What's Happening in Parliament

Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) was granted a Westminster Hall debate today to discuss the humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen. The full transcript of the debate can be found here https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2017-07-05/debates/9FCB904C-19D6-4FD7-82F6-15AFDBC8AC73/YemenPoliticalAndHumanitarianSituation

Stephen Doughty Said: I beg to move,
That this House has considered the political and humanitarian situation in Yemen.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today for this important debate, Mrs Moon.
I am delighted to speak on this issue today and to have been granted this debate so early in the new Parliament, particularly given the pressing nature of the humanitarian crisis in recent weeks, not least as regards cholera, as we will all have seen on our television screens.
As many Members will be aware, this is, sadly, one of many debates that we have secured on Yemen in the past year, including in the last Parliament. I must start by expressing my deep sadness, regret and, quite frankly, abject frustration that we have seen so little progress, so much further decline into misery and chaos, and such a failure to grasp the nettle by the international community, the UK Government—I am sorry to say—and the parties to this conflict, who must ultimately bear full responsibility for the shocking scenes that we have seen in recent weeks of emaciated bodies wracked by the preventable, treatable disease of cholera, along with the further needless civilian deaths from bombing, blockades and siege tactics.

This House is already significantly occupied by Brexit, and vast parts of our diplomatic and civil service apparatus have been turned to its machinations, but I fear that it will only exacerbate our apparent lack of focus on Yemen and so many other humanitarian crises around the world.

Chair of the APPG for Yemen Keith Vaz MP said:
May I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate so early in the new Parliament? It is true that the Foreign Office may be concerned with Brexit, but at the United Nations we hold the pen as far as Yemen is concerned and it is not preoccupied by Brexit. What we need is a UN resolution adopted as quickly as possible—immediately, in fact—to deal with the crisis that he is talking about and has raised so many times in the House

Graham Jones MP, Vice Chair of the APPG:

First of all, I congratulate my hon. Friend on a speech that I pretty much agree with; it is welcome that he has brought this debate to Westminster Hall. However, does he understand or recognise that part of the problem that the UN has recognised is the amount of arms that are entering Yemen, and that one reason for the blockade—the UN supports it to a degree, but does not support attempts to stop aid getting in—is to stop the arms getting in to the Houthis? That is one reason for the blockade, as the Houthis control 90% of the population and are getting these arms from places such as Oman and Iran. Of course the blockade has an adverse effect, but does he understand and respect that the issue is that there are too many arms in Yemen right now, and they are not just coming from Saudi Arabia?

Alison Thewliss Secretary APPG for Yemen
After first mentioning that more than 2 million children under the age of 5 are acutely malnourished, including half a million who are at the most extreme level of that critical danger, I was going to come on to the situation with the cranes and the ports. The World Food Programme has, I understand, been refused access for the four new mobile cranes that it had provided to aid the situation. Could the Minister provide any further updates on the situation with the cranes? If food and medical supplies cannot get in, we are unlikely to see any alleviation of the problem.​

It is not just about access to Hodeidah port. There is no access to Sana’a Airport, and the route through Aden is at capacity; people cannot get anything more through there. The aid that is getting through Aden is then subject to an overland journey, which is, as hon. Members can imagine, very difficult and extremely dangerous in a conflict situation for the aid agencies involved. They are having to take aid overland. Had access been possible, that aid could quite easily have gone through Hodeidah port.
On 2 July, the World Health Organisation managed to get a shipment in through Hodeidah, which included 20 ambulances, 100 cholera kits, hospital equipment and 128,000 bags of intravenous fluids. It sounds like big numbers, and it was a 403 tonne shipment that they managed to get in—but there are 200,000 cases of cholera. That is not even enough bags of intravenous fluids for every person that has cholera. It is a drop in the ocean in terms of the need in that region; there is a need to get aid in quickly and to prevent any further delays. We must make all the efforts we can to make sure that aid gets to the people that need it and gets there now. The people in Yemen cannot wait any longer.
I am glad that the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) mentioned the issue of arms sales. It is absolutely clear that aid agencies that are working so hard on the ground are being impeded in their work by the bombs falling from the sky above them and the danger that they face every single day. They cannot provide the services that they would like to, because they are constantly under attack.

The responding Minister was The Minister of State, Department for International Development (Rory Stewart)

First, I pay tribute to the extraordinary range and passion of these debates. The hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (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. The right hon. Member for Leicester East (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. The hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) showed her own focus on this issue and in particular on technical issues around Hodeidah port.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (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 the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (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.

The hon. Member for Chesterfield (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. The hon. Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald) posed a big moral challenge to the Government, and the hon. Member for Leeds North East (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 here—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 the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) visited, the situation has changed again and again.

The Prime Minister raised it directly on her April visit to Saudi Arabia, Ministers have raised it repeatedly and we have had senior military staff on the ground.
The overall picture, which I will try to touch on, is how we combine those political levers and our influence on Saudi Arabia with the influence that can be exercised ​by others. What influence could we exercise on, for example, the United Arab Emirates, in order to influence Saudi Arabia? What influence can we exercise on the United States? The hon. Member for Glasgow Central raised the issue of the Hodeidah port. One of the most important things that happened in changing our fears around that port was General Mattis’s intervention on the question of a military intervention there, which made a huge difference.

It is really important to understand that, along with those political and diplomatic approaches, we have to combine our humanitarian approach, which I do not think we have talked about enough, and we have to think about a long-term political solution. In terms of that humanitarian approach, we are doing an enormous amount. We are putting in people to focus on cholera and we have a huge focus on food delivery and shelter.

We are also doing an enormous number of smaller things, for which we are not getting credit. We are working with the UN specifically on the crane issue, on funding UN Humanitarian Air Service flights and on specifically funding the office of Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, who is the UN envoy to Yemen. Those are smaller, million-pound projects that are all trying to identify weaknesses in the system that we can then plug. We are also working on financial flows and on trying to make sure that wheat gets in.

However, the overall solution to this situation has to be political. That is where we need to get to—but what does it look like? It is fine for me to stand up here and spout jargon. In theory, that political solution involves a genuinely inclusive answer. It has to include not only the regional powers but, above all, without fear or favour —as identified by Simon Shercliff, our really good ambassador to Yemen—all the warring parties. It cannot be a military solution, and it must include other people.

The solution must include people in Hadramaut, who have not been included in conversations to date, and it must also really think about how we include women. ​That is not a trivial point. One of the real strengths of what happened in 2013-14 was the genuine inclusion of Yemeni civil society. That made a huge difference, because although Yemen is now being presented to us as though it is nothing but some medieval tribal cockpit of violence, it is in fact a highly sophisticated society with a very active civil society, and the inclusion of women in civil society groups will be central to getting a lasting solution. It will also mean that we, the British Government, will have to be honest with Parliament about the real problems that we face.

There is a huge emphasis on the security side, huge diplomatic pressure and a lot of humanitarian spending. However, above all, these are the questions I will pose to finish on: first, where is the UN going to go on this? One problem is that it will be extremely difficult, in the current context, to get a new UN Security Council resolution through, because some members of the Security Council will oppose it. Secondly, what is the current relationship between Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed and the Houthi? He was shot at when he last went into Sana’a. Thirdly, what is the UAE’s position? Fourthly, how will it be possible to integrate other groups? Finally, what is the long-term position of President Hadi? Those critical, detailed questions will determine our success or failure.