“The European Parliament will defend the fundamental principles and objectives of the EU and will be cautious of setting dangerous precedents which could undermine such principles and objectives.”

The issue of parliamentary sovereignty could not be thrown into any sharper relief.

Nor do the “red card” proposals protect British parliamentary sovereignty. They require reasoned opinions to be submitted within 12 weeks of transmission of a draft EU law, and they require more than 55% of the votes allocated to national Parliaments. That is another attempted exercise in so-called pooled sovereignty.

Sir Gerald Howarth: I wonder whether my right hon. Friend can help the House. On this business of voting, are we talking about the number of Parliaments or the weighted votes? Germany has about 16% of the weighted votes and France has about 12.5%, so between them they have 30% towards the 45% blocking threshold.

Mr Jones: My understanding is that it is the latter.

The proposals do not amount to a reassertion of the sovereignty of the Queen in Parliament. Yesterday, in response to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), the Prime Minister said:

“asserting the sovereignty of this House is something that we did by introducing the European Union Act 2011. I am keen to do

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even more to put it beyond doubt that this House of Commons is sovereign. We will look to do that at the same time as concluding the negotiations.”—[

Official Report

, 3 February 2016; Vol. 605, c. 934.]

All hon. Members will be looking forward to the announcement on that, and it would be helpful if my right hon. Friend the Minister could give us an inkling of what is proposed, so that we can achieve at least some comfort.

If what is done is insufficient, the British people will be right to conclude that a vote to withdraw from the European Union is the only way to preserve the valued constitutional integrity of our country.

2.2 pm

Richard Drax (South Dorset) (Con): More than 70 years ago, our great island nation stood alone against the tyranny of the jackboot and the lash. Our freedom, our democracy and our sovereignty were in mortal peril. Led by Winston Churchill, we did not flinch in protecting them. Hundreds of thousands of our brave men and women—whether in uniform or not—gave their lives to defend our island and everything we stand for. Because of their sacrifice, we have a daunting responsibility to respect what they fought and died for. I must therefore ask, why are we so prepared to hand the destiny of our proud island nation to an unaccountable bureaucracy with barely a murmur? How dare we? How dare we? How would anyone dare to go down that road? I simply cannot understand it.

We have a duty to those who fought and died to stand up for our country and to ensure her sovereignty is kept intact. This sham of a renegotiation does not do that, and we all know it. Sadly, one treaty after another has undermined our will to resist. We have already handed over the UK’s head, torso, arms and legs. Now we propose to surrender our very soul. And to whom? The answer is a group of unelected Commissioners who sit in their multimillion-pound glass towers, surrounded by all the trappings of cars, secretaries and expenses, pontificating over lobster and Chablis about plans to create a wonderful new centralised state—a federal Europe—where uniformity is pressed on an unwilling electorate by guile, persuasion or threat. Democracy my foot!

Sammy Wilson: Is that not the central point about the EU’s unwillingness to devolve sovereignty to individuals—to voters—and Parliaments? The EU cannot afford it. If it is going to centralise functions right across Europe, forcing states and individuals into arrangements they do not want, sovereignty is the last thing it is going to tolerate.

Richard Drax: I could not have said it better, and I will expand on that very point a little later in my speech.

Who will lose out? It is the voters—the man and woman in the street—whom Opposition Members claim to represent, and who will increasingly rail against an authority over which they have no control and no say. Meanwhile, our political elite march on, deaf to the cries of those who elected them.

This madness will continue, at least in the short term—Germany has too much to lose. To control the experiment further, closer integration is not only necessary but inevitable, with more and more power going to the centre, whatever our Prime Minister says to the contrary.

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We are told we are safe from all this. We are not. I am sure that the Prime Minister, who is an intelligent man, knows that in his heart. I have watched, appalled and dismayed, as we have ceded powers to the EU in an insidious and gradual erosion of our sovereignty. There was a time when all the laws affecting the people of this country were made in this House by directly elected Members like us. As we know, that is no longer the case. As we have been dragged kicking and screaming down this truly undemocratic path, we have been assured by one Prime Minister after another, “Don’t worry. We have a veto over this, and a veto over that. We have a red card we can wave.” Now, apparently, to block laws we do not like, we have to persuade at least 15 EU members to agree with us. Will they hell!

To me, sovereignty means the ability to govern ourselves free from outside interference. We are not free to do that today. For heaven’s sake, we have to ask 27 countries for permission to change our welfare rules. Meanwhile, our borders remain dangerously porous, permanently open to EU citizens and horribly vulnerable to infiltration by those who would do us harm. What staggers me is how we wandered into this trap.

I have always been suspicious when political parties agree, and with the notable exception of a few Members, our future relationship with the EU is a very good case in point. As a member of the European Scrutiny Committee, I see first-hand the raft of legislation that comes in boatloads from across the channel. It interferes in every single facet of our lives.

Peter Grant: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Richard Drax: I will not give way.

The arrogance is mind-blowing, the intrusion truly terrifying, the accountability non-existent. We have nothing to fear from leaving the EU except fear itself. That is what the Europhiles are peddling in their genuinely misconceived belief that we are better in than out. I often hear the retort that we are more secure inside the EU than out. Why? As the problems of the euro, unemployment, the refugee crisis and uncontrolled immigration tear the EU apart, I can see no logic in that argument. It is NATO that has held the peace over the past decades, not the EU.

As ever closer union forces more conformity on member nations, the wider the chasm between the electorate and the elected will grow. That is where the wound will fester, and there are clear indications of that already across Europe.

Who would have thought that the biggest threat to our freedom, democracy and sovereignty since the second world war would come from within? I shudder at the implications of staying in the EU and the consequences that that will have for everything that I, and millions of others, hold dear.

What we need is the enterprise, flair, intelligence and determination of one nation to get out there and do business with the world, safe in the knowledge that the country is sovereign, free and truly democratic. Let the lion roar!

2.9 pm

Craig Mackinlay (South Thanet) (Con): I pay tribute to the Backbench Business Committee for allowing this debate, which is the right debate at the right time. I fear that during the referendum period we will often hear

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people say, “The EU is just something about free trade and you needn’t worry yourselves that it’s any different from the institution we joined back in 1973”—or thought we were joining. I very much fear that we will not hear much said about sovereignty, so I am very pleased that we are having this debate today.

Much of the debate, as we heard from Opposition Members yesterday, will be about the idea that we would lose trade through Brexit. Rarely cited, though, are the 5.5 million jobs in the EU that are reliant on trade with us, and the £60 billion trade deficit that we have with the other 27 EU countries. We are a premier market for EU nations’ products. We abide by the rule of law; we are a decent country to do business with. Are we really to believe that on the stroke of our leaving the EU, BMW would not want to sell us its cars? Are we really to believe that a Frenchman would look at a Range Rover and say, “Ah, they’re not in the club any more, so I’m not going to buy their product”?

Peter Grant: The hon. Gentleman is making some valid points. This is why it is important that the “stay in” campaign is positive rather than negative. Does he realise that the arguments he is rubbishing about what would not happen if Britain left the EU were advanced by his party in almost exactly the same terms in relation to what would happen to Scotland if we left the United Kingdom—that nobody would buy our whisky any more? Does he now accept that the arguments advanced by “project fear” at that time were complete and utter nonsense?

Craig Mackinlay: I think the hon. Gentleman would find that 300 years of history makes things rather different. I find the SNP’s arguments really curious, and I really struggle with this one. As for the arguments you make about trade, you are somehow twisting them round to your enthusiasm for the European Union. I tended to agree with you: I did not think that trade would have been at risk if Scotland had left, but you now think that in respect of the European Union.

Mr Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman keeps using the word “you”. He is a partisan and enthusiastic advocate of the British Parliament, and a key tenet of our debates is that debate goes through the Chair. There is no “you” involved, because I have not expressed any views.

Craig Mackinlay: I apologise, Mr Speaker; it is always exciting when there is an intervention from an SNP Member.

We have to recognise that trade has changed—that the world is now a global place and trade barriers have come down. A lot of these trade areas are good, friendly nations—Commonwealth nations. I always find it very strange that our friends—our kith and kin; our family—extract their wallets and purses and find, lo and behold, a note with a very familiar and loved face on it, but we deny them access to our country, and we are not allowed to speak to them on trade terms, because of course that is done by a Swedish Commissioner—Cecilia Malmström, a former university lecturer. You could scarcely make this up. We have enthused about having the Premiers of China and India over to our country—you entertained them, Mr Speaker, in your House and in this place—and yet it was nothing much more than a charade.

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Those on the contra side of this debate will say that the EU is moving in our direction and we have to stay in it to be of influence. Well, I am sorry, but we have tried that argument for 40 long years. We have tried to change things; we have tried to reduce its powers. Try arguing that with the small fishermen in Ramsgate or the small businesses across our country, given all the regulations and red tape! What is the recent history of being at that high table and working from within? In the Council of Ministers, Britain is always on the opposing side. Our PM has been outvoted under qualified majority voting rules 42 times since 2010. It is time, I think, that he was honest with himself and with us that the EU is moving in a different direction.

We will also hear much in the referendum debate about what might be—what could be—with regard to security and justice. I am afraid that that will all just be part of “operation fear” to encourage the electorate merely to acquiesce quietly and gently as we continue the destruction of the sovereignty of our Parliament and this place.

I think we need to go back in time a little. We will go back to 1971—to Edward Heath’s White Paper, in which he said:

“There is no question of Britain losing essential…sovereignty.”

In 1973, he said:

“There are some in this country who fear that in going into Europe we shall in some way sacrifice independence and sovereignty. These fears, I need hardly say, are completely unjustified.”

Papers have been written since by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that, I am afraid, reveal what was really happening.

What has developed since then? Obviously those papers were produced in the very infant days of what the European Union was trying to become. It has since amassed a number of treaties, directives and decisions, and of course the bulk of ECJ law. For brevity, I shall concentrate on a couple of fiscal matters. With regard to VAT, in particular, we are entirely and completely subservient to EU law. Some months ago, we had a rather entertaining debate about the tampon tax. That really did highlight the fact, perhaps accidently, that we in this place are completely unable to enact any changes to a very key stream of national legislation. We merely walk through the Lobbies, supplicant to what Brussels has told us we must do.

When the Chancellor prepares his annual Budget, he has to start with the £20 billion of gross contributions to the EU—some 30% of our current deficit. Across corporate taxes, in dividends and losses, the primary authority is increasingly ECJ cases. When he seeks new rules to enhance Britain’s investment and entrepreneurial spirit—I cite the enterprise investment scheme and, more recently, the seed enterprise investment scheme—he has to seek permission from Brussels in case they flout state aid rules.

The direction of travel of the European Union is very obvious. I merely quote Angela Merkel:

“we need a political union—which means we need to gradually cede powers to Europe and give Europe control.”

We are simply on the wrong bus. If we do not take this opportunity to leave, it is probably just as well that there is a proposal for a major renovation of this palace to be conducted, because dear old museums need care. This referendum gives us the opportunity to restore this place—to restore to the public of the UK that which should never have been taken away from them.

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2.17 pm

Marcus Fysh (Yeovil) (Con): I believe in the primacy and sovereignty of this House which flow from the people who send us here. It is a great honour to follow such rousing and passionate speeches in that regard.

The position that I put to my constituents before I was elected was that I would try to give them my dispassionate assessment of what the referendum choice means in real terms for people and their families, that I would try to explain the logic of that so that others can see it and make their own choice, and that I would make a constructive attempt to approach whatever happens next to make sure that we get the best deal for those people. So if the House will bear with me for a moment, I want to run through a ledger on each side of the argument as to what some of the advantages of leaving or otherwise might be.

First, on an issue that is so important to people—can they get a house? I believe that, on balance, they will be a lot less likely to be able to get houses if we do not leave, partly because there is such an influx of migration from the EU that will not let up because of what is being proposed in the renegotiation. I would score that as a five on a one-to-five scale of effects.

The second aspect is people’s access to services such as school places and hospitals. Again, on balance, unless we leave it will be a lot less likely that they will have that access. Next is whether the cost of living will be manageable. I think that that is less likely, although not a lot less. There will be benefits of less regulation and tax if we leave. I am worried about the proposed VAT impositions on food and clothes, in particular, and potentially fuel duty. I would give a score of four on that aspect.

Will people be able to move in search of work to a big city in this country? I think that unlikely, unless we leave, so I score it five. Demand for housing and jobs in London is massive because foreign demand is crowding out domestic supply. I think that the answer to the question of whether people will be able to get a job where they are is the same either way. There may be one or two surprises on trade, but I think that, at the very least, they would be offset if we negotiated our own trade arrangements.

Will jobs pay better? Overall, I think that would be the case if we left, but not a lot more, so I score that four. Will people be able to go on holiday and work in Europe? That would be marginally less likely if we left, although I do not think it is a particular issue. Visa arrangements with non-EU countries, such as Australia, are perfectly normal and work quite well, so I score that two—a marginal negative—out of five.

Will people be safe under domestic security arrangements? I think that the answer is the same either way. We already share our data with our friends and allies in Europe, and that would not cease to be the case. It is only very recently that we have started sharing passenger manifests for aeroplanes, which is amazing. I think that will continue.

Will we be safe with regard to international security? I think that the answer to that question is also the same either way. As we have heard, we rely on NATO and that would not change. Our bilateral alliances will be constructive, I am sure. Will our environment be secure? I think it might be marginally less secure, so I score that two on my little scale.

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Turning to the local level, one of my constituents’ concerns is that big, international exporters such as Westland might run into trouble if we were to leave the EU. Personally I am not too worried about that. We would need to preserve the same sort of regulation with regard to Government procurement of large defence orders. We would also need to consider replacing some of the science and technology research investment money that the EU currently provides, but that is certainly not beyond the wit of man. Those things are doable. We would also need to look at farming subsidies, which have been mentioned.

Sir Gerald Howarth: My hon. Friend is making a very good case. Does he agree that if we no longer had to pay about £10 billion net to the European Commission, we would have an awful lot of money to be able to institute a proper arrangement for support for and investment in the research he has mentioned?

Marcus Fysh: I agree with my hon. Friend that there is scope for that. Clearly, we would need to spend a lot, so I do not buy the argument that we would have lots of extra money.

In summary, in respect of the 10 things I have listed, my score is 36 out of 50. By my logic—it is not an emotional logic to do with sovereignty, which I will come on to in a moment—I am leaning towards thinking that it is in our interests to leave. I would need to feel a fairly strong emotional attachment to the EU project and its institutions in order for it to outweigh that inclination. Although I do not have that emotional attachment, I realise that others do and that they might also make slightly different assessments of their interests. They will happily be able to choose for themselves. On the question of whether a sovereignty clause would make a major difference to the renegotiation, that is not clear, particularly with regard to restriction of immigration.

I do not think we can reform the EU dramatically by staying in. Clearly, the devil will be in the detail, which I will certainly look at. I have not made up my mind fully, but I believe in Britain and its people. The emotion I feel at the moment is for them. Personally, at this stage, I would be inclined to leave.

2.24 pm

Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): It is a great pleasure to follow my near neighbour in Somerset, my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Marcus Fysh), who gave a fantastic calculation as to why, on balance, it would be right to leave. I know that the people of Somerset will respond warmly to the lead he has given them.

I want to pick up on a couple of threads mentioned by the hon. Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) relating to parliamentary sovereignty. We sometimes get into the idea that parliamentary sovereignty comes out of a vacuum, but in fact it is a means to an end; it is not an end in itself. It is the way we represent the sovereignty of the British people. They delegate to us, for five years, the right to make laws in their name, but at the end of those five years they expect to have the sovereignty returned to them intact, so that they can decide how it should be used in future.

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In that sense, I am very close to the Scottish understanding of the sovereignty of the people, because it comes from them and belongs to them. It is not ours to give away; it is ours to protect, return and operate within. It is not about us as individual Members of Parliament or these grand rooms; it is about the rights of the British people and their ability to achieve through us the things that they have expected to achieve for centuries. I am thinking primarily of redress of grievance and the right to hold the Government to account.

That is why the issue is so difficult. Although it is possible to hold a Minister to account and to seek redress of grievance through this House in those areas that remain a domestic competence, as soon as an issue goes beyond these shores and becomes a European competence, it is impossible to obtain redress of grievance through this House. Indeed, in my correspondence with a Minister on behalf of a constituent, I was told that, although the Minister was sympathetic to my constituent’s plight, if he were given the redress he needed the British Government would themselves be fined. He could not, therefore, get that redress. That is a fundamental attack on parliamentary sovereignty which is there for the right reason.

On the renegotiation, the hon. Member for Glenrothes made an interesting point. He said that he thought many of us would vote against anyway, because we are so desperate and gasping at the bit to leave, and that, whatever happened, we would not have been willing to accept what the Prime Minister came up with. I do not accept that. I think that this was an opportunity for fundamental reform, but that has not happened. I do believe that the Government have acted in good faith—I do not believe they have got it right, but I do accept their good faith.

The Government have, however, negotiated around the edges. They are, perhaps, so steeped in the ways of the machinations of the European Union that they have failed to see the big picture and think that, when negotiating with 27 other countries and the Commission, it is an amazing achievement to get the right to hold a discussion on the difference in view between the Euro-outs and Euro-ins. It is like dealing with a brick wall—for want of a better cliché coming immediately to mind—so even being allowed a discussion results in them thinking, “Whoopee! We’ve achieved something very important that we can present to the British electorate.”

If we look from a further distance at what the Prime Minister has said over a number of years, what he promised in his Bloomberg speech and what we put in our manifesto, we see that they were not about pettifogging changes around the edges; they were about fundamental reform and the reassertion of sovereignty. Because the renegotiations were in that sense so narrow, so weak and so uninspired, the status quo is not an option in the referendum. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) said, the choice is not between leaving and staying exactly as we are; it is between leaving and remaining in a Union moving towards ever closer union.

If we look at our past opt-outs, we will see that that is true. The Prime Minister said yesterday that the social chapter no longer exists. It is incorporated in the treaty, so our opt-out came and went, as a frost on a winter morning might disappear as the sun comes out. Our opt-out on Schengen is there and it is important, but recently

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we agreed that we would be part of an EU border force: there is a migration problem, and the solution to it is of course more Europe and more European integration. We are going along with that, although we are not formally part of it. The Dublin treaties on returning people to the place where they first sought sanctuary are coming under threat, which would make our position outside Schengen very difficult to manage.

On justice and home affairs, we got an opt-out under the treaty of Lisbon, but again and again we have given more away. We have given away the arrest warrant and we have given away Prüm, so investigation and arrest are now in the hands of the European Union.

Mr Andrew Turner: Why was there no referendum on the things that were first taken out and then sent back?

Mr Rees-Mogg: The European Union Act 2011 was a protection, but it was also part of a coalition deal, so it ensured that things that the Lib Dems were quite keen on would not automatically trigger a referendum. I agree with my hon. Friend that we ought to have had a referendum on giving back the things that we had claimed when we opted out of justice and home affairs matters a little over a year ago. Now that arrest and investigation are determined at a European level, the argument for some European centralised oversight will only become stronger. If a Bulgarian issues an arrest warrant that is effective in the United Kingdom, surely there needs to be some European common standard to ensure that that is done properly.

The direction of travel is towards more Europe. Even in the context of monetary union, we should bear it in mind that we only have an opt-out from stage 3. We are committed to stages 1 and 2. The European Union has not enforced those in recent years, for obvious reasons, but that will not always be the case. We are committed—article 142 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union is relevant to this—to our currency being of interest to the European Union.

Dr Julian Lewis: Does my hon. Friend agree that part of the problem is that there is a huge degree of unification among the elites at the heart of the European Union, but there is no such sense of common identity among the peoples of the countries that make it up?

Mr Rees-Mogg: My right hon. Friend has hit the nail on the head. He is absolutely right: there is no common people, but there is an elite who have this vision that more Europe is the answer to a maiden’s prayer. Let is look at the treatment of Greece, and how it suffered through its membership of the euro, which was forced upon it. Greece was encouraged and egged on by the European Union and the Commission to adopt the euro, partly because it was the birthplace of democracy, and how outrageous if it did not join in this grand political scheme. When it got into difficulties, which economists knew it would get into, what was the answer from the European Union? More Europe, more control over its affairs, more direction over what it does and less domestic democracy. In what happened in Greece, we see the clash that is in the motion before us. We have a choice between moving to a single European state or maintaining the sovereignty that is still ours. To do that, we have to vote to leave. Texas maintained that it had the right to leave the United States; it did not.

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Mr Speaker: I would like the debate to finish at 3 o’clock, if possible, and certainly no later. I do not know whether there will be a Division of the House; we shall have to wait to see, but I would like the debate to finish by 3 o’clock if we can manage that.

2.33 pm

Stephen Gethins (North East Fife) (SNP): I thank the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) for bringing the debate to the House, and for his earlier comments. I will tackle the issue of sovereignty first. I refer those who have come late to the debate, and those who read my comments at another time, to the excellent speech given by my hon. Friend the Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant), who said that popular sovereignty lies with the people. The hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) also touched on that in his excellent contribution.

Fundamentally, we think that the negotiations have been a missed opportunity. When we hear people blaming the European Union, we wonder whether we should instead be thinking about how the UK uses its role as a member state. I think that that may be where the fault has lain over the years.

Peter Grant: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his thoroughly unwarranted praise. At this moment, there are no fewer than 16 documents from Europe that the European Scrutiny Committee has asked to have debated in Parliament. Some are scheduled and some are not. Some have been waiting for more than two years. Does my hon. Friend agree that, all too often, people point the finger of blame at the European Union for being unaccountable and not subject to scrutiny, but perhaps we should look more closely at the Government’s unwillingness to be scrutinised over how it interacts with Europe?

Stephen Gethins: My hon. Friend raises an important point, and I know that it is a frustration of his—as a member of the European Scrutiny Committee—and of others that the UK Government appear reluctant for their actions in the EU to be properly scrutinised. Perhaps that is something that the Minister can deal with in his summing up.

We saw this missed opportunity from the very start. There was a lack of consultation with the devolved Administrations, on which the matter will have a significant impact. When it comes to Europe, the Government need all the friends that they can possibility get. The failure to take on board the devolved Administrations, who have done a much better job of making friends and influencing people in recent times in the European Union, was a missed opportunity.

Another missed opportunity was the chance to think about what really constitutes a member state. I was interested earlier to hear Conservative Members trying to compare Scottish independence with this debate. Let me tell the House this: the European Union could not impose the poll tax on the United Kingdom against its will, the European Union could not send nuclear convoys through the United Kingdom against its will and the European Union could not impose Trident on the United Kingdom against its will. Those are all things that could be imposed on Scotland. The role of a member state and Scottish independence are two totally separate issues.

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Mr Baron: I am delighted that my friend and colleague on the Foreign Affairs Committee is giving way. I suggest to him gently that when the Scottish people voted for the Union, they voted with it for the ability to make decisions on behalf of all the peoples of our Union. That needs to be recognised by the SNP.

Stephen Gethins: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contribution, which was thoughtful, as usual. On that point, of course they did. It is a matter of respect. We may not have liked that decision, but it is the decision that they made, and it is why we are here in record numbers to make our contribution. Let me draw out the point about respect, because I believe that the hon. Gentleman may agree with it. If we are going to have a referendum, we should not have it too soon. That means respecting the electoral process in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, London and the English local authorities. My right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) and Members from every single party in the House have signed my early-day motion stating that a June referendum would be “disrespectful”, and I think that goes to the heart of the matter. That is why the European Union referendum will be a huge test of the Union that the voters of Scotland voted to remain in.

As well as considering the respect agenda and allowing a long time, the Government—Opposition Members may agree with me on this—should have the courage of their convictions and have a proper debate about membership of the European Union. My right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon announced the date of the independence referendum 545 days before it was held. I am not quite suggesting that we should wait 545 days before we sort this out, but I am suggesting that June is too early and that if, as the Government suggest, this is a once-in-40-years decision, we should make it properly and have the courage of our convictions. I fully believe that the case for remaining in the European Union stands up to that scrutiny, and I look forward to making that case. I know that Conservative Members have different views, and I respect them, but let us have a proper debate on the matter.

As my right hon. Friend quite rightly said, and the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay mentioned this point as well, we do not want another “Project Fear”. I have been concerned by some of the arguments that have been made. Do not get me wrong, Mr Speaker, because I believe—I will say this to put it on the record—that the United Kingdom could be a successful independent country outside the European Union and that it could stand on its own two feet. The question is whether or not we are better off by doing so. Let us not have another “Project Fear”.

There is the issue of Scotland being taken out of the European Union against its will. While we have been in the Chamber this afternoon, an opinion poll has been produced by TNS. It shows that 44% of Scots want to remain within the European Union, and 21% want to leave, with the remainder undecided. We look forward to that debate, but the poll shows that the overwhelming majority of the people of Scotland want to remain within the European Union.

Sir Gerald Howarth: Is the hon. Gentleman aware that serious vested interests in the European Union will in no way allow Scotland to accede to the European Union? If he does not see that, he need look no further than Spain.

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Stephen Gethins: If the hon. Gentleman seriously thinks that the European Union would somehow vote not to have its most energy-rich country and the one with its longest external border as part of its union, I think he seriously misunderstands the European project. I have never heard anything so ludicrous. In the same sense, I have heard Conservative Members say that Scotland would somehow be in a queue behind Albania. I think that that is disrespectful, and I hope he will not continue the debate in that tone of disrespect.

Mutual respect, which is the reason why Scotland should not be taken out of the Europe, also extends to respect for immigrants, which has also been raised in this debate. Immigration is and has been good for this country, and I want it to continue. It is good for my constituency and the businesses within it. We need to be careful how we conduct the debate on immigration.

I am wondering whether the Minister will comment on the principle of subsidiarity. I do not know what difference this deal will make to strengthening Scotland’s national Parliament, or indeed the Parliaments and Assemblies elsewhere in the country. Does the principle of subsidiarity end in this place? It most certainly should not do so.

Let us make the positive case for membership of the European Union. I want to see a long and proper debate, as I am sure do Members from both sides of the House. I hope that they will vote with us when it comes to setting the date of the referendum. Let us talk about where we should have more Europe. I do not think that we should be afraid of that on issues such as climate change—yes, it does exist—as well as security policies and so on. Let us also talk about having less Europe. We have raised the issue of fisheries. Let us bear in mind that Scotland’s fishermen were described as expendable not by the European Union, but by the United Kingdom Government who sought to represent them. On that point, I will sit down. Thank you, Mr Speaker.

Mr Speaker: Very good, indeed. I call Pat Glass.

2.42 pm

Pat Glass (North West Durham) (Lab): This has been a very long debate, and I have sat through the whole of it. I counted 14 speeches in total, not including the winding-up speeches, and it started with that of the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron). The speeches were all passionate and eloquent, and we have heard some very strongly held views. The last Back Bencher to speak was the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg), who is always eloquent and entertaining—so much so that, on occasions, I find myself nodding along, even though I do not agree with a single word he says.

It is depressing that we have heard a rehash of many of the same, often ill-informed, myths and stories about how Britain no longer has control over its own sovereignty, having yielded everything to Europe. What I found most disappointing is that, for people outside Parliament watching the debate in the Chamber, the speakers have largely been older, grey-haired men in grey suits—

Kate Hoey rose

Pat Glass: I said “largely”.

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I do not believe that that represents the country we are here to serve or the views of the people outside Parliament. It has been yet another debate—I am sure there will be many more up to the referendum—in which members of the Eurosceptic right wing of the Tory party have been able to grandstand, while positioning an ice pick firmly in the back of their own Front Benchers and lining up to rubbish their own Prime Minister’s negotiations. Two of my Labour colleagues have joined in enthusiastically, but given that over 96% of the members of the parliamentary Labour party, including every member of the shadow Cabinet, are members of the PLP pro-EU group, it is absolutely clear that Labour is a pro-Europe party and that it is campaigning actively for a remain vote in the referendum.

I am conscious that the debate has been very long and that we have heard an awful lot from one side of the argument, but I want to be respectful of the House and to give the Minister time to sum up, so I intend to be brief.

Right at the beginning, the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay said that the electorate got very exercised about our sovereignty. Not in my experience: people in my constituency are concerned about jobs, youth unemployment, housing, the bedroom tax, tax avoidance by large companies and, yes, immigration, but the people I speak to never talk about the sovereignty of the EU, EU bureaucracy or Britain’s rebate. That just does not happen on the doorstep.

Mr Baron: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Sir William Cash: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Pat Glass: No. I am sorry, but we have heard an awful lot from one side of the argument.

People in the Westminster bubble, particularly Conservative Members, are exercised about all those things, but given that I have no reason to believe that the people of North West Durham are any different from people across the country, they are simply not the top priorities of people working hard outside Parliament.

Mr Baron: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Pat Glass: No.

This is largely a Tory party drama—a blue-on-blue issue—with very little relevance to the lives of ordinary people who are struggling to pay their rents and mortgages, and to get their kids to school. The Prime Minister has repeatedly given in to his own right wing, seeming not to understand that they will never be satisfied on these issues. In doing so, he has risked this country’s future prosperity, safety and place in the world.

I will not go over them in great detail, but there are many reasons for remaining part of the EU. There is the economic case and the environmental case, as well as issues involving this country’s future safety and security and our place in the world. The Labour party is committed to keeping Britain in the European Union, because we believe it is in the best interests of the British people. For us, it is simple: Britain is a stronger, safer and more prosperous country as part of the European Union.

The world is becoming more and more globalised. The problems that we face are complex and they need complex international responses. We cannot solve the

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problems of climate change, international terrorism, international crime, people trafficking or mass migration across the world on our own; we can tackle those issues only by working with our partners in Europe. We are part of NATO and the UN, as well as of other organisations across the world, which means that we have given up some of the things we used to do ourselves for the greater good, the safety and sometimes the prosperity of our country. I do not see a problem with any of that.

I will move quickly on to what should happen in the future. I want our sovereignty to be enhanced through seeking democratic reform that will make EU decision makers more accountable to its people and not so metaphorically and physically distant from our communities. I want economic reform that will put jobs and sustainable growth at the centre of European policy, and that will bring in labour market reforms to strengthen workers’ rights in a real social Europe. I believe that we enhance our sovereignty by negotiating with our EU partners for policies and agreements that benefit us as a country and improve the lives of our citizens.

Ultimately, the referendum will come down to a decision to remain or leave, and I believe that the people of this country will vote for the future and not for a past that only ever existed in the minds of the Eurosceptics on the Conservative Benches.

Mr Speaker: Order. I should say to the Minister that I would like to call the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) to wind up no later than 2.58 pm.

2.48 pm

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): The hon. Member for North West Durham (Pat Glass) said that this had been a long debate. I confess that for me it passed in a twinkling of an eye. As the hon. Lady gains in experience of these occasions, I think she will find that this was quite a brief encounter with some of the arguments about this country’s place in Europe.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) on obtaining the debate. I shall move straight to addressing the central arguments that he described in his speech. He is right that parliamentary sovereignty lies at the heart of how the United Kingdom thinks about its constitutional arrangements, and it is true that Parliament remains sovereign today. As I think he himself said in his speech, there is only one reason why European law has effect in the United Kingdom at all, and that is because Parliament has determined that that should be so and has enacted laws which give European law legal effect here.

To avoid any misunderstanding about the fact that any authority that EU law has in Britain derives from Parliament itself, we wrote into the European Union Act 2011, in section 18, that the principle was clear—that European law has direct effect in the United Kingdom only because of Acts of Parliament. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said yesterday, if there is more we can do to make that principle clear, we would be keen to do that. It is open to Parliament, too, to pass laws to rescind the European Communities Act 1972 to end Britain’s membership of the European Union. If that were not the case, if ultimate sovereignty did not continue to lie here, there would be little purpose in our having this national debate about a referendum on British membership.

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My hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) is right that standing alone in 1940 should continue to be a source of pride and inspiration to everybody in this country from whichever political family they happen to come, but let us not forget that that was never a situation that this country or Winston Churchill sought. It was one forced upon us by defeat, and only a few days or weeks before the Churchill speech about fighting on alone, he had gone to France and offered France a political union with the United Kingdom in order to try to maintain the struggle against Nazism. If we look back at our great history, we can see how leaders such as Marlborough, Pitt, Wellington, Castlereagh and Disraeli sought to advance the interests of the United Kingdom and the British people through building coalitions of allies and of support among other nations on the European continent.

Sir William Cash: Will the Minister give way?

Mr Lidington: My hon. Friend will forgive me—I have very limited time. Many colleagues have spoken and I want to respond on behalf of the Government.

As a number of hon. Members said, there is concern about the question of ever closer union—about Britain being drawn against its will into a closer political European Union. There are a number of clear safeguards against that. As the hon. Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) pointed out, we remain opted out of such things as the single currency. We can decide for ourselves whether to participate in individual justice and human rights measures. There are issues such as taxation and foreign and security policy where the national right of veto continues.

We wrote into the European Union Act 2011 a requirement that a referendum of the British people would be needed before this or any future Government could sign up to treaty changes that transferred new competencies and powers from this country to Brussels—to the European institutions. That referendum lock also applies to any measure that moves the power to take decisions at European level from unanimity, with the national veto, to majority voting.

What the draft documents from President Tusk this week explicitly recognise is that there should be different levels of integration for different member states, and that the language and the preamble to the treaty about ever closer union does not compel all member states to aim for a common destination. The fact that this is a draft declaration by the European Council is significant, because the treaty itself says that it is for the European Council to set the strategic political direction of the EU as a whole.

We need to recognise in this House that there are other European countries for whom the objective of ever closer union may be welcome and in line with their national interests. Ministers from the Baltic states have said to me, “When you’ve been through our experience of being fought over by Soviet communism and Nazism, when you’ve lost a quarter of your population to those tyrannies and to warfare, when you’ve lived under Soviet rule for half a century, and then you get back your independence and your democracy, you grab any bit of European integration that’s going because you want

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that appalling and tragic history not to repeat itself.” We should respect their wish for closer political union, in return for their respecting our clear wish to remain outside such a process.

My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay asked whether we would reinvent the EU today. I say to him and to the House very plainly that if we were starting from scratch, I would not start with the treaty of Lisbon, but we are where we are. The debate both in this place and in the country, when assessing the results of the Prime Minister’s renegotiation and the wider issues at stake, should be about whether the interests of the British people whom we represent—their security, their prosperity, their hopes and ambitions for their children—are better served by remaining in the European Union, which I hope will be successfully reformed, but which will still not be perfect, or by leaving and attempting from the outside, de novo, to secure some kind of new arrangement with that bloc of countries. That is the context within which we should consider the specific issues that have been raised in this debate.

I will take trade as an example, because a number of hon. Members have mentioned it. Outside the European Union, we would have the theoretical freedom to negotiate free trade agreements on our own behalf. However, it is not just a matter of speculation, but what leading trading nations say to us, that they are much more ready to negotiate trade deals with a European market of 500 million people, with all the leverage that gives us as a player in that single market, than to negotiate with even a large European country on its own.

Mr Jenkin: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr Lidington: No; I apologise to my hon. Friend, but time is very limited.

The reality is that the World Trade Organisation and other international organisations are largely directed by blocs of countries and very large nations such as China and the United States. I believe that the interests of the British people are better served not simply by having a separate flag and name plate on the table, but by playing a leading role in shaping the position of the world’s biggest and wealthiest trading bloc, using its leverage to advance our national interests and winning new opportunities for businesses and consumers in this country.

I am disappointed by the pessimism of some hon. Members. Look at what we have achieved through positive British action at the European level. It was Margaret Thatcher who built the single European market that has made possible, for example, affordable aviation for ordinary British families in every part of this country. It was Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Labour Prime Ministers who made possible the entrenchment of democracy, the rule of law and human rights in central European countries where those things were crushed for most of the 20th century. We did that through support for the enlargement project. The work that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is leading to strengthen co-operative European work against terrorism and organised crime is doing more to aid our security and defend the safety of the British people than we would be able to achieve through unilateral action.

I want us to be in a reformed European Union and in the single market, playing a leading role in creating a safer and more prosperous Britain and a safer and more

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prosperous Europe. We should be in the things that matter to us and that benefit us, but out of ever closer political union—out of the euro, the European army and Schengen. There is a real prize available to us. That is why I am supporting so enthusiastically the work that my Prime Minister and this country’s Prime Minister is doing to secure that future for the United Kingdom in a successful and reformed European Union.

Mr Speaker: The hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) must certainly have a couple of minutes in which to wind up the debate.

2.59 pm

Mr Baron: Many thanks for remaining with us during the course of this debate, Mr Speaker.

I suggest that we are approaching a seminal point in our history, when we will either choose to remain inside the EU and continue down the road of ever closer union, at the expense of our sovereignty, or vote to leave the EU and, thereby, regain our ability to have the final say on issues such as the primacy of our laws, the integrity of our borders and the extent of business regulation. The fact that No. 10 seems now to be talking about a sovereignty Bill clearly illustrates that the Government’s so-called red card system, or watered-down, washed-up lottery ticket, and the emergency brake controlled by an EU backseat driver, is unravelling as we speak.

Such measures will not stop us being drawn into ever closer union with the EU should we remain, and they certainly will not restore our parliamentary sovereignty. The British people want to be represented by their MPs, not governed by the EU. Sovereignty is ours to cherish, not to sacrifice. I am afraid that the Minister and the Government have been unable to answer our questions, so I therefore intend to press to a vote the motion which clearly says that the Government’s EU renegotiations must encompass Parliament’s ability to stop any unwanted legislation, taxes or regulation.

Question put.

A Division was called, but no Members being appointed Tellers for the Ayes, the Speaker declared that the Noes had it.

Question accordingly negatived.

Mr Speaker: The Division is off. Perhaps the hon. Members were locked in a room by somebody. Good heavens. Well, there we are. I was all ready to sit in for the Division—I have been here for the last two and a half hours for the debate, so I was perfectly prepared to be here for the Division, but a Division must take place in an orderly way, or not at all.

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[Relevant documents: Oral evidence taken before the International Development Committee on 27 January 2016, on the crisis in Yemen, HC 532; Correspondence between the International Development Committee and Rt Hon Justine Greening MP, relating to the crisis in Yemen, reported to the House on 2 February 2016, HC 532.]

3.5 pm

Kirsten Oswald (East Renfrewshire) (SNP): I beg to move,

That this House has considered the conflict in Yemen.

I am very pleased to have secured this important debate. I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for allowing it to take place here today.

We meet against a background of continuing conflict and death, with further reports of Saudi-backed strikes on populated areas, most recently a cement factory in the city of Amran. That resulted in reports of further deaths, including of people inside cars parked nearby, of shopkeepers and of residents going about their daily business. This is a very pressing issue. The humanitarian situation in Yemen is dreadful and it is getting worse. Recent estimates by the United Nations suggest that over 8,000 people have been killed in Yemen since March last year. At least 1,500 children are reported to have died. Much of the civilian infrastructure has been destroyed by air strikes and armed fighting on the ground, effectively cutting families off from essential services, including clean water, sanitation and medical treatment.

My hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) has already raised in this House the incident in which a Médecins sans Frontières hospital in Saada was hit by missiles. That was the third MSF facility to come under attack in recent months. People are dying there from what should be preventable diseases because there are not hospitals, medical supplies or infrastructure to prevent it. With hospitals reduced to rubble, thousands of children are at risk of malnutrition. In fact, Save the Children has reported a 150% increases in cases of severe acute malnutrition among children. Some of their facilities, which should be safe havens, have been destroyed.

It is no surprise, therefore, to see Médecins sans Frontières and others declare that the conflict in Yemen is being played out with total disregard for the rules of war. The UK Government have been aware of mounting evidence of civilian deaths and of the destruction of civilian infrastructure. Among other growing voices, Amnesty International has raised concerns about air strikes targeting heavily populated civilian areas with no military targets nearby. That would clearly constitute a violation of international humanitarian law.

The numbers of civilians dying as a direct consequence of the conflict are stark. According to the UN, 73% of child deaths and injuries during the second quarter of 2015 were attributable to air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition. Some 60% of all civilian deaths and injuries have been attributed to air-launched explosive devices. Increasing numbers of children are being pressed into military service, used as pawns by both sides in the conflict, and placed in increasingly dangerous and vulnerable situations. More than 3 million children are now out of school. Education has fallen by the wayside,

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setting the children of Yemen up perfectly to be another lost generation, with significant long-term consequences for the country and the region.

More than 21.2 million people in Yemen, including 10 million children, are now in need of humanitarian aid. This staggering figure gives Yemen the dubious distinction of being the country with the highest number of people in humanitarian need in the world. Yemen relies almost entirely on imports for its food, so the de facto blockade imposed by the Saudi-led coalition at the start of its military intervention in March 2015 has had an extremely damaging impact. There is a very high level of food insecurity. According to the UN, 14.4 million Yemeni people are in this situation. In basic terms, that means one in every two people is not getting enough to eat.

One of the most distressing features of the conflicts that have plagued the middle east for too long is the re-emergence of the barbaric practice of siege as a weapon of war. When I raised the issue in the context of Syria, I was pleased to receive confirmation of the UK Government’s position that the imposition of starvation and deliberate destruction of the means of daily life for civilians may be a matter for the International Criminal Court. The practice must be stopped. It is vital that support be given to ensure that supplies and humanitarian aid can enter the country and be safely distributed to the population, including in the southern city of Taiz, where humanitarian access has been extremely constrained. Parties to the conflict must be pressed to allow this access. Unless we address those issues, we should not be surprised to see continued outflows of refugees from countries bombed back into the dark ages. Such an outcome is exactly what Daesh is working towards. Those who claim the status of legitimate Government cannot continue to act like medieval warlords and expect to receive the backing of the international community.

It is important to acknowledge the brave and tireless work of many non-governmental organisations working in the area, despite the huge dangers they face in this volatile situation. The conduct of the war means that NGOs are having to put their workers in peril. This raises significant questions about how much longer they will be prepared to do so, and about the consequences for Yemeni civilians if they decide they cannot continue. The Government must now listen to these organisations and consider the evidence. They must acknowledge what is happening and the scale of the issue. It is vital that they put pressure on all parties to allow humanitarian agencies a safe space to operate.

I acknowledge the important and welcome role of the Department for International Development in supporting the Yemeni population. Its response has been flexible and responsive and would appear to provide a constructive way forward, were it not for the astonishing mismatch between its welcome work and the Government’s military dealings with Saudi Arabia, which severely impact on life in Yemen and the country’s future prospects.

World attention on difficulties in the middle east is focused on the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, and sadly the catastrophic situation in Yemen is often overlooked. Yemen’s status as only a minor oil producer—it is not even a member of OPEC—perhaps makes the country less likely to feature on the western news radar. The International

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Red Cross described Yemen as one of the world’s forgotten conflict zones. While the world looks elsewhere, economic and political power plays in the middle east cause ever more chaos and destruction to the country. The UK cannot continue to look the other way or sit on the fence. If it does, it must accept that its foreign policy is morally bankrupt and that its lack of action is both knowing and deliberate.

Yemen is facing one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. Meanwhile, the daily intensive use of explosive weapons, often in populated areas, continues to rain down death on the civilian population. Many of these civilians have been killed by air strikes conducted by the Saudi Arabian air force, using British-built planes flown by pilots trained by British instructors, including at RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland, dropping British-made bombs—they are probably made in Scotland—and with operations co-ordinated by Saudi Arabia in the presence of British military advisers.

Figures from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills show that in the third quarter of last year, the UK granted more than £1 billion of arms export licences for Saudi Arabia, despite overwhelming evidence of human rights violations committed by the Saudi-led coalition in its aerial bombing campaign.

Stephen Gethins (North East Fife) (SNP): Does my hon. Friend agree that if the Government consider that there have been breaches of international humanitarian law, the Government should investigate and report to the House?

Kirsten Oswald: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend.

Through their substantial support for Saudi Arabia, the Government are exacerbating the desperate plight of the people of Yemen. Since the conflict reignited in March, there have reports of serious violations of the laws of war by all sides. Human Rights Watch has documented several apparently unlawful coalition airstrikes between April and August. In all these cases, it either found no evident military target or considered that the attack failed to distinguish between civilians and military objectives. There are legal questions to be answered about the UK supplying weapons to Saudi Arabia in support of its military intervention and indiscriminate bombing campaign in Yemen.

It is important that we take stock of other UK interventions in this part of the world. Not only in Yemen but across the region, we have a very chequered past. The UK has a history of subjugating the interests of the population in the region, who are bit players in UK conflicts with other powers. Although we still have significant relationships with the rulers and leaders of the region, the UK is, perhaps unsurprisingly, mistrusted for its failure to deliver on promises. As Tarek Osman says,

“the wave of Arab uprisings that commenced in 2011 is this generation’s attempt at changing the consequences of the state order that began in the aftermath of World War One.”

Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con): The hon. Lady is making an interesting speech. The World Food Programme made the point that both sides in the conflict—not just one—are impeding the distribution of food aid to those millions of people who desperately need it. Does she agree?

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Kirsten Oswald: The hon. Gentleman makes a valid and important point, but what we need to do is to ensure that everyone engaged in that region co-operates, wherever possible, to ensure that people get the food and other support that they need.

This new generation in Yemen, who are searching for a better future, have been abandoned to a conflict influenced by others, none of whom have the needs of the Yemeni people in mind.

The Minister said in a speech last week that Saudi Arabia should do a “better job” of trumpeting its human rights successes. What an astonishing statement to make. I think we can safely assume that the civilians in Yemen suffering as a result of this terrible onslaught will feel that they have no human rights whatsoever. Human rights, and particularly those of the people of Yemen, evidently did not loom large in that statement—but they must. The UK Government must admit that they have been front and centre of the Saudi bombing campaign in Yemen, and that yet again we are putting profit before basic human rights and international law.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Tobias Ellwood): I agree that the hon. Lady is making a powerful and pertinent speech. However, I ask her to be cautious in quoting from The Independent, which used a Google translator to translate a press release of a statement that did not accurately represent the meeting I had in Saudi Arabia. I did make that point last week in response to the urgent question and I repeat it today—I would never use such language. I made it very clear to the Saudi Arabians that they have a long way to go, and that we wanted to work with them on improving their human rights.

Kirsten Oswald: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I echo his sentiment that there is a significant way to go in respect of human rights, which is a matter of great concern. I was in the Chamber last week, so I am pleased that I can recall the sentiment, if not the words, of what the hon. Gentleman said. I will be interested to look back at the discussion, because I thought the sentiment was quite clear.

The UK Government must fully consider the situation in Yemen. There is no doubt that it is challenging in many ways, but this does not mean that we should disregard either the credible evidence coming from the area or the realities and scale of the problem. A UN panel of experts has documented 119 coalition sorties relating to violations of international law in Yemen—including the targeting of civilians. It is worthy of note that the International Development Committee, while observing that this UN report was leaked, did not consider that this affected the credibility of what it was asserting.

Edward Argar (Charnwood) (Con): Does not the hon. Lady agree with the representative of UNICEF who appeared before the International Development Committee—chaired by the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg)—who said that he did not believe that there was “deliberate targeting” of civilians?

Kirsten Oswald: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, and it is important to hear from as many organisations as possible. I must tell him that in the

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research I conducted, I encountered many organisations that have indeed suggested that there was targeting of civilians, which gives us all the more reason to have a proper investigation into the situation.

I must ask the Minister today whether he doubts the credibility of the UN panel of experts, and if so, why he feels that way. As in other parts of the region, we must do all we can to facilitate and support a peace process. We should be encouraged that the parties have previously come to the table, but it is disappointing that these talks have so far been delayed. One issue that needs to be addressed—this can come only with good first-hand information, as was suggested—is just how much control those who claim leadership really exercise over the myriad groups in conflict across the country. The leaders of al-Qaeda and Daesh-linked groups have no interest in peace, and we must not let them scupper every peace effort by destroying attempts to bring about a ceasefire. We know that, across Yemen today, chaos reigns. Disparate forces and agendas clash and bombs rain down from the air, destroying infrastructure, homes and lives.

Wendy Morton (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con): Does the hon. Lady accept, however, that the Yemen conflict is spilling over the borders from Yemen and outwith?

Kirsten Oswald: I think that conflict in any area is cause for concern, but today we must focus on this particular conflict, and on the question of where the United Kingdom Government’s responsibility lies. I believe that it is inconsistent for them to give aid to Yemen with one hand while, with the other, selling weapons that will be used to bomb the country to smithereens.

The Minister and the UK Government need to come clean about the specific involvement of the UK military in arms sales, training and logistics in relation to Saudi Arabia’s military operations in Yemen. I do not think that conflict by proxy is the policy of the Conservatives, but given what is happening in Yemen, it is difficult to see how that is not the case. The Belgian Government have felt able to suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia, yet we continue to ignore human rights issues both in Saudi Arabia and in respect of Yemen, and continue to sell arms.

The delay in the establishment of the Committees on Arms Export Controls may have had an influence on the position. The Committees should have been established months ago, as has been highlighted by the continued pressure exerted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Angus Robertson). Let me ask the Minister this: what has been the cost to human life of that delay?

I agree wholeheartedly with the Chair of the International Development Committee, who said in his letter yesterday:

“It is a longstanding principle of the rule of law that inquiries should be independent of those being investigated.”

It is very disappointing that the UK Government did not take the opportunity in September 2015 to endorse the proposal of the Government of the Netherlands for the establishment of an international fact-finding mission to investigate the conduct of the war. That would have provided the information sought by the Minister, who recently said that if weapons systems had been abused and genuine intelligence was available to verify that, action would be taken in relation to export licensing.

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It is time for the UK Government to stop running away from scrutiny, and to take urgent action to suspend all sales of arms to Saudi Arabia until it can demonstrate that they are not being used against civilians, and not being used in violation of international law. The UK must do more to alleviate this humanitarian crisis and ensure that there is access to areas where people are besieged and starving, and every effort must be made to ensure that the delayed peace talks begin. We cannot stand by any longer as Yemen descends further and further into terror and chaos. It is time for the UK Government to step up and do the right thing.

3.21 pm

Edward Argar (Charnwood) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald) on securing this important debate, although I did not agree with every word that she said. I must say that I believe the British Government are more than open to scrutiny: the presence of this Minister in the House on numerous occasions, responding to questions and debates about Yemen, is testimony to that.

It is with some sadness that I speak in a debate about a country that is very close to my heart, but is suffering the horrors of conflict so eloquently described by the hon. Lady. The current war in Yemen has been described as the “forgotten war” by, among others, the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) during a recent debate. The hon. Gentleman will be reassured to know that, while I agree with him about very few things, I do agree with him about that.

Sadly, the war in Yemen is still the forgotten war today, despite the work of many non-governmental organisations and many Members of Parliament. I think particularly of the work of the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), and of all he has done to ensure that the House remains cognisant of what is happening in Yemen. I should add that he and others have always sought to highlight the joys of the country, and to explain why it is such a wonderful country. I know that Yemen is also very close to the heart of my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat), who knows it very well.

As well as being vice-chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on Yemen, I have had the pleasure and privilege of visiting and travelling around the country on a number of occasions, and seeing such wonderful places as Sana'a and Aden, but also Taiz, Ibb and Hadhramaut. I fear that, sadly, my visits to Yemen will not be repeated for some years, but they gave me an insight into this complex, ancient land and its generous, hospitable and fiercely loyal people. Along with, I am sure, many other Members, I am proud to declare myself a friend of Yemen and its people; and, of course, the United Kingdom has a long-standing friendship and an historical and trusted relationship with the country.

All that makes it even sadder to see what has become of Yemen. Its former President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, described ruling the country as akin to

“dancing on the heads of snakes”,

so complex are its history and its religious, tribal and political make-up.

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Yemen faces many challenges, as we have heard. It is the most populous country in the Arabian peninsula, with a population of almost 30 million, but it is also one of the poorest, with an annual income per head of less than $1,500. Yemen does not have the advantage—although these days perhaps it is a diminishing advantage—of oil revenues to swell its coffers and budget, and it has historically relied heavily on imports of food, goods and, crucially, diesel fuel in order to function. All this is compounded by the challenges of a burgeoning young male population with limited economic prospects. Those conditions, overlaid with a fractured polity and a security situation that is fragile at the best of times, mean that Yemen has always been in a precarious situation, even before the current conflict.

Yemen has always been more of a loose confederation of tribes than a nation state with strong central control on the Westphalian model, and for centuries its location has placed it at the centre of proxy wars waged by other powers. Today, in some ways, it finds itself in that situation again, with an Iranian-backed Houthi militia fighting a Saudi-led coalition supporting the legitimate Government of President Hadi, with regional and dynastic geopolitics also playing in their part in the conflict.

The conflict and its consequences are clear and stark, and I shall reiterate just a few of the comments made by the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire. More than 20 million people are at risk of starvation and humanitarian disaster, with 82% in need of some assistance, according to Save the Children. Of course it is often the children, the most innocent, who are the most likely victims of any conflict.

Our effort to play our part in helping to end this ruinous conflict has a number of major component parts. The most immediate is of course the provision of humanitarian relief. The witness from Oxfam at a recent hearing of the International Development Committee, chaired by the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), said that the support by DFID had been “really profound and fundamental”. UK aid already totals more than £85 million, and its scale is constrained only by the situation on the ground and the ability to distribute it safely. The UK’s aid contribution is not in doubt, and I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), will convey to his counterparts in the Department for International Development the expressions of support from me and the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire for the work that it has done. I sincerely hope that that work will be built upon so that we can build an international coalition of aid givers. As we look across Parliament Square today, we see that there is rightly a focus on the situation in Syria, but we must make every effort to ensure that the situation in Yemen receives the same priority.

After food and medicines, getting fuel and water into Yemen remains one of the biggest challenges. Ports such as Hodeidah are barely functioning, and when they do, ships sometimes have to wait offshore for weeks before being able to offload. For a country that was already reliant on imports for its food and fuel needs, this is a disaster. Getting supplies into and around the country is vital, and I hope that the Minister will be able to update the House on that work later.

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The humanitarian response and the UK’s continued role in it are vital, but we are to a large degree tackling the consequences rather than the causes of the problem, and we must strive to tackle both. The Minister has made it clear—in statements to the Select Committee, I believe—that the UK is not a party to this conflict, and he is right. The UK is not an active participant in the coalition, although we rightly support it as a reflection of our support for the legitimate Government of Yemen headed by President Hadi. We must make it clear, as was mentioned earlier, that it is unhelpful to focus on only one party to the conflict as being responsible for the civilian casualties. Both sides bear responsibility for the consequences of the conflict.

Kevin Foster: Does my hon. Friend acknowledge that there is a UN resolution that the coalition of states is seeking to enforce?

Edward Argar: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and displays his usual erudition and eloquence on this topic, as on so many others.

It is vital that renewed impetus is given to peace talks to find a lasting settlement to bring stability to the country. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Sir Alan Duncan) and to this Minister for their work on this issue. I alluded earlier to the fact that Yemen could have no greater friend in the British Government than this Minister. I know he cares passionately and personally for the plight of the people of Yemen, and is working day and night to do what he can to alleviate it and bring peace to that country.

We must always remember that a peace settlement that is imposed from outside or that does not recognise and heed all voices in Yemen is doomed to fail. We in the UK have the potential to continue to play a significant role in bringing all sides together, but any settlement to bring lasting peace must emerge from within Yemen itself. I am reminded of what I believe is an old Arab proverb, “Me and my brother against my cousin, but me and my cousin against a stranger.” We must always remember that peace must come from within the country. The final element, in the longer term, must be support and a clear commitment over a prolonged period to rebuild this shattered country and its infrastructure, primarily its fuel and water infrastructure.

Before concluding, let me briefly deal with the comments made by the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire about the need for any suspected or reported abuses of human rights or civilian casualties to be investigated. The Minister has always been clear that where allegations of civilian casualties or about the consequences of actions are made, he and others have raised them with the Saudi Arabian Government, as appropriate. What was agreed in September at the Human Rights Council by all those there represents the right way forward: the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, working with the legitimate Government of Yemen—that is important in terms of access—will investigate, as appropriate, any such allegations. I believe it is due to report in March. That agreement, built on a consensus at the HRC, represents the right way forward. These things are always confusing through “the fog of war”—I believe that is the title of a well-read piece of research by my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling in respect of broader legal challenges sometimes faced by our armed forces, in which he highlighted the complexity of

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conflict situations. There are competing versions of events and competing understandings of what actually happens, so I strongly urge all Members of this House to support the proposals agreed in September and see what the High Commissioner for Human Rights concludes in March.

As the hon. Lady has said, it is time that the international community gave the crisis and conflict in Yemen the focus and priority it deserves, as we quite rightly do with that in Syria. I know that the British Government are doing their bit, and I hope that today’s debate helps to raise the profile of this forgotten war and that peace will soon be a reality for all the people of that suffering country.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. It will be obvious to the House that we have very little time for this debate and a lot of people want to speak. I would like to try to do this without a formal time limit. If people could keep to five or six minutes, everyone will be able to get in. If not, we will have a time limit, be it three minutes, two minutes or whatever is necessary, later in the debate.

3.33 pm

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar). We share a border in Leicestershire and now we share a cause, and it is good to see someone who was elected only last year become passionate about an overseas country and become such an expert on it. I know that his interest in Yemen preceded his election, and I am glad to see him as a strong and effective vice-chair of the all-party group on Yemen. I speak not just as a Yemeni by birth, but as the chair of the all-party group for the past 27 years. I must rival President Saleh with the years that I have spent in office—that is not a good comparison, I know. It has been a huge honour to serve in that capacity and to be joined recently by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) and the hon. Member for Portsmouth South (Mrs Drummond), both of whom are Yemenis by birth.

We now have three Yemenis sitting in the House of Commons. That should help everyone to understand that for us this is not just business; it is very personal. The situation matters greatly. My fondest memories of my childhood were watching the boats coming in. They went past Steamer Point as they were about to enter the Suez Canal. Indeed, only Leicester beating Liverpool last Tuesday could match that kind of warm feeling that I had as a child. Sadly, those wonderful memories of our childhood have gone, and we face in Yemen a roll call of catastrophe, which was set out so eloquently by the hon. Members for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald) and for Charnwood (Edward Argar).

I know that the Chairman of the International Development Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), will have more horrifying statistics that we will struggle to understand—some 21 million in need of aid, millions of children without food and people starving to death. We hear such figures as if this is a piece of fiction, but it is fact.

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I thank the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) who came on one of the all-party group’s last visits to Yemen. He caused us a lot of worry. He had been told to stay in the Sheba hotel, but, as everybody knows—especially the Prime Ministers and Secretaries of State who worked with him in Government—he cannot be told what to do. When we got up one morning and found that he was missing, we thought that he had been kidnapped. In fact, he was out in Sana’a, a world heritage centre, taking photographs. Like all visitors to Yemen, he had fallen in love with the country.

What is this country now? It is a country in poverty; a country facing the possibility of civil war; and a country that is being fought over by other foreign powers. It is not the people of Yemen who want to see this conflict. The conflict arises because those from outside want to topple the democratically elected Government of President Hadi, and because of that there is outside intervention.

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): I was touched by the care that the right hon. Gentleman showed for my welfare. It was indeed an extraordinary trip. Talking about children, at the time, the British Council was matching 1,000 schools in the middle east with schools over here. On our journey, I was able to twin a school in Worthing with a school in Aden. Does he agree that, as well as the killings and the injuries, one of the biggest tragedies is the fact that about half of all children in Yemen are not in education? So much is being done to ensure that Syrian children have some continuity in their education, but the situation in Yemen is so much worse. If we do not have the future in mind for those children, the future of the whole country is perilous.

Keith Vaz: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. He is the House’s expert on education. When he talks about the need for education, he is absolutely right, because it is a life chance. Some 1,500 people have died, and 9.9 million people are in poverty. The fact that the children cannot go to school will affect the rest of their lives, and childhood passes so quickly. They will not have the advantages of education, and we need to concentrate on that.

I join the hon. Member for Charnwood in praising the Minister—Members on the Opposition Benches do not tend to do that very often—because he deeply cares about the situation in Yemen. Whenever the all-party group has asked him to address us, whenever we have made suggestions, and whenever the right hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Sir Alan Duncan) has made suggestions, which I am sure that he does on a daily basis, the Minister responds. If he had half a chance, he would be on a plane via Dubai to Sana’a international airport to try to stitch together the patchwork of international diplomacy that now exists.

Much mention was rightly made by the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire of the involvement of Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia’s involvement has been important; had that not happened, I believe that the country would have been overrun and that President Hadi would not have returned to Aden. We now need to pause. The all-party group, individual Members and the Minister

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have been clear that there has to be a ceasefire. The airstrikes have to stop, and we have to find other methods of trying to secure the country without the scenes that have taken place. Civilians may not have been targeted, but they have died. We need to make sure that we work with the Saudis, who are the regional power—we cannot do this without them—to make sure that we get peace in Yemen. They have a big responsibility to ensure that that happens. If Yemen falls, that will affect every other country in the middle east.

As the Prime Minister has said on numerous occasions, the frontline in Sana’a is the frontline in London. Many of the terrorist plots that I have come across as Chair of the Home Affairs Committee have come from people plotting in places such as Yemen. Indeed, many of the Paris bombers were involved in some way with what was happening in Yemen; I think one of them was trained there. We are not talking about a country far away that we do not need to care about; it really matters to our future, not just because of the humanitarian crisis but, more importantly, because of how it will affect Britain and the rest of Europe.

I thank this Minister and the Minister of State, Department for International Development, the right hon. Member for New Forest West (Mr Swayne), who has also listened carefully to what we have said. One of the great things about how the Government have approached Yemen is that they have continued what was started by the previous Government. There is no party politics in this; the whole House is united, as were the previous Prime Ministers, Gordon Brown and Tony Blair, in ensuring a focus on Yemen. The current Prime Minister is also very focused on it. I have written to him on numerous occasions and his responses are detailed and relevant. He wants to make sure that peace is restored. We are all on the same side.

As I conclude, I have a few asks. First, as he also supports the ceasefire, will the Minister give a commitment to intensify the support of the UN to try to bring peace to Yemen and to ensure that we continue the dialogue with all sides, especially with Saudi Arabia? There has been a lot of criticism about the use of British weapons by the Saudis in this conflict. That will go on, of course; we live in a parliamentary democracy and we have to raise these issues. The Government have to respond, and they have.

However, we need to work with the Saudis and the Omanis. Oman has not been mentioned enough in these debates, but the Sultan in particular has a big role to play. Here is a border in the Arab world: to the north, Oman is as peaceful as a country can be but to the south is the turmoil in Yemen. The Gulf Co-operation Council also needs to be involved. It cannot be absent from the table.

It is not the Minister’s job to chase up debts, but I remind him of the great donor conference in London before the last but one general election. Billions were pledged but very few countries have paid up. We should go back to the countries that pledged and make sure that something is done.

Let me end by saying this. We still have a lot of friends in Yemen. My two children were very friendly with the son of one of the Yemeni ambassadors who came here. His name was Salman, and we have lost touch with him. The last time we saw him, he had come up to Leicester to see a football match with my young son. I think of

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that bright young boy and his sisters, who came to this country for a short time as the children of diplomats, and the bond of friendship that we formed with them. To think of them in a house in Sana’a without electricity, schooling or food is terrible. I hope that, if Salman is listening to this debate or hears about it in some way, he will contact us so that we know that he and his family are safe.

My real worry is that Yemen is bleeding to death. Unless we are prepared to stop the bleeding, the consequences will be horrendous.

From the bottom of my heart I beg the Minister to continue doing what he is doing, to make sure that this issue is centre stage. I thank parliamentary colleagues from all over the country, who have so much on their agendas, for coming here in such numbers to think and talk about Yemen. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North East (Fabian Hamilton), who has just joined the Front-Bench team, for coming. He will be a wonderful shadow Minister. I hope he makes this issue a priority. I know we talk about the big countries, but Yemen matters to us. Please let us not allow Yemen to bleed to death.

Several hon. Members rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. I make no criticism of the right hon. Gentleman, who has spoken with passion and taken lots of interventions, but we will now have a formal time limit of five minutes. I call Kevin Foster.

3.45 pm

Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will bear in mind the time limit. It is a great pleasure to follow the thoughtful speech by the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), given the passion he brings to this issue as a result of his background.

The first point for me is this: why does this conflict matter to us in the UK? Why has the MP for Torbay taken time on Thursday afternoon to come along to this debate? For me, there are three clear reasons. The first is Yemen’s geographical location. Back in Victorian times—I made this point recently during an urgent question on this issue—Suez was one of the key trade links for the then British empire, and it is still one of the seven key maritime pinch points. Therefore, stability in Yemen matters to global trade. Given that Aden was, for many years, a British protectorate, there is also a moral duty on us to retain an interest in the area and how it has developed. In many ways, as the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald) touched on, we have played quite a significant role as a country over the last 100 years in shaping what governance on the modern Arabian peninsula looks like.

The second point is that problems do not stay within one nation’s borders. We have seen that dramatically illustrated in Syria, with the refugee crisis. The UN warned back in December that 14 million people are what it terms “food insecure”—an interesting way of describing people who may starve if they do not get assistance.

The third point is humanitarian concern. My predecessor in Torbay brought to my attention on social media today some of the heart-breaking images coming out of Yemen as a result of the conflict. Those very much reminded me of a statement by Robert E. Lee:

“It is well that war is so terrible, otherwise we should grow too fond of it.”

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The right hon. Gentleman very personally illustrated the impact for people on the ground.

It is also worth remembering the security threat that exists in the midst of this conflict, and that is what I will focus my brief remarks on. In the middle of the battle between the Houthis and the forces loyal to President Hadi is al-Qaeda. Both President Hadi and the Houthis oppose al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which has staged numerous deadly attacks from its strongholds in the south and south east. Western intelligence agencies now consider al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula the most dangerous branch of al-Qaeda because of its technical expertise and global reach.

Wendy Morton: Does my hon. Friend agree that it is the regional instability that makes this issue even more urgent? We need to find a peaceful solution to the problem so that we do not create a bigger vacuum, into which organisations such as al-Qaeda can move.

Kevin Foster: I completely agree with my hon. Friend. Where we have spaces in conflicts—especially spaces where no Government and no system of law and order exists—these groups are able to fester, grow and develop their abilities. We saw that in Afghanistan during the time of the Taliban, and we are seeing it in Syria, where a civil war has allowed Daesh to grow, fester and build its capabilities. As we have seen in Yemen and other parts of the middle east, having these spaces where no Government exist creates a danger to our security and global security, and we cannot just ignore that.

With President Hadi’s co-operation, the US has been carrying out operations, including drone strikes, but the advance of the Houthi rebels has seen that US campaign scaled back. Therefore, a quarrel between two enemies of al-Qaeda is making it easier for al-Qaeda to develop and become more of a threat. As we have heard, there is the prospect of the fighting spilling over into neighbouring countries, not least into Saudi territory. While we all have our views about some of Saudi Arabia’s bluntly appalling domestic policies, such as the lack of religious freedom and the use of the death penalty in a way that we in this country find unacceptable and certainly would not contemplate, we must sometimes be careful what we wish for, because some of the potential alternatives in that country are not those of a modern, liberal, western democracy.

Looking back to the Arab Spring of 2011, many of us, perhaps naively, hoped that it would be very much like the 1989 “velvet revolution” that swept through eastern Europe, sweeping away dictators and despots and replacing them with the relatively modern democracies that we have today. Yet experience shows that some of the forces that have been unleashed since 2011 have not been those of freedom and tolerance—in fact, quite the opposite.

It is therefore right that we work with the Saudi Government and the wider coalition to try to bring peace to Yemen based on a United Nations resolution. With regard to our supporting the Saudi armed forces, I have to say—this may be a point of difference with some Opposition Members—that I would rather that is done by our forces, who have human rights and international law ingrained in their operations, than potentially by some other countries’ forces who have within the past 30 years engaged in things that we would find unacceptable.

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We cannot just ignore this situation. We cannot turn a blind eye while we see children being dragooned into fighting for rebel groups and terrorist organisations, and a three-way war threatening to spill over and threaten the security of some key maritime routes and the stability of the wider region. It is not for the UK to do this on its own, and we are not doing it on our own. We need to make sure that international law is applied and that all parties to the conflicts respect their obligations. I think that ultimately, working with our partners through the United Nations, we can bring peace. I welcome the interest in this subject expressed in this debate.

3.51 pm

Stephen Twigg (Liverpool, West Derby) (Lab/Co-op): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster). I congratulate the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald) on bringing this very important and timely debate to the Chamber today. The International Development Committee is currently undertaking an inquiry into the situation in Yemen. Last week, we heard such powerful and convincing evidence that DFID’s excellent humanitarian response is being undermined by the wider Government approach to Yemen that this week we felt compelled to write to the Government setting out our serious concerns, to which I will refer in turn.

Let me start by addressing the scale of the humanitarian crisis. Every speaker has described the horror: more than 21 million people—over 80% of the population—are in need of assistance, more than 14 million people are struggling to find enough food, and 2.5 million people are displaced. The effects of this conflict are devastating. Atrocities have been committed by both sides. We heard evidence that 62% of the killings and maimings have been caused by the Saudi-led coalition, and that Houthis have recruited over 700 children to armed groups that have laid siege to cities such as Taiz, denying their populations access to humanitarian aid and medicines.

Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab): As a Member who was born in Aden, I was concerned to hear that a church in Ma’alla where I used to worship was hit, along with a hospital. What steps are being taken to ensure that aid will be allowed to get through? Access to aid is very important.

Stephen Twigg: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. In evidence from DFID itself we were told that the very welcome UK aid of £85 million could have been more, but that it is simply proportionate to what can currently be spent by our partners given the difficulties of access. She is absolutely right that that is one of the major considerations.

Let me turn to the need for an independent international inquiry into alleged abuses of international humanitarian law. We received overwhelming evidence that is contrary to the position that the Government have taken on this matter. The UN expert panel report documented 119 alleged abuses. There is evidence from Amnesty International, from Human Rights Watch, and from Médecins Sans Frontières. Saferworld told us in its evidence last week:

“In other contexts, the Government will cite”

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the Human Rights Watch and Amnesty reports on Syria, Libya and Sudan to support a British Government position, but

“they are referred to as not good enough to be considered evidence compared with a reassurance from the Saudis, one of the belligerents to the conflict, that there are no violations of international humanitarian law.”

It is true that a resolution was agreed at the UN Human Rights Council last September, but the original wording of the motion tabled by the Government of the Netherlands was much stronger. In my view, the British Government should have stood with our Dutch partners, rather than with Saudi Arabia in watering down the need for an independent inquiry. We do not have that independent inquiry. Once again, I urge the Minister to reconsider the UK’s position, so that we support a genuinely independent, UN-led inquiry into the serious allegations of the violation of international humanitarian law.

Let me finish by talking about the central issue of UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia. DFID is consulted when arms are sold to a country in receipt of DFID assistance. Saudi Arabia does not receive such assistance, so DFID is not consulted on the question of arms sales to that country, even though those arms are being used in Yemen, which does receive DFID aid. The scale of our arms sales to Saudi Arabia is eye-watering. The £3 billion received in just six months last year represents 40% of total UK arms sales for that period, with £1 billion of it received in just three months for bombs. The Royal Saudi air force has more UK planes than our Royal Air Force.

United Kingdom, European and international arms trade law is clear that licences cannot be granted if there is a “clear risk” that they may be used in the commission of violations of international humanitarian law. That is all that is required—a clear risk—and we have a very powerful legal opinion from Matrix Chambers that the UK has breached its obligations under international arms law.

I urge the Government to think again on this central issue. As has been said, the Committee on Arms Export Controls will be established when we meet next week. The issue must be on the Committee’s agenda. It is absolutely vital that we take seriously our responsibilities under our own law as well as international and European law. The International Development Committee met members of this country’s Yemeni diaspora two weeks ago and their voices were very powerful on that question. The evidence that we heard from the UN panel of experts and international humanitarian organisations last week, and from the diaspora, is very strong that the UK should support a truly independent inquiry into what is going on, and in the meantime we should suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

3.57 pm

Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): I welcome this debate and the inquiry by the International Development Committee, of which I am privileged to be a member. The suffering of the people of Yemen is acute, and the world needs to know about it. I urge people who have knowledge and can provide an account of the situation in Yemen to contribute to our inquiry. As the Chairman of the Committee has just said, we heard some powerful accounts during a meeting with the diaspora just a couple of weeks ago. I hope to refer to some of them in a moment.

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I applaud my hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar) for his excellent speech, on which basis I have had to remove substantial parts of mine. I will, however, reflect on some of the points that have been raised during the debate. As several Members have said, 21.2 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance in Yemen, making it the country with the highest number of people in need of humanitarian assistance in the world. Forty per cent. of the country’s population are under 15 years old, so the children really are suffering substantially. Since March 2015, 1,012 grave violations against children have been documented; the figure is now likely to be much higher. Forty-one schools and 61 hospitals have been damaged and, as has been said, more than 700 children have been recruited or used by armed groups. As we heard from the diaspora, those youths join extremist groups simply to feed their families.

Not only are 47% of schoolchildren in Yemen out of school but, as a university professor from the diaspora group told us, higher education has been affected. He taught in a university that once had 4,000 students; there are now only 400 left. Those statistics will have a significant bearing on the long-term development of the country. We were told by the diaspora that there have been outbreaks of dengue fever and measles, and that they fear polio. They told us that the health facilities have been gutted, and that there are 2 million people in an area that is at grave risk of a malaria outbreak.

Those who are in business told us that the banking system, which is vital if people are to survive, is crippled. One businessman said that before the conflict, there were 15 banks that he could work through, but now there is only one left and he worries that it will close soon. Will Ministers do what they can to try to ensure that what remains of the banking system stays open, so that those involved in business can continue to trade? That is vital.

Much of the food in Yemen—80% to 90%—is imported. We were told, however, that the economy is crippled and cannot function. Manufacturing and what food production there is in Yemen have stopped. Products, including medicines, which are in short supply, now cost 300 to 400 times more than they used to on the black market. Major cities have had no electricity for six months. The UN report of last August stated that 26% of private businesses had closed in a five-month period, but the diaspora representatives told us that the true number was much higher. On their estimates, 77% of private sector businesses have closed and 71% of private sector workers have lost their jobs. That is critical because, as they told us, although aid can help, it will never be enough to feed and support the more than 20 million people we are talking about. A healthy economy is what is needed.

Finally, I pay tribute to all who are working in Yemen, including Save the Children and the UN workers, for the sterling work that they are doing in such difficult circumstances. Let us hope that the world continues to hear and take note of the suffering of Yemen. For too long, too little information has been put out, and I congratulate all Members of the House who are determined to ensure that that changes.

4.2 pm

Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP): I am glad to be able to participate in this debate on the situation in Yemen, which is clearly not getting the international

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attention that it should. I commend to Members the coverage that Scotland’s newest newspaper,

The National,

has given the conflict over the previous months. The newspaper has consistently endeavoured for some time to get the matter into the consciousness of the Scottish public.

My interest in Yemen was sparked by my constituent Fahim, who came to see me last year on the day the exam results came out in Scotland. He passed the courses that he had been studying, but his pride in doing so was overwhelmed by the devastating news that his application to stay in the UK had been rejected and the Home Office had decided that he had to return to his native Yemen. This adoptive Glaswegian has been in the UK since 2009. He was a pharmacist back home, and since coming to Glasgow he has participated in voluntary groups and tried to make a life in the city. He would love to be able to go back home but, as he explained to me, it would be incredibly dangerous. He has no certainty about what has happened to his family in Yemen, so he could not even return to the people he knew, never mind the place he knew.

Since I spoke to Fahim he has been made destitute by the Home Office, and he has been sleeping in shelters and on sofas. Today the Home Office tried to contact him at an address that it evicted him from in August. I have been fighting for him to be able to stay here, because the more he told me about the situation, the more worried I became. I discovered that UK citizens are advised by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that if they find themselves in Yemen, they need to get out. Its website says that the FCO

“advise against all travel to Yemen. This includes the mainland and all islands. If you’re in Yemen, you should leave immediately.”

There has been no British embassy in Yemen for over a year, and the FCO has advised people against traveling there since 2011.

But what of the citizens of Yemen? If Yemen is not safe for you, Mr Deputy Speaker, or for me, it is not safe for Fahim and it is certainly not a safe place for the citizens of Yemen. The last figures I obtained from the Home Office show that, for the first half of last year, only 14—I repeat, 14—asylum claims by Yemeni nationals were successful, while 31 were refused and 221 souls are still awaiting a decision. I hope, when the new figures come out, that they will have improved, but I urge the Government to give some certainty to those in the same situation as Fahim who are ill with worry about their future. If we can keep more Yemenis safe in this country, we have an absolute humanitarian duty to do so.

I attended the excellent meeting of the all-party group on Yemen last week, but I was absolutely shocked by the stories told by the representatives of Oxfam, Save the Children and Saferworld. They reported on a broken country, with severe shortages of fuel, water, food and other resources. Save the Children says that 21.2 million people, including 9.9 million children, are in desperate need of humanitarian aid. They are currently among the most desperate in the world.

The aid agencies tell us that they do not have all the funds they require. They are very much asking for their partner agencies in other parts of Europe to get more money from those countries. It has been mentioned that the UK has been generous, and we have been generous, but we need to get more aid to those agencies. The agencies

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cannot get access to all the people who need their help. People have been displaced in the country multiple times, and much of the infrastructure is struggling to cope.

The situation in Yemen is deteriorating daily. Twitter brings me news today of more bombs dropped on civilian areas. The Yemen Post newspaper reports today that, in the past 24 hours, 25 civilians have been killed by air strikes, 45 have been injured and 17 homes have been destroyed. Yesterday, 16 were killed and 31 injured when a factory was attacked in Amran. If such a level of carnage was happening in this country, we would be outraged and we would act. If a hospital here got hit by bombs or missiles, as no fewer than three Médecins sans Frontières medical facilities have been in the past three months, we would find that unacceptable.

As well as those struggling with the humanitarian crisis, medics in Yemen are struggling to do their job of patching up the people hit by bombs and injured in conflict, because they are coming under attack themselves. It is clear that the conflict in Yemen is being carried out with no respect for international humanitarian law. Hospitals are supposed to be off limits. Dr Joanne Liu, the international president of the MSF, has stated that,

“the UK Foreign Secretary claimed that there have been no deliberate breaches of international humanitarian law in Yemen…This implies that mistakenly bombing a protected hospital would be tolerable.”

It is not.

Mr Ellwood: The hon. Lady makes a very important point. She is illustrating the horrors of war, which largely occur in populated areas when one adversary chooses to hide within such populated areas. Unfortunately, that leads to casualties. We are not in any way advocating that when a civilian area or facility is attacked or destroyed that is somehow acceptable; it absolutely is not. When there is collateral damage of that form, it is important for whichever side has done it to put its hand up and say that it will conduct an investigation. We are not saying it is right, but we are making it clear—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. In fairness to the Minister, he cannot take advantage of the situation. We are struggling to get everybody in, and interventions are meant to be very short. He cannot make a speech now, given that he will be making a speech later. That is unfair to everybody.

Alison Thewliss: The point is that such bombings have now happened three times, and those involved in the conflict are not taking responsibility for their actions. Médecins sans Frontières is struggling to get the support it needs when it says that such a situation is unacceptable. People being taken to hospital in ambulances have been hit in this conflict, so it is clear that huge errors have been made in the conduct of the conflict. We could say that such hospitals are not being targeted, but what is worse is that bombs are being dropped in crowded areas, which is where the danger arises for many of the people living there. Cluster bombs, which are illegal, are being used in the conflict, as we can see from the pictures that appear on Twitter and other media sources. Who would bomb a hospital? It is completely wrong, and it is completely against all the rules of warfare. We should challenge that on every possible occasion.

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If we have troops embedded with the Saudis, they should be making that clear and not allowing such attacks to happen. The Saudis are getting their bombs from us, so we could stop this happening. We could suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia today, and we could be an honest broker in bringing peace to the people of Yemen. I ask the Government to act, and to act now.

4.9 pm

Wendy Morton (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con): I thank colleagues in the Chamber for securing this important debate. As has been said, the conflict in Yemen has been described as the forgotten war. In recent weeks and months the conflict has escalated significantly and has begun to attract international attention.

In the time available, I shall focus on the humanitarian situation. It is a privilege to be a member of the International Development Committee. It is estimated that some 21 million people in Yemen—more than 80% of the population—are in need of life-saving assistance and protection. Recently at the IDC we heard evidence from a number of NGOs—Oxfam, Save the Children, UNICEF and the Yemeni diaspora. We heard about the difficulties in getting humanitarian aid into the country and into the areas where it is most needed. We heard that in Taiz people need food, water and medical supplies. They even need oxygen. Many civilians have been displaced and are forced to live on the edge of the city.

In these circumstances it is the children who are among the most vulnerable. It is estimated that more than 9 million children are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. There are reports of grave violations against children and of schools being attacked or destroyed. The indirect consequences of conflict are often worse than the conflict itself, such as children falling ill who would not otherwise have fallen ill. It is vital that the UK continues to play its part in the humanitarian aid effort. I am always grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister and his colleagues from DFID for taking the time to come to the Chamber, answer questions and update us on the dreadful situation in Yemen.

DFID has doubled its aid and recently the Secretary of State announced a further £10 million of aid. We must recognise the very difficult conditions in which DFID and FCO staff are working. One of the biggest challenges is getting that humanitarian aid to where it is most needed. It is therefore vital that the international community does all it can to secure safe humanitarian corridors so that aid relief can pass through unimpeded. Those who work tirelessly on the ground in those difficult circumstances have to manage and mitigate the risks on a day-to-day basis.

I shall touch briefly on defence and defence co-operation. Politically, the UK supports the Saudi-led coalition’s intervention. It is important that we remember that that came at the request of the legitimate President, President Hadi, to deter aggression by the Houthis and the forces loyal to the former President, and to allow the return of the legitimate Yemeni Government. Nevertheless, it is worrying to hear of air strikes on civilian targets. With all that is going on in Yemen, I urge the Government to continue to monitor the situation closely and to take seriously the allegations of violations of international humanitarian law.

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With conflict in the wider middle east region—Syria, Iraq and Daesh—continuing to make the headlines, it is easy to see why Yemen’s has been described as the forgotten war. Let us hope that after today we can play a part in changing that. The situation in Yemen is different from that in Syria, but that does not make it less important. I urge the Government to continue to do all they can to secure a comprehensive and peaceful solution for Yemen, as that is the only way to bring about the long-term stability that the country, the wider region and the world want.

4.14 pm

Dr Lisa Cameron (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (SNP): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald) on bringing about this important debate, particularly at this time. Given the time pressures, I shall focus on the humanitarian situation in Yemen.

Recent figures reported by the United Nations indicate that the conflict claimed 2,795 civilian lives in 2015, and that there have been thousands more casualties. Nearly 1.5 million people have been displaced by the conflict, and many thousands may die from malnutrition and the impact of the humanitarian crisis.

Even before the conflict, Yemen was the poorest country in the Arab world. Poor governance, poor human development indicators and rapid population growth meant that millions of people were suffering greatly and already experiencing poverty and hunger. The country is now experiencing a significant humanitarian crisis. It is reported that more than 80% of the population is in need of humanitarian aid. That equates to approximately 21.1 million people, including nearly 10 million children.

In Yemen, it is the civilians who are bearing the brunt of the conflict. Many public facilities have been damaged or destroyed and people have lost access to essential services, including clean water, sanitation, energy and medical services. It is reported that nearly 600 health facilities have closed, and, as we have heard, hospitals have been hit. Food prices have soared, creating a desperate situation for millions of people, including particularly vulnerable groups of children. Of the 10 million affected children, nearly 8 million do not have enough to eat on a daily basis. UNICEF estimates that 537,000 children, or one in eight under-fives, are at risk of severe acute malnutrition.

Many children have been forced out of school by the conflict. Although differing figures are quoted, it appears that the number of children who need access to education may be between 2.9 million and 3.4 million. Furthermore, with medical centres being shut down and supplies diminishing, children are at risk of dying from treatable diseases. That is in addition to the risk of death or injury in the conflict itself. Save the Children has reported that since the start of the conflict, at least seven children have been killed or injured every day.

On human rights issues, it has been highlighted that there has been a significant recent increase in the recruitment and use of children in conflict in Yemen. I have spoken in previous debates about the impact of using children in combat. The effects are often felt long after the physical scars have healed. It psychologically damages them for life. In addition, it has been highlighted that children, particularly refugee children, are falling victim to human traffickers and are at risk of trauma, such as physical and sexual violence.

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As we have heard, Yemen relies on imports for the majority of its food and fuel supplies. The blockade has had a significant impact on the quantity of vital supplies that are able to enter the country. The unpredictable and dangerous situations that agency staff on the ground have to work in have severely impeded their ability to distribute crucial humanitarian supplies around the country to affected populations. I pay tribute to the work of aid agencies in the area. Substantial obstacles continue to impede the passage of essential goods into and around Yemen. Much more needs to be done to create a humanitarian corridor.

I want to focus on the need to place increased diplomatic pressure on all parties in the conflict to support UN efforts to find a political solution. We must pressure those who are involved to comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law, to take all possible measures to protect civilians and to ensure that humanitarian agencies are given a safe space in which to operate. The UN declared Yemen a level 3 crisis on 1 July—a category reserved for the most severe and large-scale humanitarian crises. We need to put pressure on all those involved to ensure that humanitarian aid reaches vulnerable people, such as women, children, the disabled and those in need of medical aid and oxygen, as well as the general population. I beseech the Minister to do everything possible to increase the pressure for a ceasefire, an independent inquiry and a political solution, and to ensure that the ordinary civilians in Yemen who are affected, many of them helpless children, are protected and supported.

4.19 pm

Mrs Flick Drummond (Portsmouth South) (Con): I thank the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald) and the Backbench Business Committee for initiating this debate.

It is a pleasure to take part in this debate following our earlier discussions in Westminster Hall. As the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) said, I was born in Aden, and I have always taken a close interest in the affairs of the middle east. It is regrettable that the crisis in Yemen has been carrying on in different ways and far from the attention of the rest of the world, and even since our last debate, the situation has deteriorated and the civil war in the country has carried on into yet another year. I am hopeful that through diplomatic means the conflict can be resolved, but that depends on the willingness of external powers to make that happen, just as much as it does on the willingness of the two sides in Yemen.

This current civil war is the latest in a series of conflicts that reach back centuries and are one strand of the wider conflict between Sunni and Shi’a in the Muslim world. Whatever our aims to restore peace, we must understand that there is a problem at the heart of that issue, which very few settlements in the middle east have managed to resolve. Any settlement in Yemen is likely to require the engagement and attention of the outside world for a long time.

Whatever we say about our involvement as an arms exporter to the region, it is clear that we have an historical and moral role in the affairs of that part of the world. Almost since 1945, the situation in Yemen has been one of civil war of some sort. The coalition includes Saudi

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Arabia and the Gulf countries—those countries are our friends; we have influence with them, and we must work with them closely to stop this humanitarian catastrophe.

Throughout this period, Yemen has been one of the poorest areas of the world. Save the Children has been working in Yemen since 1963, and it is a damning comment on the lack of political progress and commitment to solve the conflicts there that it is probably helping the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of families that it worked with more than 50 years ago. The humanitarian position is one of deep crisis, and I am reassured that it fully engages the attention of the Government through DFID, and that that engagement is respected by non-governmental organisations working in Yemen. We are a leading donor, along with the US and the UAE, and I welcome the Secretary of State’s recent announcement of an additional support package.

Kevin Foster: Does my hon. Friend agree that the humanitarian disaster presents the biggest risk of the situation spilling over into neighbouring states as people try to escape?

Mrs Drummond: Absolutely, and there is also the fear of al-Qaeda and Daesh getting into a country that is failing.

However desperate the crisis is in Syria, that country benefited from a degree of infrastructure, education, and general health of population that was miles ahead of the Yemeni equivalents. The poor of Yemen have no resources of any kind to fall back on except for external aid, yet there has been a blockade of Yemen across all routes by the coalition engaged in the war. The impact of that on a country that depended on imports for 90% of its food has been significant, despite the best efforts of relief organisations.

Edward Argar: Does my hon. Friend agree that the impact of the blockade on the fuel supplies on which Yemen depends for its water and energy needs is a huge problem for that country?

Mrs Drummond: I thank my hon. Friend because he has just saved me from reading out quite a lot of my speech. I totally agree with him, and I can now move on quickly to the next bit.

The role of the Saudi-led coalition has come under scrutiny because of the alleged human rights violations during their involvement. Those allegations are balanced by equal concerns about the attempts of the Houthis to overthrow a legitimate Government by force. The coalition is in a position of moral authority to call a ceasefire. The Government are securing Aden against al-Qaeda, and are moving towards Sana’a and the Houthis. I am concerned at reports of large casualties already as the push to Sana’a gets under way, with news outlets talking of “dozens” of deaths last night alone. Saudi forces have entered north Yemen for the first time, and I hope that we can get an assurance from the Saudis that their presence on the ground is temporary, and operates under clear rules of engagement.

The role of Iran in this conflict also needs to be addressed. The west has engaged with Iran in the hope that the Iranians will contribute towards pacifying the middle eastern situation, but we have yet to see evidence

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that they are willing to do so. There are already widespread concerns about human rights breaches, which the Government so far seem to believe are confined to the rebel side. Evidence on the ground suggests that the air campaign has been carried out with little regard for target verification by some coalition pilots. Our allies may well assure us that they do not mean to harm civilian targets, but it is fair to question whether they have operational control over sorties, and the discipline that we expect from our own forces. We are in danger of being found in breach of international law unless the coalitions control its forces.

I hope we will also learn about how breaches of international law by all sides will be independently investigated. We have heard assurances from several Ministers that the Government support investigations, but we have not yet heard any details of how we will support them in practice. In the discussion following the urgent question on 28 January, the Minister indicated that discussions with the Saudis about human rights concerns would take place this week at the Syria donor conference. I hope that those discussions will take place, and given that the Iranian Foreign Minister is also in London, I hope that discussions with him can take place as well. I hope the Minister will update the House on those discussions once they have taken place.

I want to add to hon. Members’ comments on the help of NGOs and others with the humanitarian crisis. I did have a longer speech and have had to take the part relating to this out, but that is not to say it is not incredibly important. I am very pleased that DFID has long had an operational plan for channelling aid to Yemen. I am confident that further stepping up our commitment will be efficient and effective. I am sure other hon. Members will support calls from NGOs and charities for our continued and increased involvement. I agree with them.

Finally, I hope the Syria conference this week will provide the opportunity for meaningful talks. The only way we will ever get a settlement in Yemen is by talking, not fighting. I hope that, with our long history with Yemen, we can be a major contributor to the peace process.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): I have to bring the time limit down to four minutes. I call Mike Wood.

4.25 pm

Mike Wood (Dudley South) (Con): With the humanitarian situation deteriorating, we must ensure that all sides in the conflict are clear about the urgent need for a political solution. Yemen has descended into widespread armed conflict since March and is classified by the UN as a level 3 emergency. Despite that, this in some ways remains a neglected crisis. Government institutions are no longer able to deliver basic services to people in need, including basic healthcare and nutrition services, water and electricity. According to Amnesty International, four out of five Yemenis today rely on humanitarian assistance to survive. There is no access to essential services and food prices have soared, creating a desperate situation for millions of people.