I thank Keith Vaz, who is not in his place, for his initiative in securing the Adjournment debate last week on the humanitarian atrocities in Yemen. We all look forward to the UN peace talks that will take place in a few days and I hope they bear fruit. That debate was well attended and there are even more MPs here for this debate. Government Members should take note of the growing discontent and unease in this House and across the country about breaches of humanitarian law in Yemen. This issue has not emerged just in the past week. I remind the House that the debate today takes place more than a year after the first evidence emerged of deliberate human rights violations by the Saudi regime in Yemen. It will come as no surprise to anyone here today that I opposed the granting of arms export licences to Saudi Arabia then, and I oppose it now. Although I am pleased to see many more Members gradually coming to that view in today’s debate, it astonishes me that there are still those who cannot see the contradiction in continuing to allow those arms sales while asserting that Britain is a force for good in the world.
With over 3 million internally displaced persons in Yemen and almost 15 million people experiencing food insecurity, the human cost of the conflict is all too clear. Last week the all-party parliamentary group on Yemen watched in silence as Krishnan Guru-Murthy introduced a Channel 4 exposé of the level of suffering we are releasing on the children of Yemen through our actions and inactions. We heard from Yemenis who told us that they welcomed the current ceasefire, as perhaps being a path to lasting peace, but that that peace could not be delivered while the civilian population was in danger of being bombed in school, at weddings, at funerals or at work in Yemen’s faltering economy. This is not grandstanding—but if it is grandstanding, I plead guilty.
We on the SNP Benches understand perfectly well that Saudi Arabia is an ally, that it is fighting on the side of the legitimately recognised Government of Yemen, and that atrocities have been committed on both sides, but the fact remains that the sale of £2.8 billion-worth of arms to the Saudi regime over the course of this conflict has undoubtedly contributed to humanitarian suffering. Surely those on the Government Front Bench cannot take a contrary view.
The most galling aspect, in my opinion, has been the blatant attempt to ensure that no independent investigation takes places that would put our Government in the inevitable position of having to request that arms sales be halted. In October last year, when the Netherlands sought to establish the first UN investigation into war crimes in Yemen, the UK Government supported a Saudi motion that would see it investigating its own crimes. I have met no one who seriously thinks that Saudi Arabia has the capacity to conduct a rigorous, independent and transparent investigation into itself. The Foreign Secretary knows that a Saudi-led investigation is worthless, I know that it is worthless, and this House knows that it is worthless.
Put simply, the UK Government must immediately support the establishment of a thorough, UN-led investigation into these crimes, and the continuing inability of anyone on the Government Benches to move that forward is to their immense discredit. As the Committees on Arms Export Controls found in their evidence, it opens Ministers—these Ministers—up to international criminal investigation, and that cannot be in our national interest.
The SNP’s position is that the Government must halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia immediately and ensure that a full investigation, under the auspices of the UN, now takes place.