Wednesday 21 November 2012

Congratulations Malcolm Bruce!

Malcolm Bruce, the Chair of the International Development Select Committee in the UK Parliament is to receive his knighthood from the Queen today. The award was given in recognition of his service to the country both as a parliamentarian as well as his substantial charity work over several decades.

I have known Malcolm for over 10 years, having worked in the deafness charity sector prior to joining a peacebuilding NGO. One of Malcolm’s daughters was born profoundly deaf, so he had personal experience of the many dilemmas faced by parents of children with a very low incidence disability. The fact that there are not many other profoundly deaf children around you means that families are often left isolated, lacking in any real support and offered completely contradictory information from both “professionals” and campaigners, each with their own ideas of “whats for the best”.

Sign language or lip reading? Special school or mainstream? Cochlear implant, hearing aids or nothing? In each case the choice parents make have far reaching consequences and to be faced with advice that is often politicised – with campaigners on both sides warning of making the “wrong” or even “immoral” choice is less than helpful.

Malcolm was a Trustee of both RNID and the National Deaf Children’s Society/Deaf Child Worldwide during my time there and in both cases provided a lot of sage and wise advice as those organisations sought to navigate those difficult waters.

I remember one occasion when Malcolm popped up at Prime Minister's Questions, during a particularly difficult session for Gordon Brown. He bowled him a soft question about the importance of deaf kids education, and suggested a meeting. The Prime Minister, seeing a friendly question for once grasped it with both hands and said yes. I dont think he realised it was going to be a meeting with most of the deafness sector, and which ended up with a series of Ministerial committments on ensuring choice for parents

He has also been a forensic examiner of the UK’s international development policies as Chair of the Select Committee, which is the main scrutiny forum for parliamentarians in the UK. He played a key role in examining and challenging the approaches of the last and present Government, and despite his committee welcoming a lot of the positive moves this Government has made towards addressing conflict and fragility they have also not shied away from asking very awkward questions, such as how much money was being spent on consultants. The latter question led to the coining of the phrase “poverty barons” by the right wing press opposed to aid on principle, but they were valid questions nonetheless.

And as with the deafness charity sector at home, international NGOs are just as politicised in many ways as different advocates of approaches to deaf kids are. I’ve always felt deaf politics was a good preparation for international development debates.

I gave evidence to his committee earlier this year on the extent to which DFID was effective in its operations in the central African Great Lakes Region, including the Democratic Republic of Congo. Some tough questioning ensued and you certainly had to be on top of your detail to answer them, but recent events in and around Goma illustrate just why those questions are even more valid now than they ever were.

Looking ahead to the debate on what comes after the Millenium Development Goals, the UK is lucky to have Malcolm prodding and poking away. Keep being awkward, Sir Malcolm!

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