct the Boundary Commission to reduce the number of MPs by ten per cent in time for an election in 2014. By May 2015 the House of Commons could have 585 members – a cut of around 65.

These proposals will have the potential to save over £15 million a year. And it will give an even more valuable political signal during this time of fiscal restraint: that we are all in this together.

And on this, the public are right behind us.

Far from being anti-democratic, we will help reduce the inequities in the electoral system at the same time as we bring down the costs. At the moment, the electoral maths is skewed. In 2005, Labour polled seventy thousand fewer votes in England than the Conservatives, yet won ninety-two more seats.

Jack Straw has accused us of gerrymandering. It’s a claim that’s hard to swallow given their recent conversion to the Alternative Vote. If AV had been used in 2005, it would have delivered more seats for Labour than the first-past-the-post system, even though the party only secured 36 per cent of the popular vote.

What’s more, leading academic experts have said that our proposals would make little change to Conservative representation.

On our direction, the Boundary Commission will ensure that every constituency is roughly the same size. This will address the disparities that exist between constituency populations – and give each vote an equal value. What could be more democratic than that?

Conclusion

I want to end on a broader reflection. Society has changed, but Parliament has not. As the constitutional expert Professor Vernon Bogdanor has said, power has not been handed to people, it has merely passed “between elites”.

Our task now must be to drive much wider cultural reform in Westminster – not just cleaning up politics, but transforming it. That is why we are committed to a substantial shift of power from the centre down to the local; from Whitehall to communities; and from bureaucracy to democracy.

Tim Yeo – 2004 Speech on Patient Choice

timyeo

Below is the text of the speech by Tim Yeo made on 10th May 2004.

I am delighted to have this chance to attend your Congress. Not just to speaking this session but also to meet many of you as I have been doing since I arrived in Harrogate. I have already had valuable discussions with Beverly Malone and I look forward to continuing those in coming weeks and months.

Later this week we will recognise Nurses day. Today I would like to pay tribute to the tremendous work you carry out in the NHS, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and to express my appreciation of the huge contribution which nurses and all health professionals working in the NHS make to our society.

I am well aware that over the past few years your job has got harder. Despite the increase in staff numbers which ministers so much like to trumpet, there are still too few nurses working in our hospitals.

Equally important there are too few nurses working in our communities.

As nurses you are caring for patients who have more complex illnesses than ever before.

Alongside this you are expected to treat patients faster. There are fewer beds in the NHS today than there were a decade ago. Demand for these is high and great pressure is put on managers to move patients on so others can take their place.

And as things stand, that pressure is going to increase.

As a nation we are living longer. The number of pensioners has already overtaken the number of children in this country for the first time. It will be a major challenge to provide the next generation of elderly people with the services they require. All the more so as a result of 70,000 care home places lost since 1996.

I am here today to give you a better understanding of what you can expect from the Conservatives.

It’s just over six months since Michael Howard phoned me and asked me to take on my present role in the Shadow Cabinet. I was thrilled to be offered the chance to return to the health field, in which I have had a long standing interest.

My last full time job before entering politics was as Chief Executive of The Spastics Society, now called Scope. The Society’s activities included the provision of long term care for adults with disabilities, short term respite care for both adults and children, and the sponsorship of medical research.

I went on to start the successful campaign to keep open the Tadworth Court Children’s Hospital – the country branch of Great Ormond Street Hospital for sick children – and became the first Chairman of the Trust set up to manage the hospital.

After entering Parliament I became a member of the Health Select Committee and later one of my ministerial posts was at the Department of Health where I was responsible under Virginia Bottomley for social services, mental health and children.

Inevitably that experience has shaped my perspective on the challenges we face now to sustain a world class National Health service.

Let me make clear at the outset that the Conservative Party is totally and utterly committed to the founding principles of the National Health Service.

We will maintain a service that provides care which is free to patients at the point of use. Which is available to everyone on the basis of need , not of ability to pay.

That is Michael Howard’s view.

That is my view.

That will be the basis of our policy when we form a Government

Our aim is to improve and strengthen the NHS, not to destroy it as some of our opponents try to claim.

When we highlight some of the major problems, we are not talking the NHS down

We know full well that much of what goes on in the health service is excellent. Every day thousands of people are satisfied with the care and treatment they receive. Genuine progress is being made in many areas, not least in cancer, most of it the result of tremendous hard work and dedication on the part of those who work at every level in the Health Service.

But in our view these improvements are happening despite the system and not because of it.

And the plain truth is that things are not as good as they should be

If they were, why do over a quarter of a million NHS staff – 22% of the total- leave each year and have to be replaced at a annual cost of £1.5bn – before you take into account the cost of lost experience?

While I welcome recent announcements on reductions in waiting lists, I still ask myself – Why is it that we should have to put up with health rationing in this country when for example in France the concept of a waiting list does not exist?

And I share the public’s cynicism about statistics emerging from this Government . Average waiting times have not improved . We are all aware that data can be manipulated by delaying scans or access to consultants. More people are resorting to paying rather than waiting like the former fireman in Wiltshire who used his redundancy money for his wife to be treated privately when she was told she would have to wait 18 months for an hysterectomy.

Whether you believe the spin or not, there is growing consensus that one consequence of Government focus on waiting lists is that the needs of the 17 million people with long term medical conditions have been neglected. Similar concerns exist over mental health.

And the shocking report produced recently by the European Respiratory Society confirmed that Britain has one of the worst records on respiratory disease, with death rates twice the EU average.

Not only is Britain lagging behind other countries. In some areas of public health, things have clearly got worse since 1997.

Obesity rates in both adults and children are increasing. Rates of sexually transmitted infections are getting worse. Notifications of tuberculosis are up by over twenty per cent in the United Kingdom since 1999.

And I know that it’s as worrying for nurses as it is for patients that on average, 13 people a day die from MRSA, caught in hospital.

Figures published by the Health Protection Agency this Spring show that the number of people dying from the MRSA ‘hospital superbug’, has increased by 106 per cent since 1997 in England and Wales.

Most people in the country will agree with The Chief Medical Officer who described the figures as ‘shocking and unacceptable’ .John Reid’s answer is to introduce some more bureaucrats and give nurses badges saying ‘ Ask me if I have washed my hands’.

It’s time to get serious about the basics. I believe nurses in charge of wards should be given the authority to ensure that wards are clean, with the power to stop payments to cleaning companies if the job has not been done properly.

I’ve drawn attention to these shortcomings not because I believe that all the news about the NHS is bad, but because to hear some of the claims made by Ministers, you’d think everything was perfect.

Far from it. My diagnosis points to three failings.

Yes, welcome new investment is going in but too much money is being wasted on layers of administration that don’t add value to patients.

Secondly there has been too much interference from politicians in the running of the NHS. Too many initiatives driven by the needs of spin-doctors not patients. Too little trust in the competence and judgement of qualified professionals in the front line

And thirdly as a result of that political inteference, a culture has grown up which too often seems to treat patients as statistics and the people we rely on to deliver care as just cogs in a vast bureaucatic machine.

These are not failings of the professionals who work in the NHS but of the politicians who have got their priorities wrong.

Let me illustrate some of these concerns

I am concerned about waste because the more money that’s wasted, the less there is to recruit and retain permanent nurses and doctors. The less there is to support Agenda for Change.

That’s why I’m horrified by the increased cost of the NHS Administration and Estates Staff in England from approximately £3 billion to £5 billion since 1997. A jump of almost two billion pounds in five years – all spent on bureaucracy.

Over the last year the number of managers has increased at almost double the rate of nurses.

And Department of Health administration costs have increased by £40 million since 1998.

Then there’s the Modernisation Agency, introduced as a result of the NHS Plan, with a staff which grew to 760 in three years and consumed an annual budget of £230 million. It will soon cease to exist in its current form.

What have these millions of pounds spent on bureaucracy delivered in terms of improved patient care?

Last month a leaked ministerial document in the Sunday Times revealed that since 1997, Health productivity as measured by consultant episodes has actually fallen by 15%. Productivity may not be a useful measure for nursing, but the report, and the way the Government sought to conceal this information, suggests that something may be amiss.

How did ministers respond? By asking that the basis of calculation be changed to make them look better.

Which brings me on to my second concern , the level of political interference in the NHS .

We did a consultation exercise last year. From the hundreds of letters we received from health professionals , one consistent message came through loud and clear.

Leave us alone to do our job!

I agree.

It is time for politicians to stop trying to micromanage the NHS.

With over 400 targets in Labour’s NHS plan ,we are in danger of forgetting what the Health Service is for.

We know how this target culture takes up your time and the time of other professionals.

We know how it distorts clinical priorities and demotivates staff.

Last year, a House of Commons Committee heard evidence from Dr Richard Harrad of the Bristol Eye Hospital who explained that waiting time targets for new outpatient appointments at the Bristol Eye Hospital had been achieved at the expense of cancellation and delay of follow-up appointments. The result was that 25 patients went blind.

And the chilling words from Ian Bogle, outgoing Chairman of the BMA Council who said,

‘The one memory that will linger long …. is the creeping, morale-sapping erosion of doctors’ clinical autonomy brought about by micro-management from Whitehall which has turned the NHS I hold so dear into the most centralised public service in the free world.

He continued:‘We now have a healthcare system driven not by the needs of individual patients but by spreadsheets and tick boxes.

What a damning indictment of the environment you are being asked to work in !

Nothing is more important to the quality of patient experience than the role of nurses.

But as a result of added bureaucracy and continued staff shortages, nurses still experience difficulty in finding sufficient time to attend to the needs of patients.

Yes there are more nurses, but not as many as the Government would have us believe.

Within some categories there are in fact fewer numbers of staff now than in 1997. For example the number of health visitors has decreased since Labour came to power, as has the number of district nurses working for the NHS.

And the statistics, if not my eyes, tell me that nurses are getting older.

According to an RCN study , 100,000 nurses are due to retire in the next 5 years .Combine that trend with the current 15% fall out of trained and student nurses each year , and it is clear that the Government is running hard to stand still on nurses numbers.

It is typical of them to go for the quick fix. You know better than I how increasingly reliant we are on agency staff and on nurses from overseas, often from countries that cannot afford to lose them. These are unstable props on which to build for the future.

Meanwhile this country continues to export qualified health professionals. Last year, for example, the number of nurses leaving the UK to work in the USA doubled.

We need to show much greater urgency in addressing the reasons why nurses are leaving and why the Government has failed to persuade them to return to the NHS.

Yes, I recognise there are real issues around pay and access to affordable housing.

As with all professions, nurses need to feel that they have a career ladder to climb should they wish to do so. And this should not mean having to move away from patient care and into management. In this context I see Agenda for Change as a step in the right direction.

We need to look creatively at ways to incentivise experienced nurses to defer their retirement plans whether it be through more flexible hours or financial rewards, linked to length of service.

And we need to pay particular attention to how we encourage future generations into nursing. I particularly want to understand why so many students drop out of training. Is it because courses focus too much on the academic aspects of nursing rather than the practical elements? Or because nurses struggle to find convenient clinical placements to complete their training ? And when they do find such placements, are they being adequately supported and supervised? Or are the hours so inflexible that they can not accept them?

And last but by no means least , we must address the workplace issues that frustrate what I am sure remains the core instinct of every nurse – the desire to give the best possible care to people who can’t help themselves.

Too much form filling; too much inteference; confused layers of authority; insufficient resources to do the job.

These are some of the responses I have received, but it’s not for me to tell you – its for you to tell me.

So what difference would the Conservatives make? What can you expect from us?

First, we recognise that the National Health Service has been subjected to continuous reform over the last few years and the last thing it needs is further root and branch upheaval.

That is why our policies for the health service propose a change in approach rather than disruptive structural reform.

Politicians talk too much about structures and about money. These issues are important but we must not lose sight of what matters to patients. Everyone would rather be healthy than be ill so Government’s first aim should always be to improve our prevention strategies, something that Ministers lose sight of if they become bogged down in trying to micro manage the NHS.

And when people do become ill they want fast access to consistent , high quality care which treats them with dignity as individuals. This is what the people who pay for the NHS deserve .

Our plans for helping the NHS deliver that on a more consistent basis reflect tough lessons learnt in the past – both in Government and opposition .

They are built around three interdependent pillars.

Firstly, we are committed to invest the money that will give you the tools to do the job.

Secondly, we see our mission as taking the politics out of an NHS that has been a political football for too long.

We are determined to free qualified professionals from the bureaucracy that too often gets between you and the patient who needs your help.

Thirdly, we want to give those patients much greater say over where they are treated. With that power of choice we believe comes the power to get quicker treatment and to force improvement in the service they receive.

Let me give you a clearer idea of what that means.

Underlying our commitment to the NHS is the promise made by my colleague Oliver Letwin, Shadow Chancellor last February.

In the first two years of the next Parliament a newly elected Conservative Government will match Labour’s spending on the NHS.

This means that regardless of who wins the election, spending on the NHS will increase by broadly the same amount.

So the debate is not about ‘ How much money? ‘ but ‘ How will you spend it?’

And we are determined to spend it better , with much fewer layers of administration to divert money from the front line.

Our mission to give hospitals much greater freedom means that many more decisions about investment will be taken locally by people who are closer to patient needs. Labour talk about this but will not deliver. The instinct of Gordon Brown’s Treasury is to control everything from the centre and drive improvement through national targets. I believe very strongly that this is wrong. The system was too centralised when I was a Minister twelve years ago. It’s far more centralised today.

That has to change. It’s not the job of the Secretary of State to be Chief Executive of the NHS. It’s time instead that he and other politicians admitted the damage that results from incessant interference

So we will scrap targets and star ratings. Standards will continue to be monitored by CHAI within a framework set by Government but Hospitals will become accountable to patients not bureaucrats.

And the money will follow the patients. So that success will be rewarded and failure will not be tolerated for so long.

And because we are determined to give patients more choice, we need to invest in making more capacity available to them . Critically that means a quantum leap in the number of qualified permanent doctors and nurses. We do not underestimate the challenge but know that we can go much further than Labour in stripping away the red tape and bureaucratic interference that is so damaging to job satisfaction. Indeed I know from my seven years as Chairman of the Tadworth Children’s hospital that when nurses and other professionals are set free from artificial external controls,job satisfaction and staff morale increase dramatically. The whole of my experience – in business and politics- convinces me that the more you trust professionals to do their job the better they will do it.

That will be our way.

Both Conservatives and Labour talk about extending choice. The difference lies in scope and commitment.

Our programme of choice goes with the grain of Government initiatives to establish a national tariff and electronic patient records. But we intend to go further than them in extending choice. We have called our instrument of choice – the Patient’s Passport.

Any patient requiring elective treatment will be able to use the passport. We intend the passport to be just as relevant to those with chronic conditions as it is for those who require hospital treatment. Of course the choice of pathways for someone with a chronic condition will be more complicated to map, and in some cases the framework of standards is not yet clear. So this is why we have already started our discussions with the relevant organisations on how best to translate our policy into action for those with chronic conditions.

The passport will enable the patient, usually in consultation with a doctor or another professional, to decide where they go for treatment. That may still be their nearest hospital, but it could be another hospital where the waiting time is shorter, or which is more convenient for their family, or where clinical expertise is greater.

Choice will be informed with information on waiting times, treatments and outcomes available to them and their advisers.

But the choice will be theirs.

Our proposals represent a comprehensive of programme of patient choice. This means that, for the first time NHS patients can choose to be treated in an alternative setting to the NHS.

Should they decide to do so, our proposals will allow them to take a proportion of the NHS cost to assist them with the payment of their treatment elsewhere.

Not only does this give patients more control over where they are treated, but it will also help those who elect to stay within the NHS by giving them faster access to NHS treatment. It is not about taking resources from the NHS. It is about taking pressure off the NHS.

Labour can hardly criticise this aspect of our policy. After all they are now buying services from the private sector at an ever increasing rate

Our choice agenda will cut waiting times because patients will have the right to go where the waiting list is shortest.

Because the money goes with them , their right to choose will make providers of care more responsive to their needs.

It will stimulate new provision both inside the NHS and outside. As long as we maintain a service that provides care to an acceptable standard , which is free to patients at the point of use, then we have no political obsession with who owns that capacity.

But we are committed to help the NHS respond to this new environment.

Through a massive programme of investment to make sure the resources are there .

Through immediate withdrawal of politicians from day to day management of the NHS , giving qualified professionals the freedom to address patient needs.

It boils down to where trust is best placed.

After 7 years, it is clear that Labour places its trust in Whitehall.

Our vision, born of experience, is different.

Trust is best placed with patients and the people they trust. You.

Our vision is to give Britain a truly National Health system in which every patient has access to any doctor and any hospital , and where doctors and nurses choose to stay because they are respected and given the freedom to deliver a standard of care that they are proud of.