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Saudi Arabia: Driving Licences

Volume 731: debated on Wednesday 26 October 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what consideration they have given to the recognition of Saudi Arabian driving licences in the United Kingdom.

My Lords, no consideration has been given to the exchange of Saudi Arabian driving licences in the UK. Consideration would be given only after an approach has come from the Government of Saudi Arabia to recognise their driving licences. To date, no such approach has been made.

My Lords, I am slightly confused by the Minister’s Answer. My understanding is that Saudi Arabian driving licences are valid in this country for up to a year for Saudi Arabian citizens. As he will be aware, Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world to make it a criminal offence for women to drive. Recently, a sentence of 10 lashes was handed out to a woman driver, although that was later commuted. Will the Minister consider the current position? Will he look at whether the UK recognition of Saudi Arabian driving licences for a year should be withheld until driving licences are available to all citizens and not just to male citizens? Can he discuss with his Foreign Office colleagues what action can be taken by the British Government to raise concerns about the Saudi Arabian Government’s position on this appalling discrimination?

My Lords, on the substantive question about recognition or non-recognition of Saudi driving licences, the noble Baroness will recognise that we are under a treaty obligation in terms of the international circulation order. However, we welcome King Abdullah’s overturning of the recent sentence of lashing for a woman convicted of driving. It is well known that this Government, like their predecessor, have particular concern about some aspects of human rights protection in Saudi Arabia, most notably women’s rights. The UK has consistently called for women in Saudi Arabia to be able to participate fully in society. That means removing legal and cultural barriers, like the guardianship system and the ban on women driving.

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia, of course, has nothing to do with theology or Islam and has everything to do with the desire of men in Saudi Arabia to remain guardians of women—in other words, discrimination? Will he tell the House how the United Kingdom voted when Saudi Arabia was elected on to the executive board of UN Women, the agency for gender equality and empowerment for women? If he does not have the answer with him, perhaps he might write to me saying how the UK voted?

My Lords, the noble Baroness has asked me quite a detailed question, and I am afraid that I shall have to write to her.

My Lords, as the Arab spring is showing some buds even in Saudi Arabia, with regard to the participation of women on the Consultative Council, could the Government at least indicate to the Saudi Government that, from our experience, women are safer drivers than men?

My Lords, surely the noble Lord could say straight to the Saudi Arabian Government, “We are not going to enter into these negotiations until you allow all women of the right age and with the right experience to be able to drive in Saudi Arabia and we will not accept those licences in this country until that is achieved”.

My Lords, I think the best way of achieving our objective—I think we are clear about our objective—is to apply steady, consistent pressure to states like Saudi Arabia. We will not get them to roll over overnight. No doubt the Saudis give us friendly advice about, for instance, underage drinking and other cultural matters.