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

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 4:00 pm on 18th July 2019.

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Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development) 4:00 pm, 18th July 2019

The hon. Lady cited something from the United States that happened fairly recently, but I do not accept her position. I understand her concerns. She did not cite the recent Court of Appeal case, but we could discuss that in relation to some of the businesses that I think are in her mind. The fact of the matter is, as the 2017 judgment made clear, that the people exercising these judgments are full of anxiety and anguish—those words are used in that judgment. On my part, as well as that of my predecessors and my officials and advisers, I have to say how much I resent the implication that those decisions are made lightly. We are human beings, and sometimes we will get decisions wrong, but the consolidated criteria on which we and our allies depend are rigorous and robust, and even the appellate court was good enough to acknowledge that.

I remain convinced that the standards we apply in this country are among the best in the world and are a beacon for others to follow. That does not detract in any way from the fact that, in a complex situation where our intelligence is—from time to time, if not most of the time—inevitably partial, we can get things wrong. That is inevitable, but we have to weigh things up.

Returning to the points I made earlier, it is my view that our engagement with Saudi Arabia is, in general, positive. It is more likely to engage Saudi Arabia and procure what we would see as good behaviour on its part than the alternative, which is disengagement. I will come on to some further points on defence and security, but ultimately as politicians we have to decide which we choose. I am pleased that the United Kingdom has historically been and remains in the company of those who choose engagement and influence rather than distance.

I am concerned, as my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Reigate clearly are, that if we changed tack and policy direction, we would isolate the regime in Riyadh. The consequences are very difficult to predict. It is an extraordinarily dangerous region. A change in direction could pose a real and present threat to this country and the people Catherine West and I represent. I would tread warily before dramatically changing Government policy in the way that I think she would tempt us to do, along with Andy Slaughter and, I suspect, Joanna Cherry. I disagree with that point. There is a choice to be made; it is a fairly clearcut difference of approach. I respect those who take a different view, but there it is.