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Volume 654: debated on Wednesday 13 February 2019

Yemen remains the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, with nearly 80% of the population requiring humanitarian assistance. The UN is set to launch a new $4 billion appeal for 2019 later this month, at a pledging conference at which I hope to represent the UK. The UK is providing £170 million this financial year, including enough food for the equivalent of 4 million Yemenis for a month.

More than 3 million people have been internally displaced and thousands killed in Yemen, mainly as a result of the Saudi coalition bombing campaign. Last year, the cholera outbreak affected 200,000 people. More than 22 million people are reliant on humanitarian aid and millions of children are unable to go to school. When will the Government stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia and work towards an end to the conflict?

The situation in relation to the conflict has moved on a degree with the fragile peace agreed in the Stockholm agreement. That fragile ceasefire and redeployment of forces continues, as a result of which the humanitarian situation is improving. The latest figures I have show that in January commercial and humanitarian imports via sea, over land and via container met 94% of monthly food requirements and 83% of monthly fuel requirements. The situation in Yemen was caused not by the Saudi coalition but by a Houthi-led insurgency.

Before Christmas, there was much discussion about the ceasefire around the port of Hodeidah and the prospects that it would bring for improving the humanitarian situation in Yemen. What further progress does the Minister expect to be made in helping those who have suffered for so long in Yemen?

The ports of Hodeidah and Salif are open and they are taking in more ships. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the test of whether the political agreement in Stockholm is having an impact will be measured by success on the humanitarian front. We will continue to do all we can to support the UN efforts to find peace in Yemen.

The Stockholm agreement is indeed very welcome, but the Minister is right that it is also fragile. One of the features is the World Food Programme supplies, to which it is hard to get access. Will he update the House on the prospects of getting that access because the head of the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs has said that there is a risk that the food will simply rot and therefore not be available for consumption?

The hon. Gentleman is right. I spoke to the World Food Programme director, David Beasley, last week. The situation is that it has been difficult to get to the Red sea mills because of mining. There is a concern that some food not only has rotted, but has been stolen by illicit elements, so we have to find out what is there. The continuing progress in relation to peace will make access to those mills more likely, and we will continue to press for that.

I welcome what my right hon. Friend and his Department are doing in this tragic situation. What more can the UK do to make sure that children in particular who are suffering so much are helped more?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his words. The best thing that we can do is, first, support the negotiations to ensure that the conflict comes to an end—that is the best thing. Secondly, we should keep up our support for humanitarian aid and assistance, which has been significant. In relation to the children, we should back things such as a nationwide measles and rubella vaccination campaign, which is under way and which will target 13.3 million children in Yemen between 9 and 14 February. That demonstrates how much we owe to the aid workers who are involved there and also the contribution that the UK is making.

There is no doubt that the Minister has done a huge amount of work on this issue, but the key is the resumption of the peace talks. The parties last met on 18 December. When will they meet again? That will unlock the corridor and unlock the humanitarian needs.

The right hon. Gentleman of course knows as much about Yemen as anyone in the House. The peace talks are built on confidence, and the next round will take place when UN envoy Martin Griffiths believes that there is sufficient confidence for those talks to proceed. At present, the ceasefire, although fragile, has held. Confidence is building up between the parties, and when the time is right, we will be able to move forward to the next stage.