Yemen

– in the House of Commons at 2:47 pm on 19th December 2018.

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Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs 2:47 pm, 19th December 2018

Mr Speaker, with permission, I will make a statement on the quest for a political settlement to the war in Yemen.

Last week, the Houthi rebels and the Government of Yemen held their first direct peace talks since 2016. The negotiations in Stockholm reached agreement on a ceasefire in the port city of Hodeidah and a mutual redeployment of forces, monitored by the United Nations. As we look forward to Christmas, the people of Yemen are enduring one of the gravest humanitarian crises in the world. Hunger and disease are ravaging large areas of the country: 420,000 children have been treated for malnutrition; as many as 85,000 have starved to death. Today, 24 million Yemenis, more than 85% of the population, need help. Behind these stark, impersonal numbers lie real people—individual men, women and children—with hopes and aspirations no different from our own. Their ordeal is not the result of natural disaster or misfortune; this is a man-made calamity, imposed by a war that has torn the country apart and reduced its people to penury, hence the imperative need to resolve this conflict as rapidly as possible.

From the beginning, Britain has made every effort to promote a political solution. Last month, I travelled to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which lead the coalition fighting to restore Yemen’s legitimate Government. I later visited Iran, which supports the Houthi rebels. In every capital, I urged my counterparts to use all their influence to help bring their parties to the negotiating table. After my visit to the region, agreement was reached for 50 wounded Houthis to be evacuated from Yemen to Oman, a confidence-building measure intended to pave the way for peace talks. On 19 November, I instructed our mission at the United Nations to circulate a draft resolution to the Security Council, reinforcing the need for a political settlement and demanding the unhindered flow of food and medicine throughout Yemen.

On 6 December, the peace talks began in Stockholm, mediated by Martin Griffiths, the UN special envoy. Last Wednesday, I went to Stockholm, and the following day I met the leaders of both delegations. I was the first British Minister to meet representatives of the Houthis. I urged the parties to seize the opportunity to reach agreements that would ease the suffering of the Yemeni people and move closer to the goal of ending the war. Last Thursday, the talks concluded with an agreement for the parties to meet again in January and to build trust by releasing thousands of prisoners.

Members will note the importance of the agreement on a ceasefire and redeployment in Hodeidah. The port is a lifeline for Yemen and the channel for at least 70% of the country’s food imports. The ceasefire in Hodeidah port and city came into effect at midnight yesterday, and the UN special envoy has reported that it seems to be working. If the ceasefire continues to hold and the UN succeeds in increasing the volume of traffic through the port, that should reduce the level of suffering. I have urged all parties to stick to the terms agreed last week in Stockholm so that we can find a lasting political solution to this devastating conflict.

After the talks, I spoke about the next steps to the UN Secretary-General António Guterres and the Foreign Ministers of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Earlier, I discussed the situation with Secretary Pompeo of the United States. Based on those consultations and the success of the peace talks, I have instructed our mission in New York to resume work on a draft resolution with our Security Council partners, with a view to adopting it later this week. We will ask the Security Council to vote on the draft within the next 48 hours. The UK text aims to build on the momentum generated in Stockholm by endorsing the agreements reached between the parties, authorising the UN to monitor their implementation and setting out urgent steps to alleviate the humanitarian crisis. Our aim is to mobilise the collective weight of the UN behind the progress that that been made.

I am grateful to Martin Griffiths for his dogged efforts, which are nothing short of heroic. I acknowledge the seriousness of purpose of those in the delegations from both sides whom I met in Stockholm last week. I offer my thanks to the British diplomats, both in the region and at the Foreign Office in London, who have worked assiduously behind the scenes to bring the parties together. Britain has been able to play this role because of our network of friendships—including our partnership with Saudi Arabia and the UAE—and because we are a country that will always step up to its responsibilities.

Although the House can draw encouragement from recent events, I do not wish to give false hope. The positive steps that we have seen could easily be reversed. The ceasefire is highly fragile. Many complex and difficult problems have yet to be addressed, let alone resolved. The people of Yemen still carry an immense burden of suffering, and although we can see some light at the end of the tunnel, we should be in no doubt that Yemen is still very much in the tunnel. For as long as necessary, this country will continue to use all the diplomatic and humanitarian tools at our command to help to settle this terrible conflict. Our values demand no less. I commend this statement to the House.

Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Shadow Foreign Secretary 2:53 pm, 19th December 2018

I thank the Foreign Secretary, not just for advance sight of his statement but for the attention he has devoted to the Yemen cause since he came to office. Many of us have spent countless hours in this House over the past three years debating how to end this dreadful conflict and the appalling suffering of the Yemeni people. We all appreciate the time, effort and focus that the Foreign Secretary has brought to addressing this conflict over the past five months, alongside the Minister for the Middle East. We thank them for that. I join the Secretary of State in paying tribute not only to Martin Griffiths but to Mark Lowcock for the excellent work that they have done, in incredibly difficult circumstances, in trying to forge a path to peace and a path to the end of this humanitarian crisis. They are both living proof of the old truth that our British diplomats do their job not just because it is a career but because it is a vocation. We owe them a great debt for that service.

Over the past three years, there have been precious few moments of hope in relation to Yemen. This is indeed a moment of hope, and one that we must seize, so I want to use the time I have today to ask the Foreign Secretary about the next steps in this process. First, I greatly welcome his confirmation that a resolution is to be tabled this week at the UN Security Council, to underpin this ceasefire and ensure that all necessary steps are taken to alleviate the humanitarian crisis. Will he give us his assessment, based on his talks, of whether the United States stands ready to support the resolution this time around? Will he also address the crucial issue of what mechanisms there will be to monitor compliance by all sides with the terms of the resolution? What penalties or sanctions are proposed for any breach of those terms?

Secondly, I think that we all warmly welcome the appointment of General Cammaert to oversee the logistics and security of the operation in Hodeidah. Someone of his experience and toughness is ideally suited to what we all recognise will be an incredibly difficult task. Will the Foreign Secretary give us more details on how the security operation on the ground will be staffed? What is the thinking behind the decision that it should not be an armed blue-helmets operation? Will that decision be kept under review should General Cammaert decide that that is what is required once he is on the ground?

Thirdly, we have spoken previously about the fact that the ceasefire agreement will apply initially only to Hodeidah. We all understand that that is the most urgent priority in tackling the humanitarian crisis, but will the Foreign Secretary tell us what the proposed next steps are in brokering a wider ceasefire in other areas of the conflict, including Taiz, and, indeed, in brokering a wider political settlement for the whole country, including southern Yemen?

Fourthly, this is another issue that we have discussed previously, but I am sure that we all believe it is an important principle. In Yemen, as in Syria, while the immediate priority is to foster the hope of peace and get humanitarian aid to those in desperate need, we must also ensure that there is proper accountability for all alleged breaches of international humanitarian law committed by both sides in the conflict. That can happen only when we have a comprehensive, independent, UN-led investigation into all those alleged crimes. Will the Foreign Secretary tell us whether such an investigation is proposed in the UN resolution to be tabled this week? If not, what are the proposed next steps on that front?

Finally, there is another important principle that it would be easy to sweep under the carpet at this time, when we are keen to keep Saudi Arabia on board with the ceasefire and get its support for the proposed UN resolution. However, I hope the Foreign Secretary will agree that it would be manifestly wrong if Saudi Arabia were able to trade its compliance with ending the conflict in Yemen for the world turning a blind eye to the question of who was responsible for ordering the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Tomorrow, it will be 80 days since he was murdered. In Washington, the CIA has given evidence to Senators that led those Senators to conclude overwhelmingly that Crown Prince bin Salman ordered the murder of Mr Khashoggi, yet in this Parliament we are still waiting for any official conclusion from the Foreign Office or the security services on who was responsible. Will the Foreign Secretary make it clear today that the issues of peace in Yemen and accountability for the murder of Mr Khashoggi are entirely separate? Will he tell us when he will present his conclusions on the latter?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I thank the shadow Foreign Secretary for the constructive tone of her comments and for crediting Mark Lowcock and his team at the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs for the very important role that they are playing at the moment. Indeed, it is important to say that the draft text of the Security Council resolution that the UK is putting together puts as much emphasis on the humanitarian aspects of this terrible conflict as it does on the peace talks in Stockholm, very much because of Mark Lowcock’s specific and important requests.

Let me go through the points that the right hon. Lady makes in order. First, I am confident that we have US co-operation in the process of tabling the Security Council resolution. We have had extensive discussions with the US, as well as with all the other sides in this terrible war. I am speaking to Secretary Pompeo later this afternoon, and this will be one of the things that we discuss in detail.

The right hon. Lady asks about the mechanism to monitor compliance. She is absolutely right that General Cammaert and his team of monitors will be essential. They are due to arrive in Hodeidah on Saturday. Their monitoring of what is going on is only made possible by having a UN Security Council resolution, which is why people have come together to make the passing of the resolution possible.

The draft resolution will require weekly report backs by the Secretary-General to the Security Council based on General Cammaert’s evidence as to whether we have compliance with what was agreed in Stockholm. She is right that that is extremely important. She is also right to say that it is not just Hodeidah. The draft statement talks about the other ports—Saleef and Ras Isa—that are extremely important, but, of course, what we actually need is peace in the whole country. Hodeidah is strategically the most important place to start with, because if we can open up the road between Hodeidah and the capital Sana’a, then we can start to get humanitarian supplies in. The Stockholm talks gave a three-week period, starting from midnight last night, by when that road, the port and the city of Hodeidah have to be cleared of all combatants, and that is what we are holding our breath for.

On accountability, I have the draft wording of the resolution here. First, it underlines the obligation on all parties to act in accordance, at all times, with principles of international humanitarian law. It also underlines the need for transparent, credible and timely investigations into alleged violations of international humanitarian law and for those found responsible to be held to account.

The right hon. Lady also raised the issue of Khashoggi. She is absolutely right that these are separate issues and that they cannot be linked, and I do give her that reassurance. As far as the UK Government are concerned, the issue of Khashoggi is not closed. We do not think that all the facts have been established and we have not seen proper conclusions from the Turkish investigation as to what actually happened. As soon as we have those conclusions, we will share them with the House.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Conservative, Sutton Coldfield

It is a real relief in the terrible catastrophe that is the Yemen today to strongly support the actions taken by the Foreign Secretary in going to Stockholm, Tehran and Riyadh and in trying to win the confidence of both sides. May I also thank him for his absolutely accurate remarks about Sir Mark Lowcock, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, who was my permanent secretary, and about the superb work that has been done by Martin Griffiths? There are, of course, 10 million Yemenis on the brink of starvation this Christmas. I urge him to ensure that the new UN resolution is genuinely even-handed and condemns violence from all sides, whether Houthi missiles fired at Riyadh or Saudi bombing of built-up areas. If it is not even-handed, there is a grave danger that it will prejudice the next round of negotiations in January.

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

May I thank my right hon. Friend for his long-standing interest in what has been happening in Yemen? He is one of the few Members of this House who has actually met the Houthi leadership and he has enormous experience. I thank him for continuing to raise this issue even when it was not high up everyone else’s agenda. He is absolutely right about the importance of this UN resolution being balanced. It does indeed refer to the issue of Iranian missiles being fired into Saudi Arabia from Yemen. However, the way that we will be able to unite all sides behind this resolution is to focus on what was agreed at Stockholm and also on the humanitarian needs of the people of Yemen. We should not—if I can put it this way—go into too much detail about the causes of the conflict, which inevitably become more controversial. What we are trying to do at this stage is to build up the trust on both sides so that the fighting stops.

Photo of Stephen Gethins Stephen Gethins Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement. I, too, wish to put on record our thanks to him and to his officials for their ongoing work. I know that this a crucial few weeks coming up. I particularly wish to put on record our thanks to Martin Griffiths and Michael Lowcock for their work, which underscores the importance of multilateral agencies such as the United Nations.

I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for his tone, which he has used in previous statements, about the recognition of the acute humanitarian disaster that has unfolded. We must seize the opportunity for peace. Will he tell the House what steps he is taking to ensure that aid reaches those who are most in need and who are worst affected, because that will be important in these coming weeks.

Furthermore, peacebuilding requires long-term investment—I know that he and his officials recognise that—and we know that from conflicts elsewhere. We continue to be concerned that arms sales to combatants in this conflict far outstrip aid. I am also concerned that we often hear from the Foreign Secretary—I hope that he takes this criticism in the tone in which it is meant—that arms sales means influence, but if we look at some of the key influencers elsewhere, they have stopped arms sales. I am talking about Canada, Germany and, more recently, Spain. Will he tell us, as we go into these crucial few weeks, why the UK is different? Will he reassess that approach to arms sales, as the UK is increasingly isolated in this regard? May I finally welcome the wording? The question of accountability is incredibly important, and that wording is good progress. I also welcome his remarks about Khashoggi, but I would like to hear his reflections on the US Senate findings and his reassurances, again, that he will make a full statement to the House when those findings are clear.

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

Let me take those issues. First, on the humanitarian side, my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Middle East met the International Committee of the Red Cross yesterday to make sure that we are fully briefed. The hon. Gentleman will know that we are the second largest bilateral donor—I think we gave £170 million in the past year alone to help the conflict in Yemen—so we treat the issue very seriously. In terms of what specifically we are doing, the main issue is opening up the road between Hodeidah and the capital Sana’a. That is why a major focus of these talks has been to get that corridor opened. That is very, very challenging, but we did succeed in that. We did not succeed in getting the airport in Sana’a opened, which was a disappointment, because we could not get agreement on which flights would be allowed to go from that airport, but that is something that we hope to do.

There is something that I did not mention in response to the shadow Foreign Secretary, but that is relevant to the hon. Gentleman’s question. The next step is to try to get the parties back round the table for another round of peace talks at the end of January. That will be to discuss the framework for a political settlement. The idea is that this is the first step that builds up confidence between both sides and allows the fighting to stop, and then we can move towards the political settlement.

On the arms embargos, we have a process that was set up by the previous Labour Government in 2000, which I think we have to follow. It is one of the strictest processes in the world and it means that we independently look at whether there is a risk of a violation of international humanitarian law. To reassure the hon. Gentleman, the draft wording of the UN Security Council resolution does emphasise the legally binding obligation on all member states to comply with the arms embargo imposed by resolution 2216, and, as I mentioned before, the obligation on all parties to act at all times in accordance with international humanitarian law.

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee

May I pay tribute to the Foreign Office Ministers assembled here today for the amount of work that they have put in? I am talking about not just the Secretary of State himself and the Minister for the Middle East, but the Minister for Europe and the Americas who has done an awful lot of diplomacy here with our allies. I also pay tribute to my right hon. Friend Mr Mitchell whose attention to detail in the Yemen matter has been second to none. May I also, unusually, pay tribute to the shadow Foreign Secretary who, again, has conducted herself with dignity and who has been extremely rigorous in her questioning and helpful in her argument? What we are dealing with here is an horrific humanitarian disaster that we have seen emerge over past years. Am I right in saying that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has done an awful lot of work in getting to the peace talks, but that the next stage is what we are looking at? Yes, of course, there is the monitoring, but then there is also the confidence building, and that will come by the delivery of aid, by the visible progress on the ground and by the actual success that comes to both parties from the achievement of peace. Can my right hon. Friend perhaps say a little bit about that?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

In terms of visible, confidence-building measures on the ground, one of the most important things is to get money into the Yemen economy through the Central Bank of Yemen in order to strengthen its functioning, and to ensure that pensions and civil servants’ salaries are paid. That will bring spending power into the economy and is covered in the draft UN resolution. When it comes to the next steps, the basic issue is that the Houthis, who are around 15% of the population, recognise that they can only have a junior part in a Government of national unity, which has to be the next step, but they need to have confidence that they will be secure in being able to play that part. That is why it is going to be important to build up confidence over the next six weeks. They accept the principle, but they have to be confident that it will be delivered. Of course, given what has happened, there is a huge amount of mistrust.

Photo of Stephen Twigg Stephen Twigg Chair, International Development Committee

I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s statement and the progress that has been made with the Stockholm talks. I also echo his praise for both Martin Griffiths and Mark Lowcock.

On ceasefire monitoring, the special envoy explicitly requested a robust UN regime, answerable to the UN Security Council. Can the Foreign Secretary assure the House that that is what is provided in the current text? On confidence building, one of the issues that would really secure greater confidence would be agreement on the reopening of Sana’a airport. Is that being considered in the next stage?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I thank the hon. Gentleman and his Select Committee on International Development for their sustained interest in Yemen; I also thank him for his personal commitment to making progress.

The monitoring mechanism is UN-authorised and will be reporting back to the UN. It is led by a Dutch general and the UN Secretary-General will be requested to report back weekly, so absolutely yes to that question. I raised the question of the airport with both delegations. We were hoping that we could get agreement to reopen Sana’a airport. There are essentially two international flights—I think to Egypt and Jordan—but the Government of Yemen wanted to insist that the international flights first went to Aden, which they control. The Houthis were reluctant to do that, so we were not able to reach an agreement, but it is very much the next step.

Photo of Bob Stewart Bob Stewart Conservative, Beckenham

Allow me to concentrate on the corridor between Hodeidah and Sana’a, which will be 140 miles long, through very rough country. Whichever peacekeeping or monitoring force goes in has to be of the highest quality because, speaking from my own experience, that is one heck of a distance to monitor. And then, beyond Sana’a—or direct from the port—there will have to be corridors out to get aid, because this aid will not succeed unless the people who are hungry put it in their mouths. That is the crucial thing that we have got to achieve.

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and his own experience of peacekeeping in Bosnia informs his questions, as the whole House will have seen. We do have the commitment from both sides to clear that road of combatants, but we will not succeed unless there is enough trust between both sides actually to sustain it. We are taking this one step at a time. I agree with my hon. Friend that there is a long way ahead to make this happen, but—to reassure him—the UN will be monitoring what happens very closely, and anyone who breaks this agreement will face the full wrath of the UN and the members of the Security Council.

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn Chair, Committee on Exiting the European Union

The fact that the Foreign Secretary has been able to report tentative progress to the House today after so much suffering and bloodshed is a reminder of the importance of seizing the moment and of courageous political leadership. I join all the other Members who have expressed their thanks to him, Martin Griffiths, Mark Lowcock and lots of other people who have worked very hard to bring this moment about. He said that Patrick Cammaert and his team may arrive on Saturday. Is it his understanding that the redeployment committee that he is responsible for chairing will have representation from the two warring parties—that they will turn up? On the peace process, it has been reported that the Government of Yemen were unwilling to sign an outline peace plan in Stockholm because they thought it gave too much to the Houthis and not enough to them. Can he confirm whether that is the case, and what does he think now needs to happen in order to win their confidence so that a peace plan can indeed make progress?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his long-standing interest in this issue. On the second of those two questions, I will find out precisely what I know about it, but I do not think it was the objective to secure the framework in Stockholm; I think that was always thought to be something that would happen in January, at the second stage. On his first question, I will write to him with some details, if I may.

Photo of Richard Graham Richard Graham Conservative, Gloucester

I thank the Foreign Secretary for his contribution, as well as that of Martin Griffiths and Foreign Office officials, to the Stockholm ceasefire agreement, which gives a chance for peace and humanitarian relief in Yemen and is perhaps also a boost to multilateral negotiations in general. But does my right hon. Friend agree that for a ceasefire to be permanent, both sides and their backers, despite mistrust, will have to agree that there is no real victory from any further military action, only more human misery?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As a former diplomat, he will know that what has bedevilled this conflict has been the belief on both sides, which I think persisted even when I started as Foreign Secretary just five months ago, that a military victory was possible. The people who have changed the most in this respect—to their credit—are the Saudis, who I think do now genuinely wish to find, and recognise the importance of, a political settlement. We need to continue the pressure on both sides to make sure that this is actually what happens.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) (Arts and Heritage)

The Foreign Secretary said—I am sure, with sincerity—that, “behind these stark, impersonal numbers lie real people”. He will know, because I have raised this matter in correspondence, in meetings with Ministers and on the Floor of this House, about the case of my constituent, Jackie Morgan’s daughter, Safia, who was kidnapped from Cardiff in 1986, brought up in Yemen and has children who are also British citizens. She wants to leave Yemen and travel back to the UK, but she needs to get a British passport. She now apparently has the funds to travel to Cairo to apply for that passport. Will the Foreign Secretary please make sure that his officials and Ministers work with the Home Office to give special attention to this case? These are British citizens and they deserve special attention, given the tragic history of the case.

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I thank the hon. Gentleman for championing this very sad case; we know about it extremely well, thanks to the representations that he has made. We are in contact with the Home Office about this matter. Until now, our difficulty has been that we have not had consular representation in Yemen. Obviously, that is something that we hope will change, but we will do everything we can to support his constituent and their family in the way that he wants.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the progress he has made thus far, but clearly this is a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, so could he elaborate on the attitude of both those countries towards this fragile peace negotiation, and on what further steps he can take to encourage them to promote peace, rather than war?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

My hon. Friend is right that this is the biggest geostrategic risk from the conflict in Yemen, but the sense I had when I went to both Riyadh and Tehran is that neither side wants to perpetuate it and both sides would like to see it concluded, if for no other reason than that the appalling humanitarian consequences of this conflict have become all too apparent. I think they feel a sense of responsibility for what is happening to fellow Muslims and want to do something about it.

Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

We are approaching Christmas and I understand that one of the three wise men in the Bible story was the King of Sheba, which is modern Yemen. Christmas is very much a peace story, so it is very significant that we are talking about how we can bring peace to a country that is very disturbed. I thank the Foreign Secretary for his efforts, but I want to ask again, at which point will the Government consider suspending arms trade with Saudi Arabia? The question has been asked before, but I did not really understand exactly what the Government are doing.

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

Let me repeat it, then. We have one of the strictest arms control regimes in the world. We also have an independently run process that assesses the risk of a breach of international humanitarian law, and we follow that process.

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Conservative, Torbay

Given the dreadful news that we have heard from Yemen over the past few years, I very much welcome the news of the ceasefire around Hodeidah that will allow humanitarian aid to flow through. Can the Foreign Secretary confirm that he has had discussions with his colleagues in the Department for International Development about what role Britain will play in ensuring that there is long-term support to rebuild this country?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I can absolutely confirm that we have extensive discussions with my right hon. Friend the International Development Secretary. Indeed, we raised the issue of Yemen yesterday at the National Security Council, and we are both in constant contact.

Photo of John Woodcock John Woodcock Independent, Barrow and Furness

It is a huge relief that the ceasefire has been implemented, and I endorse all the words of thanks that have gone before. However, does the Foreign Secretary genuinely believe that Iran has changed its view, given that this regime has deliberately increased the suffering and starvation of the Yemeni people that it has purported to be supporting? Does he believe that a peace deal that created an Iran-backed regime in Yemen could be catastrophic to peace in the middle east and must be ruled out at all costs?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. There will never be peace unless it guarantees Saudi Arabia, one of Yemen’s neighbours, its territorial integrity. Saudi Arabia has had Iranian missiles fired into its capital from Yemen, which is a huge concern to it. Do I genuinely believe that the Iranians have changed? I think the answer is that we would not have got the agreement we got in Stockholm without the support of both Iran and Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. So I do think there has been a change, but there is still a long way to go.

Photo of Bill Grant Bill Grant Conservative, Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock

All those in the Chamber will welcome the peace talks recently held in Stockholm and the progress that was indeed made there. Is my right hon. Friend confident that this will prove to be a stepping stone to a desperately needed permanent ceasefire in Yemen?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

My hon. Friend is right that that is the holy grail. If we can get a proper, full, permanent ceasefire for the whole country, then everyone will heave a huge sigh of relief. We are taking small steps towards that with the ceasefire in Hodeidah, but the intention is that that builds trust between the parties that allows for the full ceasefire that he rightly calls for.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

First, I thank the Secretary of State for the work that he has done so far: it has been very heartening to see the progress that has been made. Kristine Beckerle from Human Rights Watch has pointed to the significance of prisoner exchange in the agreement, especially as this concerns political prisoners, activists, journalists, people of minority faiths such as the Baha’i, and refugees—men, boys and even women arbitrarily detained through the conflict. What assurances can he give on this, and what support will he give to the International Committee of the Red Cross to ensure that this is closely monitored so that all those arbitrarily or deliberately detained will see freedom, and see it soon?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

The hon. Lady is right to draw attention to the issue of prisoner exchanges, because that is pretty much the very first way that we can build trust between both sides. That is what happened at Stockholm—the agreement does that. The UN resolution will be making sure that all the important parts of the Stockholm agreement are properly, independently monitored by the United Nations.

Photo of Chris Law Chris Law Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development)

The international condemnation of the Saudi regime is almost unanimous. Many prominent EU member states, most recently Germany and Spain, along with Canada and now the US this week, have taken steps to either condemn the actions of the Saudi regime or suspend arms sales. If the UK wants to recover any semblance of moral leadership, should it not join the US Senate in condemning the regime’s illegal conduct and immediately suspend arms sales?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I gently point out to the hon. Gentleman is that there is no point in setting up an independent process that is one of the strictest in the world if we then do not go on to follow it, and that is what we are doing.

Photo of Layla Moran Layla Moran Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Education)

Eighteen thousand children, some as young as 10, have been used as soldiers in this horrific war. They have been forced to torture and to kill with the promise of money for their families, largely by the Houthi rebels. Officially this has been denied, but Associated Press has interviewed no fewer than 18 child soldiers who have been exploited. When the Foreign Secretary met the Houthis, did he raise this matter? What discussions has he had with, and what assurances has he sought from, the UN envoy to Yemen to seek to ensure that the protection of all children is paramount and not an afterthought?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I can absolutely reassure the hon. Lady that the protection of children, and indeed everyone vulnerable, is on all our minds, but certainly on the minds of the people who are trying to get the two sides together, because it is the escalating humanitarian crisis that has been a real engine for the talks. In terms of when we raise the issue of terrible behaviour with participants on all sides, there is a time and a place to do that, and at Stockholm we were trying to bring everyone together. So while we are setting up accountability mechanisms, we also have to recognise that the primary objective now is to get the fighting to stop.

Photo of Nick Thomas-Symonds Nick Thomas-Symonds Shadow Solicitor General, Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Security)

The use of child soldiers and the deliberate targeting of civilians are just two examples of the types of atrocities we have seen in this terrible war. While I very much appreciate the wording of the draft resolution on those responsible being held to account, will the Foreign Secretary set out how he is going to try to ensure, in practical terms, that investigation of these terrible human rights breaches is entirely independent?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

We want it to be independent. The word used in the UN resolution is “credible”. Unless we have a credible investigation into these atrocities, we will not get closure on the issue, and there will not be justice or confidence.

Photo of Mike Gapes Mike Gapes Labour/Co-operative, Ilford South

May I join Members who have praised the work of our diplomats and Ministers, and those from other countries, who have made this welcome but limited step possible? The Foreign Secretary referred to the political framework that he hopes will be discussed in January. He also mentioned, but did not go into detail on, the idea of a Government of national unity. Is it not a fact that the complexities of Yemen mean that there are not just two sides? Is any thought going into how to engage people in the south and other parts of Yemen in this process, because otherwise a Government of national unity will not work?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

The hon. Gentleman has a lot of experience of this from his time on the Foreign Affairs Committee. He is absolutely right. A Government of national unity has to cover the whole country. It has to give confidence to the Houthis that despite being a minority, their rights are going to be respected, but it also has to give confidence to all minorities, so I agree with him.

Photo of Paul Sweeney Paul Sweeney Shadow Minister (Scotland)

Given accusations that gratuitous war crimes have been perpetrated by both Saudi Arabia and Iran, as the key regional proxies in this conflict, and their failure to honestly and openly investigate those accusations, why will the Secretary of State not support an independent UN-backed inquiry into allegations of war crimes perpetrated by all sides in the Yemen conflict? Why is that not included in the United Nations draft resolution?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

Because the draft resolution has to have the consensus of both sides. I support fully independent investigations into everything that has happened. That is right, and it must happen, but we have to go step by step. At the moment, getting agreement to a ceasefire—the first ceasefire that we have had in the entire history of this terrible conflict—is a huge first step, and we would not want to compromise that.

Photo of Thangam Debbonaire Thangam Debbonaire Opposition Whip (Commons)

I thank the Foreign Secretary for his thoughtful and measured approach. Has he or the Minister for the Middle East, whose work I also commend, had any discussions with the United Nations high commissioner for refugees about possible consequences for numbers of refugees or internally displaced people and how we will respond?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Middle East says he spoke to Filippo Grandi a couple of weeks ago about that issue.

Photo of Ian Murray Ian Murray Labour, Edinburgh South

May I join other Members in commending the Foreign Secretary and his ministerial team for making this progress—albeit fragile—with regard to Yemen? It is amazing what a Foreign Secretary can achieve in office, regardless of political colour, when the office holder takes the job seriously. What initial reactions has he had from other Security Council members to the draft resolution? What concerns, if any, have they raised? How are Martin Griffiths and his team, along with the Foreign Office team, addressing those concerns?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

As the hon. Gentleman will know from his work on the Foreign Affairs Committee, there is a range of views on the Security Council. Broadly speaking, there is a combination of people who are naturally sympathetic to one side or the other and people who think that the most important thing now is to move forward with humanitarian relief, and it is about bringing those people together.

Photo of Graham Jones Graham Jones Chair, Committees on Arms Export Controls (formerly Quadripartite Committee)

I think every Member of the House is delighted with these first steps in the peace process in Yemen to alleviate this tragic humanitarian crisis, which has gone on for too long. Nothing sums up this crisis more than at the weekend, when a sister and brother aged six and four were shot by Houthi snipers for trying to play out in the street. It is a terrible situation. Will the Foreign Secretary also raise the 1 million landmines left by the Houthis, which is a terrible legacy that will need clearing up in these peace talks? Will his final resolution to the UN include free and fair elections?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

The hon. Gentleman’s point about landmines is very important. The UK has a lot of experience and fantastic NGOs that work in that area, and I am sure we would want to make them available to service the people of Yemen. The draft resolution does not talk about the future political framework, important though that is. That is really a stage for the next set of talks, which we hope will happen in January.

Photo of Lloyd Russell-Moyle Lloyd Russell-Moyle Labour/Co-operative, Brighton, Kemptown

I want to add my warm words about this agreement, which is a positive step forward. I am pleased that the Foreign Secretary mentioned not only Hodeidah but Ras Isa, because without opening up that fuel terminal, we will be unable to get food to the rest of the country. However, at Foreign Office questions, Ministers told us that they could not tell the House whether UK-manufactured weapons or planes were involved in the deaths of civilians and possible war crimes. The head of the independent office that he mentioned recommended, in his professional judgment, that arms sales should be suspended, but Ministers overturned that judgment. Will the Foreign Secretary now look again at suspending arms sales?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I do not know where the hon. Gentleman gets that information from, but it is not correct.

Photo of Lisa Cameron Lisa Cameron Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Mental Health)

I would like to thank the Secretary of State and his team for the work they have been doing on this grave issue of the war in Yemen. It has been a war on children and the most vulnerable. Every 10 minutes, a child dies in Yemen. My local churches are desperate to do all they can, and I know that the Minister for the Middle East will be visiting the DFID office in my constituency tomorrow. What more can we do as MPs, communities and constituents to avert the humanitarian disaster that has encompassed Yemen?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. The answer is that we can all ensure that our constituents know about the issues in Yemen and encourage people to support the charities and NGOs that are funding the humanitarian work there.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I thank the Foreign Secretary for his sterling endeavours, leadership and constructive role on visits to the area over the last few months; it has been much appreciated. Given reports that 67% of the Yemen population need urgent action to save lives and livelihoods, 20 million Yemenis are vulnerable to death and a quarter of a million are on the brink of starvation, can he outline the type of aid that has gone from here to there in the last three months and what plans there are to help with equipment and support, to allow people to survive and to work safely?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. With the £170 million that we gave in the last year alone, we are supporting food, water, shelter and other vital relief for people in this desperate situation.