Skip to main content

Action Against Houthi Maritime Attacks

Volume 835: debated on Wednesday 24 January 2024


The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Tuesday 23 January.

“Overnight, at my order, the Royal Air Force engaged in a second wave of strikes against Houthi military targets in Yemen. We did so because we continue to see, for instance in intelligence, an ongoing and imminent threat from the Houthis to UK commercial and military vessels and to those of our partners in the Red Sea and the wider region.

I told the House last week that we would not hesitate to respond if the acts continued, in order to protect innocent lives and preserve the freedom of navigation, and that is what we have done. We acted alongside the United States, with support from Australia, Bahrain, Canada and the Netherlands. We acted on the same basis as on 11 January—fully in line with international law, in self-defence and in response to a persistent threat—and, and as with the first wave, the strikes were limited to carefully selected targets, with maximum care taken to protect civilian lives.

Attempting to counter every Houthi attack after it has been launched is simply not sustainable. We have already shot down dozens of missiles and drones targeted at civilian vessels and at the Royal Navy, and the Houthis have conducted at least 12 further attacks on shipping since 11 January, including just last night, shortly before our strikes were conducted. So we acted to further degrade their ability to mount such attacks.

Last week I gave the House our initial assessment of the first wave of strikes. Since then, we have seen further evidence that they were successful in degrading the Houthis’ military capability. Last night, we hit two military sites just north of Sana’a, each containing multiple specific targets which the Houthis used to support their attacks on shipping.

I want to be very clear: we are not seeking a confrontation. We urge the Houthis, and those who enable them, to stop these illegal and unacceptable attacks. But, if necessary, the United Kingdom will not hesitate to respond again in self-defence. We cannot stand by and allow these attacks to go unchallenged. Inaction is also a choice. With that in mind, and given the persistent nature of the threat, it was important to update the House again today. I listened carefully to right honourable and honourable Members last week, and we will give the House a chance for a full debate on our broader approach in the Red Sea tomorrow.

We took extensive steps to address this threat to international security before taking military action. We launched Operation Prosperity Guardian in December, with over 20 other countries. The international community issued repeated statements on 1 December, 19 December, 3 January and 12 January condemning the attacks and urging the Houthis to desist. On 10 January, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution demanding that they stop the attacks. I think it is important to note that the internationally recognised Government of Yemen have also condemned the Houthis for their actions, accusing them of

‘creating a conflict for propaganda’

serving only their own selfish ends.

As we saw in the House last week, Members are rightly keen to hear how this situation can be brought to an end. The answer must include the vital right to self-defence when we are attacked, but that is only one part of our wider response, which I want to say more about today. First, we are increasing our diplomatic engagement, because we recognise the deep concerns about, and the complexities of, the current situation. I spoke to President Biden about these issues last night. The Foreign Secretary will be in the region in the coming days, and he met his Iranian counterpart last week. He made it clear that they must cease supplying the Houthis with weapons and intelligence and use their influence to stop Houthi attacks.

Secondly, we must end the illegal flow of arms to the Houthi militia. We have intercepted weapons shipments in the region before, including components of the very missiles used by the Houthis today. This brings home the importance of maritime security in the region, and it includes working closely with our allies and partners to disrupt and deter the supply of weapons and components.

Thirdly, we will use the most effective means at our disposal to cut off the Houthis’ financial resources, where they are used to fund these attacks. We are working closely with the US on this and plan to announce new sanctions measures in the coming days.

Fourthly, we need to keep helping the people of Yemen, who have suffered so terribly as a result of the country’s civil war. We will continue to deliver humanitarian aid and to support a negotiated peace in that conflict, not just because it is the right thing to do but because we need to show the people of Yemen that we have no quarrel with them—as the Yemeni Government understand. This is our strategy and we will keep all other tools under close review as well.

I repeat that there is no link between our actions of self-defence in the Red Sea and the situation in Israel and Gaza. Those who make that link do the Houthis’ work for them, and I want to be clear that those here at home who glorify the Houthis’ attacks are glorifying terrorism, plain and simple. They will be met with a zero-tolerance approach. All of that said, I would like to address the situation in Israel and Gaza directly because it remains at the forefront of Members’ minds. President Biden and I discussed this again yesterday and he shares my deep concerns about the situation and the terrible suffering and loss of civilian lives, so together we are working to establish a new aid route through the port of Ashdod.

The UK wants to see an end to the fighting in Gaza as soon as possible. We are calling for an immediate humanitarian pause to get aid in and hostages out, as a vital step towards building a sustainable, permanent ceasefire without a return to destruction, fighting and loss of life. To achieve that, Hamas must agree to the release of all hostages. It can no longer be in charge of Gaza. The threat from Hamas terror and rocket attacks must end, and an agreement must be in place for the Palestinian Authority to return to Gaza to provide governance, services and security. That pathway to peace should unite the whole House. I believe we are also united in support of a two-state solution.

Through all the complexity of the current situation, our principles hold firm: resolute in the face of threats, compassionate in support of those in need, and determined in maintaining stability, security and the rule of law. That is what our allies and partners have come to expect from the United Kingdom, and that is what we stand for.

I commend this Statement to the House”.

My Lords, the principles set out in this Statement are similar if not identical to those in last week’s Statement. Perhaps that is why noble Lords are leaving—they knew that they would be much the same.

The issues are similar, but they are also absolutely crucial. All efforts must be made to resolve this issue by diplomatic means; where military action must be taken within international law, it should be targeted and proportionate; and there is a need to ensure ongoing international support and co-operation. As we have said, any potential further action should be judged on a case-by-case basis. So, in the light of Houthi attacks continuing in the Red Sea and the intelligence regarding their ongoing military capacity, we back the military action taken on this occasion. We support the ongoing diplomatic engagement as well as the principles of sanctions that were outlined in the Statement.

The Houthi Red Sea attacks are a danger to civilian shipping and a danger to life, and they bring serious economic risks, particularly to the poorest and the most vulnerable. The attacks are unacceptable and unjustified, and there is a clear imperative to protect those waters for international shipping. Again, the professionalism, commitment and bravery of our Armed Forces, both in defending commercial shipping and in the military response, are impressive and commendable, despite the pressures they face. They are so often the best of us, and we are grateful for their service.

In his Statement last week, the Prime Minister seemed optimistic that there were unlikely to be further military strikes because of the success of the operation. I appreciate that, following the attack on Houthi military sites, any assessment of the remaining capability is not immediate, and intelligence about a range of issues has to be taken into account, including any flow of resources to the Houthis. Last week, I asked the Lord Privy Seal for more information on the strategic objectives of the military response and to confirm whether the objective was to degrade or destroy the capability to launch attacks on international shipping. He confirmed that the strategy was

“to ensure and maintain the principle of free and open navigation”.—[Official Report, 15/1/24; col. 272.]

We concur with this.

However, when reporting on the UK-US military action, the Prime Minister used the term “eliminated” regarding the identified targets. Yet the Houthi attacks have continued, so we know that they retain capability. We agree with the strategic aims, as set out by the Government and the noble Lord, but it would be helpful for your Lordships’ House to understand how effective our military strikes have been in achieving these. So can the Lord Privy Seal say something about when he will be able to share any further information about the Houthis’ military capacity following this week’s action?

More broadly, the avoidance of any escalation across the Middle East obviously remains a primary objective, and collaboration with the international coalition is absolutely vital. We share the Government’s rejection of Houthi claims that their action in attacking international shipping can be justified in any way by the conflict in Gaza. There is no benefit to the Palestinian people, who desperately need a sustained and effective ceasefire and urgent humanitarian aid and support. We continue to urge the release of all hostages. The only way forward for a just and lasting peace is a secure Israel alongside a viable and secure Palestinian state. A sustainable ceasefire and humanitarian truce are needed, first, to allow the return of all hostages and the provision of urgent humanitarian relief, but also to enable progress to be made towards a two-state solution. Israel existing alongside Palestine is the only path to a just and lasting peace in the region.

We welcome that the Foreign Secretary is visiting the region today. Given the desperate need for increased humanitarian support and a path towards peace, I hope he will make a Statement to your Lordships’ House on his return, and I hope the Lord Privy Seal can confirm or give further information on that.

Finally, and crucially, the Prime Minister’s Statement set out the continuing humanitarian aid and diplomatic support to the people of Yemen. We agree and would welcome any further information from the Lord Privy Seal about what specific steps are being taken towards these ends. The people of Yemen have suffered civil war for almost 10 years, and any recent efforts to bring stability to the country risk being undermined by opportunistic action from those who would seek to encourage further conflict.

My Lords, I thank the Leader for answering questions on this Statement. It is useful to have this debate, although, as the noble Baroness said, large parts of the Statement are almost verbatim what the Prime Minister said last week. I will therefore repeat what I said last week: these Benches support the proportionate military action taken against the Houthi aggression and salute the professionalism and courage of the RAF personnel involved in the raids.

The Statement illuminates the complexities of the situation in the Red Sea and the region as a whole. I hope the noble Lord will find space in government time for a proper debate on this issue, as it is very difficult for noble Lords—other than the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and I—to engage with such a complicated issue via a single question. I believe that such a debate is happening in the Commons today; I hope we can have one in your Lordships’ House in the very near future.

The Statement says that the UK’s diplomatic efforts are being increased and that the Foreign Secretary spoke to his Iranian counterpart last week. This is extremely welcome, but it leaves us in the dark about the Iranian response to our requests for a cessation of arms supply to the Houthis. Did the Foreign Secretary feel that he had made any progress with Iran? What happens next in our engagement with it?

Next, the Prime Minister says that he plans to

“end the illegal flow of arms”

to the Houthis. How is this to be achieved? How many naval vessels have we deployed to intercept these flows and what other navies are supplying vessels for this purpose?

On sanctions, what estimate has been made of the use by the Houthis of western financial institutions to channel resources for buying weapons? Do we have the ability to freeze or cut off these resources? Which other countries, beyond the UK and the US, would need to do so for any sanctions to be effective? On humanitarian aid to Yemen, I pointed out last week that our current level of aid can feed only a small fraction of the children currently wholly dependent on it for their food. Have we any plans to increase our humanitarian aid, given the scale of the need?

The Prime Minister repeats his assertion of last week that there is no link between our actions of self-defence in the Red Sea and the situation in Israel and Gaza. This may in a limited sense be technically correct, but the Government cannot credibly argue that the Houthi attacks have nothing to do with what is happening in Gaza. It is noteworthy and worrying that this very link is increasing the popularity of the Houthis, not just in the areas they control but across the whole of Yemen. It is therefore only appropriate that the Statement proceeds as if they are linked and sets out the latest UK position on the Gaza conflict as a whole.

It is welcome that the Government are working to establish a new aid route through the port of Ashdod, and for a humanitarian pause, but progress is, to put it politely, very slow. In the meantime, thousands more men, women and children are being indiscriminately killed in Gaza. There have been reports in recent days about a possible new deal on the hostages which would lead to a pause in hostilities, and there appears to be an Arab-led initiative that would see Palestinian control of Gaza without Hamas involvement, alongside concrete moves towards a two-state solution. Predictably, this initiative has been rebuffed by the Israeli Prime Minister, but can the noble Lord give any indication of the UK’s involvement in this move and the extent to which the Foreign Secretary will feel able to put pressure on the Israeli Government to respond more positively towards it?

The situation in the Red Sea and in Gaza remains extremely volatile and dangerous. The Government need to continue to act with both determination and care. It is also important that they do so with the united support of Parliament, so I hope that we will continue to have further regular updates on what is happening in this most troubled region.

My Lords, I am grateful for the remarks of the noble Baroness and the noble Lord. Following on from what the noble Lord said, I understand that there is a high degree of concern and interest in these matters in your Lordships’ House and outside it. The Government’s accountability to Parliament takes place partly here and partly in the House of Commons; the House of Commons is debating matters relating to the Red Sea and on Friday we will debate the situation in Ukraine, which is not being debated in the other House. That does not absolve either House from being concerned about both things, but the Government are aware of their responsibility to keep both Houses informed on these matters. We will reflect through the usual channels on what the noble Lord and the noble Baroness have said.

Of course, I am very grateful for the considered support that has been given from the Benches opposite. When there are matters of conflict and matters in which people’s lives and livelihoods are in peril, whoever and wherever they are, it is right that not only support but action should be considered, commensurate with the problems seen. I assure the House that this is very much the attitude of His Majesty’s Government. We feel fortified in that by comments opposite. I very much welcome—and I know that the Armed Forces would welcome—the comments by the noble Baroness opposite about those members of our Armed Forces involved.

I do not think the Government have ever claimed that this defensive action to defend freedom of navigation—so far as we can and intend to—was going to be resolved by the first strike. In response to this gross violation of international law by the Houthis, which is threatening humanitarian aid, among other things, the Government are seeking to degrade the Houthis’ ability to carry out their dangerous and illegal attacks. Our assessment of the first round of attacks was that they were successful and had that impact. Obviously, we are currently assessing—and, as those who have been involved in these matters will know, it takes time to accurately assess. In the present light of knowledge, it is our belief that the actions undertaken by His Majesty’s Armed Forces were successful in their objectives and have hopefully degraded further the Houthi capacity.

Since the first round of strikes, the Houthis have conducted 12 further attacks on international shipping. I am not going to come to this Dispatch Box and say that there will not be more, but I think we are agreed across the House that it is vital to take a realistic, proportionate and legal response to this—the legal case has been set out.

The noble Baroness asked about strategy, quite legitimately. These matters have to be very carefully thought through. I can tell the House that it is not isolated, individual action; there is a coalition of nations involved in the operation in the Red Sea, Operation Prosperity Guardian. As was repeated in the Statement, a number of nations have been involved in this latest action. We will continue to keep our posture under review, alongside our allies. The House will forgive me if I do not speculate on any further specific action, but we will not hesitate to ensure the security and safety of the British people, our interests and our assets. Strikes are one tool we have used in order to do this. They work alongside the deterrence and defence work in Operation Prosperity Guardian and importantly, as noble Lords opposite so rightly said, the diplomatic pressure we are seeking to apply bilaterally and in forums such as the UN.

Again, I do not wish to go into specifics, but there is work going on by the international coalition to seek to prevent weapons smuggling, and weapon parts have certainly been intercepted in these circumstances. My noble friend the Foreign Secretary, who was sitting here last week when we had the Statement, is not able to be here, precisely because he is engaged on a new round of diplomatic activity of which a major part will be to try to encourage further movement towards perhaps opening a new route through Ashdod, as the Prime Minister said in the Statement. He is meeting the Israeli Prime Minister and, I believe, the Foreign Minister. He is also going on to meet other counterparties in the Middle East. I take note of what the noble Baroness said about coming back and I will take that away and consider that with my noble friend and others, in the general light of accountability to Parliament.

On escalation, the Government and their partners, including the United States, believe that we are confronted with, as I said, a grossly illegal breach of international law in the interception of shipping. What is escalatory is the Houthis’ attempt to interrupt lawful occasions on the sea by launching missiles and drones against not only commercial ships but UK and US warships. I think Noble Lords have said that they would expect— as I would—that military action was and is a last resort, and it will continue to be a late resort. We have provided warning after warning, and the Foreign Secretary has twice said to the Iranian Foreign Minister that he hopes very much that Iran will use its restraining influence—if that term is well understood there. The Iranian regime needs to be judged by its actions and by the actions of its dependants, which have not been encouraging so far.

The fundamental point remains that the Houthis have the ability to stop these attacks. If we did not take action, it would weaken international security and damage the global economy, including—as the noble Baroness opposite rightly said—some of the poorest people in the world, who suffer from the interruption of the movement of goods by sea. As I said on the Statement last week, I totally agree with her on that important point.

As far as sanctions are concerned, the Prime Minister said in his Statement that these matters are under consideration. I hope that, if action is taken, information will be given to Parliament.

As I said, the Foreign Secretary has humanitarian matters at the forefront of his mind during his current trip to the region. We have to recognise that the Houthis, by their actions, are making it much more difficult to do the things that we all want to do to get humanitarian aid into Yemen. On the Gaza conflict, which noble Lords alluded to, we are very much focused on the need to make humanitarian aid more substantial, more proximate and more open.

If I have not answered any questions, I apologise to the House. I will look very carefully at Hansard and reflect on the matters of further engagement with the House as we go forward.

My Lords, it is surely obvious to everyone—at least, I hope it is—that the Iranians are completely behind all these Houthi operations, with their advisers crawling all over northern Yemen and Sanaa. Indeed, some of their advisers may be actively helping to launch the rockets. It is pretty obvious that the motive is that they want to assert, against the opinion of the Saudis and others, that they are the top dogs in the region. I do not think they want escalation—otherwise, they would have given the green light to their Hezbollah friends, which they have not done—but they are very determined to show that they are the leaders in the axis of resistance, looking east.

In light of that, what moves does my noble friend suggest that we can take now to contribute more effectively? That could be either through stronger sanctions than those that came into action last December or by working in closer alliance with other powers in the Middle East. How can we build up and contribute to that kind of pressure and bring even more clearly to the attention of the world stage the fact that this is a murderous regime that is highly unstable internally and well in a position to be surrounded and not cowed to in any way?

My Lords, my noble friend quite rightly stresses the importance of the role of the Iranian Government and the Iranian regime. One must not forget that, looking at the whole span of human history back to ancient times, Iran has been a vital and greatly civilised place in the world, and it will always be a powerful force in that region, whatever the circumstances. However, it is incumbent on people who have authority, power and strength to use them with wisdom and for specific and constructive purposes. That is not, as my noble friend said, what the Iranian regime is doing at all; it is doing the reverse and is responsible for a lot of the instability in the region, including in relation to the Houthis. We have made it clear to Iran that we view it as bearing responsibility for the actions of these groups. We will continue to discuss with allies what the appropriate further actions on Iran may be.

My Lords, the Leader of the House is clearly right when he says that it is often difficult to assess the effectiveness of the kind of action that has taken place, although the Statement says that the first assessment of the wave of strikes that took place provides

“evidence that they were successful in degrading the Houthis’ military capability”.

Surely one other, perhaps more precise, measure of the effectiveness of any strikes would be the effect on traffic in the Red Sea and through the Suez Canal. Does the Leader of the House have any precise information about the effectiveness so far on the levels of shipping in that area?

My Lords, the efforts that we are making with Prosperity Guardian are to seek to secure, so far as we may, the most secure and most effective situation for the movement of traffic by sea. The choice of where to travel in such circumstances is a matter for those who are operating vessels. It is the case that some vessels are diverting and some other vessels are not diverting. The noble Lord is quite right to say that these matters need to be kept under careful examination. We are doing that, and our allies are doing that. The end result we wish to see is that all people operating commercial shipping feel able to continue using these waters, rather than feeling that they have to divert around the Cape.

My Lords, in his Statements this week and last week, the Prime Minister suggested that it is wrong to accept that there is any relationship between what is happening in the Red Sea and what is happening in Israel/Gaza, and yet we have already heard from my noble friend Lord Newby and the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, that one of the key links between those two areas is Iran. What assessment have His Majesty’s Government made of the role of Iran in supporting Hamas, the Houthis and Hezbollah and of what response the United Kingdom can make? I may be a lone voice, but however persuasive the Foreign Secretary may be, conversations between him and the Government of Iran may not be sufficient to persuade the Government of Iran to take the decisions that we all need to bring about greater security in that region.

My Lords, it is a challenge. In the international world, people in different places make their calculations on different bases. The fundamental point that I have been trying to relay, and my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has been trying to relay, is that there is an issue which this country for centuries has been concerned about, which is ensuring freedom of navigation and freedom of movement and trade on the seas. That stands as an integral, vital, independent issue. Noble Lords have referred to the complex and dangerous tapestry of activity around the region and the role of Iran. I can only repeat, without going into specifics, that we have taken action against the Iranian proxies in Yemen, the Houthis. We are on due guard to make sure that we protect our interests in the region as a whole. The British Government do not favour war; it is not the first resort of the British Government to resort to military action, but I assure the noble Baroness that we are watching very carefully the role of the Iranian Government and that they know they are being watched.

My Lords, I am glad to hear what the Leader of the House just said, because we must never enter lethal conflict lightly; we have to consider it very well not just to avoid deaths of our own service personnel but for the sake of civilians and others elsewhere. Regarding Iran, does my noble friend consider that in fact, the Iranians’ wish—the whole purpose of this—is to test the resolve of the West by attacking shipping to see whether we are actually willing to stand up? Regarding Gaza, does my noble friend agree that, if Hamas was to lay down its weapons and release the hostages and the criminals responsible for the attacks of 7 October were to flee to the Gulf and live in luxury hotels with their friends, there would be an immediate ceasefire, the possibility of a new Government in Israel and a possibility, however remote, of a decent settlement which allowed both Palestinians and Israelis to live in peace?

I fully agree with my noble friend. The Houthis should cease their action; Hamas should never have undertaken the action it did. We are putting the Iranians under pressure, and I remind the House that we have already sanctioned 400 Iranian individuals and entities, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and we will continue to watch their role in weapons proliferation, regional conflict and human rights violations—all the things they are up to in the region.

My Lords, the RAF operations have been widely publicised, and they have come from Cyprus. Are the Government absolutely satisfied that any necessary defence of our facilities in Cyprus is in hand and will continue to be in hand as long as we operate against the Houthis?

My Lords, the noble and gallant Lord is quite right that the strikes were launched in that way by, in this case, four Royal Air Force Typhoons, supported by a pair of Voyager tankers. I repeat what I said: the Ministry of Defence has very much in mind the safeguarding of our assets and British nationals and British forces right across the region, and that is under constant review.

My Lords, the large-scale attack we made first of all was never going to stop the Houthis making their attacks, as the Minister said; it was going to degrade only. Indeed, post then, the Americans have made a number of strikes in retaliation when weapons have been fired at them. The attack we are talking about now will hopefully degrade the capabilities of the Houthis to attack innocent shipping even more. I fear that the shipping companies seem to be showing a huge reluctance to think about getting back in the Red Sea, even though the Houthis have been degraded, and I can understand that. Therefore, this is likely to be quite a long, ongoing operation. It is quite right that we are enacting the rules of self-defence, and it is very good if you can do that immediately. In other words, when someone fires something from the shore at you, you hit where they fired at you from. That is why the Americans have been making these responses. One of our problems is that our aircraft are attacking from Cyprus, as the noble and gallant Lord said, several thousand miles away from this operation. Is the Minister surprised that we have not put an aircraft carrier there, because one could then respond immediately to these things and put that much more pressure on their ability to fire weapons at us? Having said all that, it is absolutely right what we are doing: freedom of navigation is so crucial to our nation.

My Lords, I agree with much that the noble Lord said. We are working in a coalition here. The Prosperity Guardian operation involves 21 nations plus ourselves. The strikes, the response, the action that was taken which we are talking to, took place with the support of Bahrain, Canada, the Netherlands and Australia. This is an international response to unlawful action at sea. We always review deployment of our assets, but, for the moment, the British Government believe that the forces that the coalition has available are sufficient to deal with the threat that is currently presented.

My Lords, I support the Minister and what the Government are doing 100% because this action had to be taken. However, to reinforce the point, it is vital that every effort is made to avoid unnecessary civilian casualties, because unfortunately the Houthi movement appears to be gaining credibility and support in the Arab world as a result of what has happened. The action must continue but can the Minister reassure me on that point?

My Lords, in these strikes we have been very careful to take those matters into consideration. That the strikes took place at night also minimised the risk of civilian activity in these areas.

My Lords, the House understands why the military action has taken place and the Prime Minister reported that it has had some degrading effect on the Houthi attacks. However, it is the nature of this situation that it is unlikely to be immediately successful and that this could escalate.

I have two brief questions for the Leader of the House. First, at what stage might the Government decide that it would be beneficial to consult Parliament, with debates and votes on what should occur in the future? Secondly, when it comes to diplomacy, a great deal of the sea traffic that is being adversely affected by the current situation comes from the Far East, especially China, and surely in diplomatic terms there is a case—perhaps it is happening—for China to be brought into play to exercise and bring to bear some pressure on, for example, Iran. Are there moves to this effect going on?

My Lords, there is an enormous weight of diplomatic activity going on. It is important to note that China backed the UN resolution which called for this activity to stop and to enable lawful traffic on the seas to go ahead. As far as the accountability of Parliament is concerned, I have spoken about it. We also have a Question on the matter from the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, tomorrow, which may provide a further opportunity.

The Government are conscious of their duty and of their duty to protect servicepeople who may be sent into hazardous operations. There is also a balance there as to the time and nature of information that can be disclosed.

My Lords, the UK is a penholder within the United Nations. In addition, the UK signed a development partnership agreement with the internationally recognised Government of Yemen last summer. Can the Leader of the House outline whether that agreement is still in place? Also, in the Statement he said that humanitarian assistance was central to this issue. I agree with him, but he will know that the UK has reduced humanitarian assistance for Yemen by up to 80% over the last three years. If the partnership agreement with the internationally recognised Government is still in place, what plans are there to restore the humanitarian assistance to Yemen that we have reduced?

My Lords, these arrangements are still in place. My noble friend Lord Ahmad on the Front Bench here was whispering in my ear that he was speaking to the Foreign Minister of Yemen only last week, so we count this to be extremely important and ongoing.

It is vital that we continue, if we can, to get support into Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen. As noble Lords will know, the Houthis have said that UK and US staff working for the UN in Yemen should be ready to leave their controlled areas of Yemen in 30 days. Those kinds of statements, plus these unlawful attacks on the shipping that imperil the bringing in of aid by sea, suggest that the noble Lord should use considerable influence, as I know he does, to ensure that these malefactors cease making it more difficult to get humanitarian aid to their own people.

My Lords, I think that Denmark and Germany have not yet supported the action and that Maersk and Hapag-Lloyd are sending their ships around the whole of the continent of Africa. What are the security implications for this country? I entirely support the government action against the Houthis but notice that the Foreign Office advice is that a terrorist attack in Denmark may be likely. I presume that our alert here must be at an increased level as well.

My Lords, I do not wish a comment on the postures or action taken by other friendly nations. I again remind my noble friend that there is, not just through Operation Prosperity Guardian but through the United Nations, a very strong, broad coalition of nations, which are using diplomacy and all their efforts to try to bring this situation to an end. It is true that the economic impact of attacks could be severe if there were ongoing disruption and ships continued to divert around. There would be delays and additional fuel, insurance and shipping costs. But these are commercial decisions for people making shipments as to the course that they take. Our effort is to try to make the Red Sea a safe place for them to send their ships and the brave merchant seamen who trek the waters of the world every day.

My Lords, it is difficult to understand what advantage there is to be gained by the Houthis in sending their missiles into the Red Sea. The idea that it might be in support of their friends in Hamas does not seem to hold too much water. It is much more clearly the result of Iran’s sponsorship. Influencing Iran’s behaviour is extremely difficult, as we have heard from many noble Lords. One way is by encouraging in some way, perhaps surreptitiously, the poor people of Iran, who are rising up and suffering under the regime of the ayatollahs. What efforts have been made to utilise that approach?

My Lords, that is a little beyond the scope of the question, and I would not like to comment or speculate on anything in that region. What I will do is agree profoundly with the noble Lord that this is a regime that governs in the name of God but acts in a way that seems to be in defiance of the great moral principles of the ages. Ultimately, it will be judged by its own people and by history.