Yemen

Part of Parliamentary Sovereignty and EU Renegotiations – in the House of Commons at 4:39 pm on 4th February 2016.

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Photo of Fabian Hamilton Fabian Hamilton Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 4:39 pm, 4th February 2016

If I had had a little more time, I would have responded to the main point that was made by Alison Thewliss, who wondered how we could even consider sending vulnerable people who have been here—in the case of her constituent—for more than six years back to a conflict zone that we will not allow our own citizens to go anywhere near. That seems to me to be totally inhumane. I know that it is not strictly the Minister’s responsibility, but I hope that he will at least shed some light on whether the Government will reconsider the position of those vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers from Yemen, as well as that of the Syrians whom we are already taking in. I thank my right hon. Friend for making that important point.

Many Members have referred to the humanitarian crisis, and that is the issue that really upsets and depresses so many of us when we hear statistic after statistic about the effect of conflict and war on our fellow human beings. As would be expected, the Opposition are deeply concerned about it. A number of Members cited statistics showing that 14 million people currently rely on food aid, and that more than 2.3 million—four times the number of people who were displaced at the beginning of 2015—have fled their homes in Yemen in search of safety. Peter Maurer, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross—whom I was privileged to meet, along with Members who are present today, when I was a member of the International Development Committee, as I was until last month—has said that the situation in Yemen is

“nothing short of catastrophic.”

That sentiment was echoed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East when he spoke about the humanitarian effects of the conflict.

Edward Argar praised DFID’s efforts in Yemen but said that we needed a coalition of aid givers to ensure that sufficient aid was received. However, as Fiona Bruce pointed out, aid cannot resolve the problem. The economy has to be rebuilt and that can happen only if there is peace. That peace agreement has to be negotiated.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East said in his passionate contribution that Yemen was a catastrophe, with 21 million people in need of aid. Tim Loughton, who is no longer in his place, emphasised the effect that the conflict is having on children, as did many other hon. Members. The children in Yemen are in a worse position than the children in Syria at the moment. To echo something that my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East said, Yemen is bleeding to death.

The Chair of the International Development Committee, my hon. Friend Stephen Twigg, pointed out that terrible atrocities were being committed by both sides. He said that evidence had been given to the Committee that DFID’s humanitarian effort was being undermined. He also told the House that hugely respected non-governmental organisations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International had provided overwhelming evidence of human rights abuses.

Let me turn now to the role of Saudi Arabia. I want to mention cluster munitions, because widespread reports from NGOs state that such munitions have been used in this terrible conflict. The response to a written parliamentary question from the shadow Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend Hilary Benn, suggests that the Government might be conceding that that is true. The reply from the Foreign Secretary stated:

“We are aware of reports of the alleged abuse of cluster munitions by the coalition in Yemen and we have raised this with the Saudi Arabian authorities. The UK does not supply cluster munitions to any members of the coalition in Yemen. In line with our obligations under the Convention on Cluster Munitions we will continue to encourage Saudi Arabia, as a non-party to the Convention, to accede to it.”

I hope that the Minister will give us further information on that terrible situation.

The SNP spokesperson, the hon. Member for Glasgow North quoted Philippe Sands, and I should like to quote something equally relevant from his important opinion given on 11 December 2015. Philippe Sands is not only a professor of law but a Queen’s Counsel. In his concluding paragraph he said this of the UK’s trade in weapons with Saudi Arabia:

“In the current circumstances we can be clear in concluding what the UK is required to do to bring itself into full compliance with its legal obligations: it should halt with immediate effect all authorisations and transfers of relevant weapons and items to Saudi Arabia”—