Skip to main content

Democracy And The Rule Of Law

Volume 669: debated on Thursday 24 February 2005

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

11.8 a.m.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they plan to support and seek to strengthen democracy in countries where it is just emerging; and, if so, how.

My Lords, the Government will continue their work to strengthen democracy throughout the world. The promotion of democracy, the rule of law, human rights and good governance underpin our foreign policy. Her Majesty's Government promote these issues for two reasons: because we have a firm conviction that it is the right thing to do and because we have a direct interest in building the conditions for sustainable global security and prosperity, while fostering reliable and responsible international partners.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her positive Answer. Will she agree that a whole series of recent elections around the world have shown that people want to determine their own future under accountable governments? In that situation, will the Government use every possible means of information and communications technology to strengthen civil and political groups so that lasting, permanent, democratic institutions emerge?

My Lords, I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, that the election is only the beginning of the process. But the Government's approach is to ensure that everything we do in foreign policy—we may not always call it "promoting democracy"—is geared towards the core universal principles of democracy. Those include the participation of people—the noble Lord talked about people who were desperate to vote, often doing so in difficult and violent circumstances and showing that they want to have their say—transparency, holding governments to account and the rule of law. Those are very important principles, and we follow them up with projects, advice and mentoring in Ukraine, Georgia, Iraq and all over the world.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that yesterday a very senior Saudi Arabian delegation visited your Lordships' House to inquire how an appointed Chamber could contribute to the development of democracy? The noble Lords present. of whom I was one, were able to tell them that, provided there was a democratic Chamber to work alongside, an appointed Chamber like your Lordships' House was doing an extremely good job.

My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord told the delegation that we are a work in progress.

My Lords, as one who does not know the procedures in this area, do the Government wait until they are asked or do they just assume that other countries are desperately anxious to reach the same level of efficiency as the British Government have done in this country? Certainly, people who I know in ASEAN are frequently deeply offended by the assumption that former colonial powers still have the right to tell them how to run their countries.

My Lords, we are not telling people how to run their countries. There is no "one size fits all" for democracy. We are saying to people that we will work to support the growth of democracy which is indigenous in countries. As I said, we do that through an enormous amount of funding from the FCO, DfID and the MoD, which provides help and support with mentoring and advice. There is no need for us to justify our enthusiasm for democracy. It is a truth that will be known to many noble Lords here that no two democracies have ever gone to war with each other.

My Lords, when the Minister next entertains delegations from abroad, will she also take them to the other place and explain that there a party with less than 40 per cent of the votes may well end up with more than 60 per cent of seats and that such an outcome is an insult to an efficient democracy? Can she confirm that the Labour Party is still committed to reforming that outdated and absurd electoral system?

My Lords, of course, in this House the party with the smallest number of votes has an overall influence on the votes, way above that voting potential.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware—I am sure she is—that there is currently in this country a delegation of politicians from Bosnia Herzegovina who are very anxious indeed for tangible support for their efforts to get nearer to the European Union? They are very much looking to Britain to take a leading part in obtaining EU help and support. Can she take that further?

My Lords, I very much support my noble friend's enthusiasm for assisting in that area. Of course, we assist Bosnia Herzegovina bilaterally, with the EU and through our NATO colleagues. As someone who was there during the war more than 10 years ago, I realise how slow the West was to come to the aid of Bosnia.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the growth of democracy does not end with central government issues but that a strong local government is very important in achieving the level of participation to which the Minister referred? That applies equally to this country as it does to others.

My Lords, I could not agree more. For example, in Georgia, the current focus of our efforts is to facilitate a link between the legislative branch of government and the citizens of Georgia's regions so that local level democracy can be boosted.

My Lords, I welcome the emergence and strengthening of democracy throughout the world, but can my noble friend tell me the Government's response to the fact that in recent local elections in Saudi Arabia women were not allowed to participate?

My Lords, although I welcome the recent elections in Saudi Arabia as progress on the path to reform, I cannot hide from noble Lords our disappointment that women were excluded. Along with our EU partners, we raised our disappointment and concern with the Saudi authorities. In that context, we welcome the statement by the Saudi Ambassador to London that women will be included in the next elections in 2009.