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Volume 525: debated on Monday 14 March 2011

15. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of his Department’s contribution to the operation to evacuate UK nationals from Libya; and if he will make a statement. (45710)

My right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have already paid tribute to the members of the armed forces and the diplomatic service and all those who put themselves in harm’s way to help our people to leave safely. I would like to add my thanks to all those involved, in particular the members of the armed forces and civilian personnel, who demonstrated courage and professionalism in the co-ordinated effort to rescue British and other nationals from the crisis. The Ministry of Defence utilised a range of assets to support the Foreign Office-led operation to recover UK and other citizens from Libya. We successfully transported 926 entitled persons, of whom 286 were British nationals.

I would like to associate myself with the Secretary of State’s comments on the work done by our armed forces in Libya. Will he tell the House who in the Ministry of Defence authorised the use of special forces in the operation that started on 2 March, and what advice led to that decision?

The Foreign Secretary has already set out the circumstances in which—[Interruption.] I have no intention of commenting further on special forces. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has joined me in thanking those who took part in that work. I visited HMS Cumberland in Malta at the weekend to thank on behalf of the Government and the House of Commons the crew for their tremendous work. The fact that we were able to take 926 citizens, of whom only 286 were British, shows just how far we were ahead of the curve and doing our utmost to help those of other nations as well.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the successful evacuation of several hundred of our own nationals, together with large numbers of overseas nationals, with not a single casualty among those people or our armed services, should be an occasion for rejoicing and congratulation, rather than for the negative party politicking that we have heard from the Opposition?

It is interesting to compare the coverage that the operations led by the United Kingdom, including the command and control organisation in Malta, gets in the United Kingdom with the coverage that we get in other countries in Europe and beyond, where there cannot be high enough praise for our armed forces and for the organisation put forward by the United Kingdom. Perhaps this is a time to praise our people rather than to condemn them.