Sunday, July 31, 2011


The Bahraini authorities routinely arrest any demonstrators who attend the state-run hospitals for treatment of injuries caused by the security forces. So the wounded demonstrators kept away from hospital and have remained untreated until Médecins Sans Frontières opened a clinic. On July 27 Hassan Al-Eskafi turned up at the clinic with a severe injury to his head after being attacked by riot police with a canister -possibly teargas - while taking part in a peaceful protest. MSF called an ambulance, al-Eskafi's injuries being too severe for their resources, and the patient was taken to the hospital. The following day, security forces raided the MSF clinic, seized medication, and arrested local staff member Saeed Ayad. Mr Ayad was charged with opening of an unlicensed clinic, aiding an injured defendant escape,false reporting of an incident.

(Source of information withheld, for their protection. See also latest report on Bahrain from International Crisis Group,

Saturday, July 30, 2011


With Jane and Stephen Leitch, and their son Adam, in the garden this evening.
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With the Bangladesh Law Minister, Shafique Ahmen, July 27
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Lindsay's niece Renate, who is studying veterinary science at Cambridge, and Maite Quiles, staying with us on July 26
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Letter of July 25 from Dr P, Osteoporosis Clinic at Dulwich Hospital, to my GP:

I reviewed this gentleman in my clinic today as a follow up to his review last year. He attends the Osteoporosis Clinic on an annual basis for treatment with intravenous zolendronic acid. Lord Avebury attended today and appeared to be well. I understand that he is currently under investigation by the haematologists, possibly for myeloproliferative disorder or lymphomatous infiltration of his bone marrow. He otherwise tells me that he has remained very well and has sustained no further falls or fractures. He remains independently mobile and self-caring.

As per our protocol, we note that Lord Avebury has had some bloods taken recently which show his calcium was normal at 2.15, and that his renal function showed that his eGFR was over 35mls/min. I need to check a vitamin D level for him today and if this is within the normal range then it will be possible for us to arrange for him to have a zolendronic acid infusion in the next month or so. I will arrange to review him again in one year's time, but he is aware that if there are any problems in the interim he is more than welcome to contact our appointments team to bring forward that appointment.

I understand from Lord Avebury that it would be possible for your surgery to undertake the bloods before his appointment with me. This would make things a bit easier for him because if we had some bloods that had been taken within the last month we could combine reviewing him and administering his infusion into one visit. His next appointment with me is on the 30th of July 2012, and we would require calcium, eGFR and a vitamin D level in order to do this. I will place a note in my diary so that we can contact you closer to the time perhaps to prompt the planning of these tests so that we can get this to run smoothly. Many thanks.


The New Age
CHT Commission asks ECOSOC to adhere to UNPFII report

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Staff Correspondent

International watchdog Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission on Friday called on the United Nations Economic and Social Council for not responding to the Bangladesh government’s objection to the report of the 10th session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and to adhere to the report as it is.

The Bangladesh government raised objections to two of the paragraphs in the report which deal with the UN peacekeeping forces and wants them expunged.

The commission in a letter to the ECOSOC president, Lazarous Kapambwe, cited recent remarks of Bangladesh’s foreign minister Dipu Moni declining to give national minorities in Bangladesh the status of indigenous people and said that it had found the remarks discriminatory and disrespectful towards hill people.

It also said that Dipu Moni’s remarks reflected substantive and discriminatory misinterpretation of Bangladeshi laws and international human rights laws.

The letter said that UNFII member Devashish Roy, who is a traditional community chief in hill tracts and elected by indigenous communities in Asia, had lodged protests against Dipu Moni’s remarks which received nationwide support from national minorities and a wide section of mainstream civic forums of Bangladesh.

The commission also observed that ‘by making such objectionable remarks about the permanent forum’s report and about the indigenous peoples of the CHT, the foreign minister is also implicitly questioning the competence and expertise of the sixteen members of the Permanent Forum, which includes eight respected experts of indigenous origin and eight respected governmental experts elected by members of the ECOSOC.’

Citing newspaper reports, the letter, signed by the commission co-chairs Eric Avebury, Sultana Kamal and Elsa Stamatpoulou, said that the reason behind the foreign minister’s statements to journalists and the diplomatic community was in fact related to ECOSOC’s current session in Geneva where the UNPFII report would be discussed.

The commission said that the Bangladesh government was serious about the two paragraphs in the report that suggests human rights screening of military personnel deployed in the Chittagong Hill Tracts to be recruited in UN peacekeeping forces and wants the paragraphs expunged.

‘The CHT Commission would like to iterate its agreement with the recommendations made by the Special Rapporteur, including on the implementation of the provisions of the CHT Accord, and those addressed to the UN’s Department of Peace Keeping Operations that it should develop a mechanism to screen human rights violations committed by military personnel and that it should prevent human rights violators and alleged human rights violators within the security forces of Bangladesh from participating in international peacekeeping activities under the auspices of the United Nations,’ the letter said.

‘The CHT Commission hopes that the UN Economic and Social Council would adhere to its non-discriminatory approach and adopt the report of the 10th session of the Permanent Forum and all its recommendations, including those related to the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord of 1997,’ it said.

Note: ECOSOC has adopted the report of the Permanent Forum, the Bangladesh representative agreeing to the decision for the sake of consensus, while grumbling that the Special Rapporteur had not disclosed his identity, mandate and objective while interacting with the authorities in a violation of established norms and practices. Whatever the etiquette may be, however, it doesn't invalidate the recommendations by the Special Rapporteur, which were endorsed by the Pernmanent Forum and now by ECOSOC itself:

102. The Permanent Forum takes note of the study by Lars-Anders Baer on the status of the implementation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord of 1997 (E/C.19/2011/6). The Permanent Forum also takes note of the concerns raised by the representative of the Government of Bangladesh, as well as other Governments, indigenous peoples’ organizations and non-governmental organizations, during the discussions at the tenth session. Further, the Permanent Forum notes the steps taken by the Government of Bangladesh to implement the Accord. The Permanent Forum recommends the following:

(a) That, consistent with the code of conduct for United Nations peacekeeping personnel, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations prevent military personnel and units that are violating human rights from participating in

international peacekeeping activities under the auspices of the United Nations, in order to maintain the integrity of the indigenous peoples concerned;

(b) That the Government of Bangladesh declare a timeline and outline modalities of implementation and persons and/or institutions responsible for implementation;

(c) That the Government of Bangladesh undertake a phased withdrawal of temporary military camps from the region and otherwise demilitarize the region, consistent with the safeguards of the peace accord, which will contribute to the

ultimate objective of peace and economic and social development, and improve the relationship between indigenous peoples and the Government of Bangladesh;

(d) That the Government of Bangladesh establish a high-level, independent and impartial commission of enquiry into human rights violations perpetrated against indigenous peoples, including sexual violence against women and girls, and prosecute and punish the perpetrators, as well as provide reparations for the victims concerned.

103. The Permanent Forum recognizes the opportunity created by the consultations on constitutional amendments in Bangladesh and encourages peaceful dialogue between the Government and indigenous peoples aimed at implementing the

Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord and addressing the substantial concerns raised in the report and during the tenth session of the Permanent Forum, in accordance with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The New Nation

CHT Commission resents FM’s statement on ethnic groups

Staff Reporter
The Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission, a non-governmentinternational organization has objectedto statements made recently by Bangladesh's Foreign Minister, Dr. Dipu Moni,stating that it was a 'misperception' and 'misrepresentation' to refer to theethnic groups in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) as 'indigenous'
Her remarks on the hill tracts peoples is discriminatory anddisrespectful towards them as full citizens of Bangladesh, and also reflects asubstantive and discriminatory misinterpretation of Bangladeshi law and historyand of international human rights law, the CHT Commission said in a statementforwarded to the President of the UN economic and social council
The statement, jointly signed by Eric Avebury,Sultana kamal and Elsa Stamatopoulou, all the three Co-chair of theCHT Commission, was issued on Friday.
The commissionasserted that the majoritarianismapproach and claim of ethnic superiority reflected in the assertions made bythe Foreign Minister denies the basic values of pluralism and diversity that isobserved in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,
The CHT Commission believes that the Foreign Minister'scomments reflect a lack of commitment on the part of the Bangladesh Governmenttowards its national and international obligations, including those containedin the 2008 Election Manifesto of the Bangladesh Awami League, the majorcomponent of the current Grand Alliance government, and the provisions of theILO Convention 107 and other international human rights standards, among others.
It also reflects the government's discomfort at thesuggestion of human rights screening for the Bangladeshi components of the UNDepartment of Peacekeeping Operations, many of whom are actively taking part inthe Bangladesh military's de facto operation, Operation Uttoron, in the CHT,which purports to provide a legal cover to the Bangladesh Army's role incivilian affairs, which is in violation of the laws of Bangladesh andinternational human rights standards, norms and practices.
The CHT Commission reiterated its agreement with therecommendations made by the Special Rapporteur, including on the implementationof the provisions of the CHT Accord, and those addressed to the UN's Departmentof Peace Keeping Operations that it should develop a mechanism to screen humanrights violations committed by military personnel and that it should preventhuman rights violators and alleged human rights violators within the securityforces of Bangladesh from participating in international peacekeeping activitiesunder the auspices of the United Nations.
The CHT Commission hopes that the UN Economic and SocialCouncil will adhere to its non-discriminatory approach and adopt the report ofthe 10th session of the Permanent Forum and all its recommendations, including those related to the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord of 1997

Arms sales to Saudi Arabia

First, they have announced the revocation of a substantial number of arms export licences. Indeed, according to the latest figures, between 27 January and 9 March this year more than 150 previously granted arms export licences were revoked. That serves to highlight the scale of the previous misjudgment.

Why, however, are those revocations limited to just four countries—Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Bahrain? Why have there been no revocations of arms exports to Syria, for example? Why, too, have there been no revocations of arms exports to Saudi Arabia, whose British-made armoured personnel carriers have rolled into Bahrain and are therefore complicit, as it were, in the appalling abuses of human rights there? Of course, I understand that Saudi Arabia is big money, is big oil, and is useful intelligence, but can the Government really justify such a blatant degree of inconsistency in their revocations policy?

Sir John Stanley MP, former Conservative Defence Ninister, now Chairman of the Commons Committee on Arms Export Controls
Official Report, House of Commons, May 16, 2011 Col 95

Thursday, July 28, 2011


With Baillie Vass and the Grocer: Remembrance Day 1963, just after Baillie Vass (Sir Alec Douglas Home) had been elected to the safe Tory seat Kinross and West Perthshire at the by-election of November 7, 1963, and just after I had taken over as Liberal Chief Whip from Arthur Holt MP
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Statement by Lord Avebury, Chairman of the International Bangaldesh Foundation and Co-Chair of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission.

On July 27, Lord Avebury received the Law Minister of Bangladesh, Mr Shafiq Ahmed at Flodden Road.

They discussed the progress towards implementation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord, which is part of the programme of the AL government and a personal commitment of the Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina. Lord Avebury drew the Minister’s attention to copies of two letters addressed to the Prime Minister by the co-chairs of the CHTC, recently:,

Lord Avebury also drew the Minister's attention to a statement made by the co-chairs about the recommendations made by the UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Issues to the Government of Bangladesh and to the United Nations system to hasten the implementation process of the 1997 CHT Accord that was signed at the initiation of Honorable Prime Minister:

The Minister and Lord Avebury also discussed the war crimes trials, and agreed that it was right and proper to bring alleged perpetrators of crimes committed during the liberation war to justice. The victims and the bereaved must have redress for the appalling offences committed at that time. Lord Avebury handed over a list of points he suggested might be addressed, see amended copy below, to ensure that the conduct of the trials would be fully in accordance with modern international norms, developed in the Rome Statute and connected procedures. The Minister said that the Bangladesh government had responded fully to the points raised by US War Crimes Ambassador Rapp in his letter of March 21, 2011. He said it was not necessary for the defendants to be represented by counsel of their choice, and that any lack of relevant experience on the part of Bangladesh counsel could be made up by training.


Matters of concern regarding the war crimes tribunal

(1)The refusal to allow foreign counsel to appear before the Tribunal. The decision maker, the Chairman of the Bar Council, is the Attorney General, a government appointee and a member of the prosecution team in the Chowdhury case at least. The Bar Council considered that the law doesn't allow foreign counsel to appear, a matter that should be rgued.

(2) A number of members of the Tribunal participated in the Peoples' Inquiry Commission (or People's Court) that prejudged these cases in the early 1990s. Trials were held in which real suspects were convicted and effigies burnt to show the sentences of death passed. Some of those convicted then are now accused before the Tribunal - a copy is extant of the report naming the Chairman of the Tribunal as a member of the Commission;

(3) The failure to implement most of Ambassador Rapp's recommendations. Despite what may be said as to their effect, the Rules of Procedure are now worse than they were before. The Law Minister holds regular "strategy" meetings with the judges and prosecutors, which is inappropriate;

(4) The failure to amend the Act and the Constitution. The Law Minister represented to Ambassador Rapp that the Constitution couldn't be amended. This was untrue as the First Constitutional Amendment, the most egregious piece of legislation, was amended to the further detriment of accused. This was a misrepresentation to the US Government. Further, the Bangladesh Chief Justice misleadingly stated that interlocutory appeal lies with the Supreme Court, when there is no appeal except against conviction and sentence. There is no scope for challenging the judges, the Act, the Tribunal or any decision it issues. The Tribunal has adopted a rule that allows for review of its own decisions, the same judges being involved;

(5) Despite strong representations to act impartially and transparently, the Tribunal at the last hearing refused to give copies of written orders to the defence;

(6) At the last hearing the Tribunal in summing up the positions of the parties, made argument on behalf of the prosecution that were never made. This was clearly an attempt to bolster weak arguments by the prosecution;;

(7) Until recently the prosecution had failed to disclose a single piece of paper, though now the papers in relation to Sayedee have just been handed over to the defence. The Tribunal had considered that the investigation is secret and therefore this was acceptable, but now the Sayedee papers have been passed over, they may concede that their former stance was counter to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which BD is a State Party;

(8) The Tribunal has shown a disregard for domestic and international law in relation to some matters. If it considers itself a domestic criminal judicial organ then it should be required to comply with domestic law. If it considers itself to be an international body then it should comply with international law.

(9) It has failed to properly define the crimes enumerated in section 3 of the Act;

(10) The authorities have taken 17 months since the Tribunal’s formation and the accused have been in custody for almost a year. However, once charged, it is possible that the defence might be granted as little as 3 weeks to prepare;

(11) The Tribunal judges, prosecutors and investigators lack experience and training in a very complex field of law. If it is suggested that they have been trained by the ICC this is untrue, as has been verified this with the ICC itself;

(12) The rules still fail to safeguard fundamental rights. The inclusion of a number of rights into the Rules will not change this, as it isn't clear how breaches of these rights can be challenged. The fact that the First Constitutional Amendment removes any rights guaranteed under the Constitution is of primary concern. This point was raised by Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch. The Law Minister's response was that "these men committed murder";

(13) The Tribunal has only targeted members of the opposition parties;

(14) The legislation is discriminatory in intent as it explicitly only allows prosecution on one side of the conflict;

(15) The Tribunal does not have the appearance of impartiality as the judges meet frequently with members of the Government and victims groups;

(16) The censoring of the media prevents any proper public debate. Any criticism of the Tribunal or the Government results in the threat of contempt proceedings, though ostensibly the concern is with accuracy of reporting and personally pejorative references to Tribunal members;

(17) There appears to be little desire to do this openly, fairly, transparently and in accordance with international norms. There is a total reluctance to have any international scrutiny of the preparations or the proceedings, to judge from the response to suggestions and criticisms by Ambassador Rapp, the International Bar Association, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The way to ensure that the process is fair is to engage with international experts on war crimes trials,and to allow foreign counsel, amending the law if necessary:

(18) The allegations by S K Chowdhury that he was tortured by the RAB, on each of the three occasions when he has been brought to the Tribunal, have not been investigated.

(19) The statements made by the accused during their interrogations cannot be used in court and therefore the interrogations appear to have been pointless.

(20) As far as is known, there has been no response by the Foreign Minister or the Law Minister to the letter from Ambassador Rapp of March 21, 2011.

Eric Avebury
July 27, 2011

Monday, July 25, 2011


Silbury sun roll yesterday, courtesy Pete Glastonbury
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Above: with Steven Spurrier, son of our old friends John and Pam Spurrier from Derbyshire before 1960, and Greg Epler Wood, married to Megan, my fourth cousin once removed via the Kemble line.

Below: with Megan, and Steven Spurrier
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Where Kina and I lived in Melbourne, Derbyshire, until 1960. Picture taken by Lyulph a couple of weeks ago.
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Sunday, July 24, 2011


Further to my Parliamentary question on Tuesday about the incipient genocide of the Nuba people of South Kordofan, I have written three times to the Minister David Howell drawing his attention to the available evidence. Khartoum has excluded journalists from the area, and international aid agencies have left because of the risks to their personnel from the daily bombing by the Sudan airforce. But there is satellite evidence of mass graves, and an unpublished UN report on atrocities, see article by Eric Reeves in The New Republic of July 23, "Are U.S. and U.N. Officials Ignoring New Evidence of Atrocities in Sudan?"

Another article by Eric Reeves, "Ongoing Aerial Assaults in Sudan Against Civilians and Humanitarians: An Update" from Dissent Magazine (on-line), July 25, 2011:

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Last days of term

The Parliamentary session has ended with a busy three days.

Monday, I got in on David Chidgey's question on the DRC. Then in the Grand Committee on the Education Bill there was a very good debate on my amendment to end compulsory acts of Christian collective worship in non-religious schools, and to allow pupils of any age not to attend acts of worship that are held. Doreen Massey, Shreela Flather, the Bishop of Oxford, Mabel Turner, Joan Walmsley, James Touhig, Sal Brinton, Maurice Peston, Leslie Griffith of Bury Port, Stewart Sutherland, Janet Whitaker, Thomas McAvoy, Francis Listowel, Elspeth Howe, the Bishop of Lichfield, Randolph Quirk, and finally the Minister Jonathan Hill of Oareford were the speakers. There are no votes in Grand Committee, but with that sort of response, it must be worth returning to at Report stage in the authmn. See debate at

Tuesday morning I was at King's, to have a bone marrow biopsy to help diagnose the myeloproliferative disorder they think I've got. Its a disorder of the blood, the indicator of which was a platelet count which shot up to over 1,000 compared wit the normal 500. After a local anaesthetic a needle is stuck into the pelvis on the right side, leaving no apparent side effects apart from bruising.

In the afternoon, my question on the situation in Abyei, South Kordofan and Blue Nile provinces of Sudan, just over the international border now that Soth Sudan has gained its independence. Although foreign observers are kept out of South Kordofan, it looks agonisingly like an incipient genocide of the Nuba people there, with the only UN troops in Abyei. See Then, in Committee on the Localism Bill, I spoke to my amendment that was intended to deal with a provision designed to prevent Gypsies and Travellers from buying a piece of land, moving onto it, and then applying for planning permission. The fact that this is the only way they have been able to find anywhere to live in the past few years, when hardly any land has been designated for a Traveller site in any local plan, has driven them to this expedient, and fairly often they have appealed against refusal successfully on the planning merits of sites thus developed. See

On Wednesday morning I attended Subcommittee F of the EU Select Committee. We're beginning an inquiry into European Union policy on drugs, quite a tricky subject because there are wide differences between member states. All have implemented needle exchange and substitution drug treatment programmes, and prescribed minimum drug panalties for trafficking. But there are states which have decriminalised use of drugs and others which relied on heavy penalties for possession.

In the afternoon, back to Localism Bill, on which the Government wanted to complete 36 sets of amendments by the close of play, but not until the House had polished off Third Reading of the Police Reform & Social Responsibility Bill AND a statement on confidence in the media and police! That lot took five hours, so having started at 10.00, the Localism Bill didn't begin till after 15.00. I was asked not to move my amendment seeking to restore the targets for Gypsy and Traveller site planning in every local authority which had been constructed laboriously by a six year process of accommodation needs assessments, public inquiries and adjustments between the local authorities which had already become magnets for Traveller settlement, and those which had managed to avoid having any at all. After Eric Pickles, the new Secretary of State, tore up all that work immediately he got into office, there has been a planning vacuum, with local authorities waiting to see what the new Government would substitute for the targets. The answer is that councils are free to do what they like, which everybody knows from previous experience when the Caravan Sites Act was repealed in 1994, means that there will be a catastrophic fall in provision. Research by the Irish Traveller Movement in Britain shows that already there is a drop of a half compared with the old targets. Its obvious that when local authorities are under no obligation, they are at the mercy of local settled residents, who always oppose Traveller sites even though they are aware in one part of their minds that having authorised sites that are properly regulated are the only way of getting rid of the unauthorised sites which cause most of the friction. We shall return to this question at Report stage. See

Sunday, July 17, 2011


Daguerrotype of High Elms,my great-grandfather's house near Downe, just after it was completed in August 1842. My grandfather with a cricket bat he was given for his 8th birthday on April 30 stands in front of the house. Two articles on the Daguerrotype by R Derek Wood can be found on his website, notably The Daguerrotype patent, the British Government and the Royal Society.
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Maurice at Waiotapu Geothermal Park, Rotorua, July 16
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Saturday, July 16, 2011


Not sure whether I put this on the blog. Taken at 30 Avondale Road, Toronto, home of Uncle Doug and Auntie B Woods in 1943 when I would have been 14, nearly 15.

On the far right in the back row is Uncle Bill Woods, Doug's older brother. Then a woman nobody can identify. Then Blakes, Uncle Bill's son, and then Uncle Doug Woods. To the left of Doug in the back row are first Olwen and Jim Walker, son of Mary Walker nee Woods, one of Doug's older sisters). The last person on the left in the back row is Kay Walker who was married to Bill Walker, Jim Walker's younger brother.

To the left of me with the dog in the front row is Aldie Clarkson -- she was engaged to Doug's youngest brother, Jack, who was killed in WW1. She remained single but was always treated as though she'd married Jack; she was considered one of the family. To the right of me is Auntie B, Aileen Woods, nee Mason; Doug's wife, and to the right of her is Effie Woods, Doug's older sister. Then next to Effie is Mary, his other older sister and next to Mary is Joyce Woods (nee Lownsbrough) who was married to David Woods, Blakes's older brother. Then to the right of Joyce is Auntie Ber Woods, nee Mason; Aileen's sister, who was married to Billy They were the parents of David, Blakes, and Peter.
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Friday, July 15, 2011

Took a long time

Londoner's Diary, Evening Standard today:

15 July 2011 3:12 PM
Murdoch and No 10 — the secret is out
Move over Tom Watson MP. There’s an unsung hero in Parliament who has been chipping away at the cosy Downing Street-Murdoch nexus for years. Liberal Democrat peer Lord Avebury started a campaign in 2003 to get the Cabinet Office to reveal the times and dates of meetings between then PM Tony Blair and the media baron. He was initially rebuffed by Baroness Amos, the Leader of the House of Lords, who said such information was exempt from disclosure. When the Freedom of Information Act came into force in 2005, Lord Avebury tried again and this time was blocked by Downing Street. In 2007, the Information Commissioner caved in and produced the list. Last week David Cameron announced meetings would be officially recorded. “Now they are going to have to publish details quarterly,” Lord Avebury tells me.

Business of the House

A rather frustrating week in that my amendments on the Education Bill and Localism Bill weren't reached. The problem is that the Government are trying to cram an awful lot of legislation into Bills, and that means a huge number of amendments.

On Tuesday I spoke on two Immigration Orders, dealing with the special arrangements for processing admission to the UK of athletes competing in the Olympic Games and what are misleadingly called Games Family Members, meaning trainers, umpires etc and not relatives of the competitors. See

Wednesday I joined in Sally Hamwee's topical question about the situation following the demise of the Immigration Advisory Service, which went into administration last Friday, leaving its 10,000 clients without legal representation. Lindsay Northover, who was answering for the Ministry of Justice in Tom McNally's absence in Australia, disagreed with my suggestion that other practitioners might not be able to deal with all those clients left in the lurch, but its inevitable that there will be long delays and they will get an inferior service. It has taken over a year so far, for the case files of Refugee and Migrant Justice to be picked up, and they had only a fraction of the number of IAS's clients. See

Thursday, July 14, 2011


Letter from Dr M at King's to my GP following the last consultation, when he had the result of the JAK2 test. He doesn't say, though it was said at the time, that he also needs a test for iron in the blood for a complete diagnosis. The bone marrow biopsy is on July 19, with follow-up consultation July 29.

Diagnosis: ? Myeloproliferative disorder
Disease status: At diagnosis
Follow up: Three to four weeks
FBC: Haemoglobin 10.2, WCC 2.7, platelets 1031

Lord Avebury was reviewed in clinic today. A JAK II analysis was negative but 1 note a C-MPL mutation was positive, which is strongly suggestive of myeloproliferative disorder. This taken together with his rise in platelets counts is indeed suggestive of this diagnosis rather than a reactive thrombocytosis.

I have asked him to have a bone marrow examination to try and confirm the diagnosis at his earliest convenience and we will review him with the results. It seems highly likely that if we do indeed confirm the diagnosis that we will need to start him on some form of platelet reductive therapy. Although he is asymptomatic he is at increased risk of thrombosis as a consequence of a platelet count above 1,000, his age and cardiovascular morbidity.

I will bring him back to see me with the results of his investigations and we will proceed as above once these results are available.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Murdoch and Blair

I can't help recalling that it took 15 months and a great deal of work, with the help of Tamsin Allen of Bindman & Partners, to extract details of contacts between Rupert Murdoch and former Prime Minister Tony Blair. The Labour Party, including David Miliband did their best to prevent the disclosure of this information when they were pally with the Dirty Digger and the public may like to bear this in mind when brother Ed waxes indignant about the infestation at Wapping:

17 July, 2007


The information was sought under Freedom of Information law introduced by the Government. In October 2003 Lord Avebury, the Liberal Peer, asked in a Parliamentary question for the dates of meetings between Tony Blair and Rupert
Murdoch. He wrote on April 8, 2004 to the Leader of the House, the Rt Hon Baroness Amos, asking under what provision of the Code of Practice on access to Government Information she had declined to give the information, and on June 24, 2004 she replied that the information was exempt fro disclosure under Exemption 7 (Effective Management and Operation of the Public Service) and Exemption 12 (Privacy of an Individual).

On April 11, 2005, following the coming into force of the Freedom of Information Act, Lord Avebury asked in a Parliamentary question for the dates of contacts between Mr Blair and Rupert Murdoch and Richard Desmond
respectively, since September 30, 2002. Baroness Amos did not respond directly, but said that all meetings were conducted in accordance with the Ministerial Code.

On April 15, 205 Lord Avebury wrote to Baroness Amos, formally submitting a complaint under the Freedom of Information Act, and she passed the matter to the Private Secretary at 10 Downing Street, who said that the information
requested was indeed held, but was exempt under Sections 36(2)(b)(i), (ii and 36(2)(c ) of the Act (Prejudice to the effective conduct of public affairs). He acknowledged that there were public interest factors in favour of disclosure, but these were outweighed by the need for the Prime Minister to be able to undertake free and frank discussions without the timing of these being disclosable.

On July 27 Lord Avebury wrote to the Information Commissioner, asking him to overrule the decision to withhold the information. On August 17 the Assistant Commissioner Mr Phil Boyd wrote to say that he had put the complaint to the
Freedom of Information Officer at the Cabinet Office, and on September 30, 2005, the Managing Director of the Cabinet Office, Colin Balmer CB wrote to Lord Avebury saying that he had conducted a review, and was satisfied that the
release of the information requested would be prejudicial to the effective conduct of public affairs, and that disclosure of the timing of exchanges with stakeholders could reveal the content of the discussion.

On October 3 Lord Avebury wrote to the Deputy Information Commissioner, asking him to overrule the Prime Minister's office and the Cabinet Office, and cause the information to be released. Again the Assistant commissioner wrote to the Cabinet Office, and the Permanent Secretary Mr Howell James CB replied on March 29, 2006 saying that the 'qualified person' who had given them his opinion on the exemption was David Miliband MP, then Minister for the Cabinet Office, but observing that some of the Prime Minister's contacts were in his capacity as Leader of the Labour Party, and those would not be covered by the Freedom of Information Act. But it made sense for him to cover official and political matters in the same conversation.

In the Decision Notice finally issued by the Information Commissioner on July 3, 2006, it was ruled that contacts of an official nature between Mr Blair and Rupert Murdoch or Richard Desmond as the case may be were disclosable, but
other meetings were not. The distinction was to be made according to whether any minute had been taken of the meeting or telephone call. Notice of appeal to the Information Tribunal was lodged on August 3, 2006, asking for a ruling that dates of all the contacts should be released, on the grounds that it was not possible to draw a distinction between different categories of meetings or telephone calls.

With this appeal pending, and 10 months after it was originally lodged, the day before evidence was due to be served on the parties in the Information Tribunal case and the day after Gordon Brown took office, the Information Tribunal made the surprise announcement that the information requested was to be released.

The information shows a regular series of meetings between the then Prime Minister and media moguls.

Tamsin Allen of Bindman ft Partners, Lord Avebury's solicitors, said:

"The Cabinet Office argued that meetings between Murdoch and Blair were not 'official' meetings because they were not minuted and the information was exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. That argument was always tenuous and it was therefore not unexpected that this information would eventually reach the public domain. What is
surprising is the timing of the announcement (the day after Tony Blair's resignation) and the fact that the Government sought to suppress the information for so long ".

Lord Avebury said:

'This is a welcome blow for the cause of freedom of information, but it shouldn't have taken so much time and effort to extract information that was so clearly of great public interest. Rupert Murdoch has exerted his influence behind the scenes on a range of policies on which he is known to have strong views including the regulation of broadcasting and the Iraq war. The public can now scrutinize the timing of his contacts with the former Prime Minister, to see whether they can be linked to events in the outside world, as the Managing Director of the Cabinet Office".

"One hopes that the timing of the Government's decision to capitulate indicates that under Gordon Brown's leadership, freedom of information will be made a reality."

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Sunday, July 10, 2011


Working on amendments to the Localism Bill and Education Bill coming up next week, and listening to Paul Tortelier's recording of Bach's cello suites. Maybe one's favourite bits vary from time to time, but my choices at the moment would be Bourée 1 from Suite No 3 in C, Sarabande from Suite No 5, and Gavotte 1 from Suite No 6. I think that if people could be persuaded to listen to Bach's music they would discover how fantastic it all is, and I wish that teachers could be persuaded to try it out in schools. Denying children the right to hear not only the cello suites but some of the cantatas is to deprive them of a right they don't even know is theirs. And I say that while thinking about an amendment to the Education Bill to opt out of collective worship, because one doesn't have to believe the religious myths to grasp the universal messages the words of the cantatas convey, or to be inspired by the music which was often recycled for secular occasions.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Also this week

Monday, William Wallace's 70th birthday party, in the East Cloister of Westminster Abbey, with excellent choral singing by Voces. I hadn't realised how much time and energy William gives to music, and to the Abbey, and I can't think how he does it with his many Parliamentary duties, and frequent stints on the Government front bench.

Wednesday morning, a session of Subcommittee F with the technical adviser who is with us for the new inquiry on the European Union's strategy for dealing with illegal drugs. Europe is divided into hardline states which believe that extra policing and tougher penalties can enable them to win the 'war on drugs', and the 'liberal' countries of which Portugal is the best example, that advocate decriminalisation and treatment. We shall be going to Portugal in the autumn, not only to inquire about their policies, but also because the EU's main data centre on drugs is in Lisbon.

Thursday, a meeting of the newly formed Ahmadiyya Muslim All-Party Parliamentary Group, on the spread ofreligious hatred, addressed by Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt. The concentration was mainly on Pakistan, with reference also to Indonesia, Bangladesh, and even the UK.

It was generally agreed that the main engine of Salafist hatred of every other faith, including Shi'a Muslims, was the enormous funding of madrassas - 14,000 in Pakistan alone- peddling the idea that an Islamic Caliphate run on the lines of the four 'rightly guided Caliphs' who succeeded the Prophet in the 7th century, was destined to take over the world, and that in the meanwhile it was the realm of Islam against the realm of the infidel, in a perpetual state of war, interrupted only by short-term truces for the convenience of Salafist Islam. With these doctrines being taught worldwide, is it any surprise that hatred and violence are endemic in Pakistan and elsewhere? Governments, politicians, human rights defenders and supporters of other faiths, including even mainstream Muslims, are intimidated into silence and acquiescence. We haven't woken up to the universal nature of this threat, because our mindset is tuned to the false notion that hatred is engendered by local grievances as in Palestine, Kashmir or Chechnya, just to cite three examples.

And finally, on Thursday, I moved

"That this House regrets that the UK Borders Act 2007 (Commencement No. 7 and Transitional Provisions) Order 2011 (SI 2011/1293) changes the law that applies to appeals that have already been lodged".

I don't expect anyone who reads this to be fascinated by what may seem to be an esoteric matter, but there are principles of legal certainty and the presumption against retrospection unless specifically authorised in primary legislation that are violated by this Order, see

Needless to say, I wasn't able to convince the Home Office Minister, Baroness Browning, but I hope the shot across their bows will make them consider Orders more carefully in future to make sure they don't breach fundamental legal principles. This Order probably only affects tens rather than hundreds of people, though Lady Browning wasn't able to give even a rough estimate of the number; but if it was only one person, it would be wrong. We shall see what happens when the matter comes before the courts, as I am told it certainly will.

An effective contributor to the discussion in Committee Room G.

It was a good venue, second only to 1 Abbey Gardens.
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There was good coverage of the meeting from Press TV and al-Aalam, both Iranian channels. Try as we do, we have never succeeded in engaging the UK media, in spite of - or because of - the close historical and economic links between our two countries
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Sitting next to me is Noor, from Sweden
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Saeed at the Bahrain meeting
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Back to the second of the two meetings I chaired this week in the Palace of Westminster, on the political and human rights situation in Bahrain. In my introductory remarks I said that the situation now was worse than in the nineties, when also there had been widespread detention without trial. Now, there were soldiers shooting people on the streets, a foreign occupation force, show trials and arbitrary imprisonment of the whole leadership of the opposition. Although the King was trying to create an artificial dialogue, the situation had gone beyond the point of no return. Referring to the Foreign Secretary's letter, I said it was disappointing that ministers were still talking about reinvigorating a dialogue after the thousands had been arrested and many had been tortured, the opposition had been emasculated and their supporters and suspected supporters in the professions including doctors, engineers and nurses had been sacked.

Then we had a good conversation with Nabeel Rajab, the President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, about the deteriorating human rights situation in Bahrain. He said:

"I hope to be able to speak without being disconnected by the government as they have always done. Bahrain has witnessed crimes against humanity, including systematic torture, people fired from work, students dismissed from universities, doctors, nurses, bloggers and athletes. The government was practising sectarian cleansing against the Shi'a by targeting them in their work place and places of worship. Mosques were destroyed and houses raided. The government does not depend on its own people for security but on people from Syria, Yemen and Pakistan. In the past few weeks more mercenaries came from Pakistan. Thousands of people have been targeted either by sacking or arrest".

"We believe that the dialogue is an attempt to mislead the international community. The ruling family is not represented in this dialogue. The participants are groups created by government to look like human rights or political groups. Opposition parties represent less than 15 percent. No positive outcome is expected from these meetings. A fact finding mission by the International Commission for Human Rights is needed. The committee formed by the king to investigate torture and unlawful detention is going to Bahrain in July, including Nigel Rodley and Sharif Bassiouni as chair. I have been told that they would be given total access to victims, would have unmonitored access anywhere without supervision by security forces. But also I believe that if they saw any attempt to interfere they would abdicate. This is a high stakes game. The King plays for time, as he has done before. Last year he agreed to allow a delegation from UK to visit Bahrain to investigate human rights abuses but when the pressure went away he stopped the delegation. The team would have included Lord Ramsbotham, the former Chief Inspector of Prisons who was a distinguished military officer" .

"The committee formed by the King is an attempt to distance himself from responsibility. He is the one who had given orders. The Committee hasn't contacted us but we will be happy to give them information about all the cases we have".

Other speakers were Finnian Cunningham, an Irish freelance journalist who was expelled from Bahrain by the Al Khalifa regime in June; Hussain Abdulla, a human rights activist from the US, and Noor from Sweden, formerly Elisabeth Hjordis, who was working as a volunteer at the Salmaniya Hospital when the attack by the Saudi and Al Khalifa forces occupied it.

A fuller account of the proceedings will be produced in a few days' time.

More of the meeting on the CHT
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This is the meeting of the Jumma People's Network, in Committee Room 4
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Simon gave me a lift back to Parliament after the meeting in his spectacular yellow taxi, the fourth or fifth of the dynasty! He was in good form and we had a nice little chat.
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It was a packed meeting in the Chinese Church, of all ages!
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Simon Hughes MP, at Monday's meeting with the Malaysian BOCs
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Reply posted on the website of, to the Editor's Comment Vaccines alone will not prevent the deaths of children:

As Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Global Action Against Childhood Pneumonia in the UK (APPG) I read Becky Slack’s editorial on the recent GAVI pledging conference and vaccine funding with interest.

Since its inception in 2007 the APPG has worked to encourage the reduction of childhood mortality through the prevention, protection and treatment of pneumonia. I agree wholeheartedly with Becky that the recent GAVI Alliance Pledging Conference was good news, not only for developing countries that will benefit from the US$ 4.3 billion that was committed to expand vaccine projects, as Becky states, but also for the developed world as it marks one of the most public displays of commitment to international development this year, if not this decade.

The APPG recognises that vaccination must be accompanied by other strategies, which is why we follow the GAPP Report’s recommendations on pneumonia, which focus on prevention, protection and treatment. The GAVI Alliance itself puts money towards health system strengthening and one of the biggest contributors to the GAVI Alliance, the UK Government, recognises the importance of a holistic development strategy, which looks to tackle a range of factors that contribute to childhood mortality. The Government already works to tackle the issues raised by Becky in her editorial. The Department for International Development (DFID) works with organisations such as WaterAid to improve sanitation and water supplies across the Globe. One of the UK’s recent projects has been working with WaterAid in Dhaka, Bangladesh, alongside a local charity DSK, to help bring clean water and sanitation to Zakir slum. The work has resulted in a huge reduction in cases of diseases such as diarrhoea and jaundice fever.

But, I disagree with Becky when she questions whether funding vaccines is the “best use of the [GAVI Pledging Conference} money”. Pneumonia, which is the leading killer of children under 5 in the developing world, is largely preventable because effective vaccines exist. The same is true of diarrhoea, the disease Becky cites in her editorial. 1.6 million children die from the disease every year and yet a vaccine exists, which is effective at preventing rotavirus, the most common cause of severe diarrhoea. The GAVI Alliance has shown the impact that introducing these vaccines into the developing world can make.

The organisation has vaccinated 288 million children across the world since 2000 and saved an estimated 5 million children’s lives. The money committed at the Pledging Conference will help to vaccinate a further 243 million and save a further 4 million lives. This is why vaccination is such a crucial element of international development strategies the world over, it delivers effective, life-saving results at a relatively low cost and it can be rolled out efficiently across the developing world.

This year the GAVI Alliance has rolled out the latest pneumococcal conjugate vaccine to a number of developing world countries and by 2015 they hope to be able to vaccinate children in 40 of the worst affected countries. This is tremendous progress making a lasting and hard-hitting impact and this is why the Pledging Conference funds are so crucial and why vaccination is such an important and successful investment for developed countries.

Eric Avebury
House of Lords

Outside the chamber

It tends to be overlooked, that much of the work of Members in both Houses takes place in other parts of the building such as the 21 committee rooms upstairs, to say nothing of the dozens more in Portcullis House and elsewhere on the Parliamentary estate.

This week I chaired two important meetings: on Monday, with the Jumma People's Network to discuss the failure of the Bangladesh government to implement the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Peace accord of 1997, promised in the Awami League's election manifesto and reiterated by the Prime Minister to the CHT Commission, of which I am a co-chair, at a face to face meeting we had with her after the election. She went further, and said it was her intention to complete the process during the lifetime of this Parliament; but it has got bogged down, and has gone backwards in one vital reespect - the refusal now to recognise the Jumma peoples as indigenous, and therefore to deny that they have rights in accordance with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, of which Bangladesh is a signatory.

The Land Commission hasn't resolved a single case of the thousands of disputes between the claimants to land under the original system of communal ownership, and the arbitrary and haphazard award of titles to the same plots by District Commissioners. Leaders of the indigenous people are demanding the removal of the chairman of the Land Commission, who wants to conduct a survey before starting on the conflicting claims. Amnesty International are reported to be working on a report on the Land Commission's pathetic record.

The army is still present as an occupation force in the CHT, contrary to the Accord, and far from maintaining security, their ostensible purpose, they protect the settlers who attack the indigenous people, burn their houses, rape the women and demolish Buddhist temples.

The UN Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, James Anaya, has asked the Bangladesh government repeatedly for an invitation to visit the CHT, but has never had a reply.

Speakers at the event were Julie de Blaauw of Global Rights Defence, Netherlands; Sophie Grig, Survival International; the Rev Nagashena Bhante; Rusona Hashem, University of East London; Lal Amlai; Bhumitra Chakma, and Manjurul Karim Khan Chodhury, representing the Bangladesh High Commission


Its getting harder for backbenchers to get their oar in at oral question time. There are four questions in the half hour allotted, making 7 1/2 minutes each, and naturally the Member who tables the question has first bite after the Minister's initial answer. Then the opposition front bench and the Bishops take priority over anyone else - and why should they, considering that we're the only legislature in the world that provided for ex officio representatives of clerics, as the Leader of the House Lord Strathclyde told me in a written answer this week. My impression is that some ministers, particularly David Howell, are taking far too long with their answers, though no doubt they are trying to be helpful.

This week I managed to get in on a question about diplomatic missions' unpaid parking fines, which have reached the staggering total of £52 million. My suggestion was that where a vehicle had incurred two fines that remained unpaid, on the third occasion the car should be towed away. But the minister, John Attlee, said that diplomatic immunity would prevent that too.

Then on Wednesday I asked, following a question on the drought and famine in East Africa by my LibDem colleague Jenny Tonge, what the Government could do to promote better coordination between voluntary agencies, and how the principle of cooperation could be extended to Irish as well as UK agencies.

Malaysian BOCs

Monday, to the Chinese Church on Shaftesbury Avenue (which I didn't recall noticing previously, and neither did the taxi driver) for a well-attanded meeting on dual Malaysian/British Overseas Citizens who renounced their Malaysian nationality on the false supposition that doing so would enable them to claim full UK citizenship. Just i time after nagging the Minister Damian Green's office yet again for a reply to my letter of April 11 on the subject, I had the reply before setting off. There are negotiations with the Malaysian authorities to enable these persons to resume their Malaysian citizenship, but if anybody is genuinely unable to return to Malaysia for that purpose, and they can show that they had taken all available steps to regain their citizenship and had applied to re-enter Malaysian and acquire settle status there without success, they could apply for discretionary leave to remain in the UK outside the Immigration Rules. In the process they could explain any compelling or compassionate circumstances, which would be treated sympathetically.

Further medical

Friday: an appointment at 11.30 with Dr M in haematology outpatients this morning following yet another blood test. He said that the JAK2 test had been negative, but there was a C-MPL mutation which is associated with myeloproliferative disorders. Platelet counts were 930 on June 10 and 850 on June 24, and he wanted to be certain this wasn't due to iron deficiency, which needs a further blood test. The last time iron had been looked at was in 2007 when it was normal. In June 2010 serum iron was low, but ferritin also needs to be checked. (Ferritin is an ubiquitous intracellular protein that stores iron and releases it in a controlled fashion. The amount of Ferritin stored reflects the amount of iron stored. The protein is produced by almost all living organisms, including bacteria, algae and higher plants, and animals. In humans, it acts as a buffer against iron deficiency and iron overload).

My diagnosis so far: this is probably essential thrombocytosis, not reactive thrombocytosis, because I'm not aware of any spleen malfunction or iron deficiency. This points to a myoproliferative disorder, a group of diseases of the bone marrow which are classified within the hematological neoplasms.

As I was checking the June 25 date for the bone marrow biopsy suggested by Dr M, he came out to the desk and said the result of the blood test just undertaken had come through, and since the platelet count was now 1031, he would like the biopsy brought forward to July 19 at 09.30, with a further consultation on July 29.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Horn of Africa drought and famine

See my entry yeaterday evening on the Left Foot Forward site, about the crisis in East Africa and the Disasters Emergency Committee's slow reaction. I gather from this morning's papers that by coincidence they are now at last getting into gear.

Sunday, July 03, 2011


Letter from consultant haematologist Dr P at King's to my GP:

June 24, 2011

Diagnosis: MALT Lymphoma
Progressive thromhocytosis ?cause

1 reviewed Eric in the clinic today. I explained to him that his platelet count has been elevated over the past number of years, but has significantly increased at his last visit. We will therefore repeat a full blood count today and, indeed, also check a JAK2 to try and exclude a myeloproliferative disorder. If the platelet count has not reduced and the JAK2 screen is negative, I think it appropriate that we carry out a bone marrow aspirate and trephine and cytogenetics to understand whether it could be either a myeloproliferative disorder or the lymphoma in the marrow that is causing the thrombocytosis.

Clearly, in view of the previous history of vascular disease and TIAs, although he is on aspirin we may need to consider some platelet reducing drug such as hydroxycarbamide. We will keep you informed of progress

Note: the terms are explained in earlier posts. The TIAs referred to here are imaginary - they were suspected by Lindsay but not confirmed by any of the tests subsequently undertaken including MRI of the brain. I think that if I had had a TIA I would have been aware of some changes and apart from a progressive deterioration of memory with age I'm OK from the neck up, even if the carotid arteries are 20% and 40% blocked. Angioplasty isn't done on the carotids because it could dislodge little bits of the plaque which would then be carried into the brain and cause a stroke.

Last week

I'm not going to start on the last seven days, with a great deal having happened, and rather a lot to prepare for the coming week. Tomorrow I have to speak on the plight of British Overseas Citizens of Malaysian origin at the Chinese Church on Shaftesbury Avenue - nobody can tell me exactly where except that its equally distant from Leicester Square and Tottenham Court Road tube stations. That's at 13.00. Then at 17.00 I'm chairing a meeting of the Jumma Peoples' Network UK on Committee Room 4, followed by William Wallace's birthday party at 18.30. Tuesday from 11.00 to 13.00 I'm chairing a meeting on the disastrous situation in Bahrain, then at 13.00 we have a meeting of the Pneumonia APPG. In the afternnoon the House is in Committee on the Localism Bill, though it doesn't look as though any of my amendments are likely to be reached. Wednesday there's a morning of Subcommittee F at which there will be a preliminary discussion on our next investigation, into Europe's strategy for illegal drugs, and in the afternoon there is Grand Committee on the Education Bill. There again my amendments aren't likely to be reached - and I certainly hope not, because I'm still discussing them with the National Secular Society. Thursday lunchtime I'm moving a motion to regret an Order on immigration which is retrospective and therefore unlawful and certain to lead to unnecessary litigation. Then Friday I'm at King's again, to be told the result of the JAK2 blood test and to be given a date for the bone marrow biopsy, see earlier post.

Me at the age of 11
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Saturday, July 02, 2011


My sister Olivia and me, mid-1929
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