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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:26 pm on 17th September 2015.

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Photo of Margaret Ferrier Margaret Ferrier Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Scotland Office) 2:26 pm, 17th September 2015

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David.

Those of us speaking today will certainly not be short of words. The defence and security equipment exhibition taking place this week in this city has brought the issue to the fore. The UK Government have invited many countries to attend the four-day event. To make the most of my time, I will focus on Saudi Arabia.

In 2014, the Economist Intelligence Unit, not usually known as a radical source, ranked Saudi Arabia at

161 out of 167 in its democracy index. Only six of the world’s Governments are deemed more repressive, including Syria, North Korea and the Central African Republic.

It is easy for me to stand here and quote statistics today, but I would rather give an example that seems to be making the news: the case of Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, who was arrested in February 2012 when he was only 17. He was accused by Saudi authorities of participating in an illegal protest and of firearms offences. Despite there being no evidence to justify the charges, he was convicted of the alleged offences by the specialised criminal court. His final appeal, which was held in secret and without his knowledge, was dismissed. The young man’s life is now set to be cut dramatically short and he has been sentenced to death on charges that include insulting the king and delivering religious sermons that disrupt national unity. It is an absolute outrage and I intend to write to the Minister to ask for urgent action to be taken.

As if all that was not alarming enough, Ali’s sentence is due to be barbarically carried out by crucifixion. I feel for this young man and his family. Reading Ali’s story this morning filled me with grief for his life about to be savagely and abruptly ended. How in 2015 can a supposedly civilised country impose such an inhumane and merciless penalty on any of its citizens, let alone one so young?

Ali is but one of countless examples of Saudis falling foul of the ruthlessly relentless regime. While human life holds little or no value to the Saudi establishment, our own Government seemingly place a high value on the arms business. Saudi is one of the largest arms export markets, worth billions of pounds to our Exchequer: blood money that the UK Government are happy to take. We supply weapons and ammunition. We deliver military aircraft and we help to train Saudi personnel. We even co-operate with the military action. Saudi is leading the coalition that is bombing Yemen, killing and maiming many civilians as well as destroying their homes. This is being done, with the apparent blessing of the UK, using arms purchased from us.

The Government appear to be bending over backwards to sustain the relationship. In 2014, when David Cameron could not get the Saudis to agree the financing for a multi-billion-pound Eurofighter Typhoon deal, Prince Charles came to the rescue. The prince visited Saudi Arabia and did a sword dance in traditional dress at a festival supported by BAe. His visit came two days before BAe was due to issue its financial results, amid rumours that its share price was set to fall unless agreement could be reached on the pricing of the Typhoon deal. The next day, Saudi Arabia and BAe Systems announced that a deal had been finalised. So while the royal family grovel to maintain the status quo of our arms trade with the Saudis, the human rights abuses continue apace. On average, one person is executed every two days in Saudi Arabia.

It seems that for the UK Government the interests of BAe Systems trumped any frank speaking to the Saudi authorities about human rights. There can be no doubt that such determined pursuit puts commercial relationships before human rights, and sends a strong signal of UK support for the regime. The blind eye that we officially turn to Saudi Arabia’s dreadful denial of human rights only serves to support its savage and sadistic regime. Can the Minister please answer the points I have made?