Saturday, March 31, 2012

With Dr Colin Butler


March 23: visit by Dr Colin Butler, from the Australian NGO BODHI, working in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and elsewhere in South Asia

Thursday, March 29, 2012

With Jenny Bartlett

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At the 50th anniversary dinner with Jenny Bartlett, who was my wonderful Secretary for most of the eight years I was in the Commons.

Short week

Yesterday the House went into Easter recess, and we have until April 23, it seems because the Government had overlooked the fact that the Commons will be spending the week it comes back on the budget, and will therefore be unable to deal with the three major Bills sent back to them from the Lords until the following week. So there is no legislative business for us to do until they have considered our amendments. How could the business managers be so incompetent as to have overlooked this until a day or two before we were due to rise?

Monday I attended a meeting with our Special Representative on Sudan, who is coming to the end of his term of office. Its a really bleak picture, and getting even worse now as the North attacks across the frontier with the South, as well as committing war crimes in South Kordofan and Blue Nile against non-Arab peoples.

At question time I intervened in a question on piracy off the coast of Somalia,

Tuesday I spoke on an amendment dealing with clinical negligence cases brought on behalf of children, in the Legal Aid etc Bill see

Wednesday morning, with other members of EU Subcommittee F, to the Serious Organised Crime Agency in Vauxhall for a briefing on their work, and particularly the treatment of Suspicious Activity Reports, the mechanism used in compliance with European law to detect money laundering and terrorist offences. Their database contains 1.38 million records, which are retained for a maximum of six years, and are accessible to specialists in the law enforcement agencies under strict conditions. The ability of the software to rapidly identify links n=between SARS and to display them visually is an effective tool, and it was good to hear about an effective large IT system that is delivering results.

Wednesday evening, to the Index Awards ceremony at the St Pancras Hotel, which has been restored to its spectacular Victorian splendour. The Innovation award, supported by Google, went to Freedom Fone, a system developed by the Zimbabwean NGO Kubatana to enable ordinary citizens to communicate on civic and human rights issues even in the repressive surroundings of Mugabe’s dictatorship. The arts award went to the Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat, who has suffered beatings and threats of death but continues to satirize Arab dictators including Assad. The Index 40th anniversary award went to The Research and Information Centre “Memorial” in St Petersburg, a huge archive of material relating to the era of Soviet repression. To my delight, the Advocacy award was won by the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, and it was a great thrill to be there to see my dear friend Nabeel Rajab being presented with it.

With Nabeel Rajab at the Index Awards Ceremony yesterday evening. He is President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, which received the Award for Advocacy. I was really delighted to be there to see my dear friend honoured for his brave and persistent stand in very difficult and dangerous circumstances. It was a splendid occasion at the Gallery of the St Pancras Hotel, and Index is doing a great job highlighting the enormous sacrifices made by people like Nabeel in the cause of human rights.
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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Morgan Tsvangirai

Morgan Tsvangirai, Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, and Kate Hoey MP, Chair of the All-Party Zimbabwe Group, at the meeting of the Group this evening in the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Rooms. He was upbeat about the political and economic future of Zimbabwe, whilst acknowledging that some problems need to be solved with the aid of Presidents Zuma and Dos Santos through SADC.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Haematology at Guy's

Saw Dr Claire Harrison, who co-authored the 2008 study which included 24 patients with the W515L mutation. None of them had the combination of MPD/MDS, however, so it wasn't likely that my disease will follow their course. Dr H said there was an Italian study of MPD/MDS patients that she would refer to, and also see whether others working in the field had come across the combination with W515L. Work is going on to construct an international database of patients with these blood cancers, but that's still some way off

Meanwhile, Dr Harrison was going to refer back to the results of the bone marrow biopsy, which I think originally confirmed the diagnosis of MDS. She said that MDS is more aggressive than MPD, but the blood test results were quite stable. In particular, the platelets (483) were almost down to the upper end of the normal range (450) and neutrophils (2.50) were within normal range. Only RBC and Hb were considerably outside the normal range, so it seems that the hydroxycarbamide is doing its job.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Rest of the week

Monday Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill (5 contributions)

Tuesday Information Committee Annual Report ; Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) (Payment of Claims) (Amendment) Regulations 2012 (2 contributions)

Wednesday LASPO Bill again

Friday Middle East

50th Anniversary Dinner

Wednesday, the National Liberal Club gave a splendid dinner attended by a capacity 120 people, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Orpington by-election. Many of the 1962 warriors were there and we had a great time exchanging reminiscences. Here is an extract from my after-dinner speech, proposing the toast to LibDem candidates:

The arguments that are going on within the coalition reflect the tensions caused by the need, accepted on all sides, to eliminate the deficit. There’s no fundamental principle which decides who’s to pay the bill, but I imagine the Prime Minister must have regretted echoing the slogan ‘We’re all in this together’ coined by George Osborne in the early days of the coalition. It has turned out to be manifestly untrue, and Liberal Democrats have objected to policies that load extra burdens onto the poor and vulnerable, while allowing the fat cats to become even more obese. That’s why some of us have voted against our Government in the Lords on amendments to the Welfare Reform and Legal aid Bills.

But my very welcome task this evening is to propose a toast to our candidates, who aren’t facing an easy time and are doing remarkably well in a climate where its only just starting to be recognised what an impressive job we’re doing to radically improve unpopular measures, and particularly the Health Bill, on which the LibDem team has given the coalition plenty of time to think gain, and secured major concessions. We have ensured that the future of the NHS is guaranteed, with the Secretary of State ultimately responsible, and accountable for a comprehensive health service funded by the taxpayer and free to all at the point of delivery. So the LibDem candidate has a good story to tell the electors on how we have shifted that Bill light years away from being the end of the NHS, as it was labelled by some critics when it was first published.

But the candidate needs something more for her election address - and I hope we shall make a really determined effort to get equal numbers of men and women candidates next time.

We are struggling to make a reality of the claim that we’re all in it together. We need to intensify the LibDem demand for a mansion tax on houses worth over £2 million, and the ending of higher rate tax relief on pension contributions, which Danny Alexander estimates would save £7 billion. Ending winter fuel payments to Britons resident abroad, and making them taxable, would save a great deal more, and if coupled with raising the income tax threshold to £10k as we propose, wouldn’t hurt people on modest incomes. The child benefit conundrum could be solved by withdrawing it on the basis of a joint family income threshold rather than when one of the partners gets into the higher tax bracket. And we should scrap Trident, saving £25 billion according to the LibDem think-tank Centre Forum.

To these I would personally add substantial increases in the duties on alcohol, sufficient to produce an all-round increase of 10% on all alcoholic drinks, cutting hospital admissions by 50,000 a year, making a dent in the £2.7 billion cost to the NHS of alcohol abuse, with commensurate benefits to the criminal justice system.
At the same time we should stop handing out money to greedy millionaires to place the unemployed as free shelf-stackers in Tescos and pay themselves huge dividends. The privatisation of getting people back to work is a disaster.

Instead, how about providing low-interest loans to local authorities and social housing agencies to build low-rent housing, reducing housing benefit, reducing unemployment benefit and getting the economy moving again. To prevent this policy slowing down the reduction of the deficit, it could be funded by retaining the 50p tax rate on higher incomes, and even reintroducting supertax at 66 2/3 % on incomes over say £250,000 until we’re out of the wood.

Some of our leaders tell me they have read The Spirit Level on the correlation between inequality and a variety of social harms such as violent crime, physical and mental ill-health, educational under-achievement, obesity and lack of social mobility; but its argued that the authors’ evidence had been rebutted by some respectable academics. Actually, the authors have responded to their critics , and comprehensively demolished their arguments.

I’m also told that LibDems believe in equality of opportunity rather than equality per se, and that they are separate and distinct objectives. Well actually, they aren’t. Research shows that in more unequal societies, there is also less social mobility. The UK is at or near the wrong end of the scale of industrialised countries on both inequality and social mobility, while the four Scandinavian countries are near the top with both variables. If we could reduce our level of inequality to Scandinavian levels it would achieve a major improvement in equality of opportunity. It has been shown that the benefits would be felt at the top as well as at the bottom end of the scale.

The way to differentiate ourselves from the Tories as we approach the next general election would be to adopt the slogan ‘We can Conquer Inequality’, and in the meanwhile to stand up to them in Parliament against measures that breach that principle. Tim Farron says we have to demonstrate a commitment to fairness that the Tories won’t match, and that’s bound to mean some heavy weather inside the Coalition, which I dare say would be reflected in the election addresses of our candidates.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Fairly busy week

I have spoken on each day this week, though only brief interventions:

8 March 2012
Health and Social Care Bill

7 March 2012
Death Penalty (2 contributions)

Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill (2 contributions)

6 March 2012
Gypsies and Travellers (2 contributions)

5 March 2012
Legal Aid: Social Welfare Law

Monday, a very useful meeting with Paul Boateng, who has kindly agreed to attend the launch of the programme to vaccinate children against Pneumonia and rotavirus in Ghana on behalf of the All-Party Group against Childhood Pneumonia at the end of April. This is a world first! Ghana is the only country so far to deal with both these diseases, the two biggest killers of children in the developing world, at the same time.

Tuesday, did a TV programme for al-Aalam TV on Bahrain; Lyulph came to lunch, and in the evening a reception in the River Room for the Parliamentary Human Rights Group, at which the guest speaker was my old friend Sir Nigel Rodley.

Wednesday, voted against the Government twice on the Legal Aid etc Bill, on amendments restoring the right of appellants against official decisions about entitlement to welfare benefits to legal aid in complex cases both at the First-Tier Tribunal and on appeals against the decisions in the First Tier Tribunal The argument was very one-sided, not a single member apart from the Minister supporting the Government's case, I have already explained that although I am a firm supporter of the Government's intention to eliminate the deficit, I don't agree that we should make the poor and vulnerable share the burden, when there is plenty of scope for taxing the rich, and in the case of the NHS, taxing bad habits like drinking, smoking and eating harmful substances like sugar and fats.

Thursday, March 01, 2012