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House of Lords Hansard
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23 October 2018
Volume 793

Statement

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My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in the other place yesterday evening by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. The Statement is as follows:

“Mr Speaker, with your permission, I will make a Statement on the death of Jamal Khashoggi. From the moment that he was reported missing after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October, extremely disturbing reports emerged about his fate. On Friday, we received confirmation that Mr Khashoggi had indeed suffered a violent death, and the Saudi Foreign Minister has since described it as murder. The Government condemn his killing in the strongest possible terms. Today, the thoughts and prayers of the whole House are with his fiancée, his family and his friends, who were left to worry for more than two weeks, only to have their worst fears confirmed. After his disappearance, the Government made it clear that Saudi Arabia must co-operate with Turkey and conduct a full and credible investigation. Anyone found responsible for any offence must be held fully accountable.

On top of our concerns about the appalling brutality involved lie two other points. First, Mr Khashoggi’s horrific treatment was inflicted by people who work for a Government with whom we have close relations; and secondly, as well as being a critic of the Saudi Government, he was a journalist. At the time of his death, Mr Khashoggi wrote for the Washington Post and had contributed to the Guardian. Because in this country we believe in freedom of expression and a free media, the protection of journalists who are simply doing their job is of paramount concern. On 9 October, I conveyed this message to the Saudi ambassador in person and to the Saudi Foreign Minister by telephone. I instructed the British ambassador in Riyadh to emphasise our strength of feeling to the Saudi Government at every level. Last week, my right honourable friend the International Trade Secretary cancelled his attendance at a forthcoming conference in Riyadh. On 17 October, I met Fred Ryan, the chief executive of the Washington Post, and I spoke again to the Saudi Foreign Minister this weekend.

On Friday, the Saudi Government released the preliminary findings of their investigation. They later announced the arrest of 18 people and the sacking of two senior officials, which is an important start to the process of accountability. But I will say frankly to this House that the claim that Mr Khashoggi died in a fight does not amount to a credible explanation. There remains an urgent need to establish exactly what happened on 2 October and thereafter.

The incident happened on Turkish soil, so it is right that the investigation is being led by the Government of Turkey. They now need to establish who authorised the dispatch of 15 officials from Saudi Arabia to Turkey; when the Government in Riyadh first learned of Mr Khashoggi’s death; why there was a delay in allowing Turkish investigators to enter the consulate; and why it took until 19 October to disclose that Mr Khashoggi had died 17 days earlier. This matters because only after a full investigation will it be possible to apportion responsibility and ensure that any crimes are punished following proper process.

Last week, I spoke to both my French and German counterparts, and the House will have noticed the strong statement jointly released by Britain, France and Germany. The actions Britain and our allies take will depend on two things: first, the credibility of the final explanation given by Saudi Arabia; and secondly, our confidence that such an appalling episode cannot—indeed, will not—be repeated. We will, of course, wait for the final outcome of the investigation before making any decisions.

Honourable Members know that we have an important strategic partnership with Saudi Arabia, involving defence and security co-operation, which has saved lives on the streets of Britain. We also have a trading partnership that supports thousands of jobs. While we have been thoughtful and considered in our response, I have also been clear that, if the appalling stories we are reading turn out to be true, they are fundamentally incompatible with our values, and we will act accordingly. Indeed, such reports are also incompatible with Saudi Arabia’s own stated goal of progress and renewal. That is why the extent to which Saudi Arabia is able to convince us that it remains committed to that progress will ultimately determine the response of the United Kingdom and its allies, and we will continue to convey our strength of feeling on this issue to every level of the Saudi leadership.

In his final column, published in the Washington Post after his death, Jamal Khashoggi lamented the lack of freedom of expression in the Arab world. Let us make sure that the lessons learned and actions taken following his death at least progress and honour his life’s work. I commend this Statement to the House”.

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My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating yesterday’s Statement. I start by expressing my and my colleagues’ deeply felt condolences to Mr Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatice, and all his family.

The one thing that has been absolutely clear from the beginning of this horrific episode is that a crime was committed. There was never any doubt about that. The Saudi kingdom has provided conflicting accounts of what happened, and after weeks of maintaining that he was alive the Saudis now say that the 59 year-old was killed in a rogue operation. I suspect that the only thing we can be certain of is that President Trump will find that answer credible.

The fact is that an investigation is being conducted, and yesterday the Foreign Secretary said he would not decide what actions to take until that investigation, conducted by the Government of Turkey, had been completed. The Foreign Secretary also reminded us what was at stake, including counterterrorism and the jobs of people in this country; he said we were dependent on trade with Saudi Arabia. However, we also need to understand that the failure to act has consequences—consequences for the international rule of law.

This morning President Erdoğan of Turkey told MPs from his ruling party that the killing of Jamal al-Khashoggi was planned days in advance. He confirmed that Turkey had strong evidence that he was killed in a premeditated and savage murder at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October. What is the Government’s assessment of the conclusions reached by Turkey in the report made this morning? What is the Government’s opinion of Turkey’s call for the suspects to be tried in Istanbul? Are the Government backing Turkey’s demand that Saudi Arabia provide answers about where Mr Khashoggi’s body is or was and who ordered the operation?

We on these Benches have consistently raised our concern over Saudi actions, including its strategy in Yemen, the doubling of the rate of executions, the kidnap of the Lebanese Prime Minister, the jailing of women and the threats to behead them simply for protesting for their human rights, and the freezing of trade with Canada when it had the temerity to criticise that policy. All these things show a Crown Prince with no respect for the rule of law or for international boundaries, and no tolerance of dissent.

Now that we have the conclusions of Turkey’s investigation, what are the consequences that were promised by the Foreign Secretary? What further steps will the Government take with our allies to help bring those responsible for this murder to account? Will the Government accept that the UK arms sales for use in the war in Yemen must be suspended pending a comprehensive UN-led investigation? This is not a matter that we can leave any longer to the Saudi authorities. More than two years since the UK presented its draft resolution to the UN demanding a ceasefire in Yemen, will the Government now ignore the informal Saudi veto that has applied to that resolution and submit it to the Security Council?

These events have shown us how important it is to act. We must show Saudi Arabia that there are consequences from its actions. As my right honourable friend Emily Thornberry said yesterday, that is the way,

“to end its impunity and persuade it to change its ways”.—[Official Report, Commons, 22/10/18; col. 81.]

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My Lords, I join in the condemnation of what has happened and the way it has been covered up by the Saudis for the first two weeks. I congratulate the Government on the withdrawal of Liam Fox’s participation in the forthcoming investment conference—although it seemed unfortunate that it was not announced earlier. We waited until a number of other Governments and companies had announced their withdrawal before finally we withdrew too.

We on these Benches recognise the importance of our relationship with Saudi Arabia and with the other Gulf states, although I recall that one of the many tensions inside the coalition was that many of us on the Liberal Democrat side felt that some of our Conservative colleagues were too close, personally and politically, to the Gulf autocracies and the Saudi royal family, and too hostile to Iran. We need as a Government to maintain a balance in Middle East politics which does not entirely follow the hard Saudi line and cut the Iranian Government out, complicated although that is.

I join the Lord, Lord Collins, in remarking that indirect involvement in the Yemen war by supporting Saudi armed forces and supplying weapons for delivery in Yemen has to some extent compromised our position in international relations. We talk about the importance of our economic relationship, but that relationship is overwhelmingly dependent on arms sales. The long-term question hanging over that is: who is dependent on whom when you have that sort of one-sided relationship?

I welcome and support the Government’s announcement of their joint position with the French and German Governments. Clearly, British influence is maximised when we work with others. I see from the Financial Times this morning that the German Government have announced a suspension of arms sales. Have we discussed parallel action with them, and have the British Government yet considered whether they should join the Germans in suspending arms sales until this is sorted out?

There is a slightly surreal element in hearing day by day, as we did yesterday in the Prime Minister’s Statement, the Government reporting with strong approval that we have achieved a joint agreement with our French and German allies on this, that or the other—the Prime Minister’s Statement did that in two places—while at the same time the Foreign Secretary describes the European Union as like the Soviet Union, from which we must escape, and a number of Conservative Ministers, and more Conservative MPs, regard the European Union as fundamentally hostile to Britain.

How one has a foreign policy with any degree of coherence when such contradictions are deeply embedded is a little beyond my understanding. The incoherence of British policy on the Middle East is only part of the incoherence of British foreign policy as a whole. The alternative—following the US lead, rather than co-operating with our European partners—seems to us on these Benches even more doubtful under President Trump, in particular given some of the close links between the Trump family and the Saudi Arabian royal family.

This was an attack on a journalist, as the Minister said. There are many other attacks on journalists in the world and, sadly, there have been three murderous attacks on journalists that I can think of in three different European Union member countries in the past two years. I hope that the Government, in their commitment to a free media and a free press, will attempt to maintain our standards on issues arising from other attacks on journalists around the world. I remind the Minister—I am sure that he is aware—that in a campaign speech in the west of the United States last week, President Trump praised a Congressman who had violently assaulted a British Guardian journalist at one of his meetings. Encouragement of violence against journalists by the American President is extremely dangerous to democracy. Are the British Government considering making that point at the highest possible level in the US Administration?

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I thank both noble Lords for their statements. I appreciate that Members of this House, and of the other place, stand together in solidarity to ensure that the tragic victim of this murder ultimately sees true justice, and in condolence and support for his family and friends. Noble Lords will appreciate that recent events are moving very quickly. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, referred to the statement made earlier today by President Erdogan of Turkey, in which he revealed some further information about their investigation. The full report has yet to be released, but I assure the noble Lord and your Lordships’ House that we fully support the Turkish investigation into this case. In the representations made by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary, our ambassador to Riyadh and others, we have consistently reminded the Saudi administration—at the highest level—of the need for their full co-operation with the investigation by the Turkish authorities. We continue to follow that very closely.

Having heard and read the statement this morning, I share the deep concerns expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Collins—and, I am sure, felt by every Member of your Lordships’ House—about the detail of what is unravelling. There has to be credibility in the Saudi statement. Looking back at the accounts over recent weeks, what started as a denial translated into an accidental attack when a fight ensued. The Saudi Foreign Minister has now admitted that it was a “murder”—that is his word. It is appropriate that we see the Turkish investigation present its full results.

In response to the points made about the UK’s position, I reiterate the point made by the Foreign Secretary. We are looking carefully at the full outcomes and there will be consequences once the report is released. The noble Lords, Lord Collins and Lord Wallace, rightly raised the issue of arms sales. In my capacity as Human Rights Minister, I have spoken from the Dispatch Box about the situation in Yemen. I am taking a close look at arms sales generally and drawing the attention of colleagues in the Foreign Office to the issue. The United Kingdom Government will look at all the response options currently available. Members in the other place raised the issue of the Magnitsky clauses in the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill. Noble Lords will know why we cannot enact these mechanisms until we leave the European Union. Both noble Lords mentioned sanctions policy and working with our European partners. I assure them that this is under discussion.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, raised the issue of working with EU partners. I reiterate the point made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. Practical progress is being made with our EU partners on our leaving the EU, but it is important to underline the importance of that relationship. Notwithstanding our differences in certain parts of the negotiation, we have stood firm when it matters. The noble Lord—and all noble Lords—will recall the time of the Iran nuclear deal, when Chancellor Merkel, Prime Minister May and President Macron issued a joint statement. It was entirely appropriate on the grave matter of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, and we have again stood firm with Germany and France and issued a joint statement. That underlines the strength of our relationship with our European Union partners, notwithstanding our withdrawal from the EU.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, also rightly raised the issue of strategic partnership. We share much with Saudi Arabia: trade, defence and security, and intelligence. Much of that has also helped us to maintain a level of safety and security on our streets. However, the UK takes great pride in human rights, particularly the defence of journalists and their right to report freely and to criticise Governments and individuals within Governments. It is right that we stand up for those rights wherever they may be usurped. I assure noble Lords that that remains a key priority in my portfolio as Minister for Human Rights.

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Will my noble friend press the Saudi Government to produce the body for independent examination? They must know where it is, and once it has been inspected, we will all have a much clearer view as to how he died.

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My noble friend raises an important point. I talked earlier about the situation of Jamal Khashoggi’s family, who for several weeks did not know what his fate was. I assure my noble friend that, with Turkey, we continue to press on this important issue. Indeed, President Erdogan also made this point during his statement earlier today. It is important now to ensure that the full facts of the murder can be brought to the fore. But equally, for the family’s sake more than anyone else’s, we appeal to whoever knows so that good common sense will prevail in this terrible affair and at least some closure can be brought to the family by the body being presented, so that Jamal Khashoggi can at least be given an appropriate funeral.

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My Lords, why do we not follow the German Government and suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia?

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As the noble Lord will know, the stated position from Germany is not a new one: it is a restatement by Chancellor Merkel of the statement she made earlier. Angela Merkel has been clear in reiterating that she will keep to that approach. As I said earlier in response to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Collins, we await the full outcome of the Turkish investigation and once we have all the facts in front of us, we will act accordingly.

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My Lords, the Minister said that it is important that a situation like this does not arise again. Does he recall that in quite a long BBC documentary, it was alleged that there were several other cases—not quite as dreadful as this—of people who were critical of the Saudi Arabian Government being kidnapped, taken back to Saudi Arabia and disappearing? Secondly, is the point the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, made not a good one? We talk about our close relationship, but as he said, who is dependent on whom depends on which way you look at it. Is there not a strong case that we ought to diversify our arms sales so that they are not so dependent—40%—on one country?

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To take my noble friend’s second point first, I believe that the bilateral trade between our Governments stands at £9 billion. However, as he says, on the overall position of the UK and our trading relationships, notwithstanding the nature of the case we are discussing, it is important that we have a diversified view.

On his point about this never happening again, he is right to raise the tragic consequences of this. We repeatedly return to the issue of journalists and press freedom in your Lordships’ House, in the context not just of Saudi Arabia but of other countries as well. The important point in this case is what further steps we can take in this respect. The international condemnation which has followed this crime is clear for all to see. On the other steps we are taking that I can share with my noble friend, I mentioned earlier my capacity as Human Rights Minister, and we are reviewing the exact statements we will make and the questions we will raise in the universal periodic review of Saudi Arabia, which is due on 5 November in Geneva. I assure my noble friend that as a priority, we will raise with the Saudis in international fora the issue of press freedom and the freedom of journalists to criticise a country and an Administration. As to whether we can ensure that this will never happen again, that would be a tall claim for anyone to make. The tragic nature of these issues means that we must be strong in our condemnation, and when the full facts are presented, we must act accordingly.

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My Lords, the Minister will be aware that we have some of the strictest rules about selling arms to any nations that apply to any countries in the world. Germany’s virtue signalling is all very good, but it would be selling almost no arms there anyway, and when one looks at some of the other sales they have made to other places, I would not get too excited about the virtue signalling.

This is a very difficult area. We have to be wary once we have made a decision to sell arms, having gone through all the hoops, about starting to tell people how they should use them. However, it is very important that there is transparency about exactly what we are doing in terms of support and training for Saudi Arabia. We have been rather secretive about this—for example, the Paras teaching them how to use mortars and so on. Does the Minister agree that we should be very open about exactly what we provide and then we can look at this in the round and make some sensible decisions in due course, rather than knee-jerk ones, about exactly how we go?

There is no doubt that this was a horrible crime. I have no doubt at all that there was advice from the very highest levels in Saudi Arabia. Indeed, it has form on this, as has been mentioned before. But we need to be really careful not to make knee-jerk reactions and to be transparent on what we actually provide.

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The noble Lord speaks from wide experience in this respect and I agree with him on principle. I fully support his position but what Germany exports and what is does is really a matter for the German Chancellor and Government. I have looked at the structure and support of arms sales. This was put in place by the very respected Robin Cook when he was Foreign Secretary. There are quite strict procedures in place to ensure that these weapons comply with international humanitarian law.

Notwithstanding that, the noble Lord will also be aware that our export licensing system also builds in flexibility to allow us to respond quickly to changing circumstances. Since 2015 we have suspended more than 331 licences. This is not a case of once agreed, never suspended. I agree with the noble Lord that we must be very careful to ensure that our response is considered, clear and unequivocal. We should act only, I stress again, once the full facts have been presented. As I said, we await the full facts from the Turkish investigation.

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My Lords, following up the noble Lord’s Statement, we brought in legislation on arms sales, which this Government profess to comply with, saying that arms could not be sold to be used for external aggression or internal repression. External aggression is what the Saudis are doing in Yemen on a massive scale. We need to reset our relationship with Saudi Arabia, particularly in light of this barbaric murder. By the way, President Erdoğan championing journalistic freedom is something else.

Will the Minister consider the case for resetting the relationship with Saudi Arabia without turning our backs on an important strategic relationship in intelligence and defence terms? I understand that, having been a Middle East Minister. We should adopt a much more even-handed attitude in that region, especially between Riyadh and Tehran. We treat Iran as a pariah state but we treat the Saudis as brothers in arms. Maybe the Crown Prince took that and the signals from President Trump as giving him a blank cheque, as it were, to operate with impunity in a lawless way, as has clearly happened in Istanbul.

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My Lords, the noble Lord mentioned how Saudi Arabia has been acting and this crime in particular. The reaction to it and the changing position from the Saudi Government reflect the strength of opinion and representations made not just by the United Kingdom but others. It has resulted in the admittance that a crime—indeed, a murder—took in the consulate in Istanbul. As I said, we await the full facts of what will be determined from the investigation by Turkey, which we fully support.

Picking up a thread from the earlier questions from the noble Lord, Lord West, about training and support, it is right that we provide support in terms of training to militaries across the world, as we do to the Saudi military. There is an advantage in doing this because we share elsewhere the values and the strong sense of training deployed by our troops, which stress the importance of international humanitarian law.

As for resetting relationships, the noble Lord acknowledged the importance of the strategic partnership, but lessons will be learned from this incident, which resulted in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. As I said, once all the facts have been presented, the United Kingdom Government will consider them very carefully and act accordingly.

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My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the Thomson Reuters supervisory board. Does the Minister agree that many journalists around the world operate constantly in extremely difficult and dangerous circumstances? Will he confirm that, not just in multilateral organisations but in our regular contacts with the Governments of countries that do not treat journalists as they should, he and his colleagues will emphasise the need for journalists to be treated properly and safely?

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Let me assure the noble Lord and the whole of your Lordships’ House that we do—and will continue to do—exactly that. The noble Lord, Lord Hain, mentioned Turkey. It is because of the equity of our relationship with Turkey and the strength of our strategic partnership—which I am sure noble Lords will have followed in the broader context of defending human rights—that we have seen some dividend from our representations through the channels we have, including the release, albeit on bail, of several members of Amnesty International in particular. We continue to raise these issues, including in private. But there is a time, and you have to strike that balance. Many noble Lords will know exactly the point I am making: you have to strike that balance between private diplomacy, on which the United Kingdom prides itself, and public accountability. The case of Jamal Khashoggi is a time for public accountability.

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My Lords, it is difficult to think of a more difficult foreign policy issue that the Government must now face. I cannot think of anything as serious from all my time as either a Member of Parliament or a Member of your Lordships’ House. Difficult circumstances and challenges often give rise to opportunities, however. The noble Lord, Lord Hain, put his finger on it when he said that this is an opportunity to reset our relationship, not just with Saudi Arabia but with other countries in the Middle East to which we have for many years adopted approximately the same attitudes and positions.

I shall make two other, perhaps unrelated, points. What could be more sinister than the fact that among the 15 who came to the consulate was a forensic pathologist? What possible purpose was he meant to serve by being part of the 15? I think we could all make a pretty good guess.

On the other hand, the Minister rightly referred to the intelligence relationship. When he was Prime Minister, David Cameron publicly—surprisingly but, in the circumstances, he thought necessarily—acknowledged that information provided by the Saudi Arabian Government directly prevented an enormously difficult and potentially very damaging terrorist outrage in this country. It is the balancing of these two issues that gives rise to the Government’s difficulty. However, I take the view that as soon as all the necessary information is available a judgment must be made—but I would in no way support the notion that we should conduct a running commentary or offer a step-by-step approach. We need to deal with this matter as a whole, once a proper judgment has been reached.

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I agree with much, if not all, that the noble Lord has raised. It is important to look at the strength of our relationship. I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hain. As I mentioned in my closing remarks in repeating the Statement, this is also an opportunity for defining. We must take seriously our responsibilities as an international player on the global stage when our friends—and Saudi Arabia is a friend—commit actions by which we are all appalled, as we have seen in the case of Jamal Khashoggi. Families have suffered the tragic consequences of the actions of these individuals. It is important that, as a friend, we consider the full facts as they emerge and once they have been given. It is also appropriate, because of the influence that we have with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, that we seek to influence that relationship in a positive way.

This situation is a step back, I fear, from the visit of the Crown Prince, which heralded Vision 2030 and new beginnings. As the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief, I was heartened by the fact that the Crown Prince visited the Coptic Cathedral on his way to London and had a meeting at Lambeth Palace. These were the beginnings of positive signs. It is tragic that we see this situation emerging, but it is important that we take stock. The noble Lord also raised the importance of our influence in countries such as Egypt, Kuwait, Oman and elsewhere in the Middle East. The United Kingdom not only has a voice, it has a strong influencing voice, and we should seek to leverage that, particularly in the context of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

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My Lords, in the Statement the Government emphasised heavily that what happened was totally irreconcilable with British values and principles. Does the Minister not agree that there is a real credibility problem—again—for us in this context? Must we not be very careful that throughout all the deliberations that may now ensue we do not begin to water down and rationalise away the need sometimes for firm and decisive action? This deed, as we all agree, was horrific— but all over the world, as we have heard, brave journalists are standing up for freedom, democracy, enlightenment and truth. When this is jeopardised it is a fundamental challenge to everything we stand for in this society. Surely this has happened in this situation and we must be determined to take whatever action is necessary, even at some cost to ourselves.

On the arms point specifically, is it not madness to see the arms industry as part of our general export drive? We should export arms only to close allies or those who really do demonstrate—on controversial and important issues—a total commitment to our values; otherwise, we are playing with fire in the end-use situation, to which reference has already been made, which has shown over and again that we are not in control of the situation.

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The noble Lord makes powerful points. On the general point about arms exports, it is right that when we look at our relationships—we have all been clear that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is an ally; it has been an important ally in terms of security co-operation in the Middle East and it continues to be so—we set the criteria when it comes to arms sales and ensure that they are adhered to, and that issues of international humanitarian law are upheld. I will be frank: we have seen appalling situations and occasions during the war in Yemen, which have resulted in the loss of many innocent lives. I am appalled when I see buses of young children being blown up as a consequence of that war. It is important that we strengthen our voice in ensuring that the values we share are also shared by our allies, and we will continue to make that case. But the structures that have been set up for those arms sales are an important check and balance in ensuring that those important principles are sustained.

When it comes to acting accordingly, I assure noble Lords that our Government—and I have been in close contact with my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary on this issue—are not taking this in any way lightly. The Statement detailed the number of engagements we have had directly—and continue to have—with Saudi counterparts. It is appropriate. I am sure that when they reflect on this noble Lords will agree that it is important that we have all the facts in front of us so that, once the investigation has been completed, we can consider what appropriate action can be taken.

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My Lords, when the full facts are known, would it not be appropriate that we act not just as the United Kingdom working with our friend and ally—as the Minister called Saudi Arabia—but with France and Germany, as we have done previously in negotiations with Iran? We work better as a threesome than individually, and that would enable us to be more influential than if we were simply to act alone.

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I will answer the noble Baroness’s question in two parts. Yes, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a friend and ally. It is because of the strength of the relationship we have that we can make the representations that we do. That bilateral relationship is important and will continue to be so, whatever decisions we choose to make. The noble Baroness’s second point was on working together with European allies. As I have already demonstrated, notwithstanding the stance taken by the United States on Iran, the Foreign Secretary issued his first statement on this very issue in line with, and after consulting, France and Germany.