Saturday, April 26, 2008

Tordie's Memorial performace at the Canadian Opera

The week

Last Sunday, to Geneva with the Select Committee on International Organisations, whose first inquiry is on the effectiveness ofintergovernmental action, and of the role within that action by the UK, in combatting the global spread of communicable diseases. In practice we concentrate on HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria, because those diseases are the main killers, though pneumococcal disease kills a million children a year.

Over Monday and Tuesday we took evidence from the World Health Organisation; the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health; the Global Fund for HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria; UMITAID; the Stop TB Partnership; the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers; the GAVI Alliance (a public/private partnership that aims to extend the reach and quality of immunisation coverage within poor countries), and the World Intellectual Property Organization (a UN agency that developed the WIPO Convention to reward creativity but also to safeguard the public interest). Geneva is the health capital of the world, with so many agencies concentrated in the city, and we had an excellent two days.

Having a couple of hours to spare at the end before leaving for the airport I asked the Embassy if they could arrange for me to have short meetings with a couple of the offices of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council, and at very short notice I met staffers from the offices of the Special Rapporteur on Torture; the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter-terrorism, a new mandate. I see the transition from the Human Rights Commission to the Human Rights Council as harmful, partularly because of the emergence of the 'Group of Like-Minded States', which has imposed a code of practice on the special Procedures, eliminated country rapporteurs, and required the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression to consider 'defamation of religion'. Some people say the jury's still out, and that the new 'Universal Periodic Review', which provides for a three-year examination of every member state's human rights record, is a step forward.

Wednesday was Report Stage of Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, and I had another go at erasing 'Special Immigration Status', which puts asylum seekers who are not protected by the Refugee Convention but can't be sent back to their countries of origin in a permanent limbo, unable to work, compelled to live where directed, and barely to survive on benefits less than are available to our own poorest citizens. The Minister, Lord Westm stck closely to his brief, mot answering the points I raised, but as it was 23.30 by the time the debate finished, I didn't press my amendments to the vote.

Thursday afternoon I spent 3 hours taking evidence as part of an informal committee of Members of both Houses looking at pneumococcal disease, and particularly the effects of an initiative developed by the GAVI Alliance, the Advamce Marked Commitment. This enables new vaccines to be brought to the market earlier by guaranteeing the developers a higher level of orders, and in the first instance, it is enabling the launch of pneumococcal vaccines that will save tens of thousands of lives.

Friday I was catching up with some of the paperwork, and discussing with our advisers how we can mitigate the effects of Special Immigration Status. I think we shall have a good amendment ready for the Bill's Third Reading next Wednesday.

Friday evening we went to Handel's Acis and Galatea at Wilton's Music Hall, a brilliant production which has had well-deserved A+ reviews. Kina and Detris, a friend we met through Phil Krone, who is doing a post-graduate course at London Metropolitan University, accompanied us.

Today, Saturday, we have some last-minute delivering to do for the local Lib-Dems for the Mayoral elections which are next week, then to Oxford for the Dean's Dinner. Not much time for homework.

Friday, April 18, 2008

With Alex Snelgrove

The week

The House has been in recess this week, giving me the chance to clear some of the piles of paper off the office floor.

A flurry of activity over GA, an asylum seeker who was separated from her infant in Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre (IRC), contrary to a new instruction that was issued after vehement protests about previous cases. The UK Borders Agency say the instruction only applied to their staff implementing decisions to remove or detain a person, and that if a mother and infant already in an IRC are separated, the decision doesn't have to be approved by an official of deputy director level or above.

Tuesday I had a visit from the Eritrean Ambassador, H E Tesfemicael Gerahtu O, and we had a long discussion on the failure of the international community to take a stronger line on implementation of the determination of the Eritrea-Ethiopia boundary commission, to which both states had committed themselves as part of the peace settlement. When the commission's decision didn't suit the Ethiopians they prevaricated, and their troops are still occupying Eritrean territory.

The Ambassador also talked about the progress Eritrea was making in basic services such as health and education. But he wasn't able to account for the large number of people leaving Eritrea and seeking asylum in Europe, Britain in particular.

Friday I had a checkup at King's haematology. There's no sign of a recurrence of the lung tumour removed on April 21, 2006. Alex Snelgrove, Tordie's granddaughter came to lunch during a fleeting visit to London, en route from Zambia where she has an aid project, back to Toronto.

Friday evening we had a party at Flodden Road to celebrate the victory of Steve Bradley in the recent council by-election here in Vassall ward. He trounced Labour, and on this form we should take the other two seats in the ward in a year's time. The details:

Steve Bradley (LD) 1206
Labour 856
Conservative 206
Green 109
English Democrat 8
Independent 7

Steve will be a first-class Councillor, and this result bodes well for Caroline Pidgeon's campaign for the Greater London Assembly.

Saturday morning I had a visit from my agreeable Jehovah's Witness neighbour, who I hadn't had a chance to tald to for some time. His starting point was to ask me what I knew about Armageddon, to which I replied that it was a place in Israel, Megiddo, and the site of the hypothetical battle that precedes the end of the universe in Revelations. Ah, he said, but Psalm CIV v 5 tells us that the universe is eternal, referring to the Lord

'Who laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be destroyed for ever'.

But how do you reconcile that, I countered, hastily reaching for Cruden's Concordance, with the saying of Jesus himself in St Luke 21:33:

'Heaven and earth shall pass away..'

At that he switched back to Noah, saying that Jehovah would save the virtuous in the final cataclysm, as he had rescued Noah and his family from the flood. We got diverted onto the plausibility of the waters rising to cover the whole of the earth, including Everest, the summit of which is more than 8,800 meters above sea level, requiring an unimaginably vast quantity of water. My JW friend lamely suggested that the amount of water in the atmosphere might be sufficient, but one of his two young helpers, a schoolboy who is attending Dulwich College, had a more sophisticated explanation. The Himalayas, he said correctly, were raised by the collision between the earth's tectonic plates, and at the time of Noah they hadn't reached anything like their present altitude. It would have been good at that point t explore JW beliefs about the span of geological time over which those events took place, but our colloquy was interrupted by the return of Lindsay with a South Korean TV crew who had been filming with her in Myatt's Fields park.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

With the Somaliland representative and friends from the diaspora

Chagos launch, with Olivier Bancoult, Richard Gifford, Jeremy Corbyn MP etc

This week

The House has been in recess this week. Monday I had a useful meeting with Cllr Alex Feakes, LibDem Parliamentary Spokesperson for Lewisham West and Penge, having agreed to act as his Parliamentary contact.

Tuesday was the launch of the Let Them Return campaign, in support of the Chagos Islanders, who were kicked out of their homes in 1967 by then Prime Minister Harold Wilson to make way for an American military base, an operation that had no parallel in recent times except in the Soviet Union under Stalin. Olivier Bancoult,the Leader of the campaign; Richard Gifford, the lawyer fighting their case in the courts, and Professor John Howell, author of a study demonstrating the feasibility of return, were the main speakers, and there was a good contingent of the Ilois, from the exiles now living in Crawley.

Wednesday I had a visit from former Indonesian Ambassador Nana Sutrisno, who was visiting the UK for the birth of a grandchild. We reminisced about the early stages of the Acheh peace process, which led ultimately to the settlement based on the pronciple of autonomy. Mr Sutrisno is now undertaking ad hoc miissions on behalf of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and I asked him to convey my greetings to the President, remembering our contacts in Geneva.

Thursday I had a meeting to discuss the evidence given by the Foreign Office in the hearing of the case for deproscribing the People's Mojahedin of Iran, which the Government lost in the Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission, but are appealing. Some of this evidence came from persons closely connected with the Iranian regime, and having had some knowledge of their attempts to poison the springs of truth in relation to a Human Rights Watch inquiry a few years ago, I am planning to warn the FCO about their use of polluted sources.

Thursday evening I attended an exhibition at the Oxo Gallery of photographs taken by a young Afghan, in the north of the country where conditions are more or less normal. They are raising money to send books to the schools, for which donations can be sent to 'Afghan Youth Fund', c/o Richard Compton, 14 Broadway Lofts, Gatton Road, London SW17 0EE. I'm asking my grandson, who works for Amazon, whether they deliver to Afghanistan!

Friday I had a meeting with the newly appointed Representative of Somaliland to the United Kingdom. We still don't recognise Somaliland's independence, though it has been governed separately since the downfall of the dictator Siad Barre and has been developing institutions of democratic governance and human rights. The UK, as the former colonial power, would not be the first to recognise Somaliland, but might follow if another state such as South Africa would take the lead. Meanwhile, there is a lot more we could do to help the government of Somaliland to develop basic public services.

Following the judgement of the High Court aginst the Government in the Saudi bribery case, I co-authored an article in Friday's Guardian. The court found ( that Prince Bandar threatened No 10 with dire consequences if the Serious Fraud Office's investigation wasn't stopped, and Tony Blair gave in, telling the Director of the SFO to halt attempts beng made to get documents from a Swiss bank to prove the allegations under investigation. The Director had failed to do everything possible to resist the threat, as he should have done. He submitted too readily because, like the Prime Minister, he concentrated on what might happen if the threat were carried out and not on how it might be resisted. No-one, whether within this country or outside is entitled to interfere with the course of our justice. It was the failure of Government and the Director to observe this essential principle that justified the intervention of the court.

Friday evening, a very agreeable dinner with John Adamson and friend. John won the Pepys Prize for his superb account of the beginning of the English constitutional crisis in 1640, and is working on the sequel, taking the story up to the middle of the decade. I look forward particularly to his treatment of the unfortunate case of my ancestors Sir John Hotham and his son, who were executed in January 1644 for their treasonous dealings with the royalists. In mitigation it must be said that by denying Charles 1 access in 1642 to the armoury at Hull, the second largest in the Kingdom, Sir John had materially damaged the royalists' military efectiveness.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Visit of Dr Paa Kwesi Nduom MP, Presidential Candidate, CPP

Meeting with Dr Paa Kwesi Nduom MP

Monday I fieldeda Question on Burma,then attended Select Committee on communicable diseases to hear evidence from (a) the Terence Higgins Trust and the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, and (b) the Malaria Consortium, Target Tuberculosis and TBAlert. The evidence already published is at

Tuesday, I met the Ven Ajahn Khemadhammo Mahathera OBE for a discussion on the Armed Forces Buddhist Chaplaincy, following which we met the Minister Derek Twigg MP and his officials.

Wednesday, a meeting to discuss Tibet with FCO Minister Lord Malloch-Brown in the morning, and in the afternoon, attended the Traveller Law Reform Project AGM.

Thursday, meeting of the international development team in the office of Michael Moore MP, and in the afternoon, visit to King's College Hospital to see Mr Harris, urology consultant, about my enlarged prostate, a condition that affects a high proportion of men as they get older. If its benign,its just a nuisance because it means having to pee more frequently, but Mr Harris did arrange for me to have a blood test to measure prostate specific antigen (PSA), which increases in cancer patients. The last time it was measured twoyears ago it was 0.5 nanograms per millilitre, well inside the 'safe'limit of 4 ng/ml.

This morning, I had a meeting in Committee Room 4 with representatives of the Convention People's Party of Ghana, headed by their candidate for the Presidential election in December 2008, Dr Papa Kwesi Nduom MP. Also at the meeting was Lotte Nybergh, a representative of Liberal International, and JW. The main problems in Ghana are job creationm tackling corruption, redressing regional inequality and promoting African unity. Dr Nduom is a leader of considerable experience and wisdom, and his Party is the heir of the great historical tradition of Dr Kwame Nkrumah. The CPP was banned for quite a few years but is now making a strong comeback.