Andrew Mitchell calls for a debate on the Government's proposals to cut the 0.7% of GNI aid commitment.
Yemen: Aid Funding
Mr Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con)
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, if he will make a statement on the level of aid funding to Yemen.
The Minister for the Middle East and North Africa (James Cleverly)
I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) for raising this urgent question. The situation in Yemen remains among the worst humanitarian crises in the world. Two thirds of the entire population—more than 20 million people—require some form of humanitarian assistance. The UN estimates that in the first half of this year, 47,000 people will be in famine conditions and 16.2 million will be at risk of starvation. Improving the dire circumstances faced by so many Yemenis continues to be a priority for this Government.
Yesterday, I attended the high-level pledging conference for the United Nations humanitarian appeal for Yemen. I announced that the UK will provide at least—I repeat, at least—£87 million in aid to Yemen over the course of financial year 2021-22. Our total aid contribution since the conflict began was already over £1 billion. This new pledge will feed an additional 240,000 of the most vulnerable Yemenis every month, support 400 health clinics and provide clean water for 1.6 million people. We will also provide one-off cash support to 1.5 million of Yemen’s poorest households to help them buy food and basic supplies.
Alongside the money that the UK is spending to reduce humanitarian suffering in Yemen, we continue to play a leading diplomatic role in support of the UN’s efforts to end the conflict. Yesterday, I spoke to the United Nations special envoy, Martin Griffiths, and we discussed how the UK could assist him in ending this devastating war. Last week, the United Nations Security Council adopted a UK-drafted resolution that reiterated the Council’s support for the United Nations peace process, condemned the Houthi offensive in Marib and attacks on Saudi Arabia and sanctioned Houthi official Sultan Zabin for the use of sexual violence as a tool of war.
Just last night, a Houthi missile hit and injured five civilians in southern Saudi Arabia. I condemn that further attack by the Houthis on civilian targets in Saudi Arabia and reiterate our commitment to help Saudi Arabia defend itself.
We are also working closely with our regional and international partners for peace. On 25 February, the Foreign Secretary spoke to the Saudi Foreign Minister, Faisal bin Farhan, about the Yemen peace process, and he also recently discussed this with the US Secretary of State. I discussed Yemen with the Omani ambassador to the UK on 4 February and spoke to the Yemeni Foreign Minister on 20 January regarding the attack on Aden and the formation of a new Yemeni Cabinet.
The UK is also leading efforts to tackle covid-19 in Yemen and around the world. This month, as part of the UN Security Council presidency, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary called for a ceasefire across the globe to allow vulnerable people living in conflict zones to be vaccinated against covid-19. The UK, as one the biggest donors to the World Health Organisation and GAVI’s COVAX initiative, is helping ensure that millions of vaccine doses get through to people living in crises such as Yemen.
I thank my right hon. Friend for raising this question and thank hon. Members for their continued interest in Yemen. The conflict and humanitarian crisis deserves our attention, and the UK Government remain fully committed to doing what we can to help secure a better future for Yemenis.
The Minister is a decent fellow and will not have enjoyed what he announced yesterday. Last night, he will have heard the United Nations Secretary-General tell him that, for Yemen,
“cutting aid is a death sentence.”
Cutting it by 50% is unconscionable. As Sir Mark Lowcock, a senior and respected British official at the UN, said, millions of Yemeni children
“will continue the slow, agonising and obscene process of starving to death”.
I understand that I remain the only European politician who has recently been into Sa’dah in north Yemen to see an acute malnutrition ward in the hospital there, part-funded by the British taxpayer—life-saving work, which will now be halved. My right hon. Friend told the House just last month that
“Yemen will remain a UK priority”—[Official Report, 8 February 2021; Vol. 689, c. 31.]
and yet the fifth richest country in the world is cutting support by more than half to one of the poorest countries in the world—and during a global pandemic.
Every single Member of this House was elected just over a year ago on a promise to maintain the 0.7%. Aid has already been cut under that formula because our economy has contracted, but the Government told the House that they would protect seven strategic priorities, including “human preparedness and response”. No one in this House believes that the Foreign Secretary wants to do this. It is a harbinger of terrible cuts to come. Everyone in this House knows that the cut to the 0.7% is not a result of tough choices; it is a strategic mistake with deadly consequences.
Mr Speaker, this is not who we are. This is not how global Britain acts. We are a generous, decent country. The 0.7% is enshrined in law. This House must surely have a vote. We must all search our consciences.
I genuinely thank my right hon. Friend. He speaks with authority and passion as an experienced Member of this House and as a former Secretary of State for International Development. I remind the House that the commitment we made at the pledging conference represents a floor, not a ceiling, and that the figures that we have ultimately distributed in previous years have, in every one of those years, exceeded the figure pledged. We are going through a process at the moment where we work out how we distribute our official development assistance. In whatever way that process concludes, we will remain, in both absolute and percentage terms, one of the most generous ODA-donating countries in the world, and to Yemen itself, we still remain one of the largest donors to that humanitarian crisis.