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Volume 619: debated on Tuesday 10 January 2017

Happy new year to you, Mr Speaker.

The humanitarian situation in Yemen is one of the most serious crises in the world. The UN estimates that 19 million people are in need of help. The UK is providing support, and we are spending more than £100 million to provide assistance. We all agree that a political solution is the best way to end this conflict. I met foreign Ministers from Saudi Arabia, Oman, the United Arab Emirates and the United States on 18 December in Riyadh, along with Ismail Ahmed, the UN envoy, to advance the UN road map, which I hope will bring all parties back to the table.

The humanitarian situation in Yemen is deteriorating, and the UN estimates that 80% of the population are in need of humanitarian aid—about 21.2 million Yemenis. According to the Government’s own figures, British aid, although welcome, has reached less than 5% of the people in Yemen who need it—obviously nowhere near enough for a major emergency that is affecting people not only in Yemen, but in my constituency. What plans does the Minister have to increase the number of people in Yemen who can directly benefit from British support?

The hon. Lady raises an important aspect of this very sad conflict: we are denied a political solution, but it is the people of Yemen who are suffering. The cause of the problem is the inability to get aid into the country. The port of Aden is used as a conduit, but the main access to the majority of the country is through the port of Hodeidah, which unfortunately is currently in Houthi hands. The cranes are out of action, but we must ensure that we can gain greater access through. I spoke with Ismail Ahmed about what we can do to repair the cranes so that bigger ships can get in with equipment and support, which can then be distributed across the country.

I wholly endorse the remarks of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger). The UN reports that there might be up to 370,000 starving children in Yemen, so in addition to our own aid what discussions has my hon. Friend had with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states about providing significant humanitarian aid themselves?

It is fair to say—this is an important question—that while the headlines are about the military campaign Saudi Arabia and other members of the coalition are doing huge amounts to provide support and humanitarian aid for refugees in their countries. This is often done outside the auspices of the United Nations. During the United Nations General Assembly, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development held a conference to bring further countries together to support Britain’s work to get aid into and across the country.

I thank the Minister and the Foreign Secretary for their personal efforts in trying to broker a ceasefire. That is the key: we need a ceasefire in the same way as Turkey and Russia managed to achieve one for Syria. Have there been any further discussions with the United States about getting this back on to the agenda of the Security Council? I know that the Foreign Secretary was in America at the end of last week, so was this issue raised? When can we get this back for discussion at the UN?

A later question on the Order Paper focuses on a UN Security Council resolution, but to touch on it now, yes, it is our ambition to gain a resolution along the lines of what the road map sets out. We met on 19 December and confirmed the direction of travel in which we want to go. The right hon. Gentleman will know from his understanding of the country that it is not so simple as suggesting this is all about the Houthis versus President Hadi and forces on his side. The complex tribal structures that are involved require the buy-in of many parts of the country to ensure that the ceasefire and cessation of hostilities can last.

15. Can the Minister confirm media reports that Oman is now publicly backing the Saudi-led coalition’s attempts to bring security back to Yemen? (908044)

I can confirm that Yusuf bin Alawi, foreign Minister for Oman, was at the discussions on 19 December, along with Adel al-Jubeir, the Foreign Minister for Saudi Arabia, and Abdullah bin Zayed from the United Arab Emirates. These are the key nations providing support, and I pay tribute to the work that Oman has done through its discussions, bringing the Houthis to the table so that we can get something secure for the ceasefire that we are all searching for.

Inaccurate information has been provided to Parliament a number of times on Yemen and Saudi Arabia. The Minister has said previously that he acted immediately. However, a new freedom of information request reveals that not only the Minister but the former Foreign Secretary knew as early as 28 June last year that Parliament had been misled, but this was not corrected until 21 July. Does the Minister believe that the ministerial code was complied with?

I can only guess that the hon. Gentleman’s question relates to the sale of cluster munitions, because he did not explain its context. Perhaps we can meet later so that he can ask me a fuller question. Alternatively, he can attend the debate on Thursday, when we shall doubtless discuss Yemen in more detail.

Last month the Defence Secretary informed the House that the Saudi Government had given assurances that they would no longer use UK-manufactured cluster bombs. Has the Minister received confirmation from the Saudis that they have now disposed of their stocks of those weapons?

They have confirmed that that is their intention, and I hope to be able to ensure that it has actually happened in time for Thursday’s debate. I can go further, and tell the House that, before the Prime Minister’s visit to Manama for the Gulf Cooperation Council conference, I invited all the GCC nations to sign the convention on cluster munitions so that they could join other countries around the world in condemning those horrific weapon systems.

14. Fourteen million people in Yemen, more than half the population, are going hungry today. In the capital, Sana’a, residents have resorted to scavenging the rubbish dumps for scraps of food. What progress is the Minister making towards brokering a ceasefire so that the Yemeni people can get the help they need? (908043)

What the hon. Gentleman has said returns us to the original question. It is vital for us to gain full access to Sana’a, but again, unfortunately, that is in the hands of the Houthis. We are unable to utilise the airport, which would be the best way to get aid into the country, because of disagreements that are taking place. The sooner we can get all parties back around the table—including supporters of Saleh—the sooner we can bring about a cessation of hostilities and get that important aid back into the country, including the capital.

Let me begin by saying that I think it fitting for the House to welcome the fact that, whatever else 2016 brought, it was the first year in nearly four decades in which no member of our armed forces was killed in operations. Sadly, however, that is not because we live in a more peaceful world. In Yemen the conflict remains as fierce as ever, and the suffering of its children is worse than ever. As the Minister himself has said, it is the worst crisis in the world. One child is dying every 10 minutes from a lack of food.

I have here a copy of the United Kingdom’s draft United Nations resolution, which could bring an end to that conflict and allow the delivery of humanitarian relief. There is not a single word in that draft resolution with which any reasonable party could possibly disagree. Let me ask the Minister a simple question. Three months after the resolution’s first appearance, why is the UK still sitting on it?

A UN resolution must be drafted in a way that makes it workable. That means that all parties must sign and agree to it, because otherwise it is just a piece of paper. If we are to ensure that the resolution can stand on the basis of what we are saying and can be enforced, the parties must get round the table and bring about a cessation of hostilities. The hon. Lady is right: we work towards the drafts, but we do not implement them until we are sure that the resolutions can work in practice.

I thank the Minister for his answer, but I must tell him that we have heard all this before. I know that the Ministers do not listen to their ambassadors any more nowadays, but this is what our UN ambassador, Matthew Rycroft, said back in November when he was asked what it would take to achieve a permanent ceasefire:

“The UK will continue to support efforts…including through the use—if necessary—of our draft Security Council resolution.”

That was 50 days ago—50 days of continuing fighting—and we are still seeing the same old delaying tactics on the Government’s part. Let me ask the Minister again: when will the Foreign Secretary pull his finger out, present the resolution, and end what even he has acknowledged is a terrible proxy war?

I am sorry to use these words, but the hon. Lady has just illustrated that she has no grasp of the United Nations process itself, or of what is taking place on the ground in Yemen; and to suggest that any member of the Government does not listen to our ambassadors is to disingenuously mislead the House. I invite—

Order. Of one thing we should be clear: that the Minister has a grasp of parliamentary protocol. He cannot accuse somebody of disingenuously misleading the House; both words are wrong, and both must be withdrawn.

I withdraw those remarks; if I add “inadvertently”, and say inadvertently disingenuously misleading the House, would that work with you, Sir?

If somebody is disingenuous there can be nothing inadvertent about it, which I would have thought the hon. Gentleman was well-educated enough to recognise; do try to get it right, man.

I think the point has been made, Mr Speaker, and I am sorry to test your patience, but it is important to understand that we take the words of, and work with, our ambassadors very seriously indeed. I spoke to Matthew Rycroft only a few days ago. We are the penholders on this matter at the UN Security Council, and I will make sure there is a phone call between him and the hon. Lady. He can explain the processes of the United Nations so that she becomes aware that we will not get a Security Council resolution passed until we get the cessation of hostilities in place.

Progress, apart from anything else, has been glacial—far, far too slow—so we need to speed up.