Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Somaliland meeting

Meeting to discuss the promotion of security and devlopment in Somaliland, with Mr Abdi Hassan, Chairman of Horn of Africa Development Organisation; Mr Mohamed Kahon, Kulmiye Party Spokesperson; Ms Lulu Todd, and Dr Ahmed.

A bit of the garden, May 20

Friday, May 25, 2007

This week

The highlight of my week was attending the Court of Appeal to hear the judgement handed down in the case of the Chagossiams, who have been fighting a legal battle to be allowed to return to their homeland for years. The Court declared that the two Orders in Council which evicted the islanders 40 years ago were unlawful, and refused the Government leave to appeal to the House of Lords. But the Government still have the right to petition the House of Lords direct for leave to appeal. At the request of Olivier Bancould, leader of the Chagossians, I asked Lord Triesman whether he would agree to meet Olivier in the hope of reaching an amicable agreement and he answered No! From this it is fairly obvious that the Government had already made up their minds to fight this case to the bitter death, regardless of the fact that now three different courts have said the evictions were unlawful, and their chances of getting the law lords to take a different view must be minimal.

I tabled two questions as follows:

Lord Avebury to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether, following the refusal by the Court of Appeal to grant leave to appeal to the House of Lords against the judgment of the Court of Appeal on 23 May dismissing the Government’s appeal against the cancellation by the Divisional Court of two Orders in Council on the right of abode of the Chagossian people in their homeland, they propose to petition the House of Lords for leave to appeal; and whether they accept the decisions of the courts to date. [FCO] HL3981

Lord Avebury to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will take measures to facilitate the return of the Chagos islanders; and create a trust fund to help revive the economy of the Chagos Islands. [FCO] HL3982

Once the petition is lodged, these will be erased from the Order Paper, except in the unlikely event they have already been answered. The sub judice rule is absurd in a case like this, because the media will have commented in detail already, and there has been unanimous condemnation of the government's policy. If the law lords were influenced by what is said outside the court, the damage will have been done already.

Yesterday I chipped in on three questions: Caroline Cox's on further offensives by the Burmese regime against the Karen people inside Karen State and in camps for the displaced in Thailand [www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200607/
ldhansrd/text/70524-0001.htm#07052466000009]; Peter Blaker's on the election of Zimbabwe to the chair of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development [www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200607/
ldhansrd/text/70524-0001.htm#07052466000010], and Nasir Ahmed's, on the disappearance of certain United Kingdom citizens in Pakistan [www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200607/

I have a competition with Dominic Addington to see which of us can contrive to ask supplementaries on all four of the oral questions taken at the start of business.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Business of the House his week

Asylum-seekers: torture victims


The Government doesn’t train officials at Immigration Removal Centres to recognise torture victims, and although allegations of torture by detainees are usually but not always reported, they aren’t properly followed up.

House of Lords (Amendment) Bill


My first speech on House of Lords reform for 38 years (see previous one in the post a few days ago). My Bill seeks to end the by-elections held when a hereditary peer dies, to maintain the number of hereditaries at the arbitrary figure of 92 decided in an agreement between the then Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg, and the then Leader of the Opposition, Viscount Cranborne, in 1999. The Liberal Democrats weren’t consulted, and we didn’t agree to this Gilbert and Sullivan arrangement.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Repairs to Silbury Hill start

May 11 was the start of a big project by English Heritage to repair the damage caused to Silbury Hill by various amateurs going back too the Duke of Northumberland in 1776, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/server/show/ConWebDoc.10894. The contractors are Skanska, who are restoring the monument to as near to its original Neolithic condition as possible.

And by the way, it was Sir John Lubbock, my grandfather, who coined the terms neolithic and palaeolithic in his Prehistoric Times (see the OED references).

There's a new life Science, Politics and Business in the Work of Sir John Lubbock: A Man of Universal Mind (Science, Technology & Culture, 1700-1945) (Hardcover), by Mark Patton, published by Ashgate. The bad news is its £55, even from Amazon, and I think I'll borrow it from the Library.

April 13, leaving Hotel Klusenhof, Bad Waldliesborn

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Meeting organised by the JKLF on Kashmir

Resolution on Kashmir

This meeting, held in the House of Lords on May 8th 2007 on ‘Kashmir, the Way Forward’, under the chairmanship of Lord Avebury

1. Welcomes the improvement of relations between India and Pakistan, but demands that in any projected agreement between them, no constitutional settlement should be imposed on the people of Kashmir.
2. Urges them to continue with normalization in Kashmir, including the facilitation of unfettered contacts between all communities on both sides of the LoC and the progressive reduction of military forces from the whole of the State.
3. Regrets that the report of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee of the House of Commons does not encourage a more positive role for the UK in promoting a solution of the problem of Kashmir which is acceptable to the people of Kashmir.

Friday, May 04, 2007

The Balibo murders

Thursday May 4

An Australian inquest has confirmed that in October 1975, five journalists, including British citizens Brian Peters (28) and Malcolm Rennie (29) were murdered in cold blood by Indonesian troops at Balibo on October 16, 1975 during the invasion of East Timor. On World Press Freedom Day, it was necessary to record that the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court was not retrospective, so war crimes such as this, committed before the ICC came into existence, are not subject to international jurisdiction.

African leaders' myopia on Zimbabwe

Wednesday May 2

How do we get the latest Human Rights Watch report on systematic abuses against opposition members and civil society activists in Zimbabwe, and the increasingly violent repression of ordinary Zimbabweans in Harare’s densely populated suburbs, before African heads of state and foreign ministers? And the same for the Resolution of the Inter-Parliamentary Union on the violations of the rights of Zimbabwean opposition Parliamentarians, likely to be passed this week?

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

International Tribunals (Sierra Leone) Bill [HL]


The Bill enables us to imprison former Liberian President Charles Taylor in an English prison if he is convicted by the Special Court on Sierra Leone. But was it right to transfer the proceedings from Freetown to The Hague? What evidence was there of the supposed threat to regional stability in West Africa that would have arisen if the trial had been conducted in Freetown; what are the views of Sierra Leone civil society and the victims of the war crimes about removing the trial from the country where the offences were committed, amd why did the court refuse to allow Charles Taylor to argue about the venue?

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Bess of Hardwick, 13g grandmother (kind permission of National Trust)

Darfur and Chad (and Central African Republic)

Sudan and Chad
3.02 pm

Lord Alton of Liverpool asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What is their assessment of the current humanitarian and security situation in Darfur and Chad.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Triesman): My Lords, the humanitarian and security situation in Darfur and eastern Chad continues to deteriorate.In Darfur, 107,000 people have been displaced since January, the total number displaced now rising to1.2 million, and 4 million are dependent on aid. Insecurity, lack of access and a tax on humanitarian agencies continues to hamper severely the delivery of aid. In Chad, violence and cross-border attacks have left hundreds of thousands of people vulnerable and dependent on aid.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, as the hourglass recorded at the weekend, on the fourth anniversary of the war in Darfur with reports of the Sudanese military continuing to bomb Darfur,some 4 million people are now dependent on aid, some 2 million people have been displaced, and some 400,000 people have been killed during the conflict. Can the Minister tell the House when the heavy-duty package which he referred to when we last discussed this issue will be put in place? Will he contrastthe welcome decision of Rolls-Royce to proceed immediately with divestment in Darfur because of the humanitarian catastrophe there with the craven and ineffectual response of the international community to impose a no-fly zone or to impose any form of sanctions against a regime responsible for these deaths?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, it is certainly true that in the past week and a half there have been a couple of incidents of bombing about which we have made the appropriate representations to the Government of Sudan. The problem will plainly not improve until not just the heavy support package but the whole of the hybrid African Union and United Nations force can be deployed. Discussions are proceeding on that but, I agree, far too slowly. It is a matter for businesses to decide whether they will impose sanctions; I hope that whatever sanctions they impose do not impact on the people of southern Sudan who are not guilty of any of the crimes that have been described by the noble Lord. However, each time one of those decisions is taken, it seems to reflect a very sound ethical principle.

30 Apr 2007 : Column 869

Lord Hurd of Westwell: My Lords, are the Government supporting the idea of a no-fly zone over Darfur because they think that that would be practical?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, I am sure that it would be technically very difficult, but it is one of the possibilities that remains in play.

Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, will my noble friend point out to the celebrated actors and musicians who were yesterday calling for intervention in Darfur as well as to the famous writers who recently upbraided the leaders of the European Union that the terrible events of Darfur in the past four years have not been a simple morality tale of evil against innocence or of genocide but have been features of a civil war, born in complex political and economic circumstances, in which atrocious things have been done on all sides? Does he agree that the object of international engagement should not be to enable one side to prevail over another but should be to promote political accommodation and power-sharing within Sudan?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, I wholly agree with my noble friend. Atrocities have been committed by all parties fighting in Darfur; they are all violating ceasefire agreements and attacking civilians. None will escape with impunity from the consequences that the international community insists upon. Until there is a comprehensive discussion on a peace as well as a security solution, the prospects for ending the conflict are very poor.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, will the noble Lord elaborate on the deployment of the heavy support package? Since it has finally been agreed by the Government of Sudan, five months after it was mandated by the Security Council, what obstacles remain to getting the troops on the ground and getting the attack helicopters, which have been accepted as part of the package, deployed in Darfur? Will the noble Lord explain what difficulties have been raised by Chad and the CAR to deployment of the peacekeeping mission which would enable them to restore order and return hundreds of thousands of displaced persons in those countries to their homes?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, the problems with deploying the heavy force which is still being discussed are essentially logistical, although President al-Bashir has agreed to it on several occasions without carrying through his agreement. However, the logistic problems lie in making sure that there are adequate camps, clean water, munitions, and so on. That should be dealt with relatively quickly. The Government of Chad object to having other troops on its soil, much in the same way that the Government of Sudan object, but it is plain to me that, unless a humanitarian effort is mounted by the United Nations, the problems in Chad will not be resolved any more than the problems in Darfur.