Crispin Blunt calls for private investigator probe into Saudi Arms sales report leaks
A senior Tory MP has asked whether private investigators can probe a series of leaks to a key parliamentary report on UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
Crispin Blunt, chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, raised the issue in the Commons today after details of a draft report emerged in the press this week prior to its official publication.
BBC Newsnight reported on Tuesday that the Committees on Arms Export Controls, comprised of 16 representatives from four select committees, was going to call for a halt in arms sales to Saudi Arabia while accusations of human rights breaches against Riyadh in Yemen are investigated.
The committee said it seemed “inevitable” that violations of international humanitarian laws had involved arms supplied by the UK.
"The weight of evidence of violations of international humanitarian law by the Saudi-led coalition is now so great, that it is very difficult to continue to support Saudi Arabia,” the report says.
The programme last night claimed that Mr Blunt and Labour MP John Spellar, both members of the committee, have tabled more than 130 amendments to the report, including removing the call for a suspension of arms sales.
Speaking in parliament today, Mr Blunt said committee members had received around 2,000 emails on Tuesday and overnight “which appear to have been organised on someone’s behalf” by campaign group Avaaz, calling on them to oppose the selling of weapons to Riyadh.
The Tory MP said the information must have been leaked from within the House of Commons.
“This amounts to a prima facie case of a deliberate campaign to influence a select committee reliant on in-confidence information provided by a member of this House or their staff," Mr Blunt told the Speaker in a Point of Order.
"Conceivably it could have come from a committee staff [member], but I think that you would agree that is highly unlikely."
He added: “I cannot recall an example of such deliberate and repeated leaking of information in our time in the House.”
Mr Blunt went on to ask Mr Bercow whether parliament’s privileges committee could call on private investigators to probe the leaks.
“Would you confirm that it would not be open to the privileges committee, if it is referred to them, to call in the police as this is not a criminal matter?” he said.
“But they would be able to call on the services of private investigators who have the capacity to interrogate the electronic records, including deleted emails of potential sources of this confidential and private consideration of select committees, in this instance of the greatest seriousness involving life and death issues and the employment of tens of thousands of our fellow citizens.”
Speaker Bercow said MPs could make representations to the committee themselves, rather than the chair.
“This is a very serious matter indeed. If the committees of this House are to work effectively we cannot have a situation in which individual members of the committee leak in advance to advance a particular point of view or to retard progress of another.
“That is wholly against the spirit of the operation of the select committees of this House.”
This week Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson insisted the UK would continue to export weapons to Saudi Arabia, claiming the “key test” on international humanitarian rights for halting weapons sales had not been met.
The Government has argued that it operates one of the strictest arms licensing programmes in the world, and said it has received assurances from Riyadh that it operated within the boundaries of international humanitarian law.
Over the summer Saudi Arabia hit its fourth Yemeni hospital supported by Médecins Sans Frontières this year - killing 19 and injuring 24.
MSF claims to have shared co-ordinates of its hospitals with all factions of the conflict.
The UN has criticised Saudi Arabia for strikes on weddings, markets, schools and hospitals that did not appear to qualify as military targets.
Since the conflict started in March 2015, thousands of people have been killed in fighting between Houthi rebels and the Yemeni army, which remains loyal to President Hadi.