Sunday, March 29, 2009


Today is the 548th anniversary of the battle of Towton, fought in a snowstorm near the village of Towton in Yorkshire. The victor was Edward IV, then just short of 19 years old, and having only inherited the claim of his father Richard Duke of York to the throne 3 months earlier. That might be a cause for celebration, except that two Hothams, father and son, lost their lives on the Lancastrian side. It was estimated that 28,000 men died that day, the largest ever loss of life in a battle fought on English soil, see

Saturday, March 28, 2009

This week

Borders Bill Report stage was the main activity in the last week. Apart from the debate on the floor of the House on Wednesday, there were several meetings offline with the Government and the Conservative opposition. With the Tories, we (the LibDems) agreed to vote on transitional protection for some migrants already in the system when the citizenship clauses come into effect, but there are still flaws that will have to be addressed in the Commons. We didn't get as far as the concessions on minors and British National (Overseas) citizens, already agreed with the Government, and these will now be dealt with next Wednesday, together with some further improvements we have now suggested. Other controversial citizenship debates will be on the our proposal that the rights to citizenship of the Chagos Islanders and their children should be restored to what they would have been if they hadn't been kicked out of their homeland by our Government in 1969 to make way for an American base, and our attempt to delete the good character test the Government want to impose of 85 year old Hong Kong war wives or widows who apply for British citizenship. There may only be one eligible person still alive, which makes it all the more ridiculous.

One more ping-pong game with JW last weekend to be aded to the score: one all, making the cumulative total 98-92.

Friday, March 20, 2009


Today with a bit of sunshine and both of us at home in the daytime, was the first game of ping-pong with John William since my birthday last September. We played two games and I won the first 21-17. JW won he second after a hard fought battle which went back and forth at deuce for many rounds before I finally made a mistake. Cumulative score 97-91 to me.

Missed an appointment at the haematology department at King's this morning, a regular check to make sure there's no return of the lung cancer that was removed almost three years ago. Its very annoying to miss any appointment, and particularly when it means that it wastes the time of perhaps several highly qualified professionals as in this case. New appointment made for April 24, and various reminders created.

With Shadia Syed, Dhaka, last day of February visit


Monday: Rosaline Costa and friends to lunch and general discussion of the situation in Bangladesh. Afterwards, intervened in a question on Zimbabwe [].

Tuesday: Lunch with Mike Steele and Siphewe Hlope, who runs a charity looking after orphans in Swaziland. Because of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in this poor country, and the lack of an effective national ARV programme, there are large numbers of orphans, and Ms Hlope helps them in the community. We talked about a project to fund an orphanage where the children could be given basic education as well as food and lodging, and the Silbury Fund is meeting soon to consider a proposal to award Ms Hlope the Silbury Prize to kick start the idea. Peter Hain, the chairman of the trustees, joined us for part of the discussion.

Later, I joined in Shirley Williams' Question on the UK's complicity in acts of torture []. There is a steadily growing volume of evidence, and the Government are gradually being compelled to own up.

After that, a well-attended meeting organised by ABColombia to discuss the UK's policy in Colombia, at which Minister Gilliam Merron MP spoke. I buttonholed her afterwards about email correspondence from Colombia dealing with inititives by campesinos to peacefully organise against the paramilitaries and guerrillas who are constantly encroaching on their lands. There is no registration of land titles in the rural areas, and the UK is trying to help frame the necessary laws.

Then, a meeting to discuss Clause 52 of the Borders etc Bill, which controversially transfers jurisdiction over immigration case judicial review applications from the High Court to the 'Upper Tribunal', where they might be dealt with by a judge of lesser status and experience.

Wednesday, meeting with Minister Bill Brett to look at the amendments for Report stage of the Borders etc Bill. He is writing us a letter which may help to speed the proceedings up, to the extent that we can agree on certain matters we had argued at Committee stage.

Thursday, my own Question on the treatment of destitute asylum seekers, a scandal which has been highlighted repeatedly - most recently in a report which details graphic interviews with some of the victims. There are probably about 200,000 'legacy cases' of ancient failed asylum seekers, and the Government admits they won't all be reviewed until July 2011. Meanwhile they live a twilight existence on the edges of society, some of them working illegally for shamefully low wages.

Later, a meeting with Olivier Bancoult, Leader of the Chagos Refugees Group. They are backing our amendments to the Borders Bill, to give British citizenship to the islanders who would have been entitled to it if the Government hadn't evicted them from their homeland.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Events this week

Tuesday was the fourth last day on Committee of the Borders, Citizenshp & Immigration Bill. For the few who are interested in the process rather than the outcome, it begins at

Maybe it doesn't look as though we got what we were asking for, but on Friday we had a very useful meeting with officials on our citizenship amendments, and next week there is a further meeting with the Minister, to see if we can agree on some issues before the first day on Report, March 25.

Wednesday Lindsay and I went to the second annual Orpington Circle dinner at the National Liberal Club. This is a great initiative by Paul Hunt, the Club Chairman, to raise funds to fight by-elections, and already it has given worthwhile support to candidates in six by-elections. Charles Kennedy was the excellent maon speaker; I proposed the health of candidates past and future, and David Chigey proposed the vote of thanks, all under the benign chairmanship of Tom McNally, our leader in the Lords.

There were a lot of old friends there including veterans of the 1962 campaign, and on of them suggested that it would be fun at the next dinner, to have a table with any memorabilia that could be collected of March 14, 1962, 47 years ago today. I'm going to ransack my ancient files to see what can dig up.

Thursday I had an interesting meeting to discuss the situation of Buddhist monasteries in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh. It would be good to see what could be done to help them financially, and I'm thinking about that.

Letter in South China Morning Post

Britain must resolve issue of stateless people

Updated on Mar 14, 2009
We refer to the report regarding the amendment to the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Bill to give BN(O)s an entitlement to register as British citizens ("Britain debates citizenship for BN(O) holders", March 9).
The amendment inserts British Nationals (Overseas) into section 4B of the British Nationality Act 1981. That provision to obtain full British citizenship requires applicants to hold no nationality other than British nationality. The amendment will not, as was claimed, affect the 3.5 million BN(O)s who are Chinese citizens.
The amendment would cover only BN(O)s from the ethnic minorities who are not properly catered for by the British Nationality (Hong Kong) Act 1997.
In the debate, it was reiterated that Britain has made people de facto stateless and reneged on firm commitments made to them for their children to have a nationality. In February 1997, the home secretary announced that the solely British ethnic minorities would be allowed "to apply for registration as British citizens, giving them right of abode in the United Kingdom, after 30 June 1997". The prime minister subsequently confirmed this adding that they were potentially stateless and that they would now have a nationality.
Referring to the ethnic minorities, the present lord high chancellor and secretary of state for justice said in February 1997 that "A BN(O) passport carries with it the right of abode nowhere. The claim that this amounts to British nationality is pure sophistry. Common sense and common humanity demand that we give these people full British citizenship."
British law penalises BN(O)s seeking British citizenship by imposing stricter requirements on them compared to people who failed to get a BN(O) passport and became British Overseas citizens.
The amendment would remove that penalty. It will also equalise the position of BN(O) parents whose children born after the handover can acquire British citizenship but who cannot register as British citizens themselves. As Lord Hylton said during the debate, "statelessness is a very severe disability". Britain must set the position right and accept its nationals who are de facto stateless. In 2002 we did this for British Overseas citizens, British subjects and British protected persons (including those from Hong Kong). BN(O)s were excluded because they were supposedly "adequately catered for". However, there are BN(O)s who hold no other nationality yet cannot register for British citizenship.
Lord Avebury, Tameem A. Ebrahim, London

Copyright © 2009 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All right reserved

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Orpington Circle Dinner

The picture is of the guests at the National Liberal Club last night, for the Second annual Dinner of the Orpington Circle, whose raison d'etere is ti support LibDem candidates at by-elections. From left to right, the Rt Hon Charles Kennedy MP, who was the principal speaker; Lord (David) Chidgey, who thanked the hosts on behalf of the guests; the Rev Paul Hunt, Chairman of the Club, me (I proposed the health of 'Liberal, SDP and LibDem by-election candidates, past, present and future'; Baroness (Lindsay) Northover; The Rt Hon Lord (Tom) Mcnally, Leader of the LibvDems in the Lords, and Baroness (Susan) Garden. It was a jolly evening with a lot of old friends, some of them veterans of the 1962 by-election!

Monday, March 09, 2009

South China Morning Post

The SCMP today reports the debate we had last week on Hong King British National (Overseas) citizens, but on the front page may have added to the confusion that I know already exists, by suggesting that 3.5 million people might benefit from our amendment to the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Bill. We are talking about the BN(O)s who don't have any other citizenship, so we're not including the ethnic Chinese BN(O)s, who almost in every case became Chinese at the time of the handover.

I'm waiting for the call from Lord Brett's office about the meeting he promised last Wednesday, to discuss all our amendments dealing with citizenship, with the inference that the Government would accept all or some of them. The offer was unfortunately a little ambiguous, so I wrote to the Minister after last Wednesday's sitting in the hope of clearing up any possible misunderstandings beforehand:

From Lord Avebury

020-7274 4617

March 5, 2009

Dear Bill,

You very kindly offered to discuss our amendments to Part 2 of the Borders etc Bill, in your reply to the first amendment yesterday, on the Ilois, and we were happy to accept this. However, so that there can be no misunderstanding about the basis of our discussions, I thought it would be as well if I reiterated what I had already said on the floor of the Committee, that we don’t believe that the changes we consider essential can be achieved by the exercise of discretion under S 3(1) of the1981 Act, but only by amendments to primary legislation. This must have been clear to the Government before you made the offer yesterday, particularly from what I said on the second day of Committee, amendment 608, extract attached for ease of reference . So I’m assuming that we will be able to review the various amendments we tabled to Part 2, with the expectation of either getting them approved at Report, or of the Government tabling their own amendments to achieve equivalent results.

I’m sure there is no need to recapitulate all the points made on Part 2, but you will be aware that most of them were tabled on the advice of ILPA, and I attach a copy of a helpful note from their General Secretary Ms Alison Harvey summarising the issues, which we understand has also been copied to your officials.

For good measure I also attach a note on the meeting of the Chagos APPG with Gillian Merron MP, Under-Secretary of State, the timing of which unfortunately clashed with the Chagos amendment. The formation of this Group demonstrates that there is widespread concern about the Government’s obligations to the Chagossians, and the citizenship provisions we proposed in our amendment are better than no bread!

The Lord Brett,
Government Whips Office,
House of Lords,
London SW1A 0PW

C The Lord West of Spithead GCB DSC

Thursday, March 05, 2009


There hasn't been much time to enter stuff on the blog since returning from Bangladesh the Monday before last, with three days Committee on Borders, Citizenship and Immigration, but anybody who is interested in the arcane mysteriesof the law on these subjects can find the debates in Hansard:

A correspondent with three law degrees said she had followed the first day on Committee and couldn't make head or tail of what was being discussed, and how on earth could practitioners, still less persons subject to immigration control, be expected to understand the legislation. The Government say that one of their objectives is to simplify the law on nationality and immigration, but in fact with every new Bill and the dozens of statutory instruments and codes of guidance, it is being made steadily more complex and abstruse. Worse, because so much is being done by Orders which can only be rejected or accepted, and by these codes which aren't subject to any oversight by either the Commons or Lords, Parliamentary control is being steadily whittled away.

Yesterday, the Government had wanted to complete the Committee stage on the Bill, but the Tories declined to continue after the amendment being discussed at 22.oo was disposed of. We are meant to work what is laughingly called 'family friendly hours' these days, and the unwritten definition includes finishing at around 22.00. But when we did rise at 22.10 last night three were only three or four groups of amendments left, and they could easily have been covered in less than an hour if the Tories hadn't been so keen to go home.

Personally, I would have been happy to continue, though I had started the working day with EU Select Committee at 10.30 in the morning.

The Sub-Committee I'm on is dealing with money laundering, and we were taking evidence from the Law Society, the British Bankers Association and the Chartered Accountants. Obviously there is a lot of it about,with tens of thousands of 'Suspicious Activities Reports' being made annually. This imposes significant burdens on professionals and their clients, and it isn't easy to say whether the process is cost-effective, or whether a better methodology for detecting crimes involving money transfers, including terrorist offences, could be devised.

This morning I attended the urology outpatients at King's to have an internal bladder scan, as part of the investigation of my enlarged prostate, a very common problem with men over a certain age. I would have been able to post a photograph of the inside of my bladder, but Lindsay has confiscated the pictures. I'm working on getting it back so watch this space. Next step is an ultrasound scan, also destined for the blog, and when it happens I'll be careful not to leave the picture lying around. Anyway, the bottom line from this test today was that there was nothing to worry about.