British defence exports to Saudi Arabia are set to come under parliamentary scrutiny this month with the revival of a cross-party committee on international arms sales.
The Committee on Arms Exports Controls has lain dormant since the general election, but MPs have told House of Commons clerks to set it up again in the wake of the executions in Saudi Arabia earlier this month.
Saudi has been a lucrative market for the UK – BAE Systems courted controversy with the £10bn sale of Typhoon jets to the repressive state.
The committee is made up of MPs from four other committees: business, international development, foreign affairs and defence.
Foreign affairs chairman Crispin Blunt has been trying to re-establish the committee since July, but is said by parliamentary sources to have been “frustrated” by the progress made by clerks.
But the killing of 47 prisoners convicted on charges of terrorism has hastened the process. Iain Wright, chairman of the business committee, told The Independent: “I’m very keen to make sure the arms exports controls committee is up and running by the end of this month. It’s particularly important given the situation in Saudi Arabia.”
According to the committee’s final report in the last parliament, there are 28 “countries of concern” with poor human rights records. The report questioned why the UK sold weapons and military kit – including hand grenades and semi-automatic pistols – to Saudi.
An MP involved in re-establishing the committee said: “We need to be examining Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iran. What the hell has been going on there? What have we been exporting? We need to stick a rocket up the clerks and get this committee to work. We also need to look at arms exports on a country-by-country basis and the obvious one is Saudi Arabia.”
Company executives can be called to committee hearings but, typically, it will be ministers who are interrogated over why they grant export licences to countries with human rights issues.