It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Henry. I draw the House’s attention to my declaration in the register, not least because I chair a detention review panel examining the cases of Saudi activists for women’s rights. I congratulate Mr Carmichael on securing this debate. Saudi Arabia is an important ally, so it is important that, where she falls short of the standards we expect from countries we strategically stand alongside, we hold her to account.
It is also important to put the question of how we advance and support human rights in Saudi Arabia into the wider strategic context. By most measurable economic and social indicators, the world is improving for the majority of its citizens. Global poverty and child mortality are down. Vaccinations, basic education and democracy are going up. Those are trends over the past couple of centuries. We live in a liberal-democratic-inspired, rules-based international world order, underpinned by NATO, the United States security umbrella and the United Nations, based on those structures established at the end of the second world war.
Overall, we expect those structures to advance human rights, but we now have to recognise that those structures are under immense strain. First, there was the missed opportunity of the fall of the Soviet Union, which has been replaced over the past 30 years by an increasingly like-for-like security structure in Putin’s Russia. Additionally, in the middle east we witnessed the failure of the Arab spring to advance the political and human rights of those on the wrong end of governance in the pre-2011 middle east, except perhaps in Tunisia and Morocco.
Strategically, the main challenge we face is the rise of China. If we fail to secure China’s place in the rules-based international order, it will be to our peril, and it will not only have implications for the nation states who immediately abut Chinese regional power in east Asia, but have a direct effect on basic questions of advancing human rights in countries such as Saudi Arabia. If our policy serves to drive our allies into the open arms of China and Russia to provide for their hard security, we will do nothing to advance and support human rights, collective political rights and government accountability in countries such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain, which have also been mentioned. It could seriously damage accountable progress.
This is a perilous time for human rights. This debate rightly highlights that Saudi Arabia is a human rights priority country for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and has been for several years. Disengaging from its political development and security will only help more authoritarian countries, which place less value on the rule of law, to become the dominant paradigm in the world.
I profoundly disagree with Andy Slaughter. I believe the cancellation of the Just Solutions International contracts, which engaged in the Saudi justice system, particularly in the management of offenders, is profoundly to be regretted. I believe in the merits of interdependence. I believe that the police and justice training that we support should be delivered as far as possible. If we can do that, and sell to countries our experience—particularly the experience of the Ministry of Justice’s retired senior prison governors and probation officers—at economic advantage to the United Kingdom, so that they can improve their systems and import some of the human rights accountability, which we take for granted, it is likely to be of significant benefit overall, both financially for the United Kingdom and, more importantly, for the values we want to promote in those societies.