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16 Feb 1999 : Column 832



Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord): With permission, I shall put together the motions relating to delegated legislation.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

Rating and Valuation

    That the draft Development Commission (Transfer of Functions and Miscellaneous Provisions) Order 1999, which was laid before this House on 27th January, be approved.


    That the draft Education (Student Support) Regulations 1999, which were laid before this House on 4th February, be approved.

    Education (Scotland)

    That the draft Education (Student Loans) (Scotland) Regulations 1999, which were laid before this House on 8th February, be approved.--[Mr. Robert Ainsworth.]

Question agreed to.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 119(9) (European Standing Committees),

Reform of the Common Agricultural Policy

Question agreed to.

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Mr. Deputy Speaker: With permission, I shall put together the motions relating to delegated legislation. Ordered,

School Standards and Framework Act

    That the Rent Acts (Maximum Fair Rent) Order 1999 be referred to a Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation.

    Education (Infant Class Sizes) (Grant) Regulations

    That the Education (Infant Class Sizes) (Grant) Regulations 1999 be referred to a Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation.

    National Institute for Clinical Excellence

    That the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (Establishment and Constitution) Order 1999 and National Institute for Clinical Excellence Regulations 1999 be referred to a Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation.--[Mr. Robert Ainsworth.]

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mr. Robert Ainsworth.]

9.52 pm

Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East): Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for this opportunity--[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord): Order. I shall be grateful if hon. Members leave the Chamber quickly and quietly, so that we can proceed with the Adjournment debate.

Mr. Vaz: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am grateful for this opportunity to raise the situation in Yemen that has developed over the past two months. The issue is of relevance, not only to the families and friends of those who have been taken hostage or detained in Yemen, but to all those with an interest in the middle east as a whole, and to the British Asian community.

At the start, I should declare my interest: I am the chairman of the all-party group on Yemen. My parents went to Aden from Bombay as economic migrants; they were part of the immigrant Indian community living in British-occupied south Yemen in the 1950s, and I was born in Aden in 1956. I spent the first nine years of my life there, before leaving with my family to escape the escalating conflict. I was educated at St. Joseph's Convent school in Aden and have wonderful memories of my early childhood in Yemen. They were some of the happiest days of my life--eating sardine sandwiches on the beach in Aden, watching the great ships preparing for the Suez canal. In my wildest dreams, I never envisaged one day speaking on this subject in the British Parliament.

I returned to Yemen for the first time last year, when I led a delegation of representatives from the travel industry to promote relations between our two countries. In Sana'a, I met President Ali Abdullah Saleh, the Ministers of Health, Culture and Justice and the Speaker of the Yemeni Assembly. I also spent a day in Aden and returned to Sana'a by car, without incident.

Returning to Yemen brought home to me just what investment opportunities the country holds for Britain and the immense good will that exists towards Britain. Much has changed, but Yemen remains a beautiful and special country. It is no wonder that so many people want to visit it and return there even after being taken hostage.

Yemen is an extremely difficult nation to comprehend, although it is very familiar to British people. I have already mentioned the under-populated south, which was ruled by the British until 1967, and many young men in the 1950s completed their national service at the station there, including, I am told, the father of our Prime Minister. After the British left, south Yemen was taken over by Marxists, while the much more heavily populated north never came under colonial rule.

The country was united in 1990, but unity was initially not solid, and a civil war broke out in 1994. What is more, in the rugged and mountainous north, the Government's authority is weak, and independent tribesmen seek to control vast areas of the country. That is ideal terrain for hostage-taking, and 132 hostages have been taken in Yemen since 1992.

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The foundation of the recent crisis can be seen in those historical and geographical problems. Before moving on to the crisis, however, I should like to pay tribute to the role played by President Ali Abdullah Saleh, since he came to power in 1978, in maintaining a stable Government in spite of those enormous difficulties and steering the course of reunification. In the past year, he has been aided by Prime Minister Iryani and the democratically elected Assembly.

The recent crisis, like the country's history, is riddled with complexities. Three sets of hostages have been taken; two groups of people have been arrested and detained; there have been problems concerning people with dual nationality, and there is a melting pot of value systems, ranging from traditional tribal beliefs to rising Islamic awareness.

The crisis began on 28 December, when 16 western hostages were taken. I am sure that I express the sentiments of the whole House when I offer my condolences to the families of Ruth Williamson, Margaret Whitehouse and Peter Rowe, who were killed the following day. Clearly, a number of questions need to be answered about exactly what happened on 29 December and why the rescue attempt went so tragically wrong. I understand that teams from Scotland Yard have been in Yemen since then. Will my right hon. Friend the Minister shed some light on the work that they have been doing, the level of co-operation that they have received from the Yemeni authorities and what, if any, discoveries they have made? How many officers from Scotland Yard are in Yemen and what have they been doing there?

Just as we offer our condolences to the families of the dead, our thoughts go to the nine British survivors of the rescue attempt, as well as John Brooke and Eddie and Mary Rosser, who were taken hostage in January and later released. No one can imagine what an ordeal it has been for them to have been taken as hostages.

At the heart of the current crisis is the case of the British men who have been detained in Aden. Confusion seems to have surrounded the case of Gulam Hussain, Sarmad Ahmed, Shahid Butt, Mohssin Ghailan and Malek Nasser since they were first detained on 24 December. What were they doing in Yemen? Why did it take until 7 January for final confirmation to be received that those five men had been detained? Why did it take until 14 January until they were charged and why did not the trial begin until 27 January? What truth is there in the allegations by the five men of torture and sexual abuse?

In the conversations that I have had with Yemeni Ministers, they have made it clear that allegations of torture are untrue and that they have complied with every reasonable request. However, I should be glad to hear from my right hon. Friend what issues are still outstanding.

I have also spoken to Gareth Pierce, the lawyer acting for those detained. She has stressed the importance of allowing the detainees access to an independent doctor. What progress can my right hon. Friend report on that issue?

I should also stress that although the detainees were charged quickly, the trial is proceeding extremely rapidly, perhaps much too rapidly, and, as the House knows, has restarted today. It is important that sufficient time is given for the defendants to prepare their case.

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On 14 January, I met the families of the five men. I do not wish to pre-judge the case of the five men, but the families struck me as honest, decent, ordinary citizens, shocked by what had happened to their loved ones, in search of sympathy--

It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mrs. McGuire.]

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