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Saudi Arabia

Volume 983: debated on Wednesday 23 April 1980

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I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,

" the expulsion of the British ambassador from Saudi Arabia ".
I have only just been able to give you notice of my application in manuscript form, Mr. Speaker, and I shall be brief.

The matter is specific, in that the ambassador returned suddenly from leave and, with the assistance of the Foreign Secretary, sought to allay the anxieties of the Saudi Government over a television film. Plainly, those efforts have not succeeded and the ambassador is now to be expelled.

The matter is important, because our relations with Saudi Arabia touch upon contracts worth billions of pounds to this country, not least in defence and construction, and touch upon the jobs of tens of thousands of British workers. They also touch upon the holding in Britain of large sums of Saudi assets which, if they were to be removed, could affect the position of sterling.

The matter is urgent, because a Select Committee of the House intends on Monday to proceed to Saudi Arabia, with the agreement of the House of Commons Commission and yourself, Mr. Speaker. It is an important consideration for the House that one of its Select Committees, in proceeding to Saudi Arabia, may not have the protection of the British ambassador.

The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) has sought leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he believes should have urgent consideration, namely,

" the expulsion of the British ambassador from Saudi Arabia ".
As the House knows, under Standing Order No. 9 I am directed to take account of the several factors set out in the order, but to give no reasons for my decision.

The hon. Gentleman has obviously brought to our notice a matter of considerable significance to the House, but I have to rule that his submission does not fall within the provisions that would require me to order an emergency debate tonight or tomorrow night, and, therefore, I cannot submit his application to the House.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. If you received a request from a Foreign Office Minister to make a statement on this obviously grave development, would you accept that request?

I shall wait to see what is forthcoming. Obviously, the House will realise that we have not heard the last of that matter. I think that it is wiser for the House to leave the matter for the time being.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. With respect, I do not think that we can just leave the matter for the time being. Members of a Select Committee may be put at serious risk and the matter should have immediate priority.

I propose to look at the question of the delegation going to Saudi Arabia and to invite members of the House of Commons Commission to do so. I hope that the House will not press me further. I think that it would be unfair to ask a Foreign Office Minister to speak off the cuff on such a serious matter.