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Yemen: Peace Process

Volume 650: debated on Tuesday 4 December 2018

I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for his response and for the support that he has given to these critically important peace talks. What reasons does he have for thinking that the Houthis and their Iranian backers will negotiate in good faith?

It is difficult to know the answer to that question, because what has bedevilled these talks to date is that both sides have thought that a military victory is possible. This is the first time for two years that the parties have come round a table together. I do think that the mood has changed, so we want to do everything we can to support it.

The UN says that more than 60% of civilian deaths have been the result of Saudi-led airstrikes. Will the UK Government therefore confirm that they will undertake any and all measures to ensure that Saudi Arabia is no longer armed and trained by the UK and that every impression is made on it to reach an agreement that means that no more Yemeni civilians die at its hands?

With respect to the hon. Lady, whose views I listen to carefully, it is important to remember that the cause of this conflict was the illegal taking over of power in Yemen by the Houthis, and the Saudi military offensive was authorised by resolution 2216. We have a relationship with Saudi Arabia, which we are using to encourage it to do everything possible to come round the table to talk about peace.

Some humanitarian agencies are warning that, next year, Yemen could have the worst famine in a century. Is it not incumbent on the civilised world, therefore, to lift every sinew to broker a peace settlement under the auspices of Martin Griffiths, our UN special negotiator?

My hon. Friend speaks extremely wisely. There are 8.5 million people on the brink of starvation; 14,000 people are getting cholera every week; and 85,000 children have already died of starvation. That is why we have to do everything possible. Martin Griffiths is doing a fantastic and very difficult job.

Houthi rebels pushed the legitimate Government in Yemen from power, and they have fired Iranian-backed missiles across the border into neighbouring countries and commercial shipping lanes. Does my right hon. Friend agree that any vote in the US Senate to withdraw American support from the coalition would undermine efforts to reach a ceasefire?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point out that there can be no lasting settlement to the terrible conflict in Yemen unless Iranian missiles are prevented from being fired from Yemen into Saudi Arabia and even as far as Riyadh. That is why we must have a balanced way forward that recognises both the humanitarian needs and Saudi Arabian security.

The Prime Minister said yesterday that the situation in Yemen could only be resolved with a “long-term political solution.” To make that possible, should we not be strongly urging restraint on the part of the Saudis, given that when total war has been waged on civilians—often using weapons supplied by this country—it is hard for calls for a political solution to carry any meaningful weight or credibility?

We are strongly urging restraint on both sides. I recognise what the hon. Gentleman says about the urgency of the situation, but I also think it is encouraging that, for the first time in two years, the participants are coming together this week in Stockholm.

Some 85,000 children under the age of five have starved to death in Yemen over the past three years. Does my right hon. Friend agree that a political solution is the way to a lasting peace and that, more urgently, we need to ensure that imports of food can make it through the port of Hodeidah in the light of the Save the Children Fund report?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Hodeidah opening is crucial; it is also important to get access to the Red sea mills, which have enough wheat to feed 3.6 million people. The fighting has lessened, but it has still not stopped, which is why we need these peace talks to succeed.

Fifty wounded Houthi rebels are to be flown from Yemen to Oman. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that flight on a UN plane for treatment is at least a good sign of good will in advance of the peace talks and that we should pay tribute to all those involved and be hopeful for the future?

Yes, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. That was one of the conditions that the Houthis made for their participation in the talks in Stockholm, and the Saudi agreement to do so was actually announced when I was in Riyadh a few weeks ago.

It is hugely welcome and encouraging that the peace talks in Stockholm are finally starting tomorrow. Will the Foreign Secretary update us, in parallel, on what is happening regarding getting a new UN Security Council resolution?

I am happy to do that. We have circulated a text, and the truth is that we will finalise that text after the talks have concluded. If we could choose what the text would say, we would love it to announce a ceasefire, but there is no point doing that unless it is agreed by all the parties. That is why we want the peace talks to succeed.

May I thank the Foreign Secretary for the amount of time that he has spent on the Yemen issue since assuming office? This is a very special moment. The guaranteed treatment of the Houthis in Oman is critical, but may I ask the Foreign Secretary to go to Stockholm on one of the days and show the support of the highest level of this Government for the peace process?

In principle, I have no problem with doing anything that will help this process along. As my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) said, this is by far the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today and possibly the worst that we have had for 100 years. However, I will always be guided by Martin Griffiths on whether my presence would be helpful.

As long as the bombing continues, can the Foreign Secretary describe the surveillance that British embassy officials have over the activities of the Saudi air force, as required by export licence conditions?

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to point that out. Indeed, he oversaw those export conditions when he was working in government. It is because of the contracts that we have with the Saudis that we are very closely involved in looking at things like their targeting to make sure that they are indeed compliant with international humanitarian law.

I thank the Foreign Secretary for his update on the Yemen peace talks. I would like to ask him some more questions about the UK’s draft UN resolution. May I ask him a question that I have asked three times now—at the Dispatch Box, by letter and in a written parliamentary question—without ever getting an answer, yet it is such a simple question? Did the version of the draft UN resolution shown to Crown Prince Salman by the Foreign Secretary on 12 November include a call for independent investigations of war crimes—yes or no?

First, I did not show a text of the draft resolution to King Salman or the Crown Prince when I went to Saudi Arabia, but I can confirm that both the original text and the current text refer to international humanitarian law. But in the process of getting that text agreed, did we make compromises to please the Saudis? Yes. Did we make compromises to please the Houthis? Yes, we did. As a result of that diplomacy, the talks are happening this week. Rather than criticising that, the right hon. Lady should be celebrating the brilliant work done by British diplomats.

It would be very helpful, in those circumstances, if the Foreign Secretary put a version of that draft resolution in the Library so that we can all see it for ourselves. In the meantime, the House will be aware that this week the US Senate is due to vote on whether America should continue supporting the Saudi assault on Yemen, even as millions of children face starvation. If the Foreign Secretary genuinely believes in the sovereignty of this Parliament, when will he show it? When will he ask Members of this House to vote on whether the UK support for this war can any longer be justified?

I simply say to the right hon. Lady that when it comes to the question of arms exports to Saudi Arabia, she seems to feel rather more strongly about it today than she did in 2007, when Labour Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells talked about shared values with Saudi Arabia following a big arms deal. The truth is that we follow the guidelines put in place by a Labour Government. That is what we do. They are the strictest in the world, and if she wants to change them, she should say so.