Stephen speaks in the Yemen Westminster Hall Debate
Below is the Hansard copy of the speech Stephen gave during a debate on the political and humanitarian situation in Yemen on Wednesday 5th July 2017.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to participate in this debate, Mrs Moon. I join the congratulations to my hon. Friend Stephen Doughty for a powerful speech setting out the pace and scale of the challenge of the humanitarian and the political crisis in Yemen today. He and I served together on the International Development Committee in the previous Parliament and he has been an important voice on these issues, as have my two friends from the all-party parliamentary group, my right hon. Friend Keith Vaz and Alison Thewliss.
There is a paradox at the heart of UK policy, which my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth highlighted. When the International Development Committee looked at the issue in the previous Parliament, our starting point was the scale of the humanitarian crisis, but taking evidence on that took us inescapably to the United Kingdom’s role, including the issue of arms sales.
I very much endorse what my right hon. Friend Ann Clwyd said about the importance of re-establishing the Committees on Arms Export Controls as early as possible. Certainly, if I am re-elected as Chair of the International Development Committee, I will support that, and I hope that Chairs from other relevant Committees from all parties will feel able to do so, because our ability as a country to say that we have the most robust system of arms control in the world is undermined if we as parliamentarians fail to establish the bodies to ensure that accountability.
The voices of the Yemeni diaspora in this country are an important part of this debate. I have been pleased to work with the Yemeni community in Liverpool and I am delighted to see the new Member of Parliament, my hon. Friend Dan Carden, in the Chamber. The Liverpool Friends of Yemen have sought to highlight the crisis. On Saturday at Liverpool University, a group of young people from the Yemeni community in Liverpool produced a film called “Aden Narratives”, in which they interviewed British service personnel who had served in Yemen in the 1950s and 1960s. It was a great example of community cohesion and the breaking down of barriers, both of ethnicity and of age.
I want to make two comments relevant to the debate. First, I very much support what my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East said about the urgent need for a political solution—not only urgent but overriding. We want to see that solution. The United Kingdom has a crucial role to play at the United Nations in bringing about a ceasefire and a political solution.
Peace is the top priority, but with peace must come justice and accountability. That is why I want to finish on the crucial issue of an independent, United Nations-led inquiry into violations of international humanitarian law by all sides in the conflict, whether by the Saudi-led coalition, the Houthis or others in the country.
In particular, I want to ask the Minister about the implementation of last September’s resolution of the UN Human Rights Council that mandated additional human rights experts to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Yemen to investigate violations of international law. What progress has been made? The council resolution did not go as far as I would like—I would like to see a fully independent UN inquiry—but will the Minister update us on progress, and on the Government’s view of when we may be able to move British policy to the support of a fully independent investigation? There have been appalling allegations of violations of international humanitarian law by both the Houthi-Saleh forces and the Saudi-led forces. Accountability is vital.
Does my hon. Friend share my frustration that, over many months, he, I, many other Members and indeed Ministers have expressed our concerns directly to the Saudi Government—with Ministers who have come here to speak to us and with the ambassador—but we are still to see reports on the allegations, even from JIAT?
I absolutely share that sense of frustration described by my hon. Friend. I am hopeful that we will hear of some progress from the Minister.