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Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, or even if they have been so briefed—

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, is trying to impute to me something that I am not about to say and which is not true. I hope that his sotto voce intervention will have missed the Hansard Reporters.

It is important that we keep the dialogue going. However uncomfortable this morning's discussion may have been at times—I imagine that it was—it is important that that dialogue is actually taking place. In his letter of yesterday, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, gave me a lot of information. I was pleased to receive it, sad to read it, but determined that we should do something about it. The British ambassador will call on the Interior Minister, Shaikh Mohammed bin Khalifa, tomorrow morning so that the specific cases mentioned in the noble Lord's letter can be raised. I shall of course respond.

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Both noble Lords referred to the recent disturbances in Bahrain. It is true that apart from the incidents that have been mentioned in tonight's debate, the overall situation has been calm for some time. However, it is critically important that every effort is made to address the issues peacefully. Dialogue is the only way in which the government and the Shia leaders will achieve a proper resolution of those issues. Therefore that dialogue must continue. Perhaps we can help with the problem of unemployment among the young. The Bahrainis will want to tackle that issue. We have been discussing it. Unemployment among the young is a very particular issue in Bahrain. It is something with which we can help. I know that the outcome will take some time, but we can address problems together.

We are also clear that the situation with regard to detainees needs to be looked at. Detention without trial is not right. We have always maintained that. We know too that the Bahraini authorities share that view. Some of the detainees have now been charged and trials have begun. As the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, said, a large number of detainees have been released without charge. I am told that releases are continuing on an almost daily basis. For instance, 150 prisoners were released in a special amnesty to mark the Eid holiday in May. But I still share the concern about the series of cases about which we continue to hear. I might offer noble Lords an open invitation to do as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, never ceases to do, which is to give us the information as he receives it, just in case it has not reached us by some other means. I am glad that the noble Lord brings the information to our attention.

I am told that most of the women who were detained have now been released. We do not have evidence of systematic sexual or physical abuse of female prisoners, although that has been alleged on a number of occasions. If there is such evidence, I would expect the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and others to bring it to our attention, and we would condemn it strongly.

The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, cited the cases of 43 children aged between 10 and 16 who are in detention. I believe they are regarded by the Bahrainis as teenagers. It is a matter of concern that some of them may also have been involved in the disturbances, and so perhaps the rather softer attitude—perhaps the too soft attitude—we sometimes take to youngsters in this country is not mirrored by the action taken in Bahrain.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, before the Minister leaves the subject of children, will she respond to my point about the access to children by parents and guardians? An important feature of the system is that the authorities do not let the parents see the children, sometimes for periods of upwards of a month.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I am obviously concerned about that, and I was just coming to what the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said about the failure to give parents access to children. That is yet another point which I would expect our ambassador to be able to take up in some detail. It is important that we take this matter in a measured way, examining each case as it comes and taking it up with the Bahraini authorities.

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In Bahrain there are people who are genuinely aware of and committed to human rights. Indeed, Bahrain is already a party to two international conventions—one on racism and one on the rights of the child. It is in that context that many of the cases which have been discussed should be taken up. We urge Bahrain to consider ratification of other instruments which are part of the international human rights conventions such as instruments on torture and political and civil rights. They are important. If only there were a greater understanding of them, the whole question of dialogue between government and those of opposing views might be undertaken in a framework of greater understanding than is currently the case.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, spoke about the need for fair trials. He knows full well that we would expect fair trials for those who have been accused. Subject to Bahraini procedures, we believe that it would be helpful if foreign observers were able to monitor the trials. That is something which we should look at.

A number of other points were made. I should detain the House too long if I were to go into some of them in detail, and there are a couple upon which I wish to check before I respond.

I do not believe that violence will lead to a resolution of Bahrain's problems. That is the view also of the Government of Bahrain. There are there occasions, as in other places around the world, when in order to contain disturbances some police may use excessive force. I do not believe that that is generally the case. It is true that if one has to use tear-gas and rubber bullets, as the noble Lord will know, people are sometimes hurt who should not have been caught up in the conflict, but that happens on both sides. I am sorry that when the demonstrations became violent last December the use of tear-gas and rubber bullets led to the death of several demonstrators, and many more were injured. Policemen too were killed in the course of their duty at that time. That is why I said that it is dialogue, not violent disturbances, which will change society in Bahrain. The answer is peaceful dialogue, not confrontation.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, also commented on a certain Mr. Ian Henderson. I wish to make it clear beyond peradventure that Mr. Henderson is not a representative of Her Majesty's Government or of Britain. We cannot take responsibility for every British citizen overseas, and what he does is his own responsibility. He is not placed in Bahrain by us. We have nothing whatsoever to do with him. To quote a famous phrase, "He is not one of us".

I want to come to one of the questions that I know interests Bahrain. It is that of foreign dissidents in the UK. It must sometimes seem strange to governments of other countries—it even seems strange to some of our own number, I must say—that opponents of other governments find their way to London, and it is from London that they conduct their opposition. There are times when their actions are disgraceful. No foreigners who break our law or act in a disgraceful way, as do some opponents of foreign governments, are welcome here.

We have both ancient parliamentary law and modern case law. We are not always free to act as we would wish with some of these so-called visitors from overseas. They do not act according to our way of thinking. They should

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not think that we approve of them or their activities. The ways in which some dissidents exploit Britain's freedoms and our legal appeals procedure are thoroughly reprehensible. Some people use the faith of Islam as a cloak for terrorism. We all know that the terrorism that is so exhibited is just as much a threat to Arab governments as it is to Western ones. It has nothing to do with Islam.

On the question of those foreign dissidents in the UK, I am just saying that there are some here who we wish were not here, and there are those who use their presence here not just to disgrace their own countries but to seek to disgrace ours as well, and they are not welcome.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, if the Minister has any knowledge of persons who, purporting to be refugees in this country, are planning and perpetrating acts of violence, she should report it to the police. I do not know of such people. I have heard such language being used by the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister, and now by the Minister. Without any shred of evidence, it labels a whole community as being potential terrorists and criminals. That is not fair.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I am afraid that the noble Lord takes remarks made about a few as being our general view. That is not so. I repeat that those who come here and claim, as some do, to be acting on behalf of other countries and who literally encourage terrorism are not welcome here any more than they are in their own countries. They are the few, but it is always the few who let down the case for proper dissension and who undermine the chance of dialogue for the opposition in a country such as Bahrain. The noble Lord should not credit me with saying things that I neither said nor meant—

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. I would not expect her to engage in any kind of generalised attack upon refugees, asylum seekers and so forth. That would not be in character. However, it

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is right to observe that sometimes criminal activities are undertaken but it is not clear that information about them reaches the ears of the police in good time for action to be taken. One could not have an example clearer than the recent arrests in relation to the attack on the Israeli Embassy and on a Jewish charity in Finchley. I believe that it is unreasonable to cite the remarks of the noble Baroness as suggesting an overall attack on all refugees and asylum seekers.


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