Sale of Arms: War in Yemen

– in the House of Commons at 3:36 pm on 13th July 2020.

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Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade 3:36 pm, 13th July 2020

(Urgent Question) To ask the Secretary of State for International Trade if she will make a statement on her decision to resume the sale of arms to the Saudi-led coalition for use in the war in Yemen.

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

The Secretary of State has retaken the licensing decisions, as required by the Court of Appeal. All existing and new applications for Saudi Arabia for possible use in the conflict in Yemen will be assessed against the revised methodology, which considers whether there is a clear risk that the equipment might be used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law.

The revised methodology was developed to address the Court of Appeal’s judgment. It considers all allegations that are assessed as likely to have occurred and that have been caused by fixed-wing aircraft, reflecting the factual circumstances that the court proceedings concerned. It remains the case, however, that it can be extremely difficult to reach firm conclusions as to whether specific incidents violate the principles of international humanitarian law. Therefore, where an incident is assessed as a possible breach, it is regarded for the purposes of the relevant analysis as if there were breaches of IHL. I emphasise that that analysis is just one part of the assessment.

In retaking these decisions, the Secretary of State has considered the full range of information available to the Government. Some of that information is necessarily sensitive and confidential. I am therefore not able to go into detail about individual assessments. The crucial point is that we have assessed that there were a small number of incidents that have been treated, for the purposes of this analysis, as violations of international humanitarian law. However, these were isolated incidents and our analysis shows that Saudi Arabia has a genuine intent and the capacity to comply with international humanitarian law and the specific commitments it has made.

It is on that basis that the Secretary of State has assessed that there is not a clear risk that the export of arms and military equipment to Saudi Arabia might be used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law.

Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question, although I am sorry the Secretary of State cannot be dragged here to explain her own decisions. There is certainly much explaining to do. In my limited time, I have five questions for the Minister and one specific request.

First, we welcome the Secretary of State’s assessment of possible violations of international law in Yemen, but can the Minister explain why his brother Ministers have been telling the House for the last five years that such an assessment was impossible for Britain to make, and that it could be made only by Saudi Arabia itself? Were those Ministers simply wrong?

Secondly, the Secretary of State has concluded that where international law was broken in Yemen these were “isolated incidents”. Can the Minister tell us how many such incidents were identified, so that we can understand how they define the word “isolated”?

Thirdly, the Government say they have found no patterns of civilian infrastructure being targeted. Can the Minister therefore explain why, for 17 months at the start of the war, Saudi planes systematically destroyed Yemen’s means of food production, bombing farmland, markets, milk plants and fishing boats? If that is not a pattern, what is?

Fourthly, as well as deliberate targeting, the Minister will know that the indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas is in itself a war crime, but the Government say the Saudis could not have meant to break international law because their violations

“occurred at different times, in different circumstances and for different reasons.”—[Official Report, 7 July 2020;
Vol. 678, c. 339WS.]

Does the Minister not agree that that sounds like the very definition of the word “indiscriminate”?

Fifthly, the Government have concluded that Saudi Arabia has both the intent and capacity to comply with international law, but if that is the case, will the Minister explain the cause of the occasions on which it has failed to do that?

Finally, it would help all of us to understand the Government’s decision if they would agree to publish the full assessment that underpinned it, including the analysis of each so-called isolated incident. If the Minister believes this decision is not just moral and lawful but correct, then surely he has nothing to fear from publishing that assessment and letting us all decide for ourselves.

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

I thank the right hon. Lady for her questions, and start by saying that we absolutely share her concern about the humanitarian tragedy in Yemen, which is why the UK is actively engaged in seeking further diplomatic solutions. Let me try to deal with her questions, as far as I am able, as some of the matters are within the competence of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and the Ministry of Defence.

Ministers have of course not been wrong in their assessment; if they had been wrong, they would have come to the Dispatch Box. The consolidated criteria have been used in all the assessments of the licences. The number of incidents is an operational question; the role of the Department for International Trade is in assessing the consolidated criteria.

The right hon. Lady talked about a number of incidents over different times and in different ways. The assessment was that there is no pattern in the behaviour of Saudi Arabia, and that these were isolated incidents over some considerable time and also at different times.

The right hon. Lady mentioned the intention and capacity to comply and publish the full assessment of the various incidents and asked for a full analysis of each incident. It is worth saying—as you, Mr Speaker, will certainly understand—that assessments of the different incidents that took place in Yemen will often be informed by confidential information that comes to the Government not necessarily from Saudi Arabia; it would not be appropriate for us to publish those assessments. What we have published, however, are the consolidated criteria and the quarterly lists of each licence that has been granted.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Conservative, Sutton Coldfield

The Minister knows that I am a longstanding critic of the policies towards Yemen of the Saudi coalition, which the British Government continue to support, but it is my purpose today not to call for an arms embargo, but rather to ensure that in granting these contentious licences UK arms export licensing regime members continue to benefit from DFID’s expertise once that Department is dismantled. DFID officials sit on the export licensing Committee, and I would like the Minister’s reassurance to the House that that DFID DNA, which is very important to making these decisions in the licensing Committee, will still be available.

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for his long time as Secretary of State for International Development and the exceptionally good work that he did over a considerable time, when we were in opposition and in government, and particularly the strong voice that he has had in relation to the conflict.

The part of my right hon. Friend’s question about the Committees on Arms Export Controls is properly a matter for the Committee, under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend Mark Garnier. However, he has said that the International Development Committee will continue to take part in its public sessions for as long as that Committee continues in existence.

On my right hon. Friend’s other point about DFID officials, the Government are obviously very keen that DFID and international development expertise in the region continues to be recognised and utilised.

Photo of Chris Law Chris Law Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development)

This UK Government are increasingly chaotic and incoherent. Last week, the Foreign Secretary announced a new sanctions regime, claiming that the UK will be a stronger force for good, while the International Trade Secretary resumed arms sales to Saudi Arabia, demonstrating that profit comes before peace. The international community, our allies and the UN have been clear that the arms trade to Saudi Arabia should be stopped due to the mounting evidence of what UN experts have described as “potential war crimes” and widespread and systematic strikes on civilian targets. Yemen has also been described as “hanging by a thread”, with more than 1 million covid infections.

With the UN ascribing tens of thousands of civilian deaths to the Saudi military, how can the Secretary of State tell the UK with any certainty that there is not a clear risk of serious violations in exporting arms, describing previous violations as merely “isolated incidents”? Can the Minister tell us how many isolated incidents there are? Who collated this evidence? Will he explain why the UK is going against the international community? Surely these actions remove any legitimacy that the UK Government can be a stronger force for good in the world.

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

First, I strongly refute the allegation that the UK Government are not a strong voice for good in the world. That is absolutely our mission right the way across the Government. The hon. Gentleman asked about the announcement by the Foreign Secretary last week in relation to sanctions on individuals. I think that is a separate matter, but we have been absolutely clear to condemn the attack on Mr Khashoggi the year before last and to make sure we have a robust regime of human rights sanctions coming from the original Magnitsky law, which my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was one of the originators of, and with which I was involved at the time.

In terms of the number and type of incidents, I am not at liberty to publish that, given the confidential nature of a lot of the information involved. However, what I can say is that the UK has one of the strongest arms control regimes in the world, we use the consolidated EU and national criteria and we are now using the revised methodology to come to these decisions that we are happy with.

Photo of Ruth Jones Ruth Jones Labour, Newport West

I, too, am disappointed that the Secretary of State is not here this afternoon to answer this urgent question herself. She based her decision on a detailed assessment of all the alleged incidents where international humanitarian law has been violated in Yemen, so let me ask the question again: will the Minister ask his boss to publish that assessment, so that the people of the UK can see the evidence and be able to judge whether the Secretary of State is right simply to dismiss those violations as isolated?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

The incidents or the allegations are not being dismissed, but we are clear that we need to follow a sensible set of criteria and that is why we have the consolidated criteria in place to assess export licences going forward. But I return to what I said earlier: it would not be appropriate for the Government to publish their findings in relation to incidents in Yemen in the past.

Photo of Sarah Dines Sarah Dines Conservative, Derbyshire Dales

Can the Minister reassure the House that the Government can still, if necessary, review, suspend or revoke licences?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. She is absolutely right. Licences can be reviewed or revoked in line with the consolidated criteria. That is the basis on which arms control works in this country and always has done under successive Governments.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Opposition Whip (Commons)

The Minister says that the Government have a very strong arms control system, but back in September last year, he will recall that the Government were guilty of granting 14— or was it 20?—unlawful arms export licences. It does seem that last week’s announcement, a day after the Magnitsky sanctions were imposed, was incredibly cynical. Is that not the case?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

No, it is not the case. I think the hon. Gentleman refers in his question to the Secretary of State apologising to the House, and indeed to the Court, for the inadvertent breaches of the Court judgment last June. However, we are talking today about a forward-looking way of doing this, using the revised methodology based on the consolidated criteria.

Photo of Sara Britcliffe Sara Britcliffe Conservative, Hyndburn

Will my right hon. Friend please explain to the House why there has been a delay in reaching this decision?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. It was vital that the Government got this right first time with a comprehensive assessment. The Court judgment last year was a very serious matter, and it was absolutely right that we took the time to have a comprehensive assessment process in accordance with the legal approach identified by the Court of Appeal last June.

Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Consumer Affairs)

Like many people listening today, I am astonished that the Minister has said that the global human rights sanctions regime is a separate matter from selling arms to the brutal Saudi regime. Can he tell me how this Government can, in all good conscience, continue to export weapons to Saudi Arabia when we know that there is a risk that they may be used in Yemen, after 17,640 civilian casualties have been documented in that country? Is it simply a case of profit before Yemeni lives?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

The process that is with me is to use the consolidated criteria. That is why we have developed a revised methodology in respect of all the allegations which it is assessed are likely to have occurred and to have been caused by fixed-wing aircraft. Each of those allegations has been subject to detailed analysis by reference to the relevant principles of international humanitarian law. An evaluation has been made and it has been applied to all credible incidents of concern of which we are aware. Importantly, our revised methodology will allow us to make these decisions going forward.

Photo of Imran Ahmad Khan Imran Ahmad Khan Conservative, Wakefield

The enduring alliance with Saudi Arabia is vital to regional security and bolsters the ability of the United Kingdom and our allies to help to police the region. The UK has licensed more than £5.3 billion of arms to Saudi Arabia since 2015, and that has secured thousands of jobs across the United Kingdom, including in Wakefield. Does the Minister agree that if we maintain arms sales to our Saudi allies, the whole UK prospers?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

It is very important that we have a broad and deep relationship covering matters such as trade, defence, security, energy and regional issues. It is important that the UK maintains that relationship overall. It does not prevent us from being critical, as we have been on occasions, in relation to human rights.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

As is well documented, the Government of Saudi Arabia are indiscriminate in their use of the death penalty, including against minors. In recent years they have detained without trial members of their own royal family, and just recently they were found at the World Trade Organisation to be responsible for sports piracy through the company beoutQ. What makes the Minister think that the Saudi Government will have any regard for the rules of international law? Does he not agree that our new policy in relation to China would be seen in a much better light if we were seen to hold Saudi Arabia to the same standards?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

I am not going to comment on China, because I think it is not quite within the scope of the urgent question. At all times, the UK campaigns actively in its foreign policy for the abolition of the death penalty. The right hon. Gentleman and I know that; he served in the Government not so long ago, and he will know that that is an important pillar of our foreign policy. These matters do not prevent us from having a good overall relationship with as many countries around the world as we reasonably can, where it is in the national interest to do so. I will look into the WTO complaint and write to him.

Photo of Antony Higginbotham Antony Higginbotham Conservative, Burnley

I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments so far. In any arms export regime, it is important that we not only operate on a principled basis but respond rapidly to global circumstances that often change at short notice. Can he reassure me and the House that our regime is adaptable and responsive, and that it can deal with changing circumstances?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

Yes, I can. We work very closely with colleagues in the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development to make sure we are aware of all changes in policy and all uses of military weapons around the world, and to make sure that that feeds through into our ability to change policy and, if necessary, revoke a licence.

Photo of Liz Twist Liz Twist Opposition Whip (Commons)

Saudi state media reported that the Secretary of State for Defence called Saudi Ministers last week after the announcement of sanctions against the murderers of Jamal Khashoggi and reassured them of the Government’s support on the issue of arms exports. Can the Minister explain now why his colleague felt that that was his job and why he chose to keep that call secret?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

Mr Speaker, you will know that it is the policy of successive Governments not to comment on calls or conversations between Government Ministers and their opposite numbers, even including if the call itself took place, so I am not going to comment on those matters. What I will say is that there is a very, very important multi-faceted relationship with Saudi Arabia, which I have already talked about, which must be considered in the round.

Photo of Alexander Stafford Alexander Stafford Conservative, Rother Valley

Have my right hon. Friends the International Trade Secretary and the Foreign Secretary raised the issue of international humanitarian law compliance with Saudi Arabia and the others in the coalition?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

Yes, we have. We do that on a regular basis to make sure, as part of our wider work in the region, that UK foreign policy goals are achieved.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

There is a difference between what is permissible and what is right. Since the bombing of Yemen commenced in March 2015, £5.3 billion-worth of export licences have been issued to Saudi Arabia, of which £2.5 billion have related to bombs, missiles and other types of ordnance. So what does the Secretary of State have to hide in not publishing the evidence on which to resume licensing arms and the trade in these deadly weapons?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

I think I have already laid out to the House why these reports are not published: a lot are based on confidential information, which it would not be in the national interest for us to disclose. What we can say is that the incidents assessed to have been possible violations of international humanitarian law occurred at different times, in different circumstances and for different reasons. The conclusion was that they were isolated incidents. On that basis, we believe there is not a clear risk that the export of arms and military equipment to Saudi Arabia might be used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law.

Photo of James Sunderland James Sunderland Conservative, Bracknell

Could the Minister please outline the importance with which the UK regards Saudi Arabia as a diplomatic and trading partner in the middle east?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. Saudi Arabia is an important diplomatic and trading partner for this country. That has been the case for many decades under successive Governments.

Photo of Florence Eshalomi Florence Eshalomi Opposition Whip (Commons)

A number of my constituents in Vauxhall have written to me about their concerns about the devastating conflict in Yemen. We must acknowledge and speak out about the immense human cost of this war. It is one of the largest humanitarian crises in the world and we know that thousands of Yemeni civilians have been killed, including women and children. Now 20 million people face food insecurity and 10 million are at risk of famine. That suffering is unimaginable. We know that the coalition has conducted numerous and indiscriminate air strikes, in violation of the laws of wars, using munitions sold by the US, the United Kingdom and others. How can the Minister be confident that the arms sold by the UK will not be used in similar attacks?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

That is exactly why we have the arms control and export licence regime in place, properly using the consolidated criteria to make those assessments. In terms of what anybody else may do in the region, the hon. Lady mentioned the United States. That is very much a matter for the United States Government.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

The excellent Minister seems quite sure that it is right to export these arms at the moment and I have no problem with that, but as my hon. Friends the Members for Derbyshire Dales (Miss Dines) and for Burnley (Antony Higginbotham) said. this needs to be kept under review. The Minister said that that will happen. Can he give the House a bit more detail: on a day-to-day or month-to-month basis, how does that review take place?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

That is a good question. Obviously, we operate in an overall policy framework called the consolidated criteria. Each individual licence application is in itself a separate decision, based on those consolidated criteria. We follow those criteria. Those decisions can be made on a daily basis—for each individual export licence that comes in—by Ministers.

Photo of Alyn Smith Alyn Smith Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

The Minister really is missing an opportunity to reassure the House. I am entirely unpersuaded that there is not a risk that these armaments will be used against civilians. Oxfam, a deeply credible organisation, has had three installations attacked, in Sa’ada, Al-Hamazat and Abs, over the past few years. Have they been investigated by the joint incidents assessments team? If not, why not, and how on earth can the Minister possibly pretend that this is a credible statement?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

As I have said before, the incidents that have been assessed as possible violations of international humanitarian law have been looked at, but we are confident that they occurred at different times, in different circumstances and for different reasons. Therefore, there is not a pattern. We are content with this regime going forward and about sticking to our consolidated criteria. That is absolutely the proper way to be doing this.

Photo of Marco Longhi Marco Longhi Conservative, Dudley North

Will the Minister provide an assurance to the House that the Department will continue to investigate every possible violation of international humanitarian law in the Yemen conflict by coalition forces?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

My hon. Friend raises a good question. It is worth noting, again, that the investigation process is principally a matter for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence, which track allegations of incidents. However, the Government take their export responsibilities seriously and assess all export licences in accordance with the strict licensing criteria. We will not issue any export licences where to do so would be inconsistent with the consolidated criteria.

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow

Given that the United Nations Refugee Agency reports that, over the past five years, more than 3.5 million people in Yemen have been displaced as a direct result of the civil war there, the Minister will understand the concern about the resumption of arms sales. He tells us that he cannot share with us the specific details on which the Government have made the assessment to resume those sales, but he could set out for us what he means by the “genuine intent” that he believes is behind the Saudi Arabian decision on human rights, and what might change that. Will he do so?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

I have already outlined how, after looking at incidents and the assessment of them, we are confident that there is not a pattern in those previous incidents. I absolutely share the hon. Lady’s concern about the appalling humanitarian situation in Yemen. However, based on those incidents, we do not believe that there has been a pattern there. Therefore, as long as we stick to our consolidated criteria and continue our assessment of incidents, that is absolutely the right decision for the UK Government to make.

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith Conservative, Arundel and South Downs

I am proud that so many young people in my constituency have raised the situation in Yemen with me. Saudi Arabia itself is a young country, with half its population under the age of 25. Will the Minister assure me that he will continue to raise human rights with his counterparts?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

Yes, we do. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and his team do so on a regular basis with Saudi Arabia and with other partners all the way around the world. We are immensely proud of the record that we have as a Government and as a country of promoting human rights around the world. That was absolutely the basis of the statement made by the Foreign Secretary in this place just last week.

Photo of Zarah Sultana Zarah Sultana Labour, Coventry South

The Secretary of State has announced that new arms sale to Saudi will commence, claiming that international humanitarian law had only been violated in “isolated incidents”. The Minister has said that he is not at liberty to disclose the number of incidents but, this morning, in response to my written question, the Government revealed that the Ministry of Defence’s own database records 516 potential violations of international humanitarian law since the war in Yemen began in 2015. In the light of that, will the Minister stand by the Secretary of State’s claim that violations of international law are only “isolated incidents”, or will the Government finally do the right thing and stop these arms sales?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

As I pointed out earlier, all potential incidents must, for these purposes, be treated as actual violations of international humanitarian law. I am not at liberty to comment on whatever numbers the hon. Lady may have in front of her, but it is clear that all potential incidents must be treated as actual incidents for the purposes of putting forward the consolidated criteria.

Photo of Scott Benton Scott Benton Conservative, Blackpool South

The announcement last week was welcomed by hundreds of my constituents who work at the BAE plant in the Fylde, which assembles the Hawk and Typhoon aircraft, and I would like to put on record my support for the decision to resume the granting of export licences. Saudi Arabia is one of our key strategic partners, and rightly so. Can my right hon. Friend reassure the House that the Government will continue to work closely with the Saudi Government on all security and military issues and that his Department will continue to explore investment and trade opportunities with the kingdom that will benefit jobs and economic growth in the UK?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

My hon. Friend raises a good point in relation to jobs in the north-west at BAE Systems. I was getting a little bit worried about the Opposition’s approach to this. I am going to read out a quote:

“we have a brilliant arms industry in the United Kingdom, and I have no problem with arms sales to other countries, as long as they are properly controlled”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 10 July 2020;
Vol. 804, c. 1346.]

I agree with that—and it was from the Labour spokesman in the House of Lords at a similar urgent question on Friday. I think we can all agree that BAE Systems and others in this field do a great job for the UK overall.

Photo of Richard Thomson Richard Thomson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Business and Industry)

The United Nations has verified that, since 2015, at least 7,700 Yemeni civilians have been killed, with 60% due to bombing raids by the Saudi-led coalition. The Committees on Arms Export Controls have recently been re-established. Can the Minister give the House an assurance that, if that Committee were to choose to investigate British arms sales that are leading to arms reaching the Saudi-led coalition, his Department will co-operate fully?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

Our Department always co-operates with Select Committees. If the hon. Gentleman’s point is that that Committee should follow a particular course, he needs to speak to its Chair, my hon. Friend Mark Garnier. I suggest that he makes his representations to the Chair.

Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley

How will this sort of action against Saudi Arabia achieve reciprocity in the Yemen? There are two sides to this conflict. One is led by the Houthis and their backers, Iran, and we have no examples of how to control the arms sales that go to them.

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

My hon. Friend has expertise in this area. He will know that those are matters for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and I am sure he is making representations to it. I will certainly make those representations. He will know that the Government are involved considerably on the diplomatic front to seek a resolution of the conflict in the Yemen.

Photo of Tan Dhesi Tan Dhesi Shadow Minister (Transport)

More than five years of death and destruction in Yemen has created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, and the Yemeni people are rightly looking to us to show compassion and leadership. Despite compelling evidence that the Saudi-led coalition has violated international humanitarian law, a day after the Government finally held Saudi Arabia accountable for the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi, they announced the resumption of arms sales for use in the war in Yemen. Can the Minister see that this all makes the Government’s avowed concern for human rights look inconsistent, if not downright hypocritical?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

No, I do not agree with that at all. I have already answered the question on the relationship between the announcement last week, which concerns individuals’ human rights, and this announcement in relation to the consolidated criteria for export controls.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Conservative, South West Wiltshire

Emily Thornberry is right to ask her urgent question. None of us wants to add to the awful situation in Yemen. Paris is working hard with Berlin to finesse the German ban on German componentry in French arms exports. France has a more questionable approach to the consolidated criteria than this country does, and its arms exports are skyrocketing. What are we to do about this? I fear that the action urged by the right hon. Lady will have the effect of exporting jobs from her constituency and mine to France—a country with a far more questionable approach to the consolidated criteria—and will have no effect whatsoever on the welfare of people in Yemen.

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

My right hon. Friend may well be right, but it is important from our perspective to make sure that the UK does adhere to and follow the consolidated criteria. That is absolutely the basis of our policy in this area: we must stick rigidly to assessments based on the consolidated criteria.

Photo of John Cryer John Cryer Labour, Leyton and Wanstead

The Government lost the Appeal Court case, then admitted that they had contravened the instructions given by the Appeal Court, then abandoned their own appeal to the Supreme Court, and have now decided, after abandoning the Court case, that they are going to resume arms exports. Could not the Minister at least agree to publish the reasons for the resumption of issuing licences, with sensitive parts either taken out or redacted?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

We have published the reasons why we are doing the policy that we are doing. We published that in the form of a written ministerial statement to the House of Commons last week, and actually that is the subject today. On the hon. Member’s wider point about why we have withdrawn the appeal, we do not think the appeal is necessary any more. We have in place the revised methodology, and we are putting in place the process to withdraw the appeal.

Photo of Brendan O'Hara Brendan O'Hara Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Inclusive Society), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution)

Last week, the Foreign Secretary revealed a new and seemingly ethical dimension to the UK’s foreign policy, yet within 48 hours we were back selling arms to Saudi Arabia and this Government were refusing to take action against their friends in Bahrain who are about to execute two more political prisoners. Is it not the truth that it is business as usual for any regime—however brutal, however undemocratic—as long as its pockets are deep enough and this Government think there is something to be gained? Is that not the squalid truth?

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

The humanitarian situation in Yemen is, of course, a proxy war between the Saudi Arabian-led coalition and the Iranians and their proxies, with the innocent civilians in the middle of it. What efforts is my right hon. Friend making to use his Department’s capability on trade to encourage these parties to come to the table and negotiate a political settlement under which Yemen can become a peaceful place for innocent civilians to live in once again?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He has great expertise on the region and in these matters. The UK is involved right the way across Government —it is a whole-of-Government effort—to make sure that we seek a diplomatic solution in the region. If the Department for International Trade can play a role in that, we certainly will—and we certainly are. On our relationship with Iran, it is very important that Iran also complies, particularly in relation to trade matters, with the sanctions regime and the World Trade Organisation.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

This decision reduces the bold statements made last week by the Government on human rights and the Magnitsky sanctions to just mere finger-wagging. If that is not correct, to restore the Government’s credibility on this issue, they must publish the evidence on which they based their decisions that these are just mere isolated incidents.

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

First, I could just say to the hon. Gentleman that I refer him to the answer I gave earlier: I have already given repeatedly the reason why we are not publishing the reports on any incidents. Secondly, on the international human rights violations regime launched last week by the Foreign Secretary, we think that new sanctions regime will give the UK a powerful new tool to hold to account those involved in serious human rights violations or abuses.

Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Fair Work and Employment)

Can the Minister provide true clarity about the total value exported to Saudi Arabia, including arms traded through open licences, and will he provide the number for how much the UK has profited from the conflict since the war began?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

We publish quarterly the list of licences granted. I would suggest that the hon. Member look at that list.

Photo of Harriett Baldwin Harriett Baldwin Conservative, West Worcestershire

I thank my right hon. Friend for explaining with great care the strict criteria applied in all export licence cases. Can he update the House on the backlog of export licences? How quickly and carefully can they be reviewed?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

Yes, there is a backlog, and it will take a few months to clear it. There are a few hundred applications —something of that magnitude. With the policy we launched last week, however, we will now begin to clear that backlog.

Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Minister (International Development)

The Government’s policy seems to be one of abject hypocrisy. The Minister has made a false distinction between the sanctions on individuals and wider policy, which is simply not possible. Let me give him one example. General Ahmed al-Asiri was listed on the Foreign Secretary’s sanctions list last week for his involvement in the unlawful killing of Jamal Khashoggi and for commissioning the team that went to assassinate him. That is the same man who came to this House, this building, on 29 March 2017 to justify to me and many other Members the Saudi actions in Yemen, including the use of British military support. How can it be that we are sanctioning this individual for his unlawful actions and yet he was at the heart of the war in Yemen?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

I do not have in front of me information about individuals in any country who are subject to a sanctions regime, but criteria 2c—of the criteria we follow to assess export licences—includes the

“clear risk the equipment being exported might be used in the serious violation of international humanitarian law”.

Those are the criteria we follow when assessing export licences.

Photo of Gagan Mohindra Gagan Mohindra Conservative, South West Hertfordshire

I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement last week. Would my right hon. Friend elaborate on how the revised methodology differs from its predecessor?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

The revised methodology takes into account all the decisions by the Court of Appeal. Were these historic incidents part of a pattern? Even if we could not answer in every incident, we should at least attempt to do so. That is the question the revised methodology is seeking to answer—and I believe does answer—so that we can move forward.

Photo of Christine Jardine Christine Jardine Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Women and Equalities)

The Saudis are currently taking part in the action in Yemen as part of a coalition. They are also part of a coalition involved in the blockade of Qatar. That is not currently a military action, but what guarantees do the Government have that arms sold to the Saudis for use in Yemen will not be used against another of our allies elsewhere in the middle east?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

I am not aware of there being any conflict at the moment in that space, but clearly we look at these matters as part of the criteria against which we assess export licences.

Photo of Bob Stewart Bob Stewart Conservative, Beckenham

I have great affection for Yemen, having lived there for three years, so after the last massacre of innocents, I managed to get myself to Riyadh and went to the combined air operations centre to examine exactly what was going on. I have to say, having spoken to the air controllers, which included Royal Air Force people, I was most impressed by their orders for opening fire. I spoke to the pilots, and they do not open fire unless they are guaranteed there are no innocents underneath. I presume these factors are taken into account.

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

My hon. Friend also has great expertise in this area, particularly in relation to military operations. What may or may not be happening in Yemen is of course taken into account in the assessments done by the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Photo of Dave Doogan Dave Doogan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Agriculture and Rural Affairs)

As Amnesty International pointed out in March:

“The conflict in Yemen shows no real signs of abating as it enters its sixth year”.

This will result in even more civilian casualties, both as a direct and indirect result of the conflict. After the UK Government’s arms export policy to Saudi Arabia was found to be unlawful last year, can the Minister explain how continued UK arms sales for potential use in this theatre can possibly help prevent the loss of yet more innocent Yemeni lives?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

We have, of course, looked at the assessment of the previous incidents, and I have already described how those incidents must be assessed as having taken place, even if this is still questionable or in any way disputed, as part of that process. We are confident that we now have the right system in place to make sure that there is not a clear risk that the export of arms and military equipment to Saudi Arabia might be used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law.

Photo of Hywel Williams Hywel Williams Chair, Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Brexit), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow PC Spokesperson (International Trade)

UK taxpayers provide humanitarian aid to Yemen. Now, we are to supply even more arms to the Saudis. What does that say about competition between UK trade policy and UK aid policy?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

The Department for International Trade, the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office work very closely together, and I do not think it says anything but that we are involved in different activities but with the same objective of making sure that UK interests abroad are looked after; that we propagate a strong regime on international human rights protections; that we foster trade, including with countries such as Saudi Arabia, in the region; and that we make sure that we do so with the national interest at the forefront.