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House of Commons Hansard
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10 January 2017
Volume 619
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4. If he will review the UK’s support for the Saudi-led coalition forces operating in Yemen. [908033]

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Despite signing the partnership for peace agreement, the Houthis invaded the capital, Sana’a, placed Ministers under house arrest, took over ministerial buildings and committed extra-judicial killings. The Saudi-led military coalition was formed, following the legitimate request from President Hadi as set out in United Nations Security Council 2216. It is in this context that the UK supports the military intervention.

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At a time when millions in Yemen are facing starvation, it beggars belief that the Saudi coalition is routinely targeting airstrikes at cattle markets, dairy farms, food factories and other agriculture infrastructure. Can the Minister explain why the coalition is doing that, and why we are supporting it?

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We are not supporting them doing that, as the hon. Lady can no doubt imagine. We are working closely with the Saudi Arabians and the coalition to ensure that the protocols and standards that they are using in sustained warfare meet the international standards that we would expect, were we to be involved ourselves. Much of the information that comes from the battlefield is very unclear indeed, but we are enforcing transparency in a way that the Saudi Arabians and many other members of the coalition have never seen before.

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Does my hon. Friend agree that, as the Saudi-led coalition intends to restore the legitimate Government in Yemen, it is clearly right and proper that we should support it?

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My right hon. Friend knows the region well and he is absolutely right. I want to make it clear, however, that the coalition has made errors. It has made mistakes. It has not endured sustained warfare in this manner before, and it is having to meet international standards as never before. It is having to provide reports when it makes mistakes, and it has never done that before. It has no experience of even writing reports. It wants to meet those standards and to work with the international community. We need to ensure that when errors are made, the coalition puts its hand up in the same way that we do and that the Americans did in Afghanistan only a few months ago.

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Given that Saudi Arabia has finally admitted to using illegal cluster bombs in Yemen, what consequence or sanction is being planned by the UK Government against Saudi Arabia for that clear breach of international humanitarian law?

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If I may attempt to correct the hon. Gentleman, those cluster bombs are not illegal, because Saudi Arabia has not signed up to the convention on cluster munitions. Therefore it is in its right—indeed, any country’s right—to use cluster munitions should it wish. As I mentioned earlier, I have encouraged Saudi Arabia to make sure not only that it has destroyed all the cluster munitions that we sold it in the past, but that it gets rid of its entire arsenal of cluster munitions and signs the convention.

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Has the Minister talked to the Saudi coalition about dealing with the long-standing threat from al-Qaeda and the growing threat from Daesh in Yemen, which threatens not just the Gulf but our security at home?

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In all our discussions with the Saudi Arabians and other coalitions that are learning how to conduct necessary warfare to the standards that we expect, we sometimes gloss over the fact that the absence of a solution allows the incubation of extremism in the form of Daesh, which is now present in the peninsular, and al-Qaeda. Until very recently, the port of Mukalla was completely run by that extremist operation. From our security perspective, more terrorist attacks are plotted in the peninsular by al-Qaeda than by any of its wings. Yes, it is very important that we work with our coalition friends to ensure that we defeat extremism in Yemen.

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May I endeavour to make a better case for Britain’s policy on the Yemen tragedy than the Minister made in his earlier replies? Will he now make clear the value to our security and to our dynamic aerospace industry of our relationship with the Saudis and the Gulf states? Will he also make clear the concern of the UK and the international community at the expansionist and subversive activities of the Iranian regime?

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There is nothing in that question with which I would disagree. Saudi Arabia is an important ally in the region. Its security and the region’s security is our security, too, but as the right hon. Gentleman also articulated, Saudi Arabia is unused to conducting such sustained warfare and it needs to learn. We are standing with Saudi Arabia to make sure it is learning lessons and to make sure that we work towards peace in Yemen, for all the reasons that we have discussed in the Chamber today.