(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the UK’s effort to secure a new UN Security Council resolution on Yemen.
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for raising this vital issue. The conflict in Yemen has escalated to become one of the worst humanitarian disasters in the world. Today, 8 million people—nearly a third of the population—depend on United Nations food aid. Starvation and disease have taken hold across the country. More than 420,000 children have been treated for malnutrition and 1.2 million people have suffered from a cholera epidemic. In total, about 22 million people across Yemen—nearly 80% of the population—are in need of help. Yet the bare statistics cannot convey the enormity of this tragedy. What we are witnessing is a man-made humanitarian catastrophe, inflicted by a conflict that has raged for too long.
Britain is one of the biggest donors of emergency aid, providing £170 million of help to Yemen this year, which brings our total support to £570 million since 2015. But the only solution is for all the parties to set aside their arms, cease missile and air attacks on populated areas and pursue a peaceful political settlement. Last week, I conveyed this message to the leaders of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which lead the coalition fighting to restore Yemen’s legitimate Government, when I visited both countries. On Monday, I said the same in Tehran to the Foreign Minister of Iran, which backs the Houthi rebels.
On the same day, I instructed our mission at the United Nations to circulate a draft resolution to the Security Council urging a “durable cessation of hostilities” throughout Hodeidah province and calling on the parties to
“cease all attacks on densely populated civilian areas across Yemen”.
This draft resolution also requires the unhindered flow of food and medicine, and all other forms of aid, “across the country”. The aim of this UK-sponsored resolution is to relieve the immediate humanitarian crisis and maximise the chances of achieving a political settlement. Martin Griffiths, the UN envoy, is planning to gather all the parties for peace talks in Sweden in the next few weeks.
Amid this tragedy, the House will have noticed some encouraging signs. Last week, Saudi Arabia and the UAE paused their operation in Hodeidah, although there was a further outbreak of fighting yesterday. The Houthi rebels have publicly promised to cease their missile attacks on Saudi Arabia. Martin Griffiths is meeting all parties as he prepares the ground for the talks in Sweden.
Britain holds a unique position as the pen holder for Yemen in the Security Council, a leading humanitarian donor and a country with significant influence in the region, so we will make every effort, and use all the diplomatic assets at our command, to support the UN envoy as he seeks to resolve a crisis that has inflicted such terrible suffering.
Thank you for granting this urgent question, Mr Speaker. It is only right that all of us from across the House who have been urging the Government for more than two years to table a ceasefire resolution on Yemen have a chance to discuss the draft that will finally go before the UN tomorrow.
I applaud the Foreign Secretary for the fresh impetus that he has brought to the process, just as he has in recent days to the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. There have been other factors at play: the appalling bus bombings in August; the famine faced by 14 million Yemeni citizens; the murder of Jamal Khashoggi; the rising tide of public anger at the war; and the news today that at least 85,000 children have died of hunger and disease since the war began. Unlike his predecessor, this Foreign Secretary has not buried his head in the sand. He has listened to the House, and he deserves credit for that.
Even if we have had to wait for a long time—and we have—there is a great deal to welcome in this draft resolution. We all support its key demands: an immediate cessation of hostilities around Hodeidah; urgent and unhindered access for humanitarian relief; all targeting of civilians to stop; compliance by all sides with international humanitarian law; and full co-operation with the UN’s peace envoy. I will write to the Foreign Secretary later with a number of detailed questions about the resolution and ensure that that letter is available to colleagues, but in the brief time I have, I want to ask him three questions.
First, the five key demands that I mentioned were all included in the Government’s draft resolution circulated in October 2016, which frankly gives the lie to every excuse that the House was ever offered about why that draft was dropped. Can the Foreign Secretary explain why we have had two years of inaction, and tell us what has changed and why it has taken so long?
Secondly—this was also a failing of the 2016 draft—can the Foreign Secretary tell us why the latest resolution fails to spell out what compliance with the resolution will be monitored and by whom, and what sanctions will apply to any party that breaches its terms, whether in terms of the ceasefire or the restriction of humanitarian aid?
Finally, and this is my most important point, there is one major change between the new draft resolution and the draft in 2016. While the new resolution refers to violations of international law in Yemen, it proposes no investigation of those crimes, let alone the independent and transparent investigations that we need if all those who are responsible are to be held to account. Can the Foreign Secretary explain that omission? I want to ask him a simple yes-or-no question: was a demand for an independent, transparent investigation into all alleged war crimes in Yemen and full accountability for those responsible, which is not included in the current draft, in the draft that he showed to Crown Prince bin Salman when they met last week in Riyadh?
First, I thank the right hon. Lady for the tone of her comments. She is right that this is a humanitarian catastrophe, and what matters in this situation is finding a way forward. I will try hard to answer her questions.
The important thing about the resolution we are proposing is not that this is the end of the story in terms of international efforts to broker a ceasefire, but that it is a step on the road. We want a ceasefire, and we want a ceasefire that will hold. We know that the risk if we go for too much too early with such resolutions is that they end up getting ignored. This is a carefully brokered form of words that is designed to get a consensus from both sides that will allow talks to start before the end of this month in Stockholm—that is the objective of the resolution—and if those talks are successful, we will be able to have a much stronger resolution following them.
Absolutely, and I will come on to the investigation issue as well, but it is very important at this stage that we have a resolution first that passes and secondly that puts in place things that build confidence on both sides.
The right hon. Lady asks why the original draft was not pursued. She has been following this issue closely for longer than I have, but my assessment when I arrived in this post was that, tragically, both sides have believed over that period that a military solution is possible, and that is why there has been an unwillingness, at huge cost to the people of Yemen.
The right hon. Lady mentioned the Save the Children report published today, which I agree is horrific. I found out last week that in the last week for which we have data, 14,000 people caught cholera in Yemen. This situation is escalating out of control. First, the immediate priority in the resolution is to allow the flow of humanitarian aid. Secondly, we need a cessation of hostilities, which will allow trust to be built up, and, thirdly, we need confidence-building measures, which involves allowing, for example, the payment of salaries of civil servants in Yemen and getting foreign currency into the economy.
In terms of compliance, when this resolution goes through, as I hope it will, the UN will monitor compliance—
I am just answering the right hon. Lady’s question. She has asked what will happen about compliance. I have said that the UN will monitor compliance, and if there is not compliance, it is up to the UN to decide what further measures are taken. I point out to her that we are talking about a very short period. We are trying to get the participants to Stockholm on around 28 November. That is the purpose of doing this—to get people talking so that we can build trust. The one piece of optimism in this incredibly tragic story is the fact that the outline political settlement is actually fairly clear and there is broad agreement on all sides. It is really about building the trust to get there.
I absolutely agree that there has to be a full investigation of war crimes and full accountability.
All these things will happen in the context of a political settlement that stops the fighting, stops people starving, and allows people to get the vital medicines they need.
In that context, I went to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Iran, and in all cases, I had tough messages for the people I was speaking to about the fact that this situation has to change. That is what I am doing. That means getting compromises on all sides to reach agreement. That is what we are doing, and that is the role of this country. We have to be careful not to overestimate our influence, but we should not underestimate it either. We have a vital role, which is to pursue peace, and that is what we are going to do.
First, I welcome my right hon. Friend’s efforts in the region, most notably in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and, recently, Iran. We are watching the degradation and destruction of a wonderful country and a huge humanitarian tragedy is occurring. I want to praise the work of our UN staff, and particularly the permanent representative, Karen Pierce, for what she has done to bring this resolution forward. May I urge my right hon. Friend to redouble his efforts, although it seems hard to imagine that he could, to get to the talks to Stockholm, to end this tragedy and to persuade our friends that they are making a very serious mistake?
My hon. Friend speaks wisely. Karen Pierce has done a fantastic job at the United Nations, as have our ambassadors on the ground. He is right; the immediate priority is to get these talks to start. We had a false start with the talks that we hoped would happen in Geneva in August. I think there are signs now that both sides are more willing to talk and to engage in discussions.
The message could not be clearer to the participants on all sides. My hon. Friend is right: our allies, the Saudis and Emiratis, have had to receive hard messages from us in the last few days, but the Houthis have also had to receive tough messages. That was why I went to Iran this week, because we must not miss this opportunity.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for his recognition of the humanitarian cost and for the tone that he brings to this. The Save the Children report said that 85,000 children under five have starved to death as a direct result of the war in Yemen, with half of the population at risk of famine. I associate myself with the remarks of the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat), about the work of UK officials, not least the ambassador, at the UN.
The Foreign Secretary talked about UK aid, and he is right—we recognise the importance of that—but UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia far outstrip our aid. In fact, last year—2017—there was an increase on 2016 in the level of arms sold to Saudi Arabia. There is recognition across the House that this conflict is having an appalling humanitarian cost, and there has been agreement for quite some time that there is no military solution to this conflict. As such, is it not time to turn off the taps of arms sales to Saudi Arabia right now?
I completely understand why the hon. Gentleman asks that question, but may I gently say to him that if we did as he is proposing, he needs to ask how that would help people who are starving in Yemen today? Their situation is absolutely desperate, but far from helping them, there would have been no visit by the UK Foreign Secretary to Saudi Arabia last week, no opportunity to have a frank and sometimes difficult conversation with the Crown Prince, no trip to Tehran—because Iran’s reason for talking to us is that we have a relationship with the Saudis—and no support across the table for a Security Council resolution. British influence, far from being able to bring both sides together, would reduce to zero. That is why the right thing for us to do on arms sales is to follow the incredibly strict arms control regime introduced by a Labour Government in 2000—one of the strictest in the world—which has objective measures to make sure that we do not export arms to places where there is a high risk of violations of international humanitarian law.
The urgently needed change of policy, which people across this House have been calling for for more than two years now, on Yemen is greatly to be welcomed, and it coincides with the arrival of the new Foreign Secretary at the Foreign Office. Does he understand that the condemnation of violence and of the horrendous suffering in Yemen must be even-handed if Martin Griffiths and his colleagues are to succeed in negotiating a cessation of warfare and meaningful talks? I say to the Foreign Secretary, with the deepest possible sadness, that it comes to something when Britain lags behind the moral curve set by the Trump White House.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s comments and his expertise, but I do not agree with his last comment at all. The UK has actually been in the forefront of trying to broker a solution. He is absolutely right that there will be a solution to this only if there is an even-handed approach to the problems. That is exactly the approach that Martin Griffiths is taking, and that is why we are supporting his work. At every stage of what we do, we are listening very carefully to what he says because he has dialogue not only with the Saudis and the Emiratis, but also with the Houthis.
The difficulty, in terms of the historical situation, is that we all have to remember that this really started on 21 September 2014, when the Houthis, who represent less than 25% of the population of Yemen, ejected the legitimate Government of Yemen. That was the start of this conflict. We now need to get all sides together and of course listen to all legitimate concerns, but we do have to remember the historical context.
The House appreciates the efforts that the Foreign Secretary is making in this matter, but may I put this question to him? He referred to the Houthis’ announcement that they would cease missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia, but it is not entirely clear that Saudi Arabia has yet given up the idea that it might achieve a military victory, and it is reported that the Saudis reacted very badly to the draft resolution that the Government have put forward.
I want to come to the question of the two-week deadline for the lifting of all barriers to aid coming through Hodeidah. The truth about the Yemen conflict is that, in the past, deadlines have come and deadlines have gone, and people have died. The question I want to ask the Foreign Secretary, who said this would be a matter for the UN Security Council, is: what kind of consequence does he think it would be right for us, as a world, to make it clear to the Saudis and the Houthis will follow if they fail now to accept what we hope will be a United Nations resolution telling them, “In two weeks, it’s got to stop.”?
The right hon. Gentleman has enormous experience, and I think he speaks with enormous wisdom. The first point I would make about what he says is that it is because of those deadlines that have come and gone, and the pledges that have been broken during the tragic three years of this conflict, that we are being very careful in the wording that we put forward now, to try to get a wording that could stick and that could have the support of all sides.
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that there will be very serious consequences if we do not see progress. He will understand if I do not spell out to the House what those consequences are. All I can say is that I do not believe that our allies are in any doubt of the extremely high priority that both we and the Americans attach to this, and I think that is very significant.
I want to thank the Foreign Secretary for coming here today and providing such clarity not just about the situation, but about the United Kingdom Government’s commitment to a fair focus in coming to the right outcomes through building trust and confidence. Can he say more, though? We are a great humanitarian leader when it comes to the Yemen crisis. People are dying every day and have been for many years now. How are we mobilising other allies to provide support in the wider context, but also absolutely to break the gridlock on humanitarian aid and assistance?
I thank my right hon. Friend for her contribution, and I would of course expect her to speak with great knowledge about the humanitarian side of this, given her former role in government. She is absolutely right: what she has said is a priority for us. That is why one of the things that is in the draft resolution is that we should raise the funding necessary to meet the challenge.
My right hon. Friend championed our budget. We are on some measures the third-largest donor to Yemen. Outside the region, we are certainly the second-largest donor to Yemen after the United States—£170 million in the past year—but we cannot do this alone. So one of the things that we are absolutely seeking to unlock is the support from other countries that we desperately need.
I am certain that the Foreign Secretary will do his utmost to bring this awful situation to a conclusion—it cannot go on. May I ask him in particular about his visit to Iran and his efforts to get Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe freed? How hopeful is he that some progress will be made in this situation, where a woman who is innocent is still kept in jail?
I thank the right hon. Lady for her question. I did talk a lot about what was happening in Yemen when I was in Iran, but she is absolutely right to say that I spent a long time on the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. I have to answer truthfully: I did not detect any signs of an immediate change in Iran’s position. I want to say very plainly that this is an innocent woman, and she has been separated from her daughter for more than half her daughter’s life. It is an appalling situation, and Iran cannot but expect, if it continues to detain people to create diplomatic leverage—sadly, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is not the only person in this situation, and Britain is not the only country affected—that there will be very serious consequences if Iran continues to behave this way. We will stop at nothing to make sure that justice is done and that this brave lady is released.
We have to be very clear that that must not happen and should not happen. That is another reason to be very careful with the wording that we are putting forward. What we actually want is a ceasefire, backed up by a UN Security Council resolution that does pass and is respected on the ground. I do not think we can get to that point in the next couple of weeks, but we want to make a step in that direction.
I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) for asking the urgent question and you, Mr Speaker, for granting it; otherwise, we would not be having this discussion. I also thank my right hon. Friend for coming to Paris recently with nine other hon. Members for the first conference of parliamentarians. It is not just our House that is outraged; people in the French Assembly and elsewhere are concerned. My right hon. Friend is right that there has been a change of tone at the top of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, although not in the middle ranks. The Minister for the Middle East has always been a friend of Yemen and we should not forget his contribution.
I say to the Foreign Secretary that fine words are not enough, although he has given them today. If he holds the pens, he has to use them—not just look at them. That means, first, convening a meeting of the Quint—getting together the Foreign Ministers of the countries involved. He can do that; his predecessor was reluctant to do so. Secondly, he must guarantee the Houthis’ safe passage to Sweden. One reason they did not come to Geneva was that they thought they would not get to Sweden. Thirdly, he must remember that every single day more Yemenis die, so we cannot wait even two weeks; we have to do this now. With every single hour of delay, another Yemeni dies. Five Yemeni children die every single day. So, we cannot wait to be nice to people; we need to get on and table the resolution.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question and welcome the urgency with which he is encouraging the Government to act, because he is absolutely right. He is also right that this is not about words. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State has done an extraordinary job in terms of the patient diplomacy that he has shown over many years. At the United Nations General Assembly in New York, I had a meeting with the Foreign Ministers who are directly involved. I have been pressing them continually, since even before that meeting. The right hon. Gentleman is right that the safe passage of humanitarian aid is essential, but what has been missing up till now is a willingness on all sides to properly engage in talks. I think we have a change now. There is still a long journey ahead, but this is the moment and we have to grasp it.
I warmly welcome the draft resolution and the terrific diplomatic energy that the Foreign Secretary is putting into the issue. It is indeed good news that the Houthi militia have announced that they will end ballistic missile strikes, but what other reasons does he have for believing that the Iran-backed Houthi militia will come to the negotiating table in good faith?
The real issue is a total lack of trust on both sides. The Houthis said that their principal condition for attending the talks was the safe passage of 50 wounded Houthis to Oman for medical treatment. On my visit to Saudi Arabia, it was publicly confirmed that that will happen. I hope they understand that their principal condition has been met; it is important now that they do not add new conditions. Likewise, the Saudis need to recognise that the missiles have stopped coming into Saudi Arabia, and they must not add new conditions at this stage. Then people need to sit down and talk.
I first welcome the Foreign Secretary’s comments about the situation faced by Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, as I am sure all hon. Members do. I also recognise his commitment to a ceasefire that will hold, but can he assure us that the language used will place some accountability on all parties, that there will be independent arbitration and investigation and that there will be meaningful involvement for women, youth and civil society in the peace process?
I reassure the hon. Lady that what she is talking about is exactly what Martin Griffiths, the special envoy, envisages. In the end, if we are to have a durable political solution, there must be trust, accountability for what has happened and fair processes in place to make that happen.
The Foreign Secretary knows that Her Majesty’s armed forces always act with the highest professionalism and integrity, but how confident is he that when alleged war crimes—breaches of the laws of war, of international humanitarian law and of international law—are investigated in the future, the technical assistance given to the Saudi regime by Her Majesty’s armed forces will not drag them into accusations of complicity in such actions?
In this specific case, I reassure my hon. Friend that our armed forces are not involved at an operational level in the activities of the Saudi coalition to the extent that he suggests. Because of our commercial relationship with Saudi Arabia, however, we are very actively monitoring its compliance with international humanitarian law. We have a lot of contact with the Saudis about that and we raise regular concerns when we think things are going wrong.
The Foreign Secretary and the Minister of State are well aware of my long-standing concerns about our policy on Yemen, particularly arms sales, but I want to thank the Foreign Secretary for the personal effort he has put in—by contrast to his predecessor—and to thank the Minister of State for his regular and ongoing conversations. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) for the conference he organised in Paris, which I also attended. He gave a clear message to the Houthis and others that they must attend the talks and take part in the process.
Does the Foreign Secretary agree that one of the best things that the coalition could do is to end the bombardment of Hodeidah—there have been indiscriminate attacks in the last few days—as that would provide a good precondition for the talks in Stockholm? Does he also agree that we need to address the issue of safe transport for the Houthi delegation? They made their concerns clear to us: can he assure me that we will do all that we can to ensure that they do not have any excuses not to attend those talks in Sweden?
I will always listen to the hon. Gentleman, who is a former humanitarian worker. He is right that safe transport to the talks in Sweden, and the ability to get back to Yemen afterwards, is a big concern of the Houthis. I am confident that we are pretty much there in terms of resolving the issue. He is right to say that the situation is urgent, and we need to listen carefully to Houthi concerns if we are to build up trust on their side to allow them to engage in a way they did not feel able to do in August.
How confident is the Foreign Secretary that the tough messages he has taken to the region are being listened to, especially in Tehran, given the strongly destabilising effect Iran has in this conflict? While the resolution is incredibly welcome, if it is not complied with, it will not amount to much more than words on a piece of paper that will not save any lives.
I hope that it is a little bit more than that. I understand my hon. Friend’s concerns, but the resolution talks about a cessation of hostilities. It is a step short of a ceasefire, but it is something that we hope might happen. To fully answer the previous question and my hon. Friend’s question together, the cessation of the bombing of the civilian areas of Hodeidah is an important part of the equation to build up trust. That can lead to some progress, but we have been disappointed before.
Coming from the city of Birmingham, I can tell the Foreign Secretary that it was particularly chilling to read the report from Save the Children that said that 85,000 children under five have died in the past three years—the equivalent of the entire under-five population of Birmingham. While it is obviously critical to lift the siege on Hodeidah to make sure that much needed humanitarian supplies, including food, get in, is he also aware of the warning from the director of the World Food Programme that even those supplies that get in are often not able to reach those who need them, because food prices have doubled at the same time as incomes have fallen? What can be done to ensure that food gets to the people who need it rather than being stopped by profiteers?
The hon. Gentleman is right. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State spoke to David Beasley at the weekend about these issues. In terms of the supply of food, we have been playing our part. On World Food Day, we announced an extra £96.5 million which will help to feed 2.2 million children and to treat 70,000 children in need of medical help. Corruption and similar issues are a big concern, but are made far worse if bombing is actually going on at the time. The first thing that we need to do is to stop the military action and allow some of the normal civilian methods of stopping corruption to be put in place.
This is something I discussed at length with my Iranian counterpart on Monday. This is of course a big issue in terms of the wider issues of the huge proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. I pointed out that as a large regional power, everyone understands Iran is going to expect to have influence in its region. It is the military influence that is concerning people, whether in Yemen, with Hezbollah, in Syria or in Iraq. Until we can find a resolution to that, I do not think we are going to solve the bigger problem.
I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s direction of travel on Yemen, but the Yemen Data Project recorded 106 air raids in October. Some 60% of them hit civilian infrastructure, including a hospital, a food storage facility, water and electricity sites and civilian transports. How does he expect the Saudis to use the weapons he sold them this month?
I commend the work of the Foreign Secretary on this issue. An early coalition exit from the conflict in Yemen would not end the civil war. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the coalition has prevented an attack on Hodeidah, and that if it withdrew, the many resistance forces would advance and the conflict would become even more bloody? Does he agree that now is the time for British courage?
This is absolutely the time for Britain to use its strength and weight in so far as we have it, but I think my hon. Friend is correctly pointing to the complexity of the situation. The whole conflict started with an appalling injustice: the rebel Government, who represent less than 25% of the population, took over the capital Sana’a and ejected a legitimate Government and a president who had been through an election. That is the heart of this conflict. The concern on the coalition side, which is completely legitimate, is that nothing in the peace process ends up legitimising a wholly illegitimate takeover of power.
I join with others in commending the Foreign Secretary and his ministerial team for the fresh impetus with regard to this tragedy, but every single death in Yemen should be shameful for the entire international community. Can the Foreign Secretary tell us what reaction he has had to the draft resolution, which countries are not supporting it, why they are not supporting it, and what they require to enable them to support it?
What we are trying to build is a consensus. That means we have people on all sides who dislike elements of what we are proposing, but we are saying that everyone needs to compromise at this moment. What we do not want to do is move away from the core of our resolution, which is to build confidence at this stage that will allow the talks to go ahead at the end of this month. That is the priority.
I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s initiative. I agree with most, but not all, of the draft resolution. I think what is really important is paragraph 4, section (b), where he has recognised that falling household incomes in Yemen since 2009 have been at the core of this problem in the past and will be at the core of this problem in the future. The fighting is a consequence of falling incomes. We have had seven peace talks and they have all collapsed. This morning, the Houthis said that they will not abide by any UN resolution. If the peace talks collapse in Sweden, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) said, what happens next?
The fighting is both the cause and the consequence of falling household incomes. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to draw attention to that. All I would say is that one of the suggestions in the resolution is to get foreign currency back into Yemen, particularly through the payment of civil servants of the Government of Yemen, so we can start to get some money back into the Yemeni economy. Getting some liquidity into people’s pockets is an absolutely key priority.
I commend, as many others have, the work the Foreign Secretary has put in place. I agree entirely with what he says about not wanting to legitimise the original actions of the Houthis that started the conflict. His draft resolution rightly criticises the Houthis by name, but by the same token the Saudi Arabians and UAE are only mentioned in terms of the positive steps they have taken. Across the House, we have been critical of many of the ways the Saudis have conducted this conflict. Can he say why there is not more in the draft resolution about the areas on which the Saudis should rightly be criticised?
I reassure the hon. Gentleman that there are plenty of things in the draft resolution that are uncomfortable for the Saudis. In fact, it is not clear at this stage whether they will actually support it. What we have to do is bring both sides to the table. We have to recognise that there was an injustice committed by the Houthis that was the start of this conflict, but we also have to recognise that part of the tragedy has been caused by the repeated failure of the Saudi military to conclude military operations in a short timescale, which is what they have always said they would be able to do.
We have a strategic relationship with the Saudis, but we are very, very clear that we are only able to supply them arms and do all the other things that we do with them if we are confident that Saudi Arabia is and will be in compliance with international humanitarian law. We monitor that constantly.
The Minister of State is aware of two of my constituency cases: one involving a constituent who is being held in Sana’a; and another involving the daughters of Jackie Morgan, who were kidnapped from Cardiff in 1986 by their father and have been in Yemen ever since. Jackie Morgan’s daughter Safia is a British citizen, as are the grandchildren. Both families feel that the Government have not been doing enough up until now to help them with their cases. I commend the Minister of State for the efforts he has made, but will the Foreign Secretary personally look at these cases, now that there may be a window to do more, to see if he can do more, with his Minister of State, to help these families?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for championing his constituents’ cases. I want to reassure him that the lack of progress we have been able to make is not through a lack of effort or desire on the part of the FCO; it is simply a function of the fact that we cannot get consular staff into Yemen. Our ambassador is based in Riyadh. I met him when I was there last week. As soon as we are able to offer more assistance, we will.
The Foreign Secretary talks about the need for robust oversight of humanitarian obligations in Saudi Arabia and Yemen. A report by The Sunday Post revealed that 366 war crimes allegations in Yemen have been tabled, but only 79 investigations have been undertaken by the Saudi-led joint incident assessment team. That is a 21% rate. Does the Secretary of State view that as an acceptable rate, particularly as British munitions may have been involved in those incidents?
The entire humanitarian situation in Yemen is totally unacceptable. I agree with the hon. Gentleman and the shadow Foreign Secretary that there needs to be full investigation of all crimes that have happened. To do that, however, we need a climate that makes that possible. That is why the peace process is so important.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for all his endeavours and for the leadership he has shown so far in his new position. We are very grateful for that. The absence of a peace process in Yemen is worrying. In Northern Ireland, we all know that until peace talks started only then did the fighting stop. There are reports that some 85,000 children in Yemen are dead from malnutrition. Reports in the media this morning—I watched the news before I left my hotel—said that some people were not able to get to where the food was. Will he therefore outline what protocols are in place to ensure that aid is getting to the right places on the ground and to distribution points that people can actually access?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his concern. I always listen carefully to him, considering the history of Northern Ireland. The sad truth is that I cannot give him those assurances, because aid is not getting to where it needs to. There are 22 million people in need of humanitarian assistance and only a third of them are getting it at the moment. That is why, as he rightly says, the first step is for the fighting to stop. We need the confidence-building measures to enable that to happen.