Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Bahrain — [Siobhain McDonagh in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:14 am on 11th September 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Rehman Chishti Rehman Chishti Vice-Chair, Conservative Party 10:14 am, 11th September 2018

My hon. Friend is spot on; he knows the area very well. There is a Shi’a majority in Bahrain, and religious freedom is absolutely core. They must be able to practise their faith as they want. There are 751 registered Shi’ite places of worship, 432 registered Sunni places of worship and another 618 places for the Shi’a community.

I have said this before in Parliament: there must be no compromise on religious freedom. In politics, there is always give and take, but that is not the case on religious freedom. I say that when I travel abroad. I have an interest in religious freedom, and I have served on the Joint Committee on Human Rights in this place.

Members of Parliament from across the political spectrum engage with diplomats at all levels. On 17 August, I visited and engaged with the ambassador for Bahrain—I am my party’s vice-chairman for communities, and I engage with diplomats across the board. When I came out of that meeting, I was followed by individuals outside, chased down the road and shouted at. Pictures were taken. I did not know who those people were; I had never met them. They had never asked to see me and speak to me. I was threatened. I tried to flag down a cab, but one did not stop, and those people ran after me. I went further down the road and tried to flag down another cab as the voices got closer. I jumped into the cab and said to the driver, “Lock the door. Drive now.” I then reported the incident to the House of Commons security services.

Is that how Members of Parliament should be treated? Those people have their views, but they should engage constructively. We have a difference of opinion. The House of Commons brief says that Bahrain is a priority country for human rights. I accept that there are concerns, but Members of Parliament should not be treated in that way; we should be engaged with. If people want to come to the United Kingdom and claim asylum, they should claim it according to the criteria, but they should respect individuals and how democracy works, and not treat parliamentarians in that way—I make that very clear.

The other point I wish to make is this. I listened with care to the hon. Member for Hammersmith, and he did not mention anywhere where he thinks progress has been made on reform. To be as fair as I can, I refer to page 2 of the House of Commons Library document prepared for this debate, which refers to the commitment of Bahrain, which is a signatory to the United Nations convention on civil and political rights. That note says that some progress has been made—it does not say that no progress has been made—but outlines a number of areas where more needs to be done. So the point I would start with is that progress has been made—my hon. Friend Bob Stewart took my line earlier.

Over the summer, I read “Agincourt” by Ranulph Fiennes. Many hundreds of years ago, our country went through a lot of changes, and we did a lot of things to one another that were not right, some on the pretext of religion. It has taken us hundreds of years to get where we are now. Countries that became independent only in 1971 cannot evolve to that point so quickly, but it is important that we support them to get there as quickly as possible. The support that we have given on this specific issue—I will be brief because I want to hear the Minister—relates to the ombudsman service. Mr Campbell wondered about our international partners: what are they saying? They, too, want to see change.

I refer hon. Members to a written answer from Lord Ahmad, a Minister in the other place, with regard to the ombudsman, which is supported through UK funding:

“In 2014 the Ministry of Interior Ombudsman’s Office won the EU’s Chaillot Prize for the promotion of human rights in the Gulf Cooperation Council region.”

Linked to that important point are two of the cases mentioned by the hon. Member for Hammersmith. Husain Moosa and Mohammed Ramadan have been convicted and sentenced to death, but the ombudsman’s report found that those decisions should be overturned. They were overturned because of the ombudsman’s report, and there is a retrial process, so the system works. More needs to be done, but there is a document that says that some of the reforms that have taken place have helped to save two individuals from going to the gallows. It is not just anyone saying it, but a House of Commons document saying that reform is taking place and making constructive change.

We all talk about human trafficking, but Bahrain has recently been given tier 1 status in that regard. It has improved how individuals who go to work there are treated. Thanks to Bahrain’s work on human trafficking, it is now rated on a par with Germany, the United Kingdom and other developed countries by the United States State Department.

Reform is taking place; change is taking place. More needs to be done, and I welcome the Minister’s work on the biannual UK-Bahrain joint working group, where human rights, the environment, education and security are all discussed. I look forward to hearing what he has to say about what was and will be discussed.

In essence, change has taken place. Yes, more needs to be done, but it is no good simply to criticise. Credit must be given where it is due. By working with our partners around the world, we can push for more change. I do not believe in the death penalty, and I never have done. I made that point to the Americans, and I always will. We have to work for change, and as United Kingdom parliamentarians we will do so through engagement with our counterpart parliamentarians in that kingdom.