Monday: meeting with Dowlat Nowrouzi and her colleague from the National Council of Resistance of Iran, to discuss the current situation in Iran. They are particularly concerned at the moment about the siege of Camp Ashraf, where hundreds of their members are living in appalling conditions. The European Parliament has issued a written declaration calling on Baroness Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief, to urge the United States to remove the PMOI from its list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations, as the EU has done, and call on the United Nations to provide urgent protection to Ashraf residents.
On November 18, the UN General Assembly's Third Committee passed a lengthy Resolution echoing concerns expressed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who issued a report in October that criticized Iran's use of torture and the death penalty, its poor treatment of women, and repeated violations of due process of law, as well as its failure to protect the rights of minorities, such as the Baha'i, Sufi, Baluch and Kurdish communities.
But what leverage does even the UN have over this psychopathic regime? There's a debate on Iran in the Lords next Tuesday, and I need to make some attempt to answer this question.
Monday afternoon, attended a meeting with Rupert de Mauley, the Government Minister who answered the debate we had on human trafficking, to go further into the reasons why the Government hadn't signed up to the EU Directive on the subject. The short answer was that we would consider the matter again as we see how the EU develops the proposal.
Tuwsday morning, I chaired a meeting in Portcullis House (an annex of Parliament) on the EU's Free Trade Agreement with Colombia and Peru. Then lunch with Somaliland experts. At Questions, I joined in asking the Home Office Minister Baroness Neville-Jones questions about paperwork and procedures, none of which she was able to answer. As I had sent her an email indicating what I was going to ask, it was rather disappointing, but I noted that every other questioner got the same treatment:
23 Nov 2010 : Column 1004
Immigration: Home Office Procedures
Asked By Baroness Gardner of Parkes
To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will review the procedures and paperwork required by the Home Office from applicants for immigration or residential status.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Neville-Jones): My Lords, online forms containing guidance have already been introduced on the UK Border Agency website to make things easier for applicants. Next year, tier 4 student applicants, which comprise the largest category, will be able to create their own customer account to assist them to complete their online application, pay for it and view its progress. All immigration application forms will be available online by 2015, and the aim is to simplify and clarify application procedures in all categories.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: I thank the Minister for that reply. My question relates to long-term residency in the UK, and I declare an interest in that I have had the right of abode for many years and have been here for 50 years. Why were new regulations introduced in 2006 requiring everyone to resubmit documents? In 1985 I had a letter saying that no repeat would ever be required, but in 2009 I was told that I must resubmit all originals. I am getting the same complaint from many people. Will the Minister also comment on the Canadian lady who, just this week, after 60 years in the UK, was stopped at the airport as an illegal immigrant?
Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, the aim of the 2006 regulations, which were brought into effect by our predecessors, appears to have been to cut down on fraudulent claims to the right of abode by ensuring that the validity of the certificate of entitlement which applicants have to have was limited to the lifetime of the passport to which it was attached. Requiring new certificates of entitlement enables a further check on the genuineness of the eligibility to take place. As regards the Canadian lady, on the basis of the press reports-and I have no other information-it would appear that this lady, who was allowed into the country, will be able to claim her right of citizenship through descent. I think that she will have no problem in doing that, and of course she will not have to pay.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, will my noble friend put copies of all the paperwork in the case of Anwar and Adjo in the Library, including the judgment of Lord Justice Sedley in which he said that "a shameful decision" had been made-the effective criminalising and enforced removal of an innocent person without either worthwhile evidence or the opportunity to answer? Lord Justice Sedley went on to request that the misuse of the powers of one of the great offices of state should be drawn to the attention of the Home Secretary. Has that been done, and what remedies is the Home Secretary providing for this misuse of powers?
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Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, I am afraid that I am not familiar with this case, which obviously the noble Lord is interested in, in detail. I will write to him.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, have the new Government amended the guidelines which the last Government gave to immigration officers instructing them to allow the second, third and fourth wives of Muslim men, together with their attendant children, to live in this country,
"even if that sets up a polygamous marriage in the United Kingdom"?
Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, I am afraid that I am not familiar with that provision. I understand why the noble Lord is asking the question; I fear that I will have to look into the matter and perhaps write to him.
Lord Hylton: My Lords, as regards asylum applicants-which is a part of this larger question-is the noble Baroness aware that the UK borders authority operates a dispersal programme and system? Will she encourage it by all possible means also to disperse its centralised Croydon office to the regions so that applicants do not have to travel huge distances at great inconvenience for their principal interviews?
Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, is this in relation to passport applications? Is that the question the noble Lord is asking?
Lord Hylton: No. It is to do with asylum applications.
Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, I will have to see what can be done. This seems rather distant from the original Question.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, can the noble Baroness answer this one? She will be aware that, a few months ago, the previous Government published a draft Bill on simplifying the immigration law. Contained within it was a proposal on information, to bring together piecemeal powers to require and supply information through specific gateways. Will the Government be taking that forward?
Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, I am afraid that I do not know. You will have to wait and see.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I express an interest as a lawyer whose firm does a lot of immigration and asylum work, and I preface my question by saying that what I have to ask has no effect on the numbers coming in. As my noble friend the Minister will know, the previous Government tried their best to simplify the procedure for those applying for immigration and asylum and to move to a points-based system. The situation now, however, is that the questionnaire that applicants have to fill in is 60 pages of technical, concentrated stuff. If they get any aspect of it wrong, they fail. Legal aid is being withdrawn for asylum. Will my noble friend at least review the questionnaire process in order to simplify and clarify it?
Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, we should try to make these procedures as comprehensible, simple and clear as we can, consistent with having to acquire the correct information. We will see what we can do.
After questions, did an interview for Channel 4 on extremists and incitement to religious hatred against the Ahmadi Muslims in the UK. They promised to let me know when it was going to be aired.
In the evening, chaired the AGM of the London Bach Society, of which I'm President.
Wednesday I had an appointment in the Cardiac Department of King's at 09.30, but the doctor hadn't arrived by 09.50 and I had to leave to get to EU Select Committee for 10.30. King's, and I dare say other hospitals as well, have a casual attitude to being on time for appointments, and their excuse if you complain is that they make allowances in the timing for the patients who don't turn up. They can't use that excuse this time, and if I get a moment I intend to complain.
After Select Committee, a meeting if the Zimbabwe all-Party Group.
Friday, to Oxford, to chair a meeting at Balliol of the Maurice Lubbock Trustees. The fund has recovered well from the recession, and we aren't having to curtail any of our regular activities at Balliol and the Engineering Department. Lyulph gave me a lift both ways, and on the return journey we were diverted off the M40 motorway onto a tiny side road, lengthening the journey from an hour and 40 minutes to about 4 1/2 hours. At least it gave me the opportunity of a nice long chat with Lyulph, who also called in for supper when he dropped me off at home.
Saturday, I also had a lift, this time to Kingston University, where I chaired the annual conference of the Peru Support Group. We had a really excellent keynote speaker, Javier Diez Canseco, and first class leaders for the workshops. Extract from my introduction:
When the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, gave the Canning Lecture earlier this month, he made the point that he was the first occupier of the post to do so in the two centuries that have elapsed since the dawn of Latin American independence. He promised to reverse the decline of our diplomatic presence in the region with the closure of four embassies in the 90’s and he talked about intensified and equal partnerships with countries in Latin America, with much greater ministerial attention devoted to them. We are keen, he said, to broker a strategic alliance between Latin America and Europe on climate change; to work closely with the countries of the region in tackling drugs and violence; to support sustainable development and address climate change. We welcomed the steps being taken to address the rights of indigenous people, he said, and he mentioned the visits by Jeremy Browne MP, the Minister of State at the FCO responsible for the region, who also happens to be lead minister on human rights – and a Liberal Democrat.
The Foreign Secretary referred to Peru several times in the course of his lecture – in the context of Peruvian fiscal discipline, counter-narcotics cooperation, and climate change. I’m sure PSG members are pleased about this greater interest in Peruvian affairs, and it was good to see both the recently-appointed head of the FCO’s Americas section Angus Lapsley and the head of the Andean team Liz Younger at the seminar we held last Tuesday on the Free Trade Agreement between the EU and Peru and Colombia.
But there’s a possible contradiction between the FTA and other components of our engagement with Peru, already the leading mining country in Latin America, with much of the UK’s additional business resulting from the FTA also in extractive industries. There could be harmful side effects, on the environment, climate change and the rights of indigenous people. Continued growth in global consumption of raw materials would appear to be incompatible with sustainability, the buzzword that Mr Hague picks up from the Impact Assessment in his reference to development in Latin America. Not only does mining require huge inputs of energy itself, but the products manufactured from the materials dug from the earth need energy over their lifetime to make them work. So the reduction of global energy consumption, as a precondition for mitigating a disastrous rise in atmospheric and ocean temperature, calls for a halt to the rise in world mining output.
There are also the implications for indigenous people of uncontrolled development. In a public statement at the beginning of November, AIDESEP denounced the plans of the government to grant mining, logging and tourism concessions after blocking the indigenous consultation law approved by Congress last May. Peru ratified ILO Convention 169 12 years ago, but has still to embody it in domestic law, so that not unnaturally the frustration of indigenous communities simmers away under every development and occasionally breaks out into violence, as in Bagua, on which the PSG held a seminar in June.
We have also taken a particular interest in the English court case against Monterrico Metals, a UK-registered company, in which protesters successfully upheld their claim to have been unlawfully detained by agents of the company. The PSG briefed me for a debate on Latin America in the Lords in June in which I raised these and other concerns.
During the last year the PSG has raised the level of our inter-agency collaboration with Amnesty International, Progression, ABColombia, the Trade Justice Movements and many others. At the European level we are a key member of the Peru Europe Platform and we have played a key role in coordinating the twice-yearly meetings in Brussels and in lobbying MEPs.
In the next 12 months there should be scope for public opinion to influence the institutional changes that the Free Trade Agreement requires, so that the negative impacts foreseen by small farmers, peasant communities, indigenous peoples and the civil society organisations that support these sectors are alleviated, or that compensating benefits are provided in terms of education, health and infrastructure services, and job creation. The European Parliaments, which have to ratify the FTA, can ask the Peruvian embassies in their countries how they intend to deal with rural poverty, with 70% of the rural population living below the poverty line. Not unnaturally, those people are not likely to envisage the benefits of the foreign direct investment, when the substantial amounts already spent by the UK, Spain and the US on capital projects, accounting for over half of foreign direct investment in Peru, have made a negligible difference to their living standards.
How these problems are seen by the Peruvian electorate as a whole will also become clear in 2011, when no doubt they will be discussed in the general election campaign. Our keynote speaker, Javier Díez Canseco, is well placed to give us some insight into the mood of the people, having been elected six times to Congress for the Partido Democratico Descentralista (PDD), of which he was a co-founder. We noted the narrow victory of Susana Villarán in the mayoral election in Lima, the first woman to be elected to the post and a previous keynote speaker at our AGM, I think in 2006. Like Ms Villarán, Mr Diez Canseco has always been a staunch campaigner against corruption and a human rights activist. Perhaps he can say whether her victory indicates a shift towards the left in Peruvian politics, helped perhaps by the coalescence in 2007 of 7 regional movements and the Party for Social Democracy in a new movement, the Social Force Descentralist Party (Partido Descentralista Fuerza Social). At the last count there were, I think, 21 political parties in Peru, a reflection of the fact that they have a list system of proportional representation. It would be interesting to know whether there is any discussion of changes in the electoral system, as we are likely to have in the UK over the next year. In the proposed reform of the House of Lords, the members would be elected on a system of proportional representation, but it would be the single transferable vote, which doesn’t lead to proliferation of small parties. It may be, of course, that when most people are worried about where the next meal is coming from, they aren’t interested in electoral systems, even though it might be shown that with some other system, they would be more fairly represented.