Monday, December 31, 2007
Saturday, December 29, 2007
Although the vicious persecution of the Ahmadiyya Muslims in Pakistan was given a huge boost under General Zia ul Haq's dictatorship, with the infamous Ordinance XX and the subsequent incorporation of the blasphemy laws in the criminal code, attacks on the community had started earlier on and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had done little to curb them. When Benazir became Prime Minister and I appealed to her personally to repeal the notorious blasphemy laws, she told me that it was all very difficult, and she was forced by the pressure of the mullahs to withdraw even a modest proposal to make it an offence to accuse someone of blasphemy without good cause. Now her failure to confront the extremist followers of Maudoodi when she was in power has come home to roost in the present epidemic of terrorist atrocities in Pakistan, amongst them her own murder.
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Saturday, December 22, 2007
Friday, December 21, 2007
Next, a meeting with my old friend Adnan Mufti, who I had last met in Erbil, in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, in 1995. and the Representative of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan in the UK, Hawar Rasoul. Adnan Mufti is now Speaker of the Kurdistan National Assembly (KN), the Parliament of the Kurdish rgion of northern Iraq. we talked of other old friends including Mahmoud Osman and Bakhtiar Amin, both now Members of the KNA, and Jalal Talabani, now President of Iraq. Who would have imagined it in 1995! We spoke about a Chatham House conference two days ago on the future of Kirkuk and other majority Kurdish areas on the boundary between the Kurdish region and the rest of Iraq; about the High Committee for Article 140, which deals with returns, and about the rights of Turcomans, on which there are proposed amendments to the constitution. Meanwhile, they have freely operating political parties, their own TV and other rights.
Third, I met Philip Clarke, for a discussion on the events of November 1996 in eastern DRC, when assessments were made by the international community and the UNHCR of the number of refugees from Rwanda and Burundi in the region, and the number who returned to Rwanda during the month. An RAF Canbverra was sent to overfly the region and take aerial photographs to help assess the numbers, and the Americans sent P3 Orion reconnaissance aircraft with the same objective. On the ground, the UNHCR counted the refugees recrossing into Rwanda. There are mysterious discrepancies in the figures, and the Government have refused to allow me access to the flight los of the Canberra, or to look at the photographs they took.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Twelve months later, the people are still powerless, but there is a growing sense of resentment and a feeling that with no sign of progress towards equality, the rule of law, democracy and human rights, the situation is likely to become unstable.
Some people who don’t belong to the exclusive Sunni tribe who hold all the political power have become very rich by collaboration and are dependable supporters of the status quo.
Foreign immigrants have been and still are being granted citizenship and jobs, gradually marginalising the native people and driving most of them downwards into poverty.
The king and members of his family have taken control of several large islands including those regained by Bahrain through a decision of the international court. That annexation showed clearly that King Hamad regards the state of Bahrain as his personal property.
He and his uncle the Prime Minister have also enriched themselves by the sale of valuable land reclaimed from the shallow sea adjacent to the capital, Manama. To quote from Property Development World:
“The Two Seas development is the creation of a luxury waterfront community located across eleven million square meters of manmade island which will offer investors and potential residents the chance to own freehold property in Bahrain within a district dominated by state of the art homes, recreational, retail and commercial space and an expanse of manicured and landscaped gardens”.
It is the ruling family that controls reclamation, though of course the process is opaque, like the rest of the royal accounts.
Nobody demands that the King’s finances be open to public scrutiny, still less that they should be subject to Parliamentary control as they would be in a proper democracy. It’s a taboo subject.
So is the endemic discrimination against the Shi’a, who still form the majority of the population, though not for much longer. The strategy of the al-Khalifas is to continue with their demographic engineering until the Shi’a can be outvoted, so that the inequality of wealth and incomes, of opportunity, and of political power, can be maintained even in free and fair elections.
In the meanwhile, elections change nothing. After the last Parliamentary elections in 2006 the king reappointed the Prime Minister, who has now held that office continually for 37 years, and a cabinet half the members of which also belonged to the al-Khalifa family. The relatives occupied most of the important portfolios such as defence.
This incestuous system leads to corruption and skulduggery of the sort described by De Salah al Bander, a British citizen who worked for the government until he blew the whistle and was expelled. He exposed Sheikh Ahmed bin Atiyatalla Al Khalifa – a minister and relative – as the centre of a multi-billion Dinar conspiracy to manipulate the elections, foment sectarian distrust, and to keep the Shi’as down. These criminal activities are tolerated by the government to this day as far as we know.
The authorities couldn’t rebut the 200 pages of evidence Dr al-Bander published, so they tried to blacken his name. The accused Sheikh Ahmed is still a ‘key minister’ according to The Economist.
The allegations made by Dr al-Bander, like every other report of misconduct by the al-Khalifa such as the land grab, can’t be discussed by the media in Bahrain.
Among other recent examples of censorship was the instruction to the media not to report anything said by the woman activist Ms Ghada Jamsheer. She had criticised the Supreme Council of Women, chaired by the King’s wife, for its failure to promote women’s rights and its steadfast loyalty to the government.
Bahrain acceded to the CEDAW in July 2002 and was due to submit is first report in July 2003. So its now over four years overdue, and the second report is also late.
But now at least, Bahrain is due to answer to the UN Human Rights Council next February, under the new procedure for review of member states. Key features of the procedure are that a State has to prepare the information through a broad national consultation process and the High Commissioner for Human Rights has to compile a summary of the State’s compliance with the human rights treaties including the CEDAW.
Bahrain will have to explain why it hasn’t reported, and why the king’s wife is considered to be a suitable person to head the women’s rights body, when she is unlikely to call her husband’s government to account.
It remains to be seen whether the consultation required will include bodies such as the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, or the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, whose leader Mr Mohammed Al Maskati is due in court on January 21, charged with operating an unregistered society. He says the charge is a violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Bahrain has ratified.
I challenge civil society in Bahrain to put together their own report for the Human Rights Council. The National Committee for Martyrs and Victims of Torture could write a note on the continued violation of the government’s obligations under the Convention Against Torture, drawing attention to the excellent report by Redress that we discussed last year. The BCHR could draw attention to the death of Mr Ali Jassim al-Barbari, a young bus driver, only recently married, following a demonstration on Tuesday, a tragic echo on the eve of Martyrs Day of the two who were killed on December 17, 23 years ago. It was said that he had been overcome by teargas, but he hadn’t previously had any respiratory problems that would have made him particularly vulnerable. Abdul-Hadi al-Khawaja, the head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights who was at the morgue said that bruises could be seen over Jassem's dead body. And Jassim is not the first unexplained death. The Human Rights Council should be provided with a summary of the many others over the years, to enable them to consider whether the right to life, the most fundamental right of all, is protected in Bahrain.
The Special Forces, largely recruited from other countries had been using excessive force against demonstrators over the last weeks, injuring several people by firing rubber bullets at them from close range and beating up demonstrators, some of them children. Bahrain ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1992 and took 6 ½ years to submit its initial report. Exceptionally, it was given until March 2004 to submit its second and third reports, but they haven’t yet appeared nearly four years later. Evidently Bahrain wishes to be thought of as a state where human rights are respected, but doesn’t have any real intention of complying with standard international norms.
Yesterday was International Migrants Day and Louise Arbour, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, issued a statement condemning
“Working conditions that amount to modern forms of slavery, such as long working hours, payment of salaries well below minimum wage established by law, exposure to degrading and dangerous working conditions and confiscation of travel documents”.
She could have been thinking of Bahrain. Those who complain get sacked, like the 50 migrant workers who went on strike against low wages at a Saudi-owned dairy. And its reported that so far this year alone, tens of thousands have been deported without a hearing.
Finally, the attention of the Human Rights Council should be drawn to the report on Bahrain last month from the freedom of expression NGO Article 19. They talk about the recent crackdown, including the banning of books and films, the blocking of websites, and the prosecution of individuals, such as writers and journalists, for exercising their right to free expression.. This year so far 32 cases have been filed against journalists; two writers have been refused leave to publish academic book; several films have been banned; at least 22 websites, including the site of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, have been blocked by Batelco, the only Internet Service Provider in the country, owned by the Bahraini government.
The 2002 Press and Publication Law, and the 1976 Penal Code have been used in justify interrogation and prosecution not only of journalists but even bloggers and website administrators.
It seems that no further progress towards freedom and democracy can be expected, and we have entered what the title of our seminar describes as a post-reforms era, when the hopes that were raised by the present ruler when he inherited, are dashed, and people must either knuckle under to the dictatorship or take new initiatives of their own to seize their rights. Let us appeal to the Human Rights Council, from this meeting, to take this issue very seriously, when they consider Bahrain’s record in a few weeks’ time. The rising tensions we see in Bahrain at the end of 2007 can only be defused if the people can get robust support from the United Nations for their legitimate aspirations.
Presented by Benyamim Tsedaka, Chairman of the Samaritan Medal Foundation committee.
The Samaritans are descended directly from the Samaritans of the Bible story of the Good Samaritan. They have established the Samaritan Peace Centre on Mount Gerizim, where they work with peace-minded Israelis and Palestinians
The responsible Minister confirmed to me in the House of Lords on January 18, 2007 that these people were British Dependent Territories citizens on February 4, 1997 and June 30, 1997. But the UK refuses to register them as full British citizens because the Government say that even though they were adults they legally held dual British/Nepalese nationality on those dates. The Minister advised me on July 17, 2007 that under Nepalese law it is possible for an adult person to hold British and Nepalese nationality at the same time.
British authorities tried to persuade the Government of India to take a similar view regarding people of Indian descent from Hong Kong, but the Government of India took a clear position against dual nationality. When senior officials from our Foreign & Commonwealth Office visited New Delhi on May 15, 1990, to lobby the Indian authorities to take responsibility for British nationals of Indian ancestry from Hong Kong, they were rebuffed. On July 25, 1991, in a debate on this issue in the Lok Sabha, India's former Prime Minister Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee told the Indian Parliament that "the attitude of the British government is wrong and is based on apartheid". In the same debate, the Indian Minister of External Affairs said that "the government has time and again represented to the British government, saying that these people are your citizens and you must take care of them and protect their rights". British Parliamentarians also raised this issue, The Rt Hon Jack Straw MP, then Shadow Home Secretary and now our Secretary of State for Justice and the Lord Chancellor, wrote to the then Home Secretary on January 30, 1997 taking the position that “common sense and common humanity demand that we give these people full British citizenship.” Thousands of Hong Kong based British Dependent Territories citizens (BDTCs) of Indian ancestry have now acquired full British citizenship.
I now turn to the BDTCs of Nepalese ancestry. Nepalese law has never allowed dual nationality. Section 9(2) of the Nepal Citizenship Act 1964, the law in force at the time of the handover of Hong Kong in 1997, states that:
“In case any person becomes a citizen of a foreign country as well as of Nepal at the same time by reason of birth and descent, he may choose the citizenship of either country within five years of reaching 16 years of age. In the event he fails to do so, his Nepalese citizenship shall automatically lapse on the expiry of this time-limit.”
For a person to obtain a valid Nepalese citizenship certificate by descent, it is therefore a requirement that he or she must have relinquished his or her foreign citizenship within five years of reaching 16 years of age. If a person applied for a Nepalese citizenship certificate after the age of twenty-one, while still holding any foreign citizenship, then that Nepalese citizenship certificate is void (has no legal effect), because under Nepalese law the person’s claim to Nepalese citizenship had automatically lapsed and they did not meet the requirements to lawfully be considered a citizen of Nepal.
I call on the Nepalese authorities to make an official statement to the British authorities, confirming in public that the prohibition on dual nationality in Nepal means that no person aged twenty-one years or older who held British Dependent Territories citizenship can at the same time be considered a citizen of Nepal, even if they hold or held a Nepal citizenship certificate.
Sunday, December 16, 2007
The state claims that a blanket prohibition on ‘unregistered associations’ comes within this exception, and thus it is a criminal offence to form a residents’ association or a dining club without government permission.
Mohamed Abdul Nabi Al-Maskati, 20, was tried by the Fourth Degree Minor Criminal Court on November 27, case no 21741/2006 on a charge of "activating an unregistered association before the issue of a declaration of registration."
Maskati, an undergraduate, is Director of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR), which has failed to get registration because it deals with political matters and includes young people under the age of 18 amongst its members. Neither of these come within the restrictions allowed by Article 19, and Mr Maskati’s defence is that the law on unregistered associations is itself a violation of the ICCPR.
The BYSHR has played an important role in arranging training workshops, monitoring and documenting human rights violations, and participating effectively in forming a regional network for young rights activists in eight Arab countries. It has also become an effective member of the Bahraini Coalition for Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation, to which six other human rights groups and five political associations are affiliated. It is understood that the other unregistered human rights groups in Bahrain have been notified by The Ministry of Social Affairs that unless they cease their activities they too will be prosecuted.
Mr Maskati’s trial has been adjourned to January 21, 2008. In the meanwhile, my readers may like to protest against the trial itself and the law on unregistered associations, to the Ambassador, who according to Who’s Who unwinds by "reading about politics and social affairs", so he’ll be interested to hear from you
H E the Ambassador,
Sheikh Khalifa bin Abdullah al-Khalifa,
Embassy of the Kingdom of Bahrain,
30 Belgrave Square,
London, SW1X 8QB
Tel 0207 201 9170, Email email@example.com
But all agreed that UCH and St Thomas’s were far the most pressured by alcohol related admissions
Among those I saw in the ‘Majors’ section of the Department were: a man who, when his wife had left him, started drinking heavily and then began smashing up everything in his house until restrained by relatives or neighbours; another man who had crashed his motorised scooter after drinking 6 pints of lager, and a young woman brought in at 00.25 by the London Ambulance almost unconscious. As she was manhandled onto a mattress on the floor, having fallen out of a wheel chair, all she could say was ‘Oh, fuck, fuck off’. The woman had puked all over the ambulance and it took the attendants half an hour to clean it up.
Dr M said the man who crashed his scooter seemed like a nice guy, who didn’t normally drink. He didn’t think the police had breathalysed him, and the A&E Department didn’t normally test for blood alcohol because it would cost money, without affecting the subsequent treatment.
The ambulance staff told me that drunks were generally abusive, if they could speak at all, or their friends were. In the old days drunks with no signs of physical injury had been taken to police stations where they recovered overnight, but this was no longer the practice because there had been a few cases of people with serious injuries requiring treatment, being treated as plain drunks. So now everyone who gets paralytic and collapses in the street has to be taken into an A&E Department, even if 95% of them didn’t need treatment. The London Ambulance have a 6-8 seat bus called November375 which goes round central London picking up unconscious or semi-conscious people off the streets and dumping them in St Thomas’s or UCH..
At 01.30 another young woman was brought in from a night club, where she had fallen over drunk and had a suspected broken ankle. The A&E Department has its own dedicated x-ray facility which is open 24 hours a day.
St Matthew’s doesn’t routinely use Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) or, other questionnaires to screen A&E Department admissions for harmful or hazardous drinking, and as far as could be ascertained from this visit, haven’t been asked to participate in the proposed pilots
Saturday, December 15, 2007
Thursday: My question on the use of X-rays as an aid to age determination in immigration control. When an update of the Immigration Rules was published, omitting reference to medical examination that had been in the draft, we thought the proposal had been dropped, but found that in spite of opposition from the BDA, the BMA, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, and the Children’s Commissioner, and an Opinion from Nicholas Blake QC that using ionising radiation on unaccompanied asylum seeking children would be unlawful, the Government are still trying to push it through. I gather there is a meeting next Tuesday between the Minister, Liam Byrne MP, and the professional bodies, at which the Government will try to persuade them to withdraw their objections. Lets hope they stick to their guns.
After questions, wound up for the LibDems in David Alton debate on Conflict in Africa. It was generally agreed that the cost of these conflicts was at least $18 billion a year, equal to the total of world aid to the continent. I asked whether the Government would seek to include a monitoring and enforcement mechanism in the proposed international arms trade treaty; how the EU were responding to UN requests for helicopters and other hardware for the mission in Darfur, and what action was being taken to shore up the ‘Comprehensive Peace Agreement’ between north and south Sudan.
Later, spoke on two immigration Orders. The first, concerned with civil penalties to be imposed on employers who take on migrants who don’t have permission to work in the UK, we don’t object to, but consider that more needs to be done to ensure that employers, particularly small businesses such as Chinese restaurants, understand what their obligations are, and exactly what they need to do to avoid incurring penalties. The second Order was to pave the way for the points-based system of immigration control provided for in the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006, and here we did have some concerns. The Order doesn’t specify the fees which are to be paid by sponsors. These are to be specified later in regulations, but the universities say that a typical institution could be landed with a bill of £50,000 a year. Since the universities weren’t receiving any extra money from the Government, they could have some problems finding the money, and the additional burden would impair their ability to compete with HEIs in other countries, in the fiercely competitive market to attract foreign students.
Friday, I had a letter in The Guardian on the factors used by the Revenue and Customs for calculating the amount of alcohol in wine, beer and cider released from bond. It had been reported earlier in the week that the Office of National Statistics had revised its own calculations, and shown that we were drinking more than had previously been estimated. It looks as though Revenue and Customs need to look at their own arithmetic, and it is possible that the reduction in the published amount of alcohol we consume is spurious.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
10 Dec 2007 : Column WA15
Revenue and Customs: Alcohol
Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:
What are the estimated average strengths used by HM Revenue and Customs to convert the quantities of beer, wine, spirits and cider respectively into hectolitres of pure alcohol in the published statistics on the amount of alcohol released for home consumption in each of the years 2000—01 to 2006—07. [HL529]
Lord Davies of Oldham: The estimated strengths used to convert quantities of beer, wine and cider in to hectolitres of alcohol are:
Wine (a) Beer Cider
2000-01 10.28 4.19 % 5.03 %
2001-02 10.07 4.16 % 5.02 %
2002-03 11.39 % 4.17 % 5.02 %
2003-04 11.74 % 4.19 % 5.02 %
2004-05 11.74 4.21 % 5.03 %
2005-06 11.77 % 4.17 % 5.03 %
2006-07 11.81 % 4.20 % 5.03 %
Note: (a) The increase in average strength in 2002-03 is caused by the reclassification of most “cooler/alcopops” to spirits-based “ready to drink”.
An average strength is not needed to produce the quantities of pure alcohol for spirits as the duty is charged on the quantity of alcohol released for consumption.
I have written to the Minister pointing out that the average strength of wine sold in Majestic, one of the UK's biggest retailers, is 13.5%, and there's no reason to think their wines aren't typical. Therefore the Customs & Revenue statistics, which seem to show a fall in the total alcohol consumed in the last two years, may be incorrect because they are based on conversion factors that are too low.
Saturday, December 08, 2007
Saudi bribery scandal:
UK-US Mutual Legal Assistance
Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty’s Government:
What requests they have received from the authorities of the United States of America for documents held by the Serious Fraud Office on alleged offences committed in connection with sales of military aircraft to Saudi Arabia.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): My Lords, I can confirm that the Home Office has received a request for assistance from the United States of America in respect of corruption allegations concerning BAE Systems. The request is being dealt with in accordance with the bilateral treaty on mutual legal assistance between the United Kingdom and the United States of America.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, considering that after five months’ procrastination on this request the Government have now finally refused to give the US Department of Justice the information it sought, and also bearing in mind the comments of Lord Justice Moses in the case for judicial review of the decision to halt the SFO investigation, that the case involved,
“matters of public concern and public importance”,
and that the challenge,
“cries out for a hearing”,
6 Dec 2007 : Column 1813
do not the same arguments apply to the refusal of a reasonable request for information by the Department of Justice? Is not the refusal a breach of our obligations under the OECD convention on bribery, notwithstanding the fact that the requests were made under mutual legal assistance of the bilateral treaty? Do not the arguments of the convention apply pari passu to requests made under the bilateral treaty?
Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I am somewhat confused by the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. The Home Secretary has not refused this. She is in the process of giving this request the detailed consideration that it requires. About 5,000 of these requests come in annually and some of them are highly complicated and have complex investigative and criminal aspects to them. It is not unusual for one to take this long; many take longer than this.
Lord Berkeley: My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that rather than being a bilateral agreement it is a unilateral agreement? It seems—and I think President Bush confirmed this the other day—that the United States believes that it has the right to go into any country and remove anybody it believes has committed a crime in the US. Is it not about time we got equal balance both ways?
Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, my noble friend raises an issue but we have these mutual legal assistance treaties with many countries, not just the United States, so it not a one-way street. These things are very sensitive; we have to be very careful when talking about them. It is highly unusual for the fact that one has been requested to come into the public arena. This is an extremely unusual circumstance.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, the OECD convention is a convention which we ratified in 1998 for combating the bribery of foreign public officials in international business transactions. That requires this country to the fullest extent possible under its laws and relevant treaties and arrangements to provide prompt and effective legal assistance to another party for the purpose of criminal investigations. How is it that this request has been hanging around for six months in the Home Office without being properly replied to? Why has the Home Office objected to the Americans taking evidence from a Mr Peter Gardner who has taken the invoices relating to these transactions over to America for their purposes?
Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I thought I had already answered the noble Lord’s question. As I said, there are about 5,000 of these requests annually. Some of them are highly complicated and they very often take a very long time to deal with. This one is very complicated. There are a number of issues. The Home Secretary is in the process of giving very detailed consideration to this request and looking at all the ramifications and complications.
6 Dec 2007 : Column 1814
Lord Avebury: My Lords, this is not a mundane day-to-day request such as the 5,000 that are received, as the noble Lord has explained. It is a matter of vital importance, not only because of the presence of BAE in the United States and its recent multibillion takeover of the Armor Corporation but of the right of BAE to continue doing business in the United States and not to be under the cloud of investigation that it is in breach of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act which is US law? Does not the noble Lord consider that it is a matter of importance to give a prompt reply to the Department of Justice?
Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, we are in no doubt about how important this is, and there are a number of issues and a number of complications within it. That is why the Home Secretary is considering it so carefully. As I said, it is not unusual for something like this to take a length of time. Many such requests have taken much longer than this. We are looking at it very closely. It is a very important issue and the fact that it is taking time, if anything, shows how important we believe it is.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, have the Government given any assistance to the American authorities? Has anything happened as a result of that, or is it just going to be quietly thought about for the next 12 months in the Home Office? Cannot the Home Office give the issue some priority?
Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the fact that this has taken time does not mean that the Home Office has not given it priority. I am unable to talk in any detail about the matter because of the need for confidentiality. As with all treaties with nations to do with mutual legal assistance, it is part of the treaty that we do not talk about it. It is very unusual that this matter has come to light. It came to light because of a Statement made in another place. It is very unusual and something that we cannot talk about in detail because it involves criminal action.
Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty’s Government:
Why the Department of Health leaflet How Much is Too Much? updated in October states that one small glass of wine containing 125 millilitres (ml) contains one unit of alcohol, when that amount of most table wines containing 13.5 per cent alcohol would be 1.7 units of alcohol; and why the department's web page on alcohol and health states that a 175 ml glass of wine contains two units, when the figure for most table wines is 2.36 units. [HL141]
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Darzi of Denham): In the leaflet How Much is Too Much? the information that a 125 millilitre (ml) glass of wine contains around one unit of alcohol is inaccurate. A 125 ml glass of wine containing 13 per cent alcohol contains 1.6 units of alcohol. The department is committed to ensuring that everyone has accurate information so that they can estimate how much they really drink. In addition, as the noble Lord pointed out, the entry on the alcohol and health web page was inaccurate and has now been corrected. I would like to thank the noble Lord for bringing this to the Secretary of State’s attention.
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
Monday, December 03, 2007
Sunday, December 02, 2007
Saturday, December 01, 2007
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Meeting with Anatol Liabedzka, chairman of the United Civil Party of Belarus and head of the National United Democratic Forces, a coalition of 20 political parties which support democracy.
President Lukaschenko has changed his rhetoric since Putin became president of Russia, no longer favouring anschluss. He is still quite popular in spite of his authoritarian rule, but since the beginning of 2007 when the Russians stopped subsidising oil and gas supplied to Belarus, the cost of living and unemployment have risen.
Among political prisoners are Alyaksandr Kazulin, serving five and a half years after an unfair trial; Zmitser Dashkevich, imprisoned for 18 years for belonging to an unregistered organisation, and Andrej Klimov, who has been imprisoned three times. There will be elections in the autumn of 2008 and without freedom of expression they will be meaningless.
The government produce half a million copies of their official daily paper. The opposition paper Freedom of Belarus, has to be printed abroad, and they can only afford 50,000 copies. There is an opposition website, hosted in Germany. He didn’t think the audiences for BBC World Service or Radio Free Europe in Belarus were very large, or that they were reaching people who needed to be convinced of the merits of democracy. (I since asked them, and the BBC say they have an audience of 67,000 for the Russian, 5,000 English service; RFE say they reach 1% of the population, about 100,000)
Because of low wages and rising costs, there is large scale emigration, with 600,000 in Russia alone. Officially there is no unemployment. The average pay in Minsk is the equivalent of $450 a month, and the rent of a one-room flat is $250.
Lunch with Tameem Ebrahim at which we discussed citizenship problems, mostly relating to Hong Kong. We have dealt with British National (Overseas) citizens of Indian origin, but there are remaining problems with the Nepalese. But in both cases, where a person was documented by the state concerned, notwithstanding that under the law of Nepal or India a person can’t be a citizen of another country and Indian or Nepalese as the case may be, the British are demanding a certificate that the document was issued in error.
PM, first meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee on Intergovernmental Organisations, chairman Clive Soley. Terms of reference are to consider how international issues are addressed through our membership of intergovernmental organisations other than the EU, and how our membership contributes to the achievement of specific UJ policy objectives. This is a very wide field, and the Committee will have to confine its inquiries to particular objectives, still to be decided.
Meeting on the Chittagong Hill Tracts. There are good prospects for revival of the international Chittagong Hill Tracts, which did good work in the 90s. The problems still remain: militarization of the CHT; continued dilution of the indigenous people by internal migration of Bengali settlers; failure to implement the 1997 CHT Peace Accords, and human rights violations which are largely unreported in the outside world.
Question on the Rights of the Child. The Government say they need a reservation to make it possible to remove failed child asylum seekers, but other European countries manage without a reservation. Ministers claimed in the Borders Bill that full compliance would create a new avenue of appeal against refusal, but they are wrong; the Convention wouldn’t create any new appeal rights, but could only give applicants additional arguments they could deploy in existing appeals. If this is the fear, the Convention should at least be extended to all other functions of the Borders and Immigration Agency other than the implementation of decisions to grant, refuse or vary leave to remain in the UK.
The Minister who replied, Christine Crawley, didn’t answer these points, and I shall have to write to her.
After questions I met a party of MA students from City University, showed them round the Palace of Westminster, and gave them a thumbnail sketch of the work of the House.
Then to Wormwood Scrubs Prison, for a multi-faith event there to mark Prisons Week. Ironically, because of the endemic shortage of staff, none of the prisoners were able to attend, but there were representatives of Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, Sikhism and Buddhism. The Address was given by the Ven Ajahn Khemadhammo Mahathera, Spiritual Head of the Buddhist Prison Chaplaincy Angulimala, He said that when he had started work in the prisons, an event of this kind would have been unthinkable. With Burmese monks at the ceremony, he pointed out that recently, monks had taken to the streets there armed only with the Buddha’s words of lovingkindness, even in the face of oppression. Religion gave us a standard: how to live without anger but with friendship to all. If we took this example out into society, just imagine how the world would be transformed. The Prison Service Chaplaincy was to be praised for bringing all the faiths together, and with that peace and harmony we could end violence, anger and hatred.
Meeting with NGOs to discuss the Climate Change Bill. It was difficult to see how it could be applied to development issues, the remit being entirely concerned with the UK’s attainment of emission reduction targets.
Then to Cambridge, where I spoke to the University LibDems on foreign affairs generally, and conflict resolution in particular.
The House didn’t sit today, but I chaired a meeting of the Traveller Law Reform Unit Advisory Committee. The Committee discussed the recent judgement of the European Human Rights Court in the case of DH & others v Czech Republic [57325/00], in which it was decided that the authorities had acted unlawfully in segregating Roma children into special schools, and whether this had any bearing on the exclusion of Gypsy and Traveller children from schools in England and Wales. It was acknowledged, however, that the Department for Children, Schools and Families was very supportive. The Committee discussed the extension of Mobile Homes Act security of tenure to Gypsies and Travellers in the Housing and Regeneration Bill; the need for research on evictions, and on existing local authority sites that were unsuitable because of their proximity to rubbish tips, motorways, sewage works etc.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Saturday, November 17, 2007
I have been appointed to the Ad Hoc Committee on Intergovernmental Organisations, a new Select Committee which starts work on Monday, with consideration of subjects for the first inquiry. The idea is to see how the UK addresses issues of international policy through our membership of international organisations (other than the EU). The Liaison Committee recommended that this Committee be established in pursuance of suggestions by Lord (Clive) Soley that the Committee should evaluate the contribution our membership makes to the achievement of specific UK policy objectives such as the prevention of human trafficking or limiting global warming.
Friday, November 16, 2007
Wednesday November 7
Queen’s Speech debate on foreign affairs and defence, was to have opened for the Government by Lord Drayson, but he cried off just beforehand to start a new career in motor-racing. You couldn’t invent it, and it will be interesting to know what the real reasons were. Baroness (Anne) Taylor said it gave her great pleasure, and not a little surprise, to be taking his place. There were 44 speakers, who were invited to restrict themselves to 8 minutes, and in that time I touched on the crisis in Pakistan, and the forgotten agenda of Mr Blair’s Commission for Africa. I welcomed the belated addition of access to reproductive and sexual health services, including contraceptive advice and services, to the millennium development goals. Most speakers ignored the advice on timing and we finished at 10.53.
Thursday November 8
Meeting with Dr Orin Levine, Executive Director of PneumoADIP, to discuss the work of the All-Party Group on Pneumococcal Disease Prevention. Meeting with Frank Soodeen of Alcohol Concern, to discuss a survey we are planning on how Primary Care Trusts are spending the money they had from the Government to combat alcohol harm. It wasn’t ring fenced, and some may have used the money to reduce their deficits. Lunch with Frank Russell to discuss an ambitious scheme for regional centres of educational excellence in Africa. Afternoon, meeting with Raja Devasish Roy to discuss the current situation in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) of Bangladesh. The Minister of Foreign Affairs in the caretaker government, which holds office until the elections at the end of 2008, is also responsible for the CHT, and I had attended an off the record presentation he gave at the International Institute for Strategic Studies the previous Monday
Friday November 9
To Oxford, to chair a meeting of the Maurice Lubbock Memorial Fund Trustees. The fund, in memory of my father, promotes engineering and management education at Balliol College and Oxford University. This year is the 50th anniversary of our engineering scholarships, and the centenary of the Engineering School. (And its 62 years since I went to Balliol to read engineering)
Sunday November 11
To the Dutch Church, at Austin Friars in the City, where English Voices and the Steinitz Bach Players were playing Bach’s cantata We must pass through great affliction to enter God’s Kingdom. I said to the Minister after the service that the words reminded me, as a Buddhist, of the First Noble Truth: that ‘dukkha’ or unsatisfactoriness is an inevitable quality of human life, and though one may be lucky enough to have moments of pure joy – as in listening to the duet in this cantata – they don’t last long.
Monday November 12
All-Party Burma Group to hear from Bo Kyi about political prisoners, and Charm Tang of the Shan Women’s Network. Among others, Buddhist monks have been killed, hundreds arrested, and monasteries closed down, particularly appalling for a people who have always respected and loved the Sangha. At lunchtime, to the Department for Children, Schools and Families for a meeting between the Minister, Lord Adonis, and officers of the Advisory Council for the Education of Romany and other Travellers (ACERT), of which I’m President.
I was invited to a reception at Buckingham Palace for people concerned with the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Kampala, but was held up dealing with an urgent immigration case. Hope it wasn’t lèse majesté
Tuesday November 13
Morning, at a Royal College of Physicians conference on reducing the harm caused by alcohol. The conference charter demanded that the price of alcohol should be increased; that there should be enough treatment and help available for those who need it; there should be better regulation of the drinks industry, sensible proposals the Government will ignore. At question time I intervened on the subject of West Papua, which was occupied by Indonesia after a bogus ‘Act of Free Choice’. PM, meeting with Dan Tyler of SaferWorld to discuss their report on the impact on Africa of the international arms trade. Evening, Barbara Stapleton arrived from Afghanistan. We discussed her report on the Provincial Reconstruction Team strategy, which isn’t working.
Wednesday November 14
Armed with SaferWorld’s advice, I chipped in on a question about the proposed arms trade treaty. This evening I hosted a reception for the British Library in the Lord Speaker’s magnificent River Room. The BL have organised an exhibition in our Library of some of their digitisation projects, including the whole of the 19th century provincial press and treasures of early English literature. Evening, preparing for tomorrow’s debate introduced by Lord (Clive) Soley on ‘the case for liberal intervention’. Don’t recognise the term? Read the dabate!
Thursday November 15
Was to have had lunch with the Principal Jim Power and Vice Principal Innes van Nostrand of my old school Upper Canada College, but Ckive’s debate started earlier than expected, and I only had five minutes for a brief chat with them, before settling them in the gallery to listen to part of the debate. Tea with Dr Michele Sciurbs, Honorary Consul of Sao Tome E Principe in Rome, who was preparing the ground for a visit by two of their Ministers.
Friday November 16
To the Royal Geographical Society, for the launch of the UK National Committee for the Human Dimensions of Global Environmental Change, and discussion meeting. Atmospheric temperature increase is a fact, and it’s a dangerous mistake to consider only scenarios limited to 2C maximum rise. Climate change is almost certainly anthropogenic, and we need to integrate the social sciences into the review of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Unfortunately I was the only politician at the meeting, and there appeared to be no officials there either; yet most of what I heard was of direct concern to policy makers.
Thursday, November 01, 2007
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
The prorogation ceremony I don't object to so much, because only the Lord Speaker, the Leader of the House, the Leaders of the three parties and the Leader of the Crossbenchers have to put on robes. The men also have to wear ridiculous Napoleonic headgear, which they doff three times to the Commons at the bar, while the two women just bow. The names of the few Acts which haven't already been given Royal Assent are read out in turn, and after each the Clerk says 'La Reine le Veult'. Finally, the Leader reads out a Queen's Speech on prorogation, listing all the wonderful things done by 'my Government' during the past Session.
The extra day's sitting, at which no other business is transacted, probably costs £50,000
I chaired a meeting to discuss the research findings of Dr Jo Richardson of de Montfort University on site provision for Gypsies and Travellers, funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation [www.jrf.org.uk/knowledge/findings/housing/2142.asp]. Other speakers were Cllr Richard Bennett, chair of the LGA Gypsy Traveller Task Group and Janie Codona, a former Commissioner of the CRE.
Monday I asked a supplementary question on the trials of the four LRA leaders in Uganda, and the scientific evidence on global warming and the floods in Uganda (and other parts of east and central Africa) www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200607/ldhansrd/text/71029-0002.htm
Saturday, October 27, 2007
The Olympic Charter's objective is to establish a peaceful society based on human dignity, but Chinese officials have said they will 'crack down severely on troublemakers' in advance of the 2008 Games.
There are still more executions in China than the rest of the world put together.
In Tibet, the police beat up schoolchildren for drawing political graffiti and murder people fleeing across the border into Nepal. The hysterical reaction to the Dalai Lama's reception by President Bush shows what they think of the human dignity of the Tibetans.
The arrests, tortures, killings and vilification of peaceful members of the Falun Gong is another brazen violation of the Olympic Charter.
Abroad, China encourages brutal dictators and props them up with arms. In Burnma, they sustain the incongruously named State Peace and Development Council, which kills and injures monks, imprisons democrats, and wages war against its ethnic minorities.
In Zimbbwe, they befriend the appalling Mugabe, who drove 700,000 people out of their homes, eradicated the free press, rewarded a few cronies while making the rest of the population destitute, and drove two million people into exile.
In Sudan, with their ally General Beshir, they have blocked UN measures to stop the genocide in Darfur, and to prevent it from spreading into Chad and the Central African Republic.
Some people hoped that awarding the Olympic Games to China would give them an incentive to improve their human rights record, and there's just a chance that it may. Let all sports fans and other tourists visiting China engage with the Chinese people in their struggle for human dignity, and for the rights and freedoms in the Universal Declaration.
Friday, October 26, 2007
Tuesday October 23
UK Borders Bill Third Reading www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200607/ldhansrd/text/71023-0002.htm
That the Bill do now Pass:
Wednesday October 24
LibDem meeting on
Thursday October 25
Pakistan: Terrorist Attacks
Lords Hansard text for 25 Oct 200725 Oct 2007 (pt 0002)
Female Genital Mutilation
Lords Hansard text for 25 Oct 200725 Oct 2007 (pt 0001)
Sunday, October 21, 2007
Saturday, October 20, 2007
Question, Speaker's Conference and Voting Systems 15 Oct 2007 : Column 528
Debate, Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy: 18 Oct 2007 : Column 799
Plus written questions I don't usually bother to record, but for this week:
Government: Ministerial Responsibilities
Lords Hansard text for 18 Oct 200718 Oct 2007 (pt 0001)
Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government: How much time elapsed between the announcement of the recent ministerial changes and publication by the Cabinet Office of the list of ministerial responsibilities; .....
Lords Hansard text for 18 Oct 200718 Oct 2007 (pt 0001)
Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government: Whether they will exercise the power granted in Section 27(1) of the British Nationality Act 1981 to give effect to the commitment made by Home Office Minister Lady Young to Lord Avebury during the passage of the Hong Kong Bill in 1985 that no former Hong Kong British Dependent Territories citizen or any child born after 1 July 1997 to such person... .....
Lords Hansard text for 18 Oct 200718 Oct 2007 (pt 0001)
Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government: Whether they will exercise the power granted in Section 27(1) of the British Nationality Act 1981 to remedy any anomalies created by Section 2(2) of the British Nationality (Hong Kong) Act 1990 which render a newborn infant stateless, where save for the provision of Section 2(2) of the 1990 Act, the infant would have become a... .....
Justice: Ecclesiastical Courts
Lords Hansard text for 17 Oct 200717 Oct 2007 (pt 0001)
Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government: How many (a) charges, and (b) convictions there have been for offences under the Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act 1860 in each of the years 1997 to 2006 inclusive. .....
Friday, October 19, 2007
My father had a friend called Noel Mobbs, who was given a knighthood just after the last war for his support of boys’ clubs. At a lunch in his honour he was describing the scene when he went to
. “The King said to me: ‘Mobbs, for what you’ve done you deserve a peerage’ and I said to him ‘that’s up to you your Majesty’.
Let me say without qualification that there’s no honour I would sooner have received that the Blomfield award, established in memory of Sara Louisa Ryan, Lady Blomfield, one of the most remarkable women born in the second half of the 19th century. Its difficult for us to imagine the enormous wall of prejudice and discrimination that women of that era had to surmount if they were to do anything at all outside the domestic sphere. Barred from the universities and the professions, business and Parliament, and treated as the chattels of their husbands in English law, it’s a miracle that a few women did get to play a role in public life. Lady Blomfield’s contribution spanned among other causes the women’s suffrage movement, the liberation of
And that brings me to the second reason why I am proud to be the recipient of this award. I have long been an admirer of the Baha’is, and of the principles that guide them. Tomorrow I’m initiating a debate in the Lords on the Government’s revised alcohol harm reduction strategy. The Government always preface their statements on alcohol harm by pointing out that 90% of the adult population drink alcohol, most of them sensibly. But millions of people – men, women and children – are drinking hazardous or harmful amounts, and there is never any attempt to highlight the 10% who don’t drink, like the Baha’is. I intend to emphasise that an alcohol-free lifestyle can be exciting and fulfilling.
The Baha’is. Work hard for the equality of women, human rights and particularly the rights of children, religious freedom and the promotion of international cooperation through the United Nations, in which they continue to play an important role as they did in the
When I first entered the Commons 45 years ago, I wanted to make some contribution to human rights, and joined the Parliamentary Civil Liberties Group, which was concerned with domestic human rights here in the
If you look at the volume of human rights-related questions and debates in both Houses over a number of years, you will see a huge increase. That may be partly to do with the proliferation of human rights NGOs, but it is actually a two-way process. The NGOs need to have organised all-party groups of MPs with whom they can interact, and apart from the PHRG itself, there has been a great expansion of thematic and country-related All-Party Groups in recent years – subjects ranging from AIDS to zoos, and countries from
Oddly enough, there isn’t a Group in Parliament or an NGO covering religious freedom in general. Often there are lessons to be learned from comparisons between the kinds of religious persecution that occur in different countries. The recent atrocities committed against the Buddhist monks in
Yesterday Ming Campbell said it was time for him to leave the stage, though it seemed to me he was shoved off it by ageist scribblers and cartoonists in the media. Ming has as sharp an intellect as ever, and I hope there will be other important roles for him to play. People are living longer nowadays and there in no reason to retire either from the stage or politics when you still have something to offer. I remember running into Manny Shinwell in the peers’ entrance when he was 100 and mentioning an article about him in that morning’s Express. He asked me eagerly ‘What did it say’ I said the gist was that he was the oldest peer ever to have spoken in the House ‘Is that all they could find to say about me?’ was his dismissive comment..
Well, I don’t expect to break that record, but my ambition is to carry on, as Lady Blomfield did, as long as my health lasts, and nothing could have made that intention firmer than receiving the Lady Blomfield award.