Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Aida Quilcue

Monday, meeting with Aida Quilcue, leader of the Cauca Regional Indigenous Council in south west Colombia until April, now an influential leader of the Social and Communitarian Minga, a social process which brings together organisations from all social sectors, based around social mobilisation. She was assigned special protective measures by the Interamerican Commission of Human Rights last December when her father, Edwin Legarda, was murdered by the Colombian army in an attack seemingly intended for Aida. Seven soldiers were arrested in April for Mr Legarda’s murder. Richard Solly and Patrick Kane of the Colombia Solidarity Campaign accompanied Aida. Incidentally, she wasn't named Aida after the opera!
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Birthday party

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At the LibDem Conference last Wednesday, with the Representative of the KRG

Eric's aeroplane.

We thought all the arrangements were in place for the stone model of a Sopwith Camel, the memorial to my uncle Eric, to be transported from the stonemason's yard in Wiltshire to the visitor centre at High Elms Country Park yesterday, but there was a misunderstanding about the timing. The lorry arrived, to find nobody there to offload it, and Penmar Transport rang me to say they were returning to Wiltshire with the memorial. After a series of frantic calls they agreed to take it to a Council yard where it was being stored temporarily. Lyulph thought they weren't arriving until 13.00 at the earliest, and unfortunately the arrangements he had made on the telephone with the carriers hadn't been confirmed in writing. Anyway, we hope the move is completed today, because the World Heritage Committee is visiting High Elms tomorrow¬

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Myatt's Fields Park

The local LibDem Focus has a big spread on the reopening of our park, with a picture of Lindsay with Caroline Pidgeon, the LibDem Parliamentary Spokesperson for Vauxhall and Matthew Hanney, a local LibDem campaigner. Obviously, Lindsay is scrupulous about involving local people of every Party and none in her work on the park as Chair of the Friends, and was completely unaware that the LibDems were going to highlight this excellent project. But its great to see hundreds of people enjoying themselves in the park, as they were this afternoon, particularly in the new children's playground, on a lovely warm sunny afternoon, probably the last we'll have before the weather changes.


All day yesterday at the AGM of the Advisory Council for the Education of Romany and other Travellers, an excellent meeting at which among other distinguished speakers we heard from Penny Badman, Deputy Director of the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF); Arthur Ivatts OBE, a Senior Consultant to the DCSF and Andrew Ryder, Consultant to the Irish Traveller Movement.

Travellers are severely disadvantaged educationally - as in every other respect - as shown by a review published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) a few weeks ago ( Half of Traveller children drop out of school at the transition from primary to secondary; those who do stay on have worse results at GCSE than any other ethnic group; they are two and a half times more likely to have Severe Educational Needs than other white children; are far more likely to be excluded than any other group, and are the worst represented in further education of all groups. Now that the EHRC has assembled the evidence, we must insist that the Traveller Education Service gets the resources it needs to make progress against these appalling levels of disadvantage.


All day yesterday at the AGM of the Advisory Council for the Education of Romany and other Travellers, an excellent meeting at which among other distinguished speakers we heard from Penny Badman, Deputy Director of the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF); Arthur Ivatts OBE, a Senior Consultant to the DCSF and Andrew Ryder, Consultant to the Irish Traveller Movement.

Travellers are severely disadvantaged educationally - as in every other respect - as shown by a review published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) a few weeks ago ( Half of Traveller children drop out of school at the transition from primary to secondary; those who do stay on have worse results at GCSE than any other ethnic group; they are two and a half times more likely to have Severe Educational Needs than other white children; are far more likely to be excluded than any other group, and are the worst represented in further education of all groups. Now that the EHRC has assembled the evidence, we must insist that the Traveller Education Service gets the resources it needs to make progress against these appalling levels of disadvantage.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Party Conference etc

We were in Bournemouth Tuesday night and Wednesday for the LibDem Party Conference. I spoke at a fringe meeting on Afghanistan, where a vociferour minority were in favour of immediate withdrawal. I tried to outline the consequences: an extremist government in Kabul, and probably in Islamabad as well. Taliban with nuclear arsenal? No thanks.

In the afternoon, John Alderdyce, President of the Liberal International, presented me with the LI Freedom Prize again, in the conference hall.

Yesterday evening, attended the launch of Shirley Williams' autobiography Climbing the Bookshelves, at the National Liberal Club. She is a wonderful friend, and I love to hear her speaking, which she did as usual without a note. And a glance at the book reminds me she's just as great with the written as the spoken word.

Tomorrow I'm the keynote speaker at the AGM of the Advisory Council on the Education of Romanies and Travellers, in Millman Street. I remember vaguely that its near the British Museum, but now I need to figure out how to get there by 09.30

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Remote link with Donnington

I remembered vaguely that there was a remote family link with Donnington Castle, which we visited yesterday on the way back from Avebury, see The unfortunate John Packer, a staunch Parliamentarian, owned the castle at the start of the Civil War, but it was captured by the Royalists and held until the end of the war, then gratuitously demolished by the victorious Parliamentarians. He was forced to live in London.

John Packer was the great-great grandfather of the Rev Henry Willis, who married Jane Lubbock, my 5th cousin 6 times removed. Their son Richard emigrated to South Carolina in 1791 after the Rev Henry literally cut him off with the proverbial shilling because of his 'infamous conduct' in a codicil to his will. On the way over, Richard dropped the surname Willis and became Richard Lubbock, the ancestor of most of the Lubbocks in the US.

We also visited Roman Silchester, which had been an enormous centre and hub of communications from the 1st to the 4th century. There's a 2 km footpath round the outskirts of the remains, but we didn't make a complete circuit.

That was our summer holiday for 2009!

View from Donnington

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Lindsay at Donnington

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After the auction

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Yesterday: the auction

My grandparents - c 1910

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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Uncle Eric

Yesterday Lindsay and I went down to Avebury, where we stayed at The Lodge - owned by my grandfather when he saved the stone circle from destruction - and attended the auction today at Great Bedwyn where the monument to Uncle Eric was sold (see earlier posting for a photograph). We have acquired it, and now have to make arrangements for it to be transported to The Beeche Centre at High Elms, its final resting place I hope. Some time in the eighties the monuments in the family graveyard were moved into the graveyard at St Giles Church, Farnborough, but the stone model of a Sopwith Camel, the memorial to Uncle Eric, turned up at a stonemason's yard in Wiltshire. The proprietor, Mr John Lloyd Sr, said he acquired it from the London Borough of Bromley, which had no record of the transaction, but they have now discovered that when my grandmother sold the estate to their predecessors in 1938, she kept the family graveyard and a right of way to it.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

More on MFI

The 64 members of the MFI who sought asylum in India have now been detained in Tihar Jail New Delhi for 29 months, on charges of making false declarations to get Indian visas, and of burning their passports. They admit the visa charges but say they were desperate to escape from a country where they were vulnerable to charges of blasphemy which carry a maximum penalty of death.

The UNHCR won't intervene, because India isn't a signatory of the Refugee Convention. And the Indians are understandably reluctant to grant the detainees permission to remain, whether as refugees or in any other capacity, because it would encourage others to try their luck. On the other hand the Indian authorities are unlikely to send them back to Pakistan and continued persecution, because that would be a serious breach of customary international law.

The Indian courts do string out difficult cases for a long time, and since that seems to be the strategy here, the interim solution would be to grant the detainees bail. In the long run, the answer would be for the UNHCR to persuade friendly countries to accept them for transfer of asylum, and to step up the pressure on Pakistan to repeal their infamous blasphemy laws.

Mehdi Foundation International

Summary of the history of the case of the 64 members of the Mehdi Foundation International, detained in Tihar Jail, New Delhi

The Mehdi Foundation International is a multi-faith organisation of the adherents of H H Ra Gohar Shahi, who revealed his Sufi teachings in 1980. The set of beliefs he taught are considered to be heretical, and blasphemous under the blasphemy laws of Pakistan, where conviction for this ‘offence’ is punishable by a maximum sentence of death. Many believers have served long prison sentences, and charges were made against HH Ra Gohar Shahi himself from 1997 onwards. In one of these cases, he was given three sentences of life imprisonment in absentia. All outstanding charges against him were dropped after the courts were notified of a death certificate issued in respect of a similar person, though his adherents believe he has gone into ‘occultation’, having been hidden by God as the 12th Imam was in Shi’a Islam. They claim that he had predicted this event.

This note summarises the case of 62 members of the Mehdi Foundation International, detained in Tihar Jail, New Delhi, since April 23, 2007, after they staged a demonstration at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi, burning the Pakistani flag, their passports and visa papers. This number has increased to 67, with births to detainees after they were arrested. The circumstances were outlined in paras 100-104 of the report in February 2008 by the Special Rapporteur on Religious Freedom Ms Asma Jehangir A/HRC/7/10/Add.1, see attachment.

On November 17, 2007 a blasphemy case under S 295A was registered against two MFI members Sajid and Arif (FIR No. 290/2007) at Police station Mubina Town, District Karachi East, Sindh Province (See copy of English translation of FIR, attached)

On August 11, 2008 a blasphemy case 295A, PPC was registered against eight MFI members by the Khatam-e-Nabuwwat (FIR No. 281/2008, Date of Occurrence August 8, 2008), at Police Station Kotri, District Jamshoro, Sindh Province, Pakistan.
(See copy of English translation of FIR, attached)

On August 5, 2008 two MFI members (Mustaqeem and Umer) were severely beaten by extremists, but an FIR was registered against MFI members (FIR No. C/31/08, Date of Report August 6, 2008, Police Station Sharif Abad, District Karachi, Sindh Province, Pakistan) (See copy of English translation of FIR, attached)

On October 18, 2008 at 03.30 Mr Mohammad Iqbal (whose family was active in MFI) was murdered (FIR No. 995/2008, Offence u/s 302, 148, 149 PPC, Date of Report October 16, 2008 at 0500 AM, Police Station Factory Area, District Shaikhupura, Punjab Province, Pakistan) (See copy of English translation of FIR, attached).

It was reported on August 4, 2009 in the daily Safeer, that Mr Paras Masih, organiser for the Christian community of the MFI, had been murdered in Karachi.

Hatred has been incited against the MFI members in Pakistan, who are accused of blasphemy, and these incidents are examples of the result. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), New Delhi, wrote on September 4, 2008, to the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government, setting out the case well.

On Tuesday November 18, 2008, the prosecution authorities indicated to Judge Ajay Panday at the Patiala House Court, New Delhi, that the charges against the 62 detainees were being withdrawn, on the basis of an indication by the government that their continued stay in India was a burden on the economy [Note: the Indian Prime Minister did not reply to the attached letter].

The judge said that it would be wrong to repatriate the defendants to Pakistan, but allowed them only until Saturday to find other countries that would offer them asylum. However, lawyers acting for the detainees obtained a further order delaying execution until December 17.

On December 17, the Delhi High Court asked the government to obtain clarification from UNHCR on the process of granting asylum, before the next hearing scheduled for February 11, 2009. The UNHCR can explain what the meaning of asylum is under the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees, but India is not a signatory of the Convention. No doubt the UNHCR can also tell the government that the principle of Non-refoulement precludes states from returning a person to a place where he or she might be tortured or face persecution. This is part of international human rights law and international customary law, and applies whether or not the state concerned is a party to the Convention.

It is not clear why there is no question in law of allowing them to remain in India temporarily, even though 6 other MFI members who arrived in India at about the same time as the detainees have remained in the country ever since as asylum applicants. The war of words between India and Pakistan over the Mumbai atrocities might have been a factor in the decision; President Zardari said that suspected terrorists would not be handed over to India, so it was hoped that New Delhi might not wish to extradite this group, accused of comparatively trivial offences.

In the last three months of 2008, another three FIR’s were registered against MFI members still in Pakistan, including one charge in regard to the murder of Mr. Mohammad Iqbal, an active MFI member in Shaeikhupura, Punjab province, English translations are attached.

On December 17, 2008, the New Delhi High Court considered a motion to include the UNHCR as a party respondent to the writ petition CM No 14764/2008, notice of which was issued to the Union of India, returnable on February 11, 2009. At the hearing on February 11, the Union of India asked for another six weeks to consider the matter, which was granted. The matter was then further deferred, and was due to be heard in the High Court on May 13, 2009. It was then further deferred at the request of lawyers acting for the Indian government, to July 8, 2009. By that time the 62 individuals, including 11 children and 19 women, had been in custody for 25 months, longer than the maximum sentence that could have been imposed if they had been tried on the original charges of being present on Indian territory without valid documentation.

Originally there were 62 persons in the group, to which were added five births to women who were pregnant at the time of their arrest. Two of the detainees recently said they were willing to return to Pakistan and were released, but are not thought to have been deported as yet. A child, Waqas, was released into the custody of MFI members legally resident in India, because he was with his mother in the women’s section of the prison, and the law provides that a male child reaching the age of 8 cannot remain in a women’s prison. Of the 11 children remaining in custody, the ages are as follows:

Sara 5 Abhaya 2
Zile Gohar 4 Mary 21 months
Asad 3 Tabassum 21 months
Farah 3 Amir 21 months
Hassan 3 Abasah 21 months
Shahzaib 3

The National Human Rights Commission of India considered the right of the 62 to claim asylum in India, but did not consider their prolonged arbitrary detention see attached email to Lord Avebury from Mr Kwaza A Hafz, Assistant Registrar, NHRC.
The latest position of UNHCR was given in an email from their London office to Lord Avebury of May 27, 2009, as follows:
"As you are aware, UNHCR does not have formal status in India, and it is unlikely that it can be made a party to the legal proceedings currently underway. Nevertheless, UNHCR's staff in India continue to monitor the situation, liaising with national partners, and it awaits the decision of the court in the asylum consideration of the case. Rest assured that UNHCR is doing everything possible, within limits of its status in India, to promote respect for the principle of non-refoulement."
It should be mentioned that the Indian courts have ruled that a person claiming asylum must be given an opportunity of applying to the UNHCR for a declaration of his status as a refugee, notwithstanding the fact that India is not a signatory of the Convention. The detainees have not had a visit from the UNHCR.
On July 8, 2009, the substantive hearing took place in the High Court, the Government of India having finally responded to the MFI petition on inclusion of UNHCR in court proceedings three days 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 Government response says 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 such other references as that of the UN Special Rapporteur on Religious Freedom mentioned above, or the entry in Wikipedia under ‘Blasphemy Law in Pakistan’.

At the July 8 hearing, the High Court gave the MFI eight weeks to file a response to the Government’s rejoinder, and that response was lodged on September 2. The court has now to set a date for a ‘final’ hearing, at which the court will decide whether the order of deportation should be allowed, and if not, whether the UNHCR should be included in the further proceedings. If the deportation order is revoked, the original criminal charges against the detainees of burning their passports, and the extra charges made against them later, of obtaining Indian visas by false pretences, would still have to be considered by the lower courts. Presumably they would have a right of appeal if convicted, and could apply for bail pending the court hearings.

Eric Avebury
Vice-chair, Parliamentary Human Rights Group UK
September 16, 2009
Extract from the report of the Special Rapporteur on Religious Freedom Ms Asma Jehangir, A/HRC/7/10/Add.1

page 27

Joint urgent appeal sent on 26 September 2007 with the Special Rapporteur on the question of torture

100. The Special Rapporteurs brought to the attention of the Government information they had received regarding Mr. Sabir Ali, Mr. Iqbal Shahi, Ms. Anisa Abdul Jabbar, Mr. Muhammad Allauddin Syed, Ms. Zill Gohar, Mr. Asad Gohar, Mr. Muhammad Ashfaque, Ms. Shaista Gohar, Mr. Ayoub Gohar, Mr. Muhammad Irshad, Mr. Muhammad Sajjad Babar, Ms. Shabana Gohar, Mr. Zaheer-ud-din Bukhari, Mr. Muhammad Faheem Jaffar, Ms. Rozina Faheem, Mr. Farooq Azam, Mr. Muhammad Khalid, Mr. Sarfaraz Hussain, Mr. Muhammad Fiaz, Mr. Muhammad Furqan Uddin Syed, Mr. Muhammad Yasir, Mr. Shehzaib Gohar, Ms. Gulnaz, Ms. Samreen Shahzadi, Mr. Muhammad Ikhlaq, Ms. Kulsoom Khan, Mr. Imran Saeed, Ms. Zakia Imran, Mr. Imran Pasha, Mr. Muhammad Maqsood, Mr. Irshad Ali, Ms. Rakhshanda Asim Syeda, Mr. Javaid Iqbal, Ms. Qazmi Begum, Mr. Muhammad Muzammil, Mr. Shahzad Mukhtar, Mr. Muhammad Zafar Iqbal, Mr. Mansoor Khan, Ms. Bushra Mansoor, Ms. Misbah Nisa, Ms. Ashraf Nisa, Mr. Moin-ud-din Ahmed, Ms. Noreen Shahzadi, Mr. Abdul Rashid, Ms. Maqsooda Bibi, Ms. Sana Riaz, Mr. Hassan AlGohar, Mr. Muhammad Shafi, Ms. Safia Shafi, Mr. Tanveer Younus, Mr. Asim Ilyas, Mr. Tahir Rasheed, Mr. Usman Rashid, Mr. Abdul Waheed, Ms. Sajida Waheed, Ms. Farah Naz Gohar, Mr. Waqas Ahmed Gohar, Ms. Samira Wasim, Mr. Muhammad Wasim, Mr. Aurangzeb, Ms. Qamar Parveen, Mr. Akhtar Ali Ansari, Ms. Abhaya Gohar, Ms. Mary Gohar, Mr. Amir Gohar. These 65 persons have Pakistani nationality and are currently detained in Central Jail Tihar, New Delhi, India. The three last-named persons were born during the past three months in Central Jail Tihar. Currently, a total of ten detainees are under six years of age.
101. According to the information received, the first-named 62 persons are members of the Mehdi Foundation International (MFI), a multi-faith institution utilizing mystical principles of Mr. Ra Gohar Shahi. They claim that in Pakistan MFI members are not allowed to practice their beliefs, that they were tortured there and that blasphemy cases against 250 MFI members have been initiated in Pakistan. In early 2007, they travelled from Pakistan to India intending to seek asylum. On 23 April 2007, they staged a protest demonstration at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi, at which they burnt the Pakistani flag as well as their passports and visa papers. In the absence of valid visa and other travel documents, they were arrested by the local police and sent to Central Jail Tihar.
102. Subsequently, their application for bail was denied with the reasoning that without local address it would not be possible to secure their presence during the trial once released on bail. On 22 June 2007, 31 July 2007 and 24 August 2007, three women of the group gave birth to Ms.Abhaya Gohar, Ms. Mary Gohar, Mr. Amir Gohar in detention; another detained woman is pregnant. Several other detainees suffer from severe depressions and their constant screaming and weeping frightens the children who are detained in the same ward. Their requests to the jail authorities to provide separate accommodation for the female detainees with children have been denied by the Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate of New Delhi on 28 May 2007.
103. The 65 above-mentioned persons are at risk of imminent forcible return to Pakistan. In view of blasphemy and treason charges they may face there, the Special Rapporteurs expressed their concern that their life and physical integrity may be at risk should they be returned to Pakistan.
104. The Special Rapporteur regrets that she has not received a reply from the Government concerning the above mentioned allegation. She would like to take the opportunity to refer to her last report to the General Assembly where she has dealt with the vulnerable situation of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced persons (see A/62/280, paras. 38-63).
From Lord Avebury

020-7274 4617

October 13, 2008

Dear Prime Minister,

Please will you defer the removal of 62 Pakistani citizens who are in Tihar jail, accused of destroying their travel documents after they had crossed into India as refugees, and invite the UNHCR to interview them and report on the validity of their claim for protection. Although India is not a signatory of the Convention on the Status of refugees, it is a preemptive norm of international law that a person should not be sent back to a country where he has a well-founded fear of persecution. Pakistani Muslims consider that the views of the Mehdi Foundation International, the organisation to which these people belong, are blasphemous, and this makes them liable to criminal charges for which the penalty is death. I therefore respectfully beg you to seek advice from the UNHCR on the risks to the lives of the 62 if they are extradited, and in the meanwhile, to release them so that they have access to the fullest possible legal advice on their position.

I should add that UNHCR are already aware of this problem, boyj in Geneva and New Delhi.

H E Dr Manmohan Singh,
Prime Minister.
Republic of India

cc Shri Shivraj V Patil Minister For External Affairs Shri Parnab Mukherjee Minister For Home Affairs; Smt Pratibha Patil, President of India, Ms Carol Batchelor, UN Head of Mission New Delhi; Mr. Swaminathan, Joint Secretary External Affairs; Mr. Rajindra Babu …. Chairmain NHRC


Email to Lord Avebury from Mr Kwaza A Hafz, Assistant Registrar, National Human Rights Commission, dated May 27, 2009

With reference to your mail dated 19.5.2009 seeking information regarding the action by the NHRC on the complaint pertaining to 62 MFI detainees lodged in Tihar Jail, Delhi, I am to inform you that the Commission has already disposed of this matter incase No.1079/30/0/07-08. The directions made by the Commission are reproduced hereunder:

Commission’s directions dated 23.8.2007

"This petition has been made on behalf of 63 Pakistani nationals who had staged a protest demonstration at Jantar Mantar to seek asylum in India and were sent to Tihar Jail for burning their Pakistani passports. The petitioners pray for intervention of the Commission to save them from deportation to Pakistan. They apprehend that they would be executed under the blasphemy law as soon as they are sent to Pakistan.

The Commission sought comments from the Ministry of Home Affairs and also from the Ministry of External Affairs. The Ministry of External Affairs submitted comments and stated that the petitioners had obtained visa from the High Commission of India on the basis of fake letters of reference. It was further submitted by the Ministry that informal inquiries by the Indian High Commission did not reveal any well founded evidence to suggest persecution of the members of Mehdi Foundation International to which the petitioners belong.

The report received from the Ministry was forwarded to the representative of the petitioners. She has reiterated that repatriation to Pakistan means a certain death penalty for the petitioners. She submits that "Indian hierarchy has ignored the circumstances under which sixty two people migrated to India. The fear of death drove them to obtain Indian Visa on no-matter-how policy".

Grant of asylum is an administrative decision to be taken by the Government of India and the Commission can not possibly interfere in such matter. The Commission would, however, like to draw the attention of the Government of India to the observations made by the House of Lords in R(on the application of Limbuela) V Secretary of State for the Home Department, reported in (2007) I ALLER 951.

While construing the powers of the Secretary of State for the purpose of avoiding a breach of a person's rights under the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms 1950, their Lordships observed as follows:-

"As soon as the asylum seeker made it clear that there was an imminent prospect that a breach of the article would occur because the conditions which he or she was having to endure were on the verge of reaching the necessary degree of severity, the Secretary of State had the power under s 55(5)(a) of the 2002 Act, and the duty under the 1998 act, to act to avoid it. The factors which would come into play in the assessment included whether the asylum seeker was male or female, or was elderly, or in poor health, the extent to which he or she had explored all avenues of assistance that might be expected to be available and the length of time that had been spent and was likely to be spent without the required means of support."

The Commission hopes that the Government of India, while considering the petitioners' request for asylum, will give due regard to the above observations made by the House of Lords. It is recommended to the Government of India that the 62 petitioners be not deported to Pakistan till an appropriate decision on their request for asylum in India is taken by the Government. It is further recommended that the petitioners will be treated in a humane manner and proper medical care and other basic necessities will be provided to them as long as they are in India."

Sunday, September 13, 2009


This was the 17th annual celebration at the Buddha Grove at Springhill Prison, the first of a series in English prisons. There is chanting by the monks, a few short speeches, a splendid meal produced by Thai supporters of Angulimala, the Buddhist Prison Chaplaincy, and an address by the Ven Khemadhammo Mahathera OBE, the Spiritual Head of the Buddhist Chaplaincy.
  Victoria, Kina, Lyulph
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  Alastair and Alex
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Lindsay, Edwina
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  Sue and Victoria
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Kina at her 75th birthday last week
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Friday, September 11, 2009


We had been intending to take a week's holiday today, but had decided to put it off because of the impending auction next week, at which the memorial to Uncle Eric (see earlier posting) was to have been sold. To cut a long story short, we are advised by solicitors who know this area of the law extremely well, that I am the owner of the memorial as current head of the family, though somehow it got into the hands of the stonemasons Lloyd of Bedwyn. The solicitors have written to the auctioneers asking them to withdraw the stone aeroplane from the sale, and have given them until noon on Monday to respond.

The right place for Uncle Eric's memorial is in the churchyard of St Giles, Farnborough, with the graves and memorials of the rest of the family. I have discussed this with the Rector, the Rev Matthew Hughes, and the Secretary of the Parish Council, Ms Liz Diamond, who are sympathetic. But the matter needs to be put before the Parish Council, which isn't due to meet until some time in October. I'm rather hoping that it can be brought forward, and will see whether the Rector agrees when he returns on September 16. Watch this space.

Friday I had lunch with David Bieda and Malcolm Bennett, who briefed me on the enormous problems that were expected in central London as a result of the alcohol free-for-all in the Licencing Act. We tried hard to improve it and succeeded with a few amendments in the Lords, but they were all reversed when the Bill got to the Commons. When you consider the enormous damage caused by alcohol, its just unbelievable that Governments have allowed the situation to get steadily worse, by loosening planning restrictions, extending the permitted hours of drinking, and letting alcohol become steadily cheaper relative to disposable incomes. In a recent Sheffield University study ( it is estimated that a 10% increase in the price of drink would mean 50,000 fewer hospital admissions a year, plus corresponding benefits in crime reduction, reduces absenteeism and improved quality of life. If the increase is brought about by higher taxes, the exchequer would get a boost of £1 1/2 billion a year on top of reduced public spending on health, crime, the justice system and social work. Its a no-brainer when the next government tries to balance the books.

Monday, September 07, 2009

This morning JW and his girlfriend Maite set off at 06.30 for Grenoble. Lindsay ferried them to Victoria where they were catching a bus to Stansted for a Ryanair flight. So we shall be all alone in the house until December when first Olivia and then maurice arrive from New Zealand. Yesterday I had a final two games of ping-pong with JW, see below, and there are two other bouts to record, all three 1-1, making the total 132-123.

In the evening we had dinner with Jeremy and Jay, and enjoyed meeting Philip Darwin (seated), great-grandson of Charles.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Kina's 75th

We had a lovely time at Victoria's today, where she was hosting Kina's 75th birthday party. Unfortunately we forgot to take our camera, but others took pictures on their mobiles which ae promised.

Kina was telling me about her campaign to inform US Democrat friends that the National Health Service, for all its faults, is infinitely better than the private health system in the US, and she gave me permission to quote her email to a US correspondent:

Everyone I know here, in all political parties and none, are appalled at the distorted descriptions of the British National Health Service that are being employed against the Obama health reforms. I would like to set out as briefly as I can, from my own personal experience, how and why I value our NHS as an institution that really does care and serve all people regardless of ability to pay.

So, I am a 75 year old retired professional woman, who has worked in the NHS and community social services and the not-for-profit sectors in housing for over 35 years. I currently have an annual income of about Ł22k and I live by myself in reasonable, but not affluent comfort. I have in the past 20 years had: major spinal surgery, a hip replacement, cataract removal in both eyes, a cardiac pacemaker inserted, and am currently waiting for a knee replacement.

I have chronic arthritis, kept under control by various medications in consultation with my excellent family doctor. Our general practice surgery has 11 general medical practitioners, each with his or her own specialism, plus 4 nurses, midwives, health care advisers and visiting ancillary services such as physiotherapy and counselling. They are open between 8.30 am and 8;30 pm, with links to out of hours walk in emergency services. They have a Patients' Forum which I am on, where we are accepted whole heartedly by the clinicians and are able to propose any changes we feel would improve an already excellent service. Choice is an important factor, and we are consulted about our own wishes for types of treatment and choice of hospital, when necessary. Waiting times for surgery are coming down all the time, and great importance is attached to routine screening where risk factors have been identified. I have benefitted from a number of cancer screening processes, and regular reviews of medication.

All of this has been free at the point of consumption , except for some dental charges and spectacles (and if I had been unable to pay for these, ie been on a lower income, these would have come free).

In summary, I feel safe, well looked after and confident that when I need it, the appropriate service will be available. This is not exceptional, it is the norm. Of course there are times when things don't go quite right, but we can express our complaints at all levels, and these are taken seriously. I have never found age discrimination to apply to me, or to my friends, many of whom are much older than I am.

I would be grateful if you could circulate this personal comment as widely as possible, so that it just might put a dent in the tissue of hysterical misinformation that seems to be doing the rounds in the USA.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

 With dear Prins Gunasekera, who arrived at Heathrow 20 years ago as a refugee. We had originally met in my office at 6 Harley Street in April 1971, and had travelled to the south of Sri Lanka together in September that year, for Amnesty International.
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