Saturday, June 27, 2015

The House magazine, a weekly journal of Parliament, asked me to write a Diary piece on a week in the Lords, and I reproduce below the copy I sent them. They made an editorial decision to delete the first paragraph when it was too late for me to object, but some readers would have been amused by the anecdote about Patrick Cormack, so here is the unexpurgated text.

They said they had checked with Lord Cormack and he couldn't remember the incident. However, I dare say the records would confirm that my final article as opera critic, appeared some 30 years ago.

It was so exciting to be asked to write a diary for the House Magazine, some 30 years after I last appeared in their pages. My daughter was acting editor of the magazine at the time, and I was just settling into a new career as the opera critic when Patrick Cormack, then Chair of the Editorial Board, discovered this innocent piece of nepotism and I was summarily dismissed!

The Lords is meant to be a self-regulating House, but it does a bad job of controlling the length of questions.  David Alton asked about people trafficking recently. He took 142 words to put his supplementary, but the Minister Joyce Anelay,  Leader of the House, averaged 158 words in her first two replies.  

This week again Joyce Anelay took 152 words to answer a question, but two new Ministers beat her record with 155 and 181 words respectively.

When Ministers so flagrantly abuse the Companion to Standing Orders’ limit of 75 words, its not surprising that backbenchers ignore it widely too.

I was delighted that Rob Marris MP, who drew No 1 in the Commons ballot for Private Members’ Bills, is bringing forward the Assisted Dying Bill, which had a thorough discussion when Charlie Falconer introduced it in the Lords in the last Parliament. 

That Bill ran out of time, but the largest ever poll on assisted dying conducted  in its wake showed that 82% of public support law change. There’s a very good chance it will get through unscathed this time, and I look forward to serving on Dignity in Dying’s Parliamentary Advisory Group, which meets for the first time on Thursday.  

I’m expecting to die of myelofibrosis, a form of blood cancer, around July 2016, so it will be good to be one of the first to have the right to an assisted death.

In the debate on the Queen’s Speech I spoke about the growing menace of the IS – or as I prefer to call it, the Daesh, since it isn’t a state. These terrorists now occupy huge swathes of Iraq and Syria, and are metastasising into the rest of the Arabian peninsula, South Asia, North and West Africa.  I pointed out that the Wahhabism of Saudi Arabia is similar to the theology of the Daesh, which in fact uses Saudi textbooks on Islam in its schools.

The difference between them is political rather than theological, because of the Daesh claim that its caliph has jurisdiction over the whole of the ummah – the worldwide Muslim communities - and its practice of killing infidels in territory under its jurisdiction who refuse to convert to its particular version of Islam.

In their use of cruel and inhuman punishments for expressions regarded as blasphemous, the Saudis are no different from the Daesh.

On Thursday last week when I asked a Question about the barbarous and inhuman punishment of 1,000 lashes on Raif Badawi, the Saudi blogger and founder of the Liberal Saudi Network, concern was expressed on all sides of the House.

Joyce Anelay, who replied, didn't say whether she agreed that it was inappropriate for a country with such laws to be a member of the UN Human Rights Council and whether the UK would try to get Saudi Arabia removed from the Council.

The second round of 50 lashes was postponed on Friday without explanation, and perhaps the weight of international opinion calling for an amnesty may prevail on this occasion. But it's the ideology that lies behind the sentence, a cancerous growth on Sunni Islam, that is the real problem.

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