Stephen's speech on the ongoing humanitarian situation in Yemen

Here is the Hansard copy of the speech Stephen gave during a debate on Yemen on Tuesday 28th March 2017. 

Stephen Twigg

'I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) and the other officers of the all-party group on Yemen on organising what is a timely debate, as we have just marked the third anniversary of the crisis in Yemen.

It is a particular pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), the former Secretary of State for International Development, who kindly gave evidence to the International Development Committee recently, following his visit to Yemen. Today, he has again provided a thoughtful and important contribution.

This coming Saturday, in Liverpool, we will hold the monthly vigil for peace in Yemen, which is arranged by Liverpool Friends of Yemen, drawing on the large Yemeni community in Liverpool and on other friends. In advance of this afternoon’s debate, I contacted members of Liverpool Friends of Yemen to ask what they would like me to address if I were called to speak, and the major focus was the one reflected in the motion before the House: the sheer scale of the humanitarian crisis the people of Yemen face and the need for peace in that country.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab)

I am sure my hon. Friend would agree that, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), who moved the motion, forcefully said, the United Nations decisions tomorrow will be very important, given what previous speakers have said about a ceasefire, and perhaps the blockade will be lifted as well.

Stephen Twigg

I agree absolutely, and let us all hope for progress as a consequence of the United Nations Security Council discussions tomorrow.

The scale of this crisis has been documented by the previous speakers and in previous debates. UNICEF tells us that more than 1,500 children have been killed since the fighting began, with a similar number being recruited to fight by both sides of the conflict. As my right hon. Friend said in his opening speech, the conflict has claimed the lives of at least 10,000 people, and some have put the level of civilian deaths alone as high as 5,000.

The United Nations has given the crisis level 3 status, putting it on a par with similar crises in Syria, Iraq and South Sudan. The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross has said that the intensity and severity of the fighting have left Yemen looking like Syria did after five years of conflict. Some 19 million people are in need of immediate humanitarian assistance—that is 80%, or four in five, of the population. Half a million children are suffering from severe malnutrition. Saleh Saeed, the chief executive of the Disasters Emergency Committee, who is originally from Yemen, has said that families are having to make the “unbearable” decision between buying medicine or food. This simply cannot be allowed to continue.

Stephen Doughty

My hon. Friend mentioned medicine. Does he agree that there is a crucial crisis in the health sector? The health Ministry’s workers have not been paid since August last year. There is a lack of medicines in many areas. Despite the amazing work of organisations such as MSF, many people cannot access the help they need

Stephen Twigg

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. He anticipates the next paragraph of my speech, where I point out that there are 15 million people with no access to healthcare. Of course, 70 health centres have been destroyed as part of the conflict.

Today, the International Development Committee publishes its report on UK aid and the allocation of resources. The work DFID is doing in Yemen is a fine example of why the Prime Minister was right yesterday to say that UK aid is a badge of hope. This morning, the Committee took evidence on education, and we heard about the latest plans from DFID, working with other donors, to ensure that children affected by the conflict do not become a lost generation and that there is investment in the capacity of the Government and local communities in Yemen to ensure that children do not lose out on their education.

The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield talked about what many have described as the paradox of aid—the positive record we as a country have on aid, but the fact that our involvement is aligned with one side of the conflict. I am keen to hear from the Minister what the Government are doing to try to get the port at Hudaydah reopened. That issue has been raised by a number of colleagues during the debate.

Those of us on the International Development Committee have said consistently that there should be an independent UN-led inquiry into all alleged violations of international humanitarian law by both sides in the conflict. However, let us unite behind the motion. This important motion marks the third anniversary, but it also says, ahead of tomorrow, that we want to see a ceasefire, peace and justice, and that we commit to rebuilding Yemen once peace comes.