Thursday, July 21, 2011

Last days of term

The Parliamentary session has ended with a busy three days.

Monday, I got in on David Chidgey's question on the DRC. Then in the Grand Committee on the Education Bill there was a very good debate on my amendment to end compulsory acts of Christian collective worship in non-religious schools, and to allow pupils of any age not to attend acts of worship that are held. Doreen Massey, Shreela Flather, the Bishop of Oxford, Mabel Turner, Joan Walmsley, James Touhig, Sal Brinton, Maurice Peston, Leslie Griffith of Bury Port, Stewart Sutherland, Janet Whitaker, Thomas McAvoy, Francis Listowel, Elspeth Howe, the Bishop of Lichfield, Randolph Quirk, and finally the Minister Jonathan Hill of Oareford were the speakers. There are no votes in Grand Committee, but with that sort of response, it must be worth returning to at Report stage in the authmn. See debate at

Tuesday morning I was at King's, to have a bone marrow biopsy to help diagnose the myeloproliferative disorder they think I've got. Its a disorder of the blood, the indicator of which was a platelet count which shot up to over 1,000 compared wit the normal 500. After a local anaesthetic a needle is stuck into the pelvis on the right side, leaving no apparent side effects apart from bruising.

In the afternoon, my question on the situation in Abyei, South Kordofan and Blue Nile provinces of Sudan, just over the international border now that Soth Sudan has gained its independence. Although foreign observers are kept out of South Kordofan, it looks agonisingly like an incipient genocide of the Nuba people there, with the only UN troops in Abyei. See Then, in Committee on the Localism Bill, I spoke to my amendment that was intended to deal with a provision designed to prevent Gypsies and Travellers from buying a piece of land, moving onto it, and then applying for planning permission. The fact that this is the only way they have been able to find anywhere to live in the past few years, when hardly any land has been designated for a Traveller site in any local plan, has driven them to this expedient, and fairly often they have appealed against refusal successfully on the planning merits of sites thus developed. See

On Wednesday morning I attended Subcommittee F of the EU Select Committee. We're beginning an inquiry into European Union policy on drugs, quite a tricky subject because there are wide differences between member states. All have implemented needle exchange and substitution drug treatment programmes, and prescribed minimum drug panalties for trafficking. But there are states which have decriminalised use of drugs and others which relied on heavy penalties for possession.

In the afternoon, back to Localism Bill, on which the Government wanted to complete 36 sets of amendments by the close of play, but not until the House had polished off Third Reading of the Police Reform & Social Responsibility Bill AND a statement on confidence in the media and police! That lot took five hours, so having started at 10.00, the Localism Bill didn't begin till after 15.00. I was asked not to move my amendment seeking to restore the targets for Gypsy and Traveller site planning in every local authority which had been constructed laboriously by a six year process of accommodation needs assessments, public inquiries and adjustments between the local authorities which had already become magnets for Traveller settlement, and those which had managed to avoid having any at all. After Eric Pickles, the new Secretary of State, tore up all that work immediately he got into office, there has been a planning vacuum, with local authorities waiting to see what the new Government would substitute for the targets. The answer is that councils are free to do what they like, which everybody knows from previous experience when the Caravan Sites Act was repealed in 1994, means that there will be a catastrophic fall in provision. Research by the Irish Traveller Movement in Britain shows that already there is a drop of a half compared with the old targets. Its obvious that when local authorities are under no obligation, they are at the mercy of local settled residents, who always oppose Traveller sites even though they are aware in one part of their minds that having authorised sites that are properly regulated are the only way of getting rid of the unauthorised sites which cause most of the friction. We shall return to this question at Report stage. See

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