Civilian suffering shocked the public in the first world war, but we have become numb to it
The tragedy of the centenary we commemorate this week is that it falls as some of the most brutal and merciless wars of those same hundred years are raging. What characterises contemporary wars above all – in Syria, Gaza, Iraq, Ukraine, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic – is that the main victims are civilians, many of them utterly innocent children. Furthermore their deaths and injuries cannot be dismissed as unintended consequences of war. Some are deliberate.
Attacks on Belgian and French civilians, including children, by Germany’s invading army in August 1914 shocked the public and politicians in Britain and elsewhere into intervening, and many individual men into enlisting – so much so that conscription in Britain was not introduced until 1916. Among those appalled by the attacks on civilians was my mother, Vera Brittain, who was to become the author of Testament of Youth, a remarkable memoir of the war. Her childhood dream had been to go to Oxford University and become a writer. But the suffering of civilians and the mounting toll of soldiers compelled her to abandon that dream and sign on as a volunteer nurse in military hospitals in England, Malta and France.
Reports of civilian and soldier deaths in 1914 were carried in Britain by local as well as national newspapers. But today’s television images of dead babies, terrified children, destroyed homes in ruined streets, while evoking outrage, also have a numbing effect: so much horror, so much violence that the traditional distinctions between civilians and soldiers, originating in Saint Thomas Aquinas’s concept of a “just war” seem irrelevant.
The Armed Forces (Service Complaints and Financial Assistance) Bill, currently going through report stage in the Lords, has a non-snappy title clearly not dreamt up with Public Relations in mind. It is however important as it includes creation of a Service Complaints Ombudsman and reform of Service complaints system.
As we move into Report stage the Liberal Democrat team, including the valuable contributions of my Lib Dem colleague Martin Thomas (Lord Thomas of Gresford), concentrated on two amendments. One to ensure that a complaint does not disappear if the complainant dies. The second is to carry out an investigation of any allegations of systemic abuse or injustice if it appears to her/him to be in the public interest and that there should be compelling circumstances.
Martin has outlined the importance of these amendments saying: “It may very well be that, in the course of the investigation of individual complaints, it will come to the attention of the ombudsman that there is a culture of abuse or bullying in a particular area. They may well feel that they would have to investigate that on their own initiative, and not await instruction, following their annual report, from the Secretary of State.”
Lib Dem Peer Susan Kramer appeared on Friday’s Any Questions on BBC Radio 4.
From the BBC blurb:
Jonathan Dimbleby presents political debate and discussion from St James’ Church in Emsworth, Hampshire, with Chairman of the Football Association Greg Dyke, Editor of Harper’s Bazaar Justine Picardie, Conservative MEP Dan Hannan and Transport Minister Baroness Kramer.
Car clubs are set to receive a £500,000 boost to drive forward their work, Lib Dem Transport Minister Baroness Kramer has announced.
As part of a wider visit to Norfolk today (28 July 2014), the minister announced that the Department for Transport will provide the funding to support 2 pilot programmes which will promote much wider access to car clubs.
Baroness Kramer said:
Car clubs cut congestion, reduce carbon and save people money while still giving people the freedom and flexibility to use a car when they want to. Interest in car clubs is already gathering pace and we want to give that interest added momentum.
This funding will highlight their many advantages to even more people and help take car clubs up a gear.
The 2011 Education Act made a radical change in provision for careers advice for young people. Responsibility had traditionally been with an external advice agency – originally the LA careers service and from 2002 with Connexions. The Act passed this responsibility on to schools with provisos that it should be ‘independent and impartial’ and involve people other than just school staff. During the passage of the Act, Lib Dems in the Lords had fought hard to make it mandatory that each young person should have a one-to-one interview with a properly qualified external careers’ adviser. We did this partly because we knew schools did not have the resources to provide the service but also because academisation and increasing competition for sixth formers meant that many schools were putting pressure on young people to stay on in school to do AS and A levels, rather than telling them about vocational and apprenticeship opportunities available through the local FE college – indeed we knew of examples where schools had refused to allow the local FE college even to distribute a prospectus to pupils.
Michael Gove opposed the proposal, arguing strongly that Coalition policy was to give schools autonomy and independence and it was up to schools to decide what was best for their pupils. At the same time, however, the £200m which in 2010-11 had been allocated by DfE to the Connexions service somehow disappeared and was not reallocated to schools to fund their new responsibilities. As one head teacher put it, “If I have to choose between spending money on extra maths and English coaching for better GCSE grades by which I am assessed or on buying in careers’ advice, it’s a no-brainer.”
I am really sad to report that the House of Lords seems to be drifting further into the unthinking partisanship that Peers often accuse MPs of habitually exhibiting.
Today’s debate on mandatory sentencing for knife crime was characterised by some particularly powerful speeches from all sides of the House. The clear majority of the contributions – not least from eminent lawyers with direct experience of relevant criminal cases and former Ministers who had previous relevant responsibility – was that the clause added in the Commons was seriously defective. Even the Minister responding explained that the Government could not support it in its current form.