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Volume 615: debated on Tuesday 18 October 2016

14. What support his Department is providing towards the finding of a political solution to the conflict in Yemen. (906651)

The Foreign Secretary hosted a meeting on Yemen with key international partners and the UN envoy, Ismail Ahmed, on Sunday, when it was agreed that the UN would present a road map for a political settlement to both parties as soon as possible. The UK and the US have called for an immediate ceasefire on all sides.

I understand that this is being grouped, at the request of the Government, with Question 15.

The Yemeni population continues to suffer from preventable military incidents carried out by both sides in the conflict, most recently at the funeral where 140 were killed and 500 injured. Given the Minister’s timely and important visit to Riyadh last week, what assessment was he able to make of the standard of the regional initiative seeking to address the high number of civilian casualties?

This was a tragic event, and our sympathy and concern go out to all those affected by it. It was also a huge mistake, and it is important for Saudi Arabia to be able to investigate it properly. My purpose in travelling to Saudi Arabia was to enforce that message from the Prime Minister, and to say that we needed an accurate understanding and investigation of what had taken place. Saudi Arabia has already produced an initial document that shows that its hand is going up in recognition of a huge breach of standard operating procedures. According to that document, at least one individual will be charged, and there are now plans to provide humanitarian support for those who have been injured.

The scenes of destruction and starving children in Yemen put the international community to shame. Does the Minister agree that in no circumstances should British weapons be used to target civilians, and if so, what are the Government doing to prevent that from happening?

The hon. Lady has raised the important question of who is doing the bombing, what is actually happening, and how those responsible can be made accountable. There is no doubt that this is a very difficult war. One of my reasons for inviting the Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister, Adel al-Jubeir, to the House yesterday to meet parliamentarians was to ensure that everyone here could put those very questions, and so that he could hear from our Parliament about concerns that have been expressed not just yesterday, or indeed today, but over a number of months. A coalition has been put together under United Nations resolution 2216 to support President Hadi. We must ensure that that war is legitimate, but let us not forget that the devastation has been caused by Houthis as well.

The whole House will welcome the announcement of a 72-hour ceasefire in Yemen, which will begin on Wednesday night. We share the hope of the United Nations that that can become the basis of a lasting peace, and that the children of Yemen can now receive the humanitarian relief that they so desperately need. However, as the Secretary of State observed in respect of Aleppo last week, and indeed today, the end of a conflict does not end the need to investigate possible violations of international humanitarian law. When can we expect full, independent, UN-led investigations of the thousands of airstrikes on civilian targets in Yemen?

The hon. Lady received her answer when she posed the very same question to the Foreign Minister yesterday. It is standard for any country engaged in warfare, when a mistake is made, to conduct its own investigation and produce a report. I have said in the Chamber that if I feel that that report—or any report—is undervalued and is somehow to be dismissed, I will certainly join the hon. Lady and others in saying that there should be an independent UN-led investigation. After I visited Saudi Arabia, however, we saw a report that made very clear exactly what had happened. I have encouraged people, as I did at yesterday’s meeting, to say that there are reports outstanding. There are not thousands, as the hon. Lady suggested—that is to mislead the House—but there are a number with which we are concerned that need to be clarified.

Order. I am sure that the word “inadvertent”, or the word “inadvertently”, was in there somewhere. One cannot accuse other Members of misleading the House.

We now come to topical questions. I remind the House that topical questions are supposed to be brief, and so are the answers.