Tuesday, March 11, 2008


The busier I am, the later my posts, but here's a belated update on March so far.

Monday March 3 presented the awards to Gypsy and Traveller children winners of the ELAMP distance learning awards, in the Moses Room of the House of Lords. Its a great scheme for GRT children who travel in the summer to receive assignments and send in their coursework using laptops.

Then my Question on the UNICEF report on The State of the World's Children 2008, with particular reference to the lack of progress in reducing infant and maternal mortality in West Africa.

At 16.00, weekly meeting of the Select Committee considering the value for money we get from our subscriptions to international organisations concerned with communicable diseases, mainly B, malaria and HIV/AIDS. So fare we have been considering evidence from medical and academic bodies.

At 18.15, meeting with (Baroness) Kay Andrews to discuss my amendment to the Criminal Justice & Immigration Bill abolishing blasphemy and the remaining statutory religious offences, dealt with by the Law Commission in 1985 and covered by my Bills of 1995 and 2002, followed by the Select Committee on Religious Offences which reported in 2003. The Government had tabled their owm amendment falling a bit short of mine, in that they retained a couple of obsolete Acts I wanted to repeal. The main one was the Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act 1860, which provides that

"riotous, violent, or indecent behaviour in England or Ireland in any cathedral church, parish or district church or chapel of the Church of England, or in any chapel of any religious denomination, or in England in any places of religious worship duly certified under the provisions of the Places of Worship Registration Act 1855, whether during the celebration of divine service or at any other time, or in any churchyard or burial ground, or who shall molest, let, disturb, vex, or trouble, or by any other unlawful means disquiet or misuse any preacher duly authorized to preach therein, or any clergyman in holy orders ministering or celebrating any sacrament, or any divine service, rite, or office, in any cathedral, church, or chapel, or in any churchyard or burial ground, shall, on conviction thereof before two justices of the peace, be liable to a penalty of not more than [F4 level 1 on the standard scale]for every such offence, or may, if the justices before whom he shall be convicted think fit, instead of being subjected to any pecuniary penalty, be committed to prison for any time not exceeding two months".

My argument is that the charge is rarely used, and that conduct of the kind described can be dealt with by the secular laws dealing with public order or harassment. Kay wouldn't have been in a position to make a concession even if she had agreed with me, because Ministers in the Lords are kept on a short leash by their Departments

Tuesday, met TH< who was unfairly sacked by the UNHCR and offered inadequate compensation by the UN Appeals Tribunal many years later. Lord Desai and I are advising him on further steps to get a fair deal.

Then a meeting with Akin Birdal, Turkey's most prominent human rights activists, who has been imprisoned, shot by attempted assassins, but still keeps going.

Wednesday, the debate on the floor of the House on the religious offences amendments. Having got three quarters of a loaf,I will have a go at getting the remaining slices at the Report Stage. In the dinner hour, took part in a debate on the National Audit Office report on risks to overseas territories. I spoke about tax avoidance, the shabby treatment of the Chagos Islanders who were expelled from their lands, and the reversal of moves towards self-government on Ascension Island. All in six minutes. The dinner hour debates are timed, and the more speakers there are, the shorter each speaker has to be.

Thursday, a meeting with Mark Canning, our Ambassador to Burma. At Question time, joined in Lindsay Northover's question on gender inequality, and in Lord de Mauley's, on alcohol and young people.

Yesterday, Monday March 10, lunch and discussion with Abbas al-Bayati, Iraqi MP and Turcoman leader who is on the Committee looking at constitutional change. The Turcomans are concerned among other matters with the status of Kirkuk. Because all decisions have to be unanimous, no progress is being made.

Later, joined in Baroness Rawlings' Question onclimate change and South West Africa, then in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, moved amendments deleting Part 12, dealing with 'Special Immigration Status'. The Government want to create a limbo for people they say are disqualified from refugee status but can't be deported for human rights reasons. The UNHCR say the Government are wrongly interpreting the Convention.to make these ew people destitute for as long as they remain in the UK.

This special status is being created because the convictions of the hijackers who brought a plane load of asylum seekers here from Afghanistan in 2000 were quahed by the Court of Appeal,and they would have had to grant the hijackers 6 months renewable leave to remain without these provisions. We say that nobody was killed or injured by the hijackers, but 100 people were delivered from torture or execution by the Taliban, who ruled the country at the time.

Today, spent the morning and spoke at the National Association of Traveller Teachers/ Advisory Council on theEducation of Romanies and Travellers conference in West Ham. Returned to Westminster in time to join in a Question on the threatened deportation of an Iranian homosexual,Mehdi Kazemi. I asked whether,in view of the persecution of gay and lesbian people in Iran, they would promote an EU wide moratorium on the deportation of gay and lesbian people to Iran.

Later, sat in on Climate Change Bill and spoke on two amendments.

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