Saturday, April 26, 2008

The week

Last Sunday, to Geneva with the Select Committee on International Organisations, whose first inquiry is on the effectiveness ofintergovernmental action, and of the role within that action by the UK, in combatting the global spread of communicable diseases. In practice we concentrate on HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria, because those diseases are the main killers, though pneumococcal disease kills a million children a year.

Over Monday and Tuesday we took evidence from the World Health Organisation; the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health; the Global Fund for HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria; UMITAID; the Stop TB Partnership; the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers; the GAVI Alliance (a public/private partnership that aims to extend the reach and quality of immunisation coverage within poor countries), and the World Intellectual Property Organization (a UN agency that developed the WIPO Convention to reward creativity but also to safeguard the public interest). Geneva is the health capital of the world, with so many agencies concentrated in the city, and we had an excellent two days.

Having a couple of hours to spare at the end before leaving for the airport I asked the Embassy if they could arrange for me to have short meetings with a couple of the offices of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council, and at very short notice I met staffers from the offices of the Special Rapporteur on Torture; the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter-terrorism, a new mandate. I see the transition from the Human Rights Commission to the Human Rights Council as harmful, partularly because of the emergence of the 'Group of Like-Minded States', which has imposed a code of practice on the special Procedures, eliminated country rapporteurs, and required the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression to consider 'defamation of religion'. Some people say the jury's still out, and that the new 'Universal Periodic Review', which provides for a three-year examination of every member state's human rights record, is a step forward.

Wednesday was Report Stage of Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, and I had another go at erasing 'Special Immigration Status', which puts asylum seekers who are not protected by the Refugee Convention but can't be sent back to their countries of origin in a permanent limbo, unable to work, compelled to live where directed, and barely to survive on benefits less than are available to our own poorest citizens. The Minister, Lord Westm stck closely to his brief, mot answering the points I raised, but as it was 23.30 by the time the debate finished, I didn't press my amendments to the vote.

Thursday afternoon I spent 3 hours taking evidence as part of an informal committee of Members of both Houses looking at pneumococcal disease, and particularly the effects of an initiative developed by the GAVI Alliance, the Advamce Marked Commitment. This enables new vaccines to be brought to the market earlier by guaranteeing the developers a higher level of orders, and in the first instance, it is enabling the launch of pneumococcal vaccines that will save tens of thousands of lives.

Friday I was catching up with some of the paperwork, and discussing with our advisers how we can mitigate the effects of Special Immigration Status. I think we shall have a good amendment ready for the Bill's Third Reading next Wednesday.

Friday evening we went to Handel's Acis and Galatea at Wilton's Music Hall, a brilliant production which has had well-deserved A+ reviews. Kina and Detris, a friend we met through Phil Krone, who is doing a post-graduate course at London Metropolitan University, accompanied us.

Today, Saturday, we have some last-minute delivering to do for the local Lib-Dems for the Mayoral elections which are next week, then to Oxford for the Dean's Dinner. Not much time for homework.

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