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Yemen

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 30th January 2017.

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Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Scottish National Party, Glenrothes

What recent assessment he has made of the security situation in Yemen.

Photo of Harriett Baldwin Harriett Baldwin The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

The security situation in Yemen has been concerning since 2014, when Houthi forces and those loyal to former President Saleh took over the capital Sana’a and forced out the legitimate Government of President Hadi.

Photo of Hannah Bardell Hannah Bardell Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Business, Innovation and Skills)

As the suffering in Yemen unfolds, the world watches in horror. Nearly 2.2 million people are internally displaced, half of them women and girls. Evidence from Amnesty International shows that partially exploded, UK-manufactured BL755 cluster bombs are lying unexploded, injuring and maiming many people. Despite the Foreign Office Minister denying their existence, the UK Government’s own investigations back up media reports that such cluster bombs have been deployed in the war in Yemen, so when will this heartless Tory Government wake up, do a proper investigation, take on Saudi Arabia and stop the sale and deployment of these bombs?

Photo of Harriett Baldwin Harriett Baldwin The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

I think the hon. Lady must have missed the statement that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State gave on this issue in December. I can confirm that the humanitarian situation is extremely serious. As a result, the UK is the fourth largest donor to Yemen and is committing more than £100 million this year.

Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Scottish National Party, Glenrothes

The single biggest contributor to the humanitarian disaster in Yemen is the Royal Saudi air force, which has systematically destroyed almost the entire infrastructure of the country, leaving 7 million people in danger of starvation because food cannot be got to them. How much worse does the humanitarian crisis have to get before the United Kingdom stops selling £2 billion-worth of weapons per year to a Government who are accused of 250 different war crimes in Yemen?

Photo of Harriett Baldwin Harriett Baldwin The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

The UK position is of course that a political solution is the best way forward to bring long-term stability to Yemen and end the conflict there. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the coalition in Yemen is supported by United Nations resolution 2216. He will also be aware that there are regular incursions into Saudi territory, and I am sure he will recognise the legitimate self-defence of the Saudi-led coalition under United Nations resolution 2216.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Transport)

There was widespread concern at the Secretary of State’s disclosure in December that UK-made cluster bombs had been used by Saudi Arabia in Yemen. The Saudi Government have since said that they will not continue their use, but there is no way of enforcing that commitment. Will the Minister tell us whether the Secretary of State has personally urged the Saudi Government to sign the cluster munitions convention, which implements a complete ban on this most destructive of weapons?

Photo of Harriett Baldwin Harriett Baldwin The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

Yes, I can confirm that the Government regularly urge Saudi Arabia to sign the cluster munitions convention. I can also confirm that, in his statement in December, the Secretary of State welcomed the announcement that UK munitions would no longer be used.

Photo of Margaret Ferrier Margaret Ferrier Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Scotland Office)

We know that the UK sold 500 BL755 cluster munitions to Saudi Arabia, but the Ministry is keen to give the impression that only one of them has been dropped in Yemen. Will the Secretary of State commit to demanding a full current inventory, including serial numbers, of the remaining munitions stockpiled in Saudi Arabia, as well as records for those no longer in the Saudi’s possession?

Photo of Harriett Baldwin Harriett Baldwin The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

I draw the hon. Lady’s attention to my previous answer about how we welcomed the Saudi Government’s commitment. We do not routinely hold records of other nations’ use, storage or location of UK-manufactured equipment, particularly items that were supplied decades ago under previous Governments.

Photo of Fabian Hamilton Fabian Hamilton Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Minister (Defence)

As the Minister knows, there are serious allegations that both sides in the conflict in Yemen have broken international humanitarian law. Those claims are particularly worrying to us in this country because we now know that United Kingdom-supplied cluster munitions have been used in Yemen. What action are the Government taking to push for a full, independent, United Nations-led investigation into the alleged violations of international law in Yemen?

Photo of Harriett Baldwin Harriett Baldwin The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

We do not oppose calls for an international independent investigation into these incidents but, first and foremost, we want the coalition to investigate allegations of breaches of international humanitarian law attributed to those groups and for the investigations to be thorough and conclusive.

Several hon. Members:

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