Westminster Column

2nd October 2015

Shaker Aamer

I have written previously in this Column about efforts to release Shaker Aamer. The issue is perhaps best summed up in the Early Day Motion tabled recently in Parliament by six of us (Jeremy Corbyn, David Davis, Alex Salmond, Dominic Grieve, Tim Farron, and myself). It said: That this House calls on the US administration to release Shaker Aamer from his imprisonment in Guantanamo Bay; notes that he has now been incarcerated for 13 years without charge; further notes that he has twice been cleared for release and transfer, under President Bush in 2007 and President Obama in 2009; supports the call made by the Prime Minister for his release and return to the UK; notes the unanimous resolution of the House of 17 March 2015 that Shaker Aamer be released; and asserts that the defeat of terrorism will only be achieved by upholding the principle of the rule of law - to the protection of which Mr Shaker Aamer is entitled.

The United States Administration have now announced that he will be released back to Britain in thirty days’ time. Some suggest it may take even longer, though common decency dictates that he should be returned to his family straight away.

Once he returns we will wish to know precisely what has happened to him over these 14 years, and any involvement at all by British state personnel, acting presumably in our name. This should matter to all of us in Sutton. Human rights are indivisible. They are not only for nice and decent people. They are for everyone. They are universal values. They cannot and must not be compromised.

Syria Crisis

The catastrophe that is Syria today does now seem to be achieving greater international attention, with serious discussions taking place at the UN General Assembly in New York about the approach that the international community should be taking.

After years of ignoring much of what was going on in Syria, the world has finally woken up to the fact that something needs to be done, urgently. It is time for us to accept that Assad is a major part of the problem, and may therefore need to have some role in the solution. Above all we need a political process and we need successful discussions between the Americans and Russians, building on the Kofi Annan former peace proposals. I am pleased to see that my proposal for safe havens (humanitarian enclaves) within Syria is gathering support. Most Syrians who have been displaced, and that is up to half the population of this second world country, would prefer to return home and rebuild their lives when the fighting is over, and not have to start a new life on a new continent.

Every day that a resolution to the crisis is not reached, more innocent Syrians die. So far, more than 200,000 people have been killed in the civil war. Let us hope that international leadership under UN auspices (after all it was precisely to resolve crises like this that the UN was set up) will now prevail.

Green Belt

At a recent well attended public meeting of nearly 400 people held in Sutton there was an overwhelming rejection of the Labour Council plans for building on Sutton’s Green Belt (and make no mistake – these are LABOUR plans put forward by a LABOUR Council and voted through by LABOUR Councillors in the teeth of Tory opposition).

This battle has many more stages, and the plans are clearly in breach of the National Planning Policy Framework, which states that “once established, Green Belt boundaries should only be altered in exceptional circumstance”. This was further clarified by Brandon Lewis, the Minister responsible for Housing, who stated that Green Belt should only be released “as a last resort”.

I hear there is idle talk from officials and Labour councillors - who should know better - that this is all “a done deal” and that there is no point residents taking part in the ‘consultation’ that the Labour Council has set up.

Needless to say, even this Birmingham Labour Council would not waste taxpayers’ money by setting up a false consultation exercise which is a sham, would they? Indeed, such behaviour would open the Council up to legal action, so thank you to all those Suttonians who have made their views clear and let us hope that Jeremy Corbyn’s promise that Labour will “listen to the people” will percolate even unto the inner councils of the Birmingham Labour Party.