Yemen: Humanitarian and Political Situation - Statement

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

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State 5:37 pm, 20th November 2017

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord and the noble Baroness for their comments. I agree with the content and the sentiments that they have expressed. Not only have we all been appalled by the horrors that we have seen unfolding on our screens but the situation is, in its utmost sense, really impacting the people who have suffered the most—the Yemeni people.

Picking up some of the specific questions, I assure all noble Lords, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, that the United Kingdom continues to work at all levels. I alluded in the Statement to our work in the Quint and the Quad. We believe that those regional partners are essential in bringing peace to Yemen. I will be very open, and I have said this before about the situation in Yemen, that there are proxy wars fought within that country and it is important that all parties now call a halt to allow for humanitarian access. We maintain that a political solution and peace talks are the top priority and that a political solution is the best way to bring long-term stability. In that regard, the UK continues to support the efforts of the UN special envoy and—again, as I alluded to in the Statement—we are looking to call a meeting of the Quint and the Quad in the near future.

I mentioned, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, picked up, recent meetings with the Secretary-General of the United Nations. I was present in a meeting with the Foreign Secretary when this matter was discussed in great detail. We continue to make representations at the UN Security Council—I am sure that we all acknowledge the efforts of Ambassador Rycroft in this regard—but there are challenges to achieve the consensus required in the Security Council to get the traction that we saw from the presidential statement made in June this year.

The noble Baroness asked about the spiralling cholera crisis and the specific issue of diseases which are impacting the local Yemeni population. In that regard, I assure her that our response continues to be about prioritising life-saving food for 1.8 million people for at least a month, nutrition support for 1.7 million people and water and sanitation, which is acutely required, for 1.2 million people.

As well as providing this aid, the UK continues to play a leading role in lobbying all parties to allow safe, rapid and unhindered humanitarian access. To ensure that, of course we make representations at the highest level to the Saudi authorities, who continue to assure us that their intent is not to cause starvation but to ensure that missiles do not enter Yemen. However, we have once again stressed to them that any security concerns must also address the deeply harrowing scenes that we see of a deteriorating humanitarian crisis. We continue to lobby very hard in this respect.

The noble Lord and the noble Baroness also raised the issue of arms support to Saudi Arabia. I assure all noble Lords that the key test for our continued arms support to Saudi Arabia in relation to international humanitarian law is whether there is a clear risk that those items subject to the licence might be used in a serious violation. The situation, as the noble Lord acknowledged, is kept under review. When it was tested in the summer, the particular Divisional Court statement dismissed the claim that these arms may be used in the conflict in Yemen, but we continue to stress to all authorities and all parties that the first and primary aim must be to secure humanitarian access and that to do so requires the opening up of both ports and the airport. In doing so, we will continue to work with international partners to ensure that that can be done safely to allow the access which is so desperately required.