Human rights campaigner and Member of the House of Lords, David Alton, has received the 2021 Westminster Award for Human Life, Human Rights, and Human Dignity.
Author of eleven books, he is a Visiting Professor at Liverpool Hope University, serves on the House of Lords International Relations and Defence Select Committee, is Co-Chair or Vice Chair of eight All-Party Parliamentary Groups, and is Trustee or Patron of a number of charities and voluntary organisations.
Lord Alton is a senior member of the All-Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group and a patron of Right To Life UK.
A champion for justice and life
Lord Alton began his career as a teacher, working in socially disadvantaged neighbourhoods, teaching immigrant children, and later children with special needs.
He became involved in politics as a teenager and at 17 years of age was elected as chairman of his town’s branch of Young Liberals. In his Student Union he successfully proposed a campaign against apartheid and became active in community politics, choosing to live in a neighbourhood where half the homes had no inside sanitation and had been designated as a slum clearance area. In 1972, while still a 21-year-old student, he was elected to Liverpool City Council for the Low Hill (and Smithdown from 1973) Ward and became the city’s Housing Chairman and Deputy Leader. At the time of his election, he was Britain’s youngest city councillor.
He was elected as Member of Parliament for Liverpool Edge Hill at a by-election in 1979 for the former Liberal Party, becoming the “Baby of the House” – the youngest member – achieving a record swing of 36.8% and 64% of the vote.
He won the seat the day after the Callaghan Government was defeated in a vote of confidence and the 1979 General Election being called. He became the shortest-lived MP, a Member for less than a week, and made his Maiden Speech within three hours of taking his seat. Five weeks later he was re-elected and went on to serve as a Liverpool MP for 18 years, before standing down in 1997. He was the only new member of a Parliamentary Party of 11 MPs. He campaigned on the slogan “Everyone Knows Someone Who Has Been Helped by David Alton.”
He was his Party’s spokesman on Home Affairs, Northern Ireland, Overseas Development and the Environment, and served as Chief Whip, Chairman of the Party’s Policy Committee and national President of the National League of Young Liberals.
In 1987, he resigned as Chief Whip to campaign for his unsuccessful Private Member’s Bill which aimed to stop late abortions. The Bill achieved a record 296 votes and a majority of 45 in the House of Commons – and never lost a vote at any stage – but was filibustered by opponents.
In 1992, after his Party moved from a “conscience” position on abortion to making the issue a matter of party policy (on the same day on which a motion was passed calling, among other things, for protection of goldfish sold in amusement arcades and funfairs) he announced that he would not contest again on the party’s platform.
In 1997, he stood down from the House of Commons, and from party politics, and was nominated by the Prime Minister, Sir John Major, to the House of Lords.
He has introduced Private Member’s Bills in Parliament on the rights of private tenants; minimum housing standards; victims of violent crime; the upper time limit for abortion; the right to establish housing co-operatives; the right to establish directly elected neighbourhood councils; the re-export of arms; a Bill to require research into the causes and cures for mesothelioma; and a Bill to create new mechanisms to bring to justice those responsible for genocide or crimes against humanity.
Lord Alton is founder and co-chairman of the British-DPRK All-Party Parliamentary Group, and visited Pyongyang on four occasions, including in October 2010 when he had talks with leaders of the North Korean government including Choe Thae Bok, chairman of the Supreme People’s Assembly, the country’s rubber-stamp parliament and when he protested about human rights violations in that country, raising specific cases with their Ministers. He details his experiences in his book, written with Rob Chidley, ”Building Bridges: Is There Hope For North Korea?” (Lion 2013), one of eleven books he has authored.
In March 2017, as a member of the Sages Group (to which he was appointed in 2016), he spoke at a forum of the 34th Session of the UN Human Rights Council, alongside His Honour Judge Michael Kirby (chairman of the UN Commission of Inquiry into North Korea) and Dr Marzuki Darusman, former UN Special Rapporteur on North Korea, and called for the regime’s leaders to be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court.
He also successfully campaigned for the creation of BBC World Service broadcasts to the Korean Peninsula.
In 2020, he was appointed to the House of Lords International Relations and Defence Select Committee – and involved in the Committee’s reports on Sub Saharan Africa and Afghanistan. In 2021, the Committee agreed to a new Inquiry into China, Trade and Security.
During lockdown, he hosted several webinars and participated in conferences on issues such as the abduction, forced marriage and forced conversion of girls and women, on Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and on the failure to respond to mass atrocities in Nigeria and Burma.
In 2020 he moved amendments to Telecommunications and Trade legislation challenging the links between Huawei, the Chinese Communist Party and the use of Uyghur slave labour, and in 2021 he promoted the All-Party Genocide Amendment to the Trade Bill.
A lifetime of achievement
The Westminster Award for Human Life, Human Rights, and Human Dignity, recognises extraordinary and notable work and achievements that safeguard the dignity and right to life of human beings. It was founded in 2013, a year after the death of Right To Life UK’s founder Phyllis Bowman DSG, in whose memory it is awarded.
The recipient of the Westminster Award is chosen by the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group and the Trustees of Right To Life UK, having taken advice from senior MPs and Peers in both Houses of the Westminster Parliament.
The first Westminster Award was given to the blind Chinese human rights lawyer and campaigner Chen Guangcheng, for his heroic work defending the rights of Chinese women and children victimised by their Government’s forced abortion and sterilisation policies.
Lord Alton of Liverpool KCSG, recipient of the 2021 Westminster Award, said: “Everyone knows I care about a whole variety of human rights questions but if you don’t have the right to be born then all the others fall by the wayside – all 30 articles of the Universal Human Rights Declaration are worthless if you don’t have the right to be born in the first place”.
“To receive the award is a huge privilege. It is an encouragement to carry on”.
“Maximilian Kolbe once wrote ‘Beyond armies of occupation and the hecatombs of extermination camps, there are two irreconcilable enemies in the depth of every soul: good and evil, sin and love. And what use are the victories on the battlefield if we ourselves are defeated in our innermost personal selves?’ and I keep that in mind because you know, in the end, we can be given awards and honours, but it counts for little if we are defeated in ourselves, if we don’t struggle to find where truth is, and stand and be counted, even when it makes you unpopular, or they decide to sanction you.”
Chris Whitehouse KCSG, a trustee of Right To Life UK, said: ““His career has, and continues to, embody the tireless championing of Human Life, Human Rights, and Human Dignity that the Westminster Award was launched to acknowledge”.
“The work of Right to Life UK would simply not be possible without the encouragement and expertise Lord Alton has contributed to our mission, and so many other just causes, throughout his lifelong advocacy on behalf of the most vulnerable”.
“Throughout his time in Parliament, Lord Alton has relentlessly championed the cause of the unborn and women facing crisis pregnancies”.
“Lord Alton continues to work tirelessly to promote the pro-life cause in Parliament. Right To Life UK’s Westminster team have the honour of being able to work directly with Lord Alton on a regular basis. He is the key driver of pro-life activity in the House of Lords, inspiring a large group of Peers to join him on championing the rights of the vulnerable on this vitally important issue”.
“He is a role model and mentor to the next generation of pro-life MPs not only at Westminster but also to young pro-life Parliamentarians around the world”.
Thank you, Lord Alton, for 41 years of service, tirelessly championing a better world for the next generation, both born and unborn. Here’s to another 41!”
A spokesperson for Right To Life UK, Catherine Robinson said: “The work of Right to Life UK would simply not be possible without the encouragement and expertise Lord Alton has contributed to our mission, and so many other just causes, throughout his lifelong advocacy on behalf of the most vulnerable. His career has, and continues to, embody the tireless championing of Human Life, Human Rights, and Human Dignity that he himself intended the Westminster Award to acknowledge”.
“I was so pleased to be able to celebrate Lord Alton’s decades of public service, and his role in the pro-life movement in the UK and internationally. His example has already, and will continue to, inspire countless people to stand up on behalf of what is right, not what is simply popular.”