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Yemen

Volume 800: debated on Wednesday 30 October 2019

Question

Tabled by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the deal brokered by the government of Saudi Arabia in Yemen and the prospects for lasting peace there.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, who apologises for the fact that he cannot be in his place today.

My Lords, the UK welcomes signs of progress through the Saudi-led talks to bring together the Government of Yemen and the Southern Transitional Council to reach a peaceful settlement following the clashes in Aden in August. This has further demonstrated the need for inclusive political talks through the UN-led peace process. The UK urges all parties to engage constructively with the UN special envoy Martin Griffiths to broker a sustainable peace for all of Yemen.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response and I share his support for any initiative that brings peace to Yemen, but this deal brokered by the KSA brings only limited opportunities for a peaceful future in the region. After four years and seven months, almost 100,000 people have died—84,000 children from starvation, and 2,500 from cholera. What pressure are Her Majesty’s Government putting on Saudi and Emirati opposites to secure an immediate cessation to the wider war in Yemen?

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate makes good points about the situation in Yemen. He mentioned cholera: 670,000 suspected cases were recorded in the past year. We must be clear that, from the outset, the only solution to the crisis in Yemen is a political one. A political settlement is the only way to bring long-term stability to Yemen and address the worsening humanitarian crisis. We continually put pressure on our colleagues and the various people involved in the conflict to agree and stand by the UN Security Council special envoy Martin Griffiths, who is currently discussing with the parties the timing and details of the next round of peace talks. In the meantime, it is vital that all parties abide by agreements made in Stockholm and work with the special envoy to continue to build confidence and make progress on the political situation.

My Lords, the Minister is absolutely right: we seek peace for the whole of Yemen. We also know that to bring about a political solution we have to exercise some leverage. One of the problems we have is that British arms are being used by the Saudis in this war, in which many children and families have suffered. Despite the arms embargo, there have been three breaches of licences to the Saudis, so will the Minister ensure that the Government uphold a strong forceful position on arms to Saudi Arabia?

My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord has brought up the subject of arms sales to Saudi Arabia. My right honourable friend the International Trade Secretary commissioned a full and urgent investigation as soon as the breach was discovered and has apologised to the court. As the noble Lord and the House are also aware, the key test is in criterion 2c of the consolidated EU and national arms export licensing criteria, which considers whether there is a clear risk that the items to be exported might be used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law. In addition, while we are considering the implications of the judgment for decision-making on arms sales, we will not grant any new licence for exports to Saudi Arabia and other members of the coalition for items that might be used in the conflict in Yemen. The existing arms licences are under review.

My Lords, following on from the question from the Benches opposite, could my noble friend outline the detail and the value of all arms sales to Saudi Arabia since the Court of Appeal decision in June this year that deemed many of those sales unlawful? If he does not have that information to hand today, which he may not, will he commit to writing to me and putting a copy of that letter in the Library?

My Lords, my noble friend asks me a question about the value of arms sales to which I do not have the answer. I will write to her and place a copy in the Library. As I said before, though, the important issue is that these arms are not used against international humanitarian law. The fact is that we do this by studying them and making sure that they comply with criterion 2c.

My Lords, notwithstanding the agreement that has been referred to so far, the fact is that the conflict between the coalition and the Houthis remains deadlocked but there have been some reports that the Houthis have offered to desist from aerial attacks into Saudi Arabia. Is the Minister aware of such reports? Has he any understanding as to whether or not they are accurate? If so, what is his assessment of the capacity of that to help to bring about a comprehensive ceasefire?

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, mentioned attacks from inside Yemen into Saudi Arabia. Responsibility for these attacks was claimed by the Houthis. It is understood that they most probably do not actually have the ability to launch such attacks. The fact is that what we have to look at is the arms supply coming out of Iran to the Houthis. Iran must comply with the UN Security Council in banning all imports of arms to the Houthis in Yemen.