Question for Short Debate
My Lords, it is my privilege to lead off in what I am reliably informed by the House of Lords Library is the first time that the Olympic truce has been debated specifically in your Lordships’ House. Perhaps I may express at the outset to the distinguished list of Members who have put their names forward to speak in this debate how grateful I am that they have rallied to the cause at such short notice. In securing this debate and in my enthusiasm to accept the time slot allotted by the business managers, I failed to recognise that many of the distinguished Members who would have wanted to take part are at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi. In particular, my noble friends Lord Coe and Lord Moynihan have asked me to place on record their sincere apologies. They very much wanted to be here to support this debate, but unfortunately they cannot be.
On 7 October, the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, as chairman of the British Olympic Association, spoke in this House of the importance of the Olympic truce in his excellent contribution to the millennium development goals debate. Following that, he wrote to me saying that he hoped that the Government would respond positively to this debate. In that regard, our chances of securing a positive response are much improved by the fact that my noble friend Lady Rawlings is responding on behalf of the Government, given her intuitive understanding and commitment to international relations.
The Olympic truce resolution, as passed by the United Nations,
“urges Member States to take the initiative to abide by the Truce, individually and collectively, and to pursue in conformity with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations the peaceful settlement of all international conflicts”.
Despite this UN resolution being agreed to by all member states, it has hitherto been totally ignored at a government level. Today, the Olympic truce is seen purely as symbolic, accompanied by a flag outside the stadium and a peace wall inside the Olympic village, but that was not always the case.
At the outset of the ancient Olympic Games, the truce was not an optional extra; it was its very purpose—it was not symbolic, but sacred. In 776 BC the Greek king, Iphitos, frustrated at the perpetual state of war, consulted the oracle at Delphi, who proposed a sporting competition every four years that would have as its aim the bringing together of military and political leaders in one place where they could seek to resolve their differences peacefully, with athletes competing together as Olympians rather than as citizens of a city state.
The sacred truce was remarkably successful. The ancient Olympics ran for 1,168 years, until they were ended by the Romans in AD 394, and during that time violations of the truce were extremely rare. By contrast, in the 116 years of the modern Olympiad, the Games have had to be cancelled three times due to war, have experienced major boycotts on five occasions and have twice been the focal point of terrorist attacks. In ancient Greece, people stopped fighting to take part in the Games; in the modern era, we stop the Games in order to keep fighting. What is it that we have lost in 3,000 years of civilisation that makes even today the notion that combatants may exercise restraint during a period of truce such a distant dream? I suggest not that the concept of the truce has been tried and found difficult but that it has been found difficult and left untried. To coin a phrase, I believe that we can do things differently next time.
The reason for this optimism is a remarkable visionary, Jeremy Gilley, a British documentary producer who began a campaign in 1997 to get the international community, through the United Nations, to advance one day of global peace—the campaign is called Peace One Day. In 2001, that campaign was endorsed unanimously by the United Nations—like the Olympic truce—and was proposed by the British Government. In 2007, 2008 and 2009, Peace One Day brokered a one-day truce in Afghanistan between warring factions, including the Taliban. The truce allowed health workers from UNICEF, the World Health Organisation and many other agencies to move into areas hitherto unreachable due to violent conflict. As a result, over a period of three years, some 4.5 million children were immunised against polio. It is an utterly inspiring story, which shows what can be done with just one day of truce, let alone the prospect of 20 or 30 days. This reminds us that the value lies not in the truce itself but in what it allows us to do. When the guns fall silent, the voices of reason have a chance to be heard above the bomb and the bullet and, when the guns stop, the delivery of vital humanitarian aid can start.
Specifically, I urge the Government to consider what initiatives they could take to exploit the opportunities presented by the Olympic truce surrounding the London 2012 Games. Could they consider hosting a G8-style summit on the theme of truce? The aspiration would be to seek to advance the case for peace and reconciliation in the same way that the talks at Gleneagles advanced the causes of debt relief and climate change. Could consideration be given to adding a ninth millennium development goal to create a specific target of reducing the current 30 conflicts around the world by 2015? Given the linkage between conflict and poverty, it is bewildering that conflict resolution is not even mentioned among the current eight goals, 21 targets and 60 measures. Could the UK leverage its unique roles in international organisations—the Commonwealth, the UN Security Council, the European Union, the G8 and the G20—to invite some parties currently engaged in conflict to the UK during the Games to undertake proximity talks, which just might advance a peaceful solution? Finally, could the Government work with Peace One Day to extend significantly the initiatives that it has secured for using the window of the truce to deliver humanitarian aid in the form of vaccinations and immunisations in the most dangerous and unreachable parts of this world? Others in the debate will be able to speak with far more experience and authority as to what initiatives may be possible but, where there is political will, I am convinced that our skilled diplomatic corps will be able to find a political way.
On 14 June, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, David Cameron, made a Statement on Afghanistan to the House of Commons, in which he concluded:
“Insurgencies usually end with political settlements—not military victories … we need a political process to bring the insurgency to an end”.—[Official Report, Commons, 14/6/10; col. 605.]
This reminds us of the supremacy of politics and the deficiency, in the final equation, of violence as a means of achieving the lasting resolution of disputes. I believe that the Olympic truce represents a golden opportunity to advance a fresh vision of an international society, with the alluring prospect that the legacy of London 2012 will be not just sporting venues, medals won and records broken, but lives saved and hope restored. All that is required for that to happen is that, in their ambition, belief and courage, our athletes on the track and in the field are matched by politicians and diplomats in the corridors of power.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bates, for raising this issue and for making the debate possible. I have little to say other than to support him entirely in his aims. I hope that the Government and others listen.
I will add just two thoughts, which I hope may be helpful. First, as the noble Lord, Lord Bates, touched on, there has been a precedent with UNICEF, whose days of tranquillity—sometimes called the corridors of peace—have been remarkably successful. There have been about a dozen of them since 1985. As the noble Lord said, most recently, in December of last year, more than 3 million children under the age of five were immunised against a particularly virulent form of polio. That was achieved with the support and co-operation of the Taliban. If you can deal with them, I suspect that you can deal with almost anyone. That is important. Certainly UNICEF would powerfully support the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Bates.
My second, possibly more significant, thought concerns the special symbolism that ties the notion of peace to the Paralympics. I know that Paralympians are not necessarily thrilled when they get separated in any way, shape or form from the Olympic Games, but to me the Paralympics are a special, symbolic issue. There is a tragic and all too obvious link between violent conflict and disability. That link is extraordinarily well symbolised by the presence of victims of conflict—most recently in Afghanistan—in the UK’s 2012 Paralympics team. I mention three. Private Derek Derenalagi, a member of the 2nd Battalion, the Mercian Regiment, was injured in Afghanistan in 2007, losing both legs. He is now a successful javelin thrower and part of Team GB. That is quite extraordinary. Lance Corporal Terry Byrne lost a leg in Helmand province and is now a developing Paralympian cyclist. Jon-Allan Butterworth, a former RAF weapons engineer, lost his left arm in 2007 and is now a part of the Great Britain cycling development squad. These are all extraordinary examples—and there will be more. I have no doubt whatever that, when we are watching on Channel 4 the Paralympics 2012, other victims of the violence in Afghanistan will be representing this country. I cannot think of anything more moving or more symbolic to support the argument that the noble Lord, Lord Bates, is making.
Over the weekend I watched a quite remarkable film—I doubt that it will be seen in many cinemas in this country—called “Lebanon”. When I was watching it, it struck me that you had to have a powerful lack of imagination to have any time whatever for the concept of war. For an hour and 40 minutes, you are inside an Israeli tank in Lebanon in 1982. Anyone who can watch that film and come away from it thinking that there is anything to be said for violent conflict has a breadth of imagination that I clearly lack.
This is about having the imagination and guts to do something that many people think is impossible. However, we know that it is not impossible—UNICEF has proved that it is not impossible—and I commend the noble Lord, Lord Bates, for raising the issue. I hope to God that people listen.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bates, for raising this subject, primarily because it takes people out of the normal boxes in which they think. A few of us will do sport, a few of us will do international development and a few of us will do other things, and we try to look at them across our little silos. I have often berated parts of government for not talking to each other—indeed I have a standard speech for doing so—but we all do it. This has brought home to me the fact that we occasionally think that sport does X, international development does Y and other things do other things. However, it also shows the power of the Olympic Games as an international celebration and how they can go on to mean something else.
The Olympics have clearly grown in most people’s eyes over the past few years. The ending of the Cold War did more for the Olympics than anything else because it is no longer a “them and us” situation and our bloc doing better than theirs. Looking through the history of the ancient Games, I found out that it was not so very different when the Athenians and Spartans competed with one another in internecine warfare. Did one prefer the totalitarian side that treated its women better or the democratic side that ignored its slaves and kept its women at home and under veils? They were appalling states of affairs and appalling peoples. Let us remember that, just because they gave us nice columns and beautiful buildings and discussed things in public, it was not the ideal society.
However, the idea that a mass celebration—it is not just a nation’s celebration, but a worldwide celebration—should aspire to do something more is a good one. We can celebrate something tangible in a sporting context. That by the time you get to the field you should be on even terms and have a chance to interact as equals is probably the greatest idea of sport. Let us assume that we all have the same budgets and preparation, although here I am possibly going back to my normal silo. If the Games can take place and people can watch, they are surely a very good vehicle for taking forward other ideas.
The London Games have set themselves a very high benchmark in being concerned with legacy. An international legacy that can be built on, or at least a model for our country that other nations can follow, is incredibly difficult to achieve. If London gets it right, it will be surpassed fairly quickly because it will have taken the first steps on a difficult road—we are almost guaranteeing that we will take the first step.
The programme for international inspiration is probably the most interesting of the many projects that are emerging at the moment. The organisers are saying, “We will take this abroad, speak to other nations and try to get young people involved in sport”. Are we going to try to develop the idea beyond our legacy and prepare it for the Olympic legacy? Do we want to leave something that will be remembered and which somebody else can pick up, take forward—it will be Brazil next time—and expand and grow? Hopefully, we may even bring it home one day. If we can do that, we will have done something very special.
When we look at the ancient Games, we always forget the other games that went on at the time and how they became a circuit building up to the Olympics as the major event. I suggest that we try to bring in competitions such as the Commonwealth Games and the various world championships and make them more a part. We were talking about silos. The organisers of the Olympics and the Commonwealth Games like to talk to themselves rather than to each other. Indeed, they have squabbled in the past about which has the greatest participation in certain sports. For instance, I heard doubt expressed for a long time about whether Scotland takes hockey seriously in the Olympics because it enjoys the Commonwealth Games more. If one can see the bigger picture, silly interactions of this type will hopefully be cut down, helping sport along the way.
The noble Lord, Lord Bates, has started a very interesting discussion. I feel that most of us are not well enough prepared to go into it at any great length, so I shall sit down in a few moments. How are the Government making sure that we as the host nation are starting something that can be carried on? How can it go beyond the Olympics and be seen as something else? The truce is a good symbolic start, but if we say that it means simply, “Please stop fighting”, it will not work. It should mean, “Please stop fighting so that we do can something and reach for something”. The truce’s original purpose was to allow people to get to and from the Games without being killed. We should remember the brutality of the state in Greece and where the idea for the truce originally came from.
Let us go further. Then, you had to be Greek, not a trouser-wearing barbarian, which I believe is the ancestry of just about everyone taking part in this debate or listening to it. We can go beyond that and reach out to see how we can touch the rest of the world. When the Minister responds, if she could give us an idea about reaching out so that something that starts with the Olympics will go on and be renewed and given greater incentives at various points, we would be doing good here. We have proved that people are interested in the Olympics. They want the Games and will take time out to watch them. Surely, asking people who are taking time out to watch the Games to take time out to stop killing each other with such vigour is not that big a shift.
My Lords, I, too, am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Bates, has raised this important subject for debate this afternoon. I would like to speak briefly about the inspiration of the truce for young people and artists. Whereas the role of the Government is very important, the role of other organisations such as LOCOG, the Cultural Olympiad and the Olympic Festival are also important. I remind the House that I am chair of the Cultural Olympiad Board and on the board of LOCOG.
My job and that of the team preparing for Festival 2012 is to make sure that some of the best creative talent in the world and in this country can give their best in the run-up to Games time. It is interesting that as we develop the programme with some of the world's greatest artists, including many of the UK's brightest, one theme keeps returning as an inspiration for the festival’s creative commissions. For many artists, the story of the Olympic truce and the idea of what the truce can do is an inspiration.
In ancient Greece, artists were part of the Olympic celebrations, which meant that when everyone in the ancient world agreed to a truce they came to watch not only the sportsmen but the artists. That idea of intertwining sport and art is exactly what we hope we can achieve in this country in 2012. In 2012, artists will have the chance to speak to the world, and the opportunities are greater than ever before in our history if we think about the millions—or probably billions—who will join in by watching digitally.
Of course, artists will do what artists want to do and we all know that the only way to get the very best shows, concerts, performances, exhibitions and events is by giving them the ability to do exactly that. What is so interesting is that so many artists and talented creative and cultural partners are already turning to the idea of peace and truce as a theme that they want to pursue with their creative work preparing for 2012. It is what they want to say to the world. That is not new if we think back to some of the greatest work in the causes of peace such as Benjamin Britten's “War Requiem”, Picasso’s “Guernica” and the war poetry of Wilfred Owen. But what is so great is that London 2012 is giving a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to look at that whole theme afresh.
Let me give noble Lords a couple of examples of the sort of projects that the idea of truce is inspiring. On World Peace Day this year, the Cultural Olympiad launched a creative collaboration with the charity Peace One Day, whose founder, Jeremy Gilley, has achieved so much through the power of film, as the noble Lord, Lord Bates, reminded us earlier on. The project that we are working on together will involve young people in creative workshops who will then end up making their own short films in our programme called “Film Nation: Shorts”. The best of those films will be shown in the Olympic Park in 2012 and will be showcased by Peace One Day at its World Peace Day concert at the O2 next year. That scheme for young people is sponsored by Panasonic. I mention that only because its company motto is:
“Peace and happiness through prosperity”,
which is a testament to those important themes that we are discussing this afternoon.
Another example shows how these themes of truce and peace are something of which this country has a lot to offer the world in 2012. I am talking about the experience of people in Northern Ireland and the extraordinary and difficult route taken towards resolving that conflict. For all of us, a highlight of the Cultural Olympiad programme so far has been the Pied Piper project in Belfast, a performance bringing together primary school children and their families from across Catholic and Protestant communities, in a powerful example of the way in which music can foster friendship and reconciliation. The Cultural Olympiad and its festival will have as one of its most important partners Derry-Londonderry city of culture 2013, which like us has put the theme of peace and reconciliation at the heart of its creative programme. We share a passion to show how the arts can illuminate and support the process of peace and will be sharing creative commissions to help Derry to build up its programme in 2013, and a legacy beyond.
The inspiration of the Olympic truce is a powerful tradition of the Games and for London 2012. I am delighted that the inspiration will enrich also our education and cultural programmes. LOCOG intends that from September next year schools will be invited to learn about the principles of building bridges, community cohesion and conflict resolution in a major initiative around the idea of Olympic truce. We are working in 15,000 schools in the UK and building up to working with 12 million young people in schools in 20 countries around the world. I hope that the Government will support this wonderful work.
The UK’s creativity was one of the strengths that won us the Olympic Games, and our arts and creative industries are envied worldwide. We want our festival in 2012 to show the UK at its best and to be a springboard for economic growth and cultural tourism. As Boris Johnson’s cultural adviser memorably said:
“Culture is to London what sun is to Spain”.
Culture is what attracts vital tourist income, and London 2012 is our chance to show the world how wonderful our cultural institutions and creative artists are. I hope that the Government think very carefully about how best to ensure that, come 2012, we show off what sets this country apart: its arts, its culture and its creative industries. We also want a festival that raises the bar for artistic commissions, inspired by the themes of Olympic truce, which future Olympics could find hard to beat. We have the talent and ambition, and we hope that we have the Government’s wholehearted support.
Like other noble Lords who have spoken, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bates, both for introducing this subject and for the way in which he introduced it, as well as the very practical menu that he has drawn up for government comment. I join those who have talked about the role of sport and art in the ancient Olympic Games. Of course, those noble Lords who actually know the site of ancient Olympia will know that it was a combination of Wembley Stadium and Westminster Abbey. There was constant reference to the temple of Zeus and the sacred truce, which the noble Lord, Lord Bates, recalled, was believed to be policed by Zeus himself, protecting travellers to the sacred territory of Elis for the seven-day period before and after the Games.
There is a beautiful Greek word for the truce—ekecheiria. It meant a holding of hands. That was the vision extended to people. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Addington, remarked, we should not be bemused by, or too idealistic about, these ancient precedents. The terms were somewhat limited, as he suggested. The ancient Greeks were notably pugnacious. Aristophanes made his point about “trousered barbarians” in his play, “Lysistrata”, which describes a sex strike by the women of ancient Athens in a “make love, not war” campaign. The women say:
“In no uncertain terms I must reproach you
Both sides and rightly. Don’t you share
A common cup at common altars
For common gods like brothers
At the Olympic Games?
The world is full of foreigners you could fight
But it’s Greek men and cities you destroy”.
So there was very definitely a limitation on people’s sympathies. That in some way should be an enormous encouragement to us, because there has been an expansion of idealism in connection with the Olympic Games, and we should not cease to underline that point. In the medieval West in the 10th and 11th centuries, there was a “truce of God” movement in the area of modern Europe that includes France and Germany in an attempt to curb the endemic warfare among feudal barons. In some form or other, that truce lasted for nearly three centuries. The modern truce movement has already been described by other noble Lords and, inspired by those precedents, More Than Gold—the ecumenical body which brings together all the Christian churches concerned with making the London Olympics a success—has already pledged itself to support the initiative of a truce. Led by a member of your Lordships’ House, the noble Lord, Lord Mawhinney, it has pushed out that message to some of the bodies with which it co-operates. LOCOG, for example, has already set up an interfaith reference group and this is a major item on its agenda.
Speaking as Bishop of London, I am chairman of London Church Leaders; that group represents the 650,000 Christians who worship at least once a week in more than 4,000 churches in the Greater London area. It includes the Archbishop of Westminster and leaders of free and black-led churches. We have already discussed ways of applying the truce to London, where—I make this point particularly—with experience of street-level work and street pastors spreading in various forms throughout the capital, we see the truce as potentially very significant in assembling the enthusiasm and commitment of young people to combat gun and knife crime. We already have bodies working on that, so we have a network which could make a substantial contribution.
Noble Lords have, absolutely rightly, talked of the international dimension. We are focusing on what can be done in the environs of the Olympic stadium itself and looking for ways of co-operating with other agencies to make the truce effective. Internationally, when your Lordships look at the reach and influence of the great world religions, it will be vital to get them on board very soon. I think of the recent visit of Benedict XVI, in the margins of which was an attempt to see how we could work effectively with Vatican agencies internationally, to push some of the agendas in climate change and development which have been promoted to that important sphere of questions and policies which are beyond the partisan battles in which we all participate. It seems to me that this is another candidate for the kind of co-operation with international faith networks that the Pope was talking about.
The ancient truce was proclaimed throughout Greece by three heralds; we shall need rather more. We will need credible heralds to carry the message to every community in the street around the stadium, and will want to proclaim the Olympic Truce and make our small contribution to the general effort. At St Paul’s Cathedral, we intend to organise an event bringing together not only Christians but supporters of all the nine major, recognised religions in London to proclaim the truce. It seems that we will have to work out very carefully a process of commending this and penetrating the community at depth. We hope that the truce will be proclaimed in every one of those 4,000 churches of Greater London and, because we already have solid interfaith relations, we will be working with friends in mosques, synagogues, gurdwaras and temples to ensure that this really exemplifies one of the things which sold the Games to London—our extraordinary cultural diversity and extraordinary experience of cultural and religious harmony. In that spirit, I once again thank the noble Lord, Lord Bates, for initiating this important debate.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Bates, is to be congratulated on having obtained this debate on an Olympic Truce, and to have done so in good time for thought to be given to the question well ahead of the London Olympic Games in 2012. We have heard a lot about the benefits that the Games might bring to London and to Britain; we have also heard a lot about the legacy that they might leave here after they are over; but we have heard nothing like as much about what Britain could do to bring benefits to the rest of the world when the Olympic Games take place in London. I was delighted to hear the noble Lord, Lord Addington, too, speaking along these lines. That is surely where today's debate, and the concept of an Olympic Truce, comes in, although I can see the point made by the right reverend Prelate that the project for a truce in this city is enormously worth while, too.
It is all too easy to decry the idea of an Olympic Truce, which after all was not invariably effective even among the city states of ancient Greece. It is easy to say that it is hopelessly utopian. Attempts to use the concept of an Olympic Truce in the 100 years or more since the Games were revived have tended to fall on deaf ears, alas, and to be ignored by the parties to violent disputes around the globe, but that is no reason to shrug our shoulders and walk away. Rather, it is a reason to be a bit more imaginative and practical in developing the idea in the context of the London Olympics. It is probably utopian to hope that every conflict will cease temporarily for the duration of the London Games; and it can be argued that a mere cessation of hostilities for a few weeks, followed by their resumption, would not bring a huge amount of benefit. However, the idea of an Olympic Truce is in essence a form of conflict prevention, and the scope for improving on the international community's performance in this field is considerable. Hardly one of the conflicts that have broken out since the end of the Cold War—both those between states and the even more numerous ones within states—came out of a blue sky. Most were preceded by plentiful signs that hostilities were going to break out. What was lacking was not forewarning, but any effective action taken to prevent it happening.
We all know that the cost of successful conflict prevention, in terms of resources, is a tiny fraction of that of dealing with the conflict once it has broken out, so would it not make very good sense to use the occasion of the London Olympics in 2012 to reinvigorate the international community's efforts at conflict prevention? I suggest that any such initiative would need to be focused on the United Nations. Its charter enjoins it to rid the world of the scourge of war, and its track record in conflict prevention over the years has been a good deal better than it is ever given credit for. However, it is short of resources and often short also of that indispensable commodity, political will, without which conflicts are seldom prevented.
I hope the Minister will say that the Government will give careful thought to ways in which the UN's capacity for conflict prevention could be strengthened, and to how best that could be achieved by making use of the occasion of the London Olympics and the noble and ancient concept of an Olympic Truce. After all, Britain plays an important role still at the United Nations as a permanent member of the Security Council and as a major donor to help achieve the millennium development goals that the House debated only last week. Can we not put that role to good use and thus make the London Olympics an occasion that will be remembered for more than just sporting achievements?
In conclusion, perhaps I may do something that is virtually unheard of in this House and complain about having been given too much time to speak—a problem that I notice has assailed every other speaker in the debate. Earlier this afternoon, we had a very important debate in which the speakers were limited to two minutes. Last week, we had a debate on the millennium development goals in which the speakers were limited to four minutes: that is, half a minute per millennium development goal. I am moved to suggest that this is not the way in which railroads ought to be run. I am not asking the noble Baroness to respond—I know that these matters fall to those other than her—but I hope that on the Olympian Areopagus where the usual channels have their meetings, they might think a bit about the absurdity that they create by the rigid application of these rules. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, who is looking into these matters, might think about that, too.
My Lords, I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Bates, for raising this debate and for kindly reminding me that I might have the opportunity to sneak in and make a few comments as time allowed. I have listened to the discussion with interest. I declare an interest as a Paralympian. The idea of an Olympic and Paralympic Truce is a wonderful ambition, but I wonder whether we might widen it to think about the power of sport to change the world.
The Games themselves are about two weeks of competition, but also so much more than that. They are about the influence we have over physical activity and how we encourage young people to think differently about themselves. Sport has such a strong power to influence society and bring about change. We need only to look at the athletes from countries that won medals at the Commonwealth Games to see not just the celebrations among the athletes but those among people at home.
What I know from sport is that young women who do two hours of physical activity a week are less likely to be teenage mothers, more likely to stay at school, more likely to have career ambitions and less likely to be in abusive relationships. This is something that we should want for all young people. Sport helps set the tone to achieve some amazing things. The truce might be a long way off but maybe we should think about baby steps along the way.
The Olympic and Paralympic Games have huge power to influence and bring about change. By hosting the Games in 2012 we have an opportunity to set a mark for the other countries that will follow us to try to reach. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, mentioned International Inspiration. I have huge pleasure in being an ambassador for that charity, which is about the legacy of the 2012 Games. I recently had the opportunity to travel to Jordan to see the influence that London is having on the rest of the world. There, young girls have the opportunity to play together and learn, which helps them to gain confidence. The Games are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that we have to grasp. They are the start of a process of working towards, eventually, I hope, the truce.
My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Bates, for securing this debate on the Olympic Truce and congratulate all today’s speakers on their excellent contributions. It has been a glittering cast of speakers, who have lifted this debate far beyond the boundaries that I anticipated. This is something of a first for me. I have taken part in many debates. In some I have been full of confidence, knowledge and conviction. In others I have been less informed but have had enough facts at my disposal to make a half-decent presentation. However, when on Friday I was asked to wind up today’s debate for the Opposition, I was flummoxed. I had never even heard of the Olympic Truce—but not any more. Following today’s debate and the contributions from around the Chamber, and some intensive Googling and trawling through Hansard to find previous speeches over the weekend, I am now happy to pronounce myself fully truce-conversant. In fact, I will undoubtedly declare myself to be a world authority on this matter in the time-honoured way of politicians who have always, down the ages, taken such a stance.
What is the truce about? We have heard much this afternoon. We now know that in 776 BC the peace-loving King Iphitos yearned for the warring factions to cease killing each other—a noble thought. He made what can only be described as a grand gesture, using the four-yearly Games in Athens as a catalyst for change. He decreed that for three months around the Games peace would prevail. Furthermore, penalties would be imposed on any nation that broke the truce. Thus, for more than 1,000 years the truce became part of the Olympic legacy. The king was inspired to this plan of action following visits to Delphi, where he witnessed the Games and consulted the oracle.
I, too, visited Delphi some years ago. I was struck by the magical feeling of the place. It is a place of stunning beauty, high on the side of Mount Parnassus, with an area sculpted out of the mountainside. It is breathtaking. I remember sitting on the sun-warmed stone steps around the sporting arena, looking down and imagining the sporting activities there, and looking even further down beyond the arena to the Sea of Corinth sparkling beneath us. It is a great place for reflection, and a visit to the nearby cave of the oracle gives an even more mystical feel to the whole experience.
As we bring ourselves back to the Chamber today, let us evaluate the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Bates, that the 2012 Games to be held in London should recapture some of the peace and tranquillity that a truce would bring. No doubt there are many merits. As the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, reminded us, the United Nations sets the tone for this and gives us an object lesson in how it can be dealt with. However, my practical intuition has in its mind’s eye a negative thought, for which I apologise but cannot avoid. I have a vision of a meeting between the noble Lord, Lord Bates, the Prime Minister and all the Ministers responsible for immigration, law and order—not forgetting terrorism—to discuss this very proposal. It is not necessary for me to return to Delphi to consult the oracle as to the outcome of such a meeting, nor do I need to speculate on the headlines that would follow in the Daily Mail and the Daily Express. However, those are first thoughts that we need to look beyond. We need to adopt some of the ideas that have come out of this debate as regards applying previous experience to the present day. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London and other noble Lords so rightly tell us, we have a real opportunity here.
It is a pleasure for me to wind up the debate on behalf of Her Majesty’s Opposition and I do so as a keen observer of the merits of the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Bates, but I fear that my response can only be delphic.
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Bates for tabling this Question on the timely, important subject of the Olympic Truce. Tributes have rightly been paid to him; he has pursued this matter for some time with much passion. I am truly grateful to all the speakers who obviously care and have made such constructive contributions. I say “timely”, not lightly, as the Government are just starting the process of preparing their resolution on the truce for the United Nations. As is often the case, your Lordships’ House is ahead of the game.
The noble Baroness, Lady Billingham, enlightened us about the Olympics, being a great sporting lady herself, as we all know. I had heard about the truce only because I had listened to my noble friend’s impassioned speech this June. I was fascinated then, and am more so now after hearing all your Lordships’ speeches.
This Government take the truce very seriously and will be taking measures to make sure that it is properly observed and promoted in relation to the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games. The IOC revived this concept only in 1992, calling on the international community to observe the Olympic truce for the duration and to table a resolution in the United Nations in advance of their Games. While each resolution reflects the specific ambitions of the individual host country, they represent a consistent ideal,
“to use sport to promote peace, dialogue and reconciliation in areas of conflict”.
The Government believe—as do many of your Lordships—that the benefits of sport can have a positive influence on individuals and nations.
We have used the UK’s hosting of the Games to promote these benefits directly. The London 2012 Get Set programme explains the Olympic values in a new and engaging way. More than 14,500 schools have now signed up to the programme. The International Inspiration programme is active in 13 countries and has given more than 6 million young people increased opportunities in sport. The noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, mentioned UNICEF, which is part of this. I thank my noble friend Lord Addington, who so often enlightens us on sporting matters, for his eloquent contribution to today’s debate, for his close involvement in the establishment of International Inspiration, and for mentioning the importance of the legacy. I also pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, and my noble friend Lord Moynihan, who are trustees of the International Inspiration Foundation, and to my noble friend Lord Coe for all his efforts in helping to bring the Olympic values to life.
The UK has actively supported the Olympic Truce resolutions in advance of recent Olympic Games to demonstrate our support for the ambitions of the respective host countries. In doing so we have sought also to highlight the UK’s role as host country for 2012, which we must not forget is Her Majesty’s the Queen’s Jubilee year.
As the host country for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, Canada sought to promote through the Olympic Truce the contribution that sport can make to peace. The UK co-sponsored United Nations General Assembly Resolution 64/4 of 19 October 2009 to support Canada’s ambition. Canada’s resolution placed greater emphasis on people with disabilities and the Paralympic Games than previous resolutions. The Paralympic Games were inspired by the Stoke Mandeville games in 1948 and the UK may look at disability as a theme for our resolution. The noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, rightly stressed this idea, and the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, reminded us clearly of the importance of the truce in this area.
The Olympic Truce was established around 776 BC to create a period during which the athletes, pilgrims, artists and their families could travel in safety to participate in or attend the Olympic Games and return to their respective countries. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London, in his most eloquent and witty speech, reminded us of the sacredness of the truce and of his project involving nine religions. As my noble friend Lord Bates pointed out in his speech in your Lordships’ House on 14 June, the truce was very rarely violated during the almost 1,200-year history of the ancient Olympics. Offenders were sanctioned by suspension from the Games and tended not to reoffend.
Following my noble friend Lord Bates’s two suggestions, first that the Government might consider including in the resolution targets, such as the UN millennium development goals on conflict resolution, the Government have not decided on a theme for the resolution and would be happy to consider all suggestions—many of which we have heard today. That is why this debate is so important. Traditionally, the text of the resolution is not controversial, which enables it to attract wide support from the UN membership. Secondly, he suggested that the UK might organise an intergovernmental conference during the 2012 Olympics. All my noble friend’s ideas are very interesting and we know that many heads of state and government will be in London during the Games but it is too early to say what meetings may take place at the margins. However, the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, with his great experience of the United Nations and his many ideas, is right to say that there is a chance to benefit the rest of the world in conflict prevention and that this idea should be considered. Interestingly, though, the Olympic protocol dictates that no political conferences of intergovernmental meetings take place in the margins of the Games.
The noble Lord, Lord Hall, as chairman of the Cultural Olympiad, delivered an inspirational speech involving schools.
As the host country, the UK will be promoting a fresh resolution calling for the continued observance of the Olympic Truce for the 2012 Games, as has every nation since 1992. The UN General Assembly session will begin in late September 2011 and we expect our resolution to be adopted in October or November of that year.
Once again, I thank all noble Lords for all their suggestions in this debate. It has been perfect timing and most helpful in identifying the areas to be considered for the framing of our resolution. Perhaps I may write to noble Lords who have asked questions that fall outside the debate about the truce.
We look forward to hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games in London in the spirit of the initiative to provide an exciting and memorable experience for the competitors and the spectators, and to foster a spirit of international harmony and co-operation.