Visit of the Speaker and Delegation of the Majils Ash-Shura, Saudi Arabia
A delegation from the Majils Ash-Shura of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia led by the Speaker, H.E. Dr. Abdullah Bin Muhammad Bin Ibrahim Al-Sheikh, undertook an inter-parliamentary visit to the UK Parliament from 4-6 March 2013. Accompanying the Speaker were Shura Council Members, Hamza Bin Hussein Al-Sharif, Zuhair F. J. Al-Harthy, Saud Bin Abdulrahman Al-Shammari, Dr. Said Abdulla Al-Shaikh and Dr. Omar Bin Ibrahim Rajab and two of the recently appointed 30 women members of the Council, Thuraya Bint Ahmed Obeid and Dr. Nihad Mohammed Al-Jishi and parliamentary officials.
Welcoming the visit, BGIPU Chairman, Mr Robert Walter MP, said, “This first ever BGIPU visit from Saudi Arabia to the UK represents an important opportunity to further enhance dialogue and understanding between both our countries, particularly between our respective legislatures”. Welcoming the recent appointment by HM King Abdullah of 30 women to the 150-seat Shura Council, Mr Walter said “the composition of the Speaker’s delegation highlights the landmark reforms taking place in the Shura Council to advance the cause of equality for women in Saudi Arabia”.
Consistent with its inter-parliamentary relations objectives, the visit provided an important opportunity for UK parliamentarians to build contacts with their counterparts from Saudi Arabia. This included exchanges on their respective parliamentary processes and procedures, while also recognising the importance of respecting and understanding differences in how each country is governed due to differing national historical, religious and social contexts. Indeed, a number of discussions explored differing approaches to how governments balance collective public rights against the rights of the individual, albeit with both sides recognising the importance of meeting international obligations set down in universally agreed human rights principles.
The Speaker of the Shura Council highlighted efforts to reform the Shura Council to make it more responsive to the needs of the people of Saudi Arabia, including through the recent decision to include women members. This effort was warmly acknowledged and welcomed by UK parliamentarians who noted the political empowerment of women was also an important objective for the UK Parliament. To this end, there was also a standalone meeting between the new Shura Council members and women parliamentarians from the UK. Both sides also acknowledged the strength and importance of the bilateral relationship and the priority both countries must attach to maintaining close people-to-people links, particularly through cultural exchange and education. The important of the strategic partnership between both countries, including for underpinning peace and security in the Gulf region, was also highlighted as a priority.
In addition to formal calls on the Speaker, the Rt Hon John Bercow, and the Lord Speaker, the Rt Hon Baroness d’Souza, the delegation shared perspectives with UK counterparts on a wide range of international issues of common concern. There was particular attention given to developments in the Arab region, including the impacts of the “Arab Spring”, as well as discussion on the deeply worrying conflict in Syria and the urgent need for international action to address the refugee situation. There were also exchanges on prospects for the Middle East Peace process, nuclear proliferation in the Middle East and global economic developments, including the importance of energy security.
In addition to meeting legislative counterparts, the Speaker and his delegation also had a lengthy exchange with Secretary of State for the FCO, the Rt Hon William Hague MP, and met the Lord Chief Justice of England & Wales to discuss the role of the judiciary, providing valuable insights into the interaction between all three arms of government in the United Kingdom.
The main achievement of the visit was to create greater understanding between counterparts on both sides, not only of the relationship between both countries, but also regarding the similar roles they all play in two quite differing national contexts. Both sides recognised the importance of parliaments working to better connect people to their governments by representing the views of citizens in national decision-making. Importantly, both sides also saw a vital role for parliaments in providing a vehicle for national debate and discourse so that the mechanisms of governance were more accessible, transparent and accountable.