Thursday, May 19, 2011

That was the week

Another week in which time seemed to vanish in a puff of smoke, though I can't say where it all went.

Monday, I moved:

That this House regrets that changes to the rules relating to the victims of domestic violence in the Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules (HC 908) remove the protection granted by the Rules to some victims who may therefore be forced to remain in the abusive relationships on which their immigration status depends.

To read the debate click here.

The Government were determined that the response to an application for leave to remain as a victim of domestic violence should be refused if the woman has unspent convictions. Their argument is that in cases where the conviction was strongly related to the abuse the victim had suffered, there was always the backstop that the Secretary of State had the power to grant the application outside the Rules. They don't agree that women are going to be deterred from applying by the words prescribing a mandatory refusal in the Rules.

Tuesday there was a special Party meeting to hear Nick Clegg on the draft House of Lords reform Bill, published that day. My impression is that it will be very difficult to get agreement to the proposals from our own benches even though it corresponds with longstanding LibDem policy, but even more so from both Tory and Labour backbenchers, and that it will take up enormous amounts of time in our House from the Grocott brigade. Shades of Harold Wilson's attempt to reform the Lords in 1968.

At questions, I came into the chamber and was reminded by Meral Ece that I was down to ask a supplementary on the second question, about the return of failed asylum seekers to the DRC!

Wednesday I met Begum Khaleda Zia, Leader of the Opposition in Bangladesh and leading members of her BNP, click here to see our meeting.

Then across the road to express solidarity with a large and colourful demonstration by the Somaliland diaspora on the 20th anniversary of their short-lived independence, calling for re-recognition, see The Government is sympathetic and will help the democratically elected government of Somaliland to build its health and education infrastructure, but they believe, as the Labour Government did before them, that it is for the African Union to take the lead. My own view is that the AU will never take the lead on this issue, and that we should be working with particular African states to agree on simultaneous re-recognition.

At 14.00 I joined a meeting in the Jubilee Room on Murder in the name of God organised by the recently formed All-Party Group on the Ahmadiyya Muslims. At 15.00 I had to break off to attend Questions. On Faith Schools: Imported Hate Material, I asked whether Inspectors were looking for teachers who were indoctrinating pupils with Salafist teachings, and the Minister offered to arrange for me to discuss the matter with the Chief Inspector. On a question by Navnit Dholakia about the UK Border Agency's use of intelligence, I asked whether there had been any improvement in their abysmal record of decision-making. The Minister, Baroness Browning, said that the UKBA acknowledged that they needed to improve and were working on it. The measure of their success would be a lower rate of success at the appeal stage.

Finally, I chaired a well-attended meeting on Somaliland at Chatham House. When I returned to the House to pick up the Rover and drive home, the battery was flat as a pancake and I had to call the AA. Their computer said the battery needed to be replaced, though it was only about 3 months old.

Today, my own question on the Bahrain government's termination of the education and maintenance grants of students at British universities who had dared to demonstrate against them. I was assured that we had protested against the decision, but I see that we are hosting the Crown Prince, showing that although we make ritual noises about the regime's gross and persistent human rights violations against their majority Shi'a citizens, its business as usual not just behind the scenes but in brazen cosying up to the hereditary oppressors at the highest level. The Prime Minister could hardly have chosen a worse moment for a photocall on the steps of 10 Downing Street with Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa than President Obama's call for a reversal of the traditional uncritical support for Arab dictators. The President said:

".... we have insisted both publicly and privately that mass arrests and brute force are at odds with the universal rights of Bahrain’s citizens, ..... and such steps will not make legitimate calls for reform go away. The only way forward is for the government and opposition to engage in a dialogue, and you can’t have a real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail. (Applause.) The government must create the conditions for dialogue, and the opposition must participate to forge a just future for all Bahrainis".

For as long as the al-Khalifas go in for mass arrests, torture, summary dismissal from government-controlled or government influenced employers, demographic engineering to bring about a Sunni-majority population, censorship of the media and blogs, and termination of the grants of university students who say a word against the government, we should have nothing to do with them. On the contrary, we should support the call by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, for an independent investigation of the egregious breaches of human rights committed by the self-appointed king and his family.

Thursday, hosted a lunch for Chris Elias, President and CEO of PATH,and two of his colleagues. PATH is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the facilitation of pubic/private partnerships that will develop and roll out vaccines and other preventive health measures for the eradication of common childhood diseases such as dairrhoea and pneumonia. Effective vaccines have been developed against rotavirus, the most common and lethal cause of diarrheal disease, which kills 1.6 million children a year. Some 90% of these deaths occur to children in developing countries, where simple measures such as the promotion of exclusive breastfeeding, investment in water and sanitation infrastructure, and oral rehydration therapy have already brought about dramatic reductions in infant mortality, and the rollout of vaccination against rotavirus has the potential to save millions more. The All-Party Group for Global Action Against Childhood Pneumonia, of which I'm co-chair, needs to consider these initiatives, which are connected with ours. Putting more aid resources into accelerating the development of preventive health measures makes a lot of sense.

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