SIR PETER BOTTOMLEY: This week and thirty years ago

Sir Peter Bottomley
Sir Peter Bottomley

It is difficult, emotionally and with a recognition of what can be printed in an article for a family newspaper, to describe in any detail the content of the speeches of colleagues about the appalling treatment and experiences of the Rohingya in Rakhine state, Myanmar/Burma.

Do read Tuesday’s debate online if you choose.

I admire my colleagues who went to Cox’s Bazar (it does not have a double a) in Bangladesh to meet the survivors.

There could not have been a greater contrast to my experience on Saturday in Rustington.

In the Methodist hall, I admired the stalls set up by each of the local churches in advance of the prayer afternoon.

Not one had its own name on display.

Living, working and praying together is my idea of committing ourselves to improving our common wealth, caring for each other and caring together for those who feel excluded or overlooked.

Along the street I congratulated the supporters of the Church of England Children’s Society at their annual fair.

More than thirty years ago, as chairman of the society, I was sitting with Robert Runcie then Archbishop of Canterbury in the central arena of the Royal Albert Hall as thousands of supporters from around England and Wales brought their gifts.

One moment he was there; the next he had vanished.

A chair leg had broken, leaving him floored on his back.

I eased him up and gave him my chair, saying to all that had this happened 2,000 years before, we might have had a carpenter with us.

Before the Burma debate, I attended the Parliamentary Mitzvah Day reception with holocaust survivors.

The word has come to mean ‘good deed’ or ‘charitable act’.

Based within the UK’s Jewish tradition, it can mark the start of our Inter-Faith Week.

In newspaper terms, the week starts with each new edition of the Herald/Gazette.

I admired the excellent feature on the impact of the 1987 storm.

That Friday morning, as roads minister, I was to take an early train from Euston to discuss a possible spine road in the Midlands to unlock development of old industrial land in the Black Country.

We drove under and around fallen trees.

No trains as the railways’ overhead lines were down.

Would I drive up the motorway where there was no tree damage – or as apparently the only minister in London, should I stay and help take charge of the situation?

I stayed but how could I advise those trying to meet me?

I went to Broadcasting House, inviting myself to the Today programme.

They were happy as no booked guest had been able to get in.

They asked for a report on the situation.

I repeated the contributions I had heard on local radio, adding that I had been to Euston and could say that no one need to try to meet any train traveller from London.

I heard later that my would-be host who was late running on a motorway was relieved.

He stopped at the nearest service area, reversed into someone else’s car and held me responsible for the damage.

In the chaos in London, it was discovered that the government emergency telephone system batteries had not been charged.

The only phones that worked were those installed for ministers’ private calls; I had no need for one.