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House of Lords Hansard
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25 February 2019
Volume 796

Question

Asked by

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of progress to resolve the political and humanitarian crisis in Yemen.

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My Lords, the only solution to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen is through a political settlement. The situation remains deeply concerning, with 80% of people needing humanitarian assistance. The Foreign Secretary co-hosted the Yemen ministerial quad on 13 February in Warsaw and discussed measures to resolve the political and humanitarian situation. Quad members reaffirmed their support for the UN-led peace process and implementation of the Stockholm agreements.

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I thank my noble friend the Minister, but the United Nations says that $4.2 billion is needed to give aid to 19 million people in Yemen. When the Minister, my right honourable friend Alistair Burt, was in Saudi Arabia last week, what assurances did he get that the Saudis would make a considerable contribution to the pledging conference taking place tomorrow in Geneva and ensure that they and their allies, the Hadis, stop killing civilians?

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My noble friend raises a very important point. As she said, the upcoming pledging conference that starts tomorrow is a very important occasion. It is important that all donors provide significant funding for the UN’s 2019 humanitarian response plan. The 2019 appeal will be the largest in the world. The Prime Minister’s announcement yesterday set a fine example: the UK has announced new aid worth £200 million. That money will feed millions of people, provide water and sanitation to those most in need, and bring the total amount committed by the UK since the start of the four-year conflict to £770 million. Going back to my noble friend’s Question, I hope that others are watching, taking note and preparing to copy us.

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My Lords, the Government say that their sale of arms to Saudi Arabia falls narrowly on the right side of international humanitarian law, but the International Relations Select Committee judges that such sales are narrowly on the wrong side. Did the Foreign Secretary—the same Foreign Secretary to whom the Minister just referred—write to the German Government, as Der Spiegel reports, urging them to lift their ban? Is this what the noble Baroness, Lady Fairhead, meant last week when she said that the Government were taking this matter extremely seriously?

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The position of the United Kingdom Government in relation to exports of arms to Saudi Arabia is clear and well stated. I take this opportunity to thank the International Relations Committee of this House for a very thorough report. The report did make an observation about exports of arms to Saudi Arabia. I was interested in what the report said because it acknowledged very honestly that “fine judgements” had to be made. It also concluded, very honestly, that,

“conclusive evidence is not yet available”.

I cannot speak for the German Government but I can say on behalf of the United Kingdom Government that we take our export responsibilities very seriously and we operate one of the most robust export control regimes in the world.

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My Lords, does the Minister recognise that this is now the second time that a Minister has replied to a Question on Yemen since your Lordships’ International Relations Committee produced its report on this with a number of recommendations, and that not a single one of those recommendations has been addressed in those two replies? Can that silence now be brought to an end? Just to help the Minister, two of the questions that she could address at the Dispatch Box now are: first, that the British Government should consider appointing a special representative to strengthen the UN’s hand in the peace settlement; and, secondly, that if any party, particularly Saudi Arabia or the Emirates, were to take action that went against international humanitarian law or to block medicine or food supplies, arms contracts would be suspended.

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First, in relation to the report to which the noble Lord referred, the Government will consider and respond to it. The report is of a fairly recent vintage and I do not think that it would be reasonable to expect the Government to respond fully in the relatively short period of time which has elapsed. On his specific question about an envoy, which was one of the recommendations made in the report, I observe that in the past fortnight the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have personally pushed the international community to put its full weight behind the UN-led peace process and to do more to address the terrible humanitarian crisis. What the Prime Minister announced yesterday is very much an example of Britain putting its money where its mouth is.

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My Lords, the Question refers to the political solution, which obviously must be in the best interests of the people of Yemen. Does she agree that the problem here is that any part we want to play in bringing about a legal solution is being severely undermined because our credibility is totally in question as the result of our obstinate continuation, for the time being at least, of arms exports to Saudi Arabia? Do the Government take a minimalist or a proactive approach to the European code of conduct on arms sales? Has the time not come to have a policy in Britain that we says we promote arms sales only where they are conducted with our close allies or where we are certain that we can make a specific contribution to establishing peace and stability across the world?

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Successive Governments have had to contend with the challenges of a regime and an arms treaty which govern the sale and export of arms by this country to other states. It is a regime which this Government take extremely seriously. Each licence application is rigorously assessed against the consolidated EU and national arms export licensing criteria which require the Government to think hard about end use and the capability that the exports will provide. The Government will not grant a licence if to do so would be inconsistent with these criteria.

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My Lords, is it the case that we have exported nearly £2 billion-worth of armaments to Saudi Arabia over the past six or seven years? Is that really justified? Is it not hypocrisy on our part to sell armaments that bomb, destroy and maim while at the same time handing out some aid? Is it not time that the Government got their morals right?

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The whole issue of arms exports is a delicate one—an honestly conceded dilemma by the committee of this House, which referred to “fine judgements”. Those are what successive Governments have had to make. The committee also said that,

“conclusive evidence is not yet available”.

I merely point out to the House that a framework exists, the Government rigorously and robustly test exports against that framework, and, if they felt they could not satisfy the criteria by which they are bound, they would not export arms.