Yemen

Part of Parliamentary Sovereignty and EU Renegotiations – in the House of Commons at 3:33 pm on 4th February 2016.

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Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Chair, Home Affairs Committee 3:33 pm, 4th February 2016

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. He is the House’s expert on education. When he talks about the need for education, he is absolutely right, because it is a life chance. Some 1,500 people have died, and 9.9 million people are in poverty. The fact that the children cannot go to school will affect the rest of their lives, and childhood passes so quickly. They will not have the advantages of education, and we need to concentrate on that.

I join the hon. Member for Charnwood in praising the Minister—Members on the Opposition Benches do not tend to do that very often—because he deeply cares about the situation in Yemen. Whenever the all-party group has asked him to address us, whenever we have made suggestions, and whenever Sir Alan Duncan has made suggestions, which I am sure that he does on a daily basis, the Minister responds. If he had half a chance, he would be on a plane via Dubai to Sana’a international airport to try to stitch together the patchwork of international diplomacy that now exists.

Much mention was rightly made by the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire of the involvement of Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia’s involvement has been important; had that not happened, I believe that the country would have been overrun and that President Hadi would not have returned to Aden. We now need to pause. The all-party group, individual Members and the Minister have been clear that there has to be a ceasefire. The airstrikes have to stop, and we have to find other methods of trying to secure the country without the scenes that have taken place. Civilians may not have been targeted, but they have died. We need to make sure that we work with the Saudis, who are the regional power—we cannot do this without them—to make sure that we get peace in Yemen. They have a big responsibility to ensure that that happens. If Yemen falls, that will affect every other country in the middle east.

As the Prime Minister has said on numerous occasions, the frontline in Sana’a is the frontline in London. Many of the terrorist plots that I have come across as Chair of the Home Affairs Committee have come from people plotting in places such as Yemen. Indeed, many of the Paris bombers were involved in some way with what was happening in Yemen; I think one of them was trained there. We are not talking about a country far away that we do not need to care about; it really matters to our future, not just because of the humanitarian crisis but, more importantly, because of how it will affect Britain and the rest of Europe.

I thank this Minister and the Minister of State, Department for International Development, Mr Swayne, who has also listened carefully to what we have said. One of the great things about how the Government have approached Yemen is that they have continued what was started by the previous Government. There is no party politics in this; the whole House is united, as were the previous Prime Ministers, Gordon Brown and Tony Blair, in ensuring a focus on Yemen. The current Prime Minister is also very focused on it. I have written to him on numerous occasions and his responses are detailed and relevant. He wants to make sure that peace is restored. We are all on the same side.

As I conclude, I have a few asks. First, as he also supports the ceasefire, will the Minister give a commitment to intensify the support of the UN to try to bring peace to Yemen and to ensure that we continue the dialogue with all sides, especially with Saudi Arabia? There has been a lot of criticism about the use of British weapons by the Saudis in this conflict. That will go on, of course; we live in a parliamentary democracy and we have to raise these issues. The Government have to respond, and they have.

However, we need to work with the Saudis and the Omanis. Oman has not been mentioned enough in these debates, but the Sultan in particular has a big role to play. Here is a border in the Arab world: to the north, Oman is as peaceful as a country can be but to the south is the turmoil in Yemen. The Gulf Co-operation Council also needs to be involved. It cannot be absent from the table.

It is not the Minister’s job to chase up debts, but I remind him of the great donor conference in London before the last but one general election. Billions were pledged but very few countries have paid up. We should go back to the countries that pledged and make sure that something is done.

Let me end by saying this. We still have a lot of friends in Yemen. My two children were very friendly with the son of one of the Yemeni ambassadors who came here. His name was Salman, and we have lost touch with him. The last time we saw him, he had come up to Leicester to see a football match with my young son. I think of that bright young boy and his sisters, who came to this country for a short time as the children of diplomats, and the bond of friendship that we formed with them. To think of them in a house in Sana’a without electricity, schooling or food is terrible. I hope that, if Salman is listening to this debate or hears about it in some way, he will contact us so that we know that he and his family are safe.

My real worry is that Yemen is bleeding to death. Unless we are prepared to stop the bleeding, the consequences will be horrendous.

From the bottom of my heart I beg the Minister to continue doing what he is doing, to make sure that this issue is centre stage. I thank parliamentary colleagues from all over the country, who have so much on their agendas, for coming here in such numbers to think and talk about Yemen. I also thank my hon. Friend Fabian Hamilton, who has just joined the Front-Bench team, for coming. He will be a wonderful shadow Minister. I hope he makes this issue a priority. I know we talk about the big countries, but Yemen matters to us. Please let us not allow Yemen to bleed to death.

Several hon. Members rose—