THURROCK MP Jackie Doyle-Price rose on the floor of the House of Commons to discuss UK relations with Qatar.
Ms Doyle-Price said: “I congratulate Mr Carmichael on securing the debate and reminding us of those days, pre lockdown, when we could travel and go on fact-finding visits. I draw attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. That was a truly fascinating visit to a long-standing ally of this country, but I recognise that there are obviously still many issues about which there are ongoing discussions and challenges.
I highlight the issues that a number of colleagues raised regarding the blockade. It is, of course, illegal, and we strongly hope that those issues can be dealt with in the immediate future. The right hon. Gentleman was right to highlight that the reasons for it are very serious. I gently suggest that terror issues emanate from a number of states across the world, and that it would perhaps be more constructive to deal with them collaboratively, as Governments in dialogue with each other, rather than by taking illegal measures designed to inflict economic damage.
As it happens, the country has responded extremely positively in the wake of the blockade. It is a case of “What does not destroy me makes me stronger.” During our visit, we visited the new port that the Government constructed in order to import supplies directly, given that they cannot get them through their normal established trading routes. As the hon. Member for Thurrock, with the port of Tilbury in my constituency, I often describe my constituency as the ports capital of the UK. In that regard, I have to remind my hon. Friend Sir David Amess that it is far more important than the so-called city of Southend. That new port was a hugely impressive operation. London built its wealth as a port city, but as trade became more sophisticated and ships ever bigger, ports had to become bigger, and so the port of London moved east to my constituency. We are very much constrained by the available space in delivering a modern port, so it was truly a revelation to see this fantastic new facility. I pay tribute to the engineering feat accomplished there. I look forward to that port building from strength to strength, as well as to some good shipping line links between Tilbury in my constituency and London Gateway, and indeed, Qatar, so congratulations to them.
We have had a number of references to human rights issues surrounding Qatar. I tend to take the view that although it is absolutely important that this country, which prides itself on being liberal and having the rule of law, should be at the forefront of pushing for human rights and tackling discrimination and oppression wherever they occur around the world, equally, we need to be a bit less holier than thou about it. It takes a long time to foster cultural change, and the truth of the matter is we are not as perfect as we like to think we are. Some of the issues come down to how we really tackle behaviour and establish better human rights. It is very easy to pass a law and say, “This is now the law and this is the state of play.” But for that to really filter down into changes of behaviour and good practice takes an awfully long time.
We must not be accused of looking the other way when there are human rights abuses, but we also need to give credit where it is due. My hon. Friend Adam Holloway mentioned the camp that we visited. It is true that the facilities were very good there. I have visited similar places in the Emirates, and I think we need to be real when we say that lots of countries rely on imported immigrant labour to deliver the jobs that they are not prepared to do. Some countries are better than others at ensuring the rights of those people are protected. Although I am satisfied that the direction of travel in Qatar is extremely positive, there is clearly a way to go.
Obviously, we welcome the minimum wage legislation. At the instigation of Justin Madders, we actually met some workers who clearly acknowledged that the opportunity to work in Qatar was life changing and very good for them and their families. However, there were still some issues where their rights could have been enhanced, so that is very much still a work in progress.
I would also say that there are countries whose economies are entirely driven by sending workers overseas to repatriate money into those countries. Personally, I find that morally obscene. We, as a nation, should be encouraging them to become more sustainable. I consider those countries that benefit from such practice as talent-stripping developing countries. It is all very well to have a good record on dishing out international aid, but if, at the same time, we are taking their best talent to work here, I am afraid that becomes somewhat hypocritical. We need to acknowledge that when it comes to manning the NHS, we do the same to countries such as the Philippines as Qatar does to countries such as Nepal to get workers. We should be a bit more honest with ourselves about that.
We can also do better on some issues. I mentioned shipping. Again, we turn a blind eye to the fact that lots of the crews that work our ships and keep our supermarkets stocked are also working in conditions far worse than those that we saw in Qatar. Let us acknowledge that this is a collective endeavour for the whole world to tackle in ensuring that all workers across the world are treated fairly and are given the rights that they are due to expect.
My hon. Friend Sir David Amess mentioned the question of women. When we went to see the Emir, I was very pleased to have the opportunity to discuss this. Again, I was the only woman in the room, but I am quite used to being the only woman in the room in this country in meetings to do with politics, as I am sure you are, Ms Rees. It is not peculiar to countries in the middle east. I said that we welcome the fact they are moving towards democratic elections, but I asked what the prospects were for seeing women elected. I was very pleased that the Emir said he was retaining a number of positions that would be directly appointed by him. He gave a very clear commitment that if a sufficient number of women were not directly elected, he would use his power of appointment to make sure women achieved representation. That is an extremely constructive position to take. I put that point to the Minister because I hope that that is something that we will hold the Emir to. Frankly, having women in politics civilises nations. I am sure everyone would agree, so let us make sure we do our bit to encourage that.
As we approach the World cup, everyone is very excited. I share the enthusiasm of my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West for the football stadium. I am not the biggest fan of football, to be quite frank, but it is a major engineering feat and I do not think I have ever been so cool and relaxed sitting in a football stadium, despite the heat outside. It is quite special. I know that a lot of concern has been expressed about the treatment of tourists who go to see the football, with particular concerns about gay rights. Again, these things were discussed and there was some understanding of the issues, but I reaffirm the point made by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland. In this country, it is only very recently that we have established gay rights in the way that we now take for granted. We can welcome the tone that has been taken about how tourists will be treated as part of the World cup, but we must recognise that there is much more to do.
I have little more to add. I congratulate again the right hon. Gentleman for securing this debate. I look forward to strengthening Britain’s relationship with Qatar and to Britain doing its best to make sure that relations within the GCCare returned to a more constructive position.