I’ve not been lazy since the last time I posted, just busy. Here’s a brief diary:
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.