Friday, 14 October 2016

Their Lordships question Saudi links

The revamp to the BBC Parliament TV channel has been to the good. The interpolated graphics are prettier and, best of all, that strident mindless minimalist noise has gone, replaced by more mellow and subtler interval music. The excellent team of guides and summarisers Keith McDougall, Alicia McCarthy, Joanna Shinn and Kristina Cooper remain. There has been increased daytime coverage of the European Parliament (though still no guidance or summary, and rather too late to affect the Brexit referendum). Nor is there any obvious cut-back to the showing of proceedings in the Lords, where the debates are better informed than in the Commons, without the noisy name-calling and visible animosity (and that is just within the parties).

Re-showing this morning was Lords question time. Liberal Democrat David Alton asked of the government bench:
whether, in the light of the killing of 140 people following a Saudi air strike on a funeral in Yemen, they are reassessing the licensing of United Kingdom weapons sales to Saudi Arabia since the conflict in Yemen began.

Baroness Anelay stonewalled, but other peers pitched in. Dale Campbell-Savours (Labour) asked for action to be taken
against those civil servants and officials who deliberately misled Ministers into believing that arms being sold by British companies were not being used in the Yemen when they knew the contrary to be true and they were deliberately misleading Ministers?

A further thrust came from another Liberal Democrat, William Wallace:
We all understand the dependence of the British arms industry on sales ​to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf—of course, that dependence can only increase as we leave the European single market and walk away from co-operation in European defence procurement—but the Saudi Government seem to be becoming increasingly sectarian in terms of the split between Sunni and Shia, and Saudi money continues to flow to places such as Pakistan, Indonesia, and Britain* to support radical Islamic views, rather than moderate Muslim views. Is it not time that the British Government conducted an overall review of their rather dependent relationship with Saudi Arabia and took more control of it?

Cross-bencher Indarjit Singh pointed out that the UK was not alone in providing munitions used in Yemen:
bomb fragments found at the scene of the funeral carnage were those from an Mk 82 American guided bomb. Saudi Arabia is one of the most barbaric countries in the world, with beheadings, amputations and the enslavement of women, while, at the same time, exporting its medieval version of Islam to neighbouring countries such as Syria, Sudan and Yemen. Can the Minister give me a good reason why the West—principally the United States and ourselves—supplies some £7 billion-worth of arms to Saudi Arabia each year? I might add that boosting our trade by exporting the means of mass killings is not a good reason.

To be fair to the noble baroness, she did accept that she understood
the sense of outrage felt by the noble Lord about the killings being suffered by the people of Yemen.

While not accepting any responsibility on the part of the government, she undertook
that the UK will continue to press as strongly as we are able in the diplomatic sphere to achieve a peaceful resolution but, in the meantime, continue the aid that we provide there.

*and Syria

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