Thursday 24 October 2019



Closing address to the 21st Cetinje Forum Monday 30 September 2019

John Austin addressing the Cetinje Forum Sept 2019 

As the theme of this forum has been the media and parliament, I am not sure of my qualifications to speak today.  I have been retired for ten years, hold no political or public office and am not accountable to anyone.  Nor am I journalist, unless you accept the definition by Patrik Penninckx* that, in these days of social media, we are all unregulated journalists now.  But I have also been asked to comment on the role of the Forum and inter-Parliamentary dialogue.

Earlier this month, following the UK/Canada sponsored Global Conference on Media Freedom, the British Group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union held a seminar on media freedom in London whose declared goal was to mobilise parliaments to speak up for media freedom.  The urgent tone of that conference reflected an acknowledgement by many that the decline in press freedom around the world - evidenced by record number of killings and imprisonment of journalists - represents a threat to free societies and to the rule of law.

Earlier this month the U.K. Parliament's cross party Foreign Affairs Committee published a stinging report criticising the U.K. Government's response to the murder of the journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta, the killing of Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, and the kid glove attitude to Turkey despite sweeping evidence of violations of media freedom. The UK’s Foreign Affairs Committee report said that government initiatives should "move beyond the rhetoric and demonstrate real impact in defence of media freedom" and criticised the government for having been "too reliant on the goodwill of governments who have been the worst perpetrators".

But alongside the protection that must be afforded to journalists, there are also concerns about the takeover or media capture by political and partisan forces and in some countries the misuse of state resources for party political ends such has been seen in Russia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Hungary and Brazil.   I would draw your attention to a recent presentation** given by theUniversity of Sheffield to the BGIPU seminar, which shows clear media bias in Poland in support of the governing party.

But also, as Patrick Penninckx* has said, the concentration of media ownership in a few hands is of major concern in many countries, including my own.  Consideration needs to be given to the kind of regulation that might be needed to ensure diversity in ownership and control of the media.

But in addition to the media, we must recognise the important role that NGOs play in holding public institutions to account and the need for parliamentarians to protect them.  Of course rules of transparency need to apply to NGOs but NGOs are not enemies of the state when they criticise governments, politicians or political parties.  They are one of the checks and balances that are an essential part of the democratic process in a free society.

Margareta Cederfelt* spoke of the vital scrutiny role of MPs.  It should not need saying, but Parliamentarians themselves need protection if they are to fulfil their scrutiny role in holding the executive to account.  That is why the watchdog role played by the IPU through its Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians is so important.

Since scrutiny is one of the major roles played by MPs, I hope you will forgive an impertinent comment from a guest on parliamentary boycotts – which seem to be a recurring feature in some parts of this region.

As a partisan aside, strangely, in my country it’s not the opposition but the Prime Minister and the government who seem to want to boycott Parliament.

Parliamentarians must make their own decisions based on their own situations but I would like to draw your attention, and to the attention of any political parties advocating boycotts who are not here today, some recent research carried out in this region, commissioned by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy*** which provides evidence to suggest that political parties carrying out boycotts were in a worse regulatory environment when they returned to parliament than before.  Absence of MPs from parliament also means less scrutiny.

For parliaments to function it is vital that there is dialogue between MPs from differing parties but there is also a need for dialogue between parliamentarians from different countries – a need that has been partly met in this region through the Cetinje Forum but we should welcome and support other initiatives.

Following the Western Balkans Summit in London last year, the British Group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union convened a parliamentary seminar focussed on the need for the role of Parliaments to be strengthened in the Berlin Process. At that seminar, one of my successors as Chair of the British Group of the IPU, John Whittingdale, welcomed the initiative of the Bulgarian Parliament who were organising a seminar on the Western Balkans later that month in conjunction with the European Parliament and he expressed the hope that regional parliamentary meetings would continue. He also stressed the importance of including young people and women in the political processes and referred to the work of the Regional Youth Co-operation Council and its unique network of young people.

The importance of parliaments involving other sections of society in the dialogue was touched on by Violeta Tomic* who referred to the need to involve under-represented and marginalised groups in society and of the growth of hate speech and fake news. We need mechanisms for engaging with women, young people and under-represented groups.  

It is also important to ask how people get their news and information.  My generation received news mainly from the printed media and broadcasting. My children’s generation receive their information less from newspapers and more from television and, more recently, social media.  My grandchildren’s generation, however, receive almost all of their news and information from peers and through social media.

Regulating the printed and broadcast media has thrown up problems – finding a balance between free speech and regulation, openness and privacy, and ensuring diversity in media ownership and control has proved difficult.

Social media throws up a new set of problems. How do you control fake news and hate speech?  With the printed and broadcast media it should be relatively easy because you know who said what.  But how do you regulate or fact-check social media?  The issue was raised by one of the contributors from the floor who referred to the use of bots, mechanically generated messaging, following filters and use of algorithms that draw us into echo chambers reinforcing our preconceived views and cultural tribalism.  

We see the use of sock puppets, false identities established with the aim of deception and manipulation of public opinion.  These are real challenges for our legislators with no easy solutions, but hopefully dialogues like today, between the media professionals and parliamentarians will help.

I conclude with some remarks about this Forum.  In 2002/2003, as Chair of the British Group of the IPU, I was approached by some Montenegrins, including the Deputy Speaker of the then State Union of Serbia and Montenegro, for support from the BGIPU to set up a Parliamentary Forum for the Balkans.  I think they might have been expecting some financial support, which we were unable to provide, but we did give active support and advice and encouragement and it led to the convening of the first Cetinje Forum here in 2004.  A forum for dialogue in a region which was emerging from war and national, ethnic and political conflict – a dialogue in keeping with the spirit and aims of the founders of the IPU, the French MP Frédéric Passy and the UK’s William Randall Cremer, who in 1889 had brought parliamentarians together to engage in dialogue to promote representative democracy and peace.  

2004, left to right Vlado Šibalić ,BGIPU Secretary Kenneth Courtenay, John Austin and Deputy Speaker Dr Milorad Drlevic. Dr Drlevic and his parliamentary adviser Vlado Šibalić were instrumental in the creation of the Forum but both left political office after independence. Dr Drlevic now heads the Medicines and Medical Devices Agency in Podgorica.

I was pleased to be invited to the first Cetinje Forum in 2004 together with my colleague Nigel Evans MP, who went on to become Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons – we come from different parties and from opposite wings of those parties and we have deep and profound political differences. We argue, and on some issues we find common ground, but where we don’t that doesn’t end the dialogue.  

2019 left to right Milorad Drlevic, John Austin and Vlado Šibalić at the Medicines and Medical Devices Agency, Podgorica.  Vlado Šibalić has recently returned to a post with the parliament in Montenegro.

Having addressed the first Forum in 2004, I was pleasantly surprised to be invited to return to address this 21st Cetinje Forum, celebrating your 15th Anniversary. I wish to congratulate our hosts, the Parliament of Montenegro for today’s event and we can reflect on a remarkable achievement of 15 years of dialogue. I look forward to the Cetinje Forum going from strength to strength in the coming years, contributing to peace and stability in this beautiful region.


*refers to speakers who contributed to the debate
Patrik Penninckx – Head of Information Society Department, Council of Europe
Margareta Cederfelt – Vice-President OSCE Parliamentary Assembly
Violeta Tomić – Member of Parliament, Slovenia

**Sheffield University presentation to BGIPU Seminar

***The WFD Report can be found at:

Details of the BGIPU Seminar can be found at

Monday 21 October 2019

OUR ALLOTMENT - Life on The Weald, August 2019

OUR ALLOTMENT - Life on The Weald, August 2019

After our break in Ireland we were pleasantly surprised on our return to see that all was well on the plot and in our garden at home.  August has been a month for weeding, watering and picking but again there have been distractions that have kept us away.

The supply of first early potatoes came to an end last month and we began to lift some Charlotte. We almost completed lifting them last month and have started on the Nicola.  We have also had a good crop of runner beans which are now past their best but still edible. The early sown dwarf French beans are now finished but the late sown ones are producing a prolific crop. Hopefully the late sown Kelvedon Wonder peas will be ready to harvest next month.

Crown Prince squashes are among the most tasty and they also store well. They grow to about 2 - 3 kg. I had two growing very close together on the same stem and were just touching so I picked one, which weighed 1.6kg , leaving the other to grow on.

Crown Prince Squash 2 August
The tromboncinos were doing well...

Tromboncino 2 August

.....and at home we had a good crop of golden cherry tomatoes

golden cherry tomatoes 2 August

On the plot the pumpkins were growing to a good size and I had reduced their number to two

Pumpkin 2 August 
We picked some runner beans at the beginning of the month which were very tender and not at all stringy.
Runner beans 2 August
The courgettes, however, had achieved giant proportions

My courgette and my no.9 (43) shoe! 3 August
But then came another distraction! It was time to Ride London - watching not riding! but it did take up the whole weekend.  Saturday was a great day for the public - all the roads in the City of London traffic free - except for cyclists - and there was a massive turnout of all ages.

Ride London 3 August

warming up for the women's classique

Ready for the start - Women's Classique 3 August
Sunday was the big race - the Surrey/London 100 - and this year there was a change to the course with 5 climbs of Box Hill.

After a weekend in London it was back to nature.  My aubergine in a pot in the garden had one small fruit that had set and was producing more flowers.

Aubergine grown outdoors 7 August

Aubergine grown outdoors 7 August

home grown tomatoes 9 August

a good truss of home grown tomatoes 9 August
My brother had given me the pack of seeds about 18 months previously. Clearly a bargain!

today's picking 10 August
We were picking a bowlful of tomatoes almost every day.

Back on the allotment there were lots of green vegetables to be had.  The cavolo nero was excellent - it's a magnificent cut and come again vegetable.

Cavolo nero 13 August
We had a plentiful supply of French beans from our late sowing and they were plump tender pods.
French beans 13 August
We managed to harvest a few plums which had not been infected by brown rot, but sadly lost most.  But we had a plentiful supply of courgettes and cucumbers as well as the beans, squashes and greens. I also picked some of the leaves from the purple sprouting broccoli.
a good haul 13 August

Tromboncinos climbing at last 13 August

purple curly kale 13 August

runner beans - slightly past their best 13 August

a selection of squashes - tromboncino and patty pan 13 August
The white silver chard was also doing well. The stems can be cooked as a vegetable in their own right and the leaves can be used as spinach - or for a change stuffed as a substitute for vine leaves

....and our squashes lend themselves to all sorts of stuffings - vegetarian, cheese or meat

squashes, baked with a cheese and herb stuffing in a tomato sauce

squashes, baked with a cheese and herb stuffing in a tomato sauce

tromboncino and courgettes (or marrow!) 17 August

tromboncino, patty pan and courgette 23 August
Another distraction was my 75th birthday.  Not only were we entertaining seventy plus family and friends, but 13 were actually staying in our house.  But even the birthday party had an allotment theme.  My daughter-in-law, Nicole, had created an allotment on my cake, complete with raised beds and vegetables - all edible except for the bean-poles!

Nicole's creation 24 August
Needless to say but a lot of the cards had a horticultural theme (the rest seemed to be about wine!)  But one card stands out - it was another allotment, but this time hand embroidered by my nephew's wife, Sue.

Sue's creation 24 August
The weekend had coincided with the 40th anniversary of the release of the film Quadrophenia, commemorating the mods v rockers battles in Brighton in the 60s and we came across these as we left the party venue in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Outside The Gather Inn, Hove 25 August
 I had been busy in the kitchen over the birthday week-end as in addition to a party on the Saturday night we were organising a barbecue and buffet at home on the Sunday.  I was planning to roast a whole salmon and most of the cook-books and chefs describe cooking a 2.5kg - 3kg fish.  I knew what I was doing but just checked with them for oven temperature and timing.   When I ordered the fish, my local fishmonger said they did not usually have salmon that small and that their smallest was usually about 4 kg.  So I ordered one, but on the day, the smallest they had was over 5kg and I had a mild panic as to whether it would fit on the oven.

My 5kg salmon 24 August
One solution would have been to cut it in half, a head end and a tail end, cook them separately and put it back together after cooking.  But in the end I was able to bend it to just about fit my largest roasting tray.  And it worked!

We had also been given a Turk's Turban squash by my embroidering niece (who has her own allotment in Pagham).

Sue's Turk's turban 25 August

With my Crown Prince and tromboncinos,

Crown Prince

Crown Prince 25 August
....spicy barbecued squash was on the menu

And we had plenty of fiery cayenne peppers to liven things up

Cayenne peppers from the garden
Most of our chilli peppers are growing in pots in the garden or the conservatory but I have planted some out on the allotment and hopefully they will ripen next month.

For the last few days of August we were still entertaining family members but did manage a last trip to the allotment to harvest some veg. The month was drawing to a close and summer almost over but there was a plentiful supply and we will be harvesting fresh green vegetables well into the autumn and then it will be time for the winter leeks.

Chard, kale and cucumbers 27 August

French beans 30 August
It has been a very productive and enjoyable month.

John Austin

Hove, August 2019

Monday 14 October 2019

OUR ALLOTMENT - Life on The Weald, July 2019

OUR ALLOTMENT - Life on (and off) The Weald, 

July  2019

I visited the allotment on 1st July but then we were away for the first fortnight, relying on Luke to do the watering  - otherwise it might have been a complete disaster. He was rewarded by having unlimited supplies of raspberries for the children's smoothies - and we've had some raspberry jam in return from him as well. 

On that first visit in July things seemed to be progressing well.

1 July

The brassicas seemed pest-free (but in need of weeding)

The "cabbage patch" 1 July

 The courgettes were flowering and some beginning to set

Courgettes 1 July
 And the runner beans were beginning to flower

Runner beans 1 July
But then we abandoned the plot for 10 days for a trip to Spain to see old friends in Andalusia and visit the Alhambra in Granada




and then it was back to the kitchen to enjoy the food in Santa Pola!

home cooking

a paella in progress

the finished article

When we returned to Hove, around the middle of the month, I harvested the remaining onions, shallots and garlic.  It had been a disappointing year. Some had rotted during the earlier period of torrential rain and others had suffered and not swollen during the later dry spells.  Next year I will definitely plant in a different area and prepare the soil in advance.

The peas sown earlier in the year were ready for picking and they were so sweet it was difficult to get them as far as the kitchen, let alone the saucepan or steamer.  They have been so good that I have made successional sowings so hope to be picking until the autumn.  The late sown broad beans are ready for picking but have been heavily infested with blackfly.  Not wishing to use chemical sprays we have hosed them down from time to time which does reduce the problem, and a good proportion survived, but picking was still a messy job!  Next year I will resort to the old fashioned remedy of spraying with soapy water and I think I will only sow in October and November (in a a less publicly viewable part of the plot to reduce the risk of theft) and sow more peas in the early months of the year.

We have begun to lift the Second earlies, starting with Charlotte. Some have grown quite large and most are of a good size.

Charlotte potatoes 13 July

There are, however, always a few pea sized potatoes which are hardly worth picking as a food supply - although they can be added to soups - but it is essential to remove them all from the ground. If left, it's certain that they will start sprouting in the following year, precisely where you don't want them. They may suddenly appear in the midst of a newly sown row or row of seedlings and their continued presence will harm the new crops by stealing nutrients, and pulling them out may also disturb the new crop.  Another reason to make sure you don't leave any in the ground is that there is a risk that they will become infested over the winter with creatures or fungus which could threaten the whole of next year's potato crop.  That's another reason why crop rotation is so important.

It is also important to maintain vigilance whilst the potato crop is growing.  Any leaves that die back or turn yellow should be removed as a precaution in case it is a fungus that can cause blight in the tubers if the leaves fall to the ground.  And whatever you do, don't put diseased plants or leaves in the compost. Burn them or dispose of them off-site.

There are loads of cabbage white butterflies this year and a regular inspection of brassicas is required.  Fortunately we have not been seriously affected, although I have removed a number of eggs from the underside of leaves or removed the leaves altogether. The few live caterpillars that have been spotted have been squished or removed - it is advisable to do this with gloves as some species can cause severe skin irritation.

We sowed a few lettuces in May and June and these need to be inspected regularly for slugs and snails. I planted some Little Gem, which are diminutive cos lettuces, plus some oak leaf lettuces and red leaved lollo rosso and they need to be picked before they bolt.

The rhubarb is still prolific. We haven't made any rhubarb gin yet this year nor rhubarb jam but we have had regular helpings of stewed rhubarb and ginger, served with crème fraîche, and we have donated loads to neighbours and friends.

The first Courgettes appeared last month and it is important to pick them when they are young, firstly because this will encourage the growth of more but also because they can double in size in a day! And then you have giant marrows.  

Courgettes 17 July 

There are only so many courgettes you can eat, even if you make courgette cake and soufflé, and courgette soup, and stuff them or bake them or make zucchini ravioli or spiralise them to make "courgetti  spaghetti". And what do you do with all those jars of marrow and ginger jam when you still have some left over from last year?  Even the neighbours say "no" after a while to the offer of yet another marrow. The best solution is to find a neighbour who likes to make pickles or jam and let them do the work and offer you a jar or two in return for the gift. Fortunately we have, so there is a jar of pickle with our name in it.

We are not short of vegetables this month. We have loads of chard and perpetual spinach, some of which we planted and some which has self seeded and pops up all over the plot.  It's just as well we like it.

The cavolo nero and curly kale has done well. They say cavolo nero is best picked after the first frosts around October time.  We can't wait that long and we have been steadily picking throughout July. The plants are heavily infested with whitefly and clouds fly about when you shake the plant or pick the leaves. I find it's best to shake the plants and hose them down before picking and then wash again before taking home to avoid them flying about the kitchen.  They don't seem to harm the plant in any way.

Brussels sprouts 13 July

Purple curly kale 14 July
Cavolo nero 14 July

Kalettes 14 July

Outdoor cucumbers have been a disappointment this year. The English ones were particularly disappointing but we did have some large ones from the pepino plants grown from a cheap packet of seeds bought in Spain last year.

I had also sowed some more French beans directly into a raised bed and by mid July they were making progress and then put on a sudden spurt.

French beans 13 July
French beans 22 July

We harvested the first of our lettuces and beetroot - and sowed some more beetroot.

Little Gem 13 July
I had grown some Aubergines from seed at home in the conservatory and transplanted them to pots on the patio which was becoming somewhat crowded so I transplanted some to the allotment but I fear they will be too late to fruit.  I gave several away to neighbours who have greenhouses so I hope some of those might produce.

  By mid-July the runner beans were in full flower

Runner beans 13 July
Our pumpkin plant had produced two fruits but had several more flowers.  I pinched out the growing tip to allow the two fruits to develop - and they did grow rather rapidly! 

Pumpkin 13 July

The plants think they own the allotment with the right to spread anywhere, so having pinched out the growing tips we have removed the fast growing sideshoots and lifted the Pumpkins from the earth and put a tile or paving slab underneath which hopefully will reduce the risk of insect or slug damage.

Pumpkin 22 July

Pumpkin 22 July
In addition to the courgettes, squashes and pumpkins, I had also planted some tromboncinos and in July these were developing nicely.

Tromboncinos 22 July

Tromboncino 22 July

Tromboncino 22 July
They only have seeds in the bulbous end.  The thinner part is a bit like courgette but seed-free and when picked young and green they can be treated like courgettes.  

Tromboncino 27 July
If left to get bigger, the skin becomes harder and the seeds develop in the bulbous end, like butternut squash and at this stage they can be cooked in the same way as butternut squash.

The patty pan squashes, when young can be sliced and fried or steamed like courgettes.

Patty pan squash sliced
We have grown different varieties but the yellow ones seem to have softer skin.

Patty pan squash 27 July

If they are left to get bigger, the seeds develop and the skin gets tougher, and then it is best to slice off the stalk end, remove the seeds and stuff and bake or steam them.

The beetroots are also very good this year and delicious when boiled or oven roasted with herbs.
Beetroot ready for the oven
Some of the lettuces appear to be ready to bolt so it is important to pick them before they do as they may become bitter.
Liitle Gem, patty pan and courgettes
We have had a massive crop from our squash crop this month and there are more to come.

Patty pan squashes

A variety of squashes picked in July

 A few years ago we invested in a spiraliser, which comes in very handy when you have a glut of courgettes.  They can be eaten raw in salads or used as a pasta substitute - veggie spaghetti. Or they can be thinly sliced for Lasagne, or to make ravioli parcels.

Courgetti spaghetti!
They can be baked with herbs and spices, make excellent curries and soups and courgettes can be used in souffles or as an alternative to carrots in cakes.  I also recommend marrow and ginger jam!

We also began to harvest the last crop of potatoes, second early Nicola and they are delicious.  We have been self-sufficient in potatoes since the end of April and looks like these will see us into August.

2nd Early Nicola potatoes

At home, in the garden, we have been giving the tomatoes and peppers a fortnightly feed and been pinching out the new shoots on the tomatoes to encourage the growth of more fruits and we have begun to harvest them. I have transplanted a couple of cayenne pepper plants to open ground on the allotment so am hoping for some sunshine and a good crop of chillies!

Two further disappearances from the plot - towards the end of the month I was twice in London for the London Marathon Charitable Trust.  On the first occasion to open the newly renovated Skateboard  park at Southbank..............

20 July Southbank

20 July Southbank

20 July Southbank

and later in the month to open the new children's playground in Greenwich Park.  Whilst in Greenwich, I had to go down memory lane and visited the oak tree on Blackheath that I had planted in 1988.

23 July

23 July

The month was drawing to a close when we abandoned the plot and the garden again for a visit to Belfast to see family there.  We did the active bit and explored the Giant's Causeway

Giant's Causeway, Antrim
 But also found a pub or two.....

....and the Bushmills distillery to immerse ourselves in the local culture.

At home, in the garden, we have been giving the tomatoes and peppers a fortnightly feed and been pinching out the new shoots on the tomatoes to encourage the growth of more fruits and we have begun to harvest them. I have transplanted a couple of cayenne pepper plants to open ground on the allotment so am hoping for some sunshine and a good crop of chillies!

We are looking forward to a plentiful harvest in August.

John Austin

Hove, July 2019