Saturday, December 15, 2007

My week

Tuesday: joined in the Bishop of Salisbury’s question about the United Nations Convention on the Law of Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses. I was concerned about the Government's hands off approach to the tensions between Iraq, Syria and Turkey, compared with their policy of DfID supporting water-sharing processes in the Middle East and Africa

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.

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