Yemen and Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia

Having visited Yemen and serving as Secretary of the All Party Parliamentary Group, I take particular interest in this country. I share your concern over the situation in Yemen and I am assured that the Government is continuing its efforts to address the urgent humanitarian needs. The UK is one of the largest donors to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, and more than doubled its support over the last year to £85 million for 2015/16. UK aid has so far helped more than 1.3 million Yemenis.UK support has provided emergency shelter, healthcare, food and water and I take pride in the fact that the UK was the first country to deploy humanitarian experts to work with the Saudi Arabian authorities.

The situation for children is particularly concerning. At the end of last year, the UN reported that the number of people displaced internally in Yemen was 2.3 million; of those, the UN estimated that 21 per cent were boys under the age of 18, and 22 per cent were girls under the age of 18. I recently raised this issue in the House during a debate on the conflict in Yemen, which you can see here:

The UK has been consistently clear with all sides to the conflict over the importance of compliance with international humanitarian law and international human rights law. The Government is clear that a political solution remains the best way to bring long-term stability to Yemen.I can assure you that the Government is urging all parties involved in the conflict in Yemen to work towards resuming a meaningful and sustainable ceasefire that is respected by all sides. Ministers have been clear that they are doing everything possible to support the UN to convene a further round of UN-facilitated peace talks over the coming weeks and are making clear that a political solution is the best way to bring long-term stability to Yemen.

The Government is urging all parties to allow access for humanitarian and commercial shipping into Yemen's ports, as well as for the delivery of aid on the ground. I have been pleased to see improved access lately, and add my voice to calls that this improvement is maintained and furthered.

The UK takes very seriously any allegations of violations of International Humanitarian Law and regularly raises the importance of compliance with the Saudi Government and other members of the military coalition. The UK Government has been clear that all allegations of such violations should be investigated.

With regard to our defence exports to Saudi Arabia, I fully appreciate why there is much concern about the global arms trade. I can assure you the Government takes Britain's arms export responsibilities very seriously, and operates one of the most rigorous arms export control regimes in the world.
Each application is considered on a case-by-case basis taking into account the precise nature of the equipment and the identity and track record of the recipient. The Government has consistently said it does not, and will not, issue licences where it judges that the proposed export would provoke or prolong internal conflicts, or where there is a clear risk it might be used to facilitate internal repression or be used aggressively against another country. I have always fully supported this stance.
A commercial relationship does not prevent us from speaking frankly to governments about issues of concern, such as human rights. Our close political and security relationships can help enhance our scope to positively influence governments helping to promote democratic reform and raise human rights standards in places such as China and the Gulf states.
I am pleased the Government secured the establishment of the first ever International Arms Trade Treaty to control exports of conventional arms. It will require governments to block transfers of weapons that pose unacceptable risks and to take strong steps to prevent weapons being diverted into illegal markets. I am sure you will join me in welcoming this first legally-binding, truly global commitment.
The Government also carries out a stringent process of scrutiny and approval before inviting foreign governments to a major UK defence exhibition like the Defence and Security International Exhibition in London. Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms are mandatory considerations undertaken in the process, and consideration is given to how invitations will impact on bilateral engagement including on issues like human rights. The Government also reviews invitations in cases where the situation in any one country changes significantly prior to an exhibition.

The conflict in Yemen is being monitored closely, and that is taken into account as part of the careful risk assessment for exports to Saudi Arabia. The Government is satisfied that export licences for Saudi Arabia are compliant with the UK's export licencing criteria.