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The power of the urgent question. What a pity, though, that once again a Secretary of State has to be dragged before the House and that what he said was not volunteered by way of ministerial statement. The Secretary of State is trying to establish a reputation as a prison reformer, and now perhaps as a champion of human rights as well. That would be highly commendable and would be better if our prisons were not in a downward spiral of violence, idleness and despair and if the right hon. Gentleman were not intent on repealing the Human Rights Act.
The case of Raif Badawi—a blogger sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison for criticising the Saudi regime—is similarly shocking, and today we add to the list the case of Mr Karl Andree. Mr Andree is a 74-year-old British citizen from south London who has been sentenced to 350 lashes by the Saudi Government after spending more than a year in custody. I do not know whether the Secretary of State heard the interview on the “Today” programme this morning with Mr Andree’s youngest son, Simon, which was all the more powerful for being rational and understated. He said there was no doubt in the family’s mind that 350 lashes would kill his father, who needs medical care for his cancer, which he has had three times, and his asthma. Simon said:
“I think my father is at the bottom of the list and the bottom of the pecking order”,
when it comes to the Government. He continued:
“I feel that all the business dealings with Saudi Arabia and the UK are probably taking priority over it. All I can say is that the primary responsibility of the British Government is to their citizens. He is a British citizen and I ask the Government to plead for clemency, for him to be released.”
Will the Secretary of State therefore go further—welcome though his comments were—and explain why the Government ever contemplated entering such a contract; why the reasons for continuing the contract were initially given as “commercial considerations”, subsequently corrected to the “wider interests” of Her Majesty’s Government; why the Prime Minister has not responded to the letter from the Leader of the Opposition; and what is being done in each of the three specific cases I have raised?
We know that these are not isolated cases. Indeed, guidance given to British prisoners in Saudi says that the death penalty can be imposed for a wide range of offences,
“including murder, rape, armed robbery, repeated drug use, apostasy, adultery, witchcraft and sorcery and can be carried out by beheading with a sword, stoning or firing squad, followed by crucifixion.”
Amnesty International says that at least 175 people have been executed in the last year. It is simply not good enough that human rights get no regard. Of course this is a balancing act, but in the end, the Secretary of State has to take responsibility and he needs to answer the further questions I have put to him today.