Saturday, March 31, 2007

JW & Verity leave for a party

Bill Rammell letter page 2

ESOL concessions

This week

Contributions in the House this week:


Question: India, Dalits
Question, Immigration: Domestic Workers,

Question, Health: Global Health Partnerships

Question, Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants etc) Act
Debate, UNICEF report on children in developed countries
Debate, Immigration and Nationality (Fees) Regulations 2007

Also, chaired meeting on organ transplants in China (see below); chaired the launch of the Peru Support Group's report of a mission to look at mining in Peru (article, 'Digging beneath the Surface' published in the March 2007 issue of 'The Parliamentary Monitor'); met the new head of Human Rights watch UK office, and chaired a meeting of the Traveller Law Research Unit's Advisory Group.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

China: organ transplants

Remarks introducing David Kilgour, Canadian Member of Parliament from 1979 to January 2006, at a seminar on Monday March 26 on organ harvesting in China.

The persecution of the Falun Gong stands out as the most striking example of the Chinese régime’s paranoia about all systems of belief that are not subservient to the ruling party, and David has co-written two reports on the allegations of organ theft from Falun Gong practitioners, most recently published in January this year under the title ‘Bloody Harvest’. It has to be acknowledged that the Chinese claim to have strict laws regulating the use of organs for transplants, including the requirement that a donor give a valid consent. They also specifically deny the allegations about the Sujiatun Hospital, and claim that US Embassy officials who visited the hospital gave it a clean bill of health. This wouldn’t mean that the whole of the organ theft saga was untrue, but it does illustrate the difficulty of getting hard evidence one way or another in a closed and highly regulated society. I did invite officials of the Chinese Embassy to attend this meeting but they politely declined, saying they were content that it should be known that there was another side to the story. There are mechanisms for us to raise these matters formally, via the EU-China and UK-China dialogues, and I understand that the Canadians have a similar process. What always seems to the outsider to be lacking in all these dialogues is feedback and verification: we don’t know what responses our governments receive, and there is no agreed mechanism for resolving issues such as this, which are in dispute.

Unarguably the Chinese do use organs from executed prisoners for transplants, and a high proportion of those executed are Falun Gong practitioners.

After the seminar, I tabled the following question to the Government:

Whether they have evaluated the revised report by David Matas and David Kilgour on allegations of organ harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners in China, 'Bloody Harvest', published on January 31, 2007; and whether in particular they agree with the Transplantation Society's cited statement that executed prisoners are 'the major source' of organs used for transplants in China.

It may be that the Government will prefer not to look closely at these allegations, because they need Chinese cooperation on worldwide problems such as conflict prevention and climate change.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Speech introducing PSG report this evening

The Peru Support Group was formed in 1983 to campaign for the rights of the Peruvian people, and particularly to support the most vulnerable, the indigenos, in playing a larger part in the affairs of their community and the formal structures of governance. The Group seeks to raise awareness here in the UK of the multiple problems which have confronted Peru: the long-running political violence, the endemic human rights violations; the painful two steps forward one step back towards a more stable democracy; and of course the gross inequalities of wealth and income which have not been addressed. In 1992 a Parliamentary Human Rights Group delegation to Peru, led by Ann Clwyd MP, now Chair of the Group, found that income and wealth differentials were getting wider, and that is still happening. The CIA estimate that the lowest 10% of households account for less than 1% of total expenditure, while the top 10% have over 37%. So although Peru’s economy has expanded rapidly over the last 15 years, very largely due to the phenomenal growth of mineral extraction, the poor have been left behind, and the UK is no longer directly interested because Peru is now classed as a middle income country.

You might imagine that mining and in future natural gas would be an unmixed blessing to Peru. Surely taxes and royalties would mean high investment in public services, better governance, the enhancement of democracy, and particular benefits to the local communities in the vicinity of the operations. But in Peru, as elsewhere, the expectations are not always realised. No doubt the economy looks far stronger at the macro level, but there have been unfortunate side-effects, which the Group first documented two years ago. We reported on protests and demonstrations which led to the suspension of various projects, and on disputes over the control of land, the distribution and security of water for both drinking and irrigation, and on how the revenues generated by mining operations should be distributed, and who should be involved in that process. Over half of Peru’s 6,000 peasant communities were estimated to be in districts that were influenced by these factors, and at the recent Presidential elections the lack of public trust in the mining companies, and in the means of ensuring that they conformed with international and domestic rules, became very evident.

The PSG was particularly interested in these issues because of the involvement of UK companies in Peruvian mining operations. These companies could set benchmarks for the rest of the industry, combining profitable development with the highest standards for consultation with local interests, and investing in the people, infrastructure and environment of the neighbours of their operations. We decided to look at a particular case study, the development of a very large copper mine in the northern highlands by Monterrico Metals, and we commissioned a panel of independent experts, some of whom I will introduce in a minute, to visit Peru and report on this particular operation, and on the lessons to be drawn from it more widely for large-scale resource extraction projects, not only in Peru.

There are guidelines, laid down by the World Bank and the OECD, on how multinationals should conduct their large capital-intensive projects in third world countries, and the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative is a welcome spur towards the adoption of better mechanisms for managing Peru’s wealth, and for ensuring the fair distribution of the impacts and benefits of mining. But we in the PSG suggest that Peru needs to go further, and institutionalise the participation of local people in the decision-making on these developments, and the continued monitoring of their effects. We believe this is as important for the future consolidation of Peru’s democracy as the guaranteeing of free elections, decentralisation and the representation of local issues at national level.

Peru Support Group: launch of mining report

Monday, March 26, 2007

Back to Rex est Lex?

Letter to David Triesman March 18, 2007

May I take you up on your written answer HL2432 of March 11, about the judgement of the European Court of First Instance regarding the assets of the PMOI.
The Court has no power to rule on the Common Position of the Council that the PMOI should be designated as a terrorist organisation, but only on whether the assets of an organisation listed by the Council as terrorist under that Common Position (2001/931 as amended), should be frozen (see paragraphs 13-17 of the judgement). Your statement that “…..the Court did not rule on the substantive question as to whether the MeK is a terrorist group” wrongly implies that they could have been asked to decide the former question.

Article 233 EC makes it obligatory for the Council to implement the Court ruling, which annulled the decision to include the PMOI in the assets freeze list. The Article provides that “the institution or institutions whose act has been declared void shall be required to take the necessary measures to comply with the judgment of the Court of Justice.” The improved procedures you mention are irrelevant, and the replacement of the annulled Decision of December 2005 by an equivalent one was a blatantly unlawful act by the Council, instigated by the United Kingdom.

In fact, the Court found a way of commenting on the designation itself, when they pointed out that at no time the PMOI or the Court were given any information to show that PMOI was engaged in terrorism. In Paragraph 161, the Court said:

“The applicant rightly points out that both the initial decision to freeze its funds and subsequent decisions, up to and including the contested decision, do not even mention the ‘specific information’ or ‘material in the file’ showing that a decision justifying its inclusion in the disputed list was taken in respect of it by a competent national authority”.

In paragraph 165, they repeated that the Council decision was devoid of any specific grounds, justifying the inclusion of the PMOI in the terrorist list.

In paragraph 167, the Court referred to the PMOI contention that it was included in the disputed list “solely on the basis of documents produced by the Tehran regime” and for “diplomatic” reasons. This was not denied by Council, and in paragraph 168, the Court observed that the Council had refrained from taking a position in that regard.

In paragraph 170, the Court rejected the assertion by the United Kingdom that the PMOI was aware of the reasons for its inclusion.

In paragraphs 166 and 172, the Court further stressed that due to lack of evidence it was unable to determine which was the national decision referred to in Article 1(4) of Common Position 2001/931, on which the contested decision was based; which competent national authority took the decision, or on the basis of what material or specific information that decision was taken.

You say that

“The specific Council decision of December 2005 annulled by the Court has been replaced by a subsequent Council decision of May 2006. The EU-wide asset freeze against MeK is therefore still in force. The EU keeps its terrorist asset freezing decisions under regular review.”

This assertion is disingenuous.

The oral hearing was on February 6, 2006, and dealt with the December 2005 decision. The Court was not in a position to annul the May decision, which had not been made at the time, and in paragraph 34 they say their review concerns ‘only those acts adopted and still in force and challenged on the date on which the oral procedure closed….. even if those acts have in turn been repealed and replaced by other acts before the date of delivery of the present judgement’.

However, the Court sought to ensure that its decision would be extended to any decisions that might be taken after the oral hearing under the same circumstances, emphasising in paragraph 35 that the Council had acknowledged that it would be obliged to take the measures necessary to comply with the annulment, including the amendment or withdrawal of any acts which might replace those being annulled.

The Council’s May 2006 decision was made under the same procedure - no evidence given, no opportunity to be heard, no reason given - which the Court described as unlawful, and since the Council did not by not appeal against the Court’s decision, they effectively admitted the illegality. Therefore, the May decision is also unlawful. It was made in consequence of updating and renewing the 2005 decision which had been annulled, and was the continuation of an unlawful act.

The Council is not only in defiance of the Court but it is in breach of its obligations under Article 233 which clearly states that “the institution or institutions whose act has been declared void shall be required to take the necessary measures to comply with the judgment of the Court of Justice.”

You say that

“Following the CFI decision on the MeK case in December, the EU has reviewed the listing, using improved procedures, and on 30 January reaffirmed its decision to include the MeK on its list of terrorist organisations. In line with the Court's requirements, it has written to the group setting out the reasons for the decision, and explaining how the group can exercise its right to provide further information relevant to the case and/or petition for delisting.”

This indicates that a definitive decision has been made to maintain the PMOI in the list, and contradicts the Council statement that it “intends” to include the PMOI and will make the final decision after considering the PMOI response. In the Council press release it says “The Council will consider any reaction by OMPI within this period of time, before taking a final decision”. This clearly shows that the UK intends to maintain the assets freeze on the PMOI – and its listing as a terrorist organisation – without regard to the evidence or to the rules of natural justice.

Your suggestion that the PMOI can provide further information relevant to the case and/or petition for delisting is wrong and unlawful. The burden of proof is on the Council which must ensure that there are “sufficient grounds”, based on “precise information and credible serious evidence” to include or maintain a group in the list. The PMOI has the right to respond to the Council’s case and then the Council must satisfy itself, in the light of the evidence and the PMOI’s response to it, whether there are sufficient grounds.

The “statement of reasons” sent to the PMOI does not meet the required standards set by the law and the Court. The Common position makes it clear that the entity must be engaged in terrorism at present, whereas the Council statement consists of general allegations relating to the past, with no reference to any event after 2001.

The Council relies on the decision made in March 2001 by Jack Straw. They were unable to defend that decision in the Court, yet they resort to it again now. My question, and your answer, were of course about the Council Decision, not about the Common Position, but the latter is of no effect without the former. The Common Position was outside the competence of the Court, because it is a mere political statement which by itself has no legal consequences for individuals. Based on the EU's modus operandi and rules of procedure, in order for the Common Position and the Council Regulations attached to it (adopted on December 27, 2001) to become applicable, the Council of Ministers must reach a unanimous decision and update it every six months. In paragraph 55 of the Court’s decision, it observes that it is not necessary to be able to challenge the validity of a common position, because it requires implementing acts which can themselves be challenged. This is the effective legal remedy, albeit indirect, against the Common Position. In other words, the Court acknowledges that the challenge to the Council Decision is a surrogate for a challenge to the Common Position. Effectively, the Decision of the Court, annulling the Council Decision as far as it concerns the PMOI, makes the Common Position a nullity, carrying no obligations or penalties upon individuals. All the restrictions imposed on the PMOI in consequence of its listing under Regulation 2580/2001 were annulled by the Court.

It seems to me that the Government have been determined to get their way in defiance of the law, for reasons that have nothing to do with the merits of the case. I suspect that you have consciously decided to go down this road to please the Iranian government, in the hope or expectation that you will thereby help to persuade them to cooperate on the nuclear issue or on reducing the violence in Iraq, or both. The Government may consider that reasons of state outweigh respect for the law, as they have also in the case of the Saudi corruption investigation, and in my opinion as they did in going to war against Iraq. But the return to the idea of Charles I, that rex est lex, is fraught with much greater danger for this country than the ones you are seeking to avoid, and I implore you to think again.

The Lord Triesman,
Foreign & Commonwealth Office,
London SW1A 2AH.

12 Mar 2007 : Column WA97

Terrorism: Proscribed Organisations
Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:
What action they have taken to comply with the ruling of the European Court of First Instance in the case Organisation des Modjahedines du Peuple d'Iran v Council of the European Union, annulling Council Decision 2005/930/EC of 21 December 2005 freezing the funds of the organisation; and in what manner they will now provide for the full hearing of the case against the organisation. [HL2432]
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Triesman): On 12 December 2006, the Court of First Instance (CFI) of the European Community annulled the Council of the European Union's decision to add the Mujahedinn e Khalq (MeK, also known as OMPI or PMOI) to its list of terrorist organisations subject to an EU-wide asset freeze. The CFI judgment focused on issues of EU procedure; the Court did not rule on the substantive question as to whether the MeK is a terrorist group.
The specific Council decision of December 2005 annulled by the Court has been replaced by a subsequent Council decision of May 2006. The EU-wide asset freeze against MeK is therefore still in force. The EU keeps its terrorist asset freezing decisions under regular review.
Following the CFI decision on the MeK case in December, the EU has reviewed the listing, using improved procedures, and on 30 January reaffirmed its decision to include the MeK on its list of terrorist organisations. In line with the Court's requirements, it has written to the group setting out the reasons for the decision, and explainin g how the group can exercise its right to provide further information relevant to the case and/or petition for delisting.

Speaking at the Baha'i reception last Thursday

Ahmadiyya Muslim Peace Symposium

With the Khalifa - the Supreme Head of the worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim community - at the Peace Symposium on Saturday, held before a large gathering of Ahmadis and friends, at the Baitul Futuh, the largest Mosque in Europe,

Friday, March 23, 2007

Anglo-American and the villagers of Tabaco, Colombia

From Lord Avebury P0704033

Tel 020-7274 617

March 4, 2007

Dear Mr Bickham,

I have now had an opportunity of considering your letter of February 27 in detail, and I must begin by reiterating my thanks for the trouble you have taken in responding to the concerns which were raised in my Question.

You say that at the time, individual compensation rather than collective resettlement reflected the wishes of the majority of rights holders in the village. Maybe, based on the information they had, that was the case, but I wonder if they had the facts, particularly on what the payments would buy? Community representatives say that the compensation régime was not understood; that the amounts were not enough to buy equivalent agricultural property, and that in many cases the first installment was reinvested in the property that was to be expropriated because the 'rights holder' did not understand that he or she would have to move away.

It is also alleged that people were hurried into signing agreements for individual compensation because that was the preferred alternative. You say there was an option of collective resettlement and I would be interested to know what evidence there is that people made an informed choice, and that the majority opted for individual compensation by a democratic process. My information is that it was not an unfettered choice, and that people were influenced by a variety of methods to choose individual compensation. For example, they were told that if they did not accept individual compensation they would receive nothing, or that social services would take away their children. Some were apparently also told they also had to cease using the services of Armando Perez as their lawyer. It may be difficult to establish exactly what did happen at the time, but the least one can say is that there were strong pressures on the inhabitants, which they were not empowered to resist.

Our contacts say that the list of ‘rights holders’ of the settlement of Tabaco, relied on by the company, included a number of people who did not live in Tabaco but were moved into the area by the company and then compensated; on the other hand it excluded people who had lived in the village for a long time but lived in mud and timber shacks rather than more substantially built houses, or who lived in areas that were suddenly designated ‘public spaces’ by the municipal government of Hatonuevo.

The 1997 survey is not accepted as an authentic record, but no doubt it would be more productive if the flaws are discussed by people on the ground, who were there at the time.

That the relocation was carried out on conformity with Colombian law is precisely what has been challenged in the courts by Armando Perez since August 9, 2001 when the evictions took place. Mr Perez argues that the initial administrative order for the handing over of the community (entrega de tierras) was made at national level on the basis of false information presented by the then mine owners, implying that the area was agricultural land empty of human dwellings, whereas in fact it was a well established settlement with houses, gardens, a school, church, cemetery, clinic, playground and communications centre.

Mr Perez says that the order made for ‘expropiación en cabeza’, an instrument providing for the transfer of property which is to be legally expropriated at a later date when the amount of compensation has been agreed, was highly irregular. He says this procedure is the prerogative of public authorities and should not have been allowed in the case of a foreign company (at that time, Intercor, 100% owned by the Exxon corporation of the USA). Its primary purpose is to facilitate what we would term compulsory purchase, where the property is required for essential purposes in the public interest, where the order prevents any damage being done to the property before formal expropriation can occur. Mr Perez says that it was unprecedented to use this procedure to hand over an entire village to be destroyed, and he says that the judge acted outside ultra vires.

You say that the evictions of some of the rights holders was not precipitate since it occurred four years after negotiations had begun. But given the normal use of expropiación en cabeza to safeguard property before compulsory purchase, as explained, the community and its legal representative were expecting no more on August 9, 2001 than a formal handover of legal control of the village. They had no idea that bulldozers would demolish their homes, sometimes with residents still in them. Nor were they expecting the presence of hundreds of armed security personnel, including police, army and private security guards; the attack by helmeted riot police with batons and riot shields, or the impounding of their possessions, including sacred objects such as the statue of St Martin de Porres which had stood in the village church.

You mention the video footage of the eviction. I haven’t seen it, but I have asked for a copy, which I understand confirms what I have said about the heavy-handed behaviour of the security forces, and includes interviews with residents of Tabaco before and after the eviction. This video was shown at a public meeting held at Amnesty UK during the recent visit by the Colombian delegation, and aroused much indignation.

Given that in Colombia, where coercion often involves extreme brutality by the armed forces themselves or by paramilitaries and militias linked to them it is understandable that you should describe the process as having been carried out with ‘minimal use of force’. However, one needs to judge the process not by Colombian standards, but objective criteria such as those laid down by the Worl Bank, or the OECD Guidelines.

The ‘minority group’ to which you refer acknowledge that they do not speak for all the former residents of Tabaco, but they are not asking for preferential treatment. They want a just settlement for all, but particularly for those who got nothing at all because they were not acknowledged by the local municipality or the company as residents of the village. They are not seeking a settlement of benefit only to themselves, and they are surely entitled to pursue their claim through the courts, as well as seeking publicity and support for their cause, as civil litigants in compensation cases often do in the UK.

It is certainly possible as you say that some people mismanaged their compensation payments. The introduction of relatively large amounts of cash into mainly subsistence farming communities has caused problems elsewhere in the world. And people in this situation need good advice. For instance, as noted above, some Tabaco residents didn’t properly understand that acceptance of a first installment of compensation entailed an obligation to move, and some of them invested that money in the property which they were to lose.

But the bottom line is that the amounts offered, though large in comparison with the amounts of cash that villagers normally handled, was insufficient to buy equivalent property in another rural location and continue their agricultural way of life. The company’s ‘social investment interventions’ have so far failed to address this fundamental injustice.

You refer to the court order that was issued against the municipality of Hatonuevo relating to compensation received for former municipal buildings and its alleged failure to provide satisfactory education and health facilities. The Supreme Court decision of May 2002 ordered a comprehensive plan for the reconstruction of Tabaco, noting that:

‘… the re-location of the former community of Tabaco implies carrying out concrete and immediate actions, as advised by the official from the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office, who contributed to the appeal being determined. This appeal will overturn the trial court’s ruling and will prescribe protecting the fundamental rights mentioned above, by ordering the mayor of Hatonuevo to initiate the appropriate procedures to … initiate the construction of community infrastructure, as well as the development of a housing plan, for the members of the community of Tabaco, township of Hatonuevo (Guajira), which assists in the housing and education needs of the minors belonging to the petitioning families.’

It ordered the mayor of Hatonuevo (Guajira) to initiate, within 48 hours and in accordance with applicable regulations, the procedures to bring about effective solutions to establish community infrastructure and develop a housing plan for the benefit of the community members of Tabaco, township of Hatonuevo (Guajira), and assist in the housing and education needs of the minors belonging to the petitioning families. Additionally, the Court ordered the mayor to implement this investment immediately once the plan was approved.’

The Mayor of Hatonuevo said he didn’t have the resources to comply with this ruling, and insists that the companies that now own the mine should provide the money to enable him to do so.

I understand that the company did make 57 hectares of land available to the municipality of Hatonuevo for the resettlement of people from Tabaco, but some of that land formed part of the Indian Reservation of Lomamato and 22 hectares were owned by other third parties. Former residents of Tabaco were therefore reluctant to move there for fear of conflict with the legal owners. The municipality of Hatonuevo subsequently offered the community urban land for relocation, which was similarly inappropriate.

The community has now identified suitable land at La Cruz, which the owners are willing to sell at a sum of just over £0.5 million equivalent. I am not sure whether this has been discussed with the company, but if not, perhaps the idea can be pursued. It would certainly be one way of making early progress, nearly five years after the May 2002 Supreme Court ruling that a start to be made within 48 hours.

'Cerrejon has an active human rights programme..... which has involved facilitating human rights training for several hundred members of the security forces.'

I was interested to know about the human rights training which the company is facilitating and would be grateful for some further details of its design. As you know, the Colombian military has an appalling reputation, detailed year after year by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, and it has happened in the past that training badly led soldiers has made the situation worse (eg in Guatemala in the seventies as I recall from personal experience). This is now being officially acknowledged in Colombia, and army and government personnel face prosecution for their close and illegal links with paramilitary forces.

Yours sincerely.

Edward Bickham Esq,,
Executive Vice President, External Affairs,
Anglo American plc
20 Carlton House Terrace,
London SW1Y 5AN

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Sir John Lubbock

This portrait is ref IV/188/4/476 NG from the Eric Smith collection of images lodged by the Clapham Antiquarians Society in Lambeth Archives Minet Library, to whom grateful thanks are given for permission to use this image on this blog. Sir John lived from 1744 to 1818, and was the son of the Rev William Lubbock, my 4G grandfather, whose portrait is on our wall. Sir John had no children, and the baronetcy passed by special dispensation to his nephew the first Sir John William (1773-1840), banker and MP for Leominster

There is no information on the date of the portrait, the date it was photogrphed, where it was at the time, or what happened to it. The Clapham Society do have a collection of 'occasional sheets' with some information about Sir John himself. He lived at Clapham House, which he sold to Henry Thornton in 1792. The name of the house was changed by Thornton, who shared it with William Wilberforce, to Battersea Rise House. There are images of the house in a book to be published imminently by the Clapham Society.

Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Bill

Anthony Lester owes me one! I had to spend four hours in Grand Committee on this Northern Ireland Bill moving amendments he had tabled in our joint names, to say nothing of the time spent mugging up on the Bill and the Joint Committee on Human Rights criticisms of it, because he was unavoidably absent. Towards the end I was saved from having to deal with a further seven consecutive sets of amendments, by Lord Maginnis making a long speech criticising the Northern Ireland police ombudsman. According to him she pursued a witch-hunt against a police officer who inadvertently drove onto a pavement while he was investigating a terrorist offence. She noticed this on a TV picture, and called house to house along the street to get someone to make a complaint, following which the officer had to undergo several interrogations and is still suspended from duty.

Things are still not exactly normal in Northern Ireland.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Alice Avebury

This is my grandmother, by T M Ronaldson, 1934, at the age of 53. The picture was left to my aunt Ursula Grant Duff, who left it to her daughter Sheila, who left it to me. Jacqueline Taber has restored it and given it a new frame, and she very kindly delivered it this afternoon.

I need to get some advice on how to avoid getting a patch of reflected light when I photograph pictures from directly in front. There's no doubt an elementary answer to this problem.

Sexual Orientation (Provision of Goods and Services) Regulations

These regulations must be read and given effect in a way that is compatible with fundamental human rights and freedoms. Those include freedom of religion, conscience, speech, association and non-discrimination. Therefore, when courts have to interpret and apply regulations, they must make quite sure that they do not disproportionately or excessively encroach upon those fundamental freedoms.
Although freedom of religion is a vital freedom, as are freedom of conscience and freedom of speech, so is equal treatment without discrimination. The European Convention on Human Rights provides that everyone is entitled to the enjoyment of the rights in that Convention without discrimination, covering, for example, sexual orientation. There must be no discrimination based on sexual orientation in education, otherwise Article 2 of the first protocol of the convention, read with Article 14, would be breached.
Without these regulations, a victim of sexual orientation discrimination in access to education would have no remedy, and the UK would be in breach of Article 13 of the European Convention, which says that there must be an effective national remedy.

The regulations are also not in a vacuum so far as concerns our own law. They are in virtually identical form to the employment equality regulations dealing with sexual orientation of 2003. These regulations extend the prohibition of discrimination from employment to education, goods, services, facilities and public sector duties. What had already been done for gender, race and religion, is now to be achieved for sexual orientation. There has been no problem in the interpretation and application of the 2003 regulations. .
Concern has been expressed about the harassment provisions in these regulations. But harassment against gays is a particularly widespread social evil in this country, and harassment is already covered by the general law in the Protection from Harassment Act, as well as in S 4A of the Public Order Act dealing with acts done with intent intent to cause a person harassment, alarm or distress.
The freedom to manifest their religious beliefs or lack of belief is not absolute, but is subject to
‘such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society ……. for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others’.
The regulations are consistent with this principle, but if the law were ever to be used in a manner inconsistent with the European Convention on Human Rights, an aggrieved person has the right to challenge its application in the domestic courts and at Strasbourg.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Shahriar Kabir

Indrakumari, Mekh and baby Kohee Gurung

Yesterday in the House

Zimbabwe: Governance
11.13 am

Passports: Personal Interviews

5.39 pm

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Question on Zimbabwe yesterday

13 Mar 2007 : Column 617

Lord Avebury: My Lords, in the circumstances described by the Minister of Zimbabwe imploding, does he think that the recommendation made by the ICG—that the European Union should engage with SADC in formulating and implementing a strategy for a peaceful transition to post-Mugabe democratic rule—now stands a better and more realistic chance of success? If these discussions do take place between the EU and SADC, will the Minister ensure that one of the matters to be taken up is the humanitarian situation of the victims of Mugabe’s tyranny and in particular those who have been severely injured in the recent attacks on peaceful demonstrators?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, I believe that when these matters are resolved the suffering of people in recent days—and over a considerable period—must feature in those discussions. SADAC has a responsibility as the regional part of the African Union and plainly ought to play more of a role. In answering the question I am cautious, not because I disagree with the sentiment that lies behind it, but because I have been frustrated on too many occasions by witnessing the fact that leaders in SADAC have not been prepared to play that role. We should urge them to do so.

Tibet memorial, Westminster Abbey March 7

Monday, March 12, 2007

Guardian letter

The damage from legal drugs

Monday March 12, 2007


The RSA report says that the cost of alcohol to the economy is £20.1bn a year. The figure given by the Cabinet Office for 2000-01 for England alone was £20bn, and the government has refused to update that estimate. But if it is indexed by the rise in alcohol consumption since then, it would have reached £21.7bn by 2005-06, indicating that since the government's alcohol harm-reduction strategy came into force, the damage is getting worse. Adding in the rest of the United Kingdom, alcohol harm exceeds that caused by all class A drugs put together. Alcohol is also the only one of the harmful substances covered by the RSA report whose consumption could be reduced immediately by government action.
Eric Avebury
House of Lords

Friday, March 09, 2007

Immigration and Nationality (Fees) Order

Lord Avebury: My Lords, the order allows for fees to be charged for almost every service provided to applicants for leave to enter or remain in the UK, for

8 Mar 2007 : Column 408

registration or naturalisation as a British citizen, or for permission to marry if not permanently resident in the UK. As the Minister has explained, these are not new charges; they already existed in previous legislation but were subject to fees under various previous Acts and have all been brought together. That is helpful. For reference purposes, Sections 50 to 52 of the 2006 Act put all these charging powers together while allowing for the recovery of more than the full costs, as the Minister explained and the Explanatory Notes to the Bill—but not to the Act itself—identified.

When these clauses were debated over a year ago, we were given no idea that the fees were to be almost doubled in some cases. Since the new charges were published only yesterday on the Home Office website, your Lordships have been given insufficient time to comment on them, although an opportunity will be allowed later on. Why was it necessary to have two separate instruments, one allowing the charges to be brought in and the other specifying the amounts? As a matter of economy for parliamentary time, one would have thought it preferable to take the two together.

For example, the grant of indefinite leave to remain, under Article 3(2)(c) of the order, which was £335, is to be increased to £750 if done by post, and from £500 to £950 if the applicant wants an accelerated process or to get permission in person.In addition, the applicant would have to pay for the citizenship test, which currently costs £68. That charge is not mentioned in the order. Can the Minister explain where one must look for it, and whether it, too, is being increased in line with allthe others referred to in the order? Why was the citizenship test charge not treated as part of the same order?

The Home Office consulted on the new fees structure, but it appears to have paid little attention to what was said by the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association and the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, whose views were swamped by thelarge number of responses from the educational and cultural sectors. I am not complaining about that,but those sectors counted for well over half the respondents listed in the appendix to the consultation document.
4.45 pm

We have no objection to the charging of fees, but I refer to the criteria, which the noble Baroness outlined in her speech. The first criterion that the Government say that they applied in determining the amounts is that the operational risk to the activities of the departments levying the charge should be minimised. That is jargon, which I hope the noble Baroness will elucidate.

Secondly, the Government want to generate the revenue that will fund the transformation of the immigration system over the next four years, which means that applicants will be expected to pay for the measures that are needed to correct the appalling errors made by the IND up to now. That is grossly unfair. To load on to current applicants the

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£100 million additional expenditure, which the noble Baroness mentioned, makes the increases very severe indeed.

Thirdly, the Government seek to maintain the global competitiveness of the UK’s approach to work and doing business. In that regard, they have done research enabling them to assess the price sensitivity of routes to increases in visa and in-country application fees and therefore to set these fees at or below the point of cost recovery for those routes, which are highly price sensitive. The research has also, as the noble Baroness explained, allowed them to overcharge applicants from the richer countries to make up the deficit.

The table of the new fees to be charged from 1 April shows that the amount charged to the applicant is the same in every case, but with a variable amount levied on what are called “corporate partners”, who have to pay “application checking service providers” an amount ranging from £3.57 and £44.78—curiously precise amounts, which I should be grateful if the noble Baroness would explain—in respect of 60 per cent of visa applications. The table does not explain how a particular application comes within the 60 per cent or who these corporate partners are, although one may infer that for somebody applying for a work permit, for example, it would be the employer, and for someone applying for a student visa, it would be the university or educational institution. It would have been helpful if that had been explained in the table.

That is for overseas applications. The table shows all student in-country leave-to-remain applications being charged at a standard £295, instead of the previous £250. Perhaps the Minister could explain how that squares with the principle of differential charging according to what the traffic can bear. As I read it, the same amount can be charged whether the student comes from a very poor country or whether he comes from a rich first-world country, such as the United States.

The Minister may recall that the question of students who need to stay over for short periods at the end of a course leading to a degree or higher degree for academic reasons has been raised. Can we have clarification on that? Presumably, normal student fees are for the period that it will take to attain the degree or the further degree, as the case may be, with the right of multiple re-entry so that the holder can return home during vacations. If the student has to remain for a short period after the end of the degree, say for the ceremony, voting or some academic purpose, is it reasonable to demand £295 extra for the few weeks that that would take?

We recently discussed the new entry certificate monitor’s report and noted her strictures on the continued denial of applicants’ lawful rights of appeal. The Minister who replied, the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, did not accept that proposition or the other assumption, as he called it, that subjective criteria were still being used to assess visitor and student applications. I remind the House that the monitor found that 18.4 per cent of her sample were wrongly refused, and the anecdotal evidence in her

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report makes it abundantly clear that subjective judgments are still being applied.

In relation to denial of appeal rights, I refer the Minister to paragraph 60 of the monitor’s report:

“I assess applications with limited rights of appeal but my most serious and worrying finding is that an unacceptably high proportion of cases put into that category should have been told that they have full rights of appeal. The former Independent Monitor made the same point in each of her Reports and although UKvisas disputed her figures, my own findings suggest that hers were correct”.

Will the Minister acknowledge that the assumptions behind my question on 26 February were correctand were based on four successive reports by entry certificate monitors? If that is so, will applicants who were refused and unlawfully denied their appeal rights have to pay the fee a second time if they lodge a fresh application? Similarly, will the 18.4 per cent of applicants who were wrongly refused be made to pay twice to cover the cost of entry certificate officers’ mistakes? Does the Minister consider that that would be fair?

We do not oppose this order, but we consider that it leaves some important questions unanswered.We suggest that, once the agencies have had an opportunity to consider the effects of the fees proposed, the Minister should invite interestedparties to a round-table discussion. The practical implications could be explored in much greater detail than is possible across the Floor of the Houseto see where there is some flexibility, and further representations could be taken on board.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

International Women's Day

Lynne Featherstone MP, LibDem Spokesperson on International Development, is promoting the use of solar cookers, to mark International Women's Day this Thursday. She says that in the huge camps for refugees and internally displaced persons in Darfur, Chad and Central African Republic, if solar cookers are provided, it means that women don't have to risk being murdered or raped on trips outside the camp to gather firewood. Its also eco-friendly, helping to preseve the sparse vegetaion in these countries.

Why is it always the women who gather firewood, I wonder?

Friday, March 02, 2007

Rest of the week

Question on Chad refugees

Meeting of the Penal Affairs Group with Phil Wheatley, head of the Prison Service, who spoke about what they're doing to reduce their carbon footprint. One problem that hasn't been solved is the large usage of foam rubber mattresses, which end up in landfill. There isn't an economical biodegradable substitute, and there's a European Directive coming down the track which prohibits dumping foam rubber in landfill.

Meeting of the Somaliland Group with BBC experts chaired by Diplomatic Correspondent Bridget kendall with Richard Doden, Director of theRoyal African Society; Yusuf Garaad Omar, Head of the BBC Somali Service, and Frank Gardner OBE, BBC Security Correspondent. The consnsus was that President Abdullahi Yusuf had to broaden the base of his government to includea wider range of clans - he is Darod,and his government is not inclusive, though the Prime Minister is Hawiye.

The withdrawal of the Ethiopians and their replacement by an AU force is not likely to work, because there isn't a stable peace to keep.

Puntland continues to uphold its claim to Sool and Sanaag, which are part of Somaliland, and in the unlikely event of Abdullahi Yusuf gaining a secure hold over the rest of Somalia, he would press for sovereignty over the whole of Somaliland.

The Transitional Federal Charter was a good document, and should form the basis of any inclusive solution. The Islamists are still around, and there are some who should be invitedto participate in government.

The NY Times had reported last week that the US and Ethiopia had planned the invasion just before Christmas.

The Muslim world is likely to see this operation as yet another example of the witch-hunt against Islamic states by the west, and it must be acknowledged that for a few weeks te Islamic Courts had brought a semblance of peace and stability where chaos and endemic conflict betweeen warlords had been the rule for 15 years.

Thursday I spoke at the end of a day long conference on Gypsies and Travellers organised by the Royal Town Planning Institute. My press releas, one paragraph from 30 minutes' worth:

"The rejection of the Dale Farm appeal by Ruth Kelly is a major setback. She acknowledges that the 112 Gypsy pitches in the District are full and that the 107 unauthorised pitches there ‘graphically illustrate the shortage of authorised sites, not just in Basildon, but in Essex and the East of England too’ She goes on to remind herself that in the DCLG’s own Circular 1/2006 local authorities are enjoined to grant temporary permission where there is a reasonable expectation that at the end of the period new sites are likely to become available in the area, as she is satisfied they will here in the next 3-4 years. Yet she concludes that all this is cancelled out by the harm to the Green Belt and to safety over this limited period. What this decision means is that, subject to one further remaining High Court challenge, Basildon is free to spend huge amounts of public money, probably running into millions of pounds on forcibly evicting these 48 families, but the District would still be obliged to provide suitable interim accommodation for those who are pregnant, with dependent children, suffering from physical or mental disabilities, or elderly, under S 188 of the Housing Act 1988, for which they haven’t budgeted. The people would become long-term burdens on the State, being unable to work and requiring additional support, particularly those suffering from permanent disabilities of whom there are several. If the Council succeeds in driving them out of the District, the problems will simply be transferred to the neighbouring authorities of Castle Point, Rochford, Southend-on-Sea and Thurrock. These long term injuries to the wider public interest may not be factors in planning decisions, but they are a great deal more serious than temporary damage to the Green Belt”.

Who knows, maybe the Basildon Echo will print it. Then again, maybe they won't, because its the opposite of their editorial stance, which is to get rid of this encampment without regard to what happens afterwards,