Friday, January 30, 2009

Another week

First and foremost, the picture below is of Lindsay and her Project Group on the bandstand. After several years they are somewhere near completion of their £3.5 million renovation of Myatt's Fields Park, with a new playground, restoration of the Victorian features, and still to come, a new children's building.

Monday, there was a statement in the House by the Leader, Jan Royall, on the story in the previous day's Sunday Times about four peers who were reported to have agreed to influence kegislation for amounts of up to £120,000. The reporter had them on tape, but this was not a criminal offence, and under the rules they couldn't even be suspended if the allegations are sustained by the inquiry she has launched. Everyone agrees that stiffer penalties should be available including expulsion, but this would need legislation. Even peers who are convicted of criminal offences are not liable to expulsion and in theory there is nothing to stop Jeffrey Archer from resuming his seat. I remember the Gannex millionaire Lord Kagan did return after serving a sentence for VAT fraud, and although he never spoke in the chanber, ne was a regular attender at the All-Party Penal Affairs Group, where I particularly remember him unfavourably comparing the standard of the cooking in Pentonville with the Santé in Paris.

Tuesday, Janet Whitaker's question on the imminent prospect of eviction of the 400 Travellers from their site at Dale Farm, near Basildon in Essex. There is still a faint hope that they may be able to appeal to the Judicial Committee for a stay of the possession order, but the likelihood is even at the best that all these people including many children will be kicked out long before there is anywhere they could legally station their caravans. The Council say the eviction will cost £1.9 million, but that's not the end of the story. The Travellers intend to move onto some other land they own, and the Council will need to spend another huge sum on a secind evction. There will be enormous costs for additional health, social security and children's services for years down the line, and the life chances of the young people affected will be permanently impaired.

Later, a meeting of the Penal Affairs Committee on drugs in prisons, a major problem that is never going to be completely solved. We don't really know how to get people off drugs, but we spend a lot on CARAT - 'Counselling, Assessment, Referral, Advice and Throughcare'. Not a word was said about alcohol, which is an even bigger problem in the community, but isn't treated as an addiction.

Then, a meeting with the Law Society, which is keen to have closer links to the Parliamentary parties, and is able to give us all good advice on legislation.

Wednesday morning, EU Select Committee to cnsider the draft of our report on the Community Civil Protection Mechanism, which deals with cooperation in tackling natural or man-made disasters, not only within the EU but for example, the terrorist attack on Mumbai. Our next inquiry is on money-laundering. In the afternoon, a meeting of the All-Party Group on Pneumococcal Disease, to consider the next stage in following up the recommendations of our Report. We also heard from the Malawi High Commissioner, aout his country's intention to sign up to the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation, and to promote vaccination of all Malawi's children against pneumococcal disease. Its going to be a big project for them, because the High Commissioner told us there are large areas of the country where there are no health services whatsoever, and they will have to create vaccine delivery systems from scratch.

Thursday morning, meeting of the newly-formed All-Party Chagos Islands Group. There is an ambitious programme of work, but we have the services of an effective and energetic adviser, David Snoxell, former UK High Commissioner in Mauritius. The aim is that the islanders should be enabled to return to the outer islands, having been evicted altogether from their archipelago by the British Government when we handed Diego Garcia over to the Americans as a military base 40 years ago.

In the afternoon, chaired a meeting of the All-Party Gpsy and Traveller Group, at which the Equalities and Human Rights Commission survey of the literature on accommodation by Margaret Greenfield of Buckinghamshire New University was launched. There was a good attendance of Travellers, and some Parliamentary colleagues including Julie Morgan MP, Chair of the Parliamentary Group.

This week it was announced that the Liberal International had decided to confer this year's Freedom Prize on me, an unexpected honour considering that previous awards holders included Aug San Suu Kyi of Burma, Helen Suzman of South Africa, Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan and Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal. I met them all, but don't think of myself as in their league. I may have been working on human rights for as long as any of them, but have never endured disadvantage or persecution.

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