I beg to move,
That this House has considered the implications for human rights of promoting arms sales.
I am particularly pleased to be having this debate under your chairmanship, Mr Amess; we have been in the House for about the same amount of time, so it is a great pleasure. I am also pleased to see so many hon. Members here to discuss this very important issue. I will keep my speech relatively brief to allow everybody to get in who has something to say, so that as many Members as possible can share their views about the implication for human rights of promoting arms sales.
As many hon. Members know, I have always been passionate about human rights and have argued against arms sales to human rights violators ever since I became an MP. As chair of the Committee against Repression and for Democratic Rights in Iraq—known as CARDRI—in the 1980s, I argued against the supply of military equipment to Saddam Hussein, a man who, at that time, was gassing his own people, had executed a British journalist and generally oversaw a very repressive and brutal regime. Iraq was, of course, also then at war with Iran.
I was horrified when, in 1986, the then Conservative Government invited a five-strong Iraqi delegation, led by its director of armaments and supplies, to the British Army equipment exhibition in Aldershot. Of course, in 1990 Saddam’s troops invaded Kuwait, and he became no longer a friend, but an enemy of the west. Lord Justice Scott’s report a few years later detailed the involvement of the UK Government and British companies in arming him. However, Saddam had not changed overnight in 1990.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for securing this very important debate. Does she recall that the ultimate obscenity was that because these weapons were sold using the export credit regime, and were never paid for, the British Government, in fact, gave them to Saddam Hussein?
That is a very good point. I am really sorry that so few companies have been prosecuted since for supplying some of the arms. The authorities did that in Germany, and are continuing to do so, but there have been very few prosecutions in this country.
As I was saying, in 1990 Saddam’s troops invaded Kuwait and he became an enemy of the west, but Saddam had not changed overnight. Enough was already known about his regime’s human rights violations—backed by detailed information from inside the country about the savage nature of the regime—and about the UK Government’s and companies’ attempts to arm him. Some us had tried to stop that, but our warnings were not heeded.
When the Labour Government came to office in 1997, there was a test case for the new Foreign Secretary Robin Cook’s “ethical foreign policy”. I remember sitting at the Foreign Office, listening to the speech he made. I went up to him at the end of it and said, “I am very pleased to hear those words from you, but I’ll be watching you”. I did not realise how quickly I would have to put those words into operation, because the test case for the ethical foreign policy that he spelt out, with human rights at its heart, was selling arms to Indonesia, as we were doing at that time. Anybody who followed that particular conflict will know that repression in Aceh, for example, was acute. President Suharto’s troops were still occupying East Timor then. I am glad to say that our new Leader of the Opposition came to East Timor with me at the time and monitored some of the things that were going on there.
The previous Conservative Government had issued licences for the export of Hawk aircraft and armoured vehicles to Indonesia, but when Labour came to power, the equipment had not yet been delivered. Unfortunately, Robin Cook was not able to convince his Cabinet colleagues at that time and the export licences were not revoked. Hawk aircraft were later in action in Aceh and the armoured vehicles out on the streets of Jakarta.
However, the new Labour Government in 1997 did institute annual reports on arms export licences. Members of the four relevant Select Committees—the Foreign Affairs Committee, the Trade and Industry Committee, the International Development Committee and the Defence Committee—came together to look at those reports. Initially known, for obvious reasons, as the Quadripartite Committee, it became the Committees on Arms Export Controls in 2008. I was a member of the Committees in both guises.
In the last Parliament, the Committees on Arms Export Controls was chaired by Sir John Stanley. As everybody knows, he is a former Conservative Defence Minister; I pay tribute to the work of Sir John, my colleague both on the Committees on Arms Export Controls and the Foreign Affairs Committee. I also note that every CAEC—as it began to be known—report was unanimously agreed by their members during their 15 years of existence, including those when Sir John was chair. Sir John assiduously raised arms export issues with Ministers and civil servants and he came to see what is at the heart of this debate—that it is not possible to promote human rights at the same time as promoting arms exports. The two are not compatible.
The CAEC report from the last parliamentary Session said that
“the Government would do well to acknowledge that there is an inherent conflict between strongly promoting arms exports to authoritarian regimes whilst strongly criticising their lack of human rights at the same time rather than claiming, as the Government continued to do…that these two policies ‘are mutually reinforcing’”.
Although so far unable to convince Governments of this, the Committees on Arms Export Controls’ oversight was of immense benefit—I stress that it really was of immense benefit—in shedding light on this cross-departmental issue. For six months now, we have been without those Committees. As yet, my inquiries have not indicated when they are likely to be reformed. The global situation regarding conflict and arms transfers, not least as it affects the middle east and north Africa, makes it vital to have the Committees functioning at the earliest possible date. I would therefore urge the relevant Committee Chairs to come together as a matter of urgency to ensure that this process of scrutiny continues.
UK Governments—plural—argue that they operate one of the most rigorous and transparent arms export control regimes in the world, that their export licensing criteria take human rights into account and that licences will not be granted if the equipment might be used for human rights abuse, or more particularly, if there is a clear risk that the proposed export might be used for internal repression, to provoke or prolong armed conflicts or to aggravate existing tensions or conflicts in the country of final destination. All applications are subject to a case-by-case assessment.
In the first instance, I note with regard to the “clear risk” criteria that I just mentioned, that that is vague as to what exactly constitutes a clear risk. How can that be defined? What meets that threshold? To my mind, “clear risk” is in effect a blank cheque in human rights terms. In connection with that, it would be helpful, as a starting point, to know about the UK’s risk assessment methodology. We were always being told, when Ministers in Governments of all colours were being questioned, that there would be or was monitoring in the countries to which the arms were supplied. However, I have continually failed to find out what that monitoring constitutes.
In the previous Parliament, CAEC also raised concerns about the insufficiency of information being released about specific end users. Although the country is mentioned, there is no more specific designation. That means that the public are left in the dark about exactly who will be receiving the arms in question. I call on the Government to provide information about who exactly UK-supplied equipment will be used by and for what purpose.
In addition, situations change. The fact that after the uprisings in north Africa and the middle east in the spring of 2011, more than 150 licences—more than 150—had to be revoked indicates that the Government’s licensing process leaves a lot to be desired. Frankly, many of those licences should never have been granted in the first place, because licence revocation can be of only limited effect, for the simple reason that revocation is of no use whatever for exports that have already been shipped—those arms can never be recovered. It is imperative, therefore, that the utmost caution—that is, much more caution—be exercised when assessments are being undertaken on arms exports to authoritarian and war-torn countries.
However, the incompatibility between promoting human rights and promoting arms exports is primarily a difficulty not with export controls, but with the mindset that prioritises export promotion. Arms sales are promoted by those right at the top of Government. That is not new. Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair and David Cameron have all led delegations to promote arms sales, including to some of the world’s most repressive regimes. Earlier this year, licences to Foreign and Commonwealth Office-designated countries of concern were valued at almost £12 billion.
In the middle of the brutal suppression of protest in the middle east in February 2011, the Prime Minister chose to go ahead with an arms promotion tour of Egypt, Kuwait, Qatar and Oman. The message sent to those regimes is quite alarming; the UK Government were in effect legitimising the regimes and provided them with political cover. Even the help of the royal family is enlisted. Prince Charles famously did a sword dance in Saudi Arabia in 2014 to secure a fighter jet deal for BAE.
Those high-level sales efforts in relation to human rights abusers such as Saudi Arabia mute any criticism of their abuse of human rights. In the case of Saudi Arabia, it is a “priority market” for the UK Government’s arms sales agency, the UK Trade & Investment Defence & Security Organisation.
I think that the desire for arms deals prevents meaningful UK Government criticism of, for example, Saudi human rights abuses. That is a country where, according to Amnesty International, someone is executed every two days. Raif Badawi was brutally flogged and is in jail simply for blogging. Women are treated as second-class citizens, and immigrant workers far worse. The arms sales links have prevented the UK Government from criticising Saudi Arabia for the humanitarian catastrophe being created in Yemen. There are, it is said, even UK civil servants and military personnel in Saudi Arabia, who are now presumably supporting the Saudi-led coalition’s bombing campaign.
I mentioned the licences that the Government were forced to revoke in 2011, when the Arab uprisings took place.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right, in her excellent speech, to highlight the Gulf area, because that is one area where the contrast between human rights and arms sales is very clear. Does she agree that that also applies to Bahrain? For example, the UK was one of 33 countries this week criticising Bahrain at the UN Human Rights Council for not upholding human rights, while going ahead with not just arms sales but building a naval base there.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. I chair the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s committee on the human rights of parliamentarians. At our biannual conferences, we have delegations from the countries where parliamentarians are in jail, not able to carry out their mandates or, in some cases, have been murdered. We follow up their cases, and Bahrain, in the next three weeks, will be on our agenda again in Geneva.
I mentioned the licences that the Government were forced to revoke in 2011, when the Arab uprisings took place. However, even then not a single licence to Saudi Arabia was revoked. The Government presumably did not want to undermine one of their most lucrative defence export markets, as well as other security, intelligence and trade arrangements. That was despite the fact that UK armoured vehicles supplied to Saudi Arabia were being used to protect vital infrastructure in Bahrain, arguably giving the Bahraini forces a free hand to attack protesters. I emphasise that there is even more reason to re-examine licences now, with the Saudis’ use of military force in Yemen.
Today, the biennial Defence and Security Equipment International exhibition, one of the world’s largest arms fairs, which generates millions in arms deals, is taking place at the ExCeL centre in London’s docklands. It is organised by a private company, Clarion Events, but the Government’s arms sales agency, UKTI DSO, has issued the official invitations to 61 countries. Those include countries on the Foreign Office’s list of countries of concern on human rights grounds, such as Colombia, Iraq, Pakistan and, inevitably, Saudi Arabia, plus others where human rights are a major issue, including Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, Turkey, which I shall return to discussing, and the United Arab Emirates, as well as Ukraine.
Clarion says that there are 1,500 international exhibitors, comprising suppliers from 121 countries, Israel being among them with a big pavilion. They will be displaying the full range of military equipment and components, taking part in seminars and building the relationships that facilitate the deals. That DSEI is a global arms fair is emphasised in the letter of understanding between UKTI DSO and Clarion:
“Since DSEI is an international exhibition, the necessity of achieving a fair and equitable share of delegation time between exhibiting UK companies and overseas exhibitors affects both the short term perception and long term survival of the event. DSEI needs to continually develop and maintain its position as the leading global market place. For this to happen, both UK and international companies need to feel they have equal and reasonable access to delegations.”
Arms sellers meet arms buyers at DSEI. If they agree a deal whereby the equipment does not come into the UK, it is not subject to any UK export controls. If the equipment is a UK export, it will go to one of well over 100 countries across the globe for which UK export licences are granted. The FCO’s “Human Rights and Democracy” report, which I have here, identified 28 “countries of concern”. In 2014, the UK approved arms export licences to 18 of these, including Israel, Libya, Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
I turn briefly to a specific example that worries me greatly. Turkey may be a member of NATO—
Before my right hon. Friend moves on to Turkey, I should say that she mentioned Israel as a country of concern. The arms trade with Israel is huge—there were more than £11 million of licences last year and nearly £29 million of dual-use licences—but last year also saw Operation Protective Edge, in which 2,200 people were killed in Gaza, including 550 children. Is that not one of the most blatant examples of double standards?
I think that the majority of us would agree with my hon. Friend, and I thank him for making that point.
Turkey, as I said, is a member of NATO, but it is also a country in a region of great turmoil and its Government are cracking down hard on their opponents. Over the last two years, brutal tactics have been used against protesters during rallies in Istanbul’s Taksim Square. There is also some evidence that arms acquired by Turkey, although not specifically from the UK, may have fallen into ISIS hands. That is an apt illustration of what can happen when weapons have left a supplier country, particularly in an unstable region: they can end up anywhere and with anyone.
Turkey has long been involved in a conflict with separatist Kurds, although there were hopes that negotiations might lead to a permanent end of hostilities. Recently, however, it has undertaken bombing missions across the border in Iraq, and locally built AgustaWestland attack helicopters, purchased for use against the PKK, have been deployed and reportedly used in recent renewed fighting. Since the pro-Kurdish HDP party won seats in the general election in June, Turkey has once again carried out attacks on the Kurdish population living within its borders. Earlier this month, Turkish military and police mounted a relentless assault on the town of Cizre in a counter-terrorism operation against the PKK, killing 21 people. A 10-year-old girl was shot dead by snipers as she left her home, with her hands in the air, in an attempt to get medical help for her father. He was also killed. This month, police shot three children from an armoured vehicle. They had left their houses to buy bread.
Turkey is a priority market of the UK Trade & Investment Defence & Security Organisation. The UK Government have officially invited Turkey to send a delegation to the DSEI exhibition in 2015. We do not know who will be on the delegation, but last time it included the deputy Defence Minister. Turkey is also a welcome guest of the UK Government at other military exhibitions here. Turkish delegations were present at both the 2014 Farnborough air show and this year’s security and policing exhibition. If Turkey buys weapons at the DSEI exhibition, they could be used to support the repression of its political opponents or its attacks on Kurdish people. With such sales, the UK Government are sending the message that the lives and human rights of the Turkish and Kurdish people are of little importance.
Turkey is not only present as an arms buyer; it wants to build its reputation as an arms seller. The Turkish Government’s Defence and Aerospace Industry Exporters Association is present at this week’s arms exhibition in London’s docklands as an international partner. It is currently building new drones, redesigning a battle tank and developing its own fighter jets. The association’s chair has said:
“A country’s development can be associated with the development of its defence industry. We identified our export target as 25 billion USD for year 2023, which is the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Turkish Republic. We desire to take”
“place at the top 10 of”
the “world defence industry.”
During the 2015 Turkish election campaign, the AKP boasted that Turkey would make all its own military equipment, with massive posters on the streets proclaiming, “We’re making our own warplanes” and “We’re making our own tanks”. President Erdogan stated:
“Our goal is to completely rid our defence industry of foreign dependency by 2023.”
Prime Minister Davutoglu said in January 2015:
“Now we have a Turkey that won’t bow to others with its own national defence industry. This is the new Turkey.”
It is disappointing for those of us who have been involved in these matters for many years that the Government appear to have learned so little from their predecessors’ experiences of arming Saddam Hussein, President Suharto and President Gaddafi. It would seem that if a repressive regime has the money, a blind eye can be turned to human rights abuses. Turkey’s presence, and that of other countries that are or should be of concern, at the London arms exhibition this week essentially allows more arms to be provided to volatile and increasingly repressive regimes.
It is time for change—fundamental change. The UK Government need to change their policies and practices, and end their military sales to despotic regimes. That change would prove popular, because 70% of UK adults who were recently polled agreed that the UK Government should not promote the sale of British military equipment to foreign Governments who have a poor record on human rights.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. The three largest parties will make their contributions starting at 2.30 pm. I think we have six or seven colleagues who wish to contribute. My maths, unfortunately, makes it about three or four minutes each at the most, but I want to call everyone who has made the effort to be here.
I applaud the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) for securing the debate. I would like to declare that I am a member of Amnesty International and of the British Medical Association.
I want to mention some points that have not been raised. First, I want to honour the Londoners in the docklands area who peacefully protest against the ExCel arms fair, and the religious leaders who come every two years to pray peacefully in that area. We are talking about the human rights of Londoners, who get off the Docklands Light Railway near the ExCeL centre and see murals commemorating the destruction and civilian loss of the second world war. I do not believe that it is an appropriate location for the arms fair. As Amnesty has reported, shockingly, companies at the 2013 arms fair were selling cluster bombs and equipment for torture. I am not reassured that this year’s arms fair will not involve the sale of cluster bombs, torture equipment, depleted uranium, phosphorous or other items that I do not believe to be ethical, which no Londoner would wish to have sold in this area.
On Bahrain, I strongly urge the Minister and any members of the Government who are going to ExCeL this year to ask for the release of Dr Ali Al-Ekri. He is a consultant paediatric orthopaedic surgeon, and he should not be imprisoned. The only criminals in the situation are the Bahraini Government, because medical neutrality is a fundamental right.
I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) for securing this important debate on ethical questions. As a global arms export player, the UK is second only to the US, with a share of global contracts worth 22% of the total market. Over the summer, I had real concerns about our contribution to the devastating situation in the middle east, and I am grateful to the House of Commons Library for supplying me with so much information. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills strategic export controls report—all 686 pages of it—was chilling reading, and enabled me to see where our arms trade was leading. It led me to shine a spotlight on the situation in Saudi Arabia and where our arms can end up. I have had discussions with an expert on Syria, who talked about how Saudi Arabia is supplying weaponry to help resistance organisations in the current crisis. Some of those resistance groups have fallen into the hands of Daesh, which is of huge concern, but we also know that Daesh has received weapons, probably including weapons manufactured in the UK, from other parts of the region.
Turning the spotlight back to Saudi Arabia, which is one of our major export markets, some £3.9 billion-worth of contracts were signed under the previous Government. We therefore have many aircraft, helicopters, combat vehicles, explosive devices and other weaponry in the region. We have heard how Saudi Arabia is using UK-manufactured aircraft on one side of the conflict in Yemen while we are delivering humanitarian aid to that country. Saudi Arabia may well be bombing the refugee camps that we are supporting, and at the very least it is creating more refugees. There is therefore deep concern, and we must seriously scrutinise what is happening.
Once our manufactured goods enter the region, we have no control over how they will be used, where they will end up and who they may kill. With such destabilisation in that part of the world, as in so many others, we need to ask serious questions when issuing each licence. Why are we exporting the goods? Would we class it as a humanitarian act to help defenceless countries provide safety and security, or is it an opportunity to generate revenue? Is our export control list extensive enough? Surveillance technology, for example, is not subject to the same export rules. What are the risks, now and in the future, of signing a contract with another country? What are the human rights records of those countries? Let us face it, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain—as we have heard—and so many other places, particularly in the middle east, do not have a good human rights record. What do countries such as Saudi Arabia have to do for us to stop selling arms and to say that their human rights record has crossed the line? I believe that they have well and truly passed that mark. What diplomatic pressures can we apply to encourage more countries to sign up to the UN arms trade treaty?
The time has come for us to ask whether UK- manufactured goods are directly, or indirectly, contributing to the mass humanitarian crisis that we are witnessing. What steps will the Government take to stop that?
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Sir David. It is a special joy to support my right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), who has a heroic record of working for Indict and CARDRI. She took on a lonely task, and she behaved with genuine heroism by going to inspect the wars for herself. It is a shame that previous leaders of our party have never been as aware of her talent as the present leader may be. Her best days are ahead.
My right hon. Friend mentioned Yemen. We should be greatly concerned that, in a country of 21 million people, 84% of the population are in need of humanitarian aid. It is an extraordinary crisis that has had very little attention. What is going on in Yemen? A group, the Houthis, are regarded as rebels, and the Saudis have gone in, supported by us, and are creating a terrible situation. At least 4,000 people have been killed in the past few months. Last week, on “Newsnight,” we saw a water-bottling plant that was bombed, with the workers turned into carbon. All that was left of them was their burned bodies, and we had a hand in doing that.
The extraordinary thing, as my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) said, is that the Government are behaving in two different ways: they are providing humanitarian aid, which we do very well—the Government should be congratulated on their record of maintaining the 0.7% aid budget—but, on the other hand, they are feeding the war machine that is causing death and creating refugees.
There is a nasty regime in Azerbaijan under Aliyev. I spoke to him a year ago, and he told me that it is untrue that Azerbaijan imprisons journalists, demonstrators and opponents. He promptly went home from that meeting, which took place when, absurdly, his country headed the Council of Europe, a body in charge of human rights, and arrested dozens more journalists, demonstrators and opponents. Yet there is a campaign in this House to get as many Members as possible to join the all-party group on Azerbaijan. Members of that group are welcome to go on the caviar trail, and they will be very well looked after while they are in Azerbaijan.
The arms trade contributes to undermining the work of this House. When the war drums are beating, we are all blackmailed into supporting new wars because there will be jobs at stake in our constituencies. We hear from those workers and are told that, if we are against the war, we are against jobs in our constituency. The powerful arms trade lobby is deeply corrupting. The Government are trying to edge us into a new war, into blundering into the four-sided civil war in Syria, with God knows what consequences. Just two years ago they wanted us to fight Assad, and now they want us to take on ISIL—they are both deadly enemies—but the House no longer trusts Government information. We lost 179 of our brave British soldiers in pursuit of non-existent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. We went into Helmand in 2006, having lost just four soldiers in battle up to that point, on the assurance that not a shot would be fired; in fact, millions of shots were fired and we lost 454 soldiers. Again, we were told two years ago to prepare for war with Iran because it was going to attack us with its non-existent long-range missiles carrying non-existent nuclear weapons.
We in this House must look to the arms trade. Yes, there are benefits to be gained from that trade, but we must resist the temptation to go ahead and support oppressive and murderous regimes in the name of profit. A sensible line must be drawn between our great record on humanitarian aid and our record of unnecessarily shoring up wicked regimes that create the problems of deprivation, cause deaths and create a large number of refugees. We must have a consistent, rational policy that makes sense.
Poverty is a factor in conflict and the buying of arms. In turn, conflict is the root cause of poverty, important in itself and intertwined with other causes. High military spending means overconsumption of resources, and it results in degradation of the environment and distortions in the economy. Such spending is intimately related to problems of debt, illegal drugs and the denial of democracy and human rights. It may lead to armed conflict that causes loss of civilian life, displacement—we are well aware of that today—destruction of the environment and infrastructure, and severe disruption of the economy.
I particularly wanted to speak in this debate because of my role on the Select Committee on International Development. Unless we address the issues already raised pertaining to arms sales and human rights abuses, I fear that we will not reach our global goals of ensuring action for people, planet, peace, prosperity and partnership. I will particularly address humanitarian issues linked with arms sales to countries that have child soldiers and with our UN obligations.
There are an estimated 250,000 child soldiers in the world today. People may not be aware of it, but 40% of all child soldiers are girls, who are often used as wives—in other words, sex slaves—for male combatants. Many rebel groups use child soldiers to fight Governments, but some Governments also use child soldiers in armed conflicts.
Africa has the largest number of child soldiers. They have been used in armed conflicts in the Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia and Sudan. In June 2013, the United Nations set a goal of having no child soldiers anywhere in the world by 2016. Of the eight Government armies listed for the recruitment and use of children, six have committed to making their armies child-free. In 2012, South Sudan, Myanmar, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo signed action plans with the UN, and Afghanistan and Chad made similar commitments the previous year. Discussions initiated with the Governments of Yemen and Sudan are expected to lead to action plans.
I speak also as a clinical psychologist. It is important to note that children are used as soldiers because they are easier to condition and brainwash. They do not eat much food, they do not need much pay and they have an underdeveloped sense of danger, so they are easier to send into the line of fire. As children make up the majority demographic in many conflict-affected countries, the supply of potential recruits is constant, and due to their size and, tragically, their perceived expendability, children are often sent into battle as scouts or decoys, or sent in the first wave to draw the enemy’s fire.
The effects on children are felt long after their physical scars have healed. Many child soldiers are desensitised to violence, often at a formative time, and it psychologically damages them for life.
It is crucial that we as a Government support aims to get children out of army uniforms and into school uniforms. It is crucial to support humanitarian efforts and ensure that arms are not sold directly or indirectly to countries or regimes that deploy child soldiers. Although child soldiers can go through formal demobilisation, disarmament and reintegration programmes when they are free, many are vulnerable and marginalised, and are not accepted back into society. We must ensure that we support humanitarian efforts to make child soldiers a thing of the past.
I am pleased to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Amess. I praise everybody who has contributed to this important debate.
I am not a particularly religious person, but my politics and those of my party are probably shaped more by Methodism than by Marxism. Matthew 5:9 is a guiding principle as pertinent today as it was when it was written:
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.”
Amnesty International estimates that roughly 500,000 people are killed every year by firearms in the battlefield, as a result of state repression, or by criminal gangs. Many more millions around the world die after being denied access to things that most people in my constituency take for granted, such as healthcare, water and food, because they are trapped in conflicts fuelled by the poorly controlled flow of arms. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, it is estimated that more than 5 million people have died since 1998 as an indirect result of the armed conflict.
The new politics that puts people before unfettered profiteering demands that it is time for the march of the peacemakers. Some may ask why it is a concern for my constituents in Ashton, Droylsden and Failsworth. Some may talk about job creation and economic growth stemming from the arms trade. I say that hundreds of my constituents have written to me over the last few weeks demanding that the current Government show more compassion for the families, women and children fleeing war-torn countries such as Syria. I agree wholeheartedly that the Government need to do more and that we should take our fair share of those seeking sanctuary and refuge, but I also say that we must do more to deal with the causes of the migration crisis by tackling head-on the countries that supply arms to regimes and nations with appalling human rights records.
On the question of job creation, the arms industry is in decline while new and emerging industries require research, investment and development. The greatest investment in conflict resolution is the creation of jobs and the building of houses, good schools, hospitals and road and rail infrastructure. That is the peacemaker approach.
When I came to this House, I promised my constituents I would do all that I could to protect, and provide for, the next generation. They deserve a future. The issue affects us all; we are all children of one world. I am concerned that despite the grand words and intentions in the arms trade treaty, an event such as the DSEI arms trade fair carries on in ignorant bliss.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) on securing this important debate and on her work in this area. I remind those here and beyond that, as she mentioned in her opening remarks, the treaty requires
“that no state authorises arms transfers to those committing genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and serious violations of human rights law, or turns a blind eye to dealers supplying arms likely to be used to commit serious human rights violations."
In the march of the peacemakers—the new politics for which so many in our nation and in my constituency are crying out—we must ensure that we press the UN and all signatories to the arms trade treaty to implement the treaty obligations fully. We also need to invest both aid and time in the industries of peace, stability and sustainable growth to create a safer world for all. I ask the Minister to do all that he can in that vein.
I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) for securing this important debate and for her thorough and impressive speech on the issue, about which I know she is extremely knowledgeable and passionate. I share her deep concern about the promotion of UK arms sales to countries with poor human rights records. My contribution will focus on the UK arms trade and military-industrial collaboration with Israel.
The House will know that last summer, while Gaza was under military attack, there was widespread horror and opposition to Israel’s bombing and invasion. Protests took place across our country involving hundreds of thousands of people. In my constituency, nearly 2,000 people marched to protest at the Israeli Government’s actions. The Israeli assault on Gaza in July and August 2014, in which 2,205 Palestinians were killed, including 521 children, is only the most recent example of the Israeli Government’s indiscriminate acts of violence against the Palestinian people, but the United Kingdom continues to treat Israel’s defiance of international law as, at best, an inconvenient detail to be worked around when making decisions on arms trade control. Contrary to their own criteria, the Government grant export licences allowing British military hardware and components to be supplied to Israel. At the same time, they import Israeli military hardware and components and provide training in the UK for Israeli military personnel.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley has outlined the criteria against which arms export licences are considered, yet the Government have been reluctant to refuse or revoke export licences to Israel. Since 2010, they have licensed the export of £42 million worth of military equipment to Israel, and have purchased from Israel targeting systems, drone technology and drones. The latter were developed by Israel’s Elbit Systems in a joint venture with Thales UK under a contract awarded by the Ministry of Defence. Members of the Israeli military have attended education courses for military personnel in the UK, and Israeli firms, including Elbit Systems, receive funding through 46 projects under the European Union’s framework research programme.
Although much was made of the Government’s decision during the Gaza war to halt 12 licences for components in the event of serious hostilities, no definition of “serious hostilities” was ever offered, and although violence resumed the very next day, those licences were not halted. In July 2015, the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills announced that those licences were no longer under review, as he was content that the licences for material, including components for military radar and tanks, met the UK’s export criteria.
Israeli military and industry sources openly attribute the success of Israeli exports to the fact that weapons and technologies are combat-proven in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. This means that when the UK imports Israeli arms, it helps Israel to benefit from unlawful practices. Despite official controls on arms exports, UK-made arms and military technologies continue to be sold to and used by the occupying Israeli forces. The value of licences awarded for export to Israel amounted to more than £11.5 million for military use and nearly £29 million for dual—civil or military—use in 2014 alone
Importing arms from and selling arms to Israel makes the UK complicit in Israel’s continuing violations of human rights and international law. So long as the Governments of the world engage in the arms trade with Israel, it has no incentive to relinquish its unlawful use of force and its illegal colonies in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. This is why four Nobel peace laureates—Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, Mairead Maguire and Rigoberta Menchú—together with the former UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Richard Falk, have accused the USA and the European Union of complicity in Israel’s crimes and have backed the call for an international military embargo against Israel.
I ask the Government—please—to refuse all of the export licences to Israel, directly or via a third country, where the end user is the Israel defence forces or military industry; to revoke any extant export licences to Israel, directly or via a third country, where the end user is the Israel defence forces or military industry; ban arms imports from Israel; and ban collaborations between UK-based companies and the Israel defence forces or Israeli military industry. We must end our shameful complicity in Israel’s continuing violations of human rights and international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Order. We have nine minutes left before the wind-ups, so I am afraid Members have three minutes each.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) on securing this debate. Since my time on the all-party group on human rights, I know how assiduous she has been in pursuing these issues. Her dedication to the cause is probably only matched by that of my friend in the House of Lords, Lord Avebury, who is equally assiduous in following such matters.
It is clear that the arms trade and human rights is an issue that concerns many of our constituents. I am sure that all Members here today will have been on the receiving end of a campaign email, which rightly highlights concerns around the defence and security equipment in the arms show that is being held in London at present. That campaign email focuses on two particular matters: Egypt and Israel. In relation to Egypt, it is regrettable that the UK Government are rolling out the red carpet for el-Sisi when he comes to visit. I think that that is a mistake. I hope that the Minister will be able to explain why such a decision was taken.
In relation to Israel, Members will know that last year my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr Clegg), who was then Deputy Prime Minister, said that if Israeli forces go back into Gaza and use disproportionate force, the UK Government should take action. What is the new Government’s position in that respect?
Also, what is the UK Government’s explanation for allowing arms sales to countries that are on the FCO list of countries about which it has human rights concerns? Many of the countries that we have talked about in this debate are on that list. There may be different versions, but one suggests that North Korea and Zimbabwe might be on that list. I hope that that is not the case but, if it is, what weapons and security equipment might we be exporting to those two countries?
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that arming authoritarian regimes undermines the generally excellent human rights record that Britain has abroad?
Indeed. Another country that has been mentioned where we have such concerns is Yemen. Clearly, the Saudi Arabians, with a coalition of other nations in the region, including the United Arab Emirates, have embarked on what many have said is indiscriminate military action that has put many civilian lives at risk or killed many civilians. We are providing a pathway for bombs to that campaign. Can the Minister say anything about that? Also, perhaps as a side issue, what impact might that have on the RAF and its ability to deal with any future crises?
Order. There is so little time and we still have two Members before the wind-ups. However, if the Minister wants to intervene, he may do so.
I just want to respond to this issue that has come up many times. I will not have enough time to respond to everything, but on this particular point on Yemen, President Hadi has invited support because of what is happening with the Houthis. Other countries have been invited to assist a country in need in the same way that President Abadi in Iraq has invited us to assist his country in dealing with a threat. That is why Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are involved in south Yemen.
They may have been invited in, but if countries such as Saudi, which are supplied with UK weapons, are acting indiscriminately in that country, we need to be concerned.
Clearly, there is a role for a strong UK arms industry. It creates jobs and helps technological development, but there is certainly no role for a UK arms industry that exports weapons made here to repress people in other countries.
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?
I am the last person to speak today before the Front-Bench spokespersons and, as people can well imagine, a lot of things that I am going to say have already been said. However, if we stand together and say the same thing, it will make the story and make our case even stronger.
I am very pleased that we are having this debate today. As we have already heard, the debate about UK arms sales and human rights internationally is very relevant, as this week London is hosting the Defence and Security Equipment International arms fair, one of the largest arms fairs in the world. Countries with very bad human rights records are present at that fair, including Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Egypt and Thailand, so it is right that we ask whether UK arms sales are compatible with promoting human rights around the world. I firmly believe that they are not.
We recently learnt that warplanes made in the UK have been used by Saudi Arabia in attacks on Yemen. Those air strikes have already killed hundreds of civilians, including more than 64 children. Saudi Arabia also has an appalling record when it comes to domestic human rights. The regime is engaged in a campaign of repression against opposition and pro-democracy groups in the country. It also carries out scores of executions against individuals, often after unfair trials.
The UK has also continued to sell arms to Israel, despite its ongoing illegal occupation of the west bank. Israel currently holds more than 5,000 Palestinians as political prisoners, and last summer it carried out a military campaign that besieged the Gaza strip and led to the death of more than 2,000 Palestinians, over 500 of whom were children.
By selling arms to countries involved in these violations, the UK is not only condoning the Governments who are carrying out these policies but actively supporting them. This activity also sends out the message that the UK will turn a blind eye to human rights violations committed by its allies. That is bad in itself, but it also weakens our hand when it comes to promoting human rights in countries that are not our allies at the moment, leaving us open to charges of hypocrisy.
No doubt we will hear from the Government that the UK has one of the strictest arms control regimes in the world. That may be true, but our controls are clearly not good enough if weapons made in the UK still end up in the hands of regimes that violate basic human rights and carry out attacks that harm civilians.
Order. I thank hon. Members for co-operating. May I just ask our next two speakers to allow the Minister some time to respond to the many points that have been made?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I am reminded of the early days of the Scottish Parliament, when it was chaired by Sir David Steel, who was also addressed as “Sir David”. If the House of Commons ever seeks a change, who knows, they might welcome that opportunity back up the road.
I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) for securing this very valuable and timely debate. I also pay tribute to her long-standing commitment to the issue of the arms trade and to the peace movement. She is joined in that by the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn). Sadly, he has not made it to Westminster Hall today, although I do not know what the conventions are. I also pay tribute to all the Members who have made extremely valuable speeches. I hope that the Minister will have time to respond to their points, particularly the specific points about countries of concern such as Israel, Yemen and Saudi Arabia, and some of the powerful points made by my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) on the issue of child soldiers.
When I was a student, I had the opportunity to visit New York and the United Nations, which is committed to the building of peace and stability around the world. I was struck by a display—nowadays, we would call it an infographic—that showed the proportion of arms sales to the cost of just about everything else that the UN is there to try to achieve: the cost of universal free education; the cost of ending hunger; and the cost of providing clean water and sanitation to everyone in the world who lives without that. The arms trade dwarfed all those other things. That image has stayed with me ever since. I saw it in the days before smartphones were ubiquitous, so I was not able to grab a photo of it, but I know that similar infographics and statistics are all too readily available nowadays.
Figures reported recently in The Independent showed that British companies secured export deals for weaponry that were worth £8.5 billion in the past year. By comparison, the departmental expenditure limit for the Department for International Development is only slightly more than that figure, at £11 billion.
The trade in arms is “the trade in death”, as it has been described by numerous thinkers and peace campaigners, not least various popes. Today is the anniversary of the speech to this Parliament by Pope Benedict XVI, in which he spoke about the arms trade and its insidious impact on stability and security around the world. The money that goes to waste on arms when it could be spent on much better and more important things is truly shocking, and one of the great scandals of the modern world.
The regulation around arms has also come up many times. Amnesty cites the interesting fact that there are more international laws regulating the trade in bananas than regulating the trade in weapons. Even with the arms trade treaty, which I will come back to, it seems that very little consideration is given to the end-use of a lot of weapons. The arms trade is seen simply as a valuable export market and a way of achieving economic growth, but economic growth should not come at any cost.
The UK Government’s dealings on this issue go way back. In 1966, Denis Healey set up the Defence Sales Organisation, which was located within the Ministry of Defence. Today, it goes by the name of the UK Trade and Investment Defence and Security Organisation. However, its essential purpose remains, which is to sell UK military equipment overseas.
As we have heard today, all too often such sales are made to regimes that have a terrible record on human rights. According to the Campaign Against Arms Trade, UKTI DSO is staffed by about 130 civil servants, to say nothing of the high-profile political and royal visits that work behind the scenes to promote the trade in arms. That support for military sales helps arms to account for less than 1.4% of UK exports. According to CAAT’s research, sectors covering the remaining 98.6% have 107 dedicated civil servants. That is completely out of proportion, given the things that we are trying to achieve.
As we have heard, in 2014 the UK approved arms export licences to 18 of the countries that the FCO lists as countries of concern. Despite the well-documented repression and human rights abuses, some of those countries have been priority markets for UK arms sales. Since the UK Government do so much to help companies to promote their sales, it is inconceivable when it comes to issuing export controls that licences will be refused. Regulation through export licensing is at risk of becoming little more than a bureaucratic exercise. As we have heard, it seems that the only time that arms export licences are revoked is when the Government are shamed or embarrassed by coverage in the media, for example, during the Arab uprising.
We live in a world in which there are structures and conventions that ought to prevent that. I mentioned the arms trade treaty, which is the subject of a hugely successful and long-running campaign by a large number of civil society organisations around the world. Article 13 requires annual reporting on the sales. I wonder whether the Minister can tell us today whether the annual report will include an assessment of the end-use and the end-users of UK-supplied equipment and arms. Article 10 requires regulation of brokering. Perhaps the Government can tell us when it will introduce a register of arms brokers in the UK.
Of course, the debate today is taking place in the context of the DSEI exhibition at the ExCeL centre in London. Amnesty has identified nine companies that have violated UK law at past DSEI events—at least one at each event between 2005 and 2013. What steps are the Government taking to enforce controls at their own arms fairs? Will they commit to prosecuting any company found in breach of the law?
At the end of the day, the arms trade is a choice; it is not a necessity or something that we should depend upon, celebrate or think is the only way of growing the UK economy. It is increasingly difficult to see how the trade, especially in its current forms, can be compatible with the human rights obligations to which this country has rightly chosen to commit, so I look forward to the Minister’s response.
It is a great pleasure to participate in this debate under your chairmanship, Sir David. I begin by congratulating my right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) on securing this debate and above all on her passionate and determined campaigning on this issue over many years. I also thank the Members who served previously on the Committee on Arms Export Controls. I echo the comment on the need to re-establish that Committee as quickly as possible in the new Parliament.
I begin by saying that in an uncertain world, we need to acknowledge—uncomfortable though it is for some—that the defence industry plays a part in enabling us to protect our own security. States have the right to acquire the means to defend themselves. We are commemorating the 75th anniversary of the day in the battle of Britain when the RAF in effect defeated the Luftwaffe. If we had not had Spitfires and Hurricanes, where would we have been as a nation?
My hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) raised an important point about Daesh. She is absolutely right that it has in all probability acquired weapons that had been supplied to others: the Government of Iraq and perhaps the peshmerga, to whom we have supplied some heavy machine guns. We did that because they are trying to protect themselves from a brutal group of people who rape, enslave and sell women, decapitate aid workers and recruit child soldiers. The hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) spoke about the effect that that has on children. Their childhoods have been stolen, which is something I saw for myself in the Democratic Republic of the Congo when I was International Development Secretary. We have to acknowledge that defence is an important industry in the UK, providing 160,000 jobs directly and 100,000 indirectly.
Just as arms exports can be a force that enables countries to protect themselves, the opposite can also be the case, and that is why it is vital that we have a responsible trade in arms exports. It is why we have to ensure that the system has proper accountability and transparency and is correctly exercised, including in respect of human rights. We have the export licensing criteria and the EU consolidated criteria, which show what can be achieved by working together within the European Union. I pay tribute in particular to the last Labour government and the late Robin Cook, who played such an important part in bringing that about. Reference has also been made to the arms trade treaty, which Britain campaigned on for many years and was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2013.
It has been said in the debate—we will no doubt hear this from the Minister—that we have one of the toughest regimes in the world. The rules are there and they are clear; the issue is how they are applied in respect of particular applications, and scrutiny of that is the responsibility of the Committee on Arms Export Controls. We have heard how during the Arab spring, there was a great deal of controversy over UK arms exports to middle eastern and north African countries, including Bahrain and Libya. The Committee expressed some concerns, which led to some of the licences being revoked. The Committee asked questions about the decision-making process that led to the granting of the licences in the first place and about the speed with which decisions are taken when it is finally decided that there is a risk of breaching the guidance. I think that that led the then Foreign Secretary, William Hague, to announce that the Government would
“introduce a mechanism to allow immediate licensing suspension to countries experiencing a sharp deterioration in security or stability.”—[Official Report, 7 February 2012; Vol. 540, c. 7WS.]
We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens) that there is a question on how that is applied. Improvements have been made to the transparency of the system, and transparency is important, because it allows all of us to hold the Government and the Committee to account.
The Committee expressed concern when the Government decided that they would delete from the consolidated criteria the words:
“An export licence will not be issued if the arguments for doing so are outweighed by…concern that the goods might be used for internal repression.”
The Government’s argument in response was that it was a general statement that formed part not of the criteria, but of the introductory text. If that is the case, I wonder why it was felt necessary to remove the words, because they did seem to send a signal. Sir John Stanley, who chaired the Committee, expressed concerns about that. At the time, he expressed the concern that too many licences were initially being given that subsequently had to be suspended or revoked. I think that change was in a backwards direction. The Government may try to argue to the contrary, but the change sends a signal.
The question of Yemen and the great humanitarian crisis there has been raised in the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) described how more than 80% of the population is in need of humanitarian assistance, including 10 million children. Some 500,000 children are severely malnourished. The aid agencies have serious access problems and report aid being diverted, not on the basis of need, but depending on where people were and who they were believed to be supporting in the conflict. I know the Minister has a lot to reply to and will not have time—if he could write to us all, it would be appreciated—but will he respond to reports of attacks on civilian targets, including those on “Newsnight” last week? What discussions are he and his FCO colleagues having with their Saudi counterparts about the conflict and these concerns? Given that it is reported that since the conflict began, the Government have issued a further 37 arms export licences to Saudi Arabia, does he know whether the defence equipment we have sold has been used in that conflict? Has he made an assessment of whether that is consistent with the consolidated criteria?
In the “United Kingdom Strategic Export Controls Annual Report 2014”, published in July this year, the Government set out that their policy on arms exports to Israel would be “subject to further review”. Will the Minister confirm whether that remains the case?
Finally, will the Minister comment on the invitations issued to countries to attend the biennial Defence and Security Equipment International arms fair this week? We heard from a number of Members that they include countries on the FCO’s list of countries of concern on human rights grounds. What criteria were used to judge whether those countries, given that they are on that list, could be invited? Were any countries not invited because they were on the list and the Government thought it inappropriate? Given what the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr Mathias) said, will he confirm that no cluster bombs or torture equipment are being displayed or sold at the fair?
The debate has been extremely important, and we are all grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley for giving us the chance to raise these matters. Like everyone, I look forward to the Minister’s response.
Thank you, Sir David. It is a pleasure to be able to call you that, and I am delighted to work under your chairmanship today. I begin by joining others in paying tribute to the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd). She has a formidable reputation in this House going back many years. She has been consistent not only on this issue, but on wider humanitarian concerns. It is no surprise that she is at the forefront of this debate today. I echo the tributes paid to Robin Cook and the work that he did on this area and to Sir John Stanley, who continues to be active in these areas. I met him only a few days ago to discuss these matters.
To make it clear, I will not have the opportunity to answer all the questions, but as I have done in the past, I will write to Members personally and individually—I am looking at my officers behind me—to ensure that each question is answered in detail. I have done that before and I will honour that today. Ten minutes does not do these debates justice.
I will touch on some of the important contributions, and I echo the comments on the standard and importance of this debate. It is a healthy debate for the House to have. My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Dr Mathias) mentioned cluster munitions, as did the shadow Minister, the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn)—I have got to know him so well that I wanted to say my right hon. Friend; I am pleased to see him in his place and welcome him. I can confirm that cluster munitions are not on sale in any form at the DSEI exhibition. The exhibition is patrolled to ensure that every bit of kit meets the required standard and that such equipment is not on sale.
My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham also mentioned Bahrain, an example of a country that is on the list of concern, but also a country with which we have a strong military relationship. We do sell it military equipment—air force, navy and army components—but, as in all the cases of countries that are on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office list and with which we have a defence relationship, we make sure that our robust controls are honoured. That allows us to have a strong and robust relationship with countries. Bahrain is a great example of where that allows us to be frank and up front about human rights concerns. I will write to my hon. Friend with the detail on how our experts are working with the Bahraini Government to improve human rights. That is welcome, and we can do it and be frank with them because we have built up that relationship.
The hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) talked about Daesh and the potential for UK weapons to fall into their hands. I would be grateful to know of any examples. There have been many suggestions that UK equipment might have fallen into the wrong hands, but we need to make a distinction between press reports and evidence. If the hon. Lady has any actual evidence, she should please provide that to us and we will certainly look into it. I am not aware of any evidence on that front.
The same goes for Yemen. I touched on this in an intervention on the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake). The coalition was put together at the request of the Yemeni President. UN Security Council resolution 2216 states that all means and measures should be taken to support the country. The Houthis were asked to return and back away from the areas that their military had taken over. They refused to do so, which is why military action was confirmed. There is the potential that the military equipment that has been sold could be used, but that would be deemed a legitimate use of those weapons systems. It comes down to the fundamental right, guaranteed in article 51 of the UN charter and mentioned by the shadow Minister, for any country to have the means and the right to defend itself, or to provide support to other countries for the same reason.
Will the Minister give way?
If the right hon. Gentleman does not mind, I will not because I have so much to get through. If there is time at the end, I will certainly come back to him.
The hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) is no longer present, but his views on this matter have been consistent. He spoke about the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, which certainly worries me. All the humanitarian aid is currently coming through the port of Aden. Until the port of Hodeidah is liberated, the humanitarian crisis will not be avoided. In fact, we are one step away from famine breaking out in Yemen, affecting some 20 million people. The international community should certainly be concerned about that, but we can all be proud of the British humanitarian contribution in providing aid and support to that country.
The hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) spoke about the connection between conflict and poverty, on which I agree with her. She also made it clear that, as a clinical psychologist, she has experience and brings expertise to the House, which is very much to be welcomed. I absolutely agree with her ambition to remove those children who are in uniform and put them into school uniforms. If I may, I will write to her with more detail on the programmes we are involved in to make that happen. That is exactly what we should be doing.
The hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner) began by quoting Matthew 5:9—“Blessed are the peacemakers”. I wrote that down and underlined “makers”. How do we make peace? That is a big debate in its own right. She also discussed the causes of the crisis and looking at ways to deal with the source of the problem, not just those who are running away from it. The House will soon have to look in detail at what more we might want to do in relation to Iraq and Syria.
The hon. Member for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens) spoke about another very important area: what has happened in Israel. There was huge scrutiny of the most recent events that unfortunately unfolded in front of the world’s eyes. We have to recognise that Israel lives in a very difficult neighbourhood, confronting Hamas on one side and Hezbollah on the other. Arms exports came under huge scrutiny during those events, but Israel does have the right to defend itself, and we conducted the necessary reviews to ensure that our robust rules, which have been mentioned a number of times, actually fell into place. The hon. Lady spoke with particular passion and, may I say, expertise, and if she would like to meet to discuss the issue in more detail, I would be delighted to do so.
The right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington, on whom I intervened, also spoke about UK weapons being used for oppression. I return to the fundamental question about our ability to have influence in a country by having not only a defence relationship with it, but a relationship right across the spectrum, in order to have influence on the improvement of human rights. Again, if he is aware that any UK weapons systems are used for oppression, it is important that he makes me aware of that.
Will the Minister give way?
I did say that I would give way to the right hon. Gentleman. I have about three minutes left, so I hope he can be brief.
There have been many reports that in Yemen the Saudis are using weapons that we are supplying to them indiscriminately. Is the Minister willing to investigate that?
I visited the United Arab Emirates only last week, and what is happening in Yemen, from the military campaign to the humanitarian issues, came up in our discussions. I am interested in any and every aspect of what we are doing in Yemen. If any reports with bona fide evidence suggest that that is happening, we would be the first to ask how our arms exports are being used. That applies not only there but in every situation, which absolutely must be the case.
The hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier) discussed a specific case. She said she would write with more detail; I do not know whether I am the Minister to whom she was going to write, but I would be more than delighted not only for her to write to me but to meet her to discuss that case.
The hon. Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor) spoke about Saudi Arabia. I do not have enough time to go into everything now, but I have a whole list of areas—such as human rights, labour reform, migrant worker reform, political reform, and the elections taking place in which women are participating for the first time—in which things are moving forward. They are not moving forward as much as everyone would like; sometimes progress is slow, particularly in countries with a more conservative approach where reform can be difficult, but we are making inroads and progress. I will write to the hon. Lady with specific details about what is happening in Saudi Arabia.
The Scottish National party spokesman, the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady), spoke in detail about the arms trade treaty. I think I can answer his outstanding questions in the affirmative, but, again, I will write in more detail to clarify the Government’s position in relation to all his questions.
The shadow Minister gave a very measured response, which I was pleased to hear. He underlined the importance of article 51 on the right of individual countries to defend themselves.
I am left with exactly one minute for my speech, but I will try to articulate the main messages by reiterating that, as Members would anticipate me saying, we take arms export responsibilities very seriously. We aim to operate one of the most robust, vigorous and transparent systems in the world. Our core objective in export licensing is to promote global security and prevent controlled goods from falling into the wrong hands, while at the same time facilitating responsible exports and supporting British businesses. I make it clear that as we develop relationships with various countries, we very much scrutinise what is actually happening, and if we think there is something untoward, we try to correct it.
This debate proves that we need more debates of this kind. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] The quality of the debate has been excellent and I thank everyone who took part, on all sides. I want particularly to thank the Campaign Against Arms Trade. There are other organisations, but CAAT in particular informs us so well about what is going on.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).
House of Commons Hansard
17 September 2015