Thursday, September 08, 2011

Back to school

The House resumed this week and there has been plenty to do. Monday I sat in on Report stage of the Localism Bill and made speeches on two separate amendments about homelessness, about the Dale Farm evictions that begin on September 19. On the first, the Minister Joan Hanham said she wasn't going to discuss an individual case, and on the second, when I pointed out that it was an illustration of a general problem affecting all Gypsies and Travellers living on unauthorised sites, she answered as if I had asked a completely differenrt question.

More from my friend MG, who is piling up huge rent arrears because Scottish Borders are only paying housing benefit at the rate for a two-bed property, while she is living in a 3-bed flat for perfectly valid medical reasons, see

Lunchtime meeting on Monday with a Bahraini asylum-seeker whose home was raided by the police while he was abroad. They took his laptop, all his papers and a family photiograph album, and because the security forces know he attended our seminar on July 5, they are sure to bring trumped-up charges against him if he returns.

Tuesday, a meeting with Damian Green and Baroness Browning to talk about the abuse of resident domestic workers. One of the solutions canvassed, which is in the consultation that closes tomorrow, is to abolish the separate resident domestic worker category, an anomaly under the 5-Tier system of immigration control. The people concerned are unskilled, and the UKBA is no longer issuing visas for any other kind of unskilled work. If people want nannies, carers for the elderly, cooks or butlers, they would have to find them in eastern Europe, where there might still be candidates prepared to do the work for the minimum wage, even if only to obtain a paid employment foothold in the UK while looking round for something better. One of the options in the consultation is to retain the existing mechanism, but allow the employer to pay less than the minimum wage, recognising that this is what often happens even though its illegal!

Later, a meeting with a rape victim to discuss the lack of publicity for the services available to rape victims, and the risks that victims run through not getting advice immediately on what to do.

Wednesday, meetings of the All-Party Group on the Chagos Islands and on Gypsies and Travellers, then spoke in a debate on the latest changes in immigration rules, designed to reduce the number of students coming here, and costing our economy a net £2.4 billion a year. The motion to disagree with these changes was moved by Philip Hunt, the Labour frontbench spokesman on immigration, followed by three Liberal Democrats in a row. The Minister who replied, John Attlee, read out his brief, but he really had no answer to the criticisms. Afterwards, Lindsay and my niece Pam, who had been listening to the debate, stayed for dinner with me in the Commons cafeteria.

This morning, I tried to get in on a question on Sudan, but there was only time for David Chidgey our spokesman. Generally David Howell, the FCO Minister in the Lords, is so long-winded that only one LibDem gets in.

After question time, met Janet Whitaker to discuss our joint amendments to the Localism and Education Bills on Gypsies and Travellers, followed by a meeting with the clerk in the Public Bill office about the wording. The amendment on the Education Bill, which comes up next Monday, is about vulnerable children generally, but the DfE's definition of vulnerable children doesn't refer specifically to Gypsies and Travellers, yet they are the most deprived educationally of any ethnic minority, in terms of attendance, excliusion and achievement. With Traveller Education Support Services being shut down all over the country, there is a very serious risk they will slip even further behind.

After lunch, David Chidgey and I had a meeting with Henry Bellingham MP, FCO Minister who deals with Africa, at which we discussed Sudan, Somalia and the DRC. Henry used to be our next door neighbour in Gloucester Street, Pimlico, some 26 years ago!

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