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Column 798Stevenson, George
Strang, Dr. Gavin
Taylor, Rt Hon John D (Strgfd)
Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold
Column 798Wigley, Dafydd
Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Wright, Dr Tony
Young, David (Bolton SE)
Tellers for the Noes: Mr. George Mudie and Mr. Robert Ainsworth.
Column 798Question accordingly agreed to.
That this House takes note of European Community Documents No. 7596/95, on establishing a control system applicable to the Common Fisheries Policy, No. 7465/95, relating to Community financial contribution towards certain expenditure incurred by the Member States in implementing the monitoring and control system applicable to the Common Fisheries Policy, and No. 8817/95, concerning a proposal for a Council Regulation establishing the list of species to be recorded in the fisheries logbook and landing declarations; welcomes the agreement reached at the Fisheries Council on 15th June on fishing effort levels; and supports the Government's efforts to secure effective measures to monitor and enforce fishing activity in Western Waters, including the Irish Box, while not placing unnecessary burdens on the fishing industry.
That Mr. Timothy Kirkhope be discharged from the Accommodation and Works Committee and Mr. Derek Conway be added to the Committee.-- [Sir Fergus Montgomery.]
That Mr. Elfyn Llwyd be discharged from the Welsh Affairs Committee and Mr. Cynog Dafis be added to the Committee.-- [Sir Fergus Montgomery.]
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Wood.]
Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Hillhead): I begin this debate by congratulating the Minister of State on his new appointment. I feel sure that the murder and mayhem of the middle east with which he will now have to grapple and the potentates and dictators with whom he will have to deal will prove to be a more tranquil billet than his previous position. I am sure that his famous good nature and good manners will prevail, and that he will do a good job for our country in that difficult and turbulent part of the world.
I want to raise the issue of our relations with Kuwait for a number of reasons. We have a long and close relationship with the Emirate of Kuwait, and in a sense we invented Kuwait. The father of my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) was in the tent when the famous line in the sand was drawn, and one part of the sand was designated to be Kuwait and another part of the sand was designated to be Iraq. That line has caused many problems ever since, but that is a subject for another debate.
Not only did we invent Kuwait: to a real extent the ruling family of Kuwait was returned to its throne and its all but absolute power at the point of British and American bayonets. That gives us a clear focus of concern about some of the many problems that afflict that benighted country.
When I describe the ruling family as such, I really mean it. I remarked a little while ago in the House that 11 of the top 12 Ministers in the Government of Kuwait, and four out of the five provincial Governors, share the same surname and are members of the same family. The Amir is Jaber As- Sabah. The Crown Prince and Prime Minister is Saad As-Sabah. The Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister is Sabah As-Sabah. The Minister of Amiri Affairs is Khalid As-Sabah. The Minister of Information is Jaber As- Sabah. The Minister of the Interior is Salim As-Sabah. The Minister of Defence is Nawaf As-Sabah. The Minister of Oil is Ali As-Sabah. The Governor of Ahmadi is Ali Sabah As-Sabah. The Governor of Jahra province is Ali Abdullah As-Sabah. The Governor of Kuwait province is Jaber As-Sabah. The Governor of Faranawiya province is Ahmad As-Sabah. I could go on, but I see that the Minister would prefer it if I drew my own line in the sand at that.
Kuwait is not so much a one-party state as a family business, and one that owes more to the Corleones than to the Sainsburys. It is my contention in this debate that the As-Sabah family and business are a disreputable lot indeed. The internal repression in Kuwait and the lack of basic human rights and democracy is legendary. It was bad before the Iraqi dictatorship's invasion and it is worse now, despite all the promises that were made to western public opinion, to justify the armed intervention. Some $690 billion was expended in returning the family to its thrones. Many lives were lost--many western lives, many British lives, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of other lives that were lost.
No doubt the Minister will tell me about what is laughingly described as a parliament in Kuwait. It is a parliament with no woman member, and for the members
Column 800of which no woman can vote. Only male full citizens over 30 educated to university standard may vote. Fewer than one in 10 Kuwaitis have the right to vote. Some democracy; some parliament. The Minister may mention, as has been done before, the press and the media in Kuwait, which are more free than in some of the other dictatorships round about, but it is far from a free press, with censorship and self-censorship everywhere. One newspaper was recently closed down for criticising the royal family.
Of all the human rights atrocities committed by the ruling family in Kuwait, the worst and the greatest is that against the people known as the Bedoons. There are more than 300,000 Bedoons--one third of Kuwait's native population. Half of them--150,000--have been driven into refugee camps in the desert across the Iraqi border by the regime and left there to bake and to rot. The other 150,000 are treated not as second-class or even fifth- class citizens but not as any sort of citizen. They are bereft of all rights.
The human rights organisation Human Rights Watch/Middle East has said:
"The totality of the treatment of the Bedoons amounts to a policy of denationalization of native residents, relegating them to an apartheid-like existence in their own country. The Kuwaiti government policy of harassment and intimidation of the Bedoons and of denying them the right to lawful residence, employment, travel and movement, contravene basic principles of human rights . . . Denial of citizenship to the Bedoons clearly violates international law . . . Denial of citizenship and lawful residence to Bedoon husbands and children of women who are Kuwaiti citizens violates rules against gender-based discrimination."
That violates the United Nations conventions to which Kuwait is a signatory.
The report continues:
"Denying Bedoons the right to petition the courts to challenge governmental decisions regarding their claims to citizenship and lawful residence in the country violates the universal right to due process of law and equality before the law.
By retroactively implementing restrictive citizenship and residency laws, Kuwaiti authorities deprive Bedoons of their vested rights to state citizenhip and residence."
I could go on.
It is a scandal that almost no one in the world cares a thing about the plight of 300,000 people, 150,000 of them cast out of the land in which they have lived. Many were born to Kuwaiti mothers, and many of those families have lived in the Kuwaiti area for many centuries. Indeed, given the ruling family's penchant for spending time on the Riviera or in the west end of London, many of them have spent a great deal more time in Kuwait than many of the members of the ruling family.
Literally hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, Sudanese and Yemenis were also sacked from their jobs, evicted from their houses and deported from the country, including constituents of mine who were born in Kuwait, who had never been in any other country but Kuwait and who had loyally served Kuwait, but who, because they were Palestinians, were kicked into the Yemen or into Iraq, where many of their families continue to live in appalling conditions. They are the very people whose labour, skill and dedication built much of the wealth of Kuwait.
Many times in the past five years, I have detained the House by speaking about individual atrocities against human rights. I have told the House about the British citizen Sulaiman Al-Adsani, who was tortured by a
Column 801member of the Kuwaiti royal family, Sheikh Jabar Al-Sabah, who was put in a swimming pool which was afloat with six dead bodies, who was repeatedly held under the water in that swimming pool, and who was then burnt, suffering 25 per cent. burns all over his body, such that one year later he continued to wear protective clothing.
I have told the House about Naim Farhat, whose father and younger brother were shot dead protecting her honour, and who was herself raped and shot in the head, such that she is paralysed and permanently disabled, by a policeman in the Kuwaiti state employ, and for whom absolutely no compensation has ever been paid. The criminal, the murderer, the rapist, was sentenced to the grand total of five years in prison.
I could go on and on about the problems that have afflicted so many citizens in that country, but I intend to speak not only about the behaviour of the ruling family in their own country, but about their behaviour in our country, which gives so many people in their district so much shame and embarrassment. I could detain the House with legendary tales from the casinos and bordellos of London about members of that rapacious family, with more money than sense and fewer morals than the pound notes in their pockets.
However, I want to confine myself to the case of the London business man, Mr. Salus, which is described in early-day motion 748, supported by no fewer than 66 Members of the House from every party in the House, and by several peers of the realm, senior Conservatives, senior Liberal Democrats and senior members of the Labour party. I table plenty of motions in the House. Few reach 66 signatures, fewer have any Conservative names on them, and fewer still have the support that that motion has.
The Minister knows the case well. It is that of a London business man, a married man with a young family, ruined by the decision by two princesses of the Kuwaiti royal house, Princesses Nadia and Fatemah Al-Sabah, who commissioned him and other British contractors to renovate flats in Kensington in London and who, midway through the contract, without warning, liquidated their limited liability company and walked away from their liabilities to those British contractors, ruining all of them. Some of them died; the marriages of others broke up; all of them suffered terrible hardship as a result of that dreadful decision.
When Mr. Salus began to be concerned that his bills were not being paid, the princesses' fellow director pulled out a copy--I have it with me--of a Hello -style photo session in Harpers and Queen, in which the beneficence and massive wealth of the princesses was profiled. The Minister will say that it is a commercial matter, that it is a limited liability company, and that, under the law, it can be liquidated, but as a Minister of the Crown he must know that it cannot be morally acceptable for multi-millionairesses who are members of the Kuwaiti royal family to walk away from their debts and obligations in that way. He and the British Government have an obligation to have a word in the ear of the Kuwaiti Government and royal family to ask them to pay their debts to a man who has been ruined and bankrupted by this decision.
Column 802Members of the Kuwaiti royal family can put £75,400 on a turn of the roulette wheel in London casinos, but they will not pay up to people who did work in good faith, trusting the honesty- -the bona fides--of members of the royal family of a friendly country, which was returned to power by the sweat and blood of British and other allied forces' arms.
The question is a moral, not a legal or commercial, one. Imagine if members of the British royal family decided not to pay their debts in a foreign country and made a company bankrupt. I do not believe that it could ever happen, but if it did, it would be a source of shame to the British people, and the British Government would have something to say about it.
Our relations with Kuwait are close and of long standing. We have influence there; its investments in Britain are legion, and our economic interests there are legion. I am asking not for a breach in relations with the Kuwaiti Government, but simply, quietly if need be, for the Minister to have a word in their ear about the Salus case and about other instances of behaviour unbecoming to a country that is so indebted to the British state.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Jeremy Hanley): The hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway) has given us an opportunity to debate our relations with Kuwait. This has been a significant year for UK-Kuwait relationships, and has been marked by the highly successful state visit of His Highness the Amir in May, following the Kuwaiti Foreign Minister's visit in February. We also look forward to the Princess Royal's visit to Kuwait in November.
Last year, visitors to Kuwait included my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary and my right hon. Friends the Defence Secretary and the President of the Board of Trade. Those visits are symbolic of the closeness of our relationship, which is based on a friendship dating back over 200 years.
Our friendship is founded on close co-operation in many fields, particularly in defence. For many years, long before the discovery of oil, Kuwait's status as a British protectorate helped to ensure its independence and territorial integrity. That formal relationship ended in 1961, but Britain has continued to work closely with one of its oldest friends in the region. That was apparent immediately after Kuwait became a state in her own right, when we deployed troops in response to a military build-up and threatening moves by Iraq. More recently, Britain played a key role during the Gulf war, and was the first to respond last October when Iraq again threatened Kuwait. Defence is only one, albeit important, aspect of the relationship. I am pleased that our trade with Kuwait is growing. The presence tonight of my hon. Friend the Minister for Trade is proof positive of that excellent relationship. Our exporters have played a leading role in the post-Gulf war reconstruction of Kuwait and in helping Kuwait to re- equip its armed forces.
British exports in 1994 were worth £312 million, and our performance is strong in many sectors--not least, of course, oil, where companies such as British Petroleum have a long and successful record of involvement. We expect that that involvement will create further
Column 803opportunities, if and when Kuwait decides to allow foreign investment in the upstream sector of its oil industry. As usual, the Government will do all they can to help and support British companies that seek to do business in Kuwait.
The hon. Gentleman referred to a commercial dispute. We are aware of the dispute involving Mr. Salus and two members of the Kuwaiti ruling family, which is several thousand strong. We hope that lawyers acting for both sides in the dispute will meet soon, and that the dispute can be resolved as quickly as possible, but we cannot intervene in a commercial dispute of this nature, which, if necessary, should be pursued through the courts.
Mr. Galloway: What would the Minister say if I told him that, just prior to the Amir's visit, the Kuwaiti embassy told me that members of the embassy would meet soon and resolve the matter? I was told that, if I would only stay my hand and desist from causing any difficulties during the Amir's visit, the matter would be resolved. I did so, and raised no protest of any kind during the Amir's visit. I behaved impeccably, but the embassy welshed on that promise. So I suspect that whatever the Minister has been told about a meeting that might take place soon is the same kind of falsehood that was conveyed to me.
Mr. Hanley: I would say that we have mentioned the case to the Kuwaiti embassy, which I believe also has no standing in this dispute. It has been trying to arrange a meeting between lawyers acting for both sides in the dispute, and I hope that that will occur as soon as possible. More than that we cannot do, but I am sure that this debate will come to the attention of those to whom the hon. Gentleman referred, who may realise the urgency of the matter. I also welcome the fact that parliamentary links are well established and flourishing. Madam Speaker was able to welcome her Kuwaiti colleagues here last year, and several hon. Members have visited Kuwait since then. Hon. Members may be aware that, last year, the Kuwaiti National Assembly organised and hosted the first inter-Gulf parliamentary conference.
Every country has the right to develop its political structure in accordance with its culture, heritage and traditions. The ruling family, Government and people of Kuwait have an impressive record. We are encouraged by the contribution made by the democratically elected National Assembly in Kuwait since the election in 1992. We also support recent decisions to extend the franchise to some naturalised Kuwaiti citizens and their male offspring, and we hope to see further extensions in the future. The hon. Gentleman referred to that, too. Our links and co-operation with Kuwait are flourishing in other areas too, including medical training and research, education and culture. Each year, an ever-increasing number of Kuwaitis visit this country as holidaymakers, students and longer-term residents. They are most welcome, and I hope that their presence will help to promote a better understanding of Islam and the west, and of our respective cultures.
Some of our Kuwaiti visitors may be wondering what effect the European Union's common visa list will have on their visits once it is introduced. It was not in our power to block the common visa list, which could have been adopted by a qualified majority after the end of this
Column 804year. We could not persuade our European Union partners that four Gulf states--Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab
Emirates--should be excluded.
We expect the majority of Gulf state travellers to be eligible for multiple -entry visas, and we aim to make the issue of visas as simple and straightforward as possible. Unlike most of our partners, we do not operate a system of post-entry checks. We hope that our many Kuwaiti visitors will not be inconvenienced as a result of the common visa list.
I shall now deal with the threat that continues to hang over Kuwait and Britain's interests there. I refer, of course, to Iraq. Our aim is to ensure that Kuwait never again suffers at the hands of Saddam Hussein. To this end, we co-sponsored United Nations Security Council resolution 949, which makes it clear that any substantial Iraqi military build-up and deployment towards the Kuwaiti border will be met with a robust response.
Saddam has often demonstrated that he cannot be trusted, and it is essential that we maintain the pressure on him. This House will know that we remain resolute in our view that Iraq must comply with all relevant United Nations obligations before sanctions can be relaxed. The United Nations special commission's recent revelations about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programme demonstrate how important it is to remain firm. Some have suggested that the time has come to relax sanctions for one reason or another, but there is no reason to believe that Saddam is repentant. To relax the sanctions regime now would risk allowing Saddam to threaten the region again. The reason most often advanced for a relaxation of sanctions is the plight of the long-suffering Iraqi people. We share that concern. We took a leading role in the adoption of Security Council resolution 986, which allows Iraq to sell oil to purchase humanitarian supplies. Sadly, Saddam rejected that offer. We urge him to reconsider, and to ease the suffering of the Iraqi people. He is to blame.
Resolution 986 was welcomed by Kuwait and other countries in the region that share our concern. Kuwait itself has donated humanitarian aid to alleviate the suffering of Iraqi refugees in Iran. As my hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson) will be aware, the Amir gave a very generous donation to this cause during his state visit.
One area of Iraqi non-compliance which causes us great concern is the issue of Kuwaiti prisoners of war and detainees, including other third-country nationals still missing in Iraq. The physical scars of the Iraqi occupation have been removed by Kuwait's impressive reconstruction programme. That unresolved issue, however, prevents the deeper psychological scars from healing and continues to cause much anguish and anxiety for the relatives and families of those missing in Iraq.
I know that several Members of this House take a close interest, and have visited Kuwait recently to discuss that and other subjects. They and others may welcome an account of what we are doing to press Iraq to provide substantive information on the missing persons. Under the terms of UN resolution 687, Iraq has a clear obligation to co-operate with the International Committee of the Red Cross in its efforts to obtain information on prisoners of war and missing persons. Britain is a member of the tripartite commission, which was set up to monitor
Column 805progress. We are very disappointed that progress has been so slow. Iraq has had the Red Cross case files on missing individuals for nearly three years, and has so far failed to provide substantive information on all but a few of them.
We have made it clear that we expect Iraq to provide some answers at the next meeting of the tripartite commission in November. We will continue to raise this issue in the Security Council at each review of sanctions against Iraq, and will take every opportunity to press Iraq to comply with its UN obligations in that and every other respect.
We are aware of the concern expressed about a number of human rights issues in Kuwait. We welcome the fact that the Kuwaiti Government permit international human rights organisations to visit Kuwait and conduct fieldwork there. The Kuwaiti National Assembly has established an effective human rights committee, and there is a local chapter of Amnesty International now established in Kuwait. Kuwait's democratic system allows for a thorough debate of local issues, which are fully reported in the media. We have made known our concern on specific issues, and will continue to monitor the situation. A particular problem exists--the hon. Member made passionate reference to it--with a group of people known as the Bedoon Jinsiya, who are those without nationality. They are stateless persons, primarily of Iraqi or Iranian descent. The United Nations Commission on Human Rights estimates that there are 130,000 Bedoon remaining in Kuwait. The hon. Member mentioned those who are outside it. The Kuwaiti Government regard many of them as illegal immigrants, who have chosen to conceal their true nationality. However, some have strong residence ties. Her Majesty's Government welcome the fact that the Kuwaiti Government have set up a committee to examine the Bedoon problem and recommend possible solutions.
Mr. Galloway: I appreciate the Minister giving way again. I must tell him that those who briefed him have misled him, inadvertently no doubt, on the origin of the Bedoon, whom he describes casually as of Iraqi or Iranian descent. I am sorry if that allegation disturbs the Minister, but they are of Iraqi or Iranian descent only in the sense that perhaps many in the House are of French descent. William the Conqueror came here many centuries ago, and no doubt some here are the progeny of those invaders.
Column 806These Bedoon have been in Kuwait for many centuries. If they are of Iraqi or Iranian origin, it is from a time when neither Iraq nor Iran existed. It is facile to describe them thus. Every human rights organisation accepts that these are people with an overwhelming claim to Kuwaiti citizenship.
Mr. Hanley: I accept what the hon. Gentleman says about some of the Bedoon, who have lived in Kuwait for several decades and are the spouses or children of Kuwaiti fathers. That group has a good claim to Kuwaiti citizenship. Many of the Bedoon, however--it is likely to be about 80 per cent. of the estimated 130,000 who remain in Kuwait--are citizens of other Gulf countries, and predominately Iraq. They came to Kuwait to benefit from its generous social services, free health care, free education and low-cost housing. They chose to conceal their true identity. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman can deny that that case exists. A committee has been set up by the Kuwaiti Government to examine the Bedoon problem and to recommend possible solutions.
The trials of alleged collaborators by the martial law court, and more recently the state security court, have also caused international concern. We and our EU partners have told the Kuwaiti Government that international legal and human rights standards should be respected. We welcome the fact that the state security court has been abolished. We understand that the court of cassation has been active in reviewing state security court cases and has altered sentences, including the commutation of the death penalty, in a number of cases.
Similarly, we welcome the fact that the Kuwaiti Government have set up an office to look into complaints of abuse against domestic workers, primarily from south-east Asia. We hope that the provisions of Kuwaiti labour law can be extended to protect the rights of these workers.
I hope that hon. Members will agree that Kuwaitis are good friends, with whom we have much in common. We share a strong trading and maritime tradition, and we have both faced unwarranted aggression. Hon. Members familiar with Kuwait may be aware of the diwaniya system, which allows Kuwaiti families and friends the opportunity for full and frank discussion of every conceivable subject under the sun. Our relationship with Kuwait is conducted in similar fashion, and the fact that it is so close today is a tribute to good open communication based on shared interests.
Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at eighteen minutes to Eleven o'clock.
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