Previous Section Index Home Page

Mr. Hayes: I was going to say that perhaps I made myself unhelpfully unclear in my earlier argument. Perhaps, and this is more likely, my hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire) was not listening carefully enough when I said that the red cross is not solely a Christian symbol—indeed, it is arguably not one at all. Of course, the cross is a Christian symbol but the use of the cross relates to a much more ancient recognition of the symbol as a symbol of peace. Let me take the use of the white flag as a parallel example. Since time began, the white flag has been recognised as a symbol of
1 Apr 2009 : Column 968
submission or surrender. The symbol of a cross has ancient lineage, as I have described, that predates its use as a Christian image. I made that point once. I have now made it twice. I do not expect to have to make it a third time.

Mr. Walker: My hon. Friend is in robust form. The cross is perceived to have religious connotations. In a battlefield, there will not be time for my hon. Friend to deliver one of his forceful and robust speeches to explain the complexities of the cross. It is perceived in the heat of battle to be a Christian symbol. Yes, that perception is wrong, but it is the perception. Surely my hon. Friend recognises that in framing his argument.

Mr. Hayes: That was the argument when the red crescent was adopted. In the 1870s, the Ottoman empire made precisely the arguments that are being made by my hon. Friends and the international community agreed to establish the Red Crescent as a response. I am not sure that the argument was compelling then and I am not sure that it is compelling now. The cross, to a certain mind, might be perceived in the way my hon. Friend describes, but that probably says more about that mind than it does about the cross. I remain convinced that the use of the cross has immense value in the universality it provides, with all the protection that that brings. We want those who are serving noble purposes and offering humanitarian relief, aid and medical services to benefit from the protection given by a symbol such as the cross.

I remain doubtful that extending the number of symbols is likely to offer such blanket protection. Not only is there the possibility of malevolent or mischievous use, but, almost more significantly, there is the possibility of confusion. Until my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne can answer that charge, I feel that his argument has less strength than he might assume.

Mr. Walker: If my argument lacks strength, I apologise, but the red crystal is being brought forward by the Red Cross. Will my hon. Friend please address his remaining opening remarks to the Red Cross and explain to the Red Cross why he is opposed to its bringing forward the red crystal, which it believes will enhance its mission in the field, not devalue it?

Mr. Hayes: When a right hon. Gentleman as eminent as my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire tells this House that he has been—I think that this is the phrase—surfing the net and has discovered the use of the red crystal as a symbol for a combination of bordellos, fashion houses and rock stars, we, as responsible Members, have a duty to hear him and to consider that evidence. We should do that not just because of my right hon. Friend’s sagacity but because of the evidence that he provided. If my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne chose to surf the net, he might find even more examples of the use of red and other crystals for all kinds of good and more nefarious purposes.

Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): I thank my hon. Friend for allowing me to intervene; he is making a very powerful speech. Does he agree that, in designing a new symbol, if so much effort goes into making it totally non-contentious and impossible to interpret, so that no person, group, country, religion or faith could be offended by it, there is a danger that the result will
1 Apr 2009 : Column 969
have none of the power, impact or values of the traditional symbols, which creates the dilemma that we may lose all the associated features of the red cross in a non-contentious red crystal?

Mr. Hayes: As ever, my hon. Friend brings fresh insight to the debate. In that interesting intervention, she reminds the whole House of Proust, who argued that the dilution of symbols robs them of meaning. It is important to appreciate that the cross is not only widely accepted and easily recognised but has substance. The symbol that we are presented with may be so anodyne that it has neither substance nor meaning for many of the people who see it—except, I suppose, those who have surfed the net.

Mr. Burns: I seek a little clarification on two points. First, my understanding is that the symbol used by the Red Cross was a reversal of the national flag of Switzerland, so I cannot see the religious connotation. Secondly, I thought that the whole point of the red cross and the red crescent was that they were not aligned with a religion or a faith but used as symbols of humanitarian aid and assistance. If I am right in those two suppositions, how are my hon. Friends right in theirs?

Mr. Hayes: My hon. Friend is right. The red cross was adopted not because of its connotation with any particular creed or belief but because it was not so associated, being an ancient symbol that predates the use of the cross in Christian imagery.

There is a certain type of guilt-ridden bourgeois liberal who is so defensive about our Christian heritage that they see ghosts around every corner and doubt wherever they turn—I was about to say reds under every bed, but I suppose I do not quite mean that. I hope that that is not true of my hon. Friends, but they are being slightly too defensive about the perceived relationship between the red cross and the Christian faith, and possibly too defensive about the Christian faith per se.

Mr. Swire: I am happy to be accused of being a liberal, but certainly not bourgeois. I largely agree with my hon. Friend, but he must recognise that these symbols can be hijacked. Back in 1864—this predates my hon. Friend—the Ottoman empire made representations under the Geneva convention because it claimed that the red cross emblem

From that point on, the red cross stopped being the universal symbol. He must recognise that some symbols can cause offence to some communities in a way that he may not have thought through.

Mr. Hayes: That is true. However, if we were to be cowed by everyone who took offence at the use of these symbols, the red cross might never have been established as it was, with the immense benefits to all concerned, and we would have ended up with symbols from every nation or state without the universality that I recommend to the House so strongly, and which is increasingly significant in a world that is global in character in respect of conflict, tension, terrorism, humanitarian aid and many other things. That was recognised by the Liberal spokesman in the House of Lords, who described
1 Apr 2009 : Column 970
the increasingly international nature of these matters as a reason for the adoption of the red crystal. I take the opposite view that the increasingly international nature of the things I described reaffirms the case for a single symbol. That might be the crescent, as my hon. Friend suggests, or more properly and logically, it might be the cross.

Mr. Walker: I have the highest regard for my hon. Friend, but why will he not recognise in his argument that we live in complex times?

Mr. Hayes: The times are complex for all of us, but particularly for my hon. Friend. I do not disregard his argument; it is just one with which I cannot agree. The red cross, with all that it means and has meant, brings immense benefit as a symbol in the manner identified by the convention, and in the way envisaged by the architects of the original international agreement in 1864. To abandon all of that which is time-honoured would be unwise.

Michael Fabricant: I was here at the beginning of the debate, but was unfortunately called away. I saw some of it, however, through the television apparatus in my office and I followed my hon. Friend’s arguments with considerable interest. I mentioned at the beginning of the debate the vexed issue of the red star of David—the Magen David Adom. Does my hon. Friend agree that if people attempting to give aid to those in the Gaza strip were seen climbing out of a vehicle so marked, it would be unacceptable to Hamas, and dangerous for those giving the aid?

Mr. Hayes: We had a brief debate about the occupied territories, and about the Golan heights, although I did not mention the Gaza strip—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. I am reluctant to intervene on the hon. Gentleman’s preliminary remarks, but he is getting a little repetitive and I wondered whether he could move on to the main body of his argument.

Mr. Hayes: I was just about to do so.

Mr. Walker: Will my hon. Friend give way on that point?

Mr. Hayes: I will not give way to my hon. Friend again because I fear that he is attempting to seduce me—oratorically speaking, of course—by taking me down all sorts of roads I do not want to go down. He has had a fair crack of the whip, and I must make progress.

Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Hayes: I must make progress. I will give way in a few moments’ time, once I have dealt with the issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) as briefly as I can, and before moving to the main thrust of my arguments.

Earlier, I quoted Masood Khan, the ambassador for Pakistan, who has the matters that my hon. Friend raised at heart because the tensions over Israel are highly pertinent to our consideration of the Bill and the wider considerations of the international community
1 Apr 2009 : Column 971
about the use of these symbols. However, I did not quote Mr. Khan as extensively as the House would wish me to. He says:

When I spoke of that earlier, the Minister intervened to suggest that there were indeed signs of progress and hope of a breakthrough. My hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield was right to raise the issue because Israel—a country with an outstanding record on humanitarian aid, which we saw during the tsunami and other events mentioned earlier—wants to be a member of the international community in these terms, and the efforts of Mr. Khan and others are designed to ensure that outcome.

I must move on, because—

Mr. Swire: Will my hon. Friend indulge me and give way on that point?

Mr. Hayes: Very briefly, but my hon. Friend is, I hate to say, becoming rather mischievous.

Mr. Swire: I am listening carefully to my hon. Friend. Does he not agree that if Israel wishes to be taken seriously in aid matters, particularly as far as the UN is concerned, it needs as a priority to clear up what went on at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency compound in Gaza?

Mr. Hayes: I will not go down that road—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman will understand that he would now be right to resist some interventions and move forward a little.

Mr. Hayes: Thank for your instruction, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hope that my hon. Friends will not attempt to divert me from my principal argument.

Before we started down this long tributary, I was going to speak a little about the Geneva convention, and particularly—

Mr. Walker: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Hayes: No, I am not going to give way again. We have had a good run on these issues, and I want to move to the main thrust of my argument. I have quite a good deal to say about the Second Reading of the 1957 Act, which has not yet had a proper airing. There will simply not be time to finish before 7 pm if I give way continually to my hon. Friend, much as I admire him and, more than that, have deep affection for him.

Léon Nyssen received a letter in French from the ICRC, quoting the acts of the Geneva convention of 1949. The conventions of this House will not allow me to read any French, nor will my imperfect grasp of that language, so with your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall read it in translation. It states:

1 Apr 2009 : Column 972

As my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford said, nowadays it is normal in ordered, peaceful conditions for the red cross to be modelled more or less on the Swiss flag, or its reverse. However, it seems from old documents that before the 1950s the shape of the cross was usually much thinner, even one third of the width of the Swiss cross. Indeed, I had a look earlier and found out that even in the past 20 years, there have been small changes to how the cross is routinely presented.

Michael Fabricant: Will my hon. Friend give way on that point?

Mr. Hayes: I will happily give way.

Michael Fabricant: Is not the cross always represented with equi-length arms so as to distinguish it from the Christian cross, or have I got that wrong?

Mr. Hayes: No, that is precisely the case. That reinforces the argument that I have made at considerable length in response to the interventions by my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne. That is precisely why confusion should not, and for the most part does not, arise. The cross is drawn in essence not from Christian imagery but from a much more ancient image. The sign of the cross was used long before the Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross and so saved us from our sins. The misunderstanding that has arisen has surprised me, given the incisive and intelligent contributions that my hon. Friend normally makes. He has repeatedly come to the wrong conclusion.

Mr. Walker: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Hayes: Having been slightly critical of my hon. Friend, although I have said that I am immensely fond of him, I shall give way to him again.

Mr. Walker: I am greatly enjoying my hon. Friend’s speech and I hope that he does not cut it short because I have nowhere to be this evening. If there were a vote on the programme motion, I would vote against it because I believe that the Bill should go into Committee and that we should conduct pre-legislative evidence sessions with the Red Cross. However, if we were voting on Third Reading tonight, would my hon. Friend vote with the Red Cross to introduce the red crystal or put his concerns on the record by voting against the measure?

Mr. Hayes: Like all responsible Members, I would listen to the evidence. I would not have a preconceived view of such a significant subject. I would listen to the measured arguments that the Red Cross and others made. It is odd that my hon. Friend argues for witness sessions but asks me to say what I would do before I heard the witnesses. That is no way to conduct our affairs and he should know better. I will not give way to him again—it merely encourages him.

1 Apr 2009 : Column 973

If I do not make progress, I will have no chance to speak about the contribution of the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport division (Miss Vickers) on Second Reading in 1957. Unless we consider that, I do not understand how we can reach any conclusion.

Mr. Graham Stuart: My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. He is aware—although some other hon. Friends are less so—of the power of the original red cross symbol and knows that any attempt to dilute it will remove some of its almost magic qualities on the battlefield of ensuring that those under it are protected. I congratulate him on his view. He is also right that we need to hear more evidence. As my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker) said, we need to hear from the Red Cross, and driving through a programme motion today is singularly inappropriate.

Mr. Hayes: I am delighted that my hon. Friend has not joined that army of guilt-ridden bourgeois liberals to whom I referred earlier. He has no doubt in his heart about the use of the cross because it might be perceived as Christian. Not only does he accept my argument that its lineage is much longer, but he has no guilt about the Christian heritage of western civilisation. I must not go down that track.

Let me refer to the 1957 debate because the then hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport division made a major contribution to Second Reading of the Bill, which became an Act and which the measure amends. She spoke with considerable authority because, as she told the House on that occasion, she had worked for the Red Cross in this country and overseas for many years. She was therefore especially enthusiastic that the Bill should become an Act. She described the work of the Red Cross—barely 11 years after the last great war—as invaluable, not only in war but in peace. She wanted to address her remarks particularly to the work in which she had been involved with civilians. We would now call it humanitarian aid, although I am not sure whether that term existed then. She drew attention to the articles that specifically applied to civilians and discussed article 100, which deals with civilians in times of war.

Stimulated by a brief examination of that speech, I took a close look at the 1957 Act itself. I hope that other hon. Members have done that. I do not mean to sound critical, but I hope that the Under-Secretary will say rather more about that measure in her summation than she did in her introductory remarks. The Bill can be seen only in that context and the wider context of the conventions that had their genesis in the 1860s, but still apply, in their form and practice, throughout the world today.

The pressures of time and my anxiety for this debate to finish before the House rises are such that I will not say a great deal more about the 1957 Act at this stage. However, I want to conclude my remarks with a number of questions for the Minister. They are questions that have arisen not only from today’s debate, but from the consideration of the Bill, the international debate about such matters and the context that I have described. The questions focus on five or six areas.

Next Section Index Home Page