TORY MPs defended the Government’s relationship with Saudi Arabia yesterday as opponents challenged them on human rights and war crimes allegations against the Gulf kingdom.

Labour, LibDem and SNP opponents repeatedly highlighted a catalogue of alleged offences by Saudi authorities at home and abroad in a debate called by Rutherglen and Hamilton West MP Margaret Ferrier.

They included civil rights defenders and pro-democracy activists being tried behind closed doors, escalating use of the death penalty, and the destruction of hospitals, wedding parties and aid warehouses in Yemen, where thousands of deaths are attributed to Saudi-led coalition airstrikes.

Meanwhile, the UK has sold Saudi Arabia £2.8 billion worth of arms since the devastating barrage on the impoverished nation began and has urged caution over claims by Amnesty International that banned UK-made cluster munitions are among the weapons used against civilians.

Yesterday, Ferrier urged the Government to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia and investigate the claims, saying: “The minister will no doubt contest that our relationship with Saudi is crucial to security, both global and domestic, and that the intelligence we receive has helped foil terror attacks.

“We cannot, however, continue to trade off our responsibilities like this. With a growing humanitarian crisis in Yemen and mounting reports indicating that international humanitarian law has been seriously and repeatedly breached by all parties engaged in warfare in the country, including the Saudi-led coalition, the Government needs to get its head out of the sand.”

The DUP’s Jim Shannon said the UK will be “on the wrong side of humanity if we continue to cosy up to the brutal theocracy of Saudi Arabia, and we will be on the wrong side of history”. However, former international development minister Alan Duncan and current Europe Minister David Lidington dismissed the concerns, with Duncan accusing cross-party critics of “Saudi bashing” and Lidington defending the UK’s links with the state.

Lidington said: “Saudi Arabia has a very different culture, very different political traditions than those of the UK. Saudi Arabia is playing an increasingly important part in ensuring regional security.”

Labour’s Andy Slaughter raised concerns about the potential use of training provided by the College of Policing in England and Wales to

Saudi authorities in forensics and plans uncovered to expand this to mobile phone analysis, data decryption and other high tech areas.

The Reprieve charity fears this could be used to further a clampdown on democracy and civil rights activists.

The Westminster Hall debate also included condemnation of the treatment of blogger Raif Badawi, sentenced to 1,000 lashes for online comments, and the increased use of the death penalty in Saudi Arabia, where 47 people were executed in one day earlier this year.

Ferrier said the total number of prisoners killed was the equivalent of one every two days in 2015, adding: “This seems likely to be surpassed this year.”

She also described how anti-mine workers in Yemen lack the protective equipment and training to defuse unexploded cluster bombs dropped on villages, and instead transport live munitions in buckets of sand on trucks over bumpy roads.

A recent UN report attributed 60 per cent of 2015’s six-fold increase in the number of children killed and maimed in Yemen – which is the grip of a major food shortage and lacks clean water, fuel and medicine – to the Saudi-led coalition, which is working to defeat Houthi rebels who deposed the legitimate government. LibDem Tom Brake said no arms export licences had been denied to Saudi Arabia since March 2015 on the grounds of non-compliance with international humanitarian law.

However, Duncan accused “Saudi bashing” critics of failing to understand the situation, saying: “For the first time ever, Arab countries are trying to solve their own regional problems without Western co-operative joint intervention. We have been telling them for years to sort out their own problems and as soon as they try to do so we turn on them.”

Lidington said the UK continues to challenge Saudi authorities on the death penalty and that the country is the largest aid donor to Yemen.

He added that the Ministry of

Defence position is that the Saudi-led coalition is not targeting civilians and, referring to an internal Saudi investigation following the destruction of a Médecins Sans Frontières hospital in October, went on: “I’m not saying we have to be uncritical of Saudi Arabia.

“We need to bear in mind they have shown in respect of that incident that they were willing to look at where things had gone wrong and take steps to improve things in future.”