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Japan and the Middle East

Volume 525: debated on Monday 14 March 2011

Before I turn to discussions at last week’s European Council, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in sending our deepest condolences to the Japanese people following the earthquake and tsunami that struck their country on Friday. We are all deeply shocked and saddened by the devastation that we have seen, and by the loss of life, the full scale of which will take many days, and possibly weeks, to comprehend. I am sure that the thoughts of everyone in this House, and indeed of everyone in our country, are with the Japanese people—we stand with you at this time.

As yet, there are no confirmed British fatalities, but we have severe concerns about a number of British nationals. I have spoken with our ambassador in Japan, who was one of the first to get to the affected region, and his team are working around the clock to help British nationals. Over the weekend we have had three rapid deployment teams of staff operating in the worst-affected areas, and they will be augmented by a further team that will be arriving in Tokyo this afternoon and advancing to the north-east of the country tomorrow. They will help to find out information for the families who are rightly very worried about relatives potentially caught up in this tragedy. We have set up a helpline for these families. It has taken several thousand calls and we are following up each lead. We have, of course, offered humanitarian assistance to the Japanese Government and we stand ready to assist in any way that we can. At their request, a 63-strong UK search and rescue team, which includes medical personnel, has already been deployed and it arrived in Japan yesterday morning.

The whole House will have been concerned at the worrying situation at the nuclear power station at Fukushima. The Japanese Government have said that the emergency cooling systems at three reactors at the plant have failed because of the tsunami and there have been explosions due to the release of hydrogen gas at both the Fukushima 1 and Fukushima 3 reactors. This is clearly a very fast-moving and rapidly changing picture and the Japanese Government are doing everything they can to manage the situation they face. We will keep the House updated. We are in close touch with the Japanese authorities and have offered our nuclear expertise if we can help to manage this very serious incident.

The Energy Secretary has asked our chief nuclear inspector, Dr. Mike Weightman, for a thorough report on the implications of the situation in Japan. The UK does not have reactors of the design of those in Fukushima and neither does it plan any; nor, obviously, are we in a seismically sensitive zone. But if there are lessons to learn, we must learn them.

Cobra has met several times over the weekend and again this morning, and we will keep our response to this tragedy and our support for Japan and the wider Pacific region under close and continuous review. Of course, that goes for our travel advice as well.

The devastation we are witnessing in Japan is of truly colossal proportions. It has been heartbreaking to listen to people who have had all their relatives, their friends, their possessions and their homes simply washed away. Those who have survived will not recognise the place where their homes once stood. We do not yet know the full and dreadful death toll, nor can anyone truly understand the impact that these events will have, but Japan and the Japanese people are a resilient and resourceful nation. Britain and the British people are your friends and we have no doubt you will recover.

Let me turn to Friday’s special European Council and north Africa. The reason for having this Council was twofold: first, to make sure Europe seizes the moment of opportunity to support the Arab people in north Africa and across the middle east in realising their aspirations for a more open and democratic form of government; and, secondly, to address the difficult situation in Libya. The Council addressed both issues and I will be frank with the House about where progress has been made and where more needs to be done.

First, on supporting the building blocks of democracy in the Arab world, the aim should be a big bold offer to those countries in our southern neighbourhood that want to move towards being more open societies. There was some real success on this point. The Council declaration talks of a “new partnership” founded on

“broader market access and political cooperation”

with an approach that gears support to those countries where progress is being made in meeting their citizens’ aspirations. That could be so much better than the failed approach of the past, but now Europe needs to follow through on its declaration with a real and credible offer to those countries. In my view, it must be based on the prospects of deeper economic and trade integration with the EU and free movement of goods, services and investment.

Turning to Libya, it was right for the EU to meet and discuss how we can work together to deal with the crisis. There has been considerable international co-operation on evacuation and I will bring the House up to date on the figures. We now have got more than 600 British nationals out and assisted more than 30 other nationalities. About 220 British nationals remain in Libya. The overwhelming majority of these are long-term residents and many, of course, are dual nationals or spouses of Libyan nationals. Many of that group have told us that they wish to remain in Libya, but a number of other British nationals are now contacting us for the first time. We will stay in contact with these people and continue to assist those who wish to leave.

We have also been at the forefront of the response to the humanitarian situation in Libya and on its borders. We remain deeply concerned by the situation for people inside Libya caught up in fierce fighting and the Development Secretary has repeatedly called for the protection of civilians and for unfettered humanitarian access to those in need.

On the subject of further isolating the Gaddafi regime, the European Council also made some progress. Two weeks ago, we put in place a tough United Nations Security Council resolution and agreed in record time asset freezes, travel bans and an arms embargo, as well as referral to the International Criminal Court. At this European Council, all leaders were united, categorical and crystal clear that Gaddafi must “relinquish power immediately.” We widened the restrictive measures against individuals close to Gaddafi and strengthened the financial sanctions on the regime, adding the Libyan Central Bank and the Libyan Investment Authority to the EU asset-freezing list. In doing so, the UK has increased the total of frozen Libyan assets in this country from £2 billion to £12 billion. We now need to make clear the next measures in terms of putting further pressure on the regime and planning for what other steps may be necessary.

Two weeks ago, I told the House that I believed contingency planning should be done, including plans for a military no-fly zone. NATO is carrying out that work. As we have said before, a no-fly zone would need international support based on three clear conditions: demonstrable need, regional support and a clear legal basis. In recent days, first the Gulf Co-operation Council and now the Arab League have called for a no-fly zone. In terms of the European Council, of course, the EU is not a military alliance and there is always a hesitation about discussing military options, but the Council expressed its

“deep concern about attacks against civilians, including from the air”

and agreed that all member states should examine “all necessary options” for protecting the civilian population, provided there was a demonstrable need, a clear legal basis and support from the region. That was some progress, especially compared with where Europe was in advance of Friday’s Council, but we need to continue to win the argument for a strong response in the international community—Europe included. Along with others in the United Nations Security Council, the UK is following up urgently the lead given by the Arab League by drafting a resolution that sets out the next measures that need to be taken, including the option of a no-fly zone. Included in the resolution, in our view, should be much tougher measures against mercenaries and the states from which they come, as well as against others who are attempting to breach the sanctions and assist Gaddafi.

Every day, Gaddafi is brutalising his own people. Time is of the essence and there should be no let-up in the pressure we put on this regime. I am clear where the British national interest lies. It is in our interest to see the growth of open societies and the building blocks of democracy in north Africa and the middle east. When it comes to Libya, we should be clear about what is happening. We have seen the uprising of a people against a brutal dictator and it will send a dreadful signal if their legitimate aspirations are crushed, not least to others striving for democracy across the region. To those who say it is nothing to do with us, I would simply respond, “Do we want a situation where a failed pariah state festers on Europe’s southern border, potentially threatening our security, pushing people across the Mediterranean and creating a more dangerous and uncertain world for Britain and for all our allies as well as for the people of Libya?” Of course we do not want that, and that is why Britain is and will remain at the forefront of the response to this crisis. I commend this statement to the House.

May I start by associating myself with the Prime Minister’s remarks about the Japanese earthquake and tsunami? The tragedy that has hit that country is of almost unimaginable horror and scale, as all of us will have felt after seeing the pictures on our television screens over the weekend. We fully support the Government in their efforts to help the Government of Japan in their hour of need and, indeed, to help Japan’s people.

This is clearly an anxious time for the friends and family of UK nationals and I thank the Prime Minister for what he said about our consular activity. I am sure that consular staff will be working around the clock to deal with the inquiries that they receive. Let me also associate myself with the Prime Minister’s remarks about the work of British search and rescue teams.

On nuclear power, we should clearly see if there are lessons to be learned, but should avoid a rush to judgment given that we have a good safety record in this country. It is important not to lose sight of that.

Turning to the European Council, I want to focus on three issues: the military options available to the international community regarding Libya, the wider response to the Libyan crisis and the need to re-energise the middle east peace process. Let me take each issue in turn.

First, I welcome the clear and unequivocal statement in the Council declaration that the Libyan regime should relinquish power immediately. As the Prime Minister made clear in his statement, the situation in Libya is grave and pressing. I said, when the Prime Minister first publicly floated the idea of a no-fly zone two weeks ago, that we welcomed the possibility. It is disappointing that Friday’s communiqué did not mention it, although it is, as he has said, encouraging that the Arab League has expressed support for it. In view of the gravity and urgency of the situation, and to win greater support for the idea, it seems to us that the priority must be to translate the no-fly zone phrase into a practical plan. To that end, may I ask what progress has been made since he asked the Ministry of Defence to draw up such a plan two weeks ago? Specifically, was such a plan presented by the UK at the NATO Defence Ministers meeting last Thursday or by him at the European Council?

On the European Council, may I ask whether the ambivalence among our EU partners is based on opposition to a no-fly zone in principle or is because of practical doubts about the workability of such a proposal? Can he give us a clearer picture, because that is necessary to win broader support, of what he believes the no-fly zone would involve and, furthermore, whether it is contingent on the US Government’s participation, given that some parts of the Administration have expressed reservations about the idea?

On timing, I note that the Prime Minister repeated his statement of last week that the UK is now working on a new Security Council resolution, which I welcome. Given the urgency of the situation, to which he rightly drew attention, what is his best judgment about when such a resolution will be tabled? Above all, may I emphasise to him the importance of matching what is said in public with the diplomatic spadework needed to win international support for a practical and legal plan?

I have one more question on the military options that are available. Given the position expressed this morning by the former Foreign Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind), on providing arms to some of the rebels against Colonel Gaddafi, what is the Government’s position on the legality and wisdom of that idea?

Secondly, let me turn to the other actions that we can take. I welcome what the Prime Minister said about asset freezes and sanctions. May I make a further suggestion? To maximise pressure on the regime, have the Government made any formal communication to the International Criminal Court to impress on Libyan leaders and commanders the importance of individual accountability for the commissioning and carrying out of crimes against humanity? If he has not done so—and I believe that it is open to individual countries to do this—may I suggest that he looks into the UK Government doing so?

On the humanitarian crisis, to which the Prime Minister referred, may I ask him whether the Department for International Development is planning to provide additional support to other multilateral organisations such as the World Food Programme and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees?

Thirdly and finally, may I discuss briefly the middle east peace process? He and I both had the chance last week to meet President Abbas during his visit to London. May I reiterate to the Prime Minister something with which I know he agrees—the central importance of not losing sight of that issue as other, more immediate crises face us. Will the Prime Minister therefore tell us what discussions took place at the European Council about how the EU can help to get the peace process back on track? In particular, what representations have been made to the United States following its recent veto of the UN resolution on settlements?

Finally, let me tell the Prime Minister that he and I are united in the view that this must be a moment when the European Union and the international community show they are more than the sum of their parts, whether it is on Libya specifically, north Africa or the middle east peace process. I hope that he and other leaders will do all they can over the coming days and weeks to put in the hard work and diplomacy that can make that happen.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his questions, and I particularly welcome what he said about Japan and the common ground there. On nuclear, he is absolutely right that we should not rush to judgment, but we should, as we have done, ask our experts where there are lessons to learn.

The right hon. Gentleman asked a range of questions about Libya, and let me try to take all of them. On the issue of no-fly zones, he said what support the Arab League had given, but the Secretary-General of the Arab League said very clearly:

“It is for the Security Council to take decisions as it sees fit. What we did in the Arab League is make an official request to impose a no-fly zone on military activities against the Libyan people.”

I think that that is a significant step forward. The right hon. Gentleman asked what work has been done. Obviously, work has been done in the UK to look at options on how that could be done but, crucially, the work is now being done in NATO, which is right. He asked a question about what it would involve. I am afraid that the answer is that that would depend on exactly how large the no-fly zone was, whether it was operating round the clock, which parts of the country it covered and so forth. However, it is perfectly practical and deliverable. Obviously, if it were to happen, if it is judged to have passed the milestones that we have set, it would be best if it were as widely supported as possible. It is something that no one country can do alone.

The right hon. Gentleman asked why some EU countries were more sceptical than others, and why they opposed the proposal. As he knows, 21 of the 27 are members of the NATO, which made it clear that this should be looked at. Many in Europe, as elsewhere, have made it clear that we must make sure that we learn lessons from Iraq. My argument is that no two situations are the same. We can listen to any number of experts who will warn about what happened in different places in different times, but what we are seeing in Libya is different. It is an uprising of a people against a leader, and it is quite different. No one is talking about invasions, boots on the ground and the rest of it. When a resolution should be put forward will depend on the support that can be guaranteed for such a resolution in the UN, but what has happened with the Arab League and the Gulf Co-operation Council is very encouraging.

On the question raised by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind), the former Foreign Secretary, about arming the rebels, I repeat what the Foreign Secretary said this morning. We should not exclude various possibilities, and there is an argument to be made, but there are important legal, practical and other issues that would have to be resolved, including the UN arms embargo. We should also be clear that there is no single answer to speeding up the process of removing Gaddafi. That is why we should urgently be pursuing a broad range of options through the UN.

On the other actions that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned—the International Criminal Court—I will certainly look at the idea of contacting the court directly. It seems most important to me that we make the point publicly over and over again to all those people around Gaddafi, working for Gaddafi, and in his army, that they are being watched by the International Criminal Court. That is a message that we should do everything we can to get across.

DFID has responded very quickly, both bilaterally and multilaterally. We should be proud of the fact that it was Britain which flew so many Egyptians on the Tunisian border back to Egypt and helped many hundreds of Bangladeshis as well.

On the point that the right hon. Gentleman makes about the middle east peace process, that was discussed by the EU Council. We have made strong representations to other EU countries and also to the US that we must get that back on track. As the right hon. Gentleman said, both of us met the Palestinian President when he came to London recently. I was struck by something that one of his advisers said—that if we really want great progress and victory in combating terrorism and Islamic extremism, growth of democracy in the middle east, plus a solution to the Palestine-Israel conflict, would be the two things that could bring that victory together.

Does the Prime Minister agree that the Gaddafi regime has already internationalised the conflict in Libya by bringing in many hundreds of mercenaries, which is helping to put pressure on the insurgents? Against that background, is it not imperative that the international community should be able to provide military supplies to the insurgents? Of course, we must recognise the legality of the arms embargo, but does the Prime Minister agree also that the terms of the arms embargo resolution prevent arms from being supplied to what is called the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya—in other words, to the Gaddafi regime—and that it is perfectly possible to supply arms or other equipment to those who are fighting that regime, especially as the resolution itself, through the appointment of a sanctions committee, allows that sanctions committee to provide arms sales to other groups in Libya if it thinks that appropriate?

My right hon. and learned Friend made a strong and persuasive argument in his newspaper article this morning. I make three points. First, on the issue of mercenaries, what is happening is unacceptable. We should be sending the clearest possible message to those in Mali, Chad and elsewhere who are thinking of volunteering as mercenaries, and we should put into the next UN resolution the strongest possible language about mercenaries. Secondly, the same should apply to policing the arms embargo against the Gaddafi regime, because there are signs that he is seeking additional armaments right now. Thirdly, I hear clearly the argument —it is an ingenious argument that only a lawyer of my right hon. and learned Friend’s brilliance could make—about the specific way the arms embargo was termed towards the country that Gaddafi effectively renamed, but I am not sure it is an opinion that is shared by all other lawyers.

I was going to ask the Prime Minister about the nature of the duties on the Security Council. Five years ago, a high level working group established by the then Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, recommended that the responsibilities—the duties—of the Security Council should be broadened from protecting international peace and security to a “responsibility to protect” populations from internal humanitarian disaster, even where that did not directly pose a threat across the borders of those countries. Does the Prime Minister agree that as well as the commendable action that the British Government are taking to push the international community to deal with the immediate problem of Libya, we need to use this terrible example to press our partners internationally to broaden the remit of the Security Council so that we never get another Bosnia or Rwanda or, maybe tragically, another Libya?

The right hon. Gentleman has considerable expertise on this issue. The responsibility to protect has been pushed forward and debated, and I remember asking questions in opposition, at the time of problems in Burma and elsewhere, on whether it should be invoked. What the lawyers will advise, quite rightly, is that things have moved on and changed since Bosnia. It seems to me that one of the things we are trying to do here is learn the lessons of Iraq and the lessons of Bosnia, where the international community was neither fast enough, nor indeed decisive enough in responding.

I very much agree with the Prime Minister’s proposals to make the countries of the middle east bigger and more open societies, but those of us with reservations about the no-fly zone are concerned about where it will lead. Given that the last two no-fly zones, in Bosnia and Iraq, both needed troops on the ground to follow behind them, what does he envisage will happen if a no-fly zone is unsuccessful and Gaddafi remains in place?

Obviously, a lot has been written and said about this issue, and I totally understand the argument, but if we face a situation where there is a real danger of Gaddafi continuing to inflict devastation on his people, and if the conditions set out have been met, which are that there is a demonstrable need, regional support and a clear legal basis, it seems to me that this is the right sort of step to consider. Of course, it is not a solution to the problem, but I believe that it would have an effect on the ground. It might not be a decisive effect, but I think that there are strong arguments for taking steps that further put pressure on Gaddafi, and I think that this is a step that we should consider. We have already taken a number of diplomatic and sanction steps. I think that this is an additional step that could make a difference.

Order. Approximately 50 Members are still seeking to catch my eye. I am keen to accommodate them, so brevity is of the essence.

The Prime Minister referred to learning the lessons from Iraq. He also said that time is of the essence. Does he agree that John Major, as Prime Minister, was right to introduce a no-fly zone to protect the Kurds and that, as a result, for 12 years Saddam was unable to attack them even though he remained in power in Baghdad? Is there not an argument today for the international community, either collectively or only some of them, to protect the people of Benghazi?

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. I think that John Major was right, and I discussed this specific case with him over the past few days to make sure that we learn the lessons from that. That also relates to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway). The point is this: we cannot do everything, but that does not mean that we should not do anything. That is the key, and we have to work out where to draw the line. I am very clear that a no-fly zone is something that we should consider, because it may help to stop atrocities being committed against people who want a more democratic future.

May I associate all my party colleagues with the condolences and sympathy expressed by the Prime Minister for the people of Japan and with the support expressed for all those coming to their aid?

On Libya, in addition to the sense of urgency that the Prime Minister has expressed on the no-fly zone, is he willing to pursue, as the crisis group in Brussels has recommended, a possible initiative for a ceasefire on the ground in Libya so that a post-Gaddafi representative and an appropriate regime could be discussed as urgently as possible, as well as military action taken elsewhere?

We will of course listen and respond to all suggestions. It seems to me that the first thing that needs to happen is for Gaddafi to cease what he is doing and go. That is the only way Libya can have a secure future and that is what needs to happen. We should be asking ourselves, with our allies, the Arab League and the Gulf Co-operation Council, what more we can do to tighten the noose around Gaddafi and turn up the pressure to ensure that he feels it as strongly as possible.

The Prime Minister is right that the logic of a no-fly zone is to prevent aggression by Gaddafi against innocent people in Benghazi or elsewhere. Is that not exactly the same logic, though, of providing arms to those in opposition to Gaddafi—that it gives them the capacity to defend themselves against such aggression? What assessment does the Prime Minister make of the urgency with which the international community will now deal with the legal issue?

First, to deal with the issue of urgency, there is a range of opinions on what is happening on the ground in Libya, but it does seem as if the rebels have had some serious setbacks, so time could be relatively short. The international community, therefore, needs to step up and quicken the pace of its response along the lines of some of the things that we have been suggesting.

In terms of whether a no-fly zone is better than other options, I think we should pursue a range of options. I put a no-fly zone on the table early on, because it takes planning and time to prepare for such a contingency. As I said in relation to arming the rebels, and as the Foreign Secretary said, we should not rule things out, but there is a range of practical and legal difficulties, so the steps that we are pushing for at the UN, which involve not just a no-fly zone, but a range of other, diplomatic steps and pressures, including what I have said about mercenaries, are the right approach.

I welcome the Prime Minister’s analysis, and his tying down of the conditions to proceed, but does he nevertheless agree that, welcome though the Arab League’s support is, there will be a requirement on it to provide some of its considerable air assets for a no-fly zone if the project is to have the wholehearted capability that it should?

My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. Everyone will have seen the words of the Arab League and of the Gulf Co-operation Council, which are welcome, and it is—to some—an unexpected step that they are being so forthright in asking for a no-fly zone, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right: were that to happen, it should go ahead on the basis of the broadest amount of international support and participation, and crucially that should include participation by Arab states themselves, which do have the assets to bring to bear.

First and foremost, our thoughts are with the people of Japan at this terrible time, and whatever our own views on nuclear power we fervently hope that their engineers are able to bring under control the situation at Fukushima.

The Prime Minister made some perfectly valid points about the differences between the UK and Japan, but the fact remains that their reactors are specifically designed for Japanese, known seismic risk. Should that not give us pause for thought about our own nuclear plans?

We have an excellent nuclear safety record in this country, but we should never be complacent. When any nuclear incident happens anywhere else in the world, we should immediately examine it and ask ourselves, “Does this have any implications for what we do in the UK?” There are some important scientific points to take into account, including the different reactors and seismic conditions that we have here, but nevertheless we will make sure that the gentleman I mentioned in my statement does the work properly.

My right hon. Friend has commendably promoted action rather than words. In remembering the lessons of Iraq, should we not remember also the lessons of Budapest in 1956 and the Prague spring? Is it not a fact that, when the western free world fails to act, defining moments are lost and tyrants survive?

My hon. Friend speaks with great passion about these issues. The point I would make about the lessons of Iraq, which a lot of people mention, is that no one here is talking about, and the Libyan opposition are not asking for, ground troops, invasions or anything like that; they are asking for a no-fly zone. But I think there is a lesson from Iraq, and it is this: if you talk to a lot of people in the Gulf, they will say, “If you don’t actually show your support for the Libyan people and for democracy at this time, in a way you’re saying you will intervene when it is only about your security, but you won’t help when it is about our democracy,” We need to bear that in mind in drawing the lessons, as people say, from Iraq.

Was there any discussion at the European Council about the desirability of EU nations now recognising the opposition as a legitimate power in Libya?

There was a discussion about that, and the Council’s conclusions talk about the Benghazi council being a legitimate political interlocutor, which is important. The French have obviously formally recognised that organisation. As for Britain’s position, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows, we recognise countries rather than Governments, but we want a dialogue and to have contact with the Libyan opposition, so we will be going ahead with that. We do, however, have a different legal position of recognising countries, not Governments.

My hon. Friend, who speaks with great passion about these things, puts it in a very particular way. I have spoken with President Obama; he said, very clearly, that he wants Gaddafi to go. Chancellor Merkel signed up to a European Council statement that Gaddafi should go. When we are talking about intervention here, we are talking about the world coming together, having tough UN sanctions, putting in place a resolution, turning up the pressure, and looking at possibilities like a no-fly zone that could help to protect the Libyan people. As I said in my statement, it is not in our interests that we end up with Gaddafi still in power, in charge of what will become a pariah rogue state on the borders of Europe causing huge amounts of difficulty for everyone else. This is in our interests; it is not some great adventure that is being planned, if I may reassure my hon. Friend.

The United Nations Security Council is the right way to pursue this matter. Was there any explanation at the European Council meeting of the bombs, the torpedoes, the rockets and the missiles that have been sold to the Libyan regime by France, Italy and Germany—that is apart from what we have been selling up until the past few weeks? What on earth did the Governments believe those arms would be used against?

The hon. Gentleman is extremely consistent in his line of questioning about this issue, and he is right to raise these questions. I think that all Governments and all countries are going to have to ask themselves some quite searching questions about things that were sold and training that was given, and all the rest of it, and I will make sure that those questions are asked and answered here. But to be fair to the last Government, I can understand absolutely why relations were formed with Gaddafi after he gave up the weapons of mass destruction, although tragically not all of them have been destroyed or disposed of. The question is whether we then went into a relationship that was too blind and unthinking, and there are some serious questions to ask about that.

I really think that my right hon. Friend deserves congratulations on the fact that a fortnight ago he was virtually a lone voice in floating the idea of a no-fly zone, and now he has the support of the Arab League and France. What exactly went on at the European Council? Whom was Baroness Ashton speaking for? What mandate does she have to give her opinions? Should she not serve the member states of the European Union rather than pretending to lead them?

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks, and the temptation to be pulled down a particular path about Baroness Ashton, who I think does a good job. The point that I would make is this: what happened on Friday, I think, is that there was a rogue briefing by one of her spokespeople that she was extremely embarrassed about and, to be fair to her, did everything she possibly could to try to put right. But as the old saying goes, a lie is halfway round the world before the truth has got its boots on.

In several questions the Prime Minister has reinforced the point he made in his statement that much tougher measures should be taken against mercenaries and states from which they come. What sort of measures is he thinking of?

There is now an arms embargo that should be policed. As many hon. Members will know, sometimes the problem with UN resolutions is that we pass the resolution but we do not necessarily put in place the machinery to follow it up properly. There is more that can be done through the UN on mercenaries, but there is also more that can be done on a bilateral basis whereby countries such as Britain, and perhaps particularly France, because of its relations with some of these countries, can make it absolutely clear how unacceptable it is to supply mercenaries. The message should go out to all those thinking about it that the world is watching, the International Criminal Court is watching, and that if you take part in war crimes, wherever you are, you can still be caught and punished.

Does the Prime Minister share my concern at the arrival of Saudi troops in Bahrain following the protests demanding democratic reforms, which have already been met by tear gas and rubber bullets? Does he agree that those desiring democracy in Bahrain should have as much right to peaceful protest as those in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, regardless of whether Saudi Arabia approves?

Of course, everyone should have the right to peaceful protest. In Bahrain, the King and the Crown Prince have been making efforts to try to have movement towards a more open and democratic society. Of course people will have debates about whether they are going far enough or fast enough, but they have made that effort. Bahrain obviously has the difficulty of quite a severe divide between some Sunni and Shi’a, which can make the situation more difficult, but I hope that they keep going down that path of reform, and not repression, which is the right track for these countries to take.

Will the right hon. Gentleman join me in condemning utterly the barbaric slaughter inflicted on the Fogel family in a west bank settlement over the weekend? Does he agree that no response to that savagery could be more futile than the building of further settlements, and that the only way to stop this useless slaughter of innocent people—both Jews and Palestinians—is for Israel to sit down and talk?

The right hon. Gentleman is entirely right. Like others, I read about that case over the weekend and found what happened extremely disturbing. Anyone who has been to Jerusalem and seen the settlement building, particularly around east Jerusalem, can understand why the Palestinians feel so strongly about building on their land. There is a danger of the two-state solution being built away if we are not careful. That is why this Government have always taken a strong view about the settlements.

Is not one of the lessons of Afghanistan that arming insurgents against a regime that we do not like can have incalculable consequences? Is not the problem with the proposal to do so, and with a no-fly zone, that we could end up with a prolonged civil war in which there would be mounting moral pressure for us to send in ground troops? Will the Prime Minister reassure the British people categorically that there is no question of our being dragged into another war of attrition in the middle east?

Let me try to reassure my hon. Friend, and through him people who are concerned about this matter. There is no intention to get involved in another war or to see an invasion or massive amounts of ground troops. That is not what is being looked at. What is being looked at is how we can tighten the pressure on an unacceptable, illegitimate regime to give that country some chance of peaceful transition. We would let down ourselves and the Libyan people if we did nothing and said that it was all too difficult. My hon. Friend’s point about Afghanistan is a good one, but I would argue that the real lesson is that the mistake of the west was to forget about Afghanistan and take its eyes off that country, rather than building and investing there when it was making progress. Instead we left it alone, and we have since suffered the consequences.

Was there any discussion at the European Council about the situation in Yemen? The Prime Minister will know that the situation has deteriorated badly, with violence spreading to many cities. It is surely not in anyone’s interests, apart from al-Qaeda, for Yemen to drift into civil war. What can we do to help the Yemeni Government to stabilise the situation, but to continue with the reforms?

We did discuss the wider region. The country that is probably of the most concern at the moment is Yemen, which the right hon. Gentleman often raises in this House. Again, it is clearly in our interests that the Yemeni Government respond with reform rather than repression. Yemen is a particularly special case because of the great presence of al-Qaeda and our need to encourage its Government to take on the terrorism in their country. The situation is obviously extremely difficult and we keep it under permanent review, not least to ensure that we keep safe the British citizens who are there.

Does the Prime Minister think there is a danger that by the time the international community agrees to a no-fly zone, there will be no purpose for one?

My hon. Friend makes a good point—the clock is ticking. There is a strong case for saying that time could get very short. I am not arguing, and do not think that anyone should argue, that a no-fly zone is the silver bullet that will solve the whole problem. It is just one of the many options that we should look at to increase pressure on the regime and to help people on the ground. I raised it two weeks ago because a lot of contingency planning is needed. I hope that that planning can now be sped up. That is why we are pushing for it, including through the UN. Clearly, we have to make and win some arguments on the UN Security Council, where some will be very sceptical about the idea.

Will the Prime Minister explain exactly what are his principles on condemnation and potential military intervention? He has described his views on Libya. What is his view on the Saudi forces who are firing on protesters on the streets of Saudi Arabia, who have travelled over the border into Yemen in the past, and who today are occupying parts of Bahrain in support of the Bahraini Government against their own protesters? Where is the condemnation of Saudi Arabia for its human rights abuses and for its arrogance in its treatment of dissidents?

I do not believe that the Government are being inconsistent. We have said throughout this that the response of Governments to aspirations for greater freedom and democracy—what we call the building blocks of democracy—should be reform and not repression. That applies right across the region. What is special about Libya right now is that, as I have said, there is an uprising of people against a brutal dictator who is brutalising the people. In the international community, we should be asking ourselves, “What can we do?” We do not have a perfect answer, because there are red lines that we are not prepared to cross, but in my view that is not an argument for doing nothing.

While welcoming the consensus on both sides of the House that we need a coalition and cannot freelance this, may I ask the Prime Minister what steps are being taken to bring Brazil, India, South Africa and other new members of the Security Council on side with the no-fly zone?

My hon. Friend asks an extremely good question. Those discussions are actually ongoing, and the UN Security Council is meeting as we speak. I think that those who have been sceptical about needing to take further action will be struck by what the Arab League and the Gulf Co-operation Council have said, and by what the Libyan opposition themselves have said. If we were having this argument and the Arab League was saying, “No, stay out, don’t help”, that would be a different situation, but that is not the case. I hope that the Brazilians and others will look at what the Arab League is saying and say, “Actually, this is a different situation and we need to give our support.”

I know that the Prime Minister recognises the fact that the no-fly zone is not an easy option. In light of that, will he promise the House that if Britain decides to join in the imposition of a no-fly zone, the matter will be debated and voted on in the House?

I made a statement two weeks ago and I am making a statement today. We will have a further debate later this week, and I want the House of Commons to be regularly updated and to have every opportunity to discuss, debate and, if it wants, vote on the matter. I do not think we are there yet, but we now have the excellent Backbench Business Committee, which can arrange for days of debate and substantive motions, so if the Government are not fast enough for the hon. Lady, there are other options.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that a solution can be found before time runs out only if it has an Arab face on it? Does he agree that the two ways in which it can have that are, first, if weapons and ammunition are fairly rapidly allowed to reach the rebels, who face an extremely well-armed enemy, and secondly, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames) suggested, if the Egyptian and Saudi air forces are brought very much into the frame for any possible no-fly zone?

My hon. Friend speaks with great expertise about these matters. There is an Arab face on this already because of what the Arab League and the Gulf Co-operation Council have said, and that makes a big difference. When we speak to Arab leaders in the Gulf, they are very clear—unanimous, even—that Gaddafi has to go, the regime cannot continue, it is not legitimate and the situation is bad for the region. I think there would be support were a no-fly zone to happen—not only verbal support but, I hope, military support as well.

I cannot be specific about the two countries that my hon. Friend mentions. Obviously Egypt has all sorts of challenges in front of it at the moment, but I have had personal strong support from other Gulf leaders on this issue.

The fact that arms that could have been sold by this country and many other western countries are being used against the people fighting for freedom in Libya highlights the unacceptable nature of the arms trade. Were there any discussions at the European Union about the possibility of international agreement about who we should deal with regarding arms in the future, to prevent such circumstances from coming about?

There was not that discussion at the European Council on Friday, because we were really talking about the two issues of the immediate situation in Libya and the neighbourhood policy that Europe should have towards north Africa and countries that are yearning for democracy.

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that we have to consider such issues closely. I do not believe that the arms trade is always and everywhere a bad thing, because small countries have a right to defend themselves. A responsible trade, properly regulated, is acceptable, but although we have some of the toughest rules, we have to ask ourselves, “Are they working, and how can we improve on them?”

The Prime Minister will understand if I tell him that I was a little troubled to hear him say that we would police the arms embargo. Should we not use political will rather than legal ingenuity to ensure that arms go to help those who are resisting that dreadful tyrant?

As I have said in answer to several hon. Members, we do not rule those things out. We will look closely at the arguments, but clearly, when a UN arms embargo is in place, there are legal and practical problems with going down a different track. We should focus on the pressures that we can put on the Gaddafi regime. We should not rule out other possibilities —we can discuss those with allies—but they are not immediately on the table.

Further to the question from the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), has the Prime Minister assessed—or is he aware of any such assessment—how soon a no-fly zone must be implemented for it not only to save civilians on the ground, but to change the course of events there?

That is a very good question. The point is that a no-fly zone may not make a decisive military difference, but it could make a difference. Clearly, the sooner it is put in place, the more difference it could make. However, the British Government are extremely clear that the three conditions must be in place—there must be a legal basis, regional support and a demonstrable need. Clearly, if those three conditions are met and if international partners want to go ahead, the sooner the better, because the effect, which people can debate, will be that much the greater.

May I offer the Prime Minister my full support and congratulate him on his leadership? What more can be done by the international community, preferably through Arab countries, to ensure that Libyan opposition forces deliver a self-help no-fly zone by the provision of, and the giving of access to, their own portable, shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles? That would provide a Libyan solution to what is primarily a Libyan problem, in addition to any future UN no-fly zone.

Clearly, while some of the military has remained loyal to Gaddafi, a lot of the military supports the rebels. Both sides in the conflict have a number of armaments, as my hon. Friend will have seen from the evidence. There are problems with arming the rebels. I mentioned the legal situation in respect of the arms embargo, but there are practical problems and questions about how quickly arming rebels would lead to any material effect. We can look at that, and we do not rule it out, but we should focus our efforts on the diplomatic efforts—the isolation of Libya—and on the contingency plans, such as a no-fly zone.

I thank the Prime Minister for his comments on settlement building, but what are the Government doing to assist the people of Egypt? Egypt is still a military-run state. We should not sell it arms, but assist it to build civil society, political parties and the rule of law. How can the Government assist in those aims?

We are assisting the Egyptian people at this time—we hope—of transition. When I went to Cairo, I met Field Marshal Tantawi, the interim leader of that country. While we obviously want to see civilian democratic rule, and while there is at least the chance of a transition, which we are doing everything we can to help, one should not be too unfair about the Egyptian military’s role in ensuring that Mubarak left office. I have spoken to the new Prime Minister in Egypt. Our embassy, which is very well staffed and organised, is arranging a number of political contacts to ensure that we do everything to help that country with its growth towards democracy.

Regional support has now been given, and the need is demonstrated. Five years ago, Heads of State at the UN General Assembly agreed that they

“are prepared to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner, through the Security Council…should…national authorities manifestly fail to protect their populations.”

Is it not time that the Security Council acted collectively to protect the people of Libya?

The hon. Gentleman puts his point very strongly. We hope that the Security Council takes such action. There is now a discussion in the Security Council, and clearly, we must make the arguments as best we can. We can make points about the conditions that must be fulfilled before a no-fly zone comes into operation, but we should put forward other proposals, such as sanctions, asset bans and all the rest of it, that can add to pressure on the regime. We should not see one thing as a silver bullet, because there is no silver bullet—it is about ramping up the pressure.

There are many dimensions to the tragedy in Japan, but on the lessons to be learned for emergency planning, surely one of the issues that is starting to become clear in terms of nuclear facilities is the inability of back-up systems adequately to pump around coolant when the primary systems fail. Will the Prime Minister ensure that the Health and Safety Executive properly stress tests our current and planned nuclear facilities?

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. I am sure that the head of the nuclear inspectorate, who is doing this report for us, will look at this issue. As I understand it, it was a legitimate issue in Japan, where the combination of the earthquake and the tsunami meant that the systems were so severely tested. We have to stress test all our arrangements—although obviously in different circumstances on the ground—as toughly as we can.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government intend that sooner or later Gaddafi and those closest to him who are most responsible for attacks on civilians and crimes against humanity will be held to account by the International Criminal Court?

Yes, I can certainly make that point. It is a very strong point. We talk about pressurising the regime, but we also want to isolate it. Anyone around or thinking of supporting Gaddafi should be thinking about the long arm of the law, its long reach and its long memory, and I think that the International Criminal Court is very helpful in that regard.

Learning from previous no-fly zones, will the Prime Minister confirm that with hindsight it was wrong in Bosnia to have insisted on an equality of sanctions and to have put in place rules of engagement that were not specific enough about helicopters and trade planes?

The hon. Lady makes a point. There are many lessons to learn from all stages of the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, perhaps Bosnia in particular. One can make all sorts of arguments about whether the arms embargo should have been lifted, or whether there should have been tougher action earlier against the Serbs, but the most important lesson was that the international community has to be engaged and decisive at an earlier stage. That is the lesson that we should learn.

In welcoming my right hon. Friend’s stance in leading the international community in taking difficult decisions against Gaddafi, will he remind it that Gaddafi has form? He launched a brutal military takeover in 1968 and became the leader of a pariah state that tried to acquire nuclear weapons in the 1970s and 1980s. Is it not imperative that the international community takes action now?

This is an important point for people who are traditionally sceptical about these sorts of measures. We should consider what life could be like with a Gaddafi in charge of a pariah Libyan state, with all the oil money it would have and all the ability it would have to wreak havoc internationally. We know what this man is capable of, because we have seen it in the past with Lockerbie and all the other problems, not least his funding of the IRA.

On the one hand, the Prime Minister has been urged to take action as soon as possible, because of the urgency of the situation; on the other, he has been asked to follow the UN track. He has indicated that the Arab League and, as far as we can judge, internal opinion in Libya support a no-fly zone. Will he recommit himself to ensuring that we get the legitimacy of a UN Security Council resolution before action is taken?

Obviously, we want to have the widest possible international support. Also, we should not proceed without a proper legal basis. The hon. Gentleman mentions the Libyan opposition. They have made it absolutely clear in what they said that they want a no-fly zone and to have this sort of international support.

Does not the welcome support of the Arab League for a no-fly zone show that the Prime Minister was both forward thinking and right when he proposed it two weeks ago? Does not his stance on this issue contrast enormously with the Leader of the Opposition, who appears to have flip-flopped in a way reminiscent of his predecessor?

I thank my hon. Friend for what he says. The point I made two weeks ago was not that we should introduce a no-fly zone immediately, but that with such a situation we have to plan in advance for contingencies that may become necessary. I believe that the time is coming when it will be necessary for the international community to step forward and make this decision. However, I do not pretend for a minute that it is a one-shot wonder that will deal with the situation—it is not—but it could help.

Regarding the no-fly zone, the National Audit Office says we have just eight Typhoon pilots trained for ground attack. The lives of two Nimrods planned for early retirement have been extended. Will the Prime Minister look again at the decision to retire our Harrier fleet?

The aeroplane that is not being used at all in Afghanistan is the highly capable Typhoon, in which this country has invested an enormous amount of money and which is now proving to be an extremely good, well-performing aircraft. In our defence review we are thinking exactly about situations such as these, where we need highly flexible, well-trained armed forces, with investment in special forces, helicopters and transport planes such as the A400M. That is exactly the situation that we are envisaging.

Having served in Operation Warden in the no-fly zone over northern Iraq in the 1990s, I echo the Prime Minister’s comments about how it is possible to have a successful no-fly zone without committing ground troops. What does he think of the suggestion made by one of my constituents—a member of the Stop the War Coalition who e-mailed this lunchtime—of using financial funds seized from the Gaddafi regime to buy arms for the rebels?

I did not know about my hon. Friend’s brave record in flying for the Air Force in a no-fly zone. He brings great personal expertise, so it is good to have his backing. The frozen resources belong to the Libyan people, and we should bear that in mind when we start thinking of different and ingenious ways of spending their money.

Should we not avoid a rush to complacency on nuclear safety? The pictures from Fukushima have already churned up people’s deep-seated fears of a nuclear catastrophe and reduced the acceptability of nuclear installations, which are uniquely dangerous in cases of human error, terrorist attack or natural disaster. Should we not look again at our rush to nuclear?

We have to put aside our personal preferences and prejudices about nuclear power and ask some tough scientific questions about what recent events demonstrate and what we should learn. There are big differences between Japan and Britain. We do not yet know the full extent of what has happened at the reactors, and, as the leader of the hon. Gentleman’s party said, we should not rush to judgment in considering these issues.

I welcome the Prime Minister’s efforts to engage the international community in developing a robust response to the barbaric acts of Colonel Gaddafi. What steps are being taken to provide humanitarian aid to displaced people in Libya, especially in the increasingly isolated town of Misurata in the west?

My hon. Friend asks an important question. What we have done so far has focused on the Egyptian and Tunisian borders, where Britain has led the way in supplying tents and blankets and in flying people back home to Egypt, because we want to ensure that a bad humanitarian situation does not become a humanitarian crisis. His point about access to western Libya is vital. Humanitarian aid agencies do not have access to all areas; they absolutely should have, and the Libyan authorities should see to that straight away.

Leaving aside the juvenile and puerile crack from the hon. Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen), the Prime Minister will know that there is a cross-party consensus on the need for a no-fly zone. Given that time is of the essence, on how many occasions has he personally spoken to President Obama and on how many occasions has the Foreign Secretary spoken to Secretary of State Clinton?

The Foreign Secretary has probably lost count of the number of times he has spoken to Secretary of State Clinton—they seem to have an almost permanent telephone special relationship. I spoke to President Obama about the situation last week, and I have had a number of conversations with him about it. Crucially, now that we have a National Security Council and a National Security Adviser—which slightly mirrors the Americans’ arrangements—our teams have almost daily conversations, so we are totally up to date with each other’s thinking. We want the US to focus on what is happening in Libya and on what we need to do as an international community.

My hon. Friend makes a good point. There is now special stabilisation funding, which is under all sorts of pressure as there are so many unstable parts of the world. We looked at this in the defence review, but we should keep it under review.

Is not the tragic situation in Japan made even more acute by the country’s demographic time bomb? Like many western European countries, Japan has an ageing population. It is in times of need that we find out what unites us rather than tears us apart, so will the Prime Minister assure me that in this darkest of hours Japan will see the full force of British friendship and generosity?

I can absolutely give my hon. Friend that assurance. I spoke to our ambassador at lunchtime today, and he said that the way in which we respond will be very important to the Japanese people. Japan and Britain have a very strong, close relationship, and we should do everything we can to say, “We are with you at this time of need, and we are going to give you aid and help.” Japan is an enormously capable country with fantastic technology and ingenious people, so if anyone can cope with the appalling things that have been visited on them, they can. There is also room for friends to help as well.

Gaddafi winning would be the biggest nightmare for the Libyan people. Two weeks ago, the Prime Minister took the lead in calling for a no-fly zone, against the tide of public and media opinion. Now, however, the Arab League and the Gulf Co-operation Council have supported a no-fly zone. Considering the difficulties in Europe on Friday, if similar difficulties were to occur in the UN, would my right hon. Friend be prepared to lead a coalition of the willing to enforce a no-fly zone?

As I have said, the conditions for a no-fly zone must include the existence of regional support. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House have already made that point. There should also be a demonstrable need for it on the ground, and I think that that is becoming the case. There must also be a clear legal basis for it, and that is why we are pushing this matter at the UN and why we will, I hope, make persuasive arguments about why a new UN resolution should include lots of different measures and steps that we can take, including plans for a no-fly zone. I think that we should pursue that track.

I applaud the Prime Minister for the leadership he has shown during this crisis. May I draw his attention to the problems of getting support for a no-fly zone, and to the disgraceful use of mercenaries? Is this not the time to have a debate on broadening the scope of the United Nations’ capacity to act?

This has been a perennial debate about whether the UN should have more specific capacity to act. We can certainly have that debate. I would make the argument, which I also make about the European Union, that, in the end, all the institutions in the world depend on the political will of their members. What was required on Friday in Europe—and we got some of it—was the political will for Europe to respond to what is happening in its neighbourhood. The same applies to the UN, and I think that there is political will there. It is incredible that a Security Council resolution was passed so quickly, and we need to continue to show that political will so that we can ensure that Gaddafi fails.

In the light of the recent demands by the protesters in Bahrain for the monarchy to step down and for the setting up of an Islamic republic similar to that of Iran, has the Prime Minister made any assessment of Iran’s involvement in the events in Bahrain?

A number of people have speculated about that. From the information that I have, I would say that the Bahrainis have made efforts, not just recently but over the years, to make a stronger civil society and to put in place some of the building blocks of democracy. Of course there is an argument about whether they should go further and faster, and I would urge that they respond to what is happening now with further reform rather than with repression.

Will my right hon. Friend give a categorical assurance to the nuclear power industry in the United Kingdom? What has happened in Japan is catastrophic, but there are distinct differences between the nuclear power industry here and that of Japan.

The nuclear industry here in the UK has a strong safety record, but it must never be complacent, because the consequences of failure can be so dreadful. We have to be eternally vigilant. What has happened on the other side of the world following an earthquake and a tsunami might sound like something that we might not experience in the UK, but if there are lessons to learn about how reactors fail, whether they fail safe and all the rest of it, of course we should learn them.

I know that my right hon. Friend has visited Rwanda. During the genocide there, the UN retreated and the world stood by as thousands of lives were lost. Will he reassure me that we will continue to show leadership on the Libyan situation, so that many lives will not be lost in the same way again?

The Rwandan example is a powerful one, partly because of the immense scale of the barbarous murder that took place. Anyone visiting that country, especially the memorial built on top of the graves of literally hundreds of thousands of people, will see it as a standing warning of the fact that genocide can take place in our world, even today.

May I suggest a note of caution to my right hon. Friend about a no-fly zone? Our record of intervention in this region has not been good. Meanwhile, a no-fly zone could require Colonel Gaddafi’s forces to be attacked and poses the question of what happens if we fail.

Of course we have to show caution and forethought and we have to think through all the consequences of our action. As I have said, however, I think the consequences of inaction are going to be worse than taking the sort of steps that I have spoken about. Of course we must learn the lessons from other conflicts, but there is a real difference here: the Arab League, the Gulf Co-operation Council and the Libyan opposition are all saying, “Please will you help us in this one particular way?” Turning the Iraq example on its head, if we turned round and said, “No, there is no question of this at all”, opinion in the Arab world might well be, “You look after yourselves when it is about your perceived security, but when it is our future and our democracy, where are you when we need you?”

Will the Prime Minister join me in paying tribute to fire and rescue service officers from West Sussex, based in my constituency, who are now in Japan helping with the relief effort after the earthquake and tsunami—and, indeed, to all the emergency workers from this country who so readily go out to disaster areas around the world, whether it be Haiti, New Zealand or wherever?

I certainly take great pleasure in praising people in the emergency services from my hon. Friend’s constituency and, indeed, from around the whole country who, at the drop of a hat, jump on an aeroplane and head off to New Zealand, Haiti or Japan and probably witness some appalling and truly harrowing scenes, which they then have to deal with. This is more than just a gesture from Britain to Japan, as these are some of the most highly trained people in our country and are great experts in what they do. I am sure they will make a real difference.