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Volume 647: debated on Wednesday 10 October 2018

Perhaps, Mr Speaker, on behalf of those who were in the Chamber a moment ago, you might convey to the Chaplain our thanks for her preface to her prayers today. Let us hope that that spirit goes with us during what could be quite a turbulent term. Her words were well chosen.

Some 20.2 million Yemenis are estimated to need humanitarian assistance, with 8.4 million facing extreme food shortages. Insecurity and bureaucratic constraints complicate the diplomatic response. We continue to work with partners to reach the most vulnerable, and we urge all parties to ensure unhindered access through Yemen. Only a political settlement can end the humanitarian crisis.

The Minister knows that I respect him, and I am grateful to him for that answer, but the United Nations says that we are losing our fight to save lives in Yemen. Some people are so desperate that they are eating leaves, and there have been more than a million cases of cholera in the past 18 months alone. What urgent and immediate action can we in this country take to prevent such huge loss of lives?

The truth is that the Security Council has invested all its authority in the special envoy to seek the political negotiation that will end the conflict. We should all be fully behind that. When I was in New York for the recent General Assembly week, I hosted a special meeting on nutrition in Yemen. We continue to work to try to make the negotiations a success. That is where we have to put all our effort, because it is only with the end of the conflict that we can fully tackle the humanitarian crisis.

Some 17.8 million Yemenis have no reliable access to food and, as the Minister just told us, 8.4 million of them face extreme food shortages. What steps is the Department taking to ensure that vital UK aid can reach Yemenis in distress?

The £170 million that the United Kingdom is putting into Yemen in this financial year is currently feeding around 2.2 million people, including children. We continue to work on nutrition and sanitary issues, and on making sure that clean water is available. I repeat to the House that the most important thing is that the humanitarian support and efforts to gain access are only a sticking plaster for the wound; if the wound is to be fully closed, every effort must be made on the political track to end the conflict.

The UK can indeed be proud of our efforts on the humanitarian side, but I agree with the Minister that we need to do more on the political track. What are we actually doing now to sustain pressure on all parties to the conflict? In particular, what are we doing to build the coalition that we need in the Security Council to secure a new resolution that is relevant to the circumstances in Yemen today?

The consensus in the Security Council is that the best thing we can do is support the envoy, because a new resolution would either not get through or not be relevant. We do not want to waste any time on efforts away from the special envoy. While we were in New York, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary had a meeting with the relevant parties, and separately I met those in the coalition, as well as people representing those who have influence with the Houthis, because this is not a one-sided issue.

The biggest tragedy of Yemen is that ultimately it is a man-made disaster that is having this appalling impact on the local population. Will the Minister confirm how the UK Government will support efforts towards a political solution, which is the only solution to these issues?

We were very supportive of the efforts of special envoy Martin Griffiths to bring the parties together in Geneva recently, and we were very disappointed and concerned that the Houthi component did not attend those negotiations. Until the negotiations are fully engaged with by all sides, we cannot proceed. All efforts must be made to support the special envoy and get the negotiations back on track.

Yemen is bleeding to death. This could be the first time in modern history that an entire country has been reduced to famine and poverty by the actions, in part, of our allies. One hundred Members have signed a letter to the Prime Minister asking her to condemn further attacks on the port of Hodeidah. Will the Minister repeat today the Government’s commitment that they do not want to see any further action taken against the port, which would cause the death of a further quarter of a million people?

We have always been clear, first, that there is no military solution in Yemen, and secondly, that the port has to be kept open. There should not be action in relation to the port, either by those who might have mined the approaches to it or those who might seek to attack it, because humanitarian access remains crucial. Yemen is a tragedy of significant proportions, as the right hon. Gentleman knows. We are doing everything we can to find the political solution to end the conflict.

One of the major issues is access to finance and the soaring cost of basic commodities in Yemen. The UN special envoy, Martin Griffiths, has said that the best way to resolve Yemen’s humanitarian crisis is to fix the economy and stem a slide in the riyal. Are the UK Government participating in action on that matter?

Since July, the riyal has depreciated by some 20%. That, as the hon. Lady says, is putting up the prices of basic foodstuffs, which had already increased in recent years. Of course, in a war economy, people have made money: the Houthi have taxed goods and taken money from people instead of supplying goods. We are doing what we can to support the riyal, because some stability in the currency is essential. The UK is supporting that process, too.

Save the Children is warning that 5.2 million children in Yemen are at risk of famine; meanwhile, an estimated 350,000 children caught up in the conflict have contracted cholera since April last year. I am sure the Minister agrees that urgent action is needed. Will he inform the House what urgent steps his Department is taking to ensure that delivery of food and medicine is not hindered by warring parties for strategic gains, but instead reaches those who are in desperate need of it?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has met and spoken regularly with the Minister in the United Arab Emirates responsible for coalition efforts to ensure humanitarian access. We have spoken to those who have access to the Houthi and the areas that they control to make sure there are no blockages there. It is a conflict, and it is a tragedy that access to humanitarian aid is used as a weapon in that conflict. Only a negotiated solution can end the conflict and enable the humanitarian efforts, and we are making every effort to ensure that.