Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Henley: My Lords, I simply do not accept what the noble Lord says. As I have said on many occasions, we maintain a minimum deterrent which both contributes to NATO's strategy of war prevention and is the ultimate guarantee of our own national security. The noble Lord has been putting his points for a great many years. His analysis of what happened in the past has, I believe, been proved wrong while Her Majesty's Government's viewpoint has been proved right. It is possibly about time that the noble Lord reconsidered his point of view.

Lord Chalfont: My Lords, does the Minister accept that there are some of us who, reading the phrase "national self-absorption" in the Question believe that the policy of a British Government should be to secure the interests and safety of the British people? If that is "national self-absorption", long may it survive.

Lord Henley: My Lords, I agree totally with the noble Lord. Perhaps I can assist by informing him that just before the reference to "national self-absorption", quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, in his Question, appear the words:

That might help the noble Lord.

Lord Mayhew: My Lords, is the Minister aware that at the recent non-proliferation conference, the Government's agreement to the signing of a comprehensive test ban treaty without reservations and to a cut-off in the production of fissile materials helped towards the achievement of what I think was a very welcome consensus at that conference? Is it not deplorable that the Chinese Government, who accepted the consensus, have today conducted a nuclear test?

Lord Henley: My Lords, the noble Lord is correct. We heard today that the Chinese have tested a weapon. The Chinese issued a statement which includes a clear commitment to abide by the comprehensive test ban

15 May 1995 : Column 293

treaty when it is agreed; we expect them to honour that commitment. We shall pursue that point with them and we shall continue with our commitment to try to reach a conclusion to the treaty by the end of 1996.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, does the Minister agree that circumstances have changed completely since Trident was decided upon at enormous cost—in fact, eventually at double the estimate? We no longer have two superpowers and the purposes for which Trident was built have disappeared. In all those circumstances, is it not worth taking another look at the situation?

Lord Henley: My Lords, there are still two powers with very large quantities of nuclear weapons. As my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary made clear at the beginning of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, we do not think that we should be negotiating reductions in the size of our nuclear arsenal, which has already been reduced considerably, until we see those of the Russians and the United States reduced very considerably.

Bahrain: Human Rights

2.53 p.m.

Lord Archer of Sandwell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are initiating international action to secure compliance by Bahrain with internationally recognised standards of human rights in respect of torture, detention without trial and the use of firearms against peaceful demonstrators.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey): My Lords, the Bahrainis are well aware of the importance of observing human rights, including in the areas identified by the noble and learned Lord.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, in thanking the Minister for that Answer, may I ask her whether there is any reason to doubt the reports by Amnesty International of firing on peaceful demonstrators, of withholding medical assistance to the injured, of detention without trial (or without a proper trial), and of the use of torture? More generally, does the Minister agree that there are some governments whose human rights records are so horrifying that they exclude themselves from normal, civilised, international discourse, and, if so, would she include Bahrain?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, while we cannot overlook the allegations that have been made, it is perfectly fair to say that Bahrain has made considerable progress in recent years. However, we remain concerned about the number of deaths and casualties during the recent disturbances. We have seen no evidence that the Bahraini police used excessive force to contain peaceful demonstrations, but there really is a difference when the demonstrations become

15 May 1995 : Column 294

violent—and that is when the police resorted to the use of tear-gas and rubber bullets. However regrettable we may find it, that was the situation at the time.

I understand what the noble and learned Lord says about torture and about the other allegations that have been made. There is no substantiated evidence of the mistreatment of detainees, but we shall continue to examine any allegations of torture. If the noble and learned Lord knows of any, I hope that he will put them to us. I believe that a visit to Bahrain by Amnesty International would be of great benefit. It would be useful if that organisation could sit down with the Bahraini Government and agree the terms of a visit, because that is the only way in which we can make progress.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, is the Minister aware that Amnesty International has asked to visit Bahrain and to observe the trials, which currently take place in camera? Can the Minister comment on reports from Amnesty International that Bahrain has resorted to the disgraceful practice of detaining children in lieu of relatives wanted by the authorities? Have the Government protested to Bahrain about that or raised the matter in any international forum?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I note what the noble Baroness said about the arrest of children who may be relatives of dissidents. We have no reliable evidence that that is happening, but I shall inquire further because, as the noble Baroness knows, neither the Government nor her own party believe that any detention without trial is right. There is no doubt but that those who have not yet been charged or released should soon be either charged or released.

I am glad to hear that Amnesty International has asked to visit Bahrain. I believe in the great importance of dialogue on such matters with organisations such as Amnesty International. I shall go into the details of this matter following Questions this afternoon.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, may I suggest to the Minister that when looking at the detention of children as a means of bringing pressure to bear on their parents, she might glance at the case of Miss Afaf Al-Jamri, who was detained in order to bring pressure to bear on her father, the distinguished former MP and judge, Shaikh Al-Jamri, and that of her sister, Mansoora Al-Jamri, who was due to take her final examinations for a BA the week before last but who was detained by the security forces on her way into the examinations and prevented from taking them, again as a means of bringing pressure to bear on Shaikh Al-Jamri? Does the noble Baroness agree with her colleague Mr. Douglas Hogg that dialogue is the way to solve the political problems of Bahrain and that any dialogue has to include the principal signatories of the petition which was signed by 250,000 people and which called on the Amir to restore the 1973 constitution and Parliament, and that without such a dialogue, the disorders are likely to continue indefinitely?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I think that I said in answer to the previous question that we believe that dialogue is necessary and desirable. There

15 May 1995 : Column 295

is a clear need for us to take a close interest in all these cases—indeed, we are already doing that—including the case of Shaikh Abdul Al-Jamri. We are also aware of the concern about Mansoor Al-Jamri's recent visit to the United States, which was a cause of the disagreement with the Bahraini Government. He is a naturalised UK citizen and holds a UK passport. We shall certainly look into what he is doing.

However, I must say this. However concerned we are about the way in which the Bahraini Government are dealing with opposition groups, those opposition groups must act responsibly and within the law. Although this may seem a hard thing to say, I believe that, unless they do so, they are letting down their own case because this is a matter that will be resolved only by dialogue and by acting within the law. That begs the question of whether the law is yet right, but it is the only way to proceed responsibly.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, in the light of what the Minister has said about the value of a visit to Bahrain by Amnesty, will she make her view known to the Bahraini Government?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I have no doubt that they read your Lordships' proceedings, but I shall bring it to their attention.

Official Languages: English and Welsh

3 p.m.

Viscount St. Davids asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether English is the only official language in use in the United Kingdom.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, there is no concept of an official language enshrined in English or Scottish law. However, the Government accept the principle that for official purposes in Wales the English and Welsh languages should be treated on a basis of equality.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page