Thursday, September 29, 2011

Abdominal surgery

The Royal College of Surgeons says poor access to facilities like operating theatres and scans means some abdominal emergencies are not spotted in time.

Emergency major gastrointestinal (abdominal) surgery has one of the highest mortalities, which can reach 50% in the over 80s, the report says.

I was cycling to the House on October 4, 2001, to wind up a LibDem emergency debate on Afghanistan. A few minutes before 10.00, when the debate was due to start, I was knocked off by a motorist who did a u-turn on Millbank without looking. It was a hell of a bang, and bystanders offered to take me to hospital, but as I was due to wind up for the Liberal Democrats I staggered to my feet, waved them all away, and walked the remaining 100 metres to the House, where I put the mangled bicycle in the rack and went into the Chamber. 

After a couple of hours I began to feel very odd and I told Shirley Williams, who had opened for us, and was sitting next to me on the bench. She urged me to get a medical check, so I went along to the Commons nurse, who called a taxi and took me to St Thomas's. We waited there four hours, and they did an ultrasound scan which showed nothing. The casualty doctor gave me some painkillers and told me to go home and rest.
The next morning, Friday, I felt worse, and called my GP. He came out and examined me, couldn't find anything, and prescribed stronger painkillers.

Saturday I felt worse still. Our lodger, who was a doctor at Guys, examined me and called a doctor friend for yet another opinion. They still couldn't find anything.

That night I couldn't sleep and felt really ghastly. At 04.30 my wife Lindsay called an ambulance and I was taken to St Thomas's A & E for the second time. After a five hour wait they did a CT scan, and found that I had a burst colon. The contents had been spilling into my abdomen for the previous three days. After a further wait to get the theatre ready and call in the anaesthetist, I was operated on at 17.00 for a colostomy - removal of about 20 cm of colon, and the creation of an exit from the upper section of the colon in the side of the abdomen. Not a bundle of laughs.

I was three weeks in hospital, and after that convalesced at home for four weeks, gradually back to 95% normal, 5 kg lighter.  

Posted April 11, 2002

On March 14 2002 (the 40th anniversary of the Orpington by election!) I went back to St Thomas’s for a reversal of the colostomy, and was there until April 1. This time I lost only 6 kg, and am still languishing at 63 kg.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Children in Dadaab refugee camp vaccinated!


In Kenyan camps, vaccine protects Somali refugee children from killer pneumonia

DADAAB, Kenya, 14 September 2011 – About six months ago, Kenya was one of the first countries in Africa to introduce the pneumococcal vaccine, and children now have access to this life-saving intervention through routine immunization in the Dadaab refugee camps in the north-east of the country.


Last Sunday we had the AGM of the Advisory Council on the Education of Gypsies and Travellers, an organisation formed in 1973 by Lady (Bridget) Plowden to lobby for more effort and resources to be put into Gypsy, Roma and Traveller education. I succeeded her as President when she died at the age of 90 in 2000, and as usual this year I spoke at the AGM on current problems of which the main one is the rundown in the Traveller Education Support Service. Since 2006 when the ring-fenced money provided by the Department for Education was merged into a more general pot, local authorities have been making Traveller Teachers redundant, not replacing those who retire, and in some cases abolishing the service entirely.

Olivia in her ball dress

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Monday, September 26, 2011


Sunday September 18, to Springhill Prison for the annual celebrations at the Buddha Grove there. It was the last to be attended by the present Governor Dr Peter Bennett, who is due to retire shortly after nine years as Governor of Springhill and Grendon Underwood. He has always been very friendly and encouraging to the Buddhist Prison Chaplaincy Angulimala, and in particular he has a good word to say about us at the celebration. This year we had a record attendance, and the event was led by a record number of monks.

I do think Buddhism has a great deal to offer prisoners, and its hugely impressive when one meets a former inmate whose life has been turned round by his contact with Angulimala. An ex-prisoner who was at Springhill for this year's event had been inside for 25 years, during the last half of which I had been corresponding with him. He's now in a flat of his own and picking up the threads of independent living.

Saturday, September 17, 2011


Visit to Haematology Outpatients at King's, following a blood test. Platelet count was 588, a bit lower than 4 weeks ago, but still above the normal range of 133 to 332. White blood cell count is low and haemoglobin well below normal, but the consultant said it wasn't practical to treat multiple aberrations of blood chemistry simultaneously. I find that difficult to believe, but didn't have time to query it because Jamie was coming round at 13.00 to deal with our network problems (which he solved). The myeloproliferative disorder I have, which is described as essential thrombocytosis, may be symptomless but can lead to heart attack or stroke if untreated. The medication which has brought the platelet count from nearly 1,000 to its current value of 588 is to be continued 5 times a week instead of 7, and I'm to see a consultant again in another four weeks' time. Dr P is no longer taking the haematology clinic, and its not certain who will replace him.

Friday, September 16, 2011

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These pictures were taken by Mike Timbers my first cousin twice removed at the annual High Elms picnic last Sunday, for descendants of my grandfather John Lubbock, of me with his wife Prapha Suriwong. Mike is the son of Kenneth Timbers and Bridget Newman, daughter of Eric Newman and Jean Grant Duff, daughter of my aunt Ursula and Adrian Grant Duff, who was killed serving with the Black Watch just after the outbreak of the First World War, in September 1914.

Lindsay's camera battery was flat and we had lost the recharger, and Lyulph didn't bring his camera, so we didn't have any other pictures. For the first time I can remember, we were just about settled under the trees between the lawn and the tennis court when there was a downpour, and we retreated to the Visitor Centre, where Lyulph showed us his latest family history pictures and documents. He really has a terrific collection, and is constantly making new discoveries!
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Thursday, September 15, 2011

The week in Parliament

Monday: Education Bill amendment on deprived children generally, in which I concentrated particularly on the worst off: those from the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities.

Tuesday: Question on the Tuaregs of Libya, on which the Minister promised to write to me. Question about the cost effectivenes of the UN-REDD initiative on deforestation, and the UK contribution to it, on which another Minister promised to write! Obviously at question time Ministers don't come prepared with answers to every possible supplementary, and if its my own question I try to warn them in advance of the area I mean to cover. But when its a supplementary to someone else's question, its often a last minute thought.

Wednesday: Education Bill amendment on religious discrimination against teachers, contrary to a European Directive and the Human Rights Act. The Equalities and Human Rights Commission had counsel's opinion giving chapter and verse (if that's the right expression!) for the alleged breaches, but the Minister who replied (Janathan Hill) contented himself with saying that the DfE's legal advisers were satisfied that the legislation complies fully with the Directive. I suggested that the Minister should let us have a detailed response to counsel's opinion, and that we should then have a meeting with the Bill team, each with legal advisers, to see whether the differences can be resolved. This the Minister agreed to, and today I've asked his office to suggest some dates - after we have their written response, of course. The Minister had also said in reply to an earlier amendment that he would let me have a proper reply to my points on collective worship, and that's still not arrive.

Evening meeting of the All-Party Group on Gypsies and Travellers, to decide on a letters to be sent to the Prime Minister and Basildon Council in a last ditch attempt to head off the Dale Farm evictions, due to begin next Monday.

Thursday, question about the compatibility of our general policies on helping Arab countries to promote human rights and democracy with inviting Bahrain to attend the arms fair in London, when their security forces are gunning down peaceful demonstrators on the streets.

Also on Thursday, a meeting of the Department of Education Gypsy Roma and Traveller Stakeholder Group, which I chair, to decide on our response to the Department's consultation on the funding of schools. It was a very useful discussion, and I think our submission will be useful.

September 14, 2011

Bahraini human rights activist receives the Silbury Prize

On learning of the crackdown against Bahraini teachers and university students, reported on the Bahrain Center for Human Rights website on September 13, the Trustees of The Silbury Fund, a UK registered charity, meeting at the House of Commons on September 13, awarded Mr Nabeel Rajab, President of the Center, the Silbury Prize of £1,000.

The Silbury Fund Trustees, under the chairmanship of the Rt Hon Peter Hain MP a former UK Foreign Office Minister, unanimously decided to make the award to Mr Rajab to facilitate his on-going humanitarian and human rights work.

Lord Avebury, a trustee and Secretary of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group, said: “This latest crackdown follows the severe attacks on doctors, other professionals, trade unionists and human rights activists; extreme violence against peaceful demonstrators, and show trials of leading members of the opposition”.

Background information:
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) is a non-profit non-governmental organisation which works to promote human rights in Bahrain.

The Silbury Fund is a UK registered charity which, since its foundation in 1973 has supported numerous individuals and educational projects concerned with the promotion of human rights, democracy and fighting racism.

For further information, please contact:

Lord Avebury
Tel: 0207 219 3438

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Back to school

The House resumed this week and there has been plenty to do. Monday I sat in on Report stage of the Localism Bill and made speeches on two separate amendments about homelessness, about the Dale Farm evictions that begin on September 19. On the first, the Minister Joan Hanham said she wasn't going to discuss an individual case, and on the second, when I pointed out that it was an illustration of a general problem affecting all Gypsies and Travellers living on unauthorised sites, she answered as if I had asked a completely differenrt question.

More from my friend MG, who is piling up huge rent arrears because Scottish Borders are only paying housing benefit at the rate for a two-bed property, while she is living in a 3-bed flat for perfectly valid medical reasons, see

Lunchtime meeting on Monday with a Bahraini asylum-seeker whose home was raided by the police while he was abroad. They took his laptop, all his papers and a family photiograph album, and because the security forces know he attended our seminar on July 5, they are sure to bring trumped-up charges against him if he returns.

Tuesday, a meeting with Damian Green and Baroness Browning to talk about the abuse of resident domestic workers. One of the solutions canvassed, which is in the consultation that closes tomorrow, is to abolish the separate resident domestic worker category, an anomaly under the 5-Tier system of immigration control. The people concerned are unskilled, and the UKBA is no longer issuing visas for any other kind of unskilled work. If people want nannies, carers for the elderly, cooks or butlers, they would have to find them in eastern Europe, where there might still be candidates prepared to do the work for the minimum wage, even if only to obtain a paid employment foothold in the UK while looking round for something better. One of the options in the consultation is to retain the existing mechanism, but allow the employer to pay less than the minimum wage, recognising that this is what often happens even though its illegal!

Later, a meeting with a rape victim to discuss the lack of publicity for the services available to rape victims, and the risks that victims run through not getting advice immediately on what to do.

Wednesday, meetings of the All-Party Group on the Chagos Islands and on Gypsies and Travellers, then spoke in a debate on the latest changes in immigration rules, designed to reduce the number of students coming here, and costing our economy a net £2.4 billion a year. The motion to disagree with these changes was moved by Philip Hunt, the Labour frontbench spokesman on immigration, followed by three Liberal Democrats in a row. The Minister who replied, John Attlee, read out his brief, but he really had no answer to the criticisms. Afterwards, Lindsay and my niece Pam, who had been listening to the debate, stayed for dinner with me in the Commons cafeteria.

This morning, I tried to get in on a question on Sudan, but there was only time for David Chidgey our spokesman. Generally David Howell, the FCO Minister in the Lords, is so long-winded that only one LibDem gets in.

After question time, met Janet Whitaker to discuss our joint amendments to the Localism and Education Bills on Gypsies and Travellers, followed by a meeting with the clerk in the Public Bill office about the wording. The amendment on the Education Bill, which comes up next Monday, is about vulnerable children generally, but the DfE's definition of vulnerable children doesn't refer specifically to Gypsies and Travellers, yet they are the most deprived educationally of any ethnic minority, in terms of attendance, excliusion and achievement. With Traveller Education Support Services being shut down all over the country, there is a very serious risk they will slip even further behind.

After lunch, David Chidgey and I had a meeting with Henry Bellingham MP, FCO Minister who deals with Africa, at which we discussed Sudan, Somalia and the DRC. Henry used to be our next door neighbour in Gloucester Street, Pimlico, some 26 years ago!

Friday, September 02, 2011

Other events of the day

Today is the birthday of my former wife Kina, with whom I had a nice little chat on the telephone this evening. We will be seeing her at the annual family High Elms picnic on Sunday.

This morning David Bergman & Gita Sahgal called on me for a useful discussion on current events in Bangladesh.

In the afternoon I had a visit from Sean Risdale and Matthew Brindley of the Irish Travellers movement in Britain. In spite of all the excellent work done by the ITMB, and their success in lobbying the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), it looks as though Dale Farm is at the end of the road and the evictions will be going ahead some time in the next few weeks. The CERD issued a statement yesterday criticising the evictions, see below.

The really sad thing about this disaster is that if there hadn't been a change of Government last year, there was a good chance that the Dale Farm question would have been solved, with some of the residents going to sites in other Districts within the county. As soon as Secretary of State Pickles announced the end of regionalism just after polling day, scrapping the target number of pitches for which planning permission was to be granted in every local authority area following a laborious process which had been accepted grudgingly throughout England, the rest of Essex said either that they weren't going to provide any land at all for Travellers, or that they were going to take some time to make up their minds what to do. So the families in the 51 pitches to be evicted, including pregnant women, the elderly, disabled and small children, are going to be homeless when their dwellings are carted away on low loaders and put into a store somewhere. Its an £18 million caastrophe, causing immense and unnecessary suffering.

Advance unedited version
Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
79th session
8 August – 2 September 2011
Statement on Dale Farm

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination meeting in its 79th
session from 8 August to 2 September 2011 expresses its deep regret at the insistence of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland authorities to proceed with the eviction of Gypsy and Traveller Families at the Dale Farm in Essex before identifying and providing culturally appropriate accommodation.

The Committee considered the combined eighteenth to twentieth report of the United
Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland on 23 and 24 August 2011 during its current session. The issue of Dale Farm was extensively discussed with the delegation of the State party. The Committee will issue its concluding observations on all nine States parties considered at its 79th session, including the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland on Friday, 2 September 2011.

The Committee also considered this issue under its Early Warning and Urgent Action

Taking into account Articles 2 and 5 of the International Convention on the
Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) and the Committee’s General
Recommendation No 27 (2000) on Discrimination against Roma, the Committee calls on the State party to suspend the planned eviction which would disproportionately affect the lives of the Gypsy and Traveller families, particularly women, children and older people, and create hardship, until culturally appropriate accommodation is identified and provided. The Committee urges the State party to find a peaceful and appropriate solution which fully respects the rights of the families involved. Travellers and Gypsies already face considerable discrimination and hostility in wider society and the Committee is deeply concerned that this could be worsened by actions taken by authorities in the current situation and by some media reporting on the issues.

2127th meeting
1 September 2011

September 2

Prins Gunasekera telephoned me this evening to remind me that it was the 22th anniversary of his arrivel at Heathrow as a refugee from Sri Lanka! I met him at Heathrow and after half an hour's delay he was admitted, our High Commission in Colombo and I having smoothed the path for him to escape probable assassination after three of his colleagues in chambers had been murdered.

In 1971 I had met Prins in my office at 6 Harley Street when he visited the UK to enlist the aid of Amnesty International to investigate the circumstances in which nearly 15,000 alleged supporters of the rebel JVP were detained without trial. Later that year I went to Sri Lanka to conduct the investigation for Amnesty International, where I travelled extensively down the coast and round the southern tip of the island as far as Kataragama, covering the areas in which the troubles had been most severe. Prins was my mentor and guide during that trip, together with Bala Tampoe, General Secretary of the Ceylon Mercantile Union. In Colombo, having been refused official permission to go into any of the prisons, we tried to enter the Welikade jail as visitors to a detainee, with Prins's three-year old daughter Lanka, who is now a doctor at Guy's Hospital!. We were unmasked after getting past the entrance and turned away. Subsequently Mrs Bandaranaike, then President, sent officials to me at my hotel to serve a notice requiring me to leave the country. They arrived in the lobby just as I was about to leave for the airport on the way home, so I thanked them politely but non-committally, and when one of them then asked me when I was going to leave, I looked at the notice again and said "This notice doesn't tell me I have to give you that information. If you want to know the answer, you'll have to serve me with a notice to that effect". They left the hotel, and after a few minutes I also departed.

Since he arrived here all those years ago, Prins has never been back to Sri Lanka, though he could do so without danger as a British citizen. His experiences during the months immediately before he left as a refugee left too many scars, and he is content to stay here, still practising the law at the age of 85, and cultivating his garden.