Yemen: Humanitarian and Political Situation - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:37 pm on 20th November 2017.

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Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development) 5:37 pm, 20th November 2017

I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. Just under two weeks ago now, the noble Lord, Lord Bates, described the situation in Yemen to your Lordships’ House as,

“the world’s largest humanitarian crisis”.—[Official Report, 7/11/17; col. 1788.]

Some 21 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance. Nearly 10 million are in need of immediate help to support or sustain life. As we have heard, the UN’s top humanitarian official, Mark Lowcock, whom we all know from DfID, warned that unless the blockade was lifted Yemen would face,

“the largest famine the world has seen for many decades”.

The Minster and the Minister in other place have acknowledged that the level of fuel required to supply food is at crisis point—enough left to last literally a matter of days. We know the situation is developing and changing daily. I welcome the Government’s efforts, certainly the humanitarian efforts, but we know that action is needed immediately. We cannot let this continue.

I share the Minister’s view that the Houthi missile strike was totally unacceptable. He and the Minister in the other place said that we need to address the Saudis’ security concerns while addressing the humanitarian crisis. We have been told that the Foreign Secretary spoke two days ago to the Secretary-General, but what is the Minister’s assessment of how to address those security concerns through the United Nations? What are we doing specifically within the UN to ensure that action is taken to allow the immediate start of supplies to Yemen? We are told that the Government are urging the Saudis to open up access, but at what point are we going to say that that strategy is not working? At what point do we tell the Saudis that Britain will withdraw support if they carry on with this blockade? At what point do we say that keeping licences for arms supplies under review will not just be a matter of review, but that we may start to challenge each one as supplies from this country continue, as the US has done?

This is a matter of international humanitarian law, and it is clear that Britain needs to act. We will be keen to hear about the immediate steps the Government have taken, but we acknowledge that even if the blockade is lifted tomorrow, the civilian population of Yemen will continue to suffer as long as this conflict carries on. We know that a lasting ceasefire will be sustainable only if there is political agreement on all sides. It is exactly a year and one month since Matthew Rycroft circulated a draft resolution to other members of the UN Security Council. How much longer do we have to wait? Will the Government finally bring forward that resolution and give the UN the opportunity to intervene to end this terrible conflict?