HL Deb 09 June 1997 vol 580 cc760-1

2.50 p.m.

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

What discussions they have had at ministerial level with Bahrain, and whether their policy of encouraging democracy and human rights extends to Bahrain.

Lord Carter

My Lords, my honourable friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Mr. Derek Fatchett, met the Bahraini ambassador on 15th May and the Bahraini minister for communications and transport on 20th May. Human rights issues were discussed. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence met the Bahraini under-secretary for defence on 28th May. As my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary made clear on 12th May in his mission statement, we will encourage the pursuit of democracy and will put human rights at the heart of our foreign policy. That policy will apply equally in our dealings with Bahrain. We will continue to have regard for the many other aspects of our long-standing relationship.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, I am very glad to hear that Answer. Does the Minister recall that in 1973 a partially democratic constitution was granted by the emir providing for two-thirds of the parliament to be democratically elected but that in 1975 the emir abrogated that constitution and has ruled by decree ever since? Will the Government seek to persuade the rulers of Bahrain, with the help, if possible, of their European Union partners and the United States, that the leaders of the opposition who are now detained without trial should be released and that they should enter into discussions with a view to reintroducing the 1973 constitution after a lapse of 22 years?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I am afraid I have had a rather heady cocktail of vaccinations. I apologise to the House. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, raises questions in relation to the role of the UK Government and the restoration of democratic government in Bahrain. We are discussing these matters. I do not think that any of my noble friends would dissent from the view that we should like to see the pursuit of democratic principles throughout the world, and that the same applies in Bahrain. However, we must show mutual respect for traditional forms of government. As the noble Lord will know, the shura, the consultative system, is long-established in the Arab world. It is not for us to dictate the form and time-frame for political change. However, the noble Lord may be assured that we will encourage the Bahraini Government to pursue wide-ranging consultation in determining Bahrain's political future.