Export Licensing: High Court Judgment

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:47 pm on 10th July 2017.

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Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox The Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade 4:47 pm, 10th July 2017

May I say, first, that I agree with the hon. Gentleman that Yemen is indeed a humanitarian disaster that is begging for a political solution, to enable us to carry out our diplomatic efforts and our humanitarian efforts? I doubt whether anyone in the House would disagree with that.

The hon. Gentleman was not quite accurate in terms of what the court case was about. There were three grounds of challenge in court: first, failure to ask the correct questions and to make sufficient inquiries; secondly, failure to apply the suspension mechanism; and, thirdly, irrationally concluding that there was no clear risk under Criterion 2c. All these grounds have been dismissed by the court.

The hon. Gentleman makes the point about targeting. As a former Defence Secretary, I say to him that the MOD has gone to the nth degree to improve the ability of the Saudis to target more effectively, including through training by UK personnel. That is one of the biggest advances we have helped the Saudis to make in this.

The hon. Gentleman says that the UN and the NGOs had set out their own reservations about what had happened, but as the judgment made clear, they did not have sight of all the information that the judges were able to look at. He said there were gaps in the Government’s knowledge, but the court again made it clear that the Government had not only the ability to assess what the gaps in that knowledge might have been, but the appropriate means of redressing that. I remind him that the criteria we operate are part of the EU consolidated criteria—they are not UK Government unilateral criteria.

I take exception to the hon. Gentleman’s final point. I simply do not accept that if we have closed sessions it somehow makes the judgment less valid. I do not accept that we cannot have closed sessions that protect our national security or the personnel involved in our national security. Our sources need to be protected. I listened to the argument he makes but I simply cannot bring myself to accept it.