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Volume 518: debated on Wednesday 17 November 2010

1. What recent assessment he has made of the developmental situation in Yemen; and if he will make a statement. (24336)

2. What recent assessment he has made of the developmental situation in Yemen; and if he will make a statement. (24337)

6. What recent assessment he has made of the developmental situation in Yemen; and if he will make a statement. (24341)

Yemen is of the highest priority to the coalition Government. Subject to the Department for International Development’s bilateral aid review and the security situation in Yemen, DFID is inclined to increase its commitment to that country. We believe strongly in the power of development to give solid foundations to a country that faces threats to its stability and economy.

The UK is playing a leading role in the Friends of Yemen process, in which our partnership with Gulf states is an essential element. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State recently visited Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to exchange views on Yemen and to build our common approach. That will help to ensure that the commitments made in New York in September are delivered in time for the next Friends of Yemen meeting in Riyadh in February.

Given the difficult security situation in Yemen, will the Minister outline UK priorities in that country?

DFID’s programme is part of the UK strategy to address instability and conflict in Yemen and to develop the economy. We engage with the Government and other donors to create the political will needed for action on reforms. Our work helps to make people’s lives better by delivering basic services such as health, education and justice to the poorest communities, and to provide jobs and short-term employment through cash-for-work schemes. We also provide life-saving humanitarian support for the 300,000 displaced people in Yemen.

At the last International Development questions, I raised the importance of Yemen in the war on terror, which the subsequent ink cartridge plot underlined. The Gulf states are obviously key to addressing Yemen’s challenges. What are the Government doing to engage with those states?

The security situation is obviously of the utmost importance. The most important Gulf partner is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which co-chairs the Friends of Yemen process, but more than $3 billion-worth of pledged financial support has remained unused since 2006. We are therefore pressing for better donor co-ordination, in which the Gulf states are obviously crucial partners.

I welcomed the Minister’s speech at Chatham House—he set out the challenges facing Yemen and spoke of putting development and diplomacy at the heart of our response. Will he inform the House what progress has been made to implement reform through the Friends of Yemen process?

In my speech at Chatham House, I outlined the importance of development in Yemen. The Government want to underpin that country now rather than have to step in later should things get worse. Through the Friends of Yemen process, we are helping the Government of Yemen with the implementation of an International Monetary Fund financial reform programme. I stress very strongly that we are not telling Yemen what to do; we are working as a partner to support it in facing its challenges.

Mr Speaker, you very recently met the Speaker of the Yemeni Parliament, and President Obama and the Prime Minister spoke about Yemen last week at the G20. Processes are very welcome, as is Britain’s leadership role in this whole endeavour, but we need positive action. Will the Minister ask the Foreign Secretary to issue an invitation to the Yemeni Foreign Minister and other Yemeni Ministers, so that they can come to London as a matter of urgency—before Christmas—and we can implement the very good words that the Minister has just spoken?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his suggestion—he has a strong interest in, and knowledge of, Yemen. His suggestion is constructive. There will be a further Friends of Yemen meeting in Riyadh. If we are to get anything out of that meeting, we have got to get cracking now, which means that constant purposeful engagement with our Yemeni counterparts is essential. I will certainly ask the Foreign Secretary to take up his suggestion.

It is obviously important for us to do all we can to help to tackle poverty and instability in Yemen, but where there is instability, it is even more difficult to get aid to people who need it. The expertise of DFID officials in that regard is widely respected around the world. Will the Minister assure us that as the work of his Department is reviewed, nothing is done to undermine its ability to play its part in ensuring that aid in conflict zones really gets to those who need it?

May I say what a pleasure it is to be up against the right hon. and learned Lady once again, after a little gap? What she says is absolutely right. We are, as I said, inclined to increase our support for, and spend in, Yemen, but obviously the security situation will determine whether we can put enough boots on the ground to deliver the aid and assistance that we wish to deliver. Crucially, however, we are looking on our work there as a pioneering exercise in trying to address the challenges of a fragile state before its condition gets worse.