Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Silbury sun roll, courtesy Pete Glastonbury

Long gap

Tomorrow it will be two weeks since my last posting, mainly because I've been down with swine flu for the last four days, feeling totally exhausted and with a temperature though not a high one as some people have experienced. We were to have been staying with Richard and Oriel in Norfolk and then going on to Lynn for the Hanse festival but have had to cancel the whole trip. Today I was better, still with a bit of temperature, but have spent some of the day trying to keep pace with the flood of emails.

One very good piece of news today is that the Bangladesh government is withdrawing a brigade from the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), just a couple of weeks before the third mission of the international CHT Peace Commission (of which I'm vice-chair) is due to begin. The present government, which came into office at the beginning of the year, is committed to implementing the 1997 Peace Accords in full, and this is a solid move in the right direction.

Parliament rose for the summer recess last Tuesday, after the usual last minute rush to get Bills onto the statute book, and we don't return until October. Some people think this is far too long, and they imagine that we are all sitting on the beach for the whole of August and September. Actually, the party conferences, ovwerseas visits and outside meetings of various kinds take up a lot of the time. Among my own engagements (apart from 10 days in Bangladesh) are a visit to Derbyshire to lecture on religious freedom, a meeting with the President of the Royal College of Physicians to discuss alcohol harm, a meeting with the Minister at Communities and Local Government who deals with Gypsies and Travellers etc.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Monday,Jenny Tonge's question on climate change and refugees. I asked the Minister (Bill Brett) if he agreed that with sea levels rising twice as fast as was predicted by the IPCC only three years ago and with Britain already planning for a rise in sea levels of one metre in its coastal defence planning, we could be looking at as many as 650 million people displaced from coastal areas and small island states by the end of the century. What were we doing at Copenhagen to steer the discussion in the direction of measures that will reduce energy consumption and population growth so as to confine atmospheric CO2 within the limit of 550 parts per million equivalent, the minimum that will allow us to survive as a world without enormous disasters? The Minister didn't express an opinion on the forecasts, but said he would supply a list of the measures the Government are taking. He did agree that there has to be an agreement at Copenhagen to stabilise CO2 and reduce emissions.

After Questions, a meeting of the LibDem Foreign Affairs tean with Sir Richard Dalton, our former Ambassador in Tehran, to discuss the current situation in Iran.

At 18.00, a meeting with the Eritrean Ambassador mainly to discuss their development plans, but he also dealt with the 'no war no peace' situation between Eritrea and Ethiopia, and Eritrea's policy on Somalia. In a nutshell they say that the transitional government has no legitimacy, and the African Union forces protecting it should be withdrawn.

At 19.00, the the first reception given by the new Speaker John Bercow, for speeach and language therapists. So he is keeping up one of the main interests he had as a backbencher.

Tuesday, the new UNHCR Representative in London, Roland Schilling, came to lunch, and Sue Miller, our spokesman on Home Affairs in the Lords, joined us. It was useful to get to know him early on and I'm sure we will continue to get their good advice on major international refugee problems, as well as on the effects of UK legislation on asylum.

Wednesday morning, Subcommittee F had an interesting presentation and discussion on measures to protect Europe against large scale cyber attacks, a topic being considered as a subject of a future inquiry.

Joined in a Question by David Ramsbotham on the case of Samantha Orobator, a British citizen convicted of possession of a large amount of druge in Thailand. She escaped a death sentence by getting pregnant, nobody knows how in a high security prison, and the discussion was about whether she could be repatriated to the UK to serve her life sentence in a British prison. Although we have an agreement with Thiland on mutual repatriation of prisoners, Ms Orobator was also fined $70,000, and the authorities won't let her go until its paid. I asked the Minister if the Government would give its blessing to a fund established for the benefit of British prisoners, Ms Orobator and others, who can only be repatriated when their fines are paid. The answer was that if a private donor could be found, the Government would have no difficulty with that. He also confirmed that Ms Orobator had waived her right of appeal - so the amount of the fine can't be challenged.

Later, a meeting with leaders of the Mehdi Foundation International, to discuss the plight of their 65 members who sought asylum from Pakistan in India, and have languished in Tihar prison, New Delhi, for nearly two years. On July 8, the substantive hearing finally took place in the Delhi High Court of the MFI petition to be given protection, the Government of India having finally responded to the MFI petition on inclusion of UNHCR in court proceedings three days prior beforehand. The response points out several times that India is not a signatory of the Convention on the Status of Refugees, and that there is no national law dealing with asylum or refugees. It states that

‘one of the main concerns is that the practice of persons seeking asylum on grounds of religious persecution could set an undesirable precedent’.

The response adds that there is no reference to persecution of MFI members in the reports of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, or the US International Religious Freedom Report, ignoring other references including reports by the UN Special Rapporteur on Religious Freedom, or the entry in Wikipedia under ‘Blasphemy Law in Pakistan’.

The High Court gave the MFI three weeks to file counter-arguments to the response. Meanwhile, the stay on the order of deportation continues, and the court will consider and decide on UNHCR's inclusion in the proceedings.

At 18.00, attended a reception in the Attlee Suite for the unveiling of the bust of Jeremy Thorpe. Jeremy and Marion were there, both sadly in wheelchairs. Tributes were paid to his charismatic leadership of the Party in the late sixties and early seventies. Jeremy responded briefly, and afterwards I had a chat with both of them.

Thursday, it was Mark Malloch-Brown's last appearance at the despatch box before his resignation takes effect, an enormous loss to the House of Lords and the Government. His wisdom and experience of international affairs will be impossible to replace.

The question, by David Chidgey, was on the situation in Somalia, and particularly the alleged involvement of outside forces. I asked the Minister about the statement by the Uganda army spokesman that 16,000 troops and a more robust mandate for AMISOM are necessary to quell the insurgency, and whether we would support the recent IGAD resolution calling for neighbouring countries to contribute to AMISOM when the matter comes before the UN Security Council. (At present the mandate forbids this). The Minister was hopeful that the AMISOM force could be increased without having to rely in the neighbours.

At lunchtime, to the Guards Chapel to attend the impressive memorial service for Colonel Rupert Thorneloe MBE, Commanding Officer of the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards, who was killed by an IED in Afghanistan, together with Trooper Joshua Hammond. The Guards Chapel was full when I arrived 15 minutes before the start if the service, but someone kindly gave up his seat for me.

People are saying we can't win the war in Afghanistan, but if we let the Taliban take over there, Pakistan would succumb, and then all the central Asian republics. The free world can't afford to lose in Afghanistan, and we should be profoundly thankful to the Welsh Guards and to all our servicemen, whose operations are protecting us from an evil and dangerous form of extremism. The great sacrifice made by brave men like Colonel Thirneloe and Trooper Hammond and their families should make us all the more determined to see that their killers are kept out of power.

Thursday evening, a visit from Bhante (the Ven Khemadhammo Mahathera OBE), for a discussion on the work of Angulimala, the Buddhist Prison Chaplaincy. One problem we reviewed is that the curtailment of evening hours of unlock in prisons has made it harder for Angulimala to deliver spiritual care, because many of the chaplains are volunteers who work during the day. The new regime must have affected many other services to prisoners which rely on volunteers, and perhaps there should be an assessment of the gains and losses.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

While I think of it

Yesterday I clawed back a 2-0 win at ping-pong over JW, but he's still well ahead at 121-116.

Today 1-1, total 122-117

Friday, July 10, 2009

Other events of the week

Monday, my own Question on the recent investigation by the UN Rapporteur on Indigenous People on the recent violence and deaths in the Peruvian Amazon: good supplementaries from Shirley Williams and Susan Thomas on the LibDem bench, plus Lords Howells, Jenkin of Roding and Brooke of Sutton Mandeville from the Tories, and the Bishop of Exeter. No Labour backbenchers.

Also asked a supplementary on Baroness Hanham's Question on the lack if washing or sleeping facilities for people detained overnight at Heathrow airport,

Wednesday, attended the Parliamentary Human Rights Group (PHRG) and was re-elected vice-chair. I founded the Group in 1976 and was chair for the first 21 years, then after Ann Clwyd was elected chair in 1997, have been vice-chair. Nowadays there are All-Party Groups on every subject under the sun, but the PHRG has been one of the most successful, judging from the number of references to human rights in Hansard. In 1975 as a whole there were 225 references to “human rights” in the Commons, compared with 742 in December 2008 alone.

Thursday, attended the 25th Anniversary of the Immigration Law Practitioners Association, another organisation I have had a friendly and useful relationship with since theur earliest days. Said a few words in praise of their work and particularly Alison Harvey, their General Secretary, who does a tremendous job.

Today I had an x-ray of my right knee and a visit to the physiotherapist at Dulwich Hospital, who said it was osteoarthritis. Unfortunately as in the Belloc poem, there is no cure for this disease. It can be slowed down by doing some boring exercises.

Now its just after midnight, and we will be setting off for Victoria coach station ina few minutes to pick up Kosta, my great-nephew, who has arrived at Luton and is staying with us for a few days. And tomorrow, JW arrives back from Spain with his girlfriend Maite so the house is filling up.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

John Alderdice, President of the Liberal International, presenting me with the LI Prize for Freedom yesterday evening at the National Liberal Club
Posted by Picasa

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Maurice renovates Auckland water mains

Work in pipeline
By MICHELLE COOKE - East And Bays Courier
Last updated 05:00 26/06/2009

The east and bays area has three major water projects in the pipeline.
The water supply at Remuera and Mt Wellington are currently being upgraded, while work on the Hobson pipeline is continuing in preparation for the tunnel to open next year.
Auckland city councillor and finance and strategy committee chairman Douglas Armstrong says water prices have been comparatively low over the last 10 years and an increase in the coming year is inevitable to meet the community’s water requirements.
Watercare says that construction of the Orakei Domain Pump Station, which will pump water through the Hobson pipeline from Orakei to Parnell, should be finished by September.
In December, the tunnel and pump station will be ready for a final overview and assessment, and in July 2010, the ageing above-water sewer pipe will be demolished.
The total cost of the project is $118 million.
Watercare is halfway through replacing two Remuera pipelines, built around 1910, that were discovered to have route intrusion and corrosion.
The first stage, which focused on the pipeline from Saint Kentigern School to Sonia Ave is complete, and work is under way on the pipeline from Burwood Cres to Spencer St.
Senior engineer Maurice Lubbock says Watercare is using a cured-in-place process because it will have minimal impact on the community.
A resin-saturated tube will be pulled into the sewer pipe and heated.
The heating expands the tube creating a tight-fitting and corrosion resistant replacement pipe.
It will be secured to the sides of the older pipe so removing it is not an issue.
If the older pipe had to be removed it could cause major disruption to the properties that run above it, Mr Lubbock says.
The cured-in-place pipe will extend the life of the sewer by 100 years and comes at a cost of $1.6m.
Watercare is upgrading water supplies to cater for the growing population, in particular the Stonefields development in Mt Wellington.
New pipelines will be put in place along St Johns Rd, College Rd and Merton Rd. Other watermains in St Heliers and Orakei will be upgraded or relocated.
Upgrading of the St Johns Reservoir pipework has already been completed as part of this ongoing project.

Friday, July 03, 2009

The week

Monday, fielded a question on the pilot 'virtual courts', where the defendant appears over a video link from a police station at a distance to the magistrate's court in London. The Minister confirmed that the defence solicitor would be also be at the police station. The system no doubt saves money on transport and escort costs, and in 75% of the cases dealt with so far, the defendant was pleading guilty.

Tuesday, a supplementary question on the strengthening of legislation on the trial of war criminals living in the UK. The Minister couldn't say whether i would apply to those alleged to have taken part in the Rwanda genocide. Attended a fascinating presentation by Yousif al-Khoei on Shi'ism, under the auspices of the UK Iran All-Party Group. Historically, there has always been separation between the clergy and the state in countries with a Shi'a majority, and what has happened in Iran since the revolution is an innovation. Dinner with much-traveled dear friend Phil Krone, who stayed with us overnight on his way home to Chicago from a tour of Yemen, Syria and Egypt.

Wednesday, final session of EU Committee to agree the draft report on money laundering and terrorist financing.

JW has gone to Spain for a week. Before he left he scored another 2-0 win at ping-pong, making it 121-114. Either he's getting better or I'm deteriorating, though most of the games are very close.

At the IHD (human rights) office

Wednesday, July 01, 2009