Page last updated at 22:19 GMT, Monday, 12 December 2011

Saudi Arabia debate

On 12 December 2011 peers took part in a debate on human rights and the political situation in Saudi Arabia.

The debate was called by Labour peer Lord Ahmed, who referred to reports from human rights organisations about conditions in the country.

"I have great love and respect for the 27 million citizens of Saudi Arabia as well as the holy places in both Mecca and Medina," he said.

"It is for this reason I believe it is imperative for me to speak out against the oppressive, dictatorial and brutal practices exercised by the regime."

Lord Ahmed drew attention to the situation of women in the country.

He said: "Women are not allowed to drive or vote, women remain subject to discrimination both in law and practice, women are not allowed to travel, engage in paid work or higher education or marry without the permission of a male guardian."

Shadow leader of the House Baroness Royall said she "shared the deep concern" of peers about human rights in Saudi Arabia.

"As true friends of Saudi Arabia, I think it is our duty to speak honestly about what is happening in that country," she said, declaring that Saudi Arabia was "an important ally in global and regional security...a nation with whom we have very important trading relations".

Government foreign affairs spokesman Lord Wallace of Saltaire said: "I am conscious that the rights of women were very limited in Britain until less than 150 years ago.

"We gradually reformed our laws and social attitudes over several generations...we of course request the Saudis to pass through the same evolutionary process but at a much faster pace."

Lord Wallace praised progress that had been made in the education of women and measures that were encouraging "Saudi society to open up".

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