HL Deb 13 December 1999 vol 608 cc8-10

2.56 p.m.

Lord Avebury

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they raised human rights and democracy with the Amir of Bahrain during his visit to Britain.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal)

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary raised human rights in accordance with our ongoing policy of constructive engagement on such issues. He welcomed the positive steps that the Amir has taken towards national unity and to improve Bahrain's human rights situation since his accession, and offered our assistance and advice on human rights sues.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, but she did not mention "democracy" which was the other part of my Question. Is not one of the most fundamental rights of every adult to participate in the control of public affairs? Therefore, will the Government encourage the Amir to enter into a dialogue with the leaders of the Committee for Popular Partition about the restoration of the 1973 constitution and parliament? Further, even if they are not prepared to introduce democracy immediately, will the Minister advise the Government of Bahrain that the expression of a willingness to do so in principle and to have a dialogue with that committee on the modalities and the time-scale would do an enormous amount to decrease tension in the island?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government have spoken with the Amir. We found that cur policy of constructive engagement on sensitive issues, such as human rights, was more successful than any approach taken hitherto. Of course, this is an opportunity for us to engage, and engage well, will the Amir to forward the general democratisation process. We are very hopeful that that government will be sensitive to the matters raised by us.

Lord Tebbit

My Lords, will the Minister be unnerved to discover that I agree with her? Further, in order to strengthen her case, will she take into account that if Her Majesty's Government were to lecture the Government of Bahrain on these matters, they might be expected to lecture the Government of China, of Russia and of a good many other countries on exactly the same matter? I do not think that that would be conducive to good international relations.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I am very relieved to know that there is a matter on which the noble Lord and I can perhaps concur. I doubt that it will be a rare occurrence, but I am happy to grasp it as it arises.

We have engaged in a very constructive way with the Bahrainis on matters of mutual interest, including human rights. We have also discussed their concerns. Since his accession in March, the Amir has taken positive steps towards reconciliation with the Shi'a population of Bahrain and the opposition, which we have welcomed. Thus the process appears to be in good order.

Viscount Waverley

My Lords, are not women and youth the most effective catalyst throughout the Middle East for the embracement of human rights and democratic principles? Can the Minister say whether there are any projects encompassing women and youth which are available for the Government to support?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I have no specific answer to the noble Viscount's question but of course I endorse what he says. It is important that young people and women of all countries have such opportunities so that we can enhance human rights to ensure that our future is a little better than our past.

Lord Renton

My Lords, I spent a few days' holiday in Bahrain some years ago, and I found the people there happy and prosperous. Will the noble Baroness say how an extension of democracy and human rights would make them any happier?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, it is not for me to comment on whether they would or would not be happier. Certainly, your Lordships will be familiar with the Government's position in relation to these matters. Of course, we seek to have harmonious international relations with all countries. We are happy that we are well on the way to confirming and consolidating those steps in relation to Bahrain.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, from the Minister's reply to my supplementary question I was not quite clear whether the matter of democracy was raised. Without seeking to lecture—we get enough of those from the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, when he is present—I ask her once again whether the Amir was specifically asked whether he would enter into discussions with the leaders of the de facto opposition; that is, the Committee for Popular Partition, on the restoration of the 1973 constitution and the 1974 parliament. That is a simple question.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I do not have a specific answer to the noble Lord's question. I know that issues of sensitivity were raised. For the purposes of the Question, I have assumed that they were, but I certainly undertake to write to the noble Lord with a specific answer.

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