Thursday, July 16, 2009

Monday,Jenny Tonge's question on climate change and refugees. I asked the Minister (Bill Brett) if he agreed that with sea levels rising twice as fast as was predicted by the IPCC only three years ago and with Britain already planning for a rise in sea levels of one metre in its coastal defence planning, we could be looking at as many as 650 million people displaced from coastal areas and small island states by the end of the century. What were we doing at Copenhagen to steer the discussion in the direction of measures that will reduce energy consumption and population growth so as to confine atmospheric CO2 within the limit of 550 parts per million equivalent, the minimum that will allow us to survive as a world without enormous disasters? The Minister didn't express an opinion on the forecasts, but said he would supply a list of the measures the Government are taking. He did agree that there has to be an agreement at Copenhagen to stabilise CO2 and reduce emissions.

After Questions, a meeting of the LibDem Foreign Affairs tean with Sir Richard Dalton, our former Ambassador in Tehran, to discuss the current situation in Iran.

At 18.00, a meeting with the Eritrean Ambassador mainly to discuss their development plans, but he also dealt with the 'no war no peace' situation between Eritrea and Ethiopia, and Eritrea's policy on Somalia. In a nutshell they say that the transitional government has no legitimacy, and the African Union forces protecting it should be withdrawn.

At 19.00, the the first reception given by the new Speaker John Bercow, for speeach and language therapists. So he is keeping up one of the main interests he had as a backbencher.

Tuesday, the new UNHCR Representative in London, Roland Schilling, came to lunch, and Sue Miller, our spokesman on Home Affairs in the Lords, joined us. It was useful to get to know him early on and I'm sure we will continue to get their good advice on major international refugee problems, as well as on the effects of UK legislation on asylum.

Wednesday morning, Subcommittee F had an interesting presentation and discussion on measures to protect Europe against large scale cyber attacks, a topic being considered as a subject of a future inquiry.

Joined in a Question by David Ramsbotham on the case of Samantha Orobator, a British citizen convicted of possession of a large amount of druge in Thailand. She escaped a death sentence by getting pregnant, nobody knows how in a high security prison, and the discussion was about whether she could be repatriated to the UK to serve her life sentence in a British prison. Although we have an agreement with Thiland on mutual repatriation of prisoners, Ms Orobator was also fined $70,000, and the authorities won't let her go until its paid. I asked the Minister if the Government would give its blessing to a fund established for the benefit of British prisoners, Ms Orobator and others, who can only be repatriated when their fines are paid. The answer was that if a private donor could be found, the Government would have no difficulty with that. He also confirmed that Ms Orobator had waived her right of appeal - so the amount of the fine can't be challenged.

Later, a meeting with leaders of the Mehdi Foundation International, to discuss the plight of their 65 members who sought asylum from Pakistan in India, and have languished in Tihar prison, New Delhi, for nearly two years. On July 8, the substantive hearing finally took place in the Delhi High Court of the MFI petition to be given protection, the Government of India having finally responded to the MFI petition on inclusion of UNHCR in court proceedings three days prior beforehand. The response points out several times that India is not a signatory of the Convention on the Status of Refugees, and that there is no national law dealing with asylum or refugees. It states that

‘one of the main concerns is that the practice of persons seeking asylum on grounds of religious persecution could set an undesirable precedent’.

The response adds that there is no reference to persecution of MFI members in the reports of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, or the US International Religious Freedom Report, ignoring other references including reports by the UN Special Rapporteur on Religious Freedom, or the entry in Wikipedia under ‘Blasphemy Law in Pakistan’.

The High Court gave the MFI three weeks to file counter-arguments to the response. Meanwhile, the stay on the order of deportation continues, and the court will consider and decide on UNHCR's inclusion in the proceedings.

At 18.00, attended a reception in the Attlee Suite for the unveiling of the bust of Jeremy Thorpe. Jeremy and Marion were there, both sadly in wheelchairs. Tributes were paid to his charismatic leadership of the Party in the late sixties and early seventies. Jeremy responded briefly, and afterwards I had a chat with both of them.

Thursday, it was Mark Malloch-Brown's last appearance at the despatch box before his resignation takes effect, an enormous loss to the House of Lords and the Government. His wisdom and experience of international affairs will be impossible to replace.

The question, by David Chidgey, was on the situation in Somalia, and particularly the alleged involvement of outside forces. I asked the Minister about the statement by the Uganda army spokesman that 16,000 troops and a more robust mandate for AMISOM are necessary to quell the insurgency, and whether we would support the recent IGAD resolution calling for neighbouring countries to contribute to AMISOM when the matter comes before the UN Security Council. (At present the mandate forbids this). The Minister was hopeful that the AMISOM force could be increased without having to rely in the neighbours.

At lunchtime, to the Guards Chapel to attend the impressive memorial service for Colonel Rupert Thorneloe MBE, Commanding Officer of the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards, who was killed by an IED in Afghanistan, together with Trooper Joshua Hammond. The Guards Chapel was full when I arrived 15 minutes before the start if the service, but someone kindly gave up his seat for me.

People are saying we can't win the war in Afghanistan, but if we let the Taliban take over there, Pakistan would succumb, and then all the central Asian republics. The free world can't afford to lose in Afghanistan, and we should be profoundly thankful to the Welsh Guards and to all our servicemen, whose operations are protecting us from an evil and dangerous form of extremism. The great sacrifice made by brave men like Colonel Thirneloe and Trooper Hammond and their families should make us all the more determined to see that their killers are kept out of power.

Thursday evening, a visit from Bhante (the Ven Khemadhammo Mahathera OBE), for a discussion on the work of Angulimala, the Buddhist Prison Chaplaincy. One problem we reviewed is that the curtailment of evening hours of unlock in prisons has made it harder for Angulimala to deliver spiritual care, because many of the chaplains are volunteers who work during the day. The new regime must have affected many other services to prisoners which rely on volunteers, and perhaps there should be an assessment of the gains and losses.

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