What's Happening in Parliament

07/11/17
An Urgent Question was asked in Parliament today by Stephen Twigg (Liverpool West Derby) To ask the Secretary of State for International Development if she will make a statement on the impact of the escalation of Saudi Arabia’s blockade on the humanitarian situation in Yemen. The full debate can be found here: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2017-11-07/debates/2305FDBD-40B0-42C7-BFC1-9FE28146A236/Yemen

Following the missile attack on Riyadh Airport by the Houthis Saudi Arabia has now shut Yemen’s ports completely. This will have catastrophic humanitarian consequences for the people of Yemen.

I join the Minister in condemning the missile strike on Riyadh by the Houthis, which has been described by Human Rights Watch as ‘’most likely a war crime’’
We have seen alleged violations of international humanitarian law on all sides of this conflict. Will the Minister update the House on progress towards the independent investigation that was agreed at the recent United Nations Human Rights Council? I welcome what he says about seeking to bring all parties back to the table in Geneva. Can he tell us what progress has been made towards securing a ceasefire, so that a political solution can be achieved?

The scale of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen is truly appalling. The cholera outbreak is considered the worst on record, and as the Minister said, the UN estimates that more than 20 million Yemenis are in need of humanitarian assistance, with 7 million on the brink of famine. The Saudi-led coalition has now intensified its blockade. With 90% of Yemen’s food imported, that risks making the dire humanitarian situation even worse. Does the Minister agree that that blockade could constitute unlawful collective punishment of the people of Yemen?

The Minister mentioned the representations that our ambassador was making. What representations has he and the Foreign Secretary made to Saudi Arabia to have the blockade lifted as soon as possible? I urge the Minister and the Government to do everything in their power to get that inhumane blockade lifted.

First, it has been made clear where the Secretary of State is, and we have apologised for her being on a visit to Africa. Let me answer the question.

The responding Minister was Alistair Burt, The Minister of State, Department for International Development (Alistair Burt)

Yemen is the world’s largest humanitarian crisis: 21 million people in Yemen are in need of humanitarian assistance, and nearly 10 million are in need of immediate help to support or sustain life. As the third-largest humanitarian donor to Yemen and the second-largest donor to the UN appeal, the UK is already leading the world’s response to the crisis in Yemen. Our funding of £155 million this year will provide enough food for 1.8 million people for at least a month, nutrition support for 1.7 million people and clean water and sanitation for an expected 1.2 million people.

As penholder on Yemen at the United Nations Security Council, the UK was responsible for a presidential statement earlier this year that called on all parties to provide safe, rapid and unhindered access for humanitarian supplies and personnel to all affected governorates in Yemen. We continue to call on all parties to the conflict to respect the statement and take action accordingly.

As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary set out in his statement on Sunday 5 November, the UK condemns the attempted missile strike on Riyadh this Saturday in the strongest terms. The ongoing ballistic missile attacks by Houthi-Saleh forces against Saudi Arabia threaten regional security and prolong the conflict. This latest attack deliberately targeted a civilian area. We, therefore, recognise the coalition’s concern about illicit flows of weapons to the Houthis, in direct contravention of UN Security Council resolution 2216.

We also recognise that, following Saturday’s attack, Saudi Arabia needs to take urgent measures to stem the flow of weapons into Yemen. At the same time, it is vital that the country remains open to humanitarian and commercial access. The Saudi-led coalition has confirmed that it will take into account the provision of humanitarian supplies. We are encouraging it to ensure that humanitarian supplies and access can continue. Our ambassador is actively making this case directly to the Saudi authorities.

Finally, there remains a desperate need for a political solution to the Yemen conflict, to help to end the suffering of the Yemeni people, to counter destabilising interference and to end attacks on neighbouring countries. It is vital that this situation does not escalate further. The United Kingdom will continue to work towards a political settlement that supports regional stability, and calls on all countries in the region to support that goal. We will also continue to support our partners in the region in protecting themselves against security threats.

Kate Osamor the Shadow Secretary for International Development said
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) for asking this urgent question. The escalation of the conflict in Yemen in recent weeks, resulting in the Saudi-led coalition closing all land, air and sea entry points, represents a particularly alarming development, even in a protracted conflict that is now more than two years old.
The country is already facing the worst cholera outbreak in recorded history, with more than 800,000 cases, and more than 20 million people are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. The blockading of ports will only add to the already catastrophic humanitarian situation, and the UK must do whatever it can to ensure that we mitigate the impact of this new development.

With the UK’s own actions in mind, will the Minister tell us how the Department for International Development is responding to this new development, and what assessments have been made of the blockade’s impact on DFID’s humanitarian operation across Yemen? Given that other countries, such as the US, refused to sell arms to countries that impose humanitarian blockades, will Her Majesty’s Government now finally re-evaluate their decision to continue to sell arms to the Saudi-led coalition and suspend further arms sales immediately?