Saturday, October 30, 2010


A debate on my motion to disapprove the Statement of Changer in the Immigration Rules, which now demand that all spouses pass a test of competence in the English language, and satisfy the UK Border Authority that they can accommodate and maintain themselves without access to public funds. (Why didn't they abolish the UKBA in the bonfire of the Quangos, transferring its functions back to the Home Office, I wonder?) What this means is that in many cases, family reunification may be delayed for years, and the real point of the exercise is to reduce numbers.

I was rebuked by the Whips for tabling this motion, which apparently violated some unwritten rule of Coalition etiquette. There may be quite a few other occasions in the future when some of us want to criticise Government policy, and it would be quite useful to know where the Whips think the boundaries are.


The Irish Ambassador hosted a dinner for Balliol alumni, at which there were Members of all three Parties and both Houses. Denis Healey took photographs, including one of me with Joe Johnson, current Tory MP for Orpington. Unfortunately his camera is from the pre-digital age.


EU Subcommittee F in the morning, then to lunch for a presentation and discussion on cardiovascular disease. I tried to get the experts to focus on self-harm through smoking, alcohol and obesity. In the evening, a meeting on conflict issues, addressed by Martin Griffiths, the head of the Geneva-based HDC for many years. I worked on the conflict in Aceh with them for several years at the turn of the century, and we very nearly succeeded in negotiating a permanent settlement. The agreement broke down in 2001, and it was left to Marti Ahtissari, former President of Finland, to complete the process in 2005.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Letter from Mr R (vascular surgeon) of October 20 to my GP

I saw this gentleman today in my clinic. I am pleased to say that he is doing well, compared to the last time we met. Since you have started his diuretics his shortness of breath, leg oedema and walking have all improved.
He did have an echocardiogram recently. However, 1 could not find the results of this on the system today, but he is due to see P M , Consultant Cardiologist, in November.
Lord Avebury's main concern today was his blood pressure, which is quite erratic, shooting up to 180/100 systolic*. I have asked him to discuss his blood pressure with Dr M when they meet, to see if there is anything else that needs to be adjusted in his medication to improve this pressure.
A duplex scan done recently showed that the aneurysm is about 5.2 cm in diameter, without any evidence of endoleak.
My plan is to see him again in six months' time with a repeat duplex scan and I will keep you informed of his progress.

*Actually the peak BP reading over the last few days was 202/78 on October 27, and the next highest was 190/66 on October 22. The British Heart Foundation says the target is to have a BP lower that 140/85, and most of the time my systolic is above, diastolic below this level. But otherwise, all is well.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Bangladesh week


Discussion with Alhaj Kamoruddin, International Secretary Bangladeshi BNP
Meeting with Tajammul Hussain.
Sylvia Ingmire, Dada Felja and Sylvester Huczko (Education Support Project Workers), to discuss current problems of the Roma


Visit to the Bangladesh High Commission to meet the Deputy High Commissioner for a discussion on the next steps they might take to combat pneumonia, the biggest world killer of young children. The High Commissioner has agreed to speak at the Meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Global Action Against Chidhood Pneumonia (of which Jim Dobbin MP and I are joint chairs) to mark World Pneumonia Day, a project initiated by the World Health Organisation for the first time a year ago.
Then back to Portcullis House for a meeting of the Group addressed by Professor Orin Levene the foremost world expert on pneumonia, and executive director of PneumoADIP (Pneumococcal vaccines Accelerated Development and Introduction Plan), a small, dedicated team based at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, supported by a $30 million grant from the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization. Its mission is to improve child survival and health by accelerating the evaluation of and access to new, lifesaving pneumococcal vaccines for the world's children. Even poor countries are taking on these programmes, which are a key step towards Millenium Development Goal 4, the reduction of under five infant mortality by two thirds by 2015.
In the evening, I played truant, and we went to a splendid ENO performace of Handel’s Radamisto. The plot is utterly absurd, though not too distant from the account of the same events in Tacitus for most of the way. Just before the end of the opera the villain Tiridate suddenly reforms for no apparent reason and Radamisto ascends the throne of Armenia, whereas in Tacitus, Radamisto is executed by his father Pharasmenes.

Wednesday I was interviewed by Sarah Shannon of The Oldie. Later, a visit by Justice Shamsuddin Choudhury Manik, together with his wife and daughter and one of his assistants. Then to a meeting of the All-Party Group on Tibet.

Thursday, a consultation with Mr R, who operated to give me a new aorta. Nothing special to report, and the fluctuations in my blood pressure will be dealt with by the cardiologist on November 24.
Lunch with Toby Cadman, an expert on war crimes, who has been in Bangladesh discussing the legislation. As it turned out, there would have been plenty of time to pass amending legislation before the trials begin, and its really a shame that the defects in the 1973 Act have taken on a political aspect.

Tom and Bro, at their wedding last Sunday, a very happy occasion

Cousin Edwina at the wedding of her son Tom

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The week


Press conference on the deteriorating human rights situation in Bahrain, evidenced by reports from the Bar Human Rights Committee, the Islamic Human Rights Council, Human Rights Watch, and the Bahrain Center for Human Rights ( Speakers included my colleague in the Lords, Baroness Falkner, who had chaired the August 5 seminar after which participants returning to Bahrain were arrested as they got off the plane.

In the afternoon, joined in a discussion in the House on detention of children. The LibDems had the ending of this practice in our manifesto, but in spite of repeated undertakings by our Leader Nick Clegg, it still hasn't happened. I'm sure the promises are genuine, but its wrong for the Government to make the excuse that they're looking for alternatives. Only a few children are being detained now, so they found workable solutions for nearly all.


Meeting of the Burma All-Party Group; discussion with the Thai Children's Trust, which provides services in the camps on the Thai-Burma border, and in the evening, a press conference to launch the report of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group on their second mission to Pakistan to investigate the human rights violations against Ahmadiyya Muslims. The delegates had worked hard for 9 days covering all the major cities of Pakistan, and their report should be influential. See photo below.

People are waking up to the fact that the extremists are also active in this country spreading their message of hatred and intolerance. Some of their propaganda clearly breaks the law, and specifically it could be prosecuted under the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006.


Morning, meeting of Subcommittee F of the EU Select Committee, mainly taken up by hearing of evidence from James Brokenshire, Minister for Crime Prevention at the Home Office, for our inquiry into implementation of the Stockholm Programme, see Afternoon, meeting of the All-Party Gypsy and Travellers Group, which I chaired. I had a fleeting contact with Dr Ghulam Nabi Fai, an old friend who leads the Kashmiris in the US, who was having tea with Lord Ahmed. Then to the meeting of the Chagos Islands All-Party Group, chaired by Jeremy Corbyn. These All-Party Groups do useful work only when they have an effective coordinator, and the Chagos Group has David Snoxell, former diplomat, who I recruited when the Group was being formed. Jeremy is also an effective chairman, and the two of them make a formidable combination.


Visit to the Vascular Laboratory at King's, to make sure my artificial aorta wasn't leaking, then to he House to speak in the debate on human trafficking. Everyone who spoke (except the Minister of course) said the Government was wrong to opt out of the EU Directive on Trafficking. Then at 15.39 to the Department of Education for a meeting with Nick Gibb MP on education of Gypsies and Travellers, with representatives of the Advisory Council on the Education of Gypsies and Travellers (ACERT) and the National Association of Traveller teachers. We had been offered half an hour, but it stretched to over an hour and a quarter, and the Minister was particularly interested to hear what we had to say about how to deal with under-achievement. I had to leave at 16.45, to get to a meeting with Andrew Stunell MP on the CLG policy for Gypsies and Travellers, only to find that he was stuck in traffic in Holborn,

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Witness statement

Made on behalf of the Claimants
Lord Eric Avebury
Statement number: 1st
Exhibit referred to herein:

Ref. No. CO/


Claimants’ Ref. No. : CJ/EJW/8198/2


B E T W E E N :





Full Name of Witness: Lord Eric Avebury
Address: House of Lords, Westminster, London

1. I have been involved in Gypsy and Traveller issues continuously since March 1961, when I was elected to the Orpington Urban District Council for the rural ward if Downe. Then as MP for Orpington from 1962, my constituency was next to that of Norman Dodds MP, the Gypsies’ champion, who sat for Erith and Crayford until he died in 1965. Dick Crossman was Minister for the Department of the Environment and Arthur Skeffington was Parliamentary Secretary in the late 60s, and as they saw the need for permanent sites, it was a natural choice of subject when I drew a place in the ballot for Private Members’ Bills in 1968.

2. There can be no doubt that adequate site provision, both permanent and transit, is the answer to the problem of unauthorised encampments. The Caravan Sites Act 1968 required local authorities to provide sites for Gypsies and Travellers residing in or resorting to their area. Unfortunately the duty was repealed in 1994 and, although by that time 350 or so local authority Gypsy and Traveller sites had been constructed in England and Wales, there still remained a significant shortfall in site provision. Many local authorities had ignored their statutory duty and the ministerial power of direction in Section 9 (2) of the Act had only been used recently and sparingly. The shortfall remains, caused by the failure of successive central governments and local authorities to ensure adequate provision. This has led to the endemic situation of unauthorised encampments and unauthorised developments, and it is essential that a policy of ensuring adequate site provision is promoted if any positive steps are to be made in tackling that problem.

3. Experience over nearly 50 years has led me to conclude that the provision of Gypsy and Traveller sites or the allocation of land for sites in local authority plans is the key to reducing community tensions and enforcement costs as well as improving the life chances of a highly marginalised minority. Conversely, failure to provide sites or to allocate land for them, inevitably leads to proliferation of unauthorised sites, with disastrous effects on the life chances of Travellers and disputes between Travellers and settled communities. To achieve the goal of eliminating unauthorised encampments, financial support needs to be combined with obligations on local authorities to provide sites based on accurate and fair assessments of need with the prospect of Government intervention where councils have failed to act. I therefore deplore regret the Government’s decision to revoke Regional Spatial Strategies (RSSs) and in particular the site targets developed by the Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Needs Assessment, and refined by public consultation and re-distribution of obligations between local authorities. I also deplore the proposed erasure of the guidance contained within Circular 01/2006. These measures were slowly beginning to have some positive impact on reducing the shortfall. The Government is wrong to dismiss this policy as failed and I urge it to reconsider its pledge to repeal these policies.

4. A key component of the Government’s new policy is enforcement against unauthorised developments and encampments but there appears to be no reference to enforcement action that may be taken against local authorities who fail to lift a finger to help Gypsies and Travellers address their site needs. Nearly 1 in 5 Gypsies and Travellers are on unauthorised sites which are to be the target of even stronger enforcement powers.

5. Under the banner of “localism” councils are to be allowed to determine the number of pitches they need to develop. This is not “putting fairness back into communities” as Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (CLG) recently claimed (CLG Press Release, 29th August 2010 – see attached). The right way is to ensure that local authorities grant planning permission for enough sites to accommodate Gypsies and Travellers who live on unauthorized encampments for the simple reason that they have nowhere else to go. Letting 368 Councils decide individually how many pitches they will allow is a recipe for inaction, and promising undefined financial incentives to councils to develop the sites themselves cannot have greater effect than the 100% new sites grant which Mr Pickles has abolished.

6. The abolition of RSSs will also wreck the work done to redistribute the need for pitch provision generated in some areas with large Gypsy and Traveller communities, such as Basildon. The end of such policies of re-distribution are implied in the Coalition proposal that council’s should make appropriate provision which “reflect local need and historic demand”. Redistribution via the RSS has proven popular with a number of Conservative councils who have seen their pitch targets reduced and neighbouring authorities compelled to develop sites, who it has been argued with some justification had managed to avoid their obligations to Gypsies and Travellers in the past. This begs the question of how widely the consequences of the repeal of RSSs have not been discussed with those responsible for local government, but clearly it means there will be no relation between provision and need, and no sanctions against authorities that refuse to pull their weight.

7. As noted, the Coalition Government says that site provision must be based on local need and historic demands. In London the Mayor Boris Johnson is seeking to drastically reduce London’s identified pitch requirements by claiming that there is not enough land and by dismissing the needs of housed Gypsies and Travellers who have been forced into housing by the shortage of sites and who have a legitimate need to live on site. The stance taken by the London Mayor is not acceptable in London or elsewhere and it is hoped that it will not creep into new guidance on who is to be included and excluded in Gypsy and Traveller accommodation policies.

8. It should be noted that a considerable number of Gypsies and Travellers are facing eviction on unauthorised developments like Dale Farm in Basildon. These Gypsies and Travellers have been left in some uncertainty since the General Election and indications of major policy change. For example, talks between Essex authorities including Basildon and the Local Government Association, Homes and Communities Agency and the Government Office East to find alternative sites within Essex for Dale Farm residents have been stalled by the announcement by Eric Pickles abolishing the targets for site provision set through the RSS and Gypsy and Traveller accommodation assessments; the announcement has encouraged all local authorities, not just those in Essex, to conclude that they have no obligation to identify suitable land for site development, or to identify sites which could be offered to homeless Gypsies and Travellers, such as those from Dale Farm. If constructive dialogue is to continue in Essex and elsewhere, then the Government ought to encourage a moratorium on eviction action to give local authorities the opportunity to adopt and comply with its new policy; to and reassess the need for accommodation within their areas, and to explore the new financial incentives that the Government has indicated may be available for site provision.

9. It should also be noted that, in its fourth periodic report of March 2010 on the UK (see attached), the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance expressed concern about the eviction of Gypsies and Travellers. The Commission found (at paragraph 153) that:-

“An excessive emphasis on enforcement (i.e. eviction) involving often protracted and expensive litigation, instead of seeking forward-looking solutions in consultation with all members of the local community, has also been shown to damage race relations”.

10. The Commission recommended (at paragraph 156) that:-

“….the UK authorities encourage local authorities to treat enforcement measures – legitimate though they are – as a last resort, and to privilege wherever possible an approach aimed at bridging gaps between communities and at finding mutually acceptable solutions rather than approaches that will inevitably place groups in opposition to each other”.

The UN Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing has addressed a ‘letter of allegation to the Government expressing concern about the planned Dale Farm evictions, and a draft response was laid before the CLG Minister Andrew Stunell MP for approval. I submitted comments on the draft, and understood from the Minister’s Private Secretary that he had looked at the comments, but had made no changes. I therefore sent the comments to the UN Rapporteur and received an acknowledgement from her. The letter of allegation, draft response, and my comments, are attached.

11. Thus, in the interests of averting costly and dangerous evictions and having regard to principles of proportionality laid down in the European Convention on Human Rights I would argue that the Government should discourage forced evictions so that Gypsies and Travellers can acquaint themselves with the proposed new policy regime and work within it to seek constructive alternatives to eviction.

12. Given the reluctance of local authorities to allocate land for Gypsies and Travellers and the consensual support for the previous Government’s policies, I believe that Mr Pickles decision to scrap the existing site targets and the prospect of Government intervention where Council’s fail to act is wholly irrational. The policy which Mr Pickles now wishes to abolish would have ensured that sites would be provided, and thus unauthorised encampments eliminated. I attach:
my letters to Grant Shapps MP, the Housing Minister of 19th May and 7th June 2010; the response from Mr Stunell MP of 4th June 2010; my further letter to Mr Stunell MP of 26th June 2010 and my letter to the editor of the Guardian dated 6th September 2010.

13. In the circumstances I would respectfully ask the Court to quash the decision to revoke Regional Spatial Strategies or at least that part of the process of Regional Spatial Strategies which relates to the provision of accommodation for Gypsies and Travellers.

I believe that the facts stated in this witness statement are true.

Signed ……………………………………………

Print name ………………………………………

Date ……………………………………………..

CJ/EJW/8198/2 & 4134/8

With Salim Malik and Tariq Safir

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

5 October 2010

Press Statement

The International CHT Commission (CHTC)[1] conducted a mission to Bangladesh from 4 to 10 September 2010, including a visit to the Chittagong Hill Tracts[2]. The purpose of the mission was to assess the overall political developments related to the CHT Accord and follow up on issues raised in the CHTC’s memo to the Prime Minister following its visit to the CHT in June 2010 (June memo appended).

Although the CHTC has been heartened by the Prime Minister’s repeated assurances that the full implementation of the Accord is a personal commitment on her side, there is concern from various groups about the slow progress of implementation in general and the controversial activities of the Land Commission in particular.

Before the visit to the CHT, some of the Mission members met with the Minister for CHT Affairs, the Minister for Land, the Minister for Law and the Minister for Foreign Affairs to discuss the current state of affairs. The Ministers acknowledged that the work of the Land Commission is at a standstill and CHTC members were informed that there would be an inter-ministerial meeting, and subsequently a series of meetings to bridge the misunderstandings amongst the different parties. There has been no headway in initiating an independent investigation into the February arson attacks in Baghaihat and Khagrachhari and CHTC members were not informed as to whether there was anything imminent. There still seems to be disagreement between the administration and the Pahari leaders about whether to first carry out a land survey or settle the disputes pertaining to land. As a review of the Constitution is currently on-going, the Mission members raised the issue of constitutional recognition of the indigenous peoples. There seems to be divergent views on the acceptance of the term ‘indigenous peoples’ within the government. However, in this regard, the CHTC recalls that Bangladesh has ratified the ILO’s Indigenous and Tribal Populations Convention, 1957 (No. 107) earlier, which implies that it has already accepted that the Convention applies to the indigenous peoples of the Chittagong Hill Tracts.

In view of the annulment of the fifth and seventh amendments to the Bangladesh Constitution, and the government’s interest in reverting back to the secular spirit of the 1972 constitution, all Pahari political and citizen’s groups of the CHT have renewed their demands for incorporating provisions on their distinctive identity and rights in the expected constitutional amendments.

The mission members visited Rangamati and Khagrachhari and spoke to various civil society and political groups and enquired about the current situation. A list of all the groups contacted is appended below.

All the civil society groups spoken to in the CHT and in Dhaka expressed high expectations from the present Awami League government but at the same time said that the non-implementation of many critical clauses of the Accord as yet has resulted in deep disappointment amongst them.

Lawyers from the three Hill districts informed the mission members that there has been a lot of irregularities, including use of fraudulent signatures of government officials on important issues. Giving examples of rubber plantation leases that have been approved or re-activated by the Hill District Administration, the lawyers explained how a lot of irregularities in the process of authorization have taken place. Leaders of the Movement for Forest and Land Rights in the CHT also brought up various incidents of land fraud by non-resident and non-local individuals and organizations. The Pahari groups stressed that land administration matters need to be immediately transferred from the Deputy Commissioner’s office to the Hill Districts Council, as per the 1997 CHT Accord. The groups also argued that until the Hill Districts Council elections were held as per the Accord, many of the problems of land dispossession of the indigenous peoples would continue.

The most worrying concern on the indigenous peoples’ minds has been the counterproductive outcomes of the functioning of the Land Commission under its present Chairman. There are still strong objections and misunderstandings among the indigenous groups regarding the way in which the Land Commission has been made to operate unilaterally by the Chairman, without the participation and consent of the Commission’s Pahari members. The indigenous groups fear that if a survey is carried out before the settlement of disputes arising from illegal occupation of their lands, most of the indigenous people will become landless as many of them do not have formal documents pertaining to rights to the lands that they have been occupying under customary law. Leaders of the indigenous peoples of Bandarban told the Commission about their experience of being evicted from their lands as well as their apprehensions about potential evictions in the future. They reported hearing about plans by the armed forces to build tourist resorts on a large scale on lands over which the indigenous peoples have held customary rights for many generations.

Concerns were also raised about implementation of proposed action plans and recommendations for the CHT through the establishment of a ‘Strategic Management Forum’, as reported in the national press (5 July 2010) with reference to the Prime Minister’s Office.

While the CHTC mission members were about to hold a discussion with Pahari groups on 9 September 2010 at the Upajati Thikadar Samity building in Khagrachhari, several police and military intelligence officials attempted to come inside the meeting room. The mission members objected to their presence since this would intimidate the Paharis and would also constrain them from speaking openly and frankly to the Commission. However, these agencies still insisted on keeping the door of the meeting room ajar and positioning one of their members just outside the door to observe the Commission’s discussion with Pahari participants and take notes. They also wanted the Commission to give them the names and addresses of the Paharis attending these meetings, but this demand was firmly resisted.

The Pahari groups from the Baghaihat-Sajek area informed the mission members that there had been no further arson attacks and violence upon them after the incidents of February 2010. However, the army has been constantly keeping watch and harassing them since then. The indigenous people reported being intimidated by the continued surveillance of army patrols through all hours of the night. They are still not being allowed to take their produce directly by river to their preferred markets. Instead, they alleged that army personnel are forcing them to download their goods from their boats at Baghaihat bazaar and employ Bengali settlers to re-load their goods on surface transport for onward transshipment. All sections of the indigenous peoples of the CHT expressed their sense of increased insecurity arising from the decision to deploy the much-feared Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) to the region, over and above the continuing military surveillance and intimidation to which they are already subject.

In view of the findings of the mission, the CHT Commission recommends that the following actions be taken immediately by the government and other concerned parties:

Include provisions in the Constitution of Bangladesh during its expected amendment which would give explicit recognition to the distinctive identity, culture and rights of the indigenous peoples.

Institute a high level independent enquiry to make a detailed and impartial investigation into the arson attacks and killings in Baghaihat and Khagrachhari town in February 2010.

Amend the CHT Land Dispute Settlement Commission Act 2001 in accordance with the articles of the CHT Accord and the recommendations put forward by the Regional Council, and ensure that all future decisions of the Land Commission are made with the agreement of Pahari leaders who are members of the Commission.

Undertake a phased withdrawal of temporary military camps in the region in accordance with the CHT Accord, so as to restore normalcy and full civilian administration in the region, including the unfettered role of the CHT-specific institutions: the Regional Council, the Hill District Councils, and the traditional institutions of the Chiefs, Headmen and Karbaris.

Implement all clauses of the CHT Accord in full and declare a clear process and timeline for doing so, and establish the agencies and departments necessary for the effective implementation of the Accord.

On behalf of the CHT Commission

Eric Avebury Sultana Kamal Ida Nicolaisen
Co-chair of the Co-chair of the Co-chair of the
CHT Commission CHT Commission CHT Commission

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Cardiac Trans Thoracic Echo

This test I had yesterday, and I have an appointment with the consultant on November 24. The objective is to determine the cause of my shortness of breath on exercise, which may be due to narrowed coronary arteries. Considering that its 15 years since I had the bypass operation it wouldn't be surprising.

One of the valves isn't closing, but that wouldn't account for the problem. At the moment I don't get to the shortage of breath, because I can only walk at a modest pace before claudication kicks in with my left leg. See

Olivia on her way to Auckland University ball

Chittagong Hill Tracts

Most unfortunately, a US-aided project in the CHT focussing on the environment and forest conservation has come to an abrupt end because Santu Larma, Chairman of the CHT Regional Council, objected to the NGO chosen to implement the project, see It seems likely that Mr Larma's obstruction may cause the US to withdraw from other projects in the CHT.

Bahrain detainees

I received news today that fifteen out of more than two hundred and fifty detainees were allowed visits from their families. Prior to the visits, secret service officers sat with the families and directed them on visitation rules. They were forbidden to ask about torture, charges, proceedings or anything relevant to the cases of the detainees. They were not to speak about what was happening on the outside, or give the detainees any news. The families were also directed not to look at any parts of the detainees’ bodies under their clothing. During each visit, there were four to ten secret service officers sitting next to the detainee.

Two families were ordered out after only five minutes. Al-Mukhodher’s family was told to leave because Almukhodher asked them if a trial date had been set, and Al-Muqdad’s family was ordered out after they told him that his brother sent him his regards. The longest visit lasted 25 minutes.

In the other visits, according to the families, the only things the detainees said was that they were fine, they were being treated well, and that they had no complaints. Al-Singace, who is disabled had wounds on his face, and appeared to have lost 15-20 kilos. He and Mohammed Saeed both had hearing problems.

There are reasons to believe that the travel ban has been lifted. This will be tested on Monday October 4, when Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja will try to leave for work.