HL Deb 12 March 1979 vol 399 cc357-60

2.42 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the second Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government why, in view of their concern for human rights, they advised Her Majesty the Queen to accord a State visit to Saudi Arabia.


My Lords, Saudi Arabia is an important country with which we have long enjoyed friendly relations, to our mutual benefit. There is a large British community in the Kingdom, which is our largest market in Asia. Her Majesty's visit, as part of Her tour of Eastern Arabia, was entirely appropriate.


My Lords, while appreciating the necessity to balance the economic interests of royal visits with the characters of the régimes visited, may I ask my noble friend whether it did not put Her Majesty in an invidious position to arrive in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, the very day after there had been a public amputation in the centre of that city?


My Lords, I have myself had the privilege and high duty of accompanying Her Majesty as Minister in attendance on her visits to more than one country—countries which vary very much in their internal policies. I know of no country to which I have been with Her Majesty, and to which other Ministers have accompanied her, where the internal policies could be described as entirely congenial to public opinion in this country. I think we should be careful not to apply to any country our own well-founded traditional as well as subjective repugnancies to certain practices. These things may be applied to us by other countries, who sometimes find in our usages aspects which deeply offend them. In any case, the way to achieve a higher common factor of humanitarian practice in all countries is for contacts, especially contacts of this kind, to be amplified and multiplied.


My Lords, rather than carping at a friendly Government which has made great progress in recent years, would it not have been more appropriate if the noble Lord had also paid some tribute to the wonderful job of work which Her Majesty did on this most successful tour?


My Lords, I believe it is to my noble friend that the noble Lord opposite is referring. I am quite certain that my noble friend, like me and the noble Lord who has just spoken, would be among the first to pay the highest tribute to the devotion to duty and the sheer expertise of Her Majesty in everything she undertakes.


My Lords, would my noble friend not agree with me, and perhaps with other Members of your Lordships' House, that if Prince Philip can go to Moscow then surely his wife is entitled to go to Saudi Arabia?


My Lords, I would also agree, I think with the entire House, that it is high time my noble friend Lord Shinwell took his place once more at this Box.


My Lords, would the noble Lord consider sending a copy of his most admirable Answer to President Carter?


My Lords, as I have been referred to on the other side, I would ask your Lordships to accept that there was not the slightest intention of casting any slur on the work which, I agree with my noble friend, Her Majesty has done in an excellent manner on her trips; but that is not the point I was raising. Would my noble friend not agree that there does come a time when one has to balance organised, institutionalised terrorism along with the economic and strategic interests of this country when advising Her Majesty as to which countries she should visit?


My Lords, on the first point, I think I made it absolutely clear in my response to the intervention by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, that I assumed that my noble friend Lord Hatch joined us all in paying tribute to Her Majesty. On the second point, I gave my view—and I think it is widely held—that in a world where countries' practices, philosophies and even religions vary so much, the best way to strive for a working congeniality of practice is by frequent visits and getting to know each other better, so that we move closer to a basic consensus of humanity. I am sure that it is not by keeping away from each other, however obnoxious from time to time they or we may find certain practices in each other's policy. It is not in that way that we can aim at the essential unity of the various peoples of the world. It is a matter of opinion, and I am sure my noble friend Lord Hatch will give his attention to my opinion as well as I have to his.

The Earl of AVON

My Lords, would the noble Lord agree that the BBC coverage of Her Majesty's visit was very poor, and would it not be a good idea to encourage the BBC to provide us with a full-scale coverage of what took place so that we could all be better educated as to what happens in Saudi Arabia?


My Lords, it is not entirely for me to answer that one, I think, but I am always in favour of encouraging the BBC.


My Lords, would the noble Lord not agree that, in the present situation in which the BBC finds itself in regard to its licence fee, it is very difficult indeed for the BBC to cover so many activities abroad?


My Lords, I am sure that is a very fair statement indeed, to which the entire House will pay proper attention.