Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Ping pong and other recent events

One game I omitted to record made it 78-76 to me, and this evening I won 2-1, making the grand total since my April 2006 operation (see blog at the time) 80-77.

Monday I chaired a meeting in the Moses Room of the Chagos Islanders in exile and their main supporters, on the next stages in the campaign for their right to return to their own land, from which the British Government kicked them out forty years ago to make way for an American military base. They've won their case up to the Court of Appeal, and next Monday the Government are making a final desperate appeal to the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords to stop them. The case is to be heard starting next Monday, with the decision to be announced in October. In the meanwhile, a political campaign to uphold the islanders' rights needs to be developed and the meeting called for an All-Party Parliamentary Group to be formed to help them. More on this later.

In the House, I asked a question about the failure of the Government's Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy. Since it was launched four years ago. more children and pregnant women are drinking than ever; prescriptions and hospital admissions for alcohol-related diseases have shot up, and violence by people under the influence of alcohol has risen sharply. The Government ignore the plain truth that to reduce the consumption of alcohol, and the harm it causes, the levers of price and availability would be the most effective.

Later I chaired the meeting of the Select Committee on International Organisations, in Clive Soley's absence. The subject is the effectiveness of our spending on the international control of communicable diseases,principally HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria, and Gillian Merron from the Department of Health, and Dawn Primarolo from DfID, gave evidence together, demonstrating joined-up Government as they said. That was the last session before considering our Report, and the aim is to publish before the House rises for the summer recess towards the end of July.

After that I attended the Grand Committee on the Housing and Regeneration Bil, where Janet Whitaker and I had an amendment on the tenure of caravans under the Mobile Homes Act, including Gypsies and Travellers under this Bill. That's a step forward, but we didn't like the restriction in the MHA preventing the occupiers of mobile homes going to court as a last resort in settling disputes with the site owner. The best we could get from the Minister, Steve Bassam, was that all the favourable comments on our amendment would be fed into a review being conducted by the Government.

Tuesday morning I hosted a party of 18 German students and their teachers, from Schleswig Holstein for a discussion in Committee Room 3, on the work of the House of Lords. They were a lively and attentive group, and we had a splendid discussion.

At Questions, there was a discussion on the drug Khat, which apparently the Tories want to ban. The research available indicates that Khat is addictive, causes a variety of physical and mental health problems and is socially harmful to the Somali and Yemeni communities. It is chewed for hours on end almost entirely by men in insanitary dens called 'Mafresh', leaving the women to support the families. But rather than creating a new series of offences and clogging up the prisons still further, I suggested levying duties on the imports of Khat; licensing the Mafresh, and launching an education campaign so that the communities affected are fully aware of the harm it causes them.

This morning I attended the All-Party Committee on Tribal People to hear from representatives of the Makuxi indigenous people of Brazil, who are threatened with displacement from their lands by armed settlers, backed by the regional government, even though the Brazilian Federal Government has confirmed the Makuxi people's exclusive rights to their territory.

Later, with other officers of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group, I attended a tea party for the law firms that support the work of the PHRG. Further areas of cooperation were usefully discussed.

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