BARROW and Furness MP John Woodcock met the king of Saudi Arabia as he led a Labour fact finding mission to the country.

King Salman received the Labour MPs at his presidential palace in Riyadh on Tuesday to discuss areas of co-operation between the kingdom and Great Britain.

Mr Woodcock said he was “hugely struck by the king’s ambition to modernise the country” after being invited to lead the six-strong delegation of senior MPs and peers in his role as chair of Labour’s backbench foreign affairs committee.

The week-long visit focussed on how the nations are sharing intelligence to deter terror attacks in the UK, concern over the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, examination of how the deeply conservative society is beginning to become more equal for women, and the longstanding defence partnership which sustains thousands of BAE aerospace manufacturing jobs in the north west of England.

The parliamentarians divided their time between organisations based in the capital, Riyadh, and a day with the Saudi armed forces in the missile-damaged Saudi town of Najran close to the Yemeni border.

Mr Woodcock said: “It was an honour to lead Labour’s delegation and converse with His Royal Highness King Salman on mutually important issues for our nations.

“During our visit we were able to discuss desperately needed measures the Saudis can take to alleviate the terrible humanitarian crisis in neighbouring Yemen and understand better the crucial link between our nations’ intelligence agencies which has foiled many Jihadi terror plots on the UK mainland over the years.

“The king was highly positive about the defence partnership between or nations which is good news for the thousands of BAE workers on the Typhoon programme in Lancashire whose jobs rely on Saudi orders.

“But most striking was the ambition for change in the country which for so long has been deeply oppressive and conservative, particularly for women. There is clearly a very long way to go before Saudi becomes a progressive country but it was heartening to meet ordinary Saudi women who said life was changing incredibly fast and were excited by their future.”

Accompanying the Labour backbencher on the delegation was former chairwoman of the National Women’s Commission Baroness Margaret Prosser, former defence ministers John Spellar MP and Kevan Jones MP, foreign affairs committee member Mike Gapes MP, and Stockton MP Paul Williams.