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Volume 632: debated on Wednesday 29 November 2017

Application for emergency debate (Standing Order No. 24)

I seek leave to propose that the House should debate a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely Britain’s engagement with Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

Today we are witnessing an almighty catastrophe of Biblical proportions unfolding in Yemen, in which Britain is dangerously complicit. Britain is respected throughout the world for bringing hope and relief to those caught up in humanitarian misery, but today in Yemen, which I visited earlier this year, we are in danger of earning a reputation for precisely the reverse, for the UK is part of the coalition that is imposing a blockade by land, sea and air on 27 million Yemenis. In recent weeks, fuel prices have risen by up to 160%, and rice and basic foods by nearly 70%. Fuel for generators, which are essential for hospitals and water-pumping stations, will run out shortly.

Yesterday’s announcement by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, while arguably slowing the trajectory, will not in any way curtail this escalating disaster. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said last week that, unless the blockade is lifted, famine throughout Yemen is a very real threat, including on the southern borders of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Moreover, wilfully impeding humanitarian access may constitute a violation of international humanitarian law.

It is increasingly clear that this blockade imposed on Yemen constitutes the collective and illegal punishment of an entire population. If you grant this debate, Madam Deputy Speaker, I believe that the House will see clearly that current policy will result in a huge strategic failure both for Saudi Arabia and, by extension, for the UK. It is important that the voice of this House is heard urgently, along with the Prime Minister’s on her current visit to the Gulf.

Above all, it is a moral failure that confronts us. Famine is a phenomenon that we were close to eradicating from the human condition. The last 20 years has seen only two famines throughout the world. When I was responsible in 2011 for co-ordinating the UK’s efforts to address one of those famines, in Somalia, I saw for myself emaciated children and starving mothers. Today in Yemen we are witnessing a totally preventable mass humanitarian catastrophe, the likes of which we have not seen in decades.

The right hon. Gentleman asks leave to propose a debate on a specific and important matter which should have urgent consideration, namely the current situation in Yemen. On behalf of Mr Speaker, I have listened carefully to the application from the right hon. Gentleman. Mr Speaker is satisfied that the matter raised is proper to be discussed under Standing Order No. 24. Has the right hon. Gentleman the leave of the House?

The motion is clearly—[Interruption.] Order. I reassure Members that I do not have to count them. No one indicated dissent and the proposal is clearly supported as required by the Standing Order.

Application agreed to.

The debate will be held tomorrow, Thursday 30 November, as the first item of public business. It will last for up to three hours and will arise on a motion that this House has considered the specific matter set out in the right hon. Gentleman’s application, namely that this House has considered the current situation in Yemen.