What's Happening in Parliament

On Tuesday 28 March MPs debated and approved a motion on the conflict in Yemen in the House of Commons. Keith Vaz, Mrs Flick Drummond & Alison Thewliss led and opened the debate.

A transcript of the debate can be found on this link https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2017-03-28/debates/F81005F8-5593-49F8-82F7-7A62CB62394A/Yemen
The MPs who contributed to the debate were

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) George Kerevan (East Lothian) Sir Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Colfield) Stephen Twigg (Liverpool + West Derby) Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) Seema Kennedy (South Ribble) Graham Jones (Hyndburn) Alison Thewliss (Glasgow South) Brendan O’Hara (Argyll and Bute) Flick Drummond (Portsmouth South) Clive Lewis (Norwich South) Chris Evans (Islwyn) Gill Furniss (Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough) Margaret Ferrier (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) Douglas Chapman (Dunfermline and West Fife) and the Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry (Islington South and Finsbury)

The responding Minister was Tobias Ellwood
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Tobias Ellwood)
Let me briefly make the point that I wish there were more time to respond to this very good debate, as I have only eight minutes in which to do my best to do justice to it. It has served as a reminder that the House takes these matters very seriously. I join Members in paying tribute to the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) and the others who tabled the motion. I will do my best to rattle through the points and, as usual, I will write to right hon. and hon. Members with more details. Again, I make the point that I find it bizarre that we are stopping in order to have an Adjournment debate of an hour and a half, when such debates normally last only 30 minutes.
I will focus on the points made by the right hon. Gentleman, who made a comprehensive speech in summarising the challenges that Yemen faces. The scale of the tragedy is well known to us all, with 70% of the population now needing humanitarian assistance. In answer to the right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry), let me say that Britain continues to play a leading role, unswayed by the prejudice or interest of any other country. As she says, we are the pen holder, and we are determined to do that job without prejudice and without influence from other nations, doing what we see is best. We show leadership at the United Nations and in the new Quint, which involves nations from around the middle east that are looking at this and which met in February, along with UN special envoy Ismail Ahmed. I met him two weeks ago, when we discussed what parameters we need to get in place in order for a ceasefire to work and then for a UN Security Council resolution to be supported.
Many right hon. and hon. Members have mentioned the importance of the port of Hudaydah, and that must not be underestimated. Yemen has two critical access points, one being the port of Aden, in the south, and the other, halfway up the Red sea, being Hudaydah, with a population of 3 million. If the civil war moves ​into that area, it will devastate that city, probably displacing about half the people who live there—1.5 million people—and causing mayhem. Not only will it further the prospect of famine and lead to a refugee crisis, but it will flatten the port itself. We may be frustrated with the amount of aid getting through the port at the moment, but the situation will be even worse if the battle commences in that populated urban area. We therefore call on the coalition and the Houthis to recognise that the world is watching and that they need to come back to the table. This will be sorted not by a military solution, but by a political one, and it is very important that that is recognised.
A lot has been said about the cranes, but let me make it clear that the old cranes were bombed a number of years ago and the new cranes are sitting in Dubai. They have been moved there to keep them out of harm’s way; no one knows exactly what is going to happen to the port of Hudaydah as it is unclear where the battle is going.
I reiterate how unhelpful and wrong it would be for us not to work towards a peaceful solution. The right hon. Member for Leicester East rightly said that this problem is not intractable—there is a path to peace. An awful lot of plates are spinning in the middle east, but I genuinely believe that Yemen is one problem that can be solved—to do that, however, we also need the will of the Yemeni people.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), for whom I have a huge amount of respect, made a helpful visit to Yemen, although such travel is not endorsed. In his own inimitable way, he went there and he has shared his findings. He paid tribute to the UN agencies—I join him in doing so—and spoke about there being perhaps a difference in strategy between different Departments. I make it clear that we have one clear strategy, but I can see the dilemma in that on the one hand the Department for International Development is determined to get aid into the country, whereas on the other we are dealing with this protracted war, which this coalition is pushing, and it is not doing a particularly good job of it. I have been critical about its actions before; it is not used to sustained warfare and it has made mistakes, which we have debated here. We have made it clear to the coalition that, as I have just said, the war will not be ended in this way.
We certainly support Saudi-led efforts to restore stability and check the advance of the Houthis, because that started all this in the first place. Let us not forget that the Houthis pushed through Sana’a and would have taken over the port of Aden had a coalition not answered the call by President Hadi to stand up for his legitimacy.
I am afraid I do not have time to give way; I do apologise.
Members talked about weapons systems getting into Yemen. I am afraid they are getting in by land and by sea, not so much through the port of Hudaydah. Smaller boats are getting in and providing arms up and down the Red sea, and arms are also getting in through land corridors. The UN verification and inspection mechanism is not working as well as it could because it is not able to capture all the boats that are moving in.​
I have to contend with a point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield. We can discuss this after the debate, but I do not agree that because al-Qaeda is fighting the Houthis we should somehow be in some form of alignment with it. Al-Qaeda’s track record shows that we cannot entertain any alliance whatsoever. It has brought insecurity and harm to the middle east and, indeed, to Europe.
I apologise to the right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury; I know she wanted me to give way earlier, but it is important that my right hon. Friend was able to put that on the record.

Many have called for a ceasefire, which is fully understandable given where we want to go. Nevertheless, for one to work in practice, parameters need to be in place. We need withdrawal lines and the decommissioning of heavy weapons, or agreement on that decommissioning. We need buffer zones ready, in place or agreed, and we need policing mechanisms to manage any violations that take place; otherwise, we will see the situation ratcheting out of control again and the ceasefire being breached.
In my discussions with Ismail Ahmed, the UN envoy, and with other countries, we have talked about what the parameters of a ceasefire would look like and the process that would be needed. The parameters would have to be built around, first, the sequencing of security steps, including withdrawals; secondly, the agreement of roles and appointments—in essence, a transition leadership; thirdly, the resumption of discussions based on resolution 2216 and the Gulf Co-operation Council initiative; fourthly; the signing of a detailed agreement; fifthly, the finalisation of an electoral road map; and, finally, the drafting of a constitution, which would lead to elections. That is a ballpark design that the UN envoy is trying to promote. Unfortunately, it is signing up to the detail that is causing problems for all stakeholders. Nevertheless, we are absolutely committed to pursuing that process at the UN to ensure that a ceasefire eventually comes around.

The role of the United States was mentioned. I will visit it soon to make sure it is committed. Rex Tillerson, the new Secretary of State, worked in Yemen for several years and knows the area very well indeed. I make it clear that the additional military support the US is giving is not designed for more precision munitions; it is designed to enable better intelligence gathering so that fewer mistakes are made. More to the point, it is important that the US works with us and others to deter further military action and to focus on getting that political agreement in place.

UN Security Council resolution 2216 was clear that unblocking the political process required the Houthis and forces loyal to former President Saleh to withdraw. ​from Sana’a and hand over their weapons. Despite consistent demands from the international community, the Houthi-Saleh alliance has refused to discuss these issues with the UN special envoy. It has also taken a series of unilateral steps that have undermined peace efforts, including the establishment of a supreme political council and a shadow Government to rival President Hadi’s. This is unacceptable. We do not recognise the rival Government, and the Yemeni parties must engage with the peace process and meet the obligations set out in the UN proposals.
In conclusion, the UK Government are gravely concerned about the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. We are taking a leading role in the international response, which means not only providing substantial humanitarian aid but using all diplomatic means available to us to support efforts to reach a political agreement and to press for a solution to the economic crisis. As I have said before, it is ultimately the Yemenis themselves who must reach a compromise. The Yemeni people need and deserve peace, and we continue to work with international partners to secure it.