Wednesday, January 31, 2007


7.54 pm
Lord Avebury: My Lords, we owe a tremendous debt to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, who has been indefatigable in raising the question of Darfur since before he went to the territory in 2004. He has repeatedly raised the matter in this House and never more graphically or passionately than he did this evening in a speech that was somewhat critical of the United Nations. When the Minister replies, I hope that he will give us a frank analysis of why it is taking so long to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1706, which was passed five months ago to strengthen UNMIS. In spite of the grave deterioration of the security and humanitarian positions in Darfur, the Security Council has yet to take firm action to shore up the AU force, to provide some protection for civilians facing attacks by Sudanese warplanes and the Janjaweed, or to bring greater pressure to bear on Khartoum than it has done so far to facilitate the deployment of the hybrid force, to which Khartoum agreed last August.
Last week, the Leader of the House said that the new UN Special Representative for Darfur, Mr Jan Eliasson, was visiting the region and once his report was received, that would be the opportunity for the Security Council to look at the issue again. In fact, Mr Eliasson left Khartoum on 15 January, and there is still no sign of action by the Security Council or of any report to the Security Council by the Secretary-General based on Mr Eliasson’s advice. Meanwhile, Sudanese bombers are killing villagers, displaced people are being attacked in the camps and, increasingly, aid workers and UN civilians are being physically assaulted and arrested by Khartoum’s troops. The Minister, who has just returned from the African Union summit—as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, pointed out—will, no doubt, be able to tell us something about the timing of the next moves and what we can expect from the Security Council.
The Secretary-General has expressed deep concern about the renewed use of bombers and has condemned the attacks on UN personnel and NGO and AU staff. It is worth reminding ourselves that over the past six months, 30 NGO and UN compounds have been attacked by armed groups,12 aid workers have been killed, five are missing, and hundreds of staff have had to be relocated for their own protection. However, their plight is as nothing compared with the decimation of the population. According to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, 400,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million have been

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displaced. In addition, there are 90,000 displaced people in eastern Chad and 150,000 in the Central African Republic. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, asked what the United Nations is doing about those situations. I am aware that the Security Council and the AU have been looking at the inter-relationship between those conflicts because there was a presidential statement on 16 January about the continuing instability along the borders between the three states that referred to the preliminary recommendations on the deployment of a multi-dimensional United Nations presence in Chad and the Central African Republic and called for a report by the middle of February on the size, structure and mandate of such a presence. Is that work being aligned, as far as possible, with the planning for the hybrid force in Darfur and would it be sensible to look at common logistics for the three operations?
Last August, following al-Bashir’s refusal to accept a UN peacekeeping force in Darfur, the Security Council decided to strengthen the existing AU force by adding to it 17,300 military, 3,300 police and16 formed police units. No timetable was laid down for the deployment of these reinforcements, but three months went by and the only sign of movement was an agreement to set up a tripartite mechanism between the UN, the AU and Sudan to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1706 but in practice allowing Sudan a veto on the injection of any further international peacekeeping forces into Darfur. President al-Bashir wrote to the UN Secretary-General on 23 December reiterating his agreement to the first two stages of the UN proposal, but even the first stage of the proposal, the light support package, has yet to be completed because of Sudanese obstruction. It is expected that by tomorrow only47 UN military, 30 police and 10 civilians will have arrived, with another 20 scheduled to arrive by the end of January, which is about half the total numbers projected in the first phase of the operation.
On 24 January, the UN Secretary-General wrote to President al-Bashir setting out the proposals for phase 2, which had been previously agreed by the UN and AU. At every stage, permission has to be sought from Khartoum. Even then, the arrangements for the transit of people and goods have to be accepted by Khartoum one at a time. At the tripartite meeting on 24 January, the discussion focused entirely on the implementation of the LSP, and when the Secretary-General met President al-Bashir last Sunday, he received no answer concerning the phase 2 proposals. The next chance to discuss that will not be until7 February, and it would be useful to have the Minister's assessment of the way forward. Are we going to have this perpetual postponement for weeks at a time of the arrangements for each of these phases?
If the Sudanese continue to insist that the troops for the hybrid force must only be Africans, I suggest that the African states which have provided contingents to UNMIL, UNOCI and MONUC might be able to help, as those operations prepare to wind down; though in the near future, it will be very hard to expand the Darfur operation while at the same time getting a new peacekeeping operation

30 Jan 2007 : Column 213

under way in Somalia. President al-Bashir hasinsisted also, in his letter to the Secretary-General of 23 December, that the finalisation of the plans for the hybrid operation have still to be negotiated, including the size of the force. One obstacle has been cleared out of the way, as your Lordships have already heard in the debate, in that President al-Bashir will not become president of the AU for the next year; but it looks as though he is playing for time until the AMIS mandate runs out at the end of June.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that the United Nations must take a robust line against the killers and the bullies who are holding a whole people to ransom. A few Apache ground attack helicopters would do wonders against the Janjaweed. If only a non-African state could provide such munitions, they could nevertheless be operated under the AU/UN memorandum of understanding of 25 November 2006. Experience shows clearly that when the hybrid force goes in, it needs a mandate that allows far more active military protection of civilians.
Over the past three and a half years, as the crisis has escalated, it has been considered necessary to use kid gloves with the Sudanese Government over Darfur—first, to get their co-operation on signing the CPA, and, latterly, on implementing it. The time has come when the UN cannot allow Khartoum to block effective means of stopping mass murder and ethnic cleansing.
8.02 pm

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Bangladesh - some good news

Lord Avebury – Chairman, International Bangladesh Foundation and Vice Chair Parliamentary Human Rights Group, said today:

On behalf of the International Bangladesh Foundation, I welcome the speech of the Dr Fakruddin Ahmed, the Head of the Interim Government. It is very much in the interest of everyone in Bangladesh that the political parties should co-operate with the interim government to achieve a free and fair election. In particular, racial or religious hatred and communalism must be avoided during the campaign.

Over the past two years the International Bangladesh Foundation has organised conferences, seminars and meetings to discuss the violence and intolerance, the political slanting of key appointments, and the gross flaws in the electoral register, which would have made free and fair elections virtually impossible. The major political parties, including representatives from the immediate past government have contributed to these events, and we hope they played a constructive role in identifying the way forward, now being charted by Dr Fakruddin Ahmed, his colleagues in the Interim Government and the new Electoral Commission.

Khalid Hasan, Pakistan Daily Times, comments on Rabwah report

POSTCARD USA: Rabwah: a place for martyrs —Khalid Hasan

The time has come to fight openly and frontally these ignorant and deluded men and their dangerous and utterly un-Islamic conduct and ideas. A country of 150 million essentially decent and tolerant people cannot be allowed to go over the abyss towards which it is being pushed

The British Parliamentary Human Rights Commission led by that old campaigner Lord Avebury, who has never failed to back and fight on behalf of the world’s good causes, has just this week issued an indictment of Pakistan for its deplorable treatment of the Ahmadiyya community. After reading the report of the three-member delegation that went to Pakistan late last year for an on-spot investigation, no one can possibly take General Pervez Musharraf’s claims of “enlightened moderation” too seriously. After all, what the report lists is happening under the General’s nose though, I believe, not at his instance. But since he is Mr Pakistan, and plans to remain that till the cows come home, the responsibility for what the report lists in some detail is his and on one else’s.

Last year Lord Avebury, who is the vice chair of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group (PHRG), organised a three-member mission to Pakistan which visited Rabwah, met government officials in Islamabad and recorded testimony. The ensuing report should make us feel ashamed of the direction in which a compliant or complicit, but certainly an uncaring government has allowed the country to go. Our image today is that of an intolerant society, where the radicals have a free run and where civilised people are afraid to speak up for fear of reprisals. Jihadist Islam has hijacked Jinnah’s Pakistan. The time has, thus, come to fight openly and frontally these ignorant and deluded men and their dangerous and utterly un-Islamic conduct and ideas. A country of 150 million essentially decent and tolerant people cannot be allowed to go over the abyss towards which it is being pushed.

In a foreword Lord Avebury writes that PHRG has observed with concern the rising tide of intolerance and fanaticism in Pakistan, and its dire effects on the rights and freedoms of the Ahmadiyya community. He recalls that in the early days of independence, it was possible for talented Ahmadis like Sir Zafrulla Khan, Pakistan’s first Foreign Minister, or Professor Abdus Salam, the Nobel Prizewinning physicist, to rise to the top of their professions. But today they face multiple threats to life and property, are effectively disfranchised and prevented from holding public gatherings, denied access to higher education and barred from entry to public employment except at the lowest levels. He recalls attending the launch of President Musharraf’s human rights programme in Islamabad, and expressing satisfaction on hearing of his intention to mitigate the worst effects of the blasphemy law, but this “signal of reform was greeted by an outburst of hostile invective from the small but vociferous anti-Ahmadi lobby, and the concession was withdrawn.” There has been no let-up since on the progressive tightening of the screws, or any mitigation in the flood of hate speech directed against the Ahmadis by fanatic groups.

The report notes that out of a total of 60 blasphemy FIRs recorded in 2005 against

Ahmadis, 25 were in Rabwah alone, indicating that the misuse of the law is as severe in

Rabwah as in the rest of Pakistan. Evidence was seen by the mission that the Ministry of Interior caused local police to issue proceedings against Ahmadis in Rabwah, as elsewhere, for action, including distribution of literature, propagation of their faith, and collection of funds. The principal newspaper published by the community was closed down. The community also suffers more severely in Rabwah because of the presence of a Khatme Nabuwwat mosque and a madrassa, which regularly incite hatred against the Ahmadis, leading to systematic intimidation and violence. The mullah who runs these two outfits, acknowledged to the three-member team that his followers chanted ‘Death to the Ahmadis!’, but pretended that the attack was on beliefs not persons.

Clearly, since Ahmadis are unable to vote — and are not even registered since that would mean that they deny their faith — they play no part in the local government of Rabwah, but neither are they to be found among local police or officials. The evidence shows that hardly anything is spent on public services in the town, though Ahmadis themselves club together to repair roads and drains. In Rabwah, as elsewhere, schools were nationalised by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. They were denationalised in 1996, but in Rabwah, although the Ahmadis bought the schools back, they remain in government ownership and in a derelict and dangerous state.

Lord Avebury writes, “This report makes clear the precariousness of life for Ahmadis in Rabwah, starved of opportunities for education and employment, menaced by the Khatme Nabuwwat and their rent-a crowd mobs bussed in from miles around, prevented from buying land in the town they developed. They are deprived of the right to manifest their religion in worship,

observance, practice and teaching, as laid down in the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and they are constantly under threat of prosecution under the infamous blasphemy laws. This place is not a safe haven for Ahmadis fleeing persecution elsewhere in Pakistan; it is a ghetto, at the mercy of hostile sectarian forces whipped up by hate-filled mullahs and most of the Urdu media. The authors of this report expose the reality of a dead-end, to which even more victims should not be exiled.”

To get an idea of the cooperation received from government, the report says, “Pakistan Ministry of the Interior rebuffed repeated requests for an interview. Requests were made in the weeks before travelling to Pakistan and whilst the mission were travelling.” The report does not say this, but I know that had it not been for High Commissioner Maleeha Lodhi in London, no visas would have been issued to the three-member Group. The report notes that popular sentiment in Pakistan has become increasingly hostile to Ahmadis. A senior government adviser, who did not wish to be named, explained how the population of Pakistan has become sensitised to Ahmadis since a spate of anti-Ahmadi violence in 1953. The Group was told of the vernacular press as having become virulently anti-Ahmadi. State television contains broadcasts of anti-Ahmadi rhetoric, including phrases such as “Ahmadis deserve to die.” Even in the traditionally liberal English language press, religious freedom is becoming harder to defend as journalists increasingly fear attack if they defend Ahmadis.

The report says the government has done little to alleviate the problems faced by Ahmadis: it would be ‘political suicide’ to deal with the Ahmadi problem directly and politicians will not use the example of the Ahmadis to make the case for religious tolerance. The nameless government spokesman quoted earlier told the Group that it is now beyond the power of government to reverse the situation for Ahmadis. The result is that there is no party or institution prepared to lead the debate on Ahmadis in Pakistan and, therefore, a change in public attitude is not anticipated in the near future. Nothing is more indicative of the government’s double-facedness than that it first demanded and received Ra. 1.5 crore from the Ahmadiyya community for the return of its nationalised institutions and then neither returned them to their true owners nor refunded the money.

So much for President Musharraf’s “enlightened moderation” then.

Khalid Hasan is Daily Times’ US-based correspondent. His e-mail is

Stop the BL cuts!

The Independent on Sunday
British Library to start charging
By Marie Woolf, Political Editor
Published: 28 January 2007

Its archives hold the Magna Carta, Beatles manuscripts and the notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci. Visitors to its fabled reading room in the British Museum included Karl Marx, Virginia Woolf, Charles Dickens and George Bernard Shaw. But the future of the British Library as a world-class, free resource is under threat fromplansto cut up to 7 per cent of its £100m budget in this year's Treasury spending round.

To survive, the library proposes to slash opening hours by more than a third and to charge researchers for admission to the reading rooms for the first time.

All public exhibitions would close, along with schools learning programmes. The permanent collection, which includes a copy of every book published in the UK, would be permanently reduced by 15 per cent. And the national newspaper archive, used by 30,000 people a year, including many researching their family trees, would close.

Scholars, writers and politicians have responded angrily. Award-winning author Margaret Drabble, who is currently using the library for research, said: "It would be a very great mistake and tragic to make cuts. It is a great national institution and it is used by scholars from all over the world."

Ex-Monty Python star Michael Palin, who is a patron of the library, said it was a "precious and thrilling resource" that needs to be looked after.

Since 2001, the library, now based in St Pancras and sites around London, has made savings of £40m and reduced its workforce by 15 per cent.

However, the Department for Culture says the expected cuts will mean that more savings need to be made. A spokesman said: "The cultural sector has had huge real-terms increases in funding since 1997. Clearly, this cannot go on indefinitely."

The plans have also caused consternation in the House of Lords. The broadcaster Lord Bragg said the library was of "massive importance in a society... that depends more and more on information, creativity and brains. It needs to be nourished, not hobbled".

Lord Avebury has written to Gordon Brown, who will preside over the Treasury spending plans, saying: "It is difficult to fathom the mind of a Government that sets out to wreck a world-class public institution, as you would if the British Library is forced to make these cuts."

Saturday, January 27, 2007


Last Tuesday there was a question in the Lords about the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, and I asked:

23 Jan 2007 : Column 1004

Lord Avebury: My Lords, considering the gross obstruction to the UN humanitarian agencies as well as the resumption of bombing attacks on civilians and the refusal of Khartoum to co-operate in the delivery of the life support package, does the noble Baroness agree that it is time to refer the matter again to the United Nations so that it can revisit Resolution 1706 and ensure that we do not face an overwhelming humanitarian disaster in Darfur?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, will know that the new UN Special Representative for Darfur is visiting the region at the moment. Once that report has been received, that will be the opportunity for the Security Council to look at the issue again.

The Special Representative, Jan Eliasson, had wrapped up his visit eight days earlier, on January 15, and there is still no sign of action by the Security Council. While the statesmen dither, Sudanese bombers are killing villagers; displaced people are being attacked in the camps, and increasingly, aid workers and UN civilians are being physically assaulted and arrested by Khartoum's troops. The 'light support package', the first step towards deployment of UN reinforcements for the African Union peacekeepers, has yet to be completed because of Sudanese obstruction.

Next Tuesday we shall have another chance to raise these matters, in a one-hour debate initiated by David Alton, a former Liberal MP who sits on the non-party crossbench.

The UN has a problem, because they need a minimum of cooperation from President Omar el-Beshir to get the 17,300 extra troops and 3,300 police into Darfur, with all their equipment and supplies, but the violence wouldn't happen without the tacit approval of the President. Two hundred thousand people have been killed, two million displaced, and four million are dependent on humanitarian aid as a result of Khartoum's policies, for which Beshir bears command responsibility.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Rabwah Press Conference

Today's press conference to launch the report Rabwah: a Place for Martyrs? a report of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group mission to Pakistan to look at internal flight option to Rabwah. The objective of the report is to provide factual information about conditions in the city of Rabwah for Ahmadi Muslims, for the benefit of immigration judhes and practitioners. With me in the picture are Ms Frances Allen,barrister, Dr Jonathan Ensor, Head of Research Unit, Immigration Asylum Service, and Mr Salim Malik, a senior member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association UK, who accompanied the mission.

Light snow on Wednesday

Thursday, January 25, 2007

X-rays of asylum-seeking children

Immigration: X-rays
3.07 pm

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty’s Government:

When they decided to discontinue the use of X-rays to assist in age determination for immigration purposes.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, this Government have not commissioned the use of X-rays to assess age. We are aware that some age assessments by local authorities are supported by X-ray analysis. We are considering a change to our policy, as we need to improve age assessment procedures to stop the abuse of the asylum and children’s support system caused by adults claiming to be children.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, was not the procedure of using medical or dental X-rays on children for age determination brought to an end by William Whitelaw, as he was then, in February 1982? No official X-rays have been taken of children since then for the reasons given by the British Dental Association and other professional bodies: the procedures are inaccurate, inappropriate and unethical. Will the Minister acknowledge that there are no studies that would enable one to compare the dental development of a child seeking asylum at one of our ports of entry against data from populations in the countries of origin, such as Eritrea or China, and to make a reasonably accurate assessment?

24 Jan 2007 : Column 1098

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, it is certainly true that the policy on this was settled in 1982, but things have changed since then, and there have been improvements in the reliability of the use of X-ray material for age determination. I accept the general point often made that there is no absolute precision. Several of our EU partners, such as Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden, use X-ray records and X-rays as a way of helping them to decide the age of a young person.

Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, does the Minister not agree that the consensus in medical opinion is that it is totally inappropriate and, indeed, unethical to expose young people to even the minimal radiation involved in taking such X-rays? It is a potentially harmful technique.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I do not accept the noble Lord’s thesis. X-rays are commonly used in dental procedures. Many noble Lords will doubtless have had an X-ray taken of their teeth recently. There are, I accept, some concerns about this, which is why we are approaching the issue with care and sensitivity.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, would the Minister consider seeking the opinion of the British Medical Association before adopting such a policy in this country?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, we intend to consult fully on this and there have already been some consultations. That organisation is among those that we would consult.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, is there not a very practical measure that the Government could introduce, which has so far proved successful in America in determining age and in protecting children who arrive at airports with an adult who cannot prove that they are the child’s parent or guardian? Why not start a system whereby the child must have a separate interview, away from that adult, to try to get to the truth of the matter, rather than expose them, perhaps, to the risk of being taken away by a trafficker?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, that is a practical suggestion; no doubt those interviewing techniques are used from time to time. Most of our concerns are focused on unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. One of the most important of those concerns is child protection.

Chinese New Year party, with Benjamin Chan

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

International Polar Year debate January 15

Lord Avebury: My Lords, I join in the thanks which have been expressed to the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, for his success in securing this timely debate and for his long involvement in polar issues. I hope that he will ensure that we do not have to wait another 13 years before we can debate the results of the IPY, and that he will get a positive answer from the Minister on the retention of HMS “Endurance”.

In December, an island off the coast of India that used to have 20,000 inhabitants vanished below the waves. It was the first of an increasing number of islands that will disappear as sea levels rise due to global warming—by as much as six metres before 2050 if we accept the figures given by Al Gore in his video, “An Inconvenient Truth”. Where I live, just the other side of Camberwell New Road, we should be just above the shoreline, but if there has been a miscalculation and it turns out that sea levels rise by eight instead of six metres, the end of my road will be submerged, together with much of Lambeth and Southwark. Your Lordships can see what will happen in their own areas if they look at the website, a great piece of work by Alex Tingle.

Much of the scientific work of the International Polar Year will focus on climate change, of which the rise in sea levels is only one of the harmful effects. It is one that may become more accurately predictable through atmosphere-ocean general circulation models such as the one being developed by the UK’s Hadley Centre, and the Liverpool-based Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory’s IPY project to measure Arctic and Antarctic polar coastline sea levels as a contribution to the Global Sea Level Observing System. But we already know that the glaciers which drain the Greenland ice sheet are flowing twice as fast as they did two years ago, and if that sheet were to disappear altogether, sea levels would rise by 7.2 metres. I therefore welcome the noble Viscount’s proposal that the British Antarctic Survey’s remit should be extended to cover the North Pole as well as the South Pole. The connection between the two was underlined just the other day when it was discovered that the fragmentation of the Larsen B ice sheet was caused by a climatic event off the coast of Alaska. They are very closely connected. The British Antarctic Survey reckons that the west Antarctic ice sheet would not need to thin by very much for the ice to float, and therefore might become capable of rapid deglaciation. That is now a major research priority because if deglaciation were to begin, the present rate of sea level rise of 2 mm a year would accelerate and the total loss of this sheet would result in an average five-metre rise world wide.

There is UK participation in over 40 per cent of the 228 IPY approved projects, a remarkable testimony to the distinguished contribution being made today by many UK research institutions and universities in the field. The extent of international collaboration in these projects is in accordance with the concluding statement of the Antarctic Treaty meeting in Edinburgh, which said that members would champion,

“increasing international collaboration and co-ordination of scientific studies within Antarctica”.

But I wonder if the process has gone far enough. Some experts say that there are too many research stations in Antarctica doing work of low calibre, and your Lordships’ Science and Technology Select Committee thought that more could be done to ensure that bases communicated more effectively with each other on scientific matters. Some 27 different states have their own facilities—I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, has counted them, but he did refer to this as a matter of concern—and a number of new ones are being built as part of the IPY programme. The Belgians, for instance, whose scientists have been content to work in other nations’ bases for the past 40 years, are spending $8.2 million on a new base to accommodate 12 people for part of the year.

The Government say that they would be extremely supportive of an initiative to avoid duplication or to foster collaboration in science programmes, but they do not believe the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research should do the job. With nine EU states having their own national bases and a 10th coming on stream, is there perhaps an argument for a common European policy and a common European programme on polar research? Collectively we might be able to match the impressive facilities of the Americans with their new $153 million facility at the South Pole designed to accommodate 150 people and approaching completion during the IPY. It has a 10-metre sub-millimetre wavelength telescope to look at the cosmic microwave background now being installed, and a high-energy neutrino detector employing thousands of photo sensors spread out over a cubic kilometre below the base. If Europe got together, could we undertake projects of that size and complexity, and expand our use of satellite measurements which the BAS says are revolutionising the study of ice sheets? The BAS core budget is around £37 million, compared with a $346 million budget for equipment and logistics alone for fiscal year 2007. Can the noble Lord tell us what is the collective total spend on polar research by the European Union and how it compares with the United States?

I was disturbed to hear what the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, had to say about the long-term funding of research by the United Kingdom because I think noble Lords will agree that the UK gets excellent value for money from the BAS. Further, since the Stern review suggests that, with a business as usual scenario, climate change would mean an average 20 per cent reduction in standards of living across the world, the Government ought to be asking NERC whether its funding strategy places sufficient weight on the importance of polar science and the work of the BAS in particular. Perhaps we should propose that a hefty charge be made on tourists visiting Antarctica, not only to reduce the numbers which have caused concern because of their environmental effects, but also to help defray the increasing costs of international research projects.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Better lighting for Mr G in my office

Resignation of Chief Adviser and deferment of polling day

From yesterday's Hansard

Bangladesh: Elections

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What assessment they have made of current electoral developments in Bangladesh.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Triesman): My Lords, we are deeply concerned that the Awami League alliance has declared its intention to boycott elections on 22 January. The people of Bangladesh deserve a free, fair, credible, peaceful and universally accepted election. For that to happen, all parties should feel that they are able to participate in the elections as of necessity. We look to the caretaker Government to create conditions under which full participation will be possible. In the interests of all Bangladeshis we urge all parties to work constructively to resolve their differences.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, does the Minister think there might be a role here for the Commonwealth in finding a replacement for the chief adviser, who is the chief obstacle to free and fair elections, and also perhaps in providing the resources that are needed to clean up the register before a polling day that would have to be deferred? Are any other initiatives being considered by the international community to ensure that the people of Bangladesh get a fair choice on 22 January or some time thereafter?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, completing an appropriate electoral register would certainly take one beyond 22 January, although I am advised that the terms of Article 123(3) of Bangladesh’s constitution do not give scope for that much flexibility; the requirement is said to be absolute. I am no expert on the Bangladeshi constitution, as your Lordships will understand, but that is what I am advised.

As for the Commonwealth, I believe that it can certainly play a role. It has a fine record—Don McKinnon as Secretary-General has a particularly fine record—in achieving successful elections and, in many cases, working in the inter-election period in order to ensure that the right machinery is there, that voters are registered correctly and that when the electoral monitors come in for the last phase they are able to see a credible election. Such steps would be invaluable at this time.

From the Daily Star, Dhaka, today

Emergency declared; Iajuddin quits as chief adviser
Adviser Fazlul Haque to act as CA for couple of days; 9 other advisers resign; polls effectively postponed; 11pm-5am curfew imposed
Shakhawat Liton

President Iajuddin Ahmed last night resigned from the post of chief adviser to the caretaker government, declaring a state of emergency in the country--amid growing political crisis over election--after 16 years since restoration of democracy through a mass upsurge.

Nine advisers to the caretaker government also resigned from their posts while Justice Fazlul Haque, the senior most among the advisers, took the charge as acting chief adviser.

The council of advisers will be reconstituted in a day or two to hold a credible election within shortest possible time as the January 22 parliamentary election has been postponed.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Stop the seven deadly sins in boarding houses

From yesterday's Hansard (Col 185-6)

Lord Mackay of Clashfern (former Lord Chancellor)

I shall take one illustration, that of a person who provides bed and breakfast for people in his house. In that situation, if he receives a same-sex couple in a double room in his house, he is liable to be convinced of the fact that he is allowing a sinful practice of which he disapproves….

Lord Avebury

.. if the hypothetical person who runs a boarding house has such an objection to this particular sin, should they not prohibit all the other seven deadly sins while somebody is in the bedroom of their house?

Lord Mackay of Clashfern

that would perhaps be a counsel of perfection which the noble Lord would like to advise, but it is not part of the regulations.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

First day back after the recess

Zimbabwe question:

West Papua debate:

Tuesday, January 02, 2007