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IN THE CHAMBER

The latest of the new Liberal Democrat Members of the House of Lords made her maiden speech in the Chamber this week, with Baroness Alison Suttie breaking her duck in a major debate on human rights. Having studied at Voronezh State University in southern Russia as part of a three-month Russian language exchange programme 25 years ago, Baroness Suttie understandably turned her attention to the human rights situation in a country which has come under renewed scrutiny in recent weeks and months. The peer – who later worked in the country for a brief period – “learnt the beautiful Russian language [and]... to appreciate Russian art and culture as well as the very generous and at times overflowing Russian hospitality”. But with attention now on the country as a result of both the case of the Greenpeace 30 and the run-up to the Sochi Olympic Games, she painted a more grim picture of human rights in modern-day Russia. “During my regular visits to Russia in the 1990s, I saw the gradual transfer to a free market Russian style of capitalism but, sadly, this has not been matched by a move towards parliamentary democracy, independent institutions, the rule of law and respect for human rights,” she told peers. “Indeed, since the parliamentary elections at the end of 2011, which many observers regarded as fraudulent, and the presidential elections to re-elect Vladimir Putin in the spring of 2012, we have witnessed a considerable backwards step in terms of parliamentary democracy and human rights. Journalists and businesspeople, in particular, have faced threats and serious intimidation, or worse, when they have challenged the Kremlin’s line.

“In the run up to the Sochi Olympic Games, when Russia is very much in the public eye, we must use every opportunity to continue to push for real institutional reform in Russia, as well as an independent judiciary and for the creation of genuine parliamentary democracy.”

QUOTE OF THE WEEK “Is my noble friend aware that in the other House, Mr Dan Byles has taken up the Bill that we passed some months ago, which would provide the authority for the House to produce both retirement and expulsion? Would he keep a benevolent eye on the progress of that Bill in the other place, because it would provide an alternative exit strategy to that provided by the Grim Reaper?” Lord David Steel draws the Leader of the House to his Private Member’s Bill allowing peers another way out.

TWEET OF THE WEEK

“White ribbon campaigners @LibDemLords We pledge never to commit condone or stay silent @menantiviolencepic.” Baroness Sal Brinton tweets a picture showing Lib Dem peers’ support for the White Ribbon Campaign.

Lord John Lee told peers that the civil servant leading the bid to reform the branch of the military in charge of buying equipment should consider resigning after his plan looked set to fail. He made his remark about Bernard Gray after the Ministry of Defence said this week that only one external bidder remained in a competition to part-privatise Defence Equipment and Support, after the sudden departure of the only other group of companies that had been considering competing. Lord Lee said that the competition was “totally dead in the water”, adding: “It is quite impossible to run a competition with just one bidder.”

Baroness Floella Benjamin asked the Government what plans it had to record whether or not an individual remanded in custody or sentenced to prison have any children . Barnardo’s and other leading children’s charities, she said, had found that children of prisoners were a very vulne rable group. “Many go on to offend and yet these children are unlikely to be offered any targeted support,” she said. “Barnardo’s found that the courts keep no record of them and that there are no requirements to identify them to children’s services.” Justice Minister Lord Tom McNally said the Government would in future record whether offenders had children.

Lord Paul Strasburger grilled the Government about GCHQ’s Project Tempora, asking which minister authorised it, when and why its existence was not disclosed to the Joint Committee on the Draft Communications Data Bill. “In a democracy, wholesale untargeted state intrusion into the private lives of all the people, such as Project Tempora, is unacceptable unless it has the informed consent of the people via their Parliament,” he said. Tory Minister Baroness Warsi said it would be inappropriate to discuss it.

And Lord Brian Paddick brought his policing experience to the debate on the Anti-social Behaviour Bill, saying that the tendency of some councils to publish a “rogues gallery of photographs of people against whom ASBOs had been granted” led to some people thinking the order was “a badge of honour that they could show off to their mates”. He said: “It almost encouraged them to breach their ASBO because the picture had been publicised and they had local notoriety.”

BEST OF THE BLOG

This week on the Lib Dem Lords blog, Lord Roger Roberts set out why he believes an all-party consensus is vital in tackling youth unemployment while Lord Paul Strasburger wrote about the authorisation of GCHQ’s Project Tempora, its clandestine security electronic surveillance programme.

WHAT’S COMING UP MONDAY Peers continue to debate the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill. TUESDAY Peers continue debating the Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill. Baroness Joan Walmsley leads a debate on promoting early childhood development. THURSDAY Lord Hugh Dykes will ask the Government for its assessment of the outcome of the talks earlier this month on the proposed Geneva II Syria peace conference. Baroness Jane Bonham-Carter will lead a debate on the contribution of broadcast media to the UK economy. Lord Brian Paddick leads a debate on public trust in the police, its role in effective policing and the system for investigating complaints into police conduct. For more detailed information on what's coming up in the Lords, click here.

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