Saudi Arabia: Arms Export Licences - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:06 pm on 26th September 2019.

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Photo of The Earl of Courtown The Earl of Courtown Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords) 12:06 pm, 26th September 2019

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer given earlier this morning in another place:

“Today I will be laying a Written Ministerial Statement updating Parliament on the latest situation in relation to the undertaking given to the Court of Appeal on 20 June about export licences to Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners. As the Government informed the court on 16 September and followed up with an affidavit today, my department identified errors that had taken place in the export licensing procedure in relation to the Saudi coalition’s activities in the conflict in Yemen.

As I stated publicly on 16 September, I unreservedly apologise for the export licences that my department issued in error. I have also given my unreserved apologies to the court. A procedure to ensure that export licences were not granted for goods for Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners for possible use in the conflict in Yemen was put in place on 20 June 2019. This followed the court order and the then Secretary of State’s Statement to Parliament.

The Export Control Joint Unit subsequently issued export licences to Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners and, in line with the agreed procedure, these were signed off at official rather than ministerial level. It subsequently came to light that two licences were in breach of the court undertaking and one licence was granted contrary to the Statement in Parliament, as these licences were for goods that could possibly be used in the conflict in Yemen.

Without seeking to prejudge the independent investigation, it appears that information pertaining to the conflict had not been fully shared across government. As soon as the issue was brought to my attention on 12 September, I took immediate action: taking immediate steps to inform the court and Parliament; putting in place immediate, interim procedures to make sure the error could not happen again; instigating a complete and full internal review of all licences granted for Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners since 20 June; and asking the DIT Permanent Secretary to commission, on my behalf, a full internal investigation.

The court and Parliament were informed on 16 September with the appropriate detail. The interim procedures mean senior officials in the DIT, the FCO and the MoD guaranteeing the latest information available to government is used in advice. All recommendations to grant licences for the export of items for Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners will now be referred to Ministers rather than being signed off at official level.

The full review of licences for Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners is currently being undertaken. This internal review is ongoing. As a result of this internal review, we have identified one further licence that has been granted in breach of the undertaking given to the Court of Appeal. The licence has not been used and has now been revoked.

My officials are also carrying out an urgent review of the composition of the coalition. This has identified a further licence which is in breach of the parliamentary Statement. We have reassessed this licence in light of the latest information and subsequently revoked it in so far as it applies to Jordan. My officials continue to review all information relating to licences granted to Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners since 20 June 2019, and we will be open and transparent with the court and Parliament as to any new issues that emerge.

In addition, the DIT Permanent Secretary has commissioned on my behalf a full independent investigation. This will establish the precise circumstances in which these licences were granted, establish whether any other licence has been granted in breach of the undertakings to the court or contrary to the parliamentary Statement and confirm that procedures are in place so that no further breaches of the undertaking can occur. This investigation will be led by an independent senior official, the director-general of policy group, in the Department for Work and Pensions. It is possible that more cases will come to light. As I have done so far, I will keep the court and Parliament informed as to any new information that emerges”.