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Qatar: Football World Cup 2022

Volume 816: debated on Tuesday 30 November 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of preparations for the 2022 Qatar World Cup and their compatibility with (1) human rights, and (2) journalistic freedoms.

My Lords, we continue to work with Qatar to support its delivery of a safe and secure World Cup. As with all tournaments, we will work closely with host authorities on the safety of British nationals attending, including fans, journalists and players. Our close ties with Qatar allow us to engage on a range of topics and we raise human rights issues whenever required, which includes in the context of the World Cup.

My Lords, eight years ago, the International Trade Union Confederation warned of Qatar’s failure to collect statistics relating to deaths and injuries of migrant workers. It is a scandal that Qatar continues to hide the true picture. In its report published 10 days ago, the ILO identified gaps in the collection of data on work-related deaths and injuries and called for improvement, stressing that we must move with urgency as behind each statistic there is a worker and their family. What representations have the Government made to Qatar on the ILO report? Will the noble Lord come back to the House on progress made on its implementation, so that further injuries or deaths are prevented and the families of those killed or injured receive proper compensation?

Everyone deserves the right to work safely and securely, whether that be in Qatar, the UK or elsewhere. Having engaged with the Qatari authorities, the International Labour Organization, as the noble Lord has just noted, published this month a comprehensive report containing recommendations for improving data collection and analysis on occupational injuries and fatalities. This is an important step, and we welcome that. It is also one of the key elements of Qatar’s national policy on occupational safety and health. We therefore expect close collaboration between the Government of Qatar and the ILO during the second phase of their technical co-operation programme, which will run until the end of 2023. We also encourage continued co-operation with entities such as international trade unions. As the noble Lord has noted, the ILO report notes that it is not currently possible to safely present a categorical figure on the number of occupational injuries and fatalities in Qatar.

I hear what the Minister has to say about the relationship between this Government and the Qatari Government. Recently, however, two western journalists covering the run-up to the World Cup in Qatar were arrested for filming a migrant camp. What assurances does the Minister have from the Qatari Government that the same fate will not befall other foreign journalists covering the World Cup who decide to report on controversial and sensitive issues in the emirate?

We are aware of these cases and are closely monitoring developments. We understand that Qatari and Norwegian authorities, to whom the noble Lord refers, are in communication. The UK remains committed to media freedom and to the global media freedom campaign, launched in 2018. Obviously, a large cohort from the British press is expected to attend next year’s tournament. As part of the FCDO’s preparations, we will be working closely with the press community, providing advice on local laws and seeking assurances from FIFA and the Qatari authorities as required.

My Lords, I cannot be the only person who received an assurance from the embassy of Qatar, saying that things have improved dramatically, including the introduction of a minimum wage and the banning of exit visas. Can the Government use their authority, along with that of their allies, to make sure that FIFA agrees that such policies have to be in place before a country can bid for a major competition, not after it has been awarded, so that we will not have to go through this again?

My Lords, I welcome the Minister to the Front Bench for his first Question. What advice is the FCDO giving to football fans from the LGBTQ community who are contemplating visiting Qatar for the World Cup in view of Article 296 of the Qatari legal code, which stipulates imprisonment of between one and three years for

“leading, instigating or seducing a male in any way to commit sodomy”?

The UK is committed to the principle of non-discrimination on any grounds, including on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity. We are committed to promoting and protecting the rights of LGBT people. They are not asking for special rights, merely to be accorded the same dignity, respect and rights as all other citizens. Qatari authorities have committed that everybody is welcome to the tournament, including LGBT visitors. We will continue to engage on this between now and next year’s tournament, so that anyone of any background can go and enjoy themselves. We will continue to encourage the equal treatment and respect of individual rights and identify what action Qatar is taking to match those words.

My Lords, from this side of the House, I also welcome my noble friend to his new responsibilities; I wish him well. Do not all the very valid points that have been made during the course of this Question surely emphasise the need for ongoing and constructive engagement in conversations with countries such as Qatar? Can we also be brutally realistic and realise that nobody is going to rush to listen to our sermons on democratic values and human rights in the Middle East when our policies for the last 20 years in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Afghanistan have pointed in entirely the wrong direction?

My noble friend is right to raise the importance of constructive engagement. The UK has a strong history of promoting our values globally. We believe that the best approach is to engage with Governments and work with international partners and civil society organisations to promote and defend those universal freedoms. The relationship between the UK and countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council and the wider MENA region is historic and enduring. But we should also recognise that this is a region with distinct cultures and differing political systems.

My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Addington, I have received the letter from the chargé d’affaires of the embassy of Qatar yesterday, claiming that Qatar

“leads the region on advancing labour rights protection”

and has made it clear that

“labour law and human rights violations will not be tolerated”.

Does the Minister recognise that assessment as accurate, given the continued high level of construction-related injuries, with over 300 last year, and fatalities, with over 50 last year? Does he agree with the statement from the chargé d'affaires that Qatar’s

“track record on media freedoms speaks for itself”?

What further action do the Government believe is necessary to improve human rights and end construction-related fatalities and injuries in Qatar state?

I think that question was answered earlier, but I take the noble Lord’s point. On media freedom, we continue to engage, as I also said earlier, regarding the number of fatalities. There is some disagreement and difficulty with data collection and precise numbers, but on all those matters, we continue to engage.

My Lords, while it was encouraging to see Qatar introduce labour reforms last year, described at the time as ground-breaking by FIFA—perhaps not the most objective of observers—these reforms appear to have had limited impact, as Amnesty and other groups have highlighted. Human rights groups estimate that more than 6,000 migrant workers have died in the course of building the World Cup infrastructure, whereas the tournament’s chief executive claimed only last week that the real number was just three. What are our Government doing to encourage greater transparency?

As I have said already, I am afraid that the ILO report notes that it is currently not possible to safely present a categorical figure on the number of occupational injuries and fatalities, but the Government continue to engage regularly with the International Labour Organization office in Doha and explore areas of its work where the UK can add value. We stand ready to assist further and support Qatari continued efforts to implement change.

My Lords, I draw attention to my interests as declared in the register. I am strongly in favour of engagement, but engagement guided by some kind of principles. If the Minister looks at the study done by the Sunday Times insight team—I am very willing to lend him the books—he will read a detailed account of industrial-scale corruption on the part of Qatar in achieving the status of a World Cup- hosting body. This is confirmed in other books, including the one which I have here—and am prepared to lend him: David Conn’s book, which goes through it, detail by detail. Are the Government able to say that, in order to establish the principles alongside the engagement, there will be no associated royal, governmental or diplomatic visits which are likely to assist the sports-washing of regimes which are culpable for serious human rights abuses, wide-scale corruption and unsafe employment by any global standards? Are the Government prepared to guide sports bodies—we could have certainly done with that in 2009 and 2010—when competing with other international bids for these tournaments, to show that there is a proper way of dealing with competitor bidders who do not observe these principles at all?

The noble Lord asks a long question, and unfortunately I am unable to give a long answer. I will take what he has said back to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. I appreciate the points he has made and would welcome the loan of his book.