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Volume 631: debated on Tuesday 21 November 2017

Only a political solution will bring the long-term stability that Yemen needs. Yemeni parties themselves must engage constructively with peace opportunities when they come along. The United Kingdom is playing a leading part diplomatically, at the UN and elsewhere, to try to bring other parties together so that we can see the political solution that is needed.

Yemen is in the grip of a humanitarian disaster, with another 50,000 children expected to die before the end of the year because of famine and cholera, yet the UK’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia have been worth 18 times the aid given to Yemen over the past two years. What will the UK Government do to ensure that the blockade is lifted now and to contribute to Yemen’s reconstruction, rather than to its destruction?

The efforts being made with the coalition are not only to give its members assurances about the security they need to ensure that there are no further missile attacks like the one on Riyadh on 4 November, but to seek to relieve the restrictions that are preventing humanitarian access from getting through. No one doubts the scale of the humanitarian crisis that already exists in Yemen and that faces its people if those restrictions are not lifted. The United Kingdom is working with others on both the security for the coalition in the area and the need to relieve the restrictions to make sure that humanitarian access can be given.

18. The conflict in Yemen is clearly a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran for achieving regional hegemony. Does the Minister agree that the UK should use all its diplomatic leverage with its allies and players in the region to de-escalate the conflict and get a genuine peace process under way in Yemen? (901957)

My hon. Friend is right. A process is under way, led by the UN special representative, and we are supporting that. It requires both sides to recognise that there is no military answer to what is happening in Yemen. There has to be a political solution. We are working steadfastly through our ambassador in Yemen and through the UN to try to ensure that the parties get together to make sure that there is a political solution. We are doing everything we can because we recognise the urgency of the situation.

The scale of the humanitarian crisis is truly frightening and the Saudi blockade could result in thousands of further deaths. A political solution is vital. Will the Minister tell us whether the Prime Minister has spoken to the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia? If she has not, can she do so as a matter of urgency to get the blockade lifted?

Ministers, including the Prime Minister, have spoken to the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. Repeated representations have been made by other Ministers since 4 November and continue to be made. We recognise the need for security for the coalition, but we also recognise the urgent need to lift the restrictions and make sure that humanitarian access is given.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the situation in Yemen very much points to the fact that we have a failed Iran policy? We have a capital in Tehran that is taking British hostages, that is developing missiles, that is threatening its neighbours and that is destabilising the region, and our policy is what? There is none.

There is a significant policy in relation to Iran, which a number of different debates and conversations in this House have detailed. Work is going on to explore what opportunities there are for Iran to play a more constructive part in the region, but in relation to human rights sanctions, to criticism about its activities with terrorist groups in the area and to its ability to destabilise the region, the United Kingdom’s position is very clear. However, there is engagement with Iran, which is important both for the UK and for others. The policy of that constructive engagement is very clear.

Yesterday, the Minister of State said that the Saudi blockade of Yemen did not breach international humanitarian law because it is intended to stop the smuggling of missiles to the Houthis. How does he respond then to the leaked briefing by the United Nations Panel of Experts on Yemen, which says that there is no evidence of such smuggling and that this is just another attempt by the Saudi coalition to justify obstructing the delivery of commodities that are essentially civilian in nature?

I do not agree with the conclusion—[Interruption.] No, I do not agree with that UN assessment. It is perfectly clear that weapons and weapons parts have been smuggled into Yemen, and have been used to fire against parties to the coalition. We are quite sure that that is the case. However, the point is not only to give some security to those who do not want to see such missiles pointed at their airports, but at the same time to ensure that the coalition partners realise that the restrictions being put on entry to ports may not assist them in dealing with all the smuggling they are concerned about, but will certainly damage the humanitarian situation and make it worse. That is what we are trying to persuade the coalition partners to relieve.