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Westminster Hall

Tuesday 24 June 2014

[Mr James Gray in the Chair]

Human Rights: Saudi Arabia

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Gavin Barwell.)

9.30 am

Katy Clark (North Ayrshire and Arran) (Lab): It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Gray, and to have the opportunity to open this Adjournment debate on human rights in Saudi Arabia. I am very grateful to have been allocated this slot. I am not quite sure how Adjournment debates are chosen, but this is an important subject that requires scrutiny and therefore I am very grateful for this opportunity today.

The UK Government accept that Saudi Arabia has a poor record on democracy and human rights, particularly in relation to women. The country is deemed a “country of concern” by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Indeed, Saudi Arabia has one of the worst records in the world for executions. More than 2,000 people were executed between 1985 and 2013. The most recent Economist Intelligence Unit democracy index listed Saudi Arabia as the fifth most authoritarian Government in the world. Saudi Arabia is ranked equal to Burma and even lower than Iran in that index. However, although other countries with appalling human rights records are criticised and, indeed, action is taken against them, Saudi Arabia is often courted.

The Saudi Arabian authorities react to those pressing for democratic rights or political change with repressive measures. Protesters are held without charge and without access to the outside world for days and, indeed, weeks on end. Some are reported to have been tortured or otherwise badly treated. Many people have been taken to trial simply for taking part in demonstrations. Independent human rights organisations are banned. There are protests in the eastern region by members of the minority Shi’a community who allege long-term discrimination on grounds of faith. The security services are alleged to have used excessive force against those protesters.

Migrant workers comprise about one third of the population and are inadequately protected against exploitation and abuse by their employers. We regularly hear of examples of migrant workers being badly treated and, in particular, women being abused sexually and treated badly in other ways.

Let me give some examples of the treatment of those who take a different view from the Saudi Arabian state. Zakaria Al Safwan, a writer, was sentenced to 10 years in prison last November for writing an article entitled “In Defence of Peaceful Protest”. Waleed Abu al-Khair, who set up the Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, has been imprisoned, harassed and banned from travelling outside the country. Similarly, Raif Badawi was imprisoned and sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison on 7 May for setting up a peaceful liberal website. Charges against him included breaking allegiance with the King. New terrorism laws were used

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against him and have increasingly been used against human rights activists. Another human rights activist, Fadhel al-Manasif, received a 15-year sentence and a 15-year travel ban under the new terrorism laws. That was for charges such as breaking allegiance with the King and being in contact with foreign news agencies in order to exaggerate news and harm the reputation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its people. New terrorism regulations include such offences as calling, participating in, promoting or inciting sit-ins and protests.

Other recent convictions include those of Wajeha al-Huwaider and Fawzia al-Oyouni, who founded the Association for the Protection and Defence of Women’s Rights in Saudi Arabia and were sentenced to 10 months in prison and a two-year travel ban after giving food to a Canadian woman who had been left in her house without food supplies by her Saudi-born husband.

David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): Will the hon. Lady give way?

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): Will the hon. Lady give way?

Katy Clark: I will give way to the hon. Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson), as I heard him first.

David Simpson: We all know that Saudi Arabia is a very advanced country in many ways, but the persecution of Christians is rife in that country. It allows Christians to enter the country for temporary work, but does not allow them to practise their faith openly, even with Bibles or any Christian symbols. Surely more can be done by the Foreign Office or whatever in London, because we do a lot of business with Saudi Arabia. Surely more pressure can be brought to bear for the defence of Christians and their beliefs.

Katy Clark: The hon. Gentleman makes an incredibly important point and one that has been raised by a number of Members of the House on many occasions. Indeed there is persecution in relation to the Christian community and a number of other religious communities. We need to have a consistent position in relation to the defence of the rights of people to hold religious views and practise their religion and, indeed, to hold no religious views and practise no religion.

Daniel Kawczynski: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Katy Clark: I would be delighted to give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Daniel Kawczynski: I am speaking as the chairman of the all-party group on Saudi Arabia. The hon. Lady is making all these allegations about human rights abuses. May I ask her this in the first instance: has she ever visited Saudi Arabia?

Katy Clark: The hon. Gentleman has asked me that question before. I am aware that he has visited Saudi Arabia and has suggested that I do so. However, the trips that are being suggested are funded by the Saudi royal family and I personally do not think that that is an appropriate way to take part in a visit. I therefore have not visited Saudi Arabia and frankly, from what I have heard, have no particular wish to travel to Saudi Arabia, particularly for pleasure purposes.

Daniel Kawczynski: Will the hon. Lady give way?

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Katy Clark: I will give way one more time. The hon. Gentleman is chair of the all-party group. He has made these points to me before in debates, but I would be happy to hear them again.

Daniel Kawczynski: The hon. Lady says that she does not wish to visit Saudi Arabia. I think that it is very important for her to take the opportunity of visiting that country before she makes all these allegations. Let me tell her that there is a growing list of Labour Members of Parliament who have been with me to Saudi Arabia and seen the situation for themselves by interacting with human rights organisations and women’s rights organisations and who have a very different perspective from the hon. Lady.

Katy Clark: I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that it would have been appropriate for him to make reference to the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. The trips to which he is referring are funded by the Saudi Arabian royal family and, as I have indicated, I have no wish to take part in a trip that is funded in that way. If a trip is funded in a different way, that may be a different issue, but as I have said, from what I have heard, it would not be my top holiday destination to go to for pleasure purposes. He has made these points to me before. He may have the opportunity to speak later in the debate and expand on what he wishes to say, but we have debated these issues on the radio previously and I suggest that the focus in this debate should perhaps be on what is happening in Saudi Arabia, rather than on whether I personally should go on a trip organised by his all-party group.

There are many more examples of human rights abuses that are narrated by organisations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International and, indeed, many people who have travelled to Saudi Arabia and have reported back on what is happening there.

The court system in Saudi Arabia falls far short of international standards for fair trial. Defendants are rarely allowed formal representation by lawyers and in many cases are not informed of the progress of legal proceedings against them. Torture allegations are widespread.

Saudi Arabia has a guardianship system for women and girls that means that they are forbidden from travelling, conducting official business or undergoing certain medical procedures without the permission of their male relatives. Likewise, under uncodified rules, women are not allowed to marry without the permission of their guardian. Unlike men, they do not have a unilateral right to divorce. Also, they often face discrimination in relation to custody of their children. There are reports of women being unable to be provided with essential medical treatment because of the lack of consent from a male guardian.

I wish to use this opportunity to raise a specific case that I have raised previously with the Government—with the Prime Minister at Prime Minister’s questions on 30 April and in his statement to the House on 11 June, and with the Minister and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in correspondence, when I have specifically asked that the Government make representations in relation to this case. Despite that, the Government do not seem to have taken any action.

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I first became aware of the case in March, when I was contacted by a journalist who was covering the story. I was advised that Princess Alanoud Al Fayez, who lived in London, was raising concerns about the condition of her daughters, who had been kept in a compound in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, for the past 13 years. I later learned that as a result of her speaking with the international media, food supplies for two of her daughters, Princesses Sahar and Jawaher, had been stopped and no new food supplies were being allowed into the compound.

I met Princess Alanoud, who advised me that she was concerned that her daughters were being starved. Since then, their situation has become more desperate. The compound apparently has sea access, so although they have no access to fresh water, they are able to desalinate water to an extent because they have some primitive equipment that can be used to desalinate about 1.5 litres per day, but I am told that that is inadequate in the heat. The compound is large and their food stocks have quickly been exhausted. This is the 100th day for which they have not had access to new food. They have lost a considerable amount of weight, their health has been affected and time is running out. Princess Alanoud’s other two daughters are being held separately and she has no contact with them. All her daughters are in their late 30s or early 40s.

When I met Princess Alanoud, she asked for our help. She advised me that she had an arranged marriage to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia when she was 15, and he divorced her for the final time when she was 26. In Saudi Arabia, a man is allowed to have four wives at a time, and he can divorce one wife in order to take another. During the time she was married to him, she had four daughters but no sons. After her divorce, around 1983 or 1984, she maintained a reasonable relationship with her husband, but her daughters were put under house arrest in 2001 and she came to the UK in 2003. Since that time, private representations have been made to try to enable the daughters to leave the compounds in which they are kept, but without success.

The case is a sensitive one, because it involves close family members of the leader of Saudi Arabia. It also illustrates the poor state of women’s rights—indeed, those of all people—in Saudi Arabia, where most women are granted freedoms only at the whim of their male guardian. As Princess Alanoud described, however, legal guardianship laws do not normally affect women in the royal family, who usually have free movement. She said that when she and her daughters were in favour they had a wonderful life, but when they fell out of favour that changed.

I asked for this debate because of the poor standard of the Government’s answers to questions about that case and others that I have raised. Each time the Government are asked about it, they simply state that the case of the Saudi princesses is a matter for the Saudi Arabian authorities and for the family concerned, not for Her Majesty’s Government. Of course, there are millions of women in Saudi Arabia who have never had a wonderful life, but if that is how female members of the Saudi royal family are treated, it takes little imagination to work out the horrific situations that many other women in Saudi Arabia must suffer if their guardians do not hold enlightened views, given that women do not have independent legal rights.

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Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I congratulate the hon. Lady on bringing that matter to the Chamber for our consideration. In relation to the case of the Saudi Arabian princesses, has she been able to obtain opinions from all parties in the House? What have other parties done to help the campaign that she has spearheaded?

Katy Clark: The Opposition spokesperson, my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas), is here, and I expect that he will outline the position of the official Opposition. I say to the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who has been extremely helpful in this case—he has attended a meeting with the mother, as well as signing an early-day motion and letters to representatives—that a number of Members from all political parties have been extremely supportive. I could not extend such a description to Government spokespeople, however. I believe that there is a great deal of sympathy in all parts of the House, but unfortunately those who hold the power have not indicated that they share such a view.

Saudi Arabia was Britain’s biggest arms market last year. The Committees on Arms Export Controls report from 2013—the most recent available to the House—states that the value of arms exports licences amounted to more than £1.8 billion. That includes weapons that are likely to be used for internal repression, such as tear gas and other irritant ammunition, components of water cannon and CS hand grenades. The Prime Minister has visited Saudi Arabia several times, and the Saudi Government has had extensive contact with the UK Government. The Prime Minister has defended arms sales to the region, saying that they are “entirely legitimate”. The UK Government deny that the commercial relationship between the kingdom and the UK prevents the UK Government from speaking openly about the problems. Saudi Arabia clearly has a pivotal role in the region, but that is no excuse for the Government’s failure to take up human rights cases; indeed, that undermines our position in relation to other matters. The Government take up human rights cases in other countries, but they are reluctant to do so with Saudi Arabia.

I call on the Minister, in summing up, to outline in detail the Government’s position on human rights in Saudi Arabia, the action that the Government have taken on the case of the Saudi princesses, and the action that they have taken regarding the other human rights abuses that I have mentioned. Given what is happening in the world, the question of human rights in Saudi Arabia is important and requires a great deal more scrutiny. I look forward to hearing contributions from all parts of the House.

9.46 am

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): I speak as chairman of the all-party group on Saudi Arabia. The hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Katy Clark) suggested that the all-party group’s trips to the kingdom were paid for by the Saudi royal family, but they are actually paid for by the Saudi Government. They are, of course, registered appropriately with the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

We have to accept the hospitality of the Saudi Government when we take British parliamentary delegations to the kingdom, because there are insufficient funds for the House of Commons to pay for such trips.

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The most that one can apply for is a small amount of money from the inter-parliamentary group, which does not cover the costs of a large delegation. It is possible to apply, I think, only once in each Parliament. If we want to engage with a country such as Saudi Arabia and to take large numbers of parliamentarians from all political parties, under the current system of funding from the House of Commons we have to rely on the hospitality of our foreign hosts. If we are not to do that, funding will have to be made available, but I do not think that to push for such a measure would be particularly popular.

The hon. Lady seemed to say that accepting such hospitality was somehow inappropriate and that pressure was brought to bear on us. She suggested that because we are there thanks to the largesse of our hosts, the situation and the meetings we attend were managed and controlled. That is not the case, and I strongly urge her to listen not to me but to the large number of Labour Members of Parliament who have joined me on such delegations—not least the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann)—who have been to the kingdom and interacted with human rights organisations rather than simply listening to media coverage in this country. The BBC is adept at putting forward negative aspects of Saudi society, but it is not interested in disseminating information about positive aspects of the reforms that are taking place in the kingdom.

Katy Clark: A wide range of human rights organisations—particularly Amnesty and Human Rights Watch—have been to Saudi Arabia and produced reports on the situation. Does the hon. Gentleman not accept their conclusions?

Daniel Kawczynski: The hon. Lady will have to interact with those organisations and ask for their perspective. I can only give her my perspective as someone who has been to the kingdom on a number of occasions and interacted with those organisations—and by the way, not with chaperones or under their auspices, but by actually selecting organisations off our own bat, going to see them and interacting with them and with ordinary men and women in the street.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): On his visits to Saudi Arabia, has the hon. Gentleman been able to engage with the 1.5 million enslaved domestic workers, who have no rights beyond staying in their employer’s house? Has he raised any of the very serious concerns about the treatment of migrant workers in Saudi Arabia with the Saudi Arabian Government? What was their response?

Daniel Kawczynski: Later in my speech I will address how we raise human rights issues with our hosts. Yes, of course we have met a wide range of Saudi Arabian citizens—both ordinary men and women in the streets, and through various industries—and we get a perspective from those people.

I have been chairman of the all-party group on Saudi Arabia for the past eight years, since 2006. Unlike many MPs, who join a lot of all-party groups, I am a member of only two: the all-party groups on Saudi Arabia and Libya. I feel passionately about the importance of our strategic alliance with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which is an extremely important country of the most

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profound strategic importance to the United Kingdom, globally and, in particular, to the middle east. Our two countries co-operate on counter-terrorism and on trying to bring peace and stability to the middle east—at another stage I hope to share with the House the extraordinary work and effort that Saudi Arabia gives us in helping to fight terrorism and the extraordinary efforts and investments that it puts into de-radicalisation programmes, but of course this debate is specifically on human rights.

I have stated that the delegations that go to Saudi Arabia are cross-party, but we also welcome delegations from the Shura council to the House of Commons. Those delegations visit us on a regular basis. Many members of the Shura council are keen to come to the House of Commons, and they spend considerable time here trying to understand the procedures of our House and learning about the Select Committee process. They are keen to understand the Westminster model—which, as we all know, is highly respected across the world—so that they can learn from how Parliament works and take some of that information, expertise and experience back to the Shura council. Fundamental changes to accountability and transparency are taking place in the Shura council, and we are very pleased to be able to interact with our Saudi counterparts to give our perspective.

One of the most recent delegations even asked to come to visit my constituency of Shrewsbury and spend a day in our beautiful county town trying to understand how a parliamentarian interacts with his constituents and the local council, how a parliamentarian deals with people’s problems and what rights citizens have. Every time they come on these delegations, they give us a real sense that they are interested in learning from our experience.

I say to the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran that the Saudis are trying to pursue a system of evolution, rather than revolution. As the King has said to me in the past, there are conservative elements in Saudi society who are reticent about big-scale, radical, fast changes to the structure of society. The King is desperately trying to modernise and improve various aspects of society, but he has to move at a pace that the most conservative elements will allow. I think he wants to take the whole society with him in the transition that he and the country are trying to make.

Katy Clark: I have also met Saudi delegations over here; indeed, I have met a number of members of the royal family. When I raise human rights cases, members of the royal family often ask to meet me to try to persuade me that I simply do not understand what is going on in Saudi Arabia. Has the hon. Gentleman looked at the independent human rights assessments from organisations such as Human Rights Watch, which make it clear that, in their view, the human rights situation and the repression have become greater since 2011?

Daniel Kawczynski: The hon. Lady made that point a moment ago. My view is different from some of the conclusions that those organisations have come up with. I think they are perfectly entitled to those views, which we will debate. We always ensure that we take a large

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group of female MPs on all our delegations to the kingdom, which is extremely important. I am delighted by the interaction that many female British Members of Parliament have had with their Saudi counterparts during the course of our deliberations with the Shura council.

I have to tell the hon. Lady that there has been a major change in the number of women appointed to the Shura council. Women now account for 30 of the 150 members of the Shura council, which is 20%. She will know that women comprise 22.6% of the House of Commons, so Saudi Arabia has only two percentage points fewer women on the Shura council than we have in the House of Commons. Let us not forget that we have an awful lot more to do in our own country to empower women and ensure that they play their full role in the process of parliamentary democracy before we start castigating Saudi Arabia on certain women’s rights issues.

The hon. Lady will also know that recently not only have there been significant appointments of females to the Shura council, but women have been appointed as Ministers, which is an important new development. She will also be pleased that there has recently been a significant increase in Government jobs for women. Last year there was an 8% increase, and the Saudi Government are pursuing affirmative action deliberately to ensure that more women are employed in every aspect of Government Departments and Government operations.

The hon. Lady—and, I am sure, you too, Mr Gray—will also be interested that 473,000 women were in higher education last year, which compares with 429,000 men, so far more females are going to universities in the kingdom. What really pleases me is that the 473,000 women going to university compares with just four women who went to university in 1961. I am sure the hon. Lady will be pleased with that trajectory—from four females going to university in 1961 to 473,000 now. Even she will be pleased with the way in which those figures are coming about. Our Olympic games here in London welcomed the Saudi Olympic team, which for the first time had women representatives. Now, of course, there are major changes to the way in which girls are allowed to play and watch sports.

I asked the hon. Lady whether she had visited Saudi Arabia, and I know that she has been invited in the past. I am not saying this to her because I want somehow to trip her up, but I genuinely believe that if we are going to talk about a country, and if we are to get a good feel for what is going on in a country, it is helpful and beneficial to go there. I might have to take her with me somehow, without the funding of the Saudi Government. I am not quite offering to pay for her out of my own pocket, but if we can find some way for her to visit the kingdom without the Saudis paying, I will have to give that due consideration. It is extremely important to interact with Saudis themselves.

I will give one brief example of something that the delegation experienced on our last visit to Riyadh. We left all the official meetings and went to one of the parks in downtown Riyadh. All the children in the park were wearing English football T-shirts—Arsenal, Manchester United and others—because they are all passionate about English football. None of them was wearing a Shrewsbury Town football club T-shirt, which was rather disappointing, but they were all there, and

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they were keen to interact with us and talk to us as parliamentarians. We talked to them and their parents, and as a result of those interactions, we went to see organisations in which they were involved, without our chaperones or official Ministers. That is important, because it gives a perspective on what the Saudis themselves are feeling and how women feel about women’s rights in the kingdom. It is a very effective process to engage in.

I say to the hon. Lady that I am not here to defend Saudi Arabia in the sense of saying that there are no issues. Of course there are—it would be ludicrous for me to say that everything in that country is going well and that no more needs to be done—but which country does not have its share of social ills? If the Saudis and the Saudi media were to start looking at this country and evaluating and continuously pondering some of the problems we have as a society, they would find many problems that are different from the ones they have. I will not go into all the social problems that we have in this country—she is perfectly aware of the wide range of human rights issues and other problems that we face.

Of course the Saudis have their own issues, and we raise those with them at every opportunity, even in front of the King. British officials were petrified at the prospect that I might raise issues involving Christian rights in front of the King. They do not like British Members of Parliament raising such issues—I think that they think we will undo and destroy a whole year of their work in a five-minute conversation—but we do raise them. We talk to the King about the rights of Christians, and we talk to Ministers. I say quite openly that, as a practising Christian, I am not happy about the restrictions put on Christians working in the kingdom—the fact that they find it impossible to celebrate Christmas is regrettable—but we take the opportunity to go there and meet them, because we are good friends. Good friends can be open with one another and critical. They challenge us on other things involving the United Kingdom, but I assure the hon. Lady that we raise the rights of Christians and women with officials and even with the King.

Again, I urge the hon. Lady to join me, without her expenses being paid by the Saudis. We will find a way for her to come to Saudi Arabia without the Saudi Government paying for it.

Katy Clark: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman; he is being most generous. I raised a number of human rights cases in my speech, including the case of the four princesses currently being detained. Would the all-party parliamentary group be willing to take up those cases with the Saudi authorities?

Daniel Kawczynski: It is very much for the Minister to respond on the case of the princesses, but I will say that if the hon. Lady would like me to raise the matter with officials at the Saudi embassy, I would be delighted to go with her to do so. We can make representations together. I would be delighted to afford that to her.

Sir John Jenkins, as the hon. Lady will know, is our ambassador to Riyadh. On our last visit to the kingdom in February, we had very good deliberations with him. He is writing an important report at the moment on the Muslim Brotherhood. I take a strong interest in that, and I await the outcome of the report. I know that he is also very good at raising issues involving human rights with Government officials. I hope that the hon. Lady

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will have a chance to meet him when he next comes to see me at the House of Commons. I will, of course, inform her of that visit.

10.5 am

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): I am pleased that we are having this debate on UK relations with Saudi Arabia. I was fascinated by the contribution of the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski), who seemed to manage, towards the end, to draw an equivalence between the social and economic problems and human rights issues that we face in Britain and those in Saudi Arabia.

I remind the hon. Gentleman that more than almost any other country in the world, Saudi Arabia has virtually incalculable financial wealth and that, unusually for the rest of the world, it has a large number of public executions. The death penalty is rife, discrimination against women is systemic, migrant workers are denied any access to representation and frequently face deportation if they protest in any way, and the legal reforms that have been introduced do not apply to 1.5 million domestic workers.

I hope that in his visits to Saudi Arabia as a guest of its Government, the hon. Gentleman is able to raise those issues robustly. I hope that he reminds them that since Saudi Arabia has become a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, it has had a responsibility to accept the universal declaration of human rights, which includes the rights to free speech, representation, freedom from discrimination against women, religious freedoms, trade union freedoms and press freedoms. A large number of responsibilities go with that, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman’s group will make representations to that effect.

The hon. Gentleman also raised the canard of visits to Saudi Arabia. I freely admit that I have not been to the country. I would be happy to visit on an independent basis. It is possible for parliamentarians to go on an independent basis through the Inter-Parliamentary Union, as he is fully aware. I find it odd that he says that the only way for MPs to visit is as guests of the Saudi Government, but no doubt he, my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Katy Clark) and I will form a delegation, and we can robustly engage on matters of human rights. I am sure that he will be utterly convinced by the arguments put forward by my hon. Friend and me about the need for serious engagement on human rights abuses.

The background to the issue lies in what the hon. Gentleman mentioned at the beginning of his speech: the strategic and economic role that Saudi Arabia plays in the rest of the world. It is the biggest purchaser of arms from this country, and one of the biggest purchasers of arms from the United States, of any country in the world. It has a dubious economic relationship with BAE Systems and others, to the extent that the Serious Fraud Office went to enormous lengths to investigate the al-Yamamah arms contract. Apparently, the investigation was on the point of revealing a lot of corruption, and possibly prosecutions, when the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair—[Interruption.] The then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, intervened, as he had the prime ministerial power to do, and stopped the investigation. Those are extremely serious issues.

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These matters have been raised many times in Parliament. On 23 January this year, in a debate in this very Chamber, my right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on human rights, of which I am a vice-chair, pointed out that although the Foreign Office human rights report was slightly stronger than in previous years, it still remained weak, and that she wished there would be something rather stronger.

The papers and reports produced by the Campaign Against Arms Trade point out that arms sales to Saudi Arabia seem to colour all issues affecting relations with that country; I suspect that the Foreign Office’s “softly softly” approach on human rights and the interference in the SFO inquiry and many others are heavily influenced by the prospect of Typhoon aircraft and other materials being sold. The revolving door of lobbyists from the armed forces, including retired armed forces officers, and of course the influence of our own royal family on exports seem to override everything related to concerns about human rights abuses.

Any other country in the world that did not have the economic clout of Saudi Arabia would be strongly condemned by the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham and many others, but it is the economic relationship between Saudi Arabia and the rest of the world that heavily influences views on human rights.

Daniel Kawczynski: The hon. Gentleman seems to imply that somehow selling Typhoon jets to Saudi Arabia, which obviously provides very important jobs in the United Kingdom, is somehow inappropriate. As a sovereign nation, Saudi Arabia needs to protect herself. She is in an extremely unstable and difficult region, and is potentially threatened by Iran. Are we to leave this very important country defenceless?

Jeremy Corbyn: The position of Saudi Arabia in the region is interesting, and I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman has raised the issue. I am sure he would have been concerned, as I was, by Saudi Arabia’s military incursions into Yemen, and perhaps even more concerned by the role that Saudi Arabia played in Bahrain, supporting the King against protesters through the use of Gulf Co-operation Council forces that went into Bahrain—indeed, those forces continue to support the Bahrain royal family. I am pleased that relations with Iran are improving. I hope that the human rights situation in Iran will improve in parallel with those relations, and that any negotiations with Iran are as strong on human rights as they are on nuclear processing or any other issues.

However, the hon. Gentleman must be aware of the very deep concern expressed by many about the volume of funding—some, apparently, from Saudi sources—that has become available to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant forces. Again, those forces have incalculable levels of funding compared with many other groups; I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has raised the involvement of Saudi Arabia in the war in Syria on a strategic level with the Saudi Government during his visits there. There is a desperately dangerous situation in the whole region and Saudi Arabia is a very important part of

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that entire calculation, so surely we need a coming together rather than the funding of more military actions in other countries.

Daniel Kawczynski: The hon. Gentleman will know that Saudi Arabia warned Tony Blair repeatedly against intervention in Iraq; he also knows perfectly well that Mr Blair, despite all the Saudi misgivings, chose to intervene in that country—

Mr James Gray (in the Chair): Order. I think that we are drifting rather wide of the topic under consideration, which is human rights in Saudi Arabia.

Jeremy Corbyn: Thank you, Mr Gray. I think the question is really about the relationship that we choose to have with Saudi Arabia. Is it to be one whereby we see Saudi Arabia simply as a purchaser from Britain and an exporter of oil, or are we going to have a constructive relationship in which, hopefully, there will be improvements—

Mr James Gray (in the Chair): Order. Having asked one hon. Member to stick to the subject, I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman could now return to the very specific issue of human rights in Saudi Arabia, leaving other matters of international concern to one side.

Jeremy Corbyn: Mr Gray, my next sentence was about the question of human rights in Saudi Arabia.

In conclusion, I want to draw attention to the problems facing migrant workers in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is not alone in its region in having vast numbers of migrant workers who have very limited rights; the economies of most Gulf countries rely almost entirely on migrant workers. I have been involved in UN discussions on migrant workers’ rights, and in the various charters on migrant workers and the International Labour Organisation standards. The number of migrant workers in Saudi Arabia is absolutely enormous and they come from many different countries. Altogether there are 9 million migrant workers in Saudi Arabia.

The 2005 labour law in Saudi Arabia changed the relationship of some migrant workers through the alteration of the kafala sponsorship system, which ties migrant workers’ permits of residency to their employer, but it specifically excluded the 1.5 million domestic workers who are the most vulnerable migrant workers and suffer the highest levels of abuse.

I hope that in this debate we have been able to draw attention to the issues of concern. My hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran made very strong points, and quite rightly so, about the discrimination against and ill treatment of women in Saudi Arabia. She drew attention to the princesses’ situation as an example of how women are treated in Saudi Arabia and I absolutely support her on that. I also draw attention to the plight of migrant workers, the motor of the economy of Saudi Arabia. They clean the dishes, clean the floors, operate in the offices, work in the factories, deliver the oil and do all the other things, and yet they are denied any rights. If at any point they protest about their conditions, they find themselves on a plane home. It is not surprising that the Governments of the Philippines, Thailand and many other countries have protested about

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the treatment of their citizens in Saudi Arabia, and we should do the same, on behalf of the people who provide such a great service and who work so hard for such little reward in a country that is incredibly wealthy.

I am pleased that I have been able to contribute to this debate. I hope that we will continue to return to these issues and that the Foreign Office will have a much more robust attitude on human rights in relation to every country of the world, irrespective of its wealth.

10.16 am

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): First, I congratulate the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Katy Clark) on bringing this matter to Westminster Hall. I put on the record my full support for the view that she has put forward. I, too, want to speak about human rights abuses, including abuses of Christians.

I thank the hon. Lady for her tireless work in drawing our attention to the abuse of human rights in Saudi Arabia. I have followed her dialogue with interest and we have had meetings as well. I have done some research; some may not be aware of the hon. Lady’s pointed question to the Prime Minister on 11 June:

“The Government are willing to take up human rights issues in relation to other countries; why are we not willing to take up cases in relation to Saudi Arabia?”

In his reply, the Prime Minister stated that,

“we give proper priority to human rights and the rule of law, and we raise those issues with all countries, including Saudi Arabia. Our expectation of all states is that they uphold their international human rights obligations.” —[Official Report, 11 June 2014; Vol. 560, c. 582.]

That is certainly a commitment, but there was no real substance with respect to what the hon. Lady was putting forward.

The question that I want to put to the Government today, in particular to the Minister, is this: are the Government really taking up cases relating to human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia to their greatest ability and with the zest that we would wish them to have? Is the British Government’s

“expectation of all states…that they uphold their international human rights obligations”

really felt by the Government of Saudi Arabia? Are we, as a nation, really showing our abhorrence of human rights abuses in the way we deal with the state of Saudi Arabia? Those are my questions, which are about the theme of this debate and what we are trying to pursue.

I want to look specifically at the persecution of Christians in Saudi Arabia; as most Members will know, the persecution of Christians is an issue very close to my heart. I wish to put some concerns on the record. Sadly, it is all too easy to find information about the abuse of Christians in Saudi Arabia. In its list of countries where persecution of Christians is most extreme, the charity Open Doors placed Saudi Arabia at No. 6 in the world; countries do not want to be near the top of that league table, but down near the bottom. Open Doors tells how the open practice of any religion other than Islam is strictly forbidden in Saudi Arabia, and how conversion to another faith is punishable by death. That is the reality of being a Christian in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia has a population of 29.9 million and there are an estimated 1.25 million Christians, most of them ex-pats from Asia and Africa. Christian fellowships constantly run the risk of being raided and arrested by

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police, because although the Government recognise the rights of non-Muslims to worship privately, the religious police often do not. That is the reality at a social level and that is the reality of human rights abuse.

Christian migrants suffer added pressure, fearing deportation at any time if they are caught worshipping God in their own houses. Despite there being 1.25 million Christians in Saudi Arabia, the director of the Saudi national Human Rights Commission, Bandar al-Aiban, says:

“Not a single church or other non-Muslim house of worship exists in the country”.

That is because the entire country is a sacred mosque for Islam’s holiest shrines in Mecca and Medina, so all other forms of worship are outlawed. Reality—facts of life. Those who are of Muslim background and convert to Christianity face honour killing if their faith is discovered by their family. Those are the realities of being of a different faith in Saudi Arabia. Let me give a few specific examples.

On 21 January 2011, Yohan Nese, 31, and Vasantha Sekhar Vara were arrested for attending a prayer meeting with other Indian nationals and accused of converting Muslims to Christianity. Religious police interrogated and beat them and they were kept in horrible conditions in prison. On 30 May, Vasantha was released and on 12 July Yohan was released. Both returned to India.

In December 2012, Saudi religious police detained more than 41 individuals after storming a house in the Saudi Arabian province of al-Jouf. A police statement issued on 26 December recorded that they were accused of “plotting to celebrate Christmas”. How ridiculous to accuse people of plotting to celebrate Christmas, when the world celebrates Christmas on 25 December.

On December 15 2011, Saudi security forces arrested 35 Ethiopian Christians in Jeddah who were praying in a home. They were beaten and threatened with death. When the Ethiopian workers’ employers asked security forces why the workers had been arrested, they said “for practising Christianity”. Later, under mounting international pressure, the charge was changed to

“mixing with the opposite sex”.

The hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) commented on migrant workers. Many of these people have a Christian belief and are being persecuted directly and indirectly for that.

These are only a few of the many instances of human rights abuses against Christians in Saudi Arabia. I want to make it clear that I find it repugnant that such overt cases are prominent in the 21st century. Many charities, such as the Barnabas Fund, Release International, Christian Solidarity Worldwide and Open Doors, as well as NGOs, strive to help and protect those persecuted around the world, including in Saudi Arabia.

What steps are the Government taking to work alongside those organisations and what action have they taken themselves to ensure the safety of Christians? I have had many discussions with the Minister and he has given me a personal commitment on these issues, but today, when human rights abuse in Saudi Arabia is being considered in this Chamber, we need some reassurance. I look forward to his reply.

Freedom of religion, including the freedom to assemble to worship and pray, is a basic right recognised under international human rights law. Yet the Government of

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Saudi Arabia are ostentatiously flouting that law and it appears that all our Government are doing is sitting back and watching it happen. Will the Minister inform us what further steps the Government will be taking to put pressure on the Saudi Government to prevent continuing abuses? The action currently being taken is clearly not working and clearly not enough. What punitive measures are in place that could be used if Saudi Arabia continues to refuse to comply?

At the third UN millennium summit, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz defended Saudi Arabia’s position on human rights, saying:

“It is absurd to impose on an individual or a society rights that are alien to its beliefs or principles.”

That is what someone in authority says and it shows that Saudi Arabia is totally unapologetic for its track record of human rights abuses. It feels as though the authorities there do not think that international law applies to them and that they are saying, “Who cares? We don’t have to adhere to it.” But they do and they need to know that they do, because it applies to us all across the whole world.

I hope that our country, in tandem with the UN, is doing enough to emphasise to the Saudis that such actions are out of order, and that it is certainly not absurd to try to protect minority groups in a country. The minority groups that I am talking about are Christian minorities and ethnic minorities—those who wish to practise their religion by worshipping their God, reading their Bible and witnessing to others. That is upheld in international law and it should be upheld in Saudi Arabia. What will the Minister do to change Saudi Arabia’s view of international law? Saudi Arabia has made its stance on human rights very clear.

On 9 March 2013, a Saudi court sentenced two of the leaders of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association to at least 10 years in prison. They were charged with

“offences that included sedition and giving inaccurate information to foreign media”.

Such was its commitment to human rights, the Saudi Government then dissolved that human rights group and brushed it aside after jailing those people. What steps were taken by the British Government in response and what are they currently doing to help Saudi human rights groups?

I was pleased to hear the Prime Minister say at an Easter event in April:

“It is the case that Christians are now the most persecuted religion around the world. We should stand up against persecution of Christians and other faith groups wherever and whenever we can”.

I wholeheartedly support and agree with the Prime Minister’s comments, but are the Government standing up against the persecution of Christians and other faith groups wherever and whenever they can?

10.25 am

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): I commend the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Katy Clark) on securing this debate and particularly on her work highlighting the case of the Saudi princesses. She is right to do that. She is also right to say that that is just

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the tip of the iceberg; it is a high-profile case, but other hon. Members have many distressing reports about the denial of human rights in Saudi Arabia.

The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) always puts the strong case that we have an important strategic alliance with Saudi Arabia, that it is important to our energy interests and that, in some respects, it has a positive influence in the region, including supporting peace processes. However, none of this should blind us to the fact that it is in many ways an extremist state itself, for example, in its systematic denial of women’s rights. A large proportion of the population are being denied rights simply on the basis of how they were born. In that regard it might be compared to apartheid South Africa in its denial of rights to black people.

The level of public executions is extraordinary. There are dozens each year, including a few that appear to have involved not just a public beheading but, in the case of some Yemeni convicts, a kind of crucifixion of the dead body after public execution.

There are very limited rights, not only for women, but for political and human rights defenders and for ethnic and religious minorities. There is no penal code, so there is almost encouragement for arbitrary or at least inconsistent dissemination of justice.

The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) mentioned the issue of Christians in Saudi Arabia, but there is evidence for discrimination against other religious minorities, including Ismaili and Shi’a Muslims and Hindus, and against atheists as well. Although the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham said that the kingdom was in a process of reform, only in April a law was passed that categorised those who called for atheist thought in any form—thoughtcrime, as George Orwell might have called it—or called into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion in any way, even entirely peacefully or even in an academic way, as facing 20 years’ imprisonment and placed them in the same category as violent extremist groups, such as al-Qaeda. That is not a reform process as I understand it.

Daniel Kawczynski: One delegate on our recent trip was the former leader of the hon. Gentleman’s party, the right hon. and learned Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell), who said that since his last visit to the kingdom in 1980 the country had completely changed beyond his recollection. He was pleased with some of the changes regarding human rights that were taking place. I urge the hon. Gentleman to talk to his former leader about this. Does he not agree that there have been changes and that the Saudi Government are moving towards greater human rights?

Martin Horwood: I can accept that there are changes. I will certainly talk to my right hon. and learned Friend, who is a fine advocate for and defender of human rights. I should imagine that he would be as disappointed as I am about the changes in the other direction, such as the new laws promulgated in April.

I am afraid that the very conservative form of Wahhabi Islam that is prevalent in Saudi Arabia leads the country down some of these paths. The very strict interpretation of the Hadith—saying that

“there can be no two religions in the Arabian Peninsula”—

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leads it into an intolerant attitude towards other religions and beliefs that is not typical of Islam in general and is certainly not historically true of Islam. The fundamentalist trend in Saudi Arabia is disappointing and makes it an unlikely ally in some ways in the battle against radicalisation and extremism.

The madrassahs in Saudi Arabia, for example, might have been responsible for nurturing some of the theological ideas that lie behind the violent Salafist movements. I am not suggesting that the Saudi Arabian Government in any way supports those movements, but it is clear that that religious environment has been one of the breeding grounds for that very extreme and conservative form of Islam. Various private individuals and some Governments in the Gulf are undoubtedly not as discriminatory as this Government in their support for, for instance, the rebel groups in Syria. We are clear that we support the democratic opposition in Syria and those who advocate a moderate and democratic state. Some of our apparent allies in the Gulf are not quite as discriminating. Even in terms of its influence in the region, it is not as clear as it was once that Saudi Arabia is an entirely positive influence.

We have to be careful. We have allies and strategic interests all over the world, and although it is right to be as diplomatic as we can be with those who have some questionable human rights records, we have to be clear that the Government stand up for human rights and have an ethical foreign policy. We also have to think carefully about what it means to be an ally. At some level, there has to be some basis in shared values and, in the case of Saudi Arabia, it is sometimes difficult to see what those values are.

Before I sit down, there are a couple of cases I will mention, which relate to particular human rights defenders. The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham implored us not to listen only to Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and foreign organisations. We should listen to the Adala centre for human rights. It is a Saudi organisation and has reported beatings, arbitrary arrests and the torture of peaceful protesters. It accused the general intelligence agency of violating international, domestic and moral laws and one of its founders, Fadhel Maki al-Manasif, was convicted of breaking allegiance with the King and contact with foreign news agencies, which is not a crime in many countries. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office should take up his case with urgency, along with the cases of Mohammed al-Qahtani and Abdullah al-Hamid, who were also imprisoned simply for advocating the kind of human rights that we in this country take for granted.

The FCO has been good, despite the political and economic inconvenience of reporting on human rights, at continuing to include Saudi Arabia among its countries of concern in its annual human rights report. I am proud to support a Government who raise those issues, but it seems to me that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has many, many questions to answer. We should be asking those questions.

10.33 am

Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): First, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Katy Clark) on securing this important debate. Its importance has come through this morning. She works

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consistently hard to raise the profile of human rights broadly, across different countries. As we have heard, human rights is a major issue in Saudi Arabia. She takes a balanced and indiscriminate approach to human rights, regardless of where the issues arise. It is important that that consistency characterises our general approach to human rights. While governance should always pay respect to different cultures and different Governments run countries in different ways and have different backgrounds, the rule of law must be a fundamental pillar of proper government, and respect for human rights must be an essential part of that.

As we are discussing Saudi Arabia, I refer briefly to the tragic death of Nahid Almanea, a Saudi student who Members may know was studying for a PhD at the university of Essex and was killed last week. Our thoughts are with her friends and family at this dreadful time, and we all hope that the perpetrator is brought to justice very soon.

It is right to promote a principled approach to foreign policy, firm in its support for the rule of law, individual rights and freedom of expression. That agenda is about promoting the UK’s standing on the global stage, so that the views of our Government are respected abroad, and achieving a fairer and more prosperous UK, where our citizens know that individual rights are valued and respected. Importantly, our approach to those important issues should extend to and guide our foreign policy and our leadership on international matters.

A key and difficult challenge for every Government is on striking the correct balance between the UK’s commercial interests and human rights overseas. During the debate I was reminded how, shortly after assuming office, the Prime Minister asserted his commitment to

“a more commercial foreign policy”

and to

“placing our commercial interests at the heart of our foreign policy.”

Meanwhile, the Foreign Secretary claimed that the

“promotion and protection of human rights is at the heart of the UK’s foreign policy objectives.”

Will the Minister clarify the major principles guiding UK foreign policy? I would also like to know, given the apparent differing in departmental priorities, how any tensions that arise are managed.

Saudi Arabia is an extremely relevant example of the important balance that must be achieved in the approach to foreign policy. The country is of huge strategic importance to the UK and the middle east. The UK and Saudi Arabia share a close economic and diplomatic relationship at a very difficult time. The country has long been a key strategic ally in the middle east, and the current Government have continued that relationship and prioritised the promotion of exports to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries. Under the previous Labour Government I served as a business Minister, so I know the business importance of Saudi Arabia to the United Kingdom. I am fully aware of the importance to British industry of the commercial relationship between the two countries. It is important, however, that we continue to engage with Saudi Arabia not only in business, but on the political situation in the area and human rights.

At a time of profound change in the Gulf countries and, indeed, the whole region, Saudi Arabia is influential and has a key role to play. There is also much scope for

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engagement on issues relating to global security, technology and climate change. We must ensure, however, that in our relationship due precedence is given, as the Foreign Secretary said, to the key principle that the

“promotion and protection of human rights is at the heart of the UK’s foreign policy objectives.”

The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) referred to religious persecution and the treatment of Christians, although other religions in Saudi Arabia are persecuted in a similar way. It is terrible that people were arrested for attending a prayer meeting—what a dreadful thing to hear. The Saudi Arabian Government should know the impact that that has on people in the United Kingdom and how it colours the perceptions of our constituents when we talk about the middle east. The Christian charity Open Doors currently ranks Saudi Arabia sixth on its world watch list. Members will know that conversion to a religion other than Islam is punishable by death in Saudi Arabia.

There is real concern about the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia. I have spoken to women from other countries in the Gulf who are profoundly frustrated that the world sees the region through the prism of the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia. They are frustrated and say that it is a huge barrier to progress for women across the middle east. They believe that the Saudi Arabian approach distorts the perception of the role of women in the region. I was pleased to hear the figures on university attendance to which the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) referred, but it is difficult to get past the idea that graduates are not allowed to drive a car. Until that is addressed, the perception of Saudi Arabia and its treatment of women will remain as it is today: disappointing.

Daniel Kawczynski: If the hon. Gentleman does not know about it already—I am sure that he does—I hope that he will read up about the multi-faith dialogue conference being promoted by the King that will bring together leaders from all religions for discussions to examine how different religions can work together in the region.

Ian Lucas: I am pleased to hear that. I am a strong advocate of engagement and am glad that groups and individuals in Saudi Arabia are looking to promote a more diverse approach to different views, opinions, faiths and beliefs. However, we want more to happen and we want faster progress. The arrest of individuals for attending prayer meetings and the treatment of migrant workers shows that progress is not fast enough.

Jeremy Corbyn: I thank my hon. Friend for making that point. One way of achieving that might be through a constructive presentation of the need to sign up to migrant workers’ charters and International Labour Organisation conditions, which could form the basis for the treatment of workers in the country.

Ian Lucas: In an increasingly globalised world, international recognition of workers’ rights, wherever they work, is an important step that needs to be taken. International progress is lagging in a world in which

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more and more people are moving around and working in different places. Recognition of international charters would be a good step.

Jim Shannon: Picking up on the point made by the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) in his intervention about the Saudi Government holding a conference, it is important that what they say at the top filters right down to the bottom, and that the police and local authorities ensure that people have freedom of expression and of religion, which they clearly do not have at the moment.

Ian Lucas: It is important that there is cultural change to ensure that views other than the prevailing are respected and that due precedence is given to minorities at all levels in society.

We have heard already that Saudi Arabia has been designated a country of concern in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s “Human Rights and Democracy Report 2013”. The Foreign Affairs Committee has published a report into UK relations with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, and I share its concern about the human rights situation in those countries and agree with many of the questions that it asks about the Government’s approach. It would be helpful for the Government to clarify what recent assessment they have made of Saudi Arabia’s compliance with the UN convention against torture. More generally, what is the Government’s policy on ministerial and prime ministerial visits to countries of concern? What is the FCO’s guidance on arms exports to countries of concern?

I want to discuss the case of the princesses, which was ably set out by my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran. I have met Princess Alanoud and have raised the issue privately with the Minister, for whom I have a great deal of respect, but I have been dissatisfied with the responses that I have received about how to resolve this upsetting case. The Government seem reluctant to make any representations to the Saudi Arabian Government about the matter. Will the Minister clarify whether he has made any such representations? I am delighted that the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham would form part of a delegation on the matter and I would be happy to join such a delegation. The particulars of this case are upsetting and are causing great damage to how Saudi Arabia is viewed. The matter needs immediate attention.

During the United Nations Human Rights Council session in Geneva in March, Saudi Arabia accepted recommendations to improve its human rights record. Progress is being made and the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham referred to the steps that he thinks are being taken. A profound problem still remains, however, and the Government seem reluctant to raise such issues directly with Saudi Arabia. That reluctance does not extend to incidents in other countries, such as the recent tragic case in South Sudan and cases in Iran. If the United Kingdom is to speak with authority on human rights issues, it is important that it is consistent across the middle east and the world. From my travels in the middle east, I know that what we say is undermined if we apply different standards in different situations. Our approach to human rights in Saudi Arabia must be consistent and authoritative and we must be clear that human rights are central to our relationship with the kingdom and that matters must improve substantially.

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10.46 am

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Hugh Robertson): I thank the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Katy Clark) for securing this debate. I join the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas), in offering sincere condolences to the family and friends of Nahid Almanea, the Saudi Arabian student who was tragically killed in Colchester last Tuesday. I am sure I speak for everyone in saying that our thoughts are with her family.

Before I address the individual contributions made in the debate, it may be helpful to set out some of the current political dynamics that influence our relationship with Saudi Arabia. The UK’s relationship with Saudi Arabia is a long one, and this debate is timely, as the kingdom prepares for the holy month of Ramadan, Saudi Arabia of course being the worldwide centre of the Islamic faith for the UK’s near 3 million Muslim citizens. Many thousands of Britons will visit Saudi Arabia this month during the Hajj period. Some 16,000 Saudi students are currently studying in the UK. As others have mentioned, the UK also has a strong bilateral trade relationship with Saudi Arabia. I am not sure whether the hon. Member for Wrexham will believe me, but I can reassure him that that is not the only thing that guides our relationship. Saudi Arabia is a key strategic partner in the region and our relationship is not simply about selling military hardware. Both the UK and Saudi Arabia have seats on the UN Human Rights Council, which is one of the many areas in which we work with the Saudi Government on issues of mutual interest.

All that said, today’s debate has shown some of the fault lines and judgments involved in the relationship. We have a frank and robust relationship with Saudi Arabia and the breadth and depth of the relationship matters to both sides. The relationship is at its most acute where we have shared priorities in foreign policy, defence, energy and counter-terrorism, and is underpinned by close personal and institutional ties. That does not mean that any particular issue is off limits, however. When we have concerns, we make them clear to the Saudi Arabian authorities, just as the Saudi Arabian Government are frank with us when they disagree. The review of the Muslim Brotherhood, as mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski), is one such area.

To make it clear and put it on the record, we regularly make our views on human rights known through the UN’s universal periodic review process and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s annual human rights and democracy report, which many hon. Members mentioned. Saudi Arabia continues to be a country of concern and we represent those concerns to Saudi Arabia at the very highest level. However, we have to balance that with the point my hon. Friend made: this is a country with widely held conservative social values. In a sense, the judgment we always have to make in trying to make progress is whether it is best to highlight a case publicly and make a fuss or to try to effect change through private diplomacy. We will come to the princesses in a minute, but the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran made the point that highlighting the case in public actually made their conditions worse, so standing up and shouting at people is not always the best way to effect change.

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Let me go through the various contributions and try to address some of the points that were made. I have touched on the issue of the Saudi princesses, and the Government line will not, I am afraid, move from the one I have set out, but that does not mean these issues are not raised. I would absolutely encourage the hon. Lady to make use of the offer to go to speak to the Saudi embassy. As I say, however, there is always a real judgment over whether change is best effected by public or private diplomacy. Where we need to conduct private diplomacy, we are not shy about doing so.

Katy Clark: I would just advise the Minister that private representations have been made for more than a decade, but they do not seem to have been successful. Obviously I encourage the Government to use any avenues available to them to continue to raise this case.

Hugh Robertson: It is a point well made and one that I have clearly taken on board.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham for his work with the all-party group, and I wish him good fortune in expanding the number of people on his visit next time round. However, there is a serious point here. He is absolutely right that although Saudi Arabia is a deeply conservative country, powerful elements in Saudi society are trying to change the way it approaches these things. By far the best way for people in this House to help to effect change in Saudi Arabia is to engage constructively with the system to see what we can do to help, but that does not mean that we have slavishly to agree with everything that is said or to accept every single explanation. Going there and questioning things is absolutely the right approach.

My hon. Friend helpfully highlighted some of the improvements in women’s rights. He mentioned the appointment of female Shura council members. There is also the right to vote and run in the municipal elections in 2015, which is the first time that option has been open to women. In 2013—the last reporting year—more women than men were in tertiary education, which is an extraordinary statistic. Many had enrolled via the King’s scholarship programme. In terms of effecting change over the longer period, that is an extraordinarily encouraging statistic.

It is always a pleasure to hear the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) speak. He asked specifically about migrant workers, and I absolutely acknowledge that there is some way to go. In a sense, however, as with other issues we have touched on, there is some progress, albeit not enough. He will be aware that the recent legal reforms have tried to improve migrant workers’ most basic rights. Such workers are now paid at least monthly and they have access to their own identity documents.

The hon. Gentleman also highlighted the issue of domestic workers, and they must now have at least nine hours’ rest a day and a day off a week. Those are small, incremental steps and they are not enough, but at least some progress is being made. In addition, Saudi Arabia finally became a member of the International Association of Labour Inspection on 12 June. I therefore take the hon. Gentleman’s point that not enough has been done and he is right to highlight that; again, however, there is some progress.

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At the risk of annoying you, Mr Gray, let me touch on the issue of ISIL. I think it is clear that the ISIL we thought we were dealing with two weeks ago is not the one we are dealing with now. There are terrorist elements in it, but there are also a considerable number of Ba’athists, ex-Saddamists and tribal members—it is a very different body from the one we originally thought we were dealing with. However, let me move swiftly back to the subject of the debate.

On many occasions, the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and I have discussed Christians’ role in the middle east and what they are subjected to. As I have told him, I have made it a mission of mine to make contact with Christian communities when I am in the middle east. Indeed, I took time out during a meeting of the international contact group on Libya to visit the Holy See to co-ordinate our activities in the region. So far, I have managed to make contact with the Coptic Christians in Egypt and Christians in Jordan, and I am going to see members of the Christian community in Lebanon next week. I give the hon. Gentleman an undertaking that I will continue to raise the plight of Christians in the area. I have enormous sympathy with his point of view.

I thank the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) for his very balanced contribution, which, in a sense, showed the dilemma that underpins the whole debate. He raised a number of cases, which I will be happy to take up if he wants to write to me. I will look into them personally and get him a proper answer.

The hon. Member for Wrexham returned to a theme that many people have touched on. The difficulty is not

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only striking the right balance, but finding the right way to pursue our foreign policy objectives. Having spent a year in the Foreign Office, I am not necessarily sure I have spotted a contradiction between the desire to promote Britain’s commercial interests around the world and a values-based foreign policy. Where the issue is most acute—to be completely honest with him—is over arms exports, and we rigorously follow the guidelines. The Foreign Affairs Committee hauls the Foreign Secretary in front of it at least once a year to go over the issue, and the Committees on Arms Export Controls—CAEC, as they are known colloquially—do a similar job. As a Foreign Office Minister, I am very conscious—I deal with them regularly—of the legal advice and rules that underpin our decisions, and I can promise the hon. Gentleman that we follow them scrupulously.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the Foreign Office policy on ministerial visits to countries of concern. As I said, in a sense, in my answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham, the Government would encourage people to engage with countries of concern. I really believe—this is a self-fulfilling element of being a Foreign Office Minister—that, through contact with countries, we give ourselves the best chance of effecting change.

I have talked about arms export licences. As I say, we abide by the rules. I appreciate that the assurances I have given about the princesses will not be enough, but there is a judgment as to whether to pursue the issue publicly or privately. Unless there are any other issues, I will return to where I started: I thank the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran for bringing about this important debate, and I thank all Members who have taken part in it.

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Government Child Protection Policy

10.57 am

Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab/Co-op): Child protection scandals of recent years have generated a lot of media coverage, putting the sexual abuse of children in the spotlight. However, as we know, the issue is not confined to history, and nor does it involve only celebrities as perpetrators. Children are still being abused by family members, by their peers and in institutions that are meant to care for them. The focus for professionals, politicians, the media and the public must be on the children who are suffering now. We must shine a light on what sexual abuse is, where it takes place, what can be done to prevent it and how we can support abused children.

We know that 90% of children who have suffered sexual abuse have been abused by someone they know, with the vast majority of abuse taking place in the home. In 2012-13, the ChildLine service run by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children found that nearly half the young people who rang about sexual abuse said the perpetrator was a family member. One teenage boy said:

“I often think about killing myself because of what my brother does to me. He has been physically and sexually abusing me for years. It makes me wish my life would end. I’ve told my parents about what my brother does to me but they’ve done nothing—I don’t understand. I feel so depressed.”

Social workers, teachers and other practitioners must be trained to recognise the indicators of intra-familial sexual abuse, know how to communicate with the child, and give them space and time to explain what has happened.

Abuse in young people’s romantic relationships appears also to be increasing, as does sexual coercion within gangs and groups of young people. The number of reported sex offences by those under 18 has risen by 38% since 2009-10 and two thirds of sexual abuse is perpetrated by under-18s.

David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): I congratulate the hon. Lady on obtaining the debate. Can she clarify something? There is no single piece of legislation on child protection, but numerous laws and items of guidance; so should things remain that way, or should we change them? It is a horrendous situation when children are abused.

Meg Munn: That is a complicated area and I was not going to address it specifically today. Probably, rather than throwing everything up in the air again, we need very clear guidance. I know that the Government have been seeking to provide that, but there is always a need to keep it under review and seek ever greater clarity.

To return to the question of sexual abuse within relationships, one young girl said:

“My boyfriend was really abusive to me and we used to get into massive fights and stuff. The other week it went a bit further and he forced me to do sexual things to him that I didn’t want to do. I’m terrified of him and I don’t want to see him again. I don’t want to tell the police about it because I’m scared of what might happen. I talked to my teacher about it and she just told me she would catch up with me later about it but never did.”

The Jimmy Savile scandal about the extent of abuse in institutions shocked the nation. It highlighted the importance of adults being able to report concerns they

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have about children to the relevant authorities. Research has shown that even when individuals have a concern they often take no action, fearing that they will not be believed or taken seriously. The dynamics of power and secrecy so often present in incidents of abuse are magnified within an institutional setting. Those factors, combined with the often hierarchical nature of institutions, make it even more important that there should be strong safeguarding policies alongside a clear culture of communicating with and listening to children.

One child said:

“I really struggle to talk to anyone about being sexually abused. It happened for a few years so I feel like it took my childhood away. I feel really ashamed that it happened to me—I’m unable to cope. I want some support but I don’t know what kind of support I need or what will even help. I just can’t carry on like this.”

That boy was aged 17.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): My hon. Friend will recall the case of Baby Daniel, in Coventry, about 18 months ago. Something struck me, to do with not only child abuse but child health matters; I have always thought that perhaps someone from outside the school setting, with a medical background, could look at a cluster of schools and look for the signs of abuse going on, whether physical or medical. What does my hon. Friend think about that?

Meg Munn: The heart of the issue is for there to be a greater number of people with an understanding of child abuse and what to look for. A particular aspect of that is not immediately thinking that something is wrong with the child. Daniel, obviously, was very young, but sometimes older children are treated as naughty or difficult. The distress and the issues that come up can be indicators that all might not be well within the family.

In autumn 2013, the all-party group on child protection launched a seminar series on the three areas I have just outlined: intra-familial abuse; peer-to-peer sexual abuse, including young people’s harmful sexual behaviour; and prevention of child sexual abuse within institutions. We invited experts and front-line practitioners to share their knowledge with parliamentarians so that we could better understand what needs to be done to improve support to children who have experienced sexual abuse and to prevent it from happening in the future. However, the most powerful testimony was listening to the experiences of children who had been sexually abused.

We recognise that there has been welcome progress in recent years, but we are concerned that the Government are not addressing the issue holistically. Our findings show that the complicated relationship between different forms of abuse necessitates a unified response. That is not currently happening. The all-party group fears that without a clear, coherent approach that links work across Departments, children will not receive the support they require, and that opportunities to prevent problems are being missed.

I am grateful to the Children’s Minister for the recent meeting to discuss the report and for his commitment to consider our concern. Our report outlined six key recommendations that would, I believe, bring the focus back to all aspects of child sexual abuse, and promote a clear and consistent approach to protecting children and young people.

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Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): My hon. Friend knows as well as I do that ChildLine, which has been going for some years, has been a good influence. Does she believe that a neutral child line in every local authority would help to bridge the gap for children who are terrified of talking to anyone?

Meg Munn: ChildLine certainly makes it much easier for children to raise the issue. The work it does in providing an ear for children is the right way forward. I am not sure whether it would be appropriate for every local authority to have a child line. Some local authorities have in the past considered a phone number providing a complaints system for children being cared for within the authority. I agree that it is an enormously important area. We did not consider it this time in our report but it would be good to examine best practice and what happens in local authorities that investigate complaints they receive from children. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that.

The report and recommendations are available in hard copy and also, thanks to the NSPCC, on its website. The recommendations must be set in the context of greater interministerial working, with action plans for all areas to ensure that every child who has experienced sexual abuse gets the support they need. It is only in that context of a joined-up action plan that a truly preventive model can be developed. The recommendations are for a review of the information-sharing guidelines issued in 2009; for the Home Office national working group on sexual violence against children and vulnerable people to prioritise the issue of harmful sexual behaviour—defined as abuse by children and young people against other children and young people; for the Department for Education to work with education providers and local safeguarding children boards to make sure that priority is given to specialised sexual abuse training for social workers and teachers; for better and more consistent support for victims of child sexual abuse to be available, from disclosure through the entire court process and beyond into therapeutic support; for the Government to improve whistleblowing processes by promoting the whistleblowing code of practice and improving training and support for professionals; and for the Government to work with professional disciplinary bodies and other expert bodies to consider forms of institutional duty on leaders of institutions to report allegations of abuse. I know that the Minister is committed to developing an effective service and therefore I ask for his response to the recommendations.

Finally, I want to talk briefly about the Government’s recent consultation on allowing greater outsourcing or delegation of children’s services. The all-party group did not consider that, so I am giving my personal views. Most of the responses to the consultation raised the issue of privatisation and seeking profit out of child protection services. I welcome the Government’s speedy response that the range of functions in question can be delegated only to non-profit-making organisations. I recognise that many services are already provided by such organisations, and that that can be beneficial. However, there is a big difference between providing therapeutic services to children and being responsible for the investigation of suspected child abuse. The Minister has been clear in parliamentary answers to me that local authorities will continue to be responsible for child

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protection investigations even if they delegate them to someone else, and will therefore remain responsible for quality.

I caution about going down that route, however. Reviews into the deaths of children over the past four decades identify the same key contributors: poor communication and sharing of information. Even more problematic is the point at which a case is referred from one local authority to another—a danger point for children and for continuity of service. Surely delegation of that responsibility would exacerbate the risks, building in another layer of accountability, monitoring and checking. I ask the Minister to consider the special nature of child protection investigations.

Mr Sheerman: On that point, does my hon. Friend agree that in child protection we want the best service possible? That is usually delivered by a locally and democratically accountable children’s service, maintained by highly skilled and highly trained professionals who are rewarded, led and managed well. It is about having a culture of excellence. Does she agree that the designs to introduce outsourcing could destroy that culture?

Meg Munn: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, who makes an important point. I know that the Minister is concerned when local authorities do not deliver that high standard. I believe strongly that this sector is the responsibility of local authorities, and that if they are failing, that should be dealt with not by delegation but by the kind of action the Government have taken in various situations. I am not judging those particular situations—it is not for me to do so—but I believe that if there is an issue with local authority services in child protection investigations it should be dealt with through the offices of the Children’s Minister and not through delegation.

Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck (South Shields) (Lab): My hon. Friend mentioned that in the Minister’s response to her he stated that non-profit organisations would be involved. Was he explicit about which organisations those would be? I have worked in a lot of local authority child protection teams, and know the level of expertise that is there. I am struggling to see what expertise there would be in non-profit organisations.

Meg Munn: I was referring at that point to the Government’s response to the consultation, which as I understand it relates to the whole range of services that could be delegated. I am sure my hon. Friend will know of good examples of therapeutic services, for example, being run well by charities and third-party organisations. But responsibility for child protection investigations is an entirely different thing. I put it to the Minister that that should be exempted from further delegation.

I suggest that the Government avoid regulating in haste and ensure that there is fuller consultation on the draft regulations. The consultation itself was only six weeks long. The opportunity for thorough consideration must not be lost. I also suggest to the Minister that the regulations should be subject to the affirmative procedure to ensure that Parliament has the opportunity to scrutinise this important area of work properly.

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11.13 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Mr Edward Timpson): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I thank the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn) not only for calling this important debate but for her assiduous work in preparing for it and for the work that she has carried out in her own constituency and Parliament on child protection. Her speech was measured; it was also moving in parts, with recollections of some of the horrific abuse that children have suffered at the hands of adults and, in some cases, other minors. She has put forward a strong and coherent argument for keeping our gaze firmly fixed on the children who are the victims in all this.

Following on from our meeting last week, I hope I can reassure the hon. Lady that I share absolutely her passion for protecting children from the appalling form of abuse she raised, as well as other kinds of abuse and neglect. That is why we are taking action not just within my own Department but right across Government to learn the lessons from past mistakes, to see how we can improve the services that are there to protect children, and to make sure that professionals have the capability and the space to spot the signs of abuse and that they know how to act on those signs.

I will try to address the points the hon. Lady raised, in particular the key recommendations of the report by the all-party group. If I do not cover a point in sufficient detail to satisfy her, I will of course write to her. Many of the report’s recommendations are directed at other Government Departments and I will endeavour to ensure that they play their full part in providing a full and proper reply.

Mr Sheerman: Before the Minister moves on to the specific points raised in the report, I should say that in this very room only a month or so ago there was a harrowing session on children’s access to pornography, involving some very good campaigners. Does he think that that problem might be partly responsible for some of the early sexualisation of children and the behaviour that my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn) described?

Mr Timpson: I sit as one of the co-chairs of the board of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety, an organisation that has done some excellent work in grappling with precisely the issues the hon. Gentleman raises, as well as pushing internet service providers, and others who are there to protect children online, to do more to make sure that they are protected.

As a result, there is clearly more enriched research into the causal link between exposure to pornography and possible impacts on behaviour, attitudes and boundaries among children. We are learning more about how one affects the other and it would be remiss of us not to look more carefully at what more we can do to try to prevent some of the appalling consequences of exposure to online pornography and other forms of abuse that children, unfortunately, find more readily accessible now than was the case in the past.

Mr Sheerman: Will the Minister give way?

Mr Timpson: Very briefly—I want to address the hon. Lady’s points.

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Mr Sheerman: Just to push the Minister on that, my constituents are appalled not only about online pornography but about what is available on their television screens through Freeview. What will he do about that?

Mr Timpson: That is another area of advanced technology where we cannot simply maintain the status quo in our response, especially as smart TVs are becoming more prevalent on the market. A strand within the UKCCIS board is working specifically on how we can better ensure that anything broadcast through that medium is controlled more readily than it has been in the past. Of course, we need to do much more work to keep up with fast-moving changes in technology. I will happily write to the hon. Gentleman with more details if that would be helpful.

The all-party group’s report recommends a whole host of important considerations for various parts of Government to take forward. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley touched on a number and I will address a few in the time I have available. One was about information sharing—an issue that goes to the heart of the problems that underlie the failure that too often occurs in child protection. Anyone who sits down and reads a serious case review will see a common theme, as information sharing is often at the heart of why things have gone horribly wrong in the particular case.

The report recommends that guidelines on information sharing should be reviewed to ensure that professionals are clear about when data should be shared in the interests of children. I entirely agree that early sharing of information is key to providing effective early help to vulnerable children and adults. Of course, changing structures alone will not make children, or indeed adults, safe, and it is not enough simply to improve IT systems. It will be skilled professionals, who can identify problems early, working together under locally agreed and enforced arrangements, who will bring about effective information sharing.

In a number of initiatives, local partners are working in innovative ways to share information and knowledge about a child and their family, resulting in the better delivery of co-ordinated services. One such model, which I know the hon. Lady will know of, is the multi-agency safeguarding hub, or MASH, which can draw on information across all agencies, enabling them to provide a better informed referral process. Local authorities such Staffordshire, which was recently rated good by Ofsted, have made effective use of the MASH model to strengthen local partnership working and to provide better safeguarding services for children.

An independent report into the effectiveness of MASH was commissioned by the London safeguarding children board, and found that turnaround times for child protection cases involving children with high or complex needs had almost halved in some areas since the London MASH programme began in 2011. However, that is just one model, which allows services to work together in a co-ordinated way.

The hon. Lady referred to the statutory guidance published last year—the “Working Together to Safeguard Children 2013” guidance. That was revised to try to make the legislation and its requirements as clear as possible so that all organisations know what the law says they and others must do. The guidance provides the essentials to enable and encourage good cross-agency

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working so that all organisations understand what they should do to provide a co-ordinated approach to child protection.

The all-party group notes that different Departments lead on different aspects of the work to protect children from abuse. I understand the point; if responsibilities are not clear, whether in local or national Government, I will be happy to explain from the national perspective how my role fits with those of my colleagues. When I met the hon. Lady last week, I gave her what I hope was a clear read-out of where that responsibility lies. My Department has overall responsibility for reforms to the child protection system, professionalising children’s social care services and making life better for children in care and leaving care.

Bringing about the sort of changes we want in tackling sexual abuse of children requires a much broader programme of work involving several Departments, and that is reflected in the recommendations in the all-party group’s report. That is why the Government set up the cross-Government national group on sexual violence against children and vulnerable people, its purpose being to take forward much of the urgent work needed to address the missed opportunities to protect children and vulnerable adults. That national group is a board of leading experts from relevant agencies: the inspectorates, the police, voluntary and community organisations and senior colleagues from across government. Through the group, the Government are committing resources and important energy to meet significant safeguarding challenges, including child abuse, trafficking, missing people and child sexual exploitation, as well as managing sex offenders and tackling online pornography and paedophile literature.

Meg Munn: I am grateful to the Minister for explaining some of the detail to me last week. One of the driving forces behind the report is the need to understand that a child who has perhaps been abused at home is much more vulnerable to abuse by peers and the likelihood of being exploited. I seek reassurance that the work of the Minister’s Department, which is welcome, in the more mainstream areas of social work is not divorced from what is happening in the cross-Government group.

Mr Timpson: The hon. Lady is absolutely right. In my previous job as a family barrister, all too often I came across the whole issue of intrafamilial sexual abuse that she spoke about. There is an opportunity through the group’s action plan to raise the matter more readily within it and to consider harmful sexual behaviour among young people where it is more likely to occur, and what our response is on the ground. I am happy to give her an undertaking to raise the matter in that group so that it is much more at the forefront of the thinking not just of the action plan, but the following action. Although the issue does not receive the same level of interest as some more high-profile cases, it is more embedded in society and we must find better ways to talk about it and ways to tackle it.

The hon. Lady alluded to the all-party group’s recommendation for my Department to ensure that higher priority is given to specialised training for social workers and teachers in spotting the signs of sexual

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abuse, including through the work of local safeguarding children boards. This is an area on which several LSCBs have made good progress. For example, last year I visited Oxfordshire county council, which has delivered specialist training for staff across agencies on child sexual exploitation, on the back of some horrific cases in the city of Oxford, as well as producing a professional handbook and a screening tool to help staff to spot the early signs of grooming and to take action.

More broadly, the Department for Education is taking forward a broad range of work to improve the skills and knowledge of front-line professionals. Isabelle Trowler, the first chief social worker for children and families, is leading work to define what a child and family social worker needs to know to practise effectively. That includes being able to identify and respond to sexual abuse and specific forms of child sexual abuse. If the hon. Lady would like to talk to the chief social worker about that area of her work, I will do what I can to make that arrangement. A final draft of the knowledge and skills document will be completed in the summer, following which we will consult widely to ensure that it accords with other people’s views.

Higher education institutions that deliver social work degree courses are required to ensure that newly qualified social workers are able to analyse and evaluate information, assess risks and intervene appropriately, so that they can give effective support to children and young people who have experienced sexual abuse. Following Sir Martin Narey’s review, we are overhauling the training and education of social workers to give trainees the expertise they need and employers more confidence in newly qualified recruits.

We have also launched the new fast track front-line training programme to attract the brightest and best to social work. We have spent more than £400 million on the social work bursary and our Step Up to Social Work programme—I have just announced the fourth cohort—is to ensure that we have enough highly skilled staff to meet demand.

Mr Sheerman: I remember when all three of us—the Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley and I—were on the same Committee, and one thing that we were really worried about when we looked at the training of social workers was their experience on the job. So many of them did not have relevant experience in a demanding local authority team. Is the Minister doing anything about that work experience?

Mr Timpson: Part of the issue is recruitment and part is retention and keeping experienced social workers on the front line not just managing cases, but being involved in the daily work required to ensure that families keep children safe and make progress. The assessed and supported year in employment programme—the ASYE—enables newly qualified social workers to feel supported enough to gain that experience and not drift out of social work because of the pressure they are under.

We also now have principal family social workers moving into all local authorities so that there is a lead social worker, who may previously have moved up into management all too readily. One advantage of some of the flexibilities of delegated functions is, as in Staffordshire with the Evolve YP social work practice scheme, a much flatter management arrangement so that senior

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social workers are active in the expertise and professionalism that brought them into social work in the first place.

The all-party group also recommended that the Government should lead on providing better and more consistent support for victims of child sexual abuse. It must be right that every victim of sexual violence has access to adequate service provision that meets their individual needs and supports them in coping and recovering, particularly in relation to children. To help children who have been trafficked, the Home Office has announced proposals to trial specialist independent advocates, and I am sure that the hon. Lady is aware of that. A new code of practice for victims of crime came into force in December 2013 and will give victims of crime clear entitlement from criminal justice agencies and will better tailor services to individual need. It contains a section dedicated to the needs of children and young people.

The Government’s review of ways to reduce the distress to victims in sexual violence trials was published on 31 March and recognises the benefits of specialisation of those involved in sexual violence cases. It proposes that the bodies responsible for professional conduct and practitioners should be encouraged to develop an accreditation system for defence advocates that is open and transparent. I will write to the hon. Lady with more details of that.

The hon. Lady touched on sexual abuse in institutions and rightly highlighted the importance of preventing sexual abuse in those environments, ensuring that those who have concerns about children can raise them. As she will know, my Department, like all Departments, takes historical abuse very seriously indeed. That is why Lucy Scott-Moncrieff is providing quality assurance independently on all the investigations that derive from schools and children’s homes. She will report to the Secretary of State later this year about the lessons she learns from those investigations. That will be very helpful in informing the Government’s next steps in tackling sexual abuse in institutions.

The all-party group made recommendations on the whistleblowing process, on which local authorities should have a strong policy. Time prevents me from going into more detail about that.

I thank the hon. Lady for her continued interest in this vital area of our work in this place. I am happy to continue to work with her to try to improve things in future.

11.30 am

Sitting suspended.

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Job Creation: Developing Countries

[Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]

2.34 pm

Mr Philip Hollobone (in the Chair): Before we start, let me make it clear to all those assembled here that I am not late; I am the emergency replacement in the Chair. It is an honour to be here this afternoon for the debate in the name of Mr Jeremy Lefroy.

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): Thank you, Mr Hollobone. It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship. I would like to draw attention to my various entries in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. The debate is about supporting job creation in developing countries and much of my working life has been spent in that area, so it is inevitable that I have some interests to declare.

Last week, the Select Committee on International Development visited Sierra Leone and Liberia. In both countries, we had the honour of meeting the President. Both, without prompting, listed unemployment, particularly among young people, as something they needed to tackle, and tackle quickly. They see the need particularly clearly because of their recent experience of terrible civil wars that were fuelled by the resentment of people who had no real income, felt divorced from any development taking place in the country and saw an elite disconnected from the needs of the population. As a result, they are both determined to do whatever they can to avoid that situation arising again. As the UN says in another context: create more jobs or risk unrest.

Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): I commend my hon. Friend and colleague on the International Development Committee for his dedication to this subject and for bringing forward this debate. Does he agree that in Rwanda we now see a genuine example of job creation, growth and stability, which has come out of a very traumatic period for that country, proving that that can indeed happen?

Jeremy Lefroy: I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. She is absolutely right. Of course, in Rwanda people would say that they have much further to go. They want to concentrate on developing the skills of their population, and in particular young people. They are looking at, for instance, the IT sector, because Rwanda is a landlocked country without large natural resources, apart from its own people and the beauty of its landscape. As I said, my hon. Friend is absolutely right.

High levels of unemployment or underemployment, especially among young people, are a problem in most countries in the world. When we ourselves have a youth unemployment rate approaching 20%, we recognise that this is a shared problem and there may well be—in fact, there should be—shared solutions. It is estimated that 1 billion additional jobs will be needed in the next decade for those who are currently out of work and those who will be coming into work over that time. Throughout my remarks, I shall use the word “job” to include self-employment and work in the informal sector, particularly in agriculture.

David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on obtaining the debate. Does he agree that although it is vital that jobs are created—that

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is what this debate is all about—in order to achieve that for small and large businesses, it is important that the infrastructure of those countries needs to be improved dramatically? Would it be an idea for moneys donated from the United Kingdom to these countries to be focused on certain areas to help to create jobs for young people?

Jeremy Lefroy: I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his wise intervention. Later I shall come to the issue of infrastructure—he is absolutely right about that—and give one or two examples of where it has made a huge difference.

To return to the point about the word “jobs” including the informal sector and self-employment, we have to remember that if we define “jobs” too narrowly as those where people enter into paid employment, we will be missing the point. That is a fairly small percentage of the total amount of work available in the world at the moment.

Alok Sharma (Reading West) (Con): I, too, commend my hon. Friend for the enormous amount of work he does, not only on the Select Committee but elsewhere. Of course, he has huge knowledge of this subject and many developing countries. He talks about jobs in a wider sense. Does he agree that another key issue for many of these economies is access to finance? Of course, access to finance for businesses is a big issue in this country, but it is a particular issue in this context, too. Perhaps he will talk later in his speech about some of the issues—or some of the solutions that have been found—with improving access to finance for individuals who want to start businesses.

Jeremy Lefroy: My hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson) have obviously read my notes in advance—either that or they are most prophetic—because I will come on to that subject in a moment.

Jobs, in the widest possible sense, will need to bring in more than merely an income on which people can barely survive. The World Bank has set two goals for 2030: to eliminate absolute poverty, which is vital, and to promote inclusive growth by concentrating on the lowest-income 40% in each country. I commend the World Bank president, Dr Jim Yong Kim, on his relentless focus on that. He sees that we must not only eliminate absolute poverty, vital though that is, but raise the living standards of everybody, particularly those at the lowest end of the income scale.

Fiona Bruce: My hon. Friend is being generous in giving way so much. Does he agree that one way to raise the living standards of the poorest is to ensure that women in some of the poorest communities in Africa have the opportunity to develop businesses and access finance, even if only small amounts of finance? All the evidence shows that when women are given such an opportunity, the benefits of their businesses are returned to their local communities and are exponential.

Jeremy Lefroy: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I will say a little more about that. It is vital that those benefits are spread throughout the community. Let us not forget that since the International Development

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(Gender Equality) Bill, which was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash), received Royal Assent a couple of months ago, Britain’s international development work must now show equality towards men and women, boys and girls.

Work at subsistence level may take someone out of destitution, but it will not bring inclusive growth. That is not to say that subsistence work is pointless, but we must aim higher. As the head of the International Monetary Fund, Madame Christine Lagarde, has said, in far too many countries the benefits of growth are being enjoyed by far too few people. There are ways in which we can help to counteract that, and the Department for International Development does so. One way is to promote fair trade, which began in agriculture but has spread through a number of industries, most recently the garment industry. DFID has done some excellent work in Bangladesh on labour standards among garment workers, together with the British companies that those companies supply. As my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) has said, it is vital that such work extends throughout the community, particularly to women. As she rightly says, they will probably reinvest the most back into their communities, because they see that as the best safeguard for their children and families.

Let me set out briefly how I believe we can support developing countries to create the jobs that they and we need—our economies are increasingly interrelated. The UK continues to run a large trade deficit, and one of our best hopes for dealing with that lies in trading with developing countries as they grow. I will start by setting out something that I take for granted: a stable and secure state and an economy that is relatively open to the private sector are essential, given that 90% of jobs in the developing world are created in the private sector. Work to improve security and economic governance helps to develop an environment in which jobs can be created. DFID is doing a tremendous amount of work in that area, and I commend it on that. However, I will not dwell on that, because it is the subject of another debate.

A large number of the 1 billion jobs that are needed will, at least initially, be in the informal and agricultural sectors. In 2018, 63% of jobs in developing countries are forecast to be in agriculture still, which will represent a fall of only 8% since 2000. Industry will account for 10% and services for 27%. That is why I believe that one of the most important ways of supporting job creation in developing countries is to teach business skills at school. If most students will be earning their living in some form of self-employment, whether in agriculture or informal sector services, it makes sense to give them the right tools.

Last week in Liberia I met graduates and teachers of the Be the Change academy from Paynesville. Along with David Woollcombe, one of the founders of the organisation, I met Zuo Taylor, who runs the academy’s operation in Liberia, and some young British volunteers who were there as mentors and supporters on the programme, which was exclusively for young business women. I met two young women who had just finished the course, Manjee Williams and Mattee Freeman, who both had businesses already, one as a hairdresser and the other as a caterer. Both said not only that the training and support they had received would help them to organise and run their businesses in a more professional

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way, but that it had enabled them to consider giving work to others. The caterer already employed several other people—six, I believe—and planned to employ many more.

I believe it is vital to teach self-employment skills not only in schools in the developing world, but right here in the UK. That is done, and it is often done well, but it is supplementary to the curriculum rather than an integral part of it.

Fiona Bruce: My hon. Friend and I have experience of teaching business skills, in Rwanda and Burundi. Does he agree that there is an enormous hunger on the part of those who are in business or starting up a business in Africa to learn such skills? Does he also agree that there is a real opportunity, which we need to highlight, for those who have been in business in this country to help to mentor and support growing businesses in Africa, whether by travelling there or by using electronic communication? We must focus on that and encourage it much more.

Jeremy Lefroy: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and it has been a great privilege and pleasure to share that work with her over the past few years. I reiterate that I believe such work to be essential for the UK as well. It is not simply a matter for developing countries. As I have said, we must learn from some of the work going on elsewhere in the world, and I believe we must integrate that sort of business education into our schools. We are not talking about sophisticated business education; we are talking about basic skills that are relevant to the self-employed or those in the informal sector. Many of our young people who are at school will end up being self-employed or working in the informal sector; that is true more than ever in the modern economy. We need to give them those skills, not just through excellent programmes such as Young Enterprise—I am proud to support that programme in my constituency, and I have no doubt that several colleagues do likewise—but as a core part of our curriculum.

One might argue that such training has little relevance to someone involved in small-scale agriculture, but I absolutely disagree. I have seen many examples of how farmers who have just a small amount of land can, using business acumen, create vibrant businesses that are based on agriculture, but go beyond it into activities such as food processing, retail and feed manufacture.

Alok Sharma: My hon. Friend has a huge amount of experience of working in Africa, and in some ways the continent is an untapped resource for business links. I will be speaking at the Afro Business Expo, which is taking place in the Thames valley in a few weeks and which I believe UK Trade and Investment is supporting. Does he agree that, as individual Members of Parliament, one of the things we can do is to encourage such events that enable businesses from African countries to come and meet businesses here? Such events will provide an opportunity for creating jobs not only in the UK but in developing nations.

Jeremy Lefroy: I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Such events are vital. The more connection we have with markets in the developing world, the more we can trade and invest—both ways, these days—and the closer our relationship, the better. That is why I welcome DFID’s focus on livelihoods and on bringing in British

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business. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State took British businesses to Tanzania to help with development work in that country through enterprise. That is absolutely vital.

My hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma) has already mentioned finance. Once someone wishes to start a business, or take a business on to the next stage, they soon find that the next obstacle is finance. Banks provide very little credit to businesses other than those that are well established and fairly large. One might think that that is a familiar refrain even in this country, but what is true of this country is far truer of developing countries, where it is almost impossible for anyone other than a fairly well established, medium to large-sized business to obtain much credit from banks. There are various reasons for that. Bank overheads are high, which means that minimum loans are often far greater than the loan required by a business because the banks need to generate enough income from the loan to sustain their overheads. Bank salaries in some developing countries are not far short of bank salaries in this country, certainly at branch level.

In my experience, banks are also reluctant to lend without substantial security, which is often worth far more than the value of the loan—perhaps 200% of its value. Indeed, central bank rules in some countries may make that compulsory, so any business that does not have a lot of additional security to offer against a particular loan is almost shut out of the market.

Additionally, in countries where the Government run a substantial deficit and dominate bank borrowing, it is often safest and simplest for banks to buy Government bonds. As we learned last week, until recently that was the case in Sierra Leone, where Government bonds were offering something like 30%, well above the rate of depreciation, so it was easiest and simplest for the banks to sit back, buy Government bonds and watch the money come in. There was no need to take the risk of lending to small or even medium-sized businesses.

Of course, there are many good initiatives that assist the provision of finance to businesses in developing countries, although at the moment those initiatives provide just a fraction of what is necessary. Microfinance has been around for some time; although people tend to think of it as more about lending for consumption, microfinance has increasingly been involved in lending to micro and small enterprises—MSEs—as well as for personal consumption, which I am glad to see. This morning I was speaking to the chief executive of a microfinance bank based in Botswana that has operations all over sub-Saharan Africa and is now entering the MSE market.

Fiona Bruce: My hon. Friend may remember that we visited the Women’s Initiative for Self Empowerment, the establishment for microfinance in Bujumbura. The initiative informed us that, because of the personal relationship between the women who borrow small amounts of money and the administrators of the lending, the default rate is very low. Should that not encourage us to look further at such microfinance organisations, and perhaps to encourage them through DFID?

Jeremy Lefroy: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The default rate is often lower in such organisations, which rely on a substantial element of trust, as well as

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on prudent lending and investigation of borrowers. We have seen that default rates of less than 5%, considerably lower than some banks take, are common. Default rates are sometimes as low as 2% in such organisations.

There is also internet-based lending, which is increasing substantially. We see that in this country with peer-to-peer lending, but there are also organisations such as Kiva and Lend with Care, which is run by the charity CARE International. Such lenders typically provide very small loans in which donors from across the world can invest as little as £20 or £30 in loans to MSEs. Such is the power of technology these days that they are able to run such schemes without extremely large overheads.

Furthermore, there are initiatives such as DFID’s programme in Pakistan in which local banks, as we saw, were given a guarantee by DFID so that they could lend to businesses. That means that DFID does not have to do the lending itself, but, as the risk is taken out of the lending, a local bank is able to lend to businesses to which it would not otherwise have lent.

In this case, I believe the guarantee of some £10 million, if I remember rightly, was not drawn on at all, which shows it was an excellent example of lending at no cost to the British taxpayer, with the British taxpayer giving a guarantee. Banks will still carry out the same degree of due diligence, but the guarantee gives them a bit of extra confidence to go and lend to businesses to which they would not otherwise have lent. The key in all those areas is to find cost-effective ways of reducing risk so that financial institutions are prepared to lend, or investors are prepared to commit equity, to a project.

I will mention one particular fund because I have personal experience of being an investor in a company that took advantage of it some years ago. The Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund was set up under the previous Government, with substantial funding from DFID—I believe that DFID currently funds more than 50% of the entire fund. The fund focuses on investments of which the primary beneficiaries are people earning less than $2 a day. Those people may be suppliers to a business or consumers who now have access to a reliable source of seeds or fertiliser, for instance. The fund matches the entrepreneur’s investment up to a certain amount. In Sierra Leone, we visited a chicken farm that is expanding production through support from the AECF. One of the new investments was a modern feed mill that will not only improve the quality of feed, and hence chickens, which have hitherto been imported, but provide a regular customer for many small farmers from whom maize and other crops are purchased.

The AECF effectively acts as a catalyst, and its various funds now total more than $200 million. I have said in the past in the House that I believe that the AECF should provide less in the form of outright grants and more as returnable capital, loans or equity, which can be reused to help other businesses. I am glad to see in the latest figures that just over half the funds advanced by the AECF have been loans, and I encourage it further to increase that proportion because the more it does, the more that can be recycled in to other businesses. If a business is successful, it is right that those who have helped it—in this case, the British taxpayer and taxpayers from other countries that contribute to the fund—should share in that success.

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I now come to the point well made by the hon. Member for Upper Bann. Without adequate infrastructure, it is almost impossible for businesses to grow and reach their potential. I recall visiting a road project in the Democratic Republic of Congo near Bukavu with the International Development Committee. The project was substantially funded by DFID, and the road was connecting Bukavu with a town several hundred kilometres away that had been cut off from the rest of the world for some 20 years. That town is not small, and people travelled from there to Bukavu, one of the major population centres of the Democratic Republic of Congo, with great difficulty.

We travelled on the first 60 km to be completed, and people told us that it now takes just two hours for people, generally women, to bring their produce to market in Bukavu, whereas previously it had been a five-day walk carrying produce, in which time a lot of the produce probably would have gone off and become unsalable. The road project is a clear example of rural infrastructure that directly benefits farmers and the rural poor and creates jobs in the widest possible sense. There are many other examples, but that is the clearest example I have seen in which so much difference has been made in such a short space of time.

We heard that Sierra Leone and Liberia have some of the highest electricity prices in the world. That is extraordinary in countries where income is so low. Capacity is another issue. There are many countries in which the entire generating capacity is a fraction of the 900 MW output of Rugeley power station in my county of Staffordshire. As far as I know, Rwanda has less than 500 MW of output, and we were told that Sierra Leone has less than 100 MW of output, although it is currently building more capacity. Those substantial countries have electricity supplies on which a medium-sized town in the UK would not be able to survive. Without electricity, business clearly cannot flourish, and jobs cannot be created. Of course people can buy generators, but as anyone who has ever run a generator will know, the cost is prohibitive and adds enormously to the cost of doing business.

One final infrastructure issue is ports, which are a hindrance in many countries instead of an asset. We can see how, for countries that have invested in ports and run excellent ones, they become an entire competitive advantage in themselves; I think of Singapore, which has become a hub of trade in the far east and globally. Almost anything going in that direction transits through Singapore. I think of one or two ports in the middle east that have been developed into enormous entrepôts. Earlier still, the classic example in Europe is Rotterdam, through which effectively everything transited. We lost a lot of trade to Rotterdam because we were not fast enough in developing our own ports here in the UK, although that has been reversed to some extent since.

There are a number of problems with ports, not least corruption. I have personally experienced the problems with theft and corruption in ports, but it is clear that many ports are simply too small: they need more quays and they need dredging. The difference that better ports can make to job creation and business is enormous, particularly for landlocked countries. Many countries in sub-Saharan Africa are landlocked. In order to give them access to markets, the countries that house ports have a business opportunity, but also a responsibility, to

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make those ports as efficient as possible. It is estimated that sub-Saharan Africa needs a minimum of $100 billion a year for its infrastructure, and that the whole of Asia needs perhaps $1 trillion. Given that total overseas development assistance is less than $150 billion a year, it is clear that such investment can be done only through Government and private financing.

That is where initiatives such as the Private Infrastructure Development Group come in. Today I checked the results of that initiative, which was set up by the previous Government and continues under this one. The 2012 report stated that 39 projects were operational at the time, employing about 200,000 men and women in their construction and operation and providing services to 97.6 million people. Every $1 contributed by members through the PIDG facility—I am proud to say that the UK is by far the biggest donor—mobilises $39 in finance from other sources for projects. That is a tremendously effective use of money. Even if we take some of the figures with a little scepticism, as I always do, we would have to be extremely sceptical not to acknowledge that that is good value for taxpayers’ money in terms of the return created and the jobs generated.

I will come to the end of my remarks fairly shortly, but I will touch on a few areas that I believe are extremely important to supporting job creation in developing countries. The first is agriculture. We have already heard how many people are employed in agriculture in developing countries, but what must we do to make it work for them so that it is much more than just a subsistence livelihood? We need to help them invest in productivity. I have spoken about productivity before, as have others in other debates, so I will not go into it in great detail, but the issue is about processing, both on-farm—much is lost through poor processing—and post-farm, when raw food is made into finished products that can be sold. Post-farm processing creates a tremendous number of jobs. When we were in Afghanistan, we noted that many raw products from Afghanistan were going to Pakistan for processing and then coming back to Afghanistan in processed form, so we encouraged Afghanistan to invest in its food processing facilities.

Marketing is also important, as are land rights, which come up time and again. Land rights are essential to developing an economy. We have mentioned on a number of occasions the excellent DFID programme in Rwanda in which some 10 million plots of land were given titles, meaning that people have security over their land and can invest in it. They are therefore able not only to borrow against it but to gain additional productivity from it.

Green jobs are also relevant, and not only to the UK and developed countries; they are important in developing countries, because they link sustainability and growth. I was pleased to see that one of the more recent infrastructure projects funded through PIDG was a solar farm in Rwanda. Sometimes one wonders whether solar farms built in the UK are of much use, although I am glad to say that, over the weekend, I was able to have a couple of baths from the hot water solar panel on the roof of my house, even in Staffordshire. However, in countries such as Rwanda that have the benefit of the sun, it is great to see projects such as solar farms being developed to provide low-cost electricity for tens of thousands of homes.

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Another way of encouraging job creation that might seem slightly difficult, particularly to those of us on this side of the House, is tax creation. You might share with me, Mr Hollobone, a scepticism about whether collecting taxes can create jobs, but I believe that it does, as long as it is done fairly and rationally. There are a number of reasons why. First, it creates a level playing field. Many countries that I have seen have an arbitrary way of collecting taxes. For various reasons that I will not discuss, some businesses are let off paying the whole amount and others are penalised, perhaps because they are more honest. A proper tax collection system should be neutral. It should enable everybody to flourish in the right way, paying what one would hope is a fairly low rate of tax while contributing to the benefit of everybody.

Secondly, taxes fund security and good governance. As we said at the beginning of this debate, without good governance and good security, business cannot be conducted. Finally, taxes fund public services. To refer again to the remarks made at the beginning, education is absolutely critical to the success of business, as is a health system in which people are looked after so they do not get sick with malaria every other week and go missing from work or, if they are self-employed, end up destitute because they simply cannot get out into the fields.

I have not attempted to do more than provide a brief overview of what I see as the most important areas in which job creation in developing countries can be supported. I have spent most of my working life trying to support it; I remember that when I first went to Tanzania, the business that employed me had about 20 employees. My ambition was that it should have 100 employees after four years, and we succeeded. We had some ups and downs afterwards, but by and large, that was my biggest source of satisfaction: not necessarily the bottom line, but the fact that more and more people—hundreds and hundreds—could get a livelihood from the kind of work in which we were involved.

The stakes could not be higher. If we solve this, we will solve so much else in terms of peace, security, development, the elimination of poverty, and shared prosperity for both developing countries and, as I have said, for ourselves. It is not beyond us, with committed and visionary leadership.

Mr Philip Hollobone (in the Chair): If the House was not aware previously of how much the hon. Gentleman knows about international aid, it will certainly be now.

3.8 pm

Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab): Mr Hollobone, I think I express the views of everybody in this debate in offering my thanks to you for stepping into the breach and chairing so ably. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) on securing the debate and on his contribution. It was my pleasure to serve with him for a time on the Select Committee on International Development; his contributions then were always thoughtful, considered and expert. I have learned even more about the subject by listening to him just now.

Harold Wilson, who went to school in my constituency—in fact, he went to the boys’ school near the girls’ school I went to—said:

“Unemployment more than anything else made me politically conscious.”