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

But the hon. Gentleman does give me the opportunity to say once again that the United Kingdom condemns capital punishment in all countries and in all circumstances. I do not think the English language contains a form of words that could make that more explicit.

I hope it is abundantly clear from all I have said that we have held Saudi Arabia to account at every opportunity. It goes well beyond the hand-wringing that the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland spoke about. I am sure he did not mean to imply that consecutive Governments, including the one in which he was a senior Minister, have indulged in hand-wringing, but I sensed in his remarks a degree of frustration that we cannot do more to achieve an effect. As a Minister in the Foreign Office, I certainly know that frustration and live with it all the time.

The hon. Member for Hammersmith tried to paint the Government into a conspiracists’ corner and cited arms exports and detainees. The hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green also spoke about arms exports. It is certainly true that some people call for defence and security exports to be halted on moral grounds, which is a perfectly respectable position to adopt, but the legality of our arms exports rests on our rigorous application of the consolidated criteria. The UK takes that responsibility very seriously.

I am not persuaded by calls for a broad-brush end to defence and security exports, for three primary reasons. First, to stop our defence and security exports would signal a disregard for Saudi Arabia’s legitimate security concerns. Regional tensions are acute. Saudi Arabia has faced missile attacks on critical national infrastructure and faces cyber-attacks, as do we. Our system of export licensing supports responsible exports that meet legitimate defence and security needs. Revoking long-standing defence and security co-operation would undermine Saudi Arabia’s ability to protect itself, creating a vulnerability that could be exploited by malign regional actors. Secondly, halting exports of materials and skills in this area would not prevent Saudi Arabia from procurement elsewhere. Alternative partners of Saudi Arabia are unlikely to exhibit the same standards as our rigorous and robust arms export regimes do. Thirdly, it is no secret that Saudi Arabia is the UK’s largest defence export market. The adverse economic impact on the UK’s defence industrial base, which translates into real jobs for real people in our constituencies, would be significant. Before simply waving those off and batting them away, I would have to be wholly convinced that the aforementioned two points were adequately satisfied, which I do not think I ever will be.

Let me be clear about the anguish and anxiety that I, my ministerial colleagues and officials go through in approving anything that might be used to inflict harm and damage internally or against civilian populations. I have been a Minister in this Department for two months, and the number of these matters I have seen is fairly small, but I can say to this gathering that nothing I have done has caused me more anxiety and anguish than the situation in Saudi Arabia. It is important that people know the amount of work that goes into this, and the district and appellate courts have made that perfectly clear.