Geneva Conventions and United Nations Personnel (Protocols) Bill [ Lords]

Part of Registration of Births and Deaths (Welsh Language) – in the House of Commons at 3:12 pm on 1st April 2009.

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Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education) 3:12 pm, 1st April 2009

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.

The Minister needs to tell the House what evidence exists of attacks on Red Cross or Red Crescent personnel that have their origin in resistance or hostility towards those emblems. I have yet to hear any evidence in this debate that those attacks have been about the emblems, rather than about something more fundamental or more contextual. Unless evidence is brought forward that those emblems have stimulated hostility, the argument for a new symbol will be less persuasive.

The second question to which I want the Minister to respond relates to the timetable and the costs of the change. It is perfectly reasonable for the House to want to know what time scale the implementation of the new measures will be governed by. The Minister will also want to bring to the House's attention the notional costs of implementation, which her Department will surely have drawn up.

To reflect this afternoon's debate, the third question for the Minister to answer is about how much consideration was given to the accommodation of those who are hostile to the symbol of the cross and about how much counter-consideration was given to the adoption of the cross as a universal symbol. I do not want to reprise the argument of the 1870s today, but one understands why a compromise was reached to deal with the complaints of the Turks then.

However, if a new symbol were to be established that was designed to have universal appeal, it is as good an argument to say that it should have been the cross as it is to suggest that it should be a new crescent. There are perhaps even stronger arguments for reverting to something that is already well established, because the battle is half won, if I can put it that way. The crescent would take considerable time to gain the kind of recognition that the cross already enjoys.

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