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Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes): With permission, I shall put together the motions relating to delegated legislation.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 101(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

Marine Pollution

International Immunities and Privileges

    That the draft International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1995, which was laid before this House on 15th November, be approved.--[Mr. Streeter.]

Question agreed to.

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Saudi Arabia

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mr. Streeter.]

10.15 pm

Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Hillhead): I hope that the Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley), will accept that I mean him no disrespect when I say that he should not be here this evening. Given the great interest among the British people and internationally about the subject of Britain's relations with Saudi Arabia, and given the intense controversy surrounding the Government's plan to deport the leader of the Saudi opposition, the Foreign Secretary himself should have come to the Chamber tonight to defend the Government's position. His absence is an act of cowardice, which is all the more shameful in view of the important role that he played--as we shall see in a moment--in the plot that was hatched many months ago to rid the Saudi tyrants of this turbulent Muslim priest.

As the organiser of the "Masari must stay" campaign, I want to deal with the professor's deportation, but only inasmuch as his case crystallises the corrupt and infectious nature of our relationship with that medieval, absolutist royal dictatorship. It is my contention that our unhealthy obsession with, and increasing dependence upon, the single-family rulers of Saudi Arabia is demeaning to us as a country, is diminishing to us as a democracy and is potentially disastrous for us as a trading and manufacturing economy.

We have reached a nadir in the Government's brazen and almost certainly unlawful decision to deport a peaceful law-abiding refugee and probably send him to his death in Dominica. However, the illness of which I speak is of far longer standing. It reaches to the commanding heights of the military industrial complex, into the inner sanctum of the Cabinet and even into the family home of a former Prime Minister of this country, Baroness Thatcher.

The infamous Vickers memorandum, which was revealed by The Guardian on 6 January, establishes the nexus as clearly as the most fantastic conspiracy theorist could have dreamt. In the memorandum, two captains of industry--Dick Evans, chief executive of British Aerospace, and Sir Colin Chandler, chief executive of Vickers, who was knighted by Her Majesty the Queen--reveal the complex web that has been woven.

That web encompasses the British arms industry, the Government and Foreign Office grandees such as Andrew Green--who was revealed by The Independent newspaper to have been at one and the same time the head of the middle east desk at the Foreign Office, ambassador designate to Saudi Arabia and a director of Vickers, a private arms company. It involves the British security services and a brutal foreign autocracy. It is the last absolute monarchy in the world, surviving 350 years after the death of the last such monarch in this country, who was executed not a quarter of a mile from here under the authority of the House.

The purpose of the web was to conspire to sell more and more guns to that dictatorship not for jobs, but for private profit, and to conspire with its customer to silence or to "stifle personally"--in the chilling words of the

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memorandum--any opposition to the conspiracy, however peaceful, representative or democratic. No other construction is possible than that the memorandum was referring to, at best, the kidnapping or more likely the assassination of the Saudi opposition leader.

Last August, in an interview given at his request to the Saudi-controlled newspaper Al-Hayat, the Foreign Secretary carefully laid the ground for the conspiracy. Breaking all protocol in his desperation to appease the Saudi potentates, the Foreign Secretary singled out Professor al-Masari--then an applicant for political asylum--for savage personal attack. He said that the professor represented nothing, but by what process the Foreign Secretary discovered that is unclear, as there are no elections of any kind in Saudi Arabia and no such thing as opinion polls. In any case, the Foreign Secretary has never been known for his special insight into, or interest in, the Arab world.

The Foreign Secretary contradicted his point by raising and repeatedly returning to the al-Masari case, showing an unhealthy obsession with it. In that interview, the British position began to change. Previously, the stated position was:

Thereafter, the position was, "Never mind the law. Never mind our international obligations. This man's faxes and e-mail are dangerous to the continued survival of the rich milch cow that is Saudi Arabia under the dictatorship. He must, one way or another, be stifled personally."

The wave of revulsion that followed the al-Masari deportation order signed on 3 January was considerable. It can be charted in newspaper editorials across the political spectrum, correspondence columns and the torrent of parliamentary questions and motions, and in the huge number of people of all political colours who are united in the campaign against Professor al-Masari's deportation.

I visited Saudi Arabia in 1989 as part of a group of parliamentarians--all specialists in the middle east--under the able leadership of Lord Pym. That visit took place in the wake of a squall in British-Saudi relations, after the publication of a private memorandum by Sir James Craig--the recently retired British ambassador to the kingdom. Although years had passed, the regime was still smarting from the British television documentary, "Death of a Princess".

At every meeting at the highest levels, our delegation was regaled with complaints by the Saudis about the licence, as they saw it, of the British press. With great skill and incomparable charm, Lord Pym painstakingly described the nature of press freedom in Britain, humorously explaining that politicians were frequently on the receiving end of that freedom but that there was nothing we could do about it.

Late one night, I spoke to Lord Pym about the pressure to which the Saudis were subjecting him. Taking a long sip of water, as was his wont, Lord Pym said something that I have never forgotten: "You see, my boy, we are here to soft-soap really--but we can never, never apologise." What a distance we have travelled since then, under the corrosive influence of the Saudi embrace.

Mr. Charles Hendry (High Peak): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. In the Register of Members' Interests, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway) declares a remunerated directorship of Hawk Communications International Ltd.--

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    "a communications company . . . to assist democratic development in the Middle East".

I am seeking to establish whether the hon. Gentleman has an interest to declare in relation to Saudi Arabia.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes): It is not for the Chair to find out such things. If the hon. Member concerned feels that he has an interest to declare, he should declare it.

Mr. Galloway: If I had an interest to declare, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would have declared it. All the interests in Saudi Arabia sit on Conservative Benches--as is clear from the catcalling even from the Treasury Bench. I have no interest to declare except in democratic reform in Arabia and in the overthrow of the absolutist monarchy in that country. I resent the implication of the hon. Gentleman's remarks.

In Lord Pym's words, "We are here to soft-soap really--but we can never, never apologise." What a distance we have travelled since then, under the corrosive influence of the Saudi embrace. Let us walk down the road that we have travelled and see what landmarks paved the way to that sorry pass. The most corrupting turn was when we opened the door to the Aladdin's cave of the Al Yamamah arms deal and gorged ourselves in a trough of larceny and backhanders. We have to face the fact as a country that that contract was landed by British Aerospace as a result of corruption on an unprecedented scale.

Enormous bribes--[Interruption.] Interestingly, someone on the Treasury Bench has just said "Hear, hear."

Mr. Peter Atkinson (Hexham): I said, "Hear, hear."

Mr. Galloway: Enormous bribes and commissions of up to 30 per cent. of the multi-billion pound deal were paid. They were shared between the Defence Minister, Prince Sultan and his family, and the sons of King Fahd, notably Prince Mohammed, about whom I will say more later. If we are talking about declarations of interest, a whole gang of middlemen was involved in London in that affair and made millions of pounds in pay-offs.

Those middlemen included Wafic Said, who became a business partner of the right hon. Member for South Thanet (Mr. Aitken) and a close friend of, and generous benefactor to, the Conservative party. They included Mark Thatcher, the son of the then Prime Minister, who gave 10 Downing street as his address at the time, but who was later given his own house and other lavish benefits by Wafic Said and who has become mysteriously and inordinately rich.

Among those who shared the millions of pounds sucked from those commissions was the former Cabinet Minister and former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the right hon. Member for South Thanet. Some of those secret commissions on the Al Yamamah deal have been handled by British Aerospace through a British business man, Douglas Leese, who has close connections with an offshore bank, the Bank of NT Butterfield in Bermuda.

As you know, Madam Deputy Speaker, a report by Sir John Bourn of the National Audit Office, which reveals some of those commissions, has been suppressed by the Select Committee on Public Accounts for more than three years. Public opinion is increasingly asking why.

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Another part of the deal was concluded in 1988, when the regime agreed to buy minesweepers from Vosper Thorneycroft. Vosper used as its agent a Saudi named Fahd al-Athel, who, like the right hon. Member for South Thanet, worked for Prince Mohammed. Vosper made huge payments to al-Athel's company, which were laundered with the knowledge of Vosper through a front company in Saudi Arabia and were divided 20 per cent. to al-Athel, 40 per cent. to Prince Mohammed and 40 per cent. to unnamed others, some of them known to be prominent figures in British life.

In a third part of the Al Yamamah deal, Colonel Thomas Dooley, an executive of Sikorsky, testified in a United States court that, while trying to sell Black Hawk helicopters to the Saudi regime, there took place what he described in his testimony as a "competition for bribes". He said that Prince Bandar told him what bribes must be paid for the deal, through which middleman they must be paid, and how he would distribute the money to other members of the royal family.

In a fourth part of the Al Yamamah deal, the right hon. Member for South Thanet was hired personally by a British arms company--Astra--which hoped to land a contract to fit guns to those helicopters. The right hon. Member has acknowledged that he was paid to introduce his business partner, the aforementioned Fahd al-Athel, to Astra, which was also paying him, as a commission agent.

The bribes and commissions linked to those deals extended to every subcontract. Last year, Thorn EMI admitted that it had paid bribes totalling 26 per cent., which were illegal even by Saudi law by a factor of five, on the sale of smart fuses for the bombs carried by the Saudi Tornados. Half of those bribes paid off the Saudi princes and the other half went--via a small-scale arms dealer, Michael Gay, who, interestingly enough, is based near the British Aerospace headquarters outside Preston--to those mysterious bank accounts in the Bank of NT Butterfield in Bermuda. There, like other things that venture into the Bermuda triangle, they promptly disappeared.

The British Government insist that they are expelling al-Masari because of their new-found concern for British industrial jobs. In fact, it is British Conservative politicians, their relatives and business associates, and the revolving-door arms barons-cum Whitehall mandarins who are milking the Saudi cash cow. As the newly elected president of the engineering union, Davey Hall, a man who has represented Vickers workers in the north-east for so many years, has pointed out, a future based on pandering to unstable and unrepresentative middle eastern dictators can never guarantee a secure future for British defence exporters.

In fact, Vickers is a case in point. An order for the very same Challenger tanks for which Sir Colin Chandler is prepared to sacrifice human rights, to sell them to bloated Saudi princes, was one of the first contracts to be cancelled after the overthrow of the Shah of Iran--a decision that came about precisely because of the craven support, until the last hours, of successive British Governments for the despot in Iran. It is by investment in high-tech performance that British manufacturing will sell around the world, not by giving baksheesh to Saudi princes whose days are, in any case, numbered.

The contagion of corruption is not confined to business or to Government. The television film "Death of a Princess" is now under lock and key, and all requests for

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footage from it are routinely denied. Its producer has taken an inexplicable vow of silence, and will make no comment about the film to anyone.

Nothing, however, could be more humiliating for the world's pre-eminent broadcasting organisation, the BBC, than to have had its editorial integrity prostituted by its reckless commercial involvement with the Saudi royal family. In the wake of the deportation order against al-Masari, all reports of the case on the BBC's Arabic World Service Television were censored by the corporation's partner, the Saudi-owned Orbit Communications, based in Rome. The BBC has still been unable to restore its once incomparable reputation throughout the middle east, despite intensive negotiations with Orbit, and the Secretary of State for National Heritage has still not explained the circumstances of this censorship to the House.

Who could have predicted that the country which made "Death of a Princess" would itself fall victim to the Saudi virus which has strangled the fragile flower of press freedom throughout the middle east by corruption and larceny?

It is the Government's case that Britain's strategic and economic interests are bound up with the propping up of what, by anyone's standards, is a rotten and crumbling dictatorship. It is our contention that only by befriending the people of Arabia and extending help to those working for freedom, human rights and democracy in Arabia can we guarantee our long-term future. At the moment, we are guaranteeing the enduring enmity of those people by propping up the people who oppress them. That is why the British people have risen against this decision--and why the British courts will overturn it.

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