Skip to main content

UN Security Council Resolution (Libya)

Volume 525: debated on Friday 18 March 2011

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on last night’s UN Security Council resolution on Libya.

Over three weeks ago, the people of Libya took to the streets in protest against Colonel Gaddafi and his regime, asking for new rights and freedoms. There were hopeful signs that a better future awaited them, and that, like people elsewhere in the middle east and north Africa, they were taking their destiny into their own hands. Far from meeting those aspirations, Colonel Gaddafi has responded by attacking his own people. He has brought the full might of armed forces to bear on them, backed up by mercenaries. The world has watched as he has brutally crushed his own people.

On 23 February, the UN Secretary-General cited the reported nature and scale of attacks on civilians as

“egregious violations of international and human rights law”

and called on the Government of Libya to

“meet its responsibility to protect its people.”

The Secretary-General said later that more than 1,000 people had been killed and many more injured in Libya amid credible and consistent reports of arrests, detention and torture.

Over the weekend of 26 and 27 February, at Britain's instigation, the UN Security Council agreed resolution 1970, which condemned Gaddafi's actions. It imposed a travel ban and asset freezes on those at the top of his regime. It demanded an end to the violence, access for international human rights monitors and the lifting of restrictions on the media. Vitally, it referred the situation in Libya to the International Criminal Court so that its leaders should face the justice they deserve.

In my statement to the House on 28 February, I set out the steps that we would take to implement those measures. Our consistent approach has been to isolate the Gaddafi regime, deprive it of money, shrink its power and ensure that anyone responsible for abuses in Libya will be held to account. I also told the House that I believed contingency planning should be done for different scenarios, including involving military assets, and that that should include plans for a no-fly zone.

Intervening in another country's affairs should not be undertaken save in quite exceptional circumstances. That is why we have always been clear that preparing for eventualities that might include the use of force—including a no-fly zone or other measures to stop humanitarian catastrophe—would require three steps and three tests to be met: demonstrable need, regional support, and a clear legal basis.

First, on demonstrable need, Gaddafi’s regime has ignored the demand of UN Security Council resolution 1970 that it stop the violence against the Libyan people. His forces have attacked peaceful protesters, and are now preparing for a violent assault on a city, Benghazi, of 1 million people that has a history dating back 2,500 years. They have begun air strikes in anticipation of what we expect to be a brutal attack using air, land and sea forces. Gaddafi has publicly promised that every home will be searched and that there will be no mercy and no pity shown.

If we want any sense of what that might mean we have only to look at what happened in Zawiyah, where tanks and heavy weaponry were used to smash through a heavily populated town with heavy loss of life. We do not have to guess what happens when he has subdued a population. Human Rights Watch has catalogued the appalling human rights abuses that are being committed in Tripoli. Now, the people of eastern Libya are faced with the same treatment. That is the demonstrable need.

Secondly, on regional support, we said that there must be a clear wish from the people of Libya and the wider region for international action. It was the people of Libya, through their transitional national council, who were the first to call for protection from air attack through a no-fly zone. More recently, the Arab League has made the same demand.

It has been remarkable how Arab leaders have come forward and condemned the actions of Gaddafi’s Government. In recent days, I have spoken with the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan. A number of Arab nations have made it clear that they are willing to participate in enforcing the resolution. That support goes far beyond the Arab world. Last night, all three African members of the UN Security Council voted in favour of the resolution.

The third and essential condition was that there should be a clear legal base. That is why along with France, Lebanon and the United States we worked hard to draft appropriate language that could command the support of the international community. Last night, the United Nations Security Council agreed that resolution. Resolution 1973

“Demands the immediate establishment of a ceasefire and a complete end to violence and all attacks against, and abuses of, civilians”.

It establishes

“a ban on all flights”

in the airspace of Libya

“in order to help protect civilians”.

It authorises member states to take

“all necessary measures to enforce compliance with the ban”.

Crucially, in paragraph 4, it

“Authorises member states…acting nationally or through regional organisations or arrangements, and acting in co-operation with the Secretary-General, to take all necessary measures…to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack...including Benghazi”.

The resolution both authorises and sets the limits of our action. Specifically, it excludes an occupation force of any form, on any part of Libyan territory. That was a clear agreement between all the sponsors of the resolution, including the UK, and of course, the Arab League. I absolutely believe that that is the right thing both to say and to do.

As our ambassador to the United Nations said, the central purpose of this resolution is to end the violence, protect civilians, and allow the people of Libya to determine their own future, free from the brutality unleashed by the Gaddafi regime. The Libyan population want the same rights and freedoms that people across the middle east and north Africa are demanding, and that are enshrined in the values of the United Nations charter. Resolution 1973 puts the weight of the Security Council squarely behind the Libyan people in defence of those values. Our aims are entirely encapsulated by that resolution.

Demonstrable need, regional support and a clear legal base: the three criteria are now satisfied in full. Now that the UN Security Council has reached its decision, there is a responsibility on its members to respond. That is what Britain, with others, will now do. The Attorney-General has been consulted and the Government are satisfied that there is a clear and unequivocal legal basis for the deployment of UK forces and military assets. He advised Cabinet this morning, and his advice was read and discussed. The Security Council has adopted resolution 1973 as a measure to maintain or restore international peace and security under chapter VII of the United Nations charter. The resolution specifically authorises notifying member states to use all necessary measures to enforce a no-fly zone and to protect civilians and civilian populated areas, including Benghazi.

At Cabinet this morning, we agreed that the UK will play its part. Our forces will join an international operation to enforce the resolution if Gaddafi fails to comply with the demand that he end attacks on civilians. The Defence Secretary and I have now instructed the Chief of the Defence Staff to work urgently with our allies to put in place the appropriate military measures to enforce the resolution, including a no-fly zone. I can tell the House that Britain will deploy Tornadoes and Typhoons as well as air-to-air refuelling and surveillance aircraft. Preparations to deploy those aircraft have already started and in the coming hours they will move to air bases from where they can start to take the necessary action.

The Government will table a substantive motion for debate next week, but I am sure that the House will accept that the situation requires us to move forward on the basis of the Security Council resolution immediately. I am sure that Members on both sides of the House call on Colonel Gaddafi to respond immediately to the will of the international community and cease the violence against his own people. I spoke to President Obama last night and to President Sarkozy this morning. There will be a clear statement later today, setting out what we now expect from Colonel Gaddafi.

We should never prepare to deploy British forces lightly or without careful thought. In this case, I believe that we have given extremely careful thought to the situation in hand. It is absolutely right that we played a leading role on the UN Security Council to secure permission for the action, and that we now work with allies to ensure that that resolution is brought about. There will be many people in our country who will now want questions answered about what we are doing and how we will go about it. I intend to answer all those questions in the hours and days ahead, and to work with our brave armed services to ensure that we do the right thing, for the people of Libya, for the people of our country and for the world as a whole.

I thank the Prime Minister for his statement. From this side of the House, we welcome last night’s UN Security Council resolution and support Britain playing its full part in the international action that is planned.

The international community has shown clear resolve, and I applaud all the efforts that made this happen, including those of the Prime Minister and the British Government. As I have said since his statement two-and-a-half weeks ago, we support feasible and practical action to help the Libyan people, so, as befits the official Opposition, we will both support the Government and ask the necessary questions that we think the country will want asked.

It is important that the British people are clear about the purposes of the resolution and the basis for the commitment of British forces. Any decision to commit British armed forces is a grave and serious one, and it must be based on a clear and compelling case. In this case, it is based, as the Prime Minister said, on the clear evidence of Colonel Gaddafi brutalising his own people in response to the demand for democratic change.

It is action backed in the region most importantly by the clear resolution of the Arab League, and it is backed now by a legal mandate from the United Nations, so the military action that is being embarked upon has broad support, a legal base and recognises our responsibility to protect the Libyan people. Those are necessary pre-conditions for legitimate and effective action, and it would be quite wrong, given what is happening in Libya, for us to stand by and do nothing.

I want to ask some questions about the objectives of the mission, the military implications of it and the humanitarian context. First, we need to be clear about the purpose of the mission. All of us will welcome the passage of last night’s resolution to avoid the immediate slaughter of people in Benghazi. The whole world is aware of the urgency of the situation, given the avowed intentions of Colonel Gaddafi. Can the Prime Minister reassure us that military action can be taken on a time scale that can make a real difference to the people in Benghazi?

Beyond that, should, as we hope, the effect of last night’s resolution be to stop the advance of the regime, the future of Libya remains uncertain. Will the Prime Minister therefore explain the Government’s broader strategy for Libya’s future, should we succeed in stopping Colonel Gaddafi’s advance, given that last night’s resolution is directed towards a specific aim of the protection of the Libyan people, rather than explicitly towards regime change?

In this House there is agreement that Libya’s future would be far better served without Colonel Gaddafi in power. Does the Prime Minister therefore agree that a range of other measures should continue to be brought to bear on the Libyan regime to support the efforts of the Libyan people in order to undermine the support for Colonel Gaddafi?

We should be working now to sharpen the choice facing the Libyan military, including through action from the International Criminal Court, and to increase the pressure on other members of the regime. We should also be making explicit the risks for countries allowing their citizens to serve as mercenaries, and I believe the UN resolution does recognise that point. We should also continue to make clear to the Libyan people the offer of a better life that lies beyond Colonel Gaddafi.

May I urge the Prime Minister to ensure that discussions take place at the earliest stage with the Arab League, the European Union and others on a continuing basis for contingency planning for a stable and viable state beyond Colonel Gaddafi?

May I also, in the broader context of the region, emphasise to the Prime Minister that we should continue to show the utmost vigilance about developments elsewhere, including in Bahrain, and that we should make clear the need for reform and restraint, not repression, throughout the region?

Secondly, let me ask about the military action itself. Will the Prime Minister reassure us that all steps are being taken to ensure that those participating in any military action reflect the broad base of support, including from the Arab League? Does he agree that a continuing diplomatic effort will be required to ensure that that happens?

Further, under the contingencies that have been prepared and subject to the operational limits on what the Prime Minister can say, how does he envisage the military chain of command operating?

Thirdly, let me ask about the humanitarian situation in Libya. Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to update the House on the continuing situation of British nationals in the light of the clearly changed circumstances that we now face? We will have all noted with concern the decision of the Red Cross, prior to the resolution, to withdraw from Benghazi. Will the Prime Minister assure the House that efforts will be made to ensure continuing humanitarian access to Benghazi? What plans are being made to facilitate the return of humanitarian assistance?

Finally, let me say to the Prime Minister that, at this time, Labour Members will give our full support to our armed forces. Once again, they are engaging in dangerous and courageous action on behalf of our country, and we salute their professionalism and bravery. They are serving to uphold the will of the international community, including the United Nations, and in their service I believe they will have the support of the whole House.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his support and for the way in which he put that support in his questions. Let me try to answer all the questions he put.

In terms of the time scale and potential military action, the issue is this: the Security Council resolution is absolutely clear in its first paragraph that there should be a ceasefire and that Gaddafi should stop his attacks on his people. But, if that does not happen, then, yes, consequences and “all necessary measures”, as the Security Council resolution puts it, will follow; and we are able to do that on a time scale that I believe will be effective.

In terms of our broader strategy, what we believe we need in Libya is a transition towards a more open society and towards a better democracy, but we have to be clear about our aims. The UN Security Council resolution is absolutely clear that this is about saving lives and about protecting people. It is not about choosing the Government of Libya; that is an issue for the Libyan people.

Mercenaries are included in the UN Security Council resolution, which is welcome. The right hon. Gentleman’s point about the International Criminal Court was covered by the earlier resolution, which of course is still in force.

In terms of consultations with the Arab League and with Arab countries, there will be a meeting in Paris tomorrow, which President Sarkozy has called. I will attend, and there will also be representatives from across the Arab world to bring together the coalition to help to achieve the goals that the UN Security Council has so rightly voted for.

The right hon. Gentleman says that we must be vigilant elsewhere with all the challenging problems in our world today, and he mentioned Bahrain. That is absolutely right, and the Government are keeping their travel advice and their work helping British nationals in Bahrain, Yemen and elsewhere permanently under review, meeting regularly to try to make sure that we do everything we can to help people as necessary.

In terms of Arab League participation, what we seek is the active participation of some Arab League countries. I believe that we will get that, and from the calls that I have made I have had some reassurances.

In terms of the military chain of command, to be clear, to begin with this is going to be a joint operation, if necessary, carried out by Britain, America and France, with Arab and other participation, and it will be co-ordinated in that way.

In terms of British nationals, as we have announced before in the House, almost all those who want to leave have left. There are some who remain. We have our relationship with the Turkish embassy, which is working with us and for us in Tripoli, and we also have an active consular figure in Benghazi. But obviously, part of the aim of what we are trying to do—to stop Gaddafi entering Benghazi—will be in the interest of those British nationals in Benghazi.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about humanitarian aid. Clearly, a very big aim of the UN Security Council is to make sure humanitarian aid can get through.

Above all, as the right hon. Gentleman said, any decision to put the men and women of our armed forces into harm’s way should be taken only when absolutely necessary, but I believe, as he said, that we cannot stand back and let a dictator whose people have rejected him kill his people indiscriminately. To do so would send a chilling signal to others.

I believe also that we should be clear about where our interests lie. In this country, in particular, we know what Colonel Gaddafi is capable of, and we should not forget his support for the biggest terrorist atrocity on British soil. We simply cannot have a situation where a failed pariah state festers on Europe’s southern border, and that is why we are backing today our words with action.

May I congratulate the Prime Minister on the superb leadership that he and the Foreign Secretary have given both at home and at the United Nations in securing this resolution, without which the people of Benghazi and of Libya would face a humanitarian disaster?

Will the Prime Minister confirm that the UN resolution, which, as he has indicated, refers to

“all necessary measures…to protect…civilian populated areas”,

will enable our forces to be used not simply to intercept Libyan aircraft but if necessary to attack heavy artillery, tanks and other military units on the ground that might be threatening civilian populated areas?

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his support, and I agree that time is now crucial. It is vital that we have now got this UN Security Council resolution, and that we make very clear the ultimatum to Colonel Gaddafi so that we secure that ceasefire and stop his operations.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked what the Security Council permits us to do. Paragraph 4 refers, crucially, to “all necessary measures” to protect people—“to protect civilians”—and, indeed, specifically mentions Benghazi. The Attorney-General’s advice, which we may discuss in more detail later, makes it very clear that that means we can take measures that will help those things to be achieved. It is very important for us to understand that.

I congratulate the Prime Minister and those in the Foreign Office, including our excellent diplomats at the United Nations, on the work that they have done in securing the chapter VII resolution. The French Government should also be given a great deal of credit, because they too have worked very hard on this.

Will the Prime Minister clarify the role of the African Union, which is referred to in the resolution, as well as that of the Arab League? Given that three African states, including South Africa, voted for the resolution, is there any possibility of the African Union using its good offices to try to find a way of getting Gaddafi out of power without the conflict going on for a very long time?

The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely good point about the leadership role taken by Nicolas Sarkozy and the French. I think the work that the French, the British and the Lebanese did together on the UN Security Council was vital. I absolutely pay tribute to our ambassador, Mark Lyall Grant, and his team, who did a superb job in marshalling support. Members in all parts of the House will see, when they read the resolution, that it is very, very strong and extremely comprehensive, and I hope that it marks a new start in what the UN will be able to achieve.

We very much hope that the African Union will use its good offices in the way that the hon. Gentleman suggests. African Union missions are still going to Libya, and we think that they will be enormously influential. I was particularly pleased that the three African members voted for the resolution, and I hope that that is a sign of things to come.

As one of the doubting Thomases of the past few weeks, I congratulate the Prime Minister on his success and leadership and offer him my full support. I also join him in paying tribute to Sir Mark Lyall Grant and his team at the UN for what is a remarkable diplomatic success, which hopefully will mark a turning point in the development of these issues at the UN.

I am sure the Prime Minister agrees that difficult questions remain. At this moment, however, it is incumbent on all of us to stand behind the armed forces, particularly our airmen, who have to implement the resolution.

My hon. Friend is entirely right. Of course there are difficult questions. We are embarked on a difficult course, not least because we have set a limit on that course and have said, quite rightly, that this is not about an army of occupation. I think it important for us all to understand that that is a correct limit, and a limit that people across the Arab world want to hear.

I very much echo what my hon. Friend said about Mark Lyall Grant, but above all our thoughts—the thoughts of everyone in the House and, I am sure, everyone in our country—will be with those armed forces and their families who will be preparing, potentially, for difficult days ahead.

The Government and the armed forces have our full support in this matter.

The Prime Minister mentioned three criteria for determining the appropriateness of intervention, but surely there is another factor: the question of whether we have the capacity and the military assets to intervene in situations such as this. In the light of developments in the middle east in recent weeks, will the Prime Minister and his colleagues have another look at the strategic defence and security review to establish whether our country will continue to have those assets in future?

Of course I look very carefully at every decision that we make in defence, and I see it as a personal priority for me as Prime Minister. I would say to colleagues, however, that even at the end of this defence review and the end of this Parliament, we will have the fourth largest defence budget anywhere in the world. We have superbly equipped armed forces, and many of the decisions that we made in the defence review were intended to ensure that they had flexibility: the ability to deploy, the ability to act out of area, extra investment in special forces, and extra investment in transport.

I should also point out that the Typhoons that we are considering using are not in any way involved in Afghanistan. I have been given assurances by the Chief of the Defence Staff that our planning for what may be necessary in Libya does not affect the efforts that we are making in Afghanistan with our allies to bring greater security to that country.

Yet again, my right hon. Friend has shown a breathtaking degree of courage and leadership. I support what he has said and what he has done. Does he agree that, while regime change is not the aim of these resolutions, in practice there is little realistic chance of achieving their aims without regime change?

My right hon. Friend puts it extremely well. The aim is clear: to put in place what has been required by the UN Security Council, which is a cessation of hostilities. It is the protection of lives and the protection of people. It is the prevention of a bloodbath in Benghazi. It is to make sure that arms do not get to Libya, that assets are frozen and that travel bans are imposed. It is all those things. Those are the aims, and they are what we must now pursue.

Of course, like many other leaders the world over, we have all said that Gaddafi needs to go in order for Libya to have a peaceful, successful and democratic future, and that remains the case. It is almost impossible to envisage a future for Libya that includes him. But we should be very clear, in the international alliance that we are building, that the statements in the UN Security Council resolution are our aims. Those are the things that, on behalf of the rest of the world, we are helping, with others, to deliver.

Abuses of human rights and the oppression of civilians are not unique to Libya. They may differ in degree, but they are not unique. Is the Prime Minister now suggesting that we should develop a foreign policy that would be prepared to countenance intervention in other countries where there are attacks on civilians, such as Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman or Bahrain? I hope that he has thought this whole thing through, because we may well be involved in a civil war in Libya for some time to come.

I sometimes want to meet that argument with the answer that the fact that you cannot do the right thing everywhere does not mean that you should not do the right thing somewhere. A more detailed answer, however, is that what is happening in Libya is different. The situation is that of a people rising up against their leaders and wanting a more democratic future, and then us watching as, potentially, those people are destroyed by that dictator.

As I have said, I think that what we see coming together here is Britain acting with others in favour of international law and international governance and the UN and all that is right and fair and decent in our world, yet, at the same time, I believe, very much acting in our national interest, because it is not in our national interest for this man to lead a pariah state on the southern banks of Europe with all the problems that that could entail. So I hope that, not just across the world but across this country, we shall be able to build the broadest coalition for support for the action we are taking, encompassing all those who care about the UN and international law and what is good and right in our world, but who also recognise that a hard-headed assessment of British national interest means that we should not stand aside from this.

I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement and last night’s United Nations resolution. I think it is absolutely right for the international community to take urgent action to protect civilians in Libya. Will the Prime Minister please assure me that our intelligence assets in the region are doing all that they can to monitor the activities of, and communication between, senior regime leaders and commanders, with a view to ensuring that we can prosecute them to the fullest extent of international law?

Obviously—as the hon. Gentleman knows—we never comment on security and intelligence matters in the House. However, his point about the International Criminal Court and the need to be clear about the fact that, as I have said, international law should have a long arm, a long reach and a long memory and that we should gather evidence for that, is absolutely right.

Given the unpredictability of the outcomes in Libya and the middle east, and given that all actions have consequences, how can the Prime Minister be so sure that, as a consequence of what we are doing, a complex and dangerous situation will not simply be made worse?

The hon. Lady asks a very important question. It seems to me that we have to look at the consequences of doing nothing—the slaughter that could ensue, the oppression of these people we see so clearly on our television screens—and then ask what are the consequences of action. What is so convincing in this case is that the Arab League countries and Arab populations are, I believe, willing the international community on. I think that the opinion on the Arab street is very much that it is good that the international community is coming together and showing that it cares about our democracy and not just your security. I think that we can win that argument, but we will have to go on making it with Arab leaders and Arab populations, and making sure that we communicate with them very strongly why we are doing this and why it is the right thing.

I join others in congratulating the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and all the others who have been involved in securing this very tough resolution, and indeed the building of a broad-based coalition to deal with Gaddafi. Does the Prime Minister agree, however, that in the weeks to come it will be important for the country to know that at the same time as trying to deal with Gaddafi, the Government are also intent on forging ahead, with our European partners, in keeping the middle east peace process revitalised and going, so that we can draw the poison from the well?

My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. A Palestinian leader once said to me, “If you really want to secure the long-term defeat of al-Qaeda, there must be a combination of more democracy and freedom across north Africa and the middle east and a solution to the Israel-Palestine problem.” Those two things together will go to the heart of the problems we face in our world.

As someone who has argued all along that any military action should be based on a resolution of the United Nations Security Council, I accept that the situation today is different from yesterday and previously. Nevertheless, despite all that the Prime Minister has said about reservations, no ground troops and so forth, does he recognise that in the country at large there is bound to be great anxiety that we could be dragged, through escalation, into a third war in nine years? Therefore, will the Prime Minister make sure that there are daily—or at least very regular—reports to the House of Commons, so we avoid a third war?

The hon. Gentleman puts the point extremely well. I agree that there should be regular statements updating the House. We should start with a debate on Monday on a substantive motion, so that Members can debate that, and propose amendments if they want. We will be putting down that substantive motion later today, so that colleagues can have a look at it.

On taking the country with us, the hon. Gentleman’s point about legality is vital. We have a legal basis here—the UN, the world’s governing body, coming together and making that clear—and we need to explain that what we are doing is legal, proportionate and right. But I also believe that, as I said a moment ago, to take people with us we have to make the arguments both that it is wrong to stand aside as this dictator massacres his own people and it is in our interests to act, and also that it is in our national interest, because we do not want this pariah state on our borders.

The point the hon. Gentleman makes about no ground troops and no occupying force is vital. That is in the UN Security Council resolution; it is the reassurance that we can give to people that that is not part of our aims—it is not want the UN wants, it is not what the Arab League wants, it is not what Britain wants. That is clearly a limitation on our ability to act, but it is absolutely right, and I think people will be reassured by it.

May I also commend my right hon. Friend on his decisive leadership? Why does he think Germany abstained on this resolution, and is Germany going to be interfering in preventing us from recognising the regime in Benghazi?

I thank my hon. Friend very much for his support. On the German attitude, to be fair to the German Chancellor, whom I spoke to last night, she has been consistently sceptical about this issue. I do not believe that Germany will in any way be destructive within NATO, because it recognises that the UN has voted for this resolution, on which the Germans, of course, abstained. It is for them to explain their scepticism. Of course arguments can always be made about, “If we are acting here, why not elsewhere?” But as I have said, in this instance the case for action and the world coming together is very strong.

May I also congratulate the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary on the action they have taken? I hope the Prime Minister will join me in also congratulating President Obama, who by his cautious deliberations has allowed the Arab states to come to the fore, and, unlike his predecessor, has shown proper respect for the United Nations, thus giving a major boost to the rule of international law.

The right hon. Lady makes an extremely good point and is absolutely right. I had a very good conversation with President Obama last night, and I think he has shown great leadership on the UN and what is proposed in the new resolution, and on being able to bring together its various elements. The right hon. Lady is right that allowing the Arab League the space and time to come forward and make its own views clear has helped to create a sense of consensus at the UN, where we have the ability to act. But the clock is now ticking, and we now need a sense of urgency, because we do not want to see a bloodbath in Benghazi, and further repression and taking of innocent civilian life in Libya.

I join my right hon. and hon. Friends in congratulating my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on his brilliant success at the United Nations, which is a vindication of the credibility of British foreign policy. Can he say more about the strategic objective, which, as Lord Dannatt and others have clearly stated, must be extremely clear? My right hon. Friend is committed to regime change, but are our allies, and in particular President Obama, committed to regime change?

The answer I give my hon. Friend is that almost every leader in the free world has said Gaddafi needs to go—that his regime is illegitimate and there is no future for Libya with him in charge—but we must be clear about the aim of what we are now involved in. The aim is to put in place the UN Security Council resolution, which is about protecting people’s lives and about the steps we are prepared to take to isolate the regime and give that country the chance of a better future. We must restrict ourselves to that aim in meeting this UN Security Council resolution. Obviously, we have a desire, which I and others have expressed, that Gaddafi has no future, but our aim here must be clear, and that is how we must drive this alliance forward.

Now that the UN has reasserted its authority with this resolution, it is important that Gaddafi is in no doubt that there is an overwhelming military force to carry it out. In that light, how many countries does the Prime Minister wish to provide military assets, and how many of them come from the Arab League?

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. Obviously, we want the widest alliance possible. I do not think it would be right for me to name at the Dispatch Box those countries that are considering participation, but there is a wide number. Clearly, at the heart of this are the Americans, the French and the British, but other European countries are coming forward, and there are also some in the Arab League, including a number I have spoken to, who have talked about active participation—about playing a part in this. One of the purposes of the meeting tomorrow in Paris will be to bring together the widest possible coalition of those who want to support it, and I believe, particularly as this has such strong UN backing, that it will be a very wide coalition indeed.

Speaking as someone who has watched well-armed Bosnian Serb units smash through civilian populations, may I ask my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister whether Security Council resolution 1973 allows us, under its provision on “all necessary measures”, to avoid the arms embargo and directly arm the people who are fighting against Gaddafi in Benghazi and elsewhere?

The first point I would make to my hon. Friend is how welcome it was that Bosnia was sitting on the Security Council and able to vote in favour of this resolution—for good historical reasons. The resolution helps to enforce the arms embargo, and our legal understanding is that that arms embargo applies to the whole of Libya. Paragraph 4 authorises member states

“to take all necessary measures…to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack”

in Libya, including Benghazi. That is very strong language, which allows states to take a number of military steps to protect people and harm those who are intending to damage civilians. It could not be clearer, and the legal advice is clear.

Let me make this point as well: while I think we should maintain the convention that the Government are entitled to have legal advice and to receive that legal advice privately, I also think it is right on these sorts of occasions that a summary of legal advice should be published so the House of Commons can see and debate it, and we will make sure that is done well in advance of the debate on Monday.

Given that the Gaddafi forces are advancing, what assessment has the Prime Minister made of civilian casualties and what discussions has he had on any post-conflict reconstruction, learning the lessons of Iraq?

The right hon. Gentleman makes an extremely good point. It is clear that there have been widespread civilian casualties, and I quoted some figures in my statement. It is also clear that if Gaddafi goes into Benghazi the situation could get radically worse, which is why, as I have said, the clock is ticking—the time for action is now. In terms of reconstruction and humanitarian aid, my right hon. Friend the International Development Secretary will be leading a cross-government group to make sure we do everything we can to bring all our resources to bear—we have considerable resources in this area—working with others to make sure that we get humanitarian aid to every part of that country and that we plan for the future.

One of the factors that caused Gaddafi to abandon his programme of weapons of mass destruction in the 1990s was that he knew he was on the verge of being indicted for war crimes by the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone, so he well understands both the power and the reach of international criminal law. Will my right hon. Friend try to ensure that the International Criminal Court makes it very clear that it is not only Gaddafi who stands at risk of being indicted by the ICC, but all those around him who are most responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity?

My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point, and we are making sure not only that Gaddafi and his immediate colleagues know they are in danger of going in front of the ICC, but that all those who choose to back the regime and carry out war crimes know that they are also in that danger. In addition, anyone who thinks of being a mercenary, of organising mercenaries or of organising arms shipments to that regime are covered in the same way. Communicating that message in all the ways that we can is vitally important work.

I support the freedom struggle of the Libyan people and I am a supporter of the United Nations, but I have grave concerns about the use of force by western powers in this region, and both the short-term and long-term consequences. It therefore behoves us to ask the question: what next? In the short-term, in the interests of conflict resolution, is there to be a final offer from the United Nations to Gaddafi for peace talks? If armed conflict goes ahead, what measures are being put in place to ensure the safety of civilians? In particular, may I urge the Prime Minister that there should be no use of depleted uranium weapons, which have damaged the long-term safety of the civilians in Iraq? Given the change of regimes that has taken place in this region, given what is happening in Bahrain and given the continued oppression of the Palestinian people, may I urge him to go to the United Nations and say that now is the opportune time to re-establish a middle eastern conference that looks at the long-term security and peace of this region?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. What the UN is suggesting is very clear. Paragraph 1

“Demands the immediate establishment of a cease-fire and a complete end to violence and all attacks against, and abuses of, civilians”.

Paragraph 2

“Stresses the need to intensify efforts to find a solution to the crisis which responds to the legitimate demands of the Libyan people”.

The point that I would make to the hon. Gentleman is this: if we make this statement and give this ultimatum, and in a way, the UN has given this ultimatum; if Gaddafi does not respond and goes on brutalising his people; and if in those circumstances we say that we are not prepared to use force to protect civilians, with all the backing of the UN, with all the backing of international law, with the Arab League behind us and with the world saying that this is right—if not then, when?

The hon. Gentleman does need to think about this, because although there should, of course, be all sorts of things holding you back before you take action, and there are all the questions you should ask, when there is this degree of international backing, and if Gaddafi will not stop the brutalising of civilians, there is a complete legitimisation of taking action to protect those civilians.

May I, too, congratulate the Prime Minister on his spectacularly successful leadership and the amazing turnaround that he has achieved? Will he tell the House a little more about the discussions he is having with members of the Arab League about the role that they may be able to play in supporting this resolution?

The encouraging thing is, first, that the Arab League came forward so clearly and asked for a no-fly zone. The contact I had, including on my trip to the Gulf, was that so many were so clear that Gaddafi was illegitimate and that what he was doing was wrong. There was a genuine sense of outrage at what he was doing. The key now is to try to encourage the Arab League and its members, and not just in those words and great sentiments: we need to encourage them to participate actively, so that the world can see that if action is necessary, there are Arab planes alongside French, British or American planes taking part in the action to protect civilians in Libya. That is extremely important and we should do everything we can to secure it.

I welcome last night’s UN resolution; this is not Iraq, but it is an important test of the international community’s willingness to protect civilians from the immediate danger of slaughter. Given the importance of keeping the Arab world on board in this endeavour, will the Prime Minister tell the House a bit more about his objectives for tomorrow’s meeting in Paris?

The first objective of tomorrow’s meeting in Paris is to bring together in person those Arab leaders that President Sarkozy, President Obama and I have been speaking to in recent days so that we can discuss the importance of having the widest possible alliance to prosecute the implementation of this UN Security Council resolution. That is the most important thing. Even before then, a range of planning activity and, as I said in my statement, logistics activity needs to take place. We must quicken the contacts we have with all those Arab countries, but I hope that tomorrow we will see a visible demonstration of the world coming together to say, “This man must stop what he is doing and if he doesn’t, there will be very severe consequences.”

The Prime Minister has made a credible and convincing case for joint action to protect Libyan civilians whose lives are threatened by Gaddafi, a despot with a record of international terrorism and internal terror. However, there is a significant risk of stalemate if a no-fly zone can be established in time and Gaddafi’s air force and helicopters are grounded. Can the Prime Minister say which organisations or nations have indicated that they would be willing to play a part in breaking such a stalemate if indeed it arises?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Of course there is a danger of stalemate, as he says. At that point there could be a role for organisations such as the African Union to try to bring this situation to a close, but as we stand today Colonel Gaddafi has not ceased his attacks on Benghazi or on people in Libya. That provides the urgency for this resolution, the action that we are preparing to take and the ultimatum that we will give. Of course, if he accedes, there could be a role for the African Union and for others.

The Prime Minister talks about the need to think about the consequences of our action or inaction. One possible consequence is that Gaddafi is left weakened and alienated but not defeated. What consideration has been given to that scenario and, in particular, the implications for security and stability in the region and more widely?

The hon. Lady makes a very good point, and we have to consider all of these issues. The point I would make is that the reason why Gaddafi is weakened and insecure is because his people rose up and said that they wanted no more of him and that they wanted to have a more open and democratic future. I believe that in response to that we have been right, and others have been right, to encourage the Arab world and the north African world to move in a more democratic direction. She is absolutely right to say that from a national security perspective we have to consider all the implications of what is happening in Libya. The Home Secretary will be looking at the consequences for migration and we need to look at the consequences in terms of security policy too. The hon. Lady is entirely right in that view.

Although today’s statement has understandably focused on military and diplomatic issues, a huge humanitarian crisis is already taking place, with a large number of Libyans having already fled and crossed the Mediterranean to Malta, Italy and other places. I was very encouraged by what the Prime Minister had to say about the role of the Department for International Development. Would he recognise that many of us in this House and countless millions of our constituents are equally proud of the very strong soft power that our nation is able to utilise and which we hope it will utilise in these difficult weeks and months ahead?

My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point, and I will stress again what the International Development Secretary will be doing. Obviously, he will be looking at what has been happening on Libya’s borders—we have discussed that before—but he will also be looking at the issues within Libya itself. There is no doubt in my mind that in this situation soft power has had an enormous effect on giving people a sense that a better future is available to them and that they do not have to put up with the regimes that they have had to put up with for so long. Despite the fact that there may be difficult days ahead, as we grapple with implementing this UN Security Council resolution, we should lift our heads up and believe that there is a more hopeful future for this region and, therefore, for our world.

I am sure that the whole House will wish the Prime Minister well as he discharges his duties in relation to Libya over the coming days, because he will face many much more complex decisions than those he has already had to take and they will affect life and death in Libya. We all want to see Gaddafi gone and we want to see everybody in Benghazi protected, but is the Prime Minister anxious about Russia’s abstention? Will he make sure that cluster munitions, which are banned for British troops, will also be banned by all those others who are taking part in this, because in many cases it is the aftershock of cluster munitions that devastates the civilian population?

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point about cluster munitions. We do not use those munitions and we do not believe that others should either.

On the Russian abstention, and indeed the Chinese abstention, all I would observe is that this is, in many ways, quite a welcome step forward. We are talking here about a very tough resolution on what has happened in another country where people are being brutalised. In years gone by, we might have expected to see Security Council vetoes. The fact that we have not is a very positive step forward for international law, for international right, and for the future of our world.

Time, of course, remains of the essence, and those who are resisting may well need arms rapidly. Paragraph 4 of the resolution, which my right hon. Friend did not mention, says

“notwithstanding paragraph 9 of resolution 1970”,

and relates to the arms embargo. Does not that provide an avenue, through a committee of sanctions of the United Nations, to allow arms to be supplied, as sub-paragraph (c) of paragraph 9 appears to suggest, to those resisting Gaddafi in Benghazi and thereabouts?

I always worry when my hon. Friend mentions the word “notwithstanding”; a small chill goes up my spine. I think I am right in saying that the resolution is clear: there is an arms embargo, and that arms embargo has to be enforced across Libya. The legal advice that others have mentioned, and that we believe some other countries were interested in, suggesting that perhaps this applied only to the regime, is not in fact correct.

In the next few difficult months, can we ensure, as well as we can, that we do not damage the Libyan water and energy infrastructure and thereby make things difficult for the wider Libyan population?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, first, to say that in many ways the easy decisions have been made, and now there are the difficult times and the difficult decisions have to be made. I am acutely conscious of that. His point about Libyan resources is entirely right. If Gaddafi will not cease his war on his own people and if military action has to be taken, we need to make sure that that is done commensurate with international law and trying to avoid, wherever possible, collateral damage, civilian casualties, and all the other things that he says. That is absolutely vital in all that we want to do, not least in keeping the largest possible coalition of people in this country and around the world, including in the Arab world, behind what the United Nations has authorised.

I would like to thank the Prime Minister for coming to the House so early to make this statement. He is clearly right to take very seriously the deployment of British troops. In that regard, could not the substantive motion that he has mentioned be debated later this evening or tomorrow morning, before the troops are actually deployed?

Obviously, I considered this carefully, and we discussed it at Cabinet this morning. We felt that the best approach was to give time for the tabling of a substantive motion today, which I believe has to be done by 2.30 pm. If we do that in advance, it will give anyone who wants to suggest an amendment the chance to do so, and then there can be a proper debate on Monday. Actually, I considered whether it would be better to hold the debate on Tuesday to give people more chance to consider what may or may not have happened over the weekend, but I think that the House will be anxious to have that debate, so I judged, and the Cabinet judged, that a debate on Monday on a substantive motion that can be amended is the right thing to do.

What UN resolutions say and what they are subsequently interpreted to say can be very different. What assurances can the Prime Minister give to the House that it will be different this time, particularly bearing in mind the number of abstentions we had last night?

The point I would make to the hon. Gentleman is that this resolution seems to me to be extremely clear in that it has the call for a ceasefire, it has the no-fly zone, it has all necessary measures for a no-fly zone, it has the need to protect civilians, and all the necessary measures for civilians, alongside all the other issues about travel bans, asset seizures and the rest of it. It is a very clear resolution. As I say, I am very conscious that as we go ahead, we want to take people with us. That will inevitably be a difficult path, because every action has a consequence. However, I particularly welcome the fact that the resolution says so clearly that there must not be an occupying force. I think that sends such a clear signal to the Arab world, to the Muslim world, and to people in our own country, scarred by what has happened in the past, that that will not happen again. As I have said, there are some limits on us, but I think that in this circumstance, that is absolutely right.

I thank my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for his statement. Recent history has shown that commencing military action such as this is rather like entering a maze—it is easier to get in than to get out. Given that the Libyan rebels will always be at risk for as long as Colonel Gaddafi is still in power, will not our involvement therefore have to continue while his regime remains in place?

My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. Of course, there is always a case that goes something like, “Don’t start down this path because it might involve you taking so many difficult steps to achieve it.” It seems to me that the stronger argument is that it is better to act than to stand back and do nothing, and witness the slaughter of civilians, when that is so clearly not in our national interest. It is better to act than to remain passive. We have set limits on what we are able to do, because we cannot have an occupying force. I believe that what we are doing can help to protect civilians and can, over time, help to bring about a better future for Libya.

I welcome the UN resolution, but I oppose Britain’s military involvement in implementing it. The UN resolution is not to secure a no-fly zone for humanitarian protection, but an extraordinary authorisation of regime change. Unless the Prime Minister believes that Libya’s Arab and African neighbours lack the capacity or the compassion for their Libyan brothers and sisters to act independently, why does he insist on putting British military personnel at risk?

Obviously I respect the hon. Gentleman’s view, but it seems to me that if we will the end, we should also will the means to that end. We should never overestimate Britain’s size or capabilities, but neither should we underestimate them. We have one of the finest armed services in the world. We are one of the world’s leading military powers, and we also have huge strength in diplomacy, soft power and development. We should not play a disproportionate part, but I think that we should play a proportionate part alongside allies such as France, America and the Arab world. To say that we should pass such a resolution but then just stand back and hope that someone, somewhere in the Arab world will bring it about is profoundly wrong.

I too commend the Prime Minister’s statement, and his courage and leadership. The Prime Minister will be aware of the significant position of Cyprus in the region, not least because of its sovereign bases. Does he anticipate the use of those bases in the implementation of the no-fly zone, and has that been agreed with the Government of Cyprus?

I do not want to go into too much detail about deployments. However, perhaps I could use this opportunity to make the point to those who have expressed concern about aircraft carriers that if we undergo operations in the southern Mediterranean to provide a no-fly zone and to carry out all necessary measures, the fact that there are so many friendly countries and members of NATO, such as France and Italy, means that there are plenty of opportunities for the basing of aircraft to ensure that we can deliver the effect that is needed.

I join colleagues in congratulating the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary on their success. I think that this is a tremendous outcome. Of course, those of us in Northern Ireland will shed no tears over Mr Gaddafi, especially given his role over the years in supplying weapons to butcher British citizens on the streets of Northern Ireland. Is the Prime Minister in a position to give us an update, as was mentioned earlier in the debate, on whether the Red Cross will be active on the ground?

First, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that people in Northern Ireland have every right to remember the hurt and pain that they were caused by Gaddafi’s funding of the IRA—a wrong that has still not been properly righted. On the issue of the Red Cross, I will ask the International Development Secretary to contact the hon. Gentleman separately to make clear the position.

I too congratulate the Prime Minister. Just yesterday, I voiced my concern that inertia could lead to our generation’s Rwanda. I am glad that he, along with others, has secured agreement to this resolution. I am sure that that was helped by the chilling words that Colonel Gaddafi issued in his radio interview. He has also mentioned attacks on civilian aircraft. Has the Security Council been able to assess that threat? Is it just the empty hot air of a tyrant who knows that his days in power are numbered?

My hon. Friend is right to draw the House’s attention to what Gaddafi has said. He has said chilling words about what he plans to do to his own country and people, and he must be stopped. I too heard the reported remarks about civilian aircraft. Be in no doubt that, even aside from a UN Security Council resolution, every country has the right under international law to self-defence—a right that could be exercised in full.

Will the right hon. Gentleman agree that the merit of the operation to liberate Kuwait in 1991 was that it was finite and established order, and that the disaster of the war in Iraq in 2003 was that after it was won, efforts were made by outsiders to install a Government, which resulted in chaos and terrorism? Will he assure the House that those lessons have been learned?

I absolutely give the right hon. Gentleman that assurance. It seems to me that we have to learn both the lessons of Iraq, by proceeding with the maximum Arab support and being very clear that there will be no army of occupation, and the lessons of Bosnia and not stand aside and witness a slaughter. It falls to Cabinets and Governments at this time, though, to recognise that no two situations are exactly alike. This is not Iraq; it is not Bosnia; it is not Lebanon; it is unique and different. We have to respond to it and use the right judgment to try to get our response correct. That is what this Government are determined to do, and as I have said, we are determined to take as many people with us as possible.

May I thank the Prime Minister for his singular service over the past few weeks? Will he join me in paying tribute to those who will render an even greater service—the young men and women on whose skills, training and courage we will rely, as we have so often in our past?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to make that point. It is not the people who make the decisions who have the difficult choices and the difficult path ahead; it is those who have to carry out those decisions. We should be incredibly proud of our armed forces, of their professionalism, courage and dedication and of their ability to take on a task such as this and pursue it with such vigour. It is inspiring to see it happen. We should never take them for granted or ask them to do tasks that they cannot complete, but I have full confidence that they will perform magnificently, as they always do.

May I add my voice to those of many other Members in congratulating the Prime Minister on what he has achieved, especially in the context of a coalition Government?

Can the Prime Minister give the House a sense of how long he expects the military engagement that we are about to embark on to last?

My hon. Friend refers to the coalition Government, and let me put on record what strong support I and the Foreign Secretary have had from Members from right across the coalition and right across the House of Commons. Ministers from both parties have been involved in the lobbying effort with other countries, and they have done an extremely good job.

I do not want to go into too much detail about what could happen if Gaddafi does not do what is set out in the UN Security Council resolution, but as I have said, it is important that action would follow relatively rapidly. Obviously we want to do what is necessary to ensure that the terms of it are met.

May I echo the congratulations from throughout the House to my right hon. Friends for the courage that they have demonstrated during the past week?

One difficulty that the last Administration had in relation to the war in Iraq was a general belief in the country that the war was not legal. I therefore welcome my right hon. Friend’s assurances that the legal advice will be published in summary. In order that there can be confidence across the country in the legality of the action that the Government are taking, that advice needs to be as full as possible. It also needs to deal with the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart). Can my right hon. Friend assure me that that will be the case, and that we will see the advice as soon as possible?

I can promise my hon. and learned Friend that he will see a summary position of the advice before the debate on Monday. I would say that, although I am never one to denigrate lawyers and their important work in any way, if he wants to see the legal basis, it is all there in the UN Security Council resolution. It is the strongest possible statement. I am glad to see the Attorney-General sitting next to me while I make those kind remarks about lawyers. I would very much recommend reading the resolution to see how strong the legal basis is.

May I thank the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary for showing world leadership in an hour of need? The biggest risk to our national security would have been to do nothing at all. We cannot risk the emergence of another failed state at our southern tip exporting terror and human misery. Now that the UN has agreed on action, will the Prime Minister ensure that the action is swift, powerful and precise, and will he involve the broadest coalition possible, especially our Arab allies?

We should do everything that is necessary to bring about the UN Security Council resolution’s conclusions. That is what our aim should be and is what should guide us, and everything we do should be proportionate to that. I say to my hon. Friend that yes, we have made a choice, and it is a choice to play our part in joint international action to enforce international law, to uphold the will of the UN Security Council and to respond to the calls from Arab countries and the Arab League, and also to do the right thing for the people of Libya, who want greater freedoms, and above all, I think, for the UK’s national interest as well.

One of the difficult things about no-fly zones is setting them up in the first place by taking out the air defence assets of the country involved, especially if they are deployed in areas of civilian population. What lessons have been learned from experience in Iraq and Bosnia about how best to do that?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Our military have been involved in several no-fly zones over many years, and considerable lessons have therefore been learned. I do not pretend for one minute that it is easy. Indeed, I have never said that a no-fly zone is either easy to establish or the whole answer to bringing the appalling conflict by Gaddafi against his people to an end. However, it is one element of what is necessary to turn the pressure up further, and say that what we are seeing is simply not right.

The Prime Minister has informed the House that we are preparing to deploy Tornadoes and Typhoons to relevant air bases. Would it assist if HMS Ark Royal was also deployed in the Mediterranean with a Harrier strike force? Will he bolster our position by reconsidering the decision to decommission those forces before it is too late?

It is not necessary, to carry out the operations that we are considering, to have an aircraft carrier. Indeed, other counties have not moved aircraft carriers to the area and the reason is in an answer I gave earlier. In that part of the world in particular, several bases are available to provide the basing to carry out the required operations. It is extremely important to bear that in mind.

I congratulate the Prime Minister on obtaining the international, legal humanitarian intervention in Libya. May I ask him to clarify the position? Will we join France in recognising the rebels as the alternative Government?

My hon. Friend asks a good question. As he knows, in this country, we recognise countries rather than Governments. What matters is making contact and having communications with the transitional authorities, and speaking to and building a relationship with them. That is the right way to proceed.

May I, too, congratulate the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary on leading international opinion on the matter? I also welcome my right hon. Friend’s comments that we do not intervene unless in exceptional circumstances. That is an excellent contrast with the position on Iraq in 2003. This time, we have a positive legal opinion from the Attorney-General and the whole thing has been properly signed off by the United Nations.

I just wanted to ensure in the Cabinet meeting this morning that members could read the UN Security Council resolution, the Attorney-General’s legal advice and a draft of my statement. There will be difficult days ahead—these things never go entirely according to plan. There are always problems down the road. It is therefore important that the Cabinet makes a decision, drives it through and does what is necessary to achieve the goal that the whole House supports: the enforcement of the UN Security Council resolution, which will make our world a safer place.