Friday, June 27, 2008

Thursday and Friday


Meeting with Juanda Djamal and Teuku Kamaruzaman, from Acheh. Kamaruzaman I had last seen at the negotiations between the Indonesians and the GAM (the Acheh freedom movement) in Geneva, where I was helping the peace process initiated by the NGO Humanitarian Dialogue Centre. Since then he had spent two years in prison in Jakarta, but finally an agreement was reached in 2005 on autonomy which brought former GAM members to power in the territory. Teuku Kamaruzaman is now Secretary General of the Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Agency for Acheh and Mr.Juanda is civil society leader and former head of several NGOs. The Acheh peace agreement that was finally reached owed a great deal to the wisdom of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who led the negotiations on behalf of the Indonesian government, and to the prudence of the GAM in accepting internal self-rule. Maybe the devastation caused by the tsunami in late 2004 was the final trigger that led to the deal, but there had been years of painstaking negotiation before that, first with the help of Martin Griffiths and his dedicated team at HDC, and later, that of former Finnish President Marti Ahtisaari.


Chaired a morning seminar on Bangladesh: Political dialogue and the way forward towards elections in the Moses Room, House of Lords to discuss Bangladesh’s present caretaker government’s election process and their dialogue with the political parties.

The keynote speaker was the Awami League’s leader Saber Hossain Chowdhury, ex - minister and political secretary to ex Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Speakers welcomed positive developments including the timely completion of the electoral register, but a resolution was passed unanimously calling for the immediate lifting of emergency rule. Some wanted the election to be held earlier than December, but the general feeling was that parties needed time to appoint candidates, draft manifestos, get them agreed with the memberships, and activate their local branches. There was some feeling that holding the Upazila elections (the lowest tier of local government outside the cities) before the national elections could give the present government power to control the management of the national elections.

Concern was expressed about the mass arrests of political activists, some of whom were alleged to have been tortured.

It was agreed that a delegation of Members of the UK and European Parliaments would seek a meeting with Lord Malloch-Brown, the Foreign Office Minister who deals with Bangladesh, to exchange views on the electoral preparations and identify further assistance the UK might usefully provide, in the light of this discussion

Participants included: Dr Charles Tannock MEP, Baroness Uddin, Brad Adams, Asia Director Human Rights Watch , Abbas Faiz of Amnesty International,
Barrister Nasir Uddin Ashim BNP, Cllr Talal Karim of Liberation, Jenny Lundström, Human Rights Officer, Global Human Rights Defence, The Hague, Newham Cllr Ayub Korom Ali, Md Kamaruddin of BNP, Westminster Cllr Mustaq Qureshi, Nazmul Chowdhury Sharun, London Metropolitan University Students' Union; Sultan Shariff & Gous Sultan of Awami League.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

With Jacir and Pierângela, Makuxi representatives, and Andrew Dismore MP

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.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Sir Ian McKellen reads 'The love that dares to speak its name'

A moment to savour

23 years after 1st Reading of my Blasphemy (Abolition) Bill!

Keith Porteous Wood introducing me

Bye-Bye Blasphemy Party


Friday I had a meeting with Khalid Azizi, General secretary of the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran, and Swara Mouloud, the Party's UK representative, for a discussion on the situation in Iranian Kurdistan, which is deteriorating, as it is in Iran generally. One of the problems we discussed is that of communicating with the Foreign Office, on which I am in touch with officials.

Saturday Lindsay and I attended the Bye Bye Blasphemy party, organised by the National Secular Society. They gave a splendid presentation on the history of blasphemy, and there was a recitation by Sir Ian McKellen of the Gay News poem by James Kirkup which led to the last conviction for blasphemy. Its funny, that now the Government have acted, there's not a squeak of protest, either from the churches or Christian Voice, who were so vociferous during the select Committee which sat for a year after my last Bill, in 2002. Maybe they've been reading the story of what happened to Chicken Licken.

In the evening we saw Ariadne at Covent Garden, with Deborah Voigt in the title role. It had good reviews, deservedly I thought. Gillian Keith was an agile gymanastic Zerbinetta, a bit of a contrast with Ms Voigt, who had a stomach tuck operation after a previous invitation to Covent Garden had been cancelled because she was so vast. She's still pretty large, and so was the Bacchus, Richard Margison, a Canadian like Gillian Keith. I only wished my dearest Aunt Tordie, who died last year, could have been with us - coming from Toronto, and being an avid opera fan, she must have known both of them.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Discussion with leading Iranian Kurds

Molly Lepell

Molly Lepell (Sep 26, 1706 -Sep 2, 1768), my 7G grandmother, by kind permission of The National Trust Picture Library, copyright NTPL/Christopher Hurst. Gay referred to her as 'youth's youngest daughter, sweet Lepell' and Pope was another of her many admirers.

Brig.-Gen. Nicholas Wedig Lepell, was born in Santau, a small town on the right bank of the Elbe. His father was Borchard Lepell and his mother Eleanor, and according to the Rev Sydenham H A Hervey, there was a connection with the von Lepel family, which the writer traced back to the 13th century . He came to England in the entourage of George, Prince of Denmark, the husband of Queen Anne , and if he arrived with the Prince in 1683 he would then have been about 17.. He was naturalised by Private Act of Parliament, then the normal route to citizenship, on February 2, 1699 . He married Mary Brooke, orphan daughter of John Brooke of Rendlesham, Suffolk in August 1698 , when he was 32 and she was 25. She was said to be worth £20,000. They had one child, also called Mary, born September 26, 1706 .

Nicholas was said to have received a commission to raise a regiment of foot towards the end of 1711, and was promoted to Brigadier-General five years later . But since he was at the battle of Villaviciosa in Spain on December 10, 1710, already a brigadier , it is more likely that he was given a command after Prince George died in 1708. He died before April 19, 1720, since on that date the marriage settlement between his daughter Mary and John Hervey [HA 507/4/12, Suffolk Record Office] describes Mary Lepell as widow.

Daughter Mary who unlike most women at the time was properly educated in French, German and Latin, as well as being a great beauty and an heiress worth £20,000, married John, Lord Hervey, and they in turn had one child, a daughter named Lepell, who married Constantine John Phips, 1st Baron Mulgrave. Yet again the couple had one girl child, Henrietta Maria, who married Charles, 12th Viscount Dillon. Their son Henry, 13th Viscount Dillon, married Henrietta Browne. Their daughter, also Henrietta Maria, married Edward John 2nd Baron Stanley of Alderley, from whom we are twice descended – through a daughter Alice, who married General Augustus Fox Pitt Rivers, and through a son Edward Lyulph 4th Baron Stanley of Alderley.

Molly Lepell, by Knapton

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Steve, from Chicago, leaves after one day visit last week

Monday to Wednesday

Monday I had a kind offer of research help from a barrister with lots of international experience! The problem is, I have no office space in the House, no discrete research tasks that can be separated from the rest of the day's work, and a large amount of very humdrum tasks like trying to get bits of paper into the right files, and respomdimg to routine correspondence.

Afternoon, Select Committee, looking at the draft of the first chapters of the report on communicable diseases. Them, to Refugee Council reception, where they launched a campaign on allowing asylum seekers to work. That's been our Party policy for years. Its plain stupid to keep people on benefits when they are capable of earning a living.

Tuesday, chaired a meeting of the CHT Working Group in the Moses Room. There are some excellent people working on the issues and it would be useful to find ways of improving their links.

Then fielded questions on Zimbabwe, and the Government's insane policy of doubling the number of places in Immigration Detention Centres. They have a mania for locking up ever more people, instead of sorting out the problems. Two out of every five people who are detained in IDCs are subsequently released back into the community, and others spend months in the Centres because of administrative problems like getting their countries of origin to accept them back. But the Government SAY they are turning the cases round faster, which should mean fewer rather than more detention places. And they could put more effort into volumtary returns, where people have reached the end of the road.

Later, in the Moses Room, an order on the Fees being charged for Tier 2 and Tier 5 immigrants under the new Points Based Scheme. They haven't thought through how to deal with visiting Buddhist monks, who aren't employed, though in Tier 5 there is a category for 'temporary religious worker'. Before they launched the scheme they consulted two lay Buddhists but no representative of the Sangha. It was as if they claimed to have consulted the Church of England by talking to a couple of laymen picked at random and ignored the synod. I hadn't had time to warn the Minister I was goinfto raise this problem, so all he could do was promise to write to me.

Today, Wednesday, there were more votes on the Lisbon Treaty Bill in which the Government and the LibDems heavily defeated the Tories. The Tories say they're pro-Europe but are doing their best to wreck attempts to improve the way Europe operates.

Discussed next Monday's meeting of the International Organisations Committee with the Chair, Clive Soley. He has to be absent and has asked me to chair the meeting at which evidence is being taken from DfID and Health Ministers.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Sriya, Prins, Lanka, &Thomas + their two boys, Doris

Lyulph's birthday party

Mel's house, North Devon

Lindsay in North Devon

Last seven days

Last Sunday, to the Globe, for Merry Wives of Windsor, with Mort but alas Sarah was still not feeling well enough to join us. There was aflying apron (I think its called) in front of the stage) and it was difficult to hear the actors on it. But generally to follow a play at the Globe one ought to have the text, and I mean to do that in future.

Monday morning Mort and Sarah left for Washington, and I do hope she survived the journey without too much discomfort. I fielded three out of the four questions:

House of Lords
Deportation: Iran
Sudan: Comprehensive Peace Agreement
EU-Latin America Summit

Then, an informal meeting of the Select Committee on International Organisations, at which there was a discussion on possible subjects for the next session, assuming we are to continue. There is only a fixed number of Select Committees, determined by the availability of human and financial resources, and there are competing subjects, on which th Liaison Committee adjudicates.

Then, a meeting with Salim Malik of theAhmaddiya Muslims, to discuss problems the Community is experiencing in Pakistan and Indonesia. Surprisingly, there is very little mention of the persecution of the Ahmadis in the reports of te Universal Periodic Review of Pakistan at the UN Human Rights Council.

Tuesday, chaired a meeting of the All-Party Gypsies and Travellers Group to hear from former (Conservative) Councillor Richard Bennet to hear about the sterling work ha had been doing with the Local Government Asssociation and individual local authorities to persuade them of the merits of the present arrangements for providing enough sites.

After lunch, fielded Peter Blaker's regular question on Zimbabwe. The Minister, Lord Malloch-Brown, tries hard, but obviously there are limites on what the UK can achieve.

At 17.00, to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Centenary celebration at the QEII conference centre across the road, where I had the honour of being received by the Khalifa, and was invited to speak first at the very well attended public gathering. Then had to leave before the dinner to get back to the House, to speak on the Immigration (Registration Card) Order 2008. I'm not bothering to give Hansard references any more, because in the unlikely event of anyone actually wanting to read what I said, its very easy to find it on the Parliament website.

Wednesday, a meeting of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group officers, and a briefing on Sudan by FCO officials.

Thursday, lunch at the Fishmongers, for those who had been liverymen for more than 50 yers.

Friday, Limndsay returned from North Devon where she was staying with Mel.

Saturday, Lyulph's birthday party.

Today, Prins and Suriya, Lamka and Thomas and their two children to lunch. Verity arrived for a short stay.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Sarah had a stomach upset, missing a good dinner in Soho followed by antics at the Windmill

This week

Monday morning the awards for the poster competition for Gypsy Roma Traveller History Month were distributed in Committee Room 3 by the Minister, Andrew Adonis, and me. There was a very good attendance from the winners, their parents and teachers, who were all agreed that it was an excellent start to the History Month.

Afternoon, Select Committee on Intergovernmental Organisations, meeting to consider the structure and themes of the report on the UK's contribution to organisations dealing with HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria.

Tuesday, question on Zimbabwe (, a slow-motion catastrophe in which the international community demonstrates its impotence.

Evening, to the National History Museum for the launch of Darwin 200, the bicentenary of his birth.

Wednesday, very agreeable lunch with Philippe Labreveux and friends including George Hayim, born 1920, who gave me his autobiography. I told him I didn't read anything about modern times for pleasure, but this is definitely an exception.

Thursday, three hourse evidence taking in the All-Party Committee on Pneumococcal Disease. These diseases kill a million chidren every year, and it may be asked why the Select Committee didn't cover them in its terms of reference.

Dinner with Tameem Ebrahim from Singapore, who was on the last leg of a 3-week trip covering most of the globe. I hadn't seen him for several months, and it was good to catch up, though we're in touch by email and occasionally Skype.

Friday, to the Norwegian Embassy for a lunch in honour of Shirin Ebadi, the Nobel Prizewinning Iranian judge and human rights activist. Then to Lady Rothermere's for a meeting of the Friends of the Alola Foundation, which is concerned with promoting the interests of women and children in East Timor. Patricia Mirrlees reported on her visit to East Timor, and to Atauro Island where a kindergarten had been constructed with our help. The building was only being used for the children two hours a day, and we wondered if it might also double as a local centre for maternal and infant health.

Morton and Sarah arrived from Washington to visit.

CHT Commission mission statement

Mission statement of the re-established CHT Commission:

The purpose of the Commission, which is composed of concerned experts from inside and outside Bangladesh, is to promote respect for human rights, democracy, participatory development and land rights in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, including examination of the implementation of the CHT Peace Accord of 1997. It will build on the work already done by the Commission between 1990 and 2001.

Today, events in the CHT become known rapidly world wide, and the issues are well known in Bangladesh and internationally. They are increasingly of concern to human rights organizations, the media, and all within Bangladesh who are looking for a peaceful future in the CHT based on the preservation of the linguistic, cultural and religious rights of the indigenous inhabitants.

The limited implementation of the 1997 CHT Peace Accord, particularly as regards land rights; the continued violations of human rights in the region; the relentless influx of Bengali settlers, and the oppressive presence of the military, made a compelling case for re-establishing the CHT Commission, decided at the Copenhagen Conference of May 31 and 1 June.

The meeting elected Ms Sultana Kamal, Ms Ida Nicolaisen and Eric Avebury as co-chairs of the Commission.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Chittagong Hill Tracts

This conference was held in Copenhagen on May 31 and June 1, following up the earlier work of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission, an international body of experts which published a series of reports on the governance and human rights problems of the CHT between 1991 and 2000. The territory had been administered separately during the colonial era, but since independence it has been effectively under the control of the military. Arrangements for local self-government, agreed in 1997, were not implemented, and immigration of settlers from the rest of Bangladesh have progressively diluted the CHT's cultural, linguistic and religious identity. The Copenhagen meeting discussed the present situation, and made decisions on how to proceed, which will be announced shortly.

Presented to me on the 50th Anniversary of the Maurice Lubbock Engineering Scholarship, by the Scholars