My Lords, the Government are appalled by the introduction of the Sharia penal code in Brunei, allowing Hudud punishments. We believe that corporal and capital punishments go against international human rights law. The Foreign Secretary and the Minister for Asia and the Pacific have personally raised with Brunei our concerns about discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. No one should face persecution and discrimination because of who they are and who they love.
My Lords, is it not right that this House should express its utter abhorrence at the barbaric action taken by the Government of Brunei? Is it not right too that we should remind ourselves of the frequent calls made across the House, led by our Lord Speaker when he was on the Conservative Benches, that the 50-odd Commonwealth countries that treat homosexuals as criminals should revise their laws and respect human rights, as the Commonwealth charter itself demands? The Government of Brunei have defied that charter in the most flagrant manner. Can it be right that a country where people can be stoned to death because of their sexuality should remain part of today’s modern, progressive Commonwealth, committed as it is to human rights?
We encourage all Commonwealth partners to protect and promote the very important values set out in the Commonwealth charter. They include opposition to all forms of discrimination. On 4 April the Foreign Secretary spoke to Brunei’s Foreign Minister, Mr Erywan, to express his concerns. He will also meet—indeed, at this moment he may actually be doing so—both Mr Erywan and the Minister for Economics and Finance, Dr Amin Liew, where there will be a blunt and, I think, very frank presentation of the UK Government’s view on this.
My Lords, the Sultan of Brunei has had honours and titles bestowed on him by this country, including the most honourable Order of the Bath, the most distinguished Order of St Michael and St George, and honorary commissions in the RAF as an air chief marshal and in the Royal Navy as an honorary admiral of the fleet. If he continues with such abhorrent human rights abuses, will the Government strip him of these honours and titles?
My Lords, I join my noble friend Lord Lexden—I say that advisedly—in his comments on this very important issue. Will the Minister point out to Brunei that there will be economic consequences when countries fail to adhere to universal human rights principles? Furthermore, do the Government support the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth in the concerns she has expressed that the actions of Brunei, which interestingly also affect women and people who commit adultery, are not aligned with the declaration of Commonwealth principles?
The Minister with responsibility for the Commonwealth, my noble friend Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, spoke to the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth last Thursday. She is already in contact with the Government of Brunei and is working through bilateral and Commonwealth channels.
My Lords, will my noble friend listen very carefully to what the noble Lords, Lord Cashman and Lord Lexden, have said? Most Islamic scholars now recognise that of course the Sultan and Brunei are on the wrong track in their interpretation of Sharia. Given that and as we are the chair in office of the Commonwealth, will she strongly support the current efforts of the Commonwealth, which I do not think are being fully publicised, to bring to the attention of Brunei that it is on the wrong track and to achieve some radical change and a better understanding before the horrors of this policy are worked out?
I thank my noble friend for a pertinent observation. The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group is currently chaired by Kenya, and the UK is a member by virtue of being chair in office. That group provides a space for sensitive discussions. By convention, I am not at liberty to confirm which specific issue we will raise in that forum, but I do not think a crystal ball is required to predict that this issue may be of interest.
My Lords, Article 1 of the UN Convention against Torture prohibits the use of intentionally inflicted pain as a form of punishment by a state actor. We are a signatory to that convention, and Article 3 says that we should not send anybody back to a country where they could be subject to this kind of treatment. I commend the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, on having raised this, but can the Government tell us what our country is going to do? What guidance has been given to asylum decision-makers here and to our high commission in Brunei to give protection to anyone facing these awful punishments?
Let me reassure the noble Baroness that advice has been given to British citizens; it is available from the FCO. We are not advising against travel to Brunei. Advice will be given so that people can travel there and be safe. Perhaps we should consider the position of British forces in the garrison in Brunei. We have the necessary protections in place with the Government of Brunei to mitigate against any issues that might arise from the introduction of these new laws. In relation to the United Nations, the United Kingdom’s position is clear. The noble Baroness is correct that we wish Brunei to expedite its ratification of UNCAT. That is important and would be a welcome move, but we want Brunei to go further to safeguard against the use of inhumane punishments and to protect all individuals from discrimination on any grounds.
I think the question I heard was about travel. I said in response to an earlier question that we are not advising against travel to Brunei but, as with all foreign travel, we encourage British nationals to read our travel advice alongside other available resources to help them make an informed decision and plan for a safe trip.