Human Rights in Saudi Arabia — [Mr Nigel Evans in the Chair]

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 3:19 pm on 18th July 2019.

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Photo of Catherine West Catherine West Labour, Hornsey and Wood Green 3:19 pm, 18th July 2019

It is a pleasure to contribute to the debate under your chairmanship, Sir Henry. I thank the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael), who secured the debate, for his eloquent and comprehensive assessment of the human rights picture. I commend my hon. Friend Andy Slaughter for linking some of the issues that we have debated, such as our military relationship and the events playing out in Yemen, with the recent judgment on the case brought by the Campaign Against Arms Trade.

Hon. Members may be aware that, today—or perhaps overnight, if my sense of Washington time is correct—the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly, by 238 to 190, to block the supply of the precision-guided munitions that are being used against civilians in the Yemeni civil war. There are lessons there for our sales regime. I hope that we will continue to develop links between Parliament and Congress, as the Committees on Arms Export Controls began to do last week in Washington, so we can have a business-like relationship with the people with whom we do business on the arms and defence question.

Crispin Blunt was rather optimistic in his assessment of the human rights picture in Saudi. He believes that it is correct for the UK and the US to be involved in targeting expertise and training in the use of military equipment in Yemen, but targeting can sometimes go wrong, as we have potentially seen in some test cases regarding the blowing up of buses, weddings and other civilian occasions. We do not quite have the evidence yet, but there are enough questions to make it necessary to comprehensively link the human rights picture with what is happening in the war in Yemen, particularly in relation to the recent cholera outbreak and the deaths of many children.

I commend John Howell for his incisive treatment of the issue of the abuse that women, particularly those who work as servants in homes, have suffered over several years. That he spoke in so much detail about them is telling. I hope that the Minister will address the questions his hon. Friend raised about what the Government are doing to hold the Saudi Government to account for women who are particularly vulnerable because they are servants in Saudi homes. Obviously, the high-profile cases involving women’s rights are those related to driving, but the hon. Gentleman rightly pointed out that there are more serious issues than just having the right to drive, although that is symbolic of women’s liberty.

I reiterate the concern about the treatment of young people in detention, particularly the lack of legal representation, the use of false confessions and their execution, which is simply unacceptable. I am also concerned about journalists. We have already heard about the tragic and revolting killing of Jamal Khashoggi, whose body, if media reports are to be believed, was chopped up into small pieces and melted down using some type of acid, so it was in a form that could be disposed of. I do not think it gets any worse than that, and yet the Saudis are our allies and friends.

We have to join the UN and Dr Callamard, who is looking into the matter as the UN’s rapporteur, in applying more pressure. We have to show more backbone in the way we interact with our military allies. In particular, I want the Minister to address what is going on in relation to the investigation. Will the UK join the UN in asking questions about its next steps? We cannot allow the matter to drop and just stand next to Mohammed bin Salman at G20 meetings and take photos and so on. We have to say something, have some backbone and be much stronger.

Like Jamal Khashoggi, journalists in general and people who tend to speak out and protest about the Saudi regime come under tremendous pressure, including execution. I look forward to hearing from the Minister what steps he will take as a new Minister, with a fresh approach, to inject more backbone and strength into our approach in this important regard.