Monday, September 29, 2008

And so does Elalia

JW puts the finishing touches to his paper


End of 79 years

Ping pong with JW today 1-1, cumulative score since I had my lung tumour removed in April 2006 96-91 in my favour. Most of today he's been slaving away on his MA dissertation, and our guest Elalia has been doing last minute work on hers too. They have to be handed in by 16.00 tomorrow, printed and bound, then its fingers crossed for the next two months.

We had one of Lindsay's special dinners this evening to celebrate the milestone for all of us.

As soon as he can get a flight JW is off to Denver to volunteer for the Democrats in the run-up to the Presidential election.

Our life is nothing but a winter's day.
Some only break their fast and so away
Others stay longer and depart full fed
He's most in debt that lingers out the day
Who hastes betimes has less and less to pay

If anybody can tell me where that quote comes from I'll be surprised.

At my desk today

Last week

Monday Sep 22, chaired the AGM of the London Bach Society, of which I'm President

Tuesday, spoke at a lunchtime seminar of the FCO's Ministerial Correspondence Unit, in one of the magnificent rooms at Charles II Street

Wednesday, visit from Kabita Chakma, who I last met in Bangkok 13 years ago, with Sophie Grig from Survival, and Lal Amlai, see photograph below. Discussion on the current state of affairs in the CHT, and Kabita's particular interest, the people who were displaced from their homes by the Kaptai Lake. Kabita says thatt Bob McMullan, the Australian Minister for Development, is interested in the CHT.

Thursday, addressed an FCO seminar on the work of the House of Lords, this time in the IPU rooms in the Palace of Westminster. Just as I reached the end of my speech the fire alarms went off and we were all hustled out of the building, allowing no time for discussion.

Today is my 80th birthday, and I'm trying to pretend that I'm not really that age.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Is Turkey fit for EU membership?

From Lord Avebury

September 20, 2008

Dear Mr Rehn

In the Enlargement Commission’s 2007 Report on Turkey’s progress towards accession {COM(2007) 663 final, November 6, 2007}, there were as usual a number of references to the restrictions on freedom of expression, particularly on Armenian and Kurdish issues.

Yesterday it was reported in The Guardian that a new field of comment has been closed. ( A Turkish court has ruled that access to Professor Richard Dawkins’ website is banned, and that this is the latest of many such blockings imposed by the courts.

As you know, next year is the bicentenary of Darwin's birth, and when the whole world is about to celebrate Darwin and his discovery of the theory of evolution, it is particularly incongruous that the people of a state that is hoping to join the EU should be denied access to a website that promotes Darwin, and robustly counters the absurd fantasies of a Turkish creationist.

I certainly hope you will ensure that in this year’s report on Turkey’s progress it will be made clear that the law denying freedom of expression, including access to the internet, is one of the main barriers to their attainment of European standards. You mention freedom of expression en passant in your Milliyet article of August 28 on revitalising Turkey’s progress, but it needs to be spelled out in detail. You need to say in particular, I respectfully suggest, that the banning of internet sites that are lawful throughout the EU is unacceptable.

Mr Olli Rehn,
Commissioner for Enlargement,
Rue de la Loi 200, 1040 Brussels

Friday, September 19, 2008

Ping pong

Yesterday's games with JW 2-1 to me, cumulative 95-90 to me since April 2006.

He almost finished the first draft of his MA dissertation today, and has 11 days left to polish it.

Stateless - the Bidoon of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia

From Lord Avebury

September 19, 2008

Dear Kim,

Thank you for your letter of August 13 about the Kuwaiti Bidoon.

Frankly, its hard to credit assurances of future intentions, even when they are as modest as the granting of citizenship to the 500 in government employment. On February 14, 1995, Douglas Hogg MP, then Minister, told me that the government had set up a committee the previous year ‘to recommend ways of regularising the position of those who are genuinely stateless or who have been long term residents of Kuwait’, and as you know, other promises have been made intermittently before and since then, none of which came to anything.

BBC Monitoring yields only three references to the Bidoon. One is a denial of a Kuwaiti plan to settle them in the Comoros, and the other two are about a study by the Saudi Ministry of the Interior launching a study ‘with the aim of finding solutions to their problems’, putting them roughly where the Kuwaiti Bidoon were in 1995. This is a regional problem, and rather than each country desultorily looking at it from a domestic point of view, we should urge the GCC to look for a common solution, and do so within a fixed timetable, with legal help from the international community.

BBC Monitoring didn’t translate the article in the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Qabas which described citizenship as ‘the most important issue on the table of the executive and legislative authorities for long years…’ and they say ‘there is no serious will to close this file’. (Refugees International Bulletin September 17, 2008,

The process of dividing the Bidoon into three categories, as described by the Interior Minister in June, is another way of putting off a comprehensive solution. It will take time to design this scheme, and then presumably it would need Parliamentary approval. If it goes ahead, a few thousand might be granted citizenship in several years time, and in the meanwhile, the number of births of non-citizens may cancel out the number granted citizenship in the first of the three categories. As the Refugees International Bulletin points out, we invaded Kuwait to rectify a violation of international law that affected its inhabitants. The denial of citizenship to a large number of people born in the territory of the state is also a violation of international law, and it needs to be remedied without further procrastination.

Could we please discuss these issues with our colleagues in other EU member states, and agree on a demarche to step up the pressure on the GCC for a solution for all the Bidoon in the region?

Dr Kim Howells MP
Foreign & Commonwealth Office,
London SW1A 2AH

Disappeared - Masood Janjua & 1,000 others

From Lord Avebury

September 19, 2008

Dear Mark,

Today I met Mrs Amina Janjua, wife of Masood Janjua, who disappeared on July 30, 2005, after he had set out on a journey from Rawalpindi to Peshawar. The facts have been given to FCO officials, when Mrs Janjua met them at the beginning of the month, and they kindly promised to make inquiries on Mrs Janjua’s behalf.

The fact is, however, that Mr Janjua is one of 575 cases known to his wife, who has founded an organisation Defence of Human Rights to pursue them, and Amnesty International, whose Campaigner for Pakistan and Afghanistan Ms Maya Pastakia accompanied her, say that the number is probably much higher (see Amnesty International Denying the Undeniable, July 2008).

Some of the missing people are said to have been detained as part of the ‘war on terror’, and some because they were political opponents of the military government. Mr Janjua and some others including children don’t fit into either of these categories.

At the Working Group on Pakistan’s UPR on June 4, 2008, the UK “asked about what steps Pakistan will take to investigate arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings and torture perpetrated by security forces”. The Pakistani representative said they were about to accede to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances, and this was one of the recommendations adopted. However, if they are genuine, they could begin by coming clean on the hundreds of persons already in custody, whose relatives still don’t know their fate after several years.

As you know, I have very little faith in the UPR process, and although the mantra of Amnesty International, like that of the FCO, is that its too early to make a judgement, I think that after 32 states have been examined, we can see the way the wind is blowing. Where the Working Group does make recommendations, they are in very general terms, often urging as in this case that the state sign up to relevant treaties, and ignoring the need to remedy existing endemic human rights violations. I hope that if not before, we can have a discussion on the process in the debate on the Queen’s Speech in November.

The Rt Hon the Lord Malloch-Brown KCMG,
Foreign & Commonwealth Office,
London SW1A 2AH

Monday, September 15, 2008

Springhill Prison

The pictures are of the celebration at Springhill Prison of the 15th Anniversary of the opening there of the first Buddha Grove in an English prison. The construction work was all carried out by prisoners, under the leadership of Sam Cutler, who was coming towards the end of an 8-year sentence, and with the active encouragement of the then Governor, Tim Newall, who was there yesterday, with Mrs Newall. The present Governor, Dr Peter Bennett, has kept up what is now a tradition, of marking the Anniversary with an event in the Grove including chanting by a number of monks led by the Ven Ajahn Khemadhammo Mahathera, the Spiritual Director of the Buddhist Prison Chaplaincy Angulimala, a few short speeches, and a meal prepared by the Thai community for the prisoners, staff and visitors. An official from the Thai Embassy was amongst the visitors as usual.

Prins Gunasekera came with me on this visit as he has done also on many years, and it was good to have his company on the journey. I was trying out our new GPS device, and instead of my usual route via the M40 it took us via north London, with traffic jams in strange places such as Cricklewood, and then through Aylesbury, so that we arrived 20 minutes after the official starting time of 18.00. Maybe this route was the shortest in distance, but it certainly wasn't for time.

Today Margaret Steinitz came to lunch and we talked about the programme the London Bach Society is having on November 7, partly for my 80th birthday, as well as other plans the LBS has forthe future. Margaret is doing great work encouraging schools to take an interest in Bach, for instance by combining performances with teaching 18th century dance moves. Unfortunately its an uphill struggle to get the public interested in Bach; his music isn't much played on the BBC, or taught in the schools are generally and the DCMS, the Department of Culture, doesn't give it much encouragement.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Boring but necessary

Yesterday Victoria came and had a blitz on my old files, clearing out most of the stuff except correspondence so they would be ready to send to Hull University where my archives are kept. They must have a huge amount of storage space.

Today, more paperwork, and a couple of games of ping-pong, 2-0 to me, cumulative total 93-89 since April 2006.

Should lone parents be forced back to work?

From Lord Avebury P0811093

020-7274 4617

September 11, 2008

Dear Stephen,
I attach an email I had from Ms Barbara Stark, Chair of Action for Home Education Group (AHEd) about the draft SI The Social Security (Lone Parents and Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2008, which compels lone parents to go back to work as soon as their youngest child reaches the age of 10, in 2009) and then 7 in 2010. My impression is that these ages have been chosen arbitrarily by the government with the sole object of reducing the social security bill, and are not based on any evidence that the Order will achieve better outcomes for children or parents. On the contrary, there may be serious disadvantages in families with several children, where supervision by the lone parent through adolescence is necessary to keep the children in order and help them through the later stages of their school careers. Already, far too many children go off the rails in their early teens with drugs, alcohol and crime, and reducing the ability of a lone parent to counter these tendencies isn’t likely to improve the children’s prospects.
I personally believe that changes on the lines of this Order shouldn’t be accepted by Parliament unless and until there has been consultation on the possible social consequences, instead of the Procrustean assumption of No one written off: reforming welfare to reward responsibility, that everyone except the most severely disabled people or others with full-time caring responsibilities is expected to work. The lone parent does have the important caring responsibility of ensuring that her children become good citizens, maximising their potential contribution to society through education, and respecting other people. We can already see the consequences of our failure to think about these values, and I fear that your policy is calculated to make things worse,

The Rt Hon Stephen Timms MP,
Department for Work & PPensions,
4th floor, Caxton House,
Tothill Street,
London SW1H 2NS

Barbara Stark

Wednesday 10 September 2008

Dear Lord Avebury,

It was with great pleasure that AHEd [1] noted your statement during the July debate on the Education and Skills Bill, that "We ought to acknowledge that work in the home, particularly work as a mother, is every bit as valuable as work outside the home. Raising the next generation of citizens and workers is an honourable and very demanding occupation and should be recognised as such."

It is in light of such sentiment that we appeal to you to oppose The Statutory Instrument - The Social Security (Lone Parents and Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2008 which is to be laid before both Houses, and to encourage other members of the House to do the same.

The regulations propose, from November 2008, to remove the safety net of Income Support (IS) from lone parents whose youngest child is aged 12 years. This age threshold will be further reduced by 2010, requiring lone parents to actively seek work when their youngest child reaches seven. Parents will be placed on job seekers allowance and face the threat of cuts in benefit. As you know, these regulations are part of the government's fundamental reforms to create a new welfare to work system.

AHEd members are very concerned that whilst the Government claims it will help to "lift children out of poverty", the move promises to cause extreme stress and hardship for many families, including those who home educate, those whose children have special needs or disabilities and those who have been abandoned by partners, as well as widowed parents and mothers fleeing domestic violence.

These proposals were first brought to our attention in January 2007 by a parent in Scotland who was concerned that lone parents home educating their children - often through necessity as a result of bullying or because the school system could not cater for their children's special needs or disabilities - would have their Income Support withdrawn if they did not make themselves available for paid employment.

Tom Clarke MP subsequently obtained assurances from the then Minister John Hutton that home educating lone parents' responsibilities would be fully recognised. However the Government has now indicated that no such exceptions will be made. In addition, it was strongly expressed by participants during the 'In Work Better Off' consultation, that there should be no extension of conditionality for these groups. Many of our members have contacted their MPs and there is concern amongst those MPs that these regulations will indeed cause hardship, yet so far we have failed to halt this roller coaster. Despite warnings from individuals and organisations representing
vulnerable families, that children will be further impoverished by these Regulations, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has indicated that it will press on and force lone parents to seek work as soon as their children reach the designated age, leaving it up to the discretion of Jobcentre staff to decide whether to allow any
flexibility within the Jobseekers Allowance system in response to individual circumstances.

We are receiving reports from frightened parents who have been called in for work focused interviews and told they will have to take paid employment or lose benefit; some of these are parents among the few who should be exempt, such as pregnant mothers, mothers of children below the threshold age, and parents in receipt of disability benefits for themselves and/or their children, who are being misinformed by
Jobcentre Plus staff seeking to impose blanket enforcement on all lone parents regardless of circumstances.

AHEd is concerned for all of the families who are rendered vulnerable by this proposal, but our primary concern is that, where a parent has chosen to home educate their child, they must not have this choice removed by the threat of severe poverty created by these Regulations. Parents do not make this choice lightly and in many instances there truly is no alternative for their child's educational well-being.

It must remain the responsibility of parents to decide if the need to be available for their children and the demands of paid employment can be reconciled. In removing the responsibility for this decision from parents and putting it into the hands of advisors at Jobcentre Plus, the government will be leaving families with stark choices between financial, educational and perhaps emotional poverty.

Thank you for considering our concerns and we look forward to your support.

Yours sincerely,

Barbara Stark
(Chair, AHEd.) For the committee and membership of AHEd Action for Home Education Group.

[1] Action for Home Education Group.

(Signed with an electronic signature in accordance with subsection 7(3)
of the Electronic Communications Act 2000.)

Friday, September 12, 2008

Last week: cruise on the River Douro

Local authority vandalism

From Lord Avebury P0811091

020-7274 4617

September 11, 2008

Dear Cllr Hillier,

I am appalled by the news that Basildon Council intends to demolish the St Christopher Centre at Dale Farm, a facility that has already proved of great benefit socially and educationally to all the residents. There should be no evictions until land is designated for permanent accommodation of the people on the Dale Farm site, as the Council will have to do sooner rather than later under the Planning & Compulsory Purchase Act. It would be a vindictive and pointless act of vandalism to single out the St Christopher Centre for removal now, when the future of all the residents who use it still has to be decided. The Development Control Committee may like to be reminded of a statement endorsed by a number of Bishops, Parliamentarians and Traveller Organisations calling for a halt to eviction plans and for the Council to focus on delivering its obligation to identify land for new pitches. This statement was sent to Cllr Buckley leader of Basildon Council and a copy is attached for ease of reference.

In the light of these considerations, I very much hope the Committee will decline to approve the demolition of the St Christopher Centre.

Councillor Stephen Hillier,
Development Control and Traffic Management Committee,
Basildon Council

Dale Farm Statement

"We welcome the judgement made by Justice Collins and believe that it is
right for a forced eviction action at Dale Farm to be suspended and call
for the creation of new pitches in the Basildon area under the
Government's new accommodation policies for Travellers to be implemented
as a matter of urgency. The shortage of Traveller sites was caused by the
abolition in 1994 of the duty on councils to provide Traveller sites. We
recognise that the shortage of Traveller sites has caused hardship and
difficulties for both the Traveller and wider communities. It is now time
for genuine dialogue to take place and we call upon local politicians and
the media to make greater effort to foster an environment conducive to
such debate. We commend the Essex Fire Brigade Service and Equalities and
Human Rights Commission for initiating dialogue and a proposed series of
talks between Travellers and Basildon Council.

Endorsed by:

Rt Revd Thomas McMahon, Roman Catholic Bishop of Brentwood
Rt Revd John Gladwin, Church of England Bishop of Chelmsford
Lord Avebury, Secretary of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Gypsy and
Traveller Law Reform
Julie Morgan MP, Chair of the APPG on Gypsy and Traveller Law Reform
Baroness Whitaker, Vice Chair of the APPG on Gypsy and Traveller Law
Traveller Law Reform Project - including the Irish Traveller Movement in
Britain, the Gypsy Council, Friends Families and Travellers, The London
Gypsy & Traveller Unit.