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The purpose of this Code of Conduct is .... to provide the openness and accountability necessary to reinforce public confidence in the way in which Members of the House of Lords perform their parliamentary and public duties.
Why is it so important? It is because under the new wording, Members who are the subject of a non-declaration complaint would, in certain circumstances, be able to use in their defence the new wording as a justification for their failure to declare. In my view, the committee is unintentionally loosening the rules and softening the regime. The committees intention was to tighten up, but that will not be the effect of the proposed amendment to the Companion. I ask the committee to reconsider this recommendation and, if necessary, to return to the House with a further amendment. It might wish to consider the fact that we are a self-regulating House and, as such, we need to be extra diligent in the defence of our institution.
Lord Woolf: My Lords, as a former chairman of the sub-committee involved in these matters, I can confirm that there were real difficulties in deciding how to conduct an investigation into a complaint under the old provisions, which it is proposed to replace. There is great difficulty in finding a suitable way of combining the traditions of this House with the conventional and contemporary approach to dealing with complaints of this sort. In the circumstances, the working party has done a good job in trying to deal with the need to find a compromise and avoiding possible conflicts between the traditions of the House and having an open and transparent system for investigating complaints. I acknowledge the work that the Officers of the House have put in to this task and express my gratitude to them for consulting me about any suggestions I could make and trying, in so far as it was appropriate, to accommodate my views.
The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, for his kind words and his endorsement of our new approach. I join him in thanking the Officers of the House for all the hard work that they put into this to help me and my colleagues on the working group.
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, makes some very important points. Nothing in here is intended to, or should, soften the rules by which we conduct ourselves. Noble Lords must still declare any interest, either at Question Time or the first time they intervene at each stage of a Bill. That is not weakened. The noble Lord gave an example of a particular case. If he and others are interested in the rule regarding paid advocacy, which could apply, nothing in the report affects the prohibition of paid advocacy under Section 4(d) of the Code of Conduct. It states that Members of the House,
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, asked whether the committee could review the rules as they come into force and as time goes by. In paragraph 6 of the fourth report, which refers mainly to the new procedures, we recommend that the new procedures should be kept under review by the new Sub-Committee on Lords Interests and, in particular, that the sub-committee should conduct a formal review not more than two years after coming into force and report its conclusions and any proposals for change to the Committee for Privileges. I shall make certain that the sub-committee is aware of the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, and takes them into account when it undertakes its review.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, can the Minister just confirm that we are still required to declare an interest which might be thought by a reasonable member of the public to constitute a conflict?
Baroness Cox: My Lords, I thank every noble Lord who will be speaking in this debate, as the topic is a daunting challenge, given the vastness and complexity of the great nation of India. I am therefore grateful that noble Lords with longer and wider experience of India will make their distinctive contributions to remedy the limitations and omissions of my own.
I must naturally begin by expressing the profound sorrow that we all felt at the recent terrorist attack in Mumbai and by extending our deep sympathy to all who are still suffering in the aftermath of those terrible days. I will then raise three issues of concern in a spirit of respect for India as a long-established friend of this country and as the world's largest democracy. It is characteristic of friendship that one can share concerns openly and constructively and it is in that spirit that I will raise the outbreaks of violence against religious minorities, including the Muslims in Gujarat and the Christians recently in Orissa and Karnataka; the restrictions on religious freedom posed by the imposition of anti-conversion laws in seven states; and, finally, the plight of dalits.
With regard to the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, there has been a wide range of responses to those horrific events, which have been usefully summarised in the excellent briefing paper prepared by the House of Lords Library. One result of such wide-ranging public discussion and speculation has been summarised by Dr Paul Cornish of Chatham House, who argues that the saturation coverage has played into the hands of the terrorists, providing them with a gratuitous plethora of justification and rationales.
I am therefore not going to play into their hands with further speculation about their ideological justifications and rationales. However, will the Minister say what continuing support Her Majestys Government are giving to India in the aftermath of this massive tragedy?
The recurring problem of violence, perpetrated by Hindu fundamentalists against religious minorities, is a product of the ideology called Hindutva, which
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In 2002, about 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, were massacred in Gujarat. Christians have been repeatedly targeted in recent years. The attacks are especially widespread in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh states, and although a recent outbreak of violence in Karnataka was relatively rapidly contained by the authorities, impunity for these sorts of attacks is cause for concern. In Orissa state, an outbreak of violence against Christians over Christmas in 2007 prefigured an onslaught on a much larger scale this autumn.
On 23 August this year, following the assassination of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, widespread violence against Christians erupted. The atrocities were committed despite the claim by Maoists that they had carried out the killing. After the assassination, despite pleas for caution by church and secular leaders, including representatives of political parties, the VHP arranged for his body to be taken on a 200-kilometre circuit. Violence followed in the wake of this funeral procession, fanned by media disinformation and the chanting of Hindu nationalist and anti-Christian slogans, targeting Christians and church buildings. It is widely believed that the violence erupted so quickly because it was pre-planned.
We are now approaching the first anniversary of the previous outbreak of violence and radical groups are aggressively pushing for a state-wide shutdown on 25 December, which would make life very difficult for beleaguered Christians wishing to celebrate Christmas, and could easily lead to another eruption of violence. Although it is encouraging to know that a delegation representing the EU, including a British representative, recently visited Orissa to assess the violence, it would be reassuring if the Minister could indicate that our high commission will monitor the situation very carefully this Christmas.
HART, the NGO with which I work, visited Kandhamal district, the epicentre of the violence, in October, and we saw what had been taking place. The toll of violence includes 69 people identified as having been killed and approximately 50 still unaccounted for and presumed dead. Among those killed were one man who was buried alive, several people who were burned to death and others who were cut to pieces. At least 160 churches of all Christian denominations, approximately 5,000 homes and an unspecified number of Christian businesses have been destroyed, and 54,000 people have been displaced from their homes and forced to take shelter in 14 state-sponsored relief camps in Kandhamal district, together with many hundreds who are living in non-state camps, including in two very overcrowded buildings in Cuttack town. It was also estimated that about 20,000 people were still living in the jungle or had fled to big cities.
In addition to the violence in Kandhamal district, 13 other districts had experienced similar atrocities, including killings and the looting and burning of churches and homes, and two other relief camps had to be established for approximately 2,700 more people who had had to flee from their homes.
In our report, we concluded that the Orissa state government had failed to provide protection for the Christian minority population, allowing widespread violations of human rightsincluding killings, rape, looting and the destruction and desecration of places of worship, homes and other propertyand that the forced conversion of some Christians to Hinduism constitutes a serious violation of the right to religious freedom enshrined in the UDHR, to which the Indian Government are a signatory. It is noteworthy that Hinduism and the caste system have only relatively recently, in the past 50 years, been introduced into this region. It is characteristic of Hindutva ideology that those forced conversions to Hinduism are propagated by the same groups that denounce conversions to other religions. There was also deep concern that the Orissa state government have failed to bring many of the perpetrators of crimes and violence to account, and that failure to bring to justice those who are allegedly guilty of these atrocities was making it impossible for victims to return to their homes because they feared that impunity would encourage further attacks.
Taken together, the violence inflicted on Christian communities, the reports of forced conversion and the threats of more to come, and the failure to provide enough security to encourage the Christians to return home appeared to constitute a policy of attempted religious cleansing of the region. Moreover, the viciousness and the scale of the attacks would have been impossible without a sustained hate campaign over many years. That still continues in the Oriya and Hindu media, targeting both Muslims and Christians.
In our report, we offered a number of recommendations for consideration. As the Orissa state government have insufficient resources for policing and judicial functions, police should be brought in from other states to receive and process complaints, including women police to register and investigate gender crimes. It was also suggested to us that the Central Bureau of Investigation, the CBI, should initiate an inquiry into the official dereliction of duty by the authorities in Orissa state for failing to prevent and control the violence. The Roman Catholic nun, Sister M, who suffered gang rape and torture, has added her voice to this request. There is also a widely expressed demand for adequate compensation for and the return of looted property.
Resources are urgently needed to improve conditions in the camps for the displaced. The conditions are horrific with massive overcrowding. We estimate that in the tents of the outdoor camps every individual has 12 inches to sleep alongside the next person. Priorities for provision include better healthcare, especially for women needing obstetric and gynaecological treatment, and paediatric provision for children and infants. There is also an urgent need for baby food and for access to education for children. As the fear of renewed attacks is preventing people from returning to their homes,
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Will Her Majestys Government raise with the Indian Government their concern over the failure of the state and central governments to ensure the safety of their citizens and their right to practise the religion of their choice? There is concern that the ad hoc annual EU-India human rights dialogue might be seen as the main mechanism for doing this. That would seem to be insufficient as it is seen as insubstantial and non-transparent. Has DfID been able to help with resources for relief for those who are currently living in the camps for the displaced? They are suffering in appalling conditions from overcrowding and an acute shortage of basic facilities, with many related illnesses. Further, will DfID consider supporting the longer-term rebuilding and rehabilitation effort?
I turn briefly to widespread concern at the anti-conversion legislation now in place in seven states. This applies to those who wish to convert from Hinduism to another faith: in practice, it does not prohibit conversion to Hinduism from other faiths. The legislation requires anyone wishing to convert from Hinduism to give advance notice to the district authorities, rendering them vulnerable to pressures of many kinds. In the case of Gujarat, the person who converts another must obtain prior permission of the authorities.
These requirements obviously hinder the freedom to choose and change religion, in violation of Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to which India is a signatory. These laws also threaten charitable activities, since the conditions under which conversions are banned include, for example, allurement by the grant of any material benefit. The problem of restrictions on religious freedom is not unique to India: such violations of this fundamental freedom must be seen as cause for concern in any country where a majority religion denies its citizens the freedom to choose and change religion. Sadly, there are many in the world today. Her Majestys Government have previously given assurances in Parliament that they have raised concerns about proposed anti-conversion legislation in Sri Lanka, which is modelled on Indian state-level laws, yet often refer to these Indian laws as an internal matter. Can the Minister tell us whether Her Majestys Government have raised, and/or will raise, this cause for concern with the Indian Government in the same way as has been done with the Sri Lankan Government?
The final topic to which I wish to refer raises the plight of the dalits, those deemed to be outside the caste system and therefore treated as inherently untouchable. Their predicament is unenviable. Unable to take work or to come into contact with members of the caste system, many are doomed to undertake the most humiliating and unsanitary tasks, such as the 700,000 or more manual scavengers dealing with human excrement. Others are so poor that they become involved in bonded labour from which they cannot escape, so
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I have witnessed the human dimension of the plight of the dalits when visiting a clinic which we in HART are supporting in Tamil Nadu for dalits with HIV/AIDS. These unfortunate people are doubly untouchable, as HIV/AIDS adds its own stigma of untouchability to their outcast status. It is a privilege to embrace such vulnerable people, but the joy they express when we touch them or eat the food they have prepared brings home the appalling suffering they endure as the ultimately marginalised and dehumanised members of Indian society. This is also a challenge to the EU-India Strategic Partnership joint action plans description of India as,
It is impossible in one speech to begin to do justice to the vast nation of India with its indescribably rich tapestry of ethnic groups, cultures, traditions, achievements and problems. I greatly look forward to the speeches of other noble Lords who will bring information and insights from their own knowledge and experience to create a constructive and comprehensive debate worthy of the issues confronting this great nation which we are proud to call a friend. I beg to move.
Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, it is my pleasure to acknowledge the first act of our Deputy Speaker in his new role and to recognise, as the noble Baroness has reflected so well in her remarks, the sheer size, exuberance and commitment to the pluralistic democracy of India. Amartya Sen states at the beginning of his book The Argumentative Indian that:
I recall at conferences of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association gazing across at the Indian delegation, marvelling at the range of races and wondering how such a disparity coheres, but it does, even if there is always a crisis somewhere in the 28 states with 22 official languages and 2,000 different ethnic groups of India. Even if the economy looks somewhat vulnerable today; even if like all other countries India is guilty of double standards in its foreign policy, thinking of Burma and Iran; and even if there are vast disparities of wealthall interesting points for another debatethe core of India remains sound and in good health. India also remains a good friend of this country in the Commonwealth with a vibrant, entrepreneurial community in the United Kingdom, of which my
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That must be the starting point; the context within which we should place recent events, for, as the noble Baroness has shown and as recent tragic events well illustrate, India is not immune from the scourges of our age such as international terrorism and religious extremism.
Before turning to the Mumbai tragedy and to the atrocities in Orissa, let me say a word about the noble Baroness. I pay tribute today to her indefatigable pursuit of justice and human rights worldwide. I sometimes muse that she was born out of her ageshe should have been a Gladys Aylward or a Mary Slessor, perhaps with an admixture of Lady Hester Stanhope. She travels to crisis areas, stands alongside the victims and returns with first-hand accounts of suffering and ready to offer remedies to your Lordships House. I do not follow her in respect of the dalits today nor on the anti-conversion laws, save to say in respect of the latter that the opposition BJP has threatened that if it were to win next years general election it would legislate against mass conversions.
What lies behind the atrocity in Mumbai? I note that Misha Glenny, whom I respect, states in the Guardian that it is essentially local and regional factors, as does William Dalrymple in the Observer, who, in a typical western breast-beating mea culpa way, also blames western policy in the region. Others look to al-Qaeda and call Mumbai Indias 9/11. Although it is true that the Kashmir issue played a part, as did a desire to harm Indian-Pakistan relations, the latter view is probably nearer the truth because the targets in the area were westerners and Jews, which suggests that the jihadist message from the madrassahs played a significant part.
This was part of a series of attacks elsewhere in IndiaAhmedabad, Bangalore, Delhi, Jaipur, Guwahati and Malegaon. The response of the Indian Prime Minister and the Minister of External Affairs, Mr Mukherjee, has been a modelcautious and statesmanlikeas was the journey to the subcontinent of Condoleezza Rice, seeking to cool the temperature in both relevant capitals and trying to prevent the incipient peace process being derailed. We must understand the peculiar internal problems of Pakistan and not push it in the direction of a failed state, yet it is also right for the international community to continue to press Pakistan to take responsibility for the terrorist groups which operate on its territory, to reform its army and the ISI and to examine the role of the madrassahs. President Zardari has spoken brave words and should be held to them.
For ourselves in the United Kingdom, clearly we should seek to encourage confidence-building measures between these two great countries, to recognise that the problems of terrorism in India and Pakistan are indeed our own problems, as the Prime Minister has stated, and to increase co-operation with them both.
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