Part of Concentrix – in the House of Commons at 4:57 pm on 26th October 2016.

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Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee, Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee 4:57 pm, 26th October 2016

It is probably essential that I follow Ms Ahmed-Sheikh because she quoted extensively from the Foreign Affairs Committee’s report on this subject. My critique is that she took the comments about the cluster munition incident and extended them considerably more widely, and that is at the heart of the problem with the assessment of this issue.

Although the Committee felt that there should be independent verification around the cluster bomb incident, and we did say that a

“United Nations-led investigation of alleged violations by all parties to the conflict is necessary to supplement the internal investigations of the Saudi-led coalition”,

it is standard international practice that the Saudis should be given the opportunity to investigate these incidents in the first instance; that is an established principle. We said in the report:

“We agree with the Government that it is appropriate for the Saudi-led coalition to investigate these allegations in the first instance.”

We went on to look at the detail of the operation of the joint incidents assessment team, saying:

“further progress is needed to ensure that JIAT is transparent, credible, and publishes its investigations in a timely manner. We recommend that the UK Government offer its support to the JIAT where appropriate so that it can meet these ends.”

In the rather limited time available, I want to refer briefly to the allegations of breaches of international humanitarian law. We have imposed on ourselves through the law the toughest set of conditions around arms licences. The proper place for those laws to be tested is in a court, and that is what will happen. More widely, in relation to our interests both in Yemen and the Gulf as a whole, the Government are charged with the responsibility of promoting our national interest and the international interest, as well as the wider promotion of our values.

No one will disagree when I say that there are, of course, challenges in this area. The Yemen conflict represents an immensely difficult challenge on a number of levels. However, as the Foreign Secretary said, the conflict did not come out of nowhere. We have to look at the issue of intent. I disagree with the hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire when she says that the Saudis are targeting women and children. The judgment we have to make is whether the Saudi-led coalition, in executing a unanimous United Nations Security Council resolution to restore some kind of order to the recognised authority in Yemen, is trying to do so with the best of intentions. What is the Saudi interest in committing breaches of international humanitarian law while progressing a very difficult military campaign in the most unbelievably difficult geographical circumstances, given that the coalition is relatively immature and has never done this before? We should be thinking about what support to give our ally in picking up its responsibility for the delivery of regional security, because if it was not doing so, where would that responsibility sit?