Yemen: Political and Humanitarian Situation

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:19 pm on 5th July 2017.

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Photo of Rory Stewart Rory Stewart Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development), Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Jointly with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office) 5:19 pm, 5th July 2017

First, I pay tribute to the extraordinary range and passion of these debates. Stephen Doughty is a doughty, redoubtable opponent. He knows an enormous amount about this subject. I was privileged to work with him on the Commonwealth Development Corporation Bill Committee, where I developed an enormous respect for his eye for detail and his ability to discover the most vulnerable and important points in an argument.

It will be difficult to touch on everyone’s points in 10 minutes, but I will run through them quickly. The hon. Gentleman produced a large overview of the context of the problems and pushed hard a strong moral line on what he felt the solution should be. Keith Vaz, who has been probably the greatest champion for Yemen in the House of Commons since he entered the House—he was born in Aden, like his sister—has kept a focus in endless forums on one of the most horrifying situations in the contemporary world, and strongly on the UN resolution. Alison Thewliss showed her own focus on this issue and in particular on technical issues around Hodeidah port.

Stephen Twigg wanted to focus on specific questions about additional support on human rights. I very much hope he will again be the Chair of the International Development Committee, and I agree with the challenge that came from my friend Ann Clwyd about the importance of setting up the Committees on Arms Export Controls as quickly as possible. The answer is that we are focused on providing additional support to the Human Rights Commission and have made that clear on a number of occasions—indeed we are already producing support.

Toby Perkins brought us into the discussion about the role of the Houthi-Saleh alliance and its culpability in these affairs. Indeed, the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth focused on that as well. Stewart Malcolm McDonald posed a big moral challenge to the Government, and Fabian Hamilton brought us back to questions that touch in particular on arms sales.

I will try to address those questions in total—they are very deep and important questions. Of course, the honest answer is that we do not have all the solutions to those problems. The British Government are doing an enormous amount—probably more than we are being given credit for in this Chamber—but clearly all the things we are doing are not sufficient to solve this crisis. The problem is—the hon. Member for Leeds North East pointed this out—although it is true that we are spending only about £180 million[Official Report, 20 July 2017, Vol. 627, c. 1-2MC.] in Yemen, we have to bear it in mind that, unfortunately, the situation in Yemen is not the only situation in the world. We are spending 0.7% of our GDP on international development and we have to make some difficult choices, because—this is the main point—the situation we face in Yemen has similarities with situations we are struggling with all over the world.

Whatever solutions are proposed her—and whatever belief there is from the hon. Member for Glasgow Central that it is within the power of the United Kingdom to sort the situation out—need to be addressed also to the problems in north-east Nigeria, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Syria, Iraq and Ukraine. I raise that because the fundamental problems on the ground in Yemen are driven by the region and the internal politics of Yemen. Those are fundamentally political problems. Some of their roots stretch back to the original formation of the Yemeni state.

I have not been to Yemen since March 2014. If any Member in the Chamber has been to Yemen more recently, I would love to hear from them. None of us in the Chamber has been to Yemen in the past three years. That is an important fact to bear in mind when we talk about the situation, and it is important because the situation is changing very quickly. Even since my right hon. Friend Mr Mitchell visited, the situation has changed again and again.