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Volume 699: debated on Tuesday 20 July 2021

We continue to fully support the UN efforts to end the conflict in Yemen, alongside the US, the Saudis and other international partners. The United Nations has put a fair deal on the table, consisting of a ceasefire and a measure to ease restrictions in Hodeidah port and Sanaa airport. However, the Houthis are not engaging constructively with the proposals to alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people. Rather than coming to the table, the Houthis continue their offensive in Marib. We are committed to reaching a peaceful settlement to the conflict. We await the appointment of a new special envoy, and we look forward to working with them when they are in place.

After seven years of violence, suffering and hardship, there is still no end in sight, as the Minister acknowledges. The UN has warned that Yemen faces the worst famine the world has seen for decades. After more than halving their aid to the country, what will the Government do to stop families dying of starvation and disease? As penholder for Yemen at the UN, we clearly have a special responsibility. What further pressure are the Government putting on all the parties for meaningful and inclusive peace talks involving all key stakeholders—not simply the Houthis, who are clearly blocking the discussions, but the Hadi Government and the Southern Transitional Council?

The hon. Gentleman is right that we are concerned about the humanitarian situation in Yemen. We have given over £1 billion-worth of aid to Yemen since the conflict began. I recently spoke about the food security issue with David Beasley of the World Food Programme in the margins of the G7 in Italy.

The best thing we can do for the people of Yemen is to bring this conflict to a conclusion. We engage constructively with the Saudis and the Government of Yemen but, unfortunately, the people we have the most difficulty engaging with meaningfully are the Houthis, and I publicly call upon them to engage with us, to engage with the UN, to engage with this process and to bring peace to these people who so desperately need it.

Where is the morality and sense in the Government trumpeting at the G7 the importance of fighting famine while, at the same time, withdrawing food aid from nearly a quarter of a million people in Yemen? As my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) said, Yemen is facing what the UN is calling the worst famine in decades. I am told by the aid agencies that the Government have said they hope to restart the life-saving programmes at some point next year, which is a year too late for those in need now. It is also totally impractical and wasteful to shut down the delivery infrastructure, which takes years to build, only to restart it from scratch a year later. Would it not be better to maintain the current programmes, which are so badly needed and which enhance the UK’s global reputation, rather than making the poorest pay for the global pandemic?

Despite the worst economic contraction in 300 years, the UK remains one of the largest bilateral donors in supporting the humanitarian efforts in Yemen, but it is not just about money, important though that it is; it is also about bringing the diplomatic power of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to bear. I spoke with the Government of Yemen about making sure fuel ships outside the port of Hodeidah are able to land, so that fuel can be used to mill grain and transport food. That work, alongside our work with the United Nations, the Saudis and the Government of Yemen to bring about peace, is the best thing we can do to help the medium and long-term situation for the people of Yemen.