[Mr David Amess in the Chair] — Arms Sales (Human Rights)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 1:58 pm on 17th September 2015.

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Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Labour/Co-operative, York Central 1:58 pm, 17th September 2015

I thank my right hon. Friend Ann Clwyd for securing this important debate on ethical questions. As a global arms export player, the UK is second only to the US, with a share of global contracts worth 22% of the total market. Over the summer, I had real concerns about our contribution to the devastating situation in the middle east, and I am grateful to the House of Commons Library for supplying me with so much information. The Department for

Business, Innovation and Skills strategic export controls report—all 686 pages of it—was chilling reading, and enabled me to see where our arms trade was leading. It led me to shine a spotlight on the situation in Saudi Arabia and where our arms can end up. I have had discussions with an expert on Syria, who talked about how Saudi Arabia is supplying weaponry to help resistance organisations in the current crisis. Some of those resistance groups have fallen into the hands of Daesh, which is of huge concern, but we also know that Daesh has received weapons, probably including weapons manufactured in the UK, from other parts of the region.

Turning the spotlight back to Saudi Arabia, which is one of our major export markets, some £3.9 billion-worth of contracts were signed under the previous Government. We therefore have many aircraft, helicopters, combat vehicles, explosive devices and other weaponry in the region. We have heard how Saudi Arabia is using UK-manufactured aircraft on one side of the conflict in Yemen while we are delivering humanitarian aid to that country. Saudi Arabia may well be bombing the refugee camps that we are supporting, and at the very least it is creating more refugees. There is therefore deep concern, and we must seriously scrutinise what is happening.

Once our manufactured goods enter the region, we have no control over how they will be used, where they will end up and who they may kill. With such destabilisation in that part of the world, as in so many others, we need to ask serious questions when issuing each licence. Why are we exporting the goods? Would we class it as a humanitarian act to help defenceless countries provide safety and security, or is it an opportunity to generate revenue? Is our export control list extensive enough? Surveillance technology, for example, is not subject to the same export rules. What are the risks, now and in the future, of signing a contract with another country? What are the human rights records of those countries? Let us face it, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain—as we have heard—and so many other places, particularly in the middle east, do not have a good human rights record. What do countries such as Saudi Arabia have to do for us to stop selling arms and to say that their human rights record has crossed the line? I believe that they have well and truly passed that mark. What diplomatic pressures can we apply to encourage more countries to sign up to the UN arms trade treaty?

The time has come for us to ask whether UK- manufactured goods are directly, or indirectly, contributing to the mass humanitarian crisis that we are witnessing. What steps will the Government take to stop that?