Arms Trade

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Office – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 20 January 2015.

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Photo of Sheila Gilmore Sheila Gilmore Labour, Edinburgh East 11:30, 20 January 2015

If he will discuss with the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills the imposition of further restrictions on the sale of arms to countries his Department has identified as having a record of disregarding human rights; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

The Government are satisfied that we have a robust system in place. All arms licensing applications are subject to a case-by-case assessment against the consolidated EU and national arms export licensing criteria. That is the best way to ensure that UK goods are not supplied in circumstances where there is a clear risk they might be used for internal repression. Risks around human rights abuses are a key part of our assessment.

Photo of Sheila Gilmore Sheila Gilmore Labour, Edinburgh East

Even if it would appear that arms will not be used internally, would it not be a real marker of the Government’s commitment to human rights to use the restrictions on arms sales against countries that are treating their own subjects badly in terms of human rights?

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

The purpose of the consolidated criteria is to ensure that arms are not exported into situations where those arms will make the situation worse. I believe that the current regime is effective. The hon. Lady is suggesting something that goes far beyond that; a form of trade sanctions against countries based on their human rights performance. She is singling out arms exports, but she could equally argue for trade sanctions involving other forms of export. That would be a significant further step and the Government have no plans to go down that route. But I recognise that what the hon. Lady has suggested is a perfectly credible idea and people may wish to consider it.

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Conservative, North East Bedfordshire

May I ask the Foreign Secretary to recommit the United Kingdom to its commitment to making fully effective the arms trade treaty that we signed last year? Will he also ensure that during discussions this year on the rules and procedures to make the arms trade treaty effective, the engagement of NGOs will be seen to be constructive and there will not be procedures that will enable some NGOs that oppose the spirit of the arms trade treaty to subvert it?

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend and I know this is an area in which he has taken a great interest and played a very important role over many years. The UK was instrumental in bringing about the arms trade treaty, and it is an extremely important step forward. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that some NGOs do not accept the principle of the arms trade treaty, but I agree with him: we must now make this treaty, as it is now in force, effective, ensure that the key states sign up to it and then ratify their engagement with the treaty, and make this work for the benefit of the whole world.

Photo of Rob Flello Rob Flello Labour, Stoke-on-Trent South

Perhaps if the Secretary of State were tempted to have a meeting with the Business Secretary, they might also invite the Defence Secretary to join them. Despite the appalling human rights record of the Colombian Government, we seem very happy to sell weapons—and, indeed, provide military training—to them. Should the Foreign Secretary not be sitting down and having a tripartite discussion with the other Secretaries of State about that, looking into why we seem so happy to provide support to a country that is quite happily terrorising its own people?

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

As the hon. Gentleman will, I think, understand, these are always carefully balanced judgments, and in many cases—[Interruption.] It is all very well for Helen Goodman to comment from a sedentary position, but very often we have to deal with conflicting agendas in unstable and fragile countries, where there will be human rights concerns that we have to take into account and manage, but also counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics concerns, and we have to act to keep our own population safe—where we have to make the balanced judgment between engaging to support the CT or counter-narcotics agenda and maintaining pressure on Governments to comply with their human rights obligations. I think we get that balance right.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry The Second Church Estates Commissioner, The Second Church Estates Commissioner

There is nothing fragile or unstable about Saudi Arabia, so given the public beheadings, public torture and public lashings, can my right hon. Friend confirm to the House that there are no arms sales by this country to Saudi Arabia?

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I go back to the answer I gave to Sheila Gilmore. It is not the Government’s policy that we should use restrictions on arms sales as a sanction against Governments whose policies we do not agree with. The restrictions on arms sales—the arms licensing regime—is designed to ensure that arms are not misused in their final destination.

With regard to the wider points my right hon. Friend makes about Saudi Arabia, of course the Government deplore the use of corporal punishment in the kinds of forms presented in Saudi Arabia. We have long understood that the best way to make effective representations to Saudi Arabia is through the many channels that we have with them at all levels, and we are actively doing so at the moment.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

In that case, will the Foreign Secretary please explain to the House why Britain has routinely supplied arms—anti-personnel equipment—to Bahrain that have been used to oppress and suppress demonstrations in Bahrain, and our reward is to provide yet more arms and a British military base there? Should we not really engage with Bahrain on solving the human rights issues and freeing the opposition leader, rather than have this hands-off approach on arms sales?

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

Let me make two responses to the hon. Gentleman. First, is the straightforward response: we apply the consolidated criteria to all arms exports, including arms exports to Bahrain, so we would not license for export any equipment where there was evidence it was likely to be used for internal repression purposes. But let me say something wider about the situation in Bahrain, because I have looked at the situation in Bahrain quite carefully. It is clearly the case that Bahrain is by no means perfect and that it has quite a long way to go in delivering on its human rights commitments, but it is a country that is travelling in the right direction. It is making significant reform. The Crown Prince, who is charged with this agenda, is directly engaged and has made significant progress even over the last few months. We continually remind the Bahrainis of their commitments and how much further they have to go, but I think we should support them to get there.

Photo of Richard Burden Richard Burden Shadow Minister (Transport)

But will not the Foreign Secretary accept that what undermines the UK’s credibility on these matters is the charge of double standards? In relation to Bahrain, it has been estimated that 54 people have been arrested just this month. There is no consistency between our arms sales policy and our human rights policy. Will the Foreign Secretary not accept that we need to address that more seriously than we have done up till now?

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

The hon. Gentleman seems to be suggesting that, as I said to Sheila Gilmore earlier, rather than using the consolidated criteria, we should develop a set of arms trade sanctions based on human rights performance. That is a radical suggestion and he is perfectly entitled to make it. The Government have no plans at present to go down that route.