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Maria Eagle: Each death in custody is examined carefully and closely by the prisons and probation ombudsman, and there will be the usual investigation in respect of this case. If the hon. Gentleman has particular points to make that he believes are of concern regarding the prison in his constituency, I would be more than happy to hear the details from him, and to take a close look myself.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): I represent a constituency in which, two years ago, there was ballot stuffing-roll stuffing-by a Conservative local government candidate. Will the Ministry consider making resources available, on the basis of risk, to local authorities in which there might be a risk of ballot stuffing, in order to ensure that that does not occur in the forthcoming general election?

Mr. Wills: Of course we are always happy to look at any measures to deal with fraud. It is absolutely disgraceful when events such as those in my hon. Friend's constituency happen. Of course we will look at any concrete proposals. I want to reassure her that we are doing everything we can to combat fraud in our elections.

Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): Given that the Information Commissioner has today laid before Parliament a report criticising the Secretary of State's blanket veto on the release of Cabinet Committee minutes from 1997 relating to devolution, will the Secretary of State explain why those particular minutes were, in his opinion, an exceptional case, and why there were particularly pressing reasons to block their disclosure?

Mr. Straw: I set out the detailed reasons in a written ministerial statement, with appendices, which I laid before the House as I undertook to do. I am happy to provide the right hon. Gentleman with a copy. The fact is that section 53 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 is a fundamental part of the scheme of the Act; it was on that basis that the Bill was agreed. The legislation provides for an appointed person to exercise a veto either after a commissioner's decision or after a tribunal. There is, however, no requirement in the law to wait for a tribunal decision.

T9. [308954] Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): The Justice Secretary is aware of my concern about the growing incidence of shop theft. Will he therefore deplore the remarks made by the vicar in York in the build-up to Christmas condoning shop theft, as such remarks are contrary not only to Government policy but to the Bible?

Mr. Straw: They are also contrary to the ten commandments, as I recall-[Hon. Members: "Those are in the Bible, too."] Indeed. I missed the hon. Lady's last point, because one of my hon. Friends was trying to offer me some gratuitous advice. Anyway, I agree with her in every particular.

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3.34 pm

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): (Urgent Question): To ask the Foreign Secretary if he will make a statement on the situation in Yemen, including the closure of the British embassy and the position of British citizens in Yemen.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will address all the security issues arising from the Christmas incident immediately after this. I will now address the broader picture. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) knows, the Government have been increasingly concerned about the situation in Yemen and about the number and scale of the challenges faced by the Yemeni Government and people. We believe that the increasing insecurity and instability in Yemen pose a threat to the Gulf region, to the wider middle east and to the UK.

Over the past 18 months, the situation has been a growing concern in the region and to Her Majesty's Government. Our cross-Whitehall discussions and close working with international partners led, in September 2009, to the development of a renewed UK country strategy for Yemen. This strategy is currently being implemented by Government Departments across Whitehall, including the Foreign Office, the Department for International Development and the Ministry of Defence. It covers four areas. The first is support for democratic political structures; the second addresses the causes of the conflict-so-called counter-radicalisation; the third relates to building the Yemeni capacity to tackle security and terrorism issues; and the fourth is directed at helping the Yemeni Government to deliver the functions of the state, onshore and offshore.

To strengthen further the international community's support for the Government of Yemen in meeting those challenges, the Prime Minister announced on 1 January that the UK would host a high-level meeting on Yemen later this month, and that will indeed take place. The meeting will focus on galvanising international support for Yemen's fight against terrorism and co-ordinating assistance to address the longer-term economic and social factors underlying radicalisation and extremism.

As a symbol of the Government's long-term commitment to Yemen, DFID signed a 10-year development partnership arrangement with the Government of Yemen in August 2007. The UK development spend is fully aligned to our Yemen strategy and to the priorities of the Yemeni Government's national reform agenda. We will spend about £25 million in fiscal year 2009-10; £35 million to £40 million in fiscal year 2010-11; and, dependent on progress on reform of state structures in Yemen, up to £50 million in 2011-12.

The Government of Yemen are embattled on four different but related fronts: first, the tribal rebellion in the north; secondly, separatism and separatist movements in the south; economic decline across the country, which is particularly important in the context of a near doubling of the population of Yemen that is foreseen in the relatively near future; and also the growing threat from Islamist terrorism in the form of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which finds safe haven in Yemen. Urgent
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economic and political reforms are the only long-term solution to Yemen's problems, but continued instability distracts from the Government's short-term efforts to address these priorities.

As a result of ongoing security concerns, the British embassy closed earlier this week on a precautionary basis for two days. The embassy is now open and staff are back at work. Currently, however, the public services sections of the embassy-the visa and consular sections-are closed. This is under regular review and I discussed the issue with our ambassador in a video conference yesterday morning.

I should point out that it is not unusual for embassies to close during times of heightened tension. During 2009, the British embassy in Sana'a closed on more than a dozen occasions. We have different procedures from other nations for assessing the safety and security of our staff. It would not be right to comment on the specifics of this closure, but I assure the House that it is kept under regular review to ensure that services are maintained. The embassy in Sana'a maintains regular contact with the British community through our wardens network and by regular factual messages to the British nationals who have registered with the embassy.

Finally, the overall threat level in Yemen has not changed. As we make clear in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel advice, the threat from terrorism in Yemen is high and remains of concern. We continue to recommend against all non-essential travel to the country.

Keith Vaz: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for allowing the question. I refer the House to the Register of Members' Financial Interests and to my personal interest, as I was born in Yemen and lived there for nine years of my life.

In welcoming the London conference, will the Foreign Secretary state precisely what additional support has been given to Yemen as a result of this recent initiative? Will he also confirm that all the money pledged to Yemen in London in November 2006 has been paid over? Can we stop referring to Yemen as a failed state? It has the capacity to fail if Britain, America and the nearby Arab states do not support it. Can we also make sure that the Foreign Secretary visits the country as soon as possible?

David Miliband: There are three parts to my right hon. Friend's question. First, the London meeting will not be a pledging conference, and I do not think that that is what is needed. However, as my right hon. Friend intimated in the second part of his question, some £5 billion was pledged at the London conference in 2006. A small proportion of it has been disbursed, in part because of concerns about how the money would be spent, but there are other issues. I understand that about 40 per cent. of it has been signed and 81 per cent. allocated to different programmes, although only a very small percentage has actually been spent.

In terms of my right hon. Friend's attempt to send me to Yemen, I cannot quite promise him that just at the moment, but the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, South (Mr. Lewis), will be on a recce to Yemen next month. That will allow us to take forward the conclusions of the London meeting in an appropriate way.

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Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks) (Con): On behalf of the Opposition, I welcome the calling of a conference on Yemen in London on 28 January. I agree that Yemen is a fragile state-I think we should call it that, rather than a failed state-and that that matters to British security.

I want to ask three brief sets of questions. First, in view of the closure of our embassy, is the Foreign Secretary confident that the right level of consular support can be given to British citizens and officials in Yemen in the event of further closures of the embassy, and that plans are in place to offer them protection?

Secondly, following the announcement of additional US-UK support for a special counter-terrorist police unit and for the Yemeni coastguard operation, may we express the hope that those arrangements will be conducted better than Downing street has conducted US-UK co-operation on related matters in the last 24 hours? Specifically, will the support be purely financial, or will it involve actual assistance on the ground in the form of training? What is the time scale for its delivery, and when is the new unit expected to be up and running? Is this an exclusively US-UK initiative, or does it involve other countries and partners, such as Gulf nations, that may be prepared to work with us?

Thirdly, it should be recognised that Yemen cannot be viewed solely through the prism of an al-Qaeda problem. The Foreign Secretary rightly referred to a mixture of issues. Yemen's internal conflicts are fuelled by political grievances, poverty, corruption and competition over depleted natural resources, issues that require political leadership from the Yemeni Government as well as assistance from the international community. Can the Foreign Secretary assure us that all those issues will be addressed at the conference in January, and will continue to be treated as a priority by his colleagues in DFID? Will he do his utmost to ensure that there is a focus on the Yemeni Government's responsibility to work towards a political settlement in the country, and that we look to the longer term as well as to the immediate problems?

David Miliband: I am confident that the right procedures are being followed in terms of consular support for British nationals. As the right hon. Gentleman will know, there is a relatively small number of them, although the Yemeni diaspora in Britain is of long standing. There is a proud set of Yemeni communities, including, in South Shields, the oldest in Britain. There is obviously some need for consular support, but the ambassador has assured me that that is being dealt with in an appropriate way. The network of wardens that operates in many countries is there to alert us to any problems, but has not yet been notified of any.

The work that is taking place with the Yemeni authorities is more than paying out. The money includes finance for training, which has been an important part of the co-operation that is taking place. We will be discussing with a range of those attending the London meeting whether there is a way in which they could support the UK-US effort, and we will seek appropriate ways in which to use the skills and expertise that other countries can provide.

I was glad to hear what the right hon. Gentleman said about the breadth of the British programme in Yemen and the need to maintain it. The short term, the medium term and the long term are related. Most of the
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grievances that exist in Yemen are local rather than being related to the global jihad, and although al-Qaeda can try to find roots there, the vast bulk of the issues motivating Yemenis are what we would call bread-and-butter issues that a Government should be seeking to address. Certainly it is the prime responsibility of the Government of Yemen to do so.

Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD): Of course the actions of the Foreign Office in Yemen in closing the embassy and working with our allies in Yemen and the United States enjoy support across the House, but will the Foreign Secretary reassure us that, in supporting action against al-Qaeda in Yemen and elsewhere in the region, we are ensuring that local people are not inadvertently alienated by our actions and those of our allies? In giving military support and aid to the Yemenis, and in developing the cross-departmental strategy to which the Foreign Secretary referred, are we impressing on the Yemeni Government the importance of avoiding civilian deaths and of building a sustainable coalition against al-Qaeda across the whole country?

David Miliband: The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely good and important point, which is highly relevant, and let me say two things on that. First, there has been a very wide welcome across the Gulf, as well as within Yemen, for the fact that the London meeting will not be focused simply on counter-terrorism, because that might play into the sort of dangers to which he rightly refers. The incubus that is Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula must not become a rallying point for the people of Yemen, because they become the unwitting or unwilling victims of attempts to tackle the AQAP presence there.

Secondly, the hon. Gentleman is also absolutely right to insist that the economic, social and political issues at the heart of Yemen's development need to be addressed. I think that I am right to say that Yemen's oil wealth is likely to run out in 2015, and the dangers of water scarcity are very real. Those issues evidently are not amenable to a counter-terrorist solution, and require a much more deep-seated and effective role for government, supported by the international community. That is why the fourth priority that we mentioned-the functioning of the state-is so important to addressing those issues.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): The Foreign Secretary mentioned radicalisation; will he undertake also to have close talks with the Saudi Government? They have some programmes that may seem unorthodox to some western eyes, but that nevertheless seem to be working in the Saudi and Arab context. I think that we should learn from that.

David Miliband: My hon. Friend makes an important point. As it happens, the Saudi programme that was featured on this morning's edition of the "Today" programme is one that I visited last year in Saudi Arabia. It is a counter-radicalisation programme, rather than a radicalisation programme-that is an important point to make-and is extremely innovative. I met a failed suicide bomber-

Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton) (Con): By definition-

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David Miliband: Hence failed, but it is not a laughing matter, as he killed a lot of people in a market by blowing up a bomb in a truck that he was driving. He said that he did not know what its contents were and that he had been inveigled into driving the truck. He and a number of other people were going through that programme, which involved taking a comprehensive look at their lives, including in relation to religious instruction. A large number of innovative products are also available in terms of people's return to normal life after the programme. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to this matter, and I congratulate the Saudi Government on how they are going about dealing with it. It is certainly something that we work closely with them on.

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): May I also declare an interest as an officer of the all-party group that visited Yemen a couple of years ago? I found some very impressive Anglophile Ministers there, who think that Britain has a key role to play in that country and who want us to play a key role. I also found that the electoral gains made there by radical Islamists were in the areas of greatest poverty. We clearly need to do more to eradicate the terrorists, but can we also do much more to eradicate and rehabilitate their breeding grounds?

David Miliband: I am sorry to sound like a stuck record, but the hon. Gentleman also makes an important point. I hope that the House can be united in making the point that those who allege in today's newspapers that we are wasting our money by spending development funding on anti-poverty measures in Yemen are wrong. The figures that I have read out are substantial by any stretch of the imagination, but the fact that they enjoy cross-party support is positive. He is right that if Yemen is to be prevented from becoming a more dangerous breeding ground for terrorism, it needs to develop the sort of life chances for people that he and I may take for granted.

Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): At an enormous cost in loss of British human lives, we joined America in its invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Before we commit even more human lives to another nightmare, should not we consider the possibility of having an independent British foreign policy?

David Miliband: We should certainly have a foreign policy that is decided independently by the Government and people of this country, but we should not have an isolated foreign policy that attempts to work on its own. I am proud that we are very close partners of the United States, European Union countries and a large number of countries in the Gulf, which are very concerned about the situation. The attention that we have been paying to Yemen in the past 18 months is in significant part a product of the growing concern, from 2008, of countries in the Gulf that wanted British help regarding their concerns about the situation in Yemen. We are not unwelcome helpers in Yemen, and we certainly are not trying to recolonise it. That is an important point to emphasise.

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