Thursday, February 28, 2008

The week

I should have added, in the note on the Second Reading of my House of Lords (Amendment) Bill last Friday, that the Leader of the Conservatives, Lord Strathclyde, called me 'shallow and discraceful'. I thanked him for his compliments, which will do me good with my Party.

Monday from 10.00 to 13.00 I chaired a very successful and well-atttended seminar on Bangladesh in the Moses Room, with speakers from the Commons, the European Parliament, the Bangladesh High Commission, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Awami League, the BNP etc. We were looking at the roadmap to the elections, which are to be held by the end of the year. In April there are to be local elections in the larger towns and cities, and the High Commissioner said that the ID cards would be issued to al the urban electors, and the registers would be published in good time. Although the timetable has slipped, the authorities will consider publishing a revised paper on the tasks that remain to be completed before the general election. The Electoral Commission has recommended that the restrictions on political activites should be lifted on March 20, and they are in fact being progessively relaxed. There are still concerns about the treatment of some independent TV stations and some print journalists, and we are intending to summarise these and other matters raised during the seminar in a communication to Dhaka, via the High Commissioner.

Monday afternoon from 16.00 to 18.00 I had Select Committee on International Organisations, which is considering whether the UK gets value for money from its payments to the World Health Organisation etc, in tackling communicable diseases - mainly HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria, the three largest killers (though I hope we will pay some attention o pneumococcal disease, which kills a million children a year). We are also looking at the organisations that are preparing for the next flu pandemic,a matter of when, not whether. The Committee took evidence on Monday from the Health Protection Agency, which has an important role to play in protecting our own population against communicable diseases as well as other potential hazards such as chemical and nuclear, by providing impartial advice and authoritative information on health protection issues to the public, communities, professionals and to government.

Then from 19.30 to 20.30 I was in the Chamber speaking on two Orders - one on the above-cost fees to be charged for certain immigration services, the other on the vast database to be constructed giving details of the passports and 'Pasnger Name Records' of every person entering or leaving the United Kingdom, at a cost of £1.4 billion. Of this, £240 million is to be charged to airlines.After the debate I had a call from the Geneva-based SITA, the world's leading service provider of IT business solutions and communication services to the air transport industry, who are coming to see me to discuss problems arising from this proposal. Somebody reads Hansard!

Tuesday I hosted an English Speaking Union tea party as understudy for my colleague George Thomson (Lord Thomson of Monifieth), who wasn't well. George is 86 and pretty good for his age, but I think he's had some knee problems recently.

Then I had a meeting with Hugh McKinney and Nick Osbourne to discuss the work of the Al-Party Group on Pneumococcal Disease, and particularly the outline of a report by the Group.

In the dinner hour debate I spoke on the human rights situation in West Papua. The UN Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Hina Jilani, was there last summe, and as well as her report, there is a good deal of material from the US State Department, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. The Indonesians had also invited Manfred Nowak, the Rapporteur on Torture, to visit West Papua, and openness to the UN Special Procedures is a move in the right direction, though journalists and human rights NGOs are still not welcome in the Province.

Wednesday, Party meeting 14.00 to 15.00. Then I fielded a question on the return to war in Sri Lanka, and the recommendations of the All-Party Representative Committee there. I asked what DfID was contributing towards the Common Humanitarian Action Plan, which it is feared may have to assist half a million people; whether the Ministr agreed that limited devolution of power to the north and east would do something to mitigate the polarisation of the two communities, even though it would be better to insist that the all-party committee recommendations are published by April, even if the parties weren't unanimous, and if the Minister would comment on the need for a more politically powerful contact group, now that the Norwegian role has come to an end.

After questions I attended a meeting of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group officers - I'm Vice-Chair - with the Russian Ambassador, largely to discuss the situation in Chechnya. He agreed that the Group could send a delegation to Chechnya.

Today I fielded a question on the queues at immigration control at the UK's airports. The evidence is that the length of the queues vary, from 0 to 68 minutes, and there must be best practice that could be developed from an analysis of the reasons for the differences between one airport and another.

After lunch I was invited to te office of the Leader of the House, Cathy Ashton (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) who was receiving a large party of schoolchildren She had promised to get me the answer to a question I had tabled more than three and a half months ago, on the dates of the former Prime Minister Tony Blair's contacts with Rupert Murdoch towards the end of his term of office. The schoolchildren left; the answer to the question arrived hot off the press, and Cathy handed it to me!

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