Tuesday, February 27, 2007

February 20: launch of campaign against human trafficking

Yesterday's Hansard

Immigration: Entry Clearance Refusals


English for Speakers of other Languages

7.44 pm

Lord Avebury: My Lords, my noble friend has convincingly demonstrated the proposition that he put to your Lordships at the beginning of his speech: that the acquisition of language skills is fundamental to social cohesion. That is certainly the case in my noble friend’s area, where ESOL provision has been, and should continue to be, the key to the social cohesion of his constituency.

However, as my noble friend said, I want to focus, in particular, on the decision to stop ESOL for asylum seekers. I consider this a particularly unpleasant idea which is based on false assumptions and is detrimental to the public interest. The Minister, Bill Rammell, in his Guardian article of 16 January headed, “We cannot sustain current levels of funding for ESOL provision”, justified the withdrawal of tuition from asylum seekers over the age of 19 on the grounds that taxpayers’ money should not be used to support the learning of English by people who are expected to leave the country. At the same time, he extolled the IND’s success in determining 80 per cent of applications within eight weeks, half of them leading to refusals.

According to the latest Home Office statistics, the number of asylum claims has been falling steadily since 2003, so these applicants are not responsible for the,

“massive increase in demand for free ESOL tuition”,

to which the Minister referred in that article. Both the smaller numbers and the speeding up of determinations will have reduced the cost of ESOL tuition for asylum seekers, although the actual figure is 69 per cent of applications determined within eight weeks, not 80 per cent as the Minister claimed, and the figure has been going down.

Roughly, 20 per cent of the applicants are given leave to remain and another 20 per cent succeed on first appeal. In all, something like half of all applicants are allowed to stay here by the time they have been through the whole process and not 30 per cent, as alleged by Mr Rammell on the BBC programme “The Learning Curve” yesterday evening. So, if all asylum seekers were equally likely to end up

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permanently settled in the UK, half the spending on free English tuition for them would be not only reasonable but imperative if they are to put their talents to full use for the benefit of themselves, their families and the host community. By giving successful applicants a head start in the job market, we have been helping them to contribute to the economy and to repay, through their taxes, the cost of the services that they receive.

In fact, the proportion of spending on those who are likely to be unsuccessful will be much lower than 50 per cent because most of them already are not eligible for ESOL classes. Those who are sent to other EU countries under the Dublin convention, non-suspensive appeal cases—that is, people who do not have a right of appeal in the UK—and those who are fast-tracked are here for much shorter periods and they do not qualify for ESOL tuition at the moment. When you deduct all those categories, the proportion of the remainder who finally get leave to remain is well over 50 per cent, but evidently Mr Rammell’s advisers failed to provide him with that information. So the evidence on which the Government base their case is wrong.

There are also those who, for practical reasons, cannot be sent back to their countries of origin. They include, for the indefinite future, Eritreans, Zimbabweans, Somalis and Iranians. Of course, most Zimbabweans speak good English, but their gripe has been that they do not have access to other types of courses, such as IT, so they should also be deducted from the total of unsuccessful asylum seekers whose participation in ESOL is, according to the Minister, a waste of money.

If there is no prospect in the foreseeable future of removing people who come from other countries, the very least that we can do for them is to help them to speak our language. Bristol, for example, has a large Somali community, among whom ESOL courses in the City of Bristol College are popular. Does the Minister think that it makes any sense to put obstacles in the path of Somali asylum seekers, two-thirds of whom are given leave to remain, while the remainder are likely to gain permanent settlement sooner or later because we cannot send them back?

The Commission on Integration and Cohesion has identified lack of English as,

“a critical barrier to integration and cohesion for new arrivals”.

The Government recognise in their strategy document for refugee integration that English-language proficiency is a key factor in accessing the labour market, mainstream services such as Jobcentre Plus call centres, and successfully integrating into UK society.

In welcoming the decision to continue funding for asylum seekers aged 16 to 18, the chief executive of the Refugee Council says that early entry to English courses is important for all ages if they are to communicate and function effectively, and competence in English means that they are less dependent on support services and better able to make connections with their local community.

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26 Feb 2007 : Column 1438

Bill Rammell claims that the cuts in ESOL are not intended to save money but to ensure that places on courses are taken by those in greatest need. Excluding destitute asylum seekers from access to our language is mean, inhumane, and perverse and a false economy that will delay the entry of refugees into full participation in British society and the Government should think again.
7.50 pm

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Dinner with His Holiness

We had the great honour of being received by His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih V (Fifth Successor to the Promised Messiah), the Supreme Head of the 40 million worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslims, to mark the publication by the Parliamentary Human Rights Group of their Report on Rabwah, the city in Pakistan which was founded by the Community but is now a sad and derelict reminder of their systematic exclusion from mainstream Pakistan society.

The Ahmadiyya Muslims believe in 'Love for All, Hatred for None', and are leaders of humanitarian relief works im many countries.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Thursday, February 22, 2007: letter in SCMP

Seeking clarification

In "What am I, then?" (February 12), Hong Kong-born Nepalese Damar Thapa describes his frustrated efforts to apply for British citizenship - an attempt prompted by our letter "British citizenship" (November 27).

This letter explained that solely Nepalese passport holders born in Hong Kong before June 30, 1976, who have never held a BN(O) passport, can qualify for a British Overseas citizen passport if they did not formally renounce their British nationality before turning 21.

On trying to apply, Mr Thapa discovered that the British authorities required a certificate from the government of Nepal stating that he is not a Nepalese citizen - but its consulate in Hong Kong won't give him one because it says he is not a Hong Kong citizen.

Our letter was based on statements made by Home Office ministers in June last year. Since then, the British authorities have clarified that those statements were based on their own interpretation of Nepalese nationality law, and needed clarification.

In response to a request for more information, the government of Nepal then explained that a child born abroad to Nepalese parents can "choose citizenship of his/her liking" on turning 16, the age from which a citizenship certificate is issued. Anyone who does not make a choice by the age of 21, it said, "automatically loses Nepalese citizenship".

Unsatisfied with this response, senior Home and Foreign Office officials flew to Kathmandu on November 22 to clarify the matter. At this meeting, the Nepalese government explained that there is "a total prohibition on dual nationality in Nepal regardless of how the two nationalities are obtained".

We presume this means that a person holding British nationality by birth in Hong Kong cannot lawfully be granted Nepalese citizenship between the ages of 16 and 21 unless and until he renounces British nationality. Unless he has done so, any Nepalese citizenship certificate held by him would be void.

We call on the Nepalese authorities and the consul-general in Hong Kong to expeditiously provide written confirmation of this to allow these solely British nationals to exercise their claims to citizenship.

LORD AVEBURY, House of Lords, and TAMEEM A. EBRAHIM, London

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Obituary on Tordie in The Guardian: www.guardian.co.uk/otherlives/story/0,,2016028,00.html

Four minute speech (time limited) in debate on restraint of children in custody:

8.02 pm

Lord Avebury: My Lords, it is a pity that last week’s UNICEF report, which put Britain at the bottom of the league table of 21 industrialised countries for child well-being, did not look at the number of children coming into the criminal justice system and the number locked up. The former head of policy at the Youth Justice Board, Jon Fayle, resigned because the Government would not support its policy of reducing youth custody. Rod Morgan, the former chair who resigned a week before, protested that government targets for prosecutions shifted minor offences which used to be dealt with informally into an overstretched criminal justice system and that work to improve regimes in young offender institutions was being undermined. That is the elephant in the room in this debate.

Spending £280 million a year on locking up young people produces an 80 per cent plus reoffending rate, and the money should be largely redirected into community measures for all but the most persistent or dangerous offenders. The number of young people in custody could be reduced by two-thirds, saving £70 million a year. As the noble Baroness has just said, half of the 3,000 under-18s in YOIs suffer from psychiatric disorders; many vulnerable children are placed far away from their families and it is becoming harder to do any useful work with any of them. In this unfavourable environment, force is all too often used as a means of control, causing injuries, as we have heard.

My noble friend mentioned Hindley, where force was used on 236 occasions in the six months prior to the chief inspector’s visit last August. A number of children there suffered injuries as a result of C&R, including, as he mentioned, three with broken wrists. Her recent general inquiry into young people in

19 Feb 2007 : Column 958

custody found that half the boys in Hindley had been restrained, and at Brinsford it was more than a third. What is the Minister doing to see that restraint is used as a last resort, as the YJB recommends?

In the STCs, recent inspections at Medway and Oakhill show a reduction in the use of restraint, but at Hassockfield the withdrawal of the lethal “seated double embrace” led to an increase in the use of handcuffs. Why is there this difference between one institution and the others? The main technique now used in STCs relies on the infliction of pain. My noble friend said that that was unlawful. In the Minister’s opinion is it within the law to inflict pain deliberately on these young people as a means of control?

In an extreme case at Rainsbrook STC nearly three years ago, 15 year-old Gareth Myatt died as a result of restraint. The inquest last week heard about 34 other potentially lethal incidents where children subjected to the “seated double embrace” had incurred serious incidents or complained of being unable to breathe. That technique was discontinued but why was there not a review of the safety of restraint procedures generally as the Home Office promised in 1998? Should there not be an accelerated procedure for inquests on deaths in custody so that the lessons learnt from these dreadful incidents are applied as soon as possible?

The failure to keep uniform records of the use of restraint, including the ethnicity of the subjects, throughout the secure children’s estate is deplorable and must be remedied. Clearly, the YJB’s code of practice, intended to be,

“an agreed set of principles for the use of control methods in all settings where children are cared for”,

needs further development in the light of my noble friend’s report. For some, it may be a matter of life or death.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Meeting on Somaliland today

Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran

Met yesterday Khalid Azizi of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran, see kdpi.org.uk/ku/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=140. The Party has divided into two under the leadership respectively of Secretary General Hassanzadeh and Secretary-General Hijri, but the differences are personal rather than ideological. Both stand for a federal Iran in which the Kurdish region would have a substantil degree of autonomy.

Friday, February 09, 2007

This week

Almost a record! Apart from one short interjection in a question on Colombia, I said nothing on the floor of the House this week. My 3 years on the EU Select Committee has come to an end, with the conclusion of our report on SIS II, so I had no Wednesday morning duty either.

I had a meeting with Olivier Bancoult, Leader of the CChagos Islanders, who were kicked out of their homeland in the sixties when the US constructed the Diego Garcia base. The islanders won the court case against the Government and it now loks as though they will win against the Government again in the Court of Appeal. Meanwhile, the Chagossian exiles here have many problems of citizenship, social security, employment and education. (for a summary of the court case see chagosuk.blogspot.com)

Second, I attended a meeting with Eric John - Deputy Assistant Secretary for Asian Affairs at the US State Department, to discuss tactics following the attempted Security Council Resolution on Burma. It was surprising that the South Africans had boted against the resolution, not so much on the merits of the case as on grounds of solidarity with the Non-Aligned Movement - although the Indonesians had abstained. Some states considered that the matters raised should be dealt with in the Human Rights Council, though in up to now it hasn't passed any critical country-specific resolutions. There seems to be more scope for action at the ILO, though we didn't get into that subject because the meeting was cut short when our tenure of the room expired.

Third, I attended a meeting chaired by Alun Nichael MP to discuss the current position on Somaliland. David Triesman the FCO Minister who deals with Africa was supposed to be speaking but had been detained in the House. He sent a message promising to write to Alun, who said he would circulate the letter. The meeting agreed that it would be useful if we could get the Government to twaek the forthcoming Security Council Resolution on Somalia to include a reference to Somaliland, though at this stage recognition isn't a practical option.

This morning I saw the haematologist at King's, who said my blood chemistry was normal, but he wanted a CT scan to make sure that there was nothing sinister at the site of last April's operation. So in the last couple of weeks I've had good value from the health service, having also seen the orthopaedic consultant for my left foot (MRI scan ordered), the prostate consultant (who threatens that I may need an operation but not yet), and the gastroenterologist, who changed the medication andwarned me that Barrett's Syndrome - a condition where the lower oesophagus metamorphose into stomach lining to cope with acid reflux - leads to cancer of the oesophagus in 5% of the cases. He would carry out an endoscopy in two years' time to check the condition of the lower oesophagus.

Anyway, for the time being, the verdict is that I'm in more or less working order.

PS This afternoon, attended as trustee Friends of the Alola Foundation, started by the wife of President Xanana Gusmao of East Timor to work for the humanitarian needs of the people of East Timor. So far it has raised a mere £7k, a pitifully small amount compared with the task in a country devastated by two decades of Indonesian occupation and deliberate sabotage of the capital when they finally left.

Sunday, February 04, 2007


These posts are in loving memory of my incomparable aunt Tordie - Victoria Venetia Woods née Stanley - who died on Friday. She was one in a million: full of life, intelligent, witty, talented, modest, and with a huge capacity for making friends. Born June 29, 1917, she died only a few months before her 90th birthday, still the same as ever, with an energy and vitality that was undimmed. A brilliant conversationalist and an enthusiastic listener, she would enter into any subject that came up, but her years as a singer left her with an enduring love of music and opera in particular. She had an encyclopaedic knowledge of opera and a phenomenal memory which enabled her to recall musical experiences going back to 1925, when her mother brought her downstairs to sing for Melba. When she stayed with us I would buy The Times so that she could do the crossword, though she disapproved of the Murdoch media's politics. She was not one of those who move to the right as they get older; she was always a passionate advocate of equality, of race, gender and sexual orientation, and of course she opposed the Iraq war. I loved her very dearly and will miss her tremendously.

Tordie leaves, August 15, 2005

Dinner August 12, 2005

At Victoria's

With Andrew & Livy, August 10, 2005

At Victoria's, August 11, 2005

With Livy, Glyndebourne, August 9, 2005

Tordie in wartime

At the outbreak of war Tordie was at Penrhos, where she stayed until she played Gretel in Hansel and Gretel in Hastings and Eastbourne the last week in December 1939 and the first week in January 1940, with Constance Stocker as the witch. Immediately after, with barely time for rehearsal she was in The Snow Queen at the Chelsea First Aid Post, and in February to April 1940 she was telephonist at the FAP. Then in May 1940, at the time of Dunkirk, she was in The Two Bouquets at the Oxford Playhouse, which lasted four weeks. (She told me in 2005 that she remembered every word and note of the part). Marraine was living at 97 Onslow Square, and in June 1940 Sir Henry Grayson offered her one of 3 summer homes he had built in Trearddur Bay. In June she moved there, accompanied by Tordie and Hilly, Marraine’s maid. Tordie stayed there until October, when she got the invitation to play Tilly in Lilac Time from Constance Stocker. They did two weeks at Richmond and two at Kew.

In November Tordie auditioned for ENSA and went on tour December 1940 – January 1941 for four weeks in The Best of the Bunch, a variety show which wasn’t a great success. It included Phyllis Brooks, soprano, and Chris ?, a New Zealander, singing the Barcarolle frm Tales of Hoffman. The tenor George Israel (who had a good voice and was successful later on) had to sing an awful song containing the words

“The cello is my sweetheart. Yes! And I’m her faithful beau”

His other song was “I am but a poor blind boy”

Not surprisingly, he got the slow handclap in Aldershot, and the show was recalled to Drury Lane for modification. The cellist and the solo pianist were eliminated, and a contortionist/dancer called Bobby Something-or-other was brought in. The six dancing girls were retained, as were comedians Jimmy Godden and Mona Vivian, and two new comedians were recruited. Leyland White, baritone, sang Ring up the curtain from Pagliacci, and Tordie sang My hero, I love you only from The Chocolate Soldier, the only solo numbers. The ill-fated George Israel was still in the cast and among the new singers were Angela ? an Italian mezzo, Alec ?, baritone, Jo White, Leyland’s wife, soprano. The manager, who also sang, was Eric Richmond.

All the singers (except Leyland White, who was far too grand) sang the sextet from Flora Dora, a medley of songs from Wales, Scotland and Ireland, and ‘You’d be far better off in a home’, with two of the comedians. The finale of the first half was The Lambeth Walk, with the whole cast. At the end of the show they sang a medley which included Me old cock sparrow, Daddy wouldn’t but me a bow-wow, The man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo, and Roamin in the gloamin.

The revised show was well received, and continued until September, when Tordie left to stay at 14 Lowndes Square with my parents before attending Pamela’s wedding on October 7, 1941. It was at Lowndes Square that she met Jade. Immediately after the wedding she went to Manchester to meet Joan Cross, who was playing Madam Butterfly there, and had invited her to audition for Sadler’s Wells in London. But she had said she would return to Trearddur Bay, and Joan Cross then asked her to come back to Liverpool for a special audition there a few days later, which she did on her way to London.

In London, she joined Edgar Scrooby, comedian, and Albert Cazubon, violinist, on a further ENSA tour. After four weeks an offer to join Sadlers Wells arrived from Tyrone Guthrie. T wrote to Kenny Barnes at Ensa asking if she could be released from her contract with ENSA, and he referred the decision to Walter Legg, head of classical music at ENSA and later the husband of Elizabeth Schwarzkopf. He agreed immediately, and Ken wrote T saying that if for any reason it didn’t work out at Sadler’s Wells, she was welcome to return to ENSA at any time

Penrhos beach, July 22, 2003

Chatsworth, July 21, 2003

At Kina's, June 4, 2006

My precious and dearly beloved Aunt Tordie, who died on Friday

Last week

I forgot to record two questions last Wednesday, on the Country of Origin Information Service, and on the appointments to the Electoral Commission in Kenya


Last Wednesday was my swan song on the EU Committee's Justice and Home Affairs subcommittee, after a three and a half year stint. Members are supposed to be rotated off after three years, but I remained to help complete the work on Schengen Information System II, a very large database that will bring in the new Member States, containing details of European Arrest Warrants, missing persons, persons to be excluded from the EU, stolen and missing passports, stolen vehicles etc. Ultimately SIS II will contain biometric data, which may be used first on a one to one basis to confirm identification, but later on one to many searches, where somebody's fingerprint (or other bodily characteristic) is compared with all others on the database, to find a match. It is a complex and interesting subject, and I hope our report, due to be published at the end of the month, will be useful.

Today was bright and sunny, and I played ping-pong for the first time since last autumn, beating JW 2-1 and his friend Nic 1-0, by which time it was getting dark. Nic and his girlfriend Christen, and Olly, went back to Nottingham, but JW and Verity are staying till tomorrow morning

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Hrant Dink Vigil

Armenia Solidarity Press release
(supported by Nor Serount Cultural Association)
Tel: 07876561398(int: ++44 7876561398

Armenians, Kurds and Turks unite to call for Armenian Genocide recognition by the UK parliament

(Tribute to Hrant Dink in the House of Commons,the UK Parliament. London)

Armenians and Kurds gathered with Turkish intellectuals in a vigil outside the House of Commons, London this tuesday, 30th january to honour Hrant Dink and to call on the UK government to help the process of reconciliation between our peoples by the Recognition of the truth of the Armenian Genocide. . The vigil was led by Lord Avebury, and included the singing of the "Hair Mer" by Seta Cox.
Later, inside the House of Commons the Tribute to Hrant Dink was held. A message from the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation was read, followed by an eloquent oration on Hrant's signifigance from Prof. Khatchatur Pilikian. Seta Cox read her poem of tribute to Hrant "Without You". This was followed by an insight into Hrant's personality and a masterly analysis of the Armenian Genocide by Prof. Hovannes Pilikian.
Eilian Williams of Armenia Solidarity made the point that Turkish democracy at present is based on the lie that there was no Genocide of Armenians,and appealed for all to strive for a multi-cultural Turkey where the Human rights of minorities are respected.
Messages of solidarity were given by Kurdish and Turkish supporters, including Dr Fariudin Hilmi, a former minister in the government of Iraqi Kurdistan and also by Mustapha Yesacan.The Kurdistan National Congress and other Kurdish groups as well as the Turkish-Kurdish Centre in London were represented.
The meeting was sponsored by Ms Nia Griffith MP, who has also put down a motion in parliament noting that Hrant Dink was a campaigner for the Recognition of the Armenian Genocide. She closed the meeting giving encouragement to all.
Present were several parliamentarians including Mr Paddy Tipping MP of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Armenia, and David Howard MP of the Liberal Dermocrats, as well as Lord Rea.
Amongst other distinguished guests were the Turkish journalist Koray Duzgoran and the authors Mr Martin Short, and Ms Edwina Charles

Friday, February 02, 2007

Mining in Colombia and displaced people

On my right, Juan Julio Perez, President of the Relocation Committee of the Afrocolomboan community of Tabaco in the province of La Guajira, Colombia; on my left, Armando Perez, the community's lawyer, who also works for the Wayuu indigenous people.

My visitors said that 3,200 people from Tabaco, and other communities of black and indigenous people in the vicinity, were displaced by the huge El Cerrejon coal mine - as were also Wayuu communities around Puerti=o Bolivar, from which the coal is exported.

Unfortunately, none of the people of Tabaca had titles to their land, and the mining companies offered only limited compensation to some of 360 families who were compulsorily moved, and nothing at all to 70 of them who couldn't prove they were living in the village. Juan Julio Perez showed me hid identity card, which only records the holder's name, and his place and date of birth, not his current address. In his case, his place of birth was Albania, about 5 km from Tabaco, but he added that the recorded birthplace was the nearest major town, not the actual village or hamlet of a person's birth.

The UK-based Anglo-American is now part owner of the mine, along with Xstrata and BHP Billiton, so the object of the visit is to see what can be done to persuade these companied to negotiate a settlement that will enable the community of Tabaco to resettle on a 600 ha site at the neighbouring La Cruz, where they could resume the small scale vegetable and fruit cultivation which was their livelihood before they were uprooted, and they have a decision of the Supreme Court which requires the local mayor to get the money (£0.5 million) from the Colombian government and the companies.