I inform the House that I have not selected the amendment. The House might be interested to know that no fewer than 62 right hon. and hon. Members have applied to speak, as a result of which a six-minute limit on Back-Bench contributions has been imposed. I appeal to Members, today in particular, not to approach the Chair to inquire where they are on the list. The Chair will do his or her best to accommodate Members in the course of the afternoon, but it will not be assisted by people toddling up and making inquiries. Interventions are the stuff of debate, but Members should be aware that a lot of interventions will impact on debate and that those who make many will necessarily fall down the list.
I beg to move,
That this House welcomes United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1973; deplores the ongoing use of violence by the Libyan regime; acknowledges the demonstrable need, regional support and clear legal basis for urgent action to protect the people of Libya; accordingly supports Her Majesty’s Government, working with others, in the taking of all necessary measures to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in Libya and to enforce the No Fly Zone, including the use of UK armed forces and military assets in accordance with UNSC Resolution 1973; and offers its wholehearted support to the men and women of Her Majesty’s armed forces.
On Saturday, British forces went into action over Libya. The first British cruise missiles were fired from HMS Triumph at 7 pm. Subsequently, RAF Tornados were deployed in several missions. This marked the beginning of our involvement in an international operation, working with the US and others at the request of Arab nations to enforce the will of the United Nations.
In line with UN resolution 1973, there were two aims to these strikes. The first was to suppress the Libyan air defences and make possible the safe enforcement of a no-fly zone. The second was to protect civilians from attack by the Gaddafi regime. Good progress has been made on both fronts. I can announce to the House today that coalition forces have largely neutralised Libyan air defences and that, as a result, a no-fly zone has effectively been put in place over Libya. It is also clear that coalition forces have helped to avert what could have been a bloody massacre in Benghazi. In my view, they did so just in the nick of time.
Today, I can confirm that RAF Typhoon jets have been deployed to a military base in southern Italy within 25 minutes flying time of the Libyan coast, and two Typhoons will be helping to patrol the no-fly zone this afternoon.
I am sure the whole House will join me in paying tribute to our servicemen and women, who are performing with their usual professionalism and courage. Our thoughts must be with their families and their loved ones at this time, as they risk their lives to help save the lives of others.
Let me be clear why these actions have been taken. On Friday evening, President Obama, President Sarkozy and I spelt out the non-negotiable conditions that Colonel Gaddafi had to meet under the requirements of international law set out by UN Security Council resolution 1973.
First, we said that a ceasefire had to be implemented immediately, and that all attacks against civilians must stop. Secondly, we said that Gaddafi had to stop his troops advancing on Benghazi. Thirdly, we said that Gaddafi had to pull his forces back from Ajdabiya, Misrata and Zawiyah. He had to establish water, electricity and gas supplies to all areas, and he had to allow humanitarian assistance to reach the people of Libya.
The removal of Gaddafi’s forces from those towns would safeguard civilians, enable the aid agencies to operate there safely and guarantee the humanitarian assistance that the UN resolution demands. So, let me be clear: the Government’s view is that those non-negotiable conditions are entirely consistent with implementing the UN resolution.
Gaddafi responded to the United Nations resolution by declaring a ceasefire, but straight away it was clear that he was breaking that promise. He continued to push his tanks towards Benghazi as quickly as possible, and to escalate his actions against Misrata. On Saturday alone, there were reports of dozens of people killed in Benghazi and dozens more in Misrata. Gaddafi lied to the international community, he continued to brutalise his own people and he was in flagrant breach of the UN resolution, so it was necessary, legal and right that he should be stopped, and that we should help stop him.
I am grateful to the Prime Minister for allowing an intervention. A great many people in this House and in the country had difficulty supporting previous international operations, because they did not have the backing of the United Nations, but this case is different as it does have the backing of the United Nations. Will the Prime Minister acknowledge the importance of a broad consensus on this issue, and, in doing that, the need to stick to the terms of the UN resolution and to address concerns about an open-ended commitment and the potential for mission creep?
I certainly want to build and maintain, in this House, throughout this country and, indeed right across the world, the widest possible coalition for the action that we are taking. We must work hard to make sure that many, many countries, including many Arab countries, continue to back what we are doing.
The UN Security Council resolution is very clear about the fact that we are able to take action, including military action, to put in place a no-fly zone that prevents air attacks on Libyan people, and to take all necessary measures to stop the attacks on civilians. We must be clear what our role is, and our role is to enforce that UN Security Council resolution. Many people will ask questions—I am sure, today—about regime change, Gaddafi and the rest of it. I have been clear: I think Libya needs to get rid of Gaddafi. But, in the end, we are responsible for trying to enforce that Security Council resolution; the Libyans must choose their own future.
I am very grateful to the Prime Minister. He will know that, at the moment, the military action is entirely by western states, and that interpretation of the resolution is everything. Will he ensure that, even if its forces are not deployed, the Arab League will be drawn properly into the strategic decision making?
I think the right hon. Lady makes an excellent point. I spoke to the secretary-general of the Arab League this morning. One of the things we want to do is to set up a coalition meeting, which happens regularly, for all parties to the mission to come together at a political level and help to give it leadership and guidance. She is right that Arab planes have not been involved in the mission so far, but, as I shall come on to later, the Qataris are producing a number of jets to help enforce the no-fly zone, and we will be doing everything we can to encourage others to come forward. As she knows and I am sure the House will appreciate, what happened on Friday and Saturday was a growing urgency, where action needed to be taken at once. It was vital that we did take that action at once, and, as a result, it was predominantly US, French and British forces that were involved in it.
I think the Prime Minister carries the overwhelming majority on the urgent need to take action to prevent the massacre of people in Benghazi, but will he take the opportunity during his speech to spell out exactly what are the limitations of the actions that he and the coalition will pursue?
The action will be limited by what the UN Security Council resolution says. As far as I am concerned, there are two absolutely clear bases for action—one is necessary measures to put in place a no-fly zone, and the second is necessary measures to prevent the deaths of civilians. In everything we do, we must be guided by clear legal advice underneath that UN Security Council resolution. I urge all hon. Members to read the resolution in full, because it gives a pretty clear explanation of what we can do, and we must act within both the letter and the spirit of that.
In view of the obviously barbaric attacks by Gaddafi on his own people, does the Prime Minister agree that those officials and military chiefs who are still standing firm with Gaddafi stand every chance of being hauled before the war crimes tribunal?
The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. The first resolution we passed—1970—specifically referred to the International Criminal Court. The message we should give today, very clearly, to those people still working or fighting for Gaddafi is that if you continue to do so, you could end up in front of the International Criminal Court, and now is the time to put down your weapons, walk away from your tanks, and stop obeying orders from this regime.
What I can guarantee is that we will stick to the terms of the UN resolution, which absolutely and specifically rules out an occupying force. We have to be clear: we are not talking about an invasion; we are not talking about an occupying force; we are talking about taking action to protect civilian life, and I think that is the right thing to do.
Of course, no two campaigns are the same, but there are similarities between this campaign and that to protect the Kurdish people when Saddam Hussein turned on his own people and began to attack them. The motion before the House calls for all necessary measures to protect the people of Libya. Can the Prime Minister confirm that when we vote on the motion tonight, that does not mean regime change in Libya, because that is up to the Libyan people?
My hon. Friend is entirely right, and he is right to draw attention to the issue of the no-fly zone that covered the Kurds. Indeed, at the meeting in Paris on Saturday the Iraqi Foreign Minister gave a passionate speech about how the no-fly zone had saved thousands of lives, and probably his own as well, and that is why it was the right step to take.
May I say that I am very pleased that the Government have sought a UN resolution, thus making intervention lawful? From what the Prime Minister says, the no-fly zone is up and running. Can we therefore presume that there will be no aerial bombardment for the time being?
Certainly, the entire aim of the no-fly zone is to stop the attacks from the air by Gaddafi on his own people, but where the UN has had such a success here is that the resolution goes so much further than simply a no-fly zone because it talks about not only all necessary measures for a no-fly zone, but all necessary measures to protect the civilian population. That enables the international community to take quite tough, but absolutely necessary, steps—for instance, to stop those tanks going into Benghazi. We need to pay tribute to our military and what they are going to have to do over coming days to protect people—an absolutely vital part of what we are engaged in.
I am going to make some progress, and then I will take more interventions later.
This action was necessary because, with others, we should be trying to prevent this dictator from using military violence against his own people; it was legal because, as we have just discussed, it had the backing of the UN Security Council; and it was right, I believe, because we should not stand aside while he murders his own people—and the Arab League and many others agreed. In the summit in Paris on Saturday, the secretary-general of the Arab League and representatives of Arab states, including Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Jordan and Morocco, asserted their support for
“all necessary action, including military, consistent with UNSCR 1973, to ensure compliance with all its requirements.”
That is what was agreed in Paris.
As I have said, in terms of active participation, the Qataris are deploying a number of jets from their royal air force to help enforce the no-fly zone. I spoke to the secretary-general of the Arab League this morning, and he confirmed his clear support for all aspects of the UN resolution. We agree that it must be implemented.
Alongside America, France and Britain, a significant number of other countries are pledging their active support. I am sure that the House would want to hear some of the details. Spain has confirmed its active participation with four air defence fighters, a tanker aircraft, a surveillance aircraft and an F-100 frigate. Canada has committed six air defence fighters and a naval vessel. Norway and Denmark have committed a total of 10 air defence fighters. Belgium has offered air defence fighters. Italy has opened important bases in close reach of the Libyan coast, one of which we are using right now. Greece has excellent facilities and bases only minutes’ flying time from Benghazi.
The message in Paris was loud and clear: the international community had heeded the call of the Arab nations. Together, we assured the Libyan people of our
“determination to be at their side to help them realise their aspirations and build their future and institutions within a democratic framework.”
The Prime Minister will be aware that the Chinese Government have called for a special meeting of the Security Council this evening, and that India has expressed deep reservations about the bombardments that are going on. Can he tell us something about the apparent continuing falling away of support for the actions that have been taken, and what the endgame actually is?
The point that I would make is that this matter was discussed in the UN Security Council and the Chinese, Indians and Russians decided to abstain. Two of those countries have a veto and decided not to exercise it. Everyone was clear at the time about what was meant by enforcing a no-fly zone and taking all necessary measures to protect civilians. I will come on in my speech to describe how I believe what has happened is in no way disproportionate or unreasonable. Indeed, I would argue that it is absolutely in line with what the UN has agreed.
I will address specifically the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn). I know that it has not been selected, but I want to ensure that we address everything in this debate. There is much in the amendment that I welcome. I assure the House that we will do everything we can to avoid civilian casualties. Indeed, last night our RAF pilots aborted their mission when they determined that there were civilians close to the identified military targets. I also agree with the hon. Members who signed the amendment about the need to avoid the use of depleted uranium and cluster munitions. We do not use those munitions. I welcome their support for those struggling for democracy and freedom in the region, and back their call to restart the middle east peace process.
However, I take issue with two crucial parts of the amendment. The first is the suggestion that there was somehow time for further consultation before undertaking military action. The United Nations gave Gaddafi an ultimatum and he completely ignored it. To those who say that we should wait and see, I say that we have waited and we have seen more than enough. The House is aware that the Cabinet met and agreed our approach on Friday. On Saturday morning, as I was travelling to the Paris summit, the Deputy Prime Minister chaired a meeting of Cobra. He was presented with a final analysis of the state of play on the ground in Libya and the advice was very clear. We were in a race against time to avoid the slaughter of civilians in Benghazi. All of us would have hoped to avoid the use of force, and that could have been achieved if Gaddafi had complied immediately and fully with the requirements of the resolution. The fact is that he did not. That left us with a choice either to use force, strictly in line with the resolution, or to back down and send a message to Gaddafi that he could go on brutalising his people. We should remember that this is the man who told the world that he would show the people of Benghazi no mercy. I am convinced that to act with others was the right decision.
I almost thought that the Prime Minister was about to support our amendment in total, but I live in hope on other matters. He made the specific point about avoiding the use of depleted uranium ordnance. Will he give a more categorical assurance that we will not use those weapons?
I could not have been more clear that we do not use those weapons and are not going to use those weapons.
Let me be clear with the hon. Gentleman about why, specifically, I do not agree with the amendment. My second objection is that it says we should “acknowledge” rather than “support” UN Security Council resolution 1973. I think that is profoundly wrong. It is an important resolution that the UK helped to bring about, and I believe that the House should be frank and clear in welcoming it.
A successful outcome is the enforcement of the will of the UN, which is the ceasing of attacks on civilians. That is what we are aiming at. But let me be absolutely frank about this: it is a more difficult question, in many ways, than the question over Iraq, because in Iraq we had been prepared to go into a country, knock over its Government and put something else in place. That is not the approach we are taking here. We are saying that there is a UN Security Council resolution to stop violence against civilians and to put in a UN no-fly zone, and then the Libyan people must choose their own future. The point I would make is that they have far more chance of choosing their own future today than they did 24 or 48 hours ago.
My right hon. Friend is being very generous in giving way.
Given our poor record of intervention in the past, can my right hon. Friend explain to the sceptics among us why we do not allow the Arabs to take the lead on this, particularly the Arab League, which has called for intervention, and let them instigate a no-fly zone? After all, Egypt is well placed, and we have been selling these Arab nations the capability.
I would answer that question in two ways. First, if we had waited for that, Benghazi would have fallen, and from that Tobruk would probably have fallen, and Gaddafi would have rolled up the whole of his country in the next 24 to 48 hours. The fact is, it was the Arab League that asked us to come in and provide the no-fly zone. I am as keen as anyone to make sure that this coalition of the willing is as broad-based, and has as much Arab support, as possible, but we should be clear that in the early stages, in order to act quickly, it had to have very strong American, British and French participation.
My right hon. Friend knows that I am strongly supportive of the actions that he has taken, and he deserves great credit for them, but on Friday he indicated that we would see a summary of the legal advice from the Attorney-General. We know from what he said on Friday, and indeed from the note that has been supplied in the Library, that the Cabinet has consulted the Attorney-General and is satisfied with the legal advice, but it does not seem from what I have seen so far that we have been supplied with a summary of the Attorney-General’s legal advice. Is that going to be forthcoming?
What we have provided, which I do not think any Government have done before, is a note on the legal advice. That is, I think, the right thing to do. One of the reasons why it is so short is, frankly, because the legal advice is so clear. Members can see that when they read the UN Security Council resolution.
I will take as many interventions as I can, but before I give way any more, let me turn to some of the other questions that have been raised in recent days.
First, as some hon. Members have asked today, has the use of force been reasonable? As I have said, we have undertaken the use of force in two ways. The first is to suppress Libyan air defences, which I believe is absolutely essential. As Prime Minister, I would not have been prepared to sanction our participation in enforcing the no-fly zone without doing everything possible to reduce the risk to our servicemen and women beforehand. That seems to me absolutely vital. The second area of activity has been action designed explicitly to safeguard civilian populations under attack. As the resolution explicitly authorises, it was quite clear that the population of Benghazi was under heavy attack. Civilians were being killed in significant numbers and exodus from the town had begun, so there was an urgent need to take action to stop the slaughter. As I have said, I am absolutely convinced that what has been done is proportionate.
Targets must be fully consistent with the UN Security Council resolution. We therefore choose our targets to stop attacks on civilians and to implement the no-fly zone, but we should not give a running commentary on targeting and I do not propose to say any more on the subject than that.
I am grateful to the Prime Minister. I am sure he would agree that any military action needs to be principled and consistent, but last year, the UK issued £231 million-worth of arms exports licences to Libya and £55 million of licences to Saudi Arabia, including the very personnel carriers that were rolling into Bahrain just last week. Does he not agree that our position would be a lot more consistent and a lot more principled if we stopped selling arms to repressive regimes anywhere in that region?
The hon. Lady makes an important point, which we have discussed several times during statements and questions. We are having a proper review of not just arms exports, but training licences and other relations. Of the 118 single and open licences for Libya, we have revoked all licences that cover equipment of concern. However, I agree with the hon. Lady that there will be lessons to learn from the conflict for the future.
The Prime Minister has been pressed to rule out putting any boots on the ground as part of the operation. May I ask him to reassure the House that, in the event of any British pilots being downed on operations over Libya, the UN resolution will not tie our hands and prevent us from putting in a robust search and rescue operation, should one be required to recover our pilots?
The Prime Minister should know that he has the support of the vast majority of Members of all parties for the Government’s actions and those of our troops, who are undertaking the work on our behalf. Does he agree that it is hard to see how the Libyan people will be safe from the threat of violence while Colonel Gaddafi remains in charge of that country?
The hon. Gentleman puts it absolutely correctly. We know what our job is—to enforce the UN’s will. It is for the people in Libya to decide who governs them, how they are governed and what their future is, but none of us has changed our opinion that there is no future for the people of Libya with Colonel Gaddafi in charge.
Obviously, there are those, including some in the House, who question whether Britain really needs to get involved. Some have argued that we should leave it to others because there is not sufficient British national interest at stake. I believe that argument is misplaced. If Gaddafi’s attacks on his own people succeed, Libya will become once again a pariah state, festering on Europe’s border, and a source of instability exporting terror beyond its borders. It will be a state from which literally hundreds of thousands of citizens could try to escape, putting huge pressure on us in Europe. We should also remember that Gaddafi is a dictator who has a track record of violence and support for terrorism against our country. The people of Lockerbie, for instance, know what that man is capable of. I am therefore clear that taking action in Libya with our partners is in our national interest.
The legal note that accompanies the debate makes it clear that the Security Council resolution recognises that Libya
“constitutes a threat to international peace and security.”
Although I do not recommend that we take such action, from the point of view of consistency, why are we not taking action against Yemen?
We are obviously extremely disturbed by what is happening in Yemen, particularly recent events. We urge every country in that region to respond to the aspirations of its people with reform, not repression. We have a specific situation in Libya, whereby there was a dictator whose people were trying to get rid of him, who responded with armed violence in the streets. The UN has reached a conclusion and I think that we should back it. As I said the other day, just because we cannot do the right thing everywhere does not mean we should not do it when we have clear permission for and a national interest in doing so. One commentator put it rather well at the weekend: “Why should I tidy my bedroom when the rest of the world is such a mess?” That is an interesting way of putting it.
May I express from the Liberal Democrat Benches our strong support for the resolution and the Government’s action? Clearly, the position is different from Iraq. However, does the Prime Minister agree that there is an urgent need to internationalise the mission as far as possible to cement support across the international community should things not run entirely tidily and also so as not to over-extend our forces?
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. We want to internationalise the action to the maximum degree possible on the military front and in what must follow in humanitarian aid and assistance to the people in Libya.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned Iraq and I want to deal with the way in which we will ensure that this is not another Iraq. My answer is clear: the UN resolution, which we, with the Lebanese, the US and the French, helped draft, makes it clear that there will be no foreign occupation of Libya. The resolution authorises and sets the limit on our action. It excludes an occupation force in any form on any part of Libyan territory.
However, I would argue that the differences from Iraq go deeper. It is not just that this time, the action has the full, unambiguous legal authority of the United Nations nor that it is backed by Arab countries and a broad international coalition, but that millions in the Arab world want to know that the UN, the US, the UK, the French and the international community care about their suffering and their oppression. The Arab world has asked us to act with it to stop the slaughter, and that is why we should answer that call.
The legal advice summary, which I have only just seen—we have not seen the whole thing—clearly excludes
“a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory”
but also says that the resolution
“further authorises Member States to use all measures…to carry out inspections aimed at the enforcement of the arms embargo”.
Does that mean that on the one hand we cannot have troops on the ground, but on the other hand we might allow people to make inspections or go there for search and rescue purposes? Is there clarity about having no troops on the ground in Libya?
The point about the legal advice, which refers back to the UN Security Council resolution, is that it makes provision to put in place an arms embargo and to inspect ships going to Libya. A number of countries have volunteered their forces specifically for that purpose, which we should welcome.
That brings me to my next point. Some accept that Britain should play a part but worry that we might shoulder an unfair burden. I want to assure the House that that is not the case. Let me explain how the coalition will work. It is operating under US command, with the intention that that will transfer to NATO, which will mean that all the NATO allies—I read out a list earlier of who wants to contribute—will be able to contribute. Clearly, the mission would benefit from that and from using NATO’s tried and tested command and control machinery.
With the fourth largest defence budget in the world, Britain clearly has the means to play its part, but given that British troops are engaged in Afghanistan, that part must be in line with our resources, and so it will be. No resources have been diverted from the Afghanistan campaign to carry out the enforcement of resolution 1973, and I have the assurance of the Chief of the Defence Staff that both operations can take place concurrently. Crucially, the impact of what we are doing in Libya will not affect our mission in Afghanistan.
May I congratulate the Prime Minister on obtaining the UN resolution to give us the legal cover that we require? The problem with Iraq was that there was no proper post-war reconstruction plan. Is he giving thought to what a post-war reconstruction plan ought to be, and will he encourage members of the Arab League to play their full part in that once the military phase is over?
My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point about humanitarian planning for afterwards, which I will come to later in my speech. My right hon. Friend the International Development Secretary is leading cross-Government work to ensure that that plan is robust. However, let me be frank about one difficulty that we have. Because we are saying that there will not be an invasion and that there will not be an occupation, we must have a different sort of plan—a much more international plan with a greater role for the UN, the EU and aid agencies, all of which we will support.
It is easy to get into a war; it is much harder to end it. When will all those nations that are taking part know the circumstances for pulling out and ending the war? We know now that this is not about regime change—the Prime Minister has already said that—and we hope that there will be no forces on the ground, but what circumstances will enable those nations to say, “It’s all over”?
For once, I agree with the hon. Gentleman—I entirely agree with the first part of his question, because it is easier to start these things than to finish them, and we should always be cautious and careful before we go ahead. However, as I have tried to lay out for the House today, not acting would have led to a completely unacceptable situation. The answer to his question is that this will be over and finished when we have complied with and implemented the UN Security Council resolution. That is about protecting civilians and protecting life, and giving the Libyan people a chance to determine their own future. This is different from Iraq. This is not going into a country and knocking over its Government, and then owning and being responsible for everything that happens subsequently. This is about protecting people and giving the Libyan people a chance to shape their own destiny.
No, I am not saying that. I am saying that at the moment there is basically American command and control, under which the French, British and others are operating. Over time, we want that to transition to NATO command and control, using NATO machinery, so that all the partners in NATO and all those who want to contribute from the outside can be properly co-ordinated. That might easily still be an American, French or British individual, but it would be under the auspices of NATO. It is tried and tested, it works, it co-ordinates and brings people together, it has operated no-fly zones before, and it is the right way of doing things. The international community is agreed on that.
Of course, there are those who ask whether the risks will outweigh the benefits. Clearly, as I have said, there is no action without risk, but alongside the risks of action, we have to weigh the risks of inaction: the sight of the international community condemning violence but doing nothing to stop it; the effect across north Africa and the middle east if Gaddafi succeeds in brutalising his own people; the humanitarian consequences for the city of Benghazi and beyond; and the consequences for Europe of a failed pariah state on its southern border. In my view, all these risks are simply too great to ignore. So yes there are dangers and difficulties, and there will always be unforeseen consequences, but it is better to take this action than to risk the consequences of inaction, which would be the slaughter of civilians and this dictator completely flouting the United Nations and its will.
I am sure that everyone in the House would want to pay tribute to the risks taken by, and the bravery of, journalists, including British journalists. Everyone should remember that people reporting from Tripoli are doing so under very strong reporting restrictions. I hope that not only everyone in the House, but everyone in the country and broadcasting organisations will remember to repeat regularly the sort of restrictions the reporters are operating under.
I will make some progress, and take a few more interventions before the end.
There are also some who say we are just stirring up trouble for the future. These people say that Arabs and Muslims cannot do democracy and that more freedoms in these countries will simply lead to extremism and intolerance. To me, this argument is not only deeply condescending and prejudiced, but is utterly wrong and has been shown to be wrong. Let us remember that people made this argument about Egypt only a short month ago. They said that the departure of Mubarak would lead to a dangerous vacuum in which extremists would flourish. Of course, I deplore—and the House will deplore—the attack on Mohamed e1-Baradei at a polling station, but the overwhelming picture from Saturday was one of millions of people queuing up patiently and proudly to exercise their democratic rights, many for the first time. As democrats in this House, we should applaud what they did.
Inevitably, information about the Libyan opposition is not complete, but the evidence suggests that it consists predominantly of ordinary Libyans from all walks of life who want freedom, justice and democracy—the things we take for granted.
Should the Gaddafi regime finally be toppled, will the Prime Minister assure us that his Government will do everything possible to help the Metropolitan police to conclude their investigations into who killed PC Yvonne Fletcher?
My hon. Friend, who has considerable expertise and has taken a great interest in this matter, makes an important point, which is that if the Libyan people choose a new future for themselves and their country, there might be huge opportunities to find out not only what really happened to PC Yvonne Fletcher, but about the support for Northern Irish terrorism that did so much damage in our country.
People will be rightly concerned that we should have a clear plan for what happens next in Libya—both in humanitarian terms, and also politically and diplomatically—following the successful conclusion of the no-fly zone. On humanitarian issues, the UK was one of the first to respond to the humanitarian needs arising from Gaddafi’s actions. We provided tents and blankets from our stores in Dubai for the thousands of migrant workers crossing the borders to escape the regime’s violence. We were the first country to provide flights to enable 12,000 migrant workers to return to their homes. This timely assistance prevented what was a logistical emergency from becoming a humanitarian crisis. The International Development Secretary announced last week that we will now support the International Committee of the Red Cross to deploy three medical teams. They will help to provide both medical assistance to the 3,000 people affected by the fighting, and food and essential items for 100,000 of the most vulnerable. From the beginning, we urged the United Nations to lead international pressure for unfettered humanitarian access within Libya. We are now planning for new humanitarian needs that may emerge as a result of the conflict.
I am sceptical about this country’s involvement in air raids on another Muslim and Arab country. However, I accept that there has been a huge success in saving lives in Benghazi. It would make me feel more relaxed about the resolution this evening if the Prime Minister gave a commitment to report back regularly to the House and to ask for further authority to continue the operations.
Of course there should be regular statements in this House. I gave a statement on Friday and we are having a debate on a substantive motion today. There should be regular updates on the humanitarian situation, what our defence forces are doing, and political and diplomatic activity. I do not believe that right now there is a need to go back to the UN for further permission, because the resolution could not be clearer. It combined three different elements: an immediate ceasefire, action for a no-fly zone, and action to protect civilians and stop the loss of life. It was an incredibly complete UN resolution, and that is why we should give it such strong support.
Let me say one more word about the issue of planning for the humanitarian situation. It is important that in supporting the implementation of the resolution, the international system should plan now for stabilising the peace that we hope will follow. That could include rapidly restoring damaged infrastructure, keeping important services such as health and education running, reforming the security sector, and ensuring an open and transparent political process to elections. All that will take time and require an internationally led effort, but Britain is committed to playing its part.
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way and for the leadership that he has shown on this issue. Given what has been said about Kurdistan this afternoon and the reports that Gaddafi has mustard gas, what action will the allies take to stop him if he starts using it against his own people?
My hon. Friend raises an issue of real concern, on which we keep a very sharp focus. After Gaddafi supposedly came in from the cold, there was an agreement for him to give up weapons of mass destruction. He destroyed some of them, but he still has the supplies to which my hon. Friend refers. We have to make sure that there is absolutely no sign of their being used.
In terms of what happens politically and diplomatically, what is crucial is that the future of Libya is for the people of Libya to decide, aided by the international community. The Libyan opposition has made it clear that it does not want to see a division of its country, and neither do we. It has also expressed a clear and overwhelming wish for Gaddafi to go, and we agree with that too, but the UN resolution is limited in its scope. It explicitly does not provide legal authority for action to bring about Gaddafi’s removal from power by military means. As I have said, we will help to fulfil the UN Security Council’s resolution. It is for the Libyan people to determine their Government and their destiny, but our view is clear: there is no decent future for Libya with Colonel Gaddafi remaining in power.
On a wider point, it is a change in philosophy on the part of the UN and the international community not to tolerate those involved in the internal repression of their own populations. What is going to happen to leaders in other countries round the world who are indulging in Gaddafi-style behaviour?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, and that is why UN Security Council resolution 1973 could be something of a breakthrough. The world has come together and said that what this dictator is doing to his people—within his own country, but totally in breach of international law and all sign of human rights—is wrong and can be stopped by all necessary means. In the act of stopping him, let us hope that that sends a message to dictators the world over.
With a no-fly zone in operation, a tyrant as brutal and determined as Gaddafi could decide to move the conflict into urban areas. In that scenario, does the resolution as it stands give us the scope to act to stop any humanitarian disaster that could occur?
I will not give way any more.
Gaddafi has had every conceivable opportunity to stop massacring his own people. The time for red lines, threats and last chances is over. Tough action is needed now to ensure that people in Libya can lead their lives without fear and with access to the basic needs of life. That is what the Security Council requires and that is what we are seeking to deliver. There are rightly those who ask how and where this will end. Of course, there are difficulties and dangers ahead, but already we know, beyond any doubt, that we have succeeded in chasing Gaddafi’s planes out of the sky. We have saved the lives of many Libyans and we have helped to prevent the destruction of a great and historic city.
Of course, no one can be certain of what the future can hold, but as we stand here today, the people of Libya have a much better chance of determining their destiny and, in taking this action, we should be proud that we are not only acting in British interests but being true to our values as a nation. I commend the motion to the House.
I rise to support the Government motion. Let me first welcome the fact that the Government have decided to have a substantive motion and, indeed, vote in this House, because it is right that the decision to commit our forces is made in this House. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer), I urge the Prime Minister and his colleagues to ensure that the House has regular chances to debate this issue in the days and weeks ahead.
I want to pay tribute to our brave armed forces who are engaging in military action. I am sure that the thoughts of the whole House are with them. The issue at the heart of today’s debate is this: on the one hand, we have the case for action outside our borders when we see people facing repression and butchery from others; yet, on the other hand, we have the caution that we must always show in the exercise of western and, indeed, British power for reasons of basic principle, imperial history and the consequences that might follow.
Today, I want to set out to this House why I believe that we should support the motion today and support our armed forces. I do so because I believe that the three key criteria for action exist: it is a just cause with a feasible mission and it has international support. Secondly, I want to address the central issue, not least among those raised by my hon. Friends, of how we reconcile the decision to intervene in Libya and the hard cases elsewhere. Thirdly, I want to raise a number of issues that will require clarity if this mission is to succeed.
Today and in the coming weeks, our duty as the official Opposition is to support the UN resolution and at the same time to scrutinise the decisions that are made to maximise the chances of success of this mission. Let me start with the case for action. In the days and weeks ahead—the Prime Minister said this in his speech—we must always remember the background to the debate. We have seen with our own eyes what the Libyan regime is capable of. We have seen guns being turned on unarmed demonstrators, we have watched warplanes and artillery being used against civilian population centres, we have learned of militia violence and disappearances in areas held by Gaddafi’s forces and we have heard the leader of the Libyan opposition say:
“We appeal to the international community, to all the free world, to stop this tyranny from exterminating civilians.”
And we have heard Colonel Gaddafi gloat that he would treat the people of Benghazi, a city of 700,000 people—the size of Leeds—with “no mercy or compassion”.
In 1936, a Spanish politician came to Britain to plead for support in the face of General Franco’s violent fascism. He said:
“We are fighting with sticks and knives against tanks and aircraft and guns, and it revolts the conscience of the world that that should be true.”
As we saw the defenceless people of Libya attacked by their own Government, it would equally revolt the conscience of the world to know that we could have done something to help them yet chose not to.
In the context of the important issue of arming those who are resisting Gaddafi, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that every effort must be made, within the terms of the resolution, to apply to the sanctions committee of the United Nations to enable paragraph 9(c) of resolution 1970 to be applied in such a way as to ensure that people in Benghazi and elsewhere are properly supplied with arms so that they can defend themselves? As the right hon. Gentleman has said, there is a parallel with what happened in 1936.
To be fair to the Prime Minister, he conducted this debate in the right terms. Let me say to the hon. Gentleman that today is not the day for party political point-scoring. Let me say this also: in 2005, when Tony Blair made the decision that he made, voices were not raised against him, because there was no sign of a popular uprising in Libya. What people worried about was Colonel Gaddafi—and the Prime Minister eloquently described the problems and dangers posed by him—possessing nuclear weapons and threatening the rest of the world, and I think that Tony Blair was right to try to bring him into the international community.
A debate is often conducted about rights to intervene, but this debate is about not rights but responsibilities. The decade-long debate about the “responsibility to protect” speaks precisely to this question. As the House will know, the responsibility to protect was adopted in 2005 at the world summit and was endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly and the United Nations Security Council, and it should help to frame our debate today. It identifies a “responsibility to react” to
“situations of compelling human need with appropriate measures…and in extreme cases military intervention”.
It identifies four cautionary tests which will help us in this debate as we consider intervention:
“right intention, last resort, proportional means and reasonable prospects”.
The Leader of the Opposition is making a very thoughtful case. Can he tell us how much intervention he thinks it reasonable for the west to make in what is really a civil war in which the rebel side is experiencing considerable difficulties?
I have great respect for the right hon. Gentleman, but I do not agree that this is a civil war. There was a popular uprising against the Gaddafi regime that Gaddafi is cruelly and brutally trying to suppress. I think that we should bear that in mind as we implement the terms of the resolution.
The responsibility to protect identifies those four tests that we should apply, and I think that they will inform the debate today. The first is the test of “right intentions”. Our intentions are right: we are acting to protect the Libyan people, to save lives, and to prevent the Gaddafi regime from committing serious crimes against humanity. We do not seek commercial gain or geopolitical advantage, and we are not intending to occupy Libya or seize her natural resources. This is not a power play or an attempt to install a new Government by force. Colonel Gaddafi is the one who is trying to impose his political will with violence, and our role is to stop him.
This is the “last resort” to protect the Libyan people. Sanctions and other measures have been tried, including in resolution 1970, and they have not stopped Colonel Gaddafi. As the Prime Minister said, his ceasefire was simply a lie paraded to the international community before his forces once again attacked Benghazi. As for proportionality, the UN resolution makes it clear that the means must be proportional, and we should always follow that in what we do.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that, although what he is saying is of great importance, there are also lessons to be learned. Does he not think that it is time for a wholesale review of our policy of military co-operation and arms sales in the case of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, and of what is happening in Yemen and further afield in the Congo, the Ivory Coast and other places? At what point is he prepared to say that we should be involved or not involved, and at what point is he prepared to say that we will seriously scale down our arms export industry, which actually leads to much of the oppression in the first place?
Let me deal with those two very serious points. On the first point about arms exports, we have rightly said that there should be a comprehensive review of the implementation and nature of our policy on arms sales. When we see what has happened in parts of north Africa, we are worried about the use of British arms for internal repression. If my hon. Friend will allow me, I will come to his second point about double standards later in my speech. The Prime Minister has also talked about that very important issue.
Compliance with the UN resolution might not equal an endgame. What does the right hon. Gentleman propose that we should do about the no-fly zone if we manage to comply with the resolution but at the same time Gaddafi is left in place because there is a stalemate on the ground?
I am going to talk about that in my speech as well, but I want to respond directly to the hon. Gentleman. We do not always know how things will end, so the question is whether, when we are faced with the choices we face, it is better to take action or to stand aside. This is a really important point and we will be scrutinising the Government and the Prime Minister in the coming weeks, looking for a clear strategy. I have looked back at the debate about Kosovo in 1999, which was led by Robin Cook, and people were making the same arguments then. The truth is that we did not know where things were going to end, but by taking action in Kosovo we saved the lives of tens of thousands of people.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that one way in which we can help the Libyan people and the rebellion against Gaddafi is by recognising them as the legitimate Government. Would he support the Government in taking that position if it were put forward?
This is a very tricky issue, but let me respond to the hon. Gentleman. In a joint statement with President Sarkozy, the Prime Minister recognised the transitional council as one of the reasonable interlocutors—I think that was the phrase. The reason for that is that we need to scrutinise very carefully who the best interlocutors are and who the natural alternative to Colonel Gaddafi is. There is a history to this and jumping too early in that regard has its own dangers. I think it is right to recognise the transitional council as a reasonable interlocutor.
The right hon. Gentleman’s reference to Kosovo is entirely apt because it was out of the frustrations of Kosovo, for which no United Nations Security Council resolution could be obtained, that the doctrine of the duty to protect arose. Its genesis was in a speech made by Tony Blair in Chicago in 1999. In this particular case, are we not on much stronger ground because the Security Council has said expressly in the provision that “all necessary measures” may be taken?
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has huge expertise in this area and he makes an important point. This is a very important moment for multilateralism because a UN resolution has been passed without opposition at the Security Council. This is a real test of the international community and its ability to carry through not just our intentions but the intentions and values of the United Nations. He is completely right about that.
I was talking about proportionality, which is the third test of the responsibility to protect. It is right to say that our targeting strategy and that of our allies—this is something that the Prime Minister and I have discussed—must be restricted to military targets that pose a threat to civilians. We should always exercise the utmost care in the nature of our targeting because we know how important that is both as a matter of principle and for the conduct of our campaign.
On the fourth criterion of reasonable success, there is every reason to believe, as we have already shown in the past few days, that we can stop the slaughter on which Colonel Gaddafi appears to have embarked.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about the important matter of targeting by the allies in the attacks against the regime, but is he aware that Colonel Gaddafi is putting civilians in the places where such targets are, thereby making the situation for the coalition Government ever more difficult?
The hon. Gentleman speaks eloquently of the evil of Colonel Gaddafi in doing that. The care taken by our armed forces, which the Prime Minister has talked about, is incredibly important because they are facing incredibly difficult decisions.
The responsibility to protect recognises that there need to be tests applied to intervention, but also, crucially, that interventions require international authority and consent. In this case, the Arab League endorses a no-fly zone, and the UN Security Council expressed a clear will, with the support of 10 countries. It is worth drawing attention to which countries those are, because they include Lebanon, Colombia and South Africa. A broad spectrum of countries from across the world gave their support to the UN resolution.
There is international consent, a just cause and a feasible mission, but we also need—this is very important—to maintain public support here at home, because this House is not just contemplating expressing its support for an international resolution; it is discussing its position on the use of armed forces. We are a generous and compassionate people, but there will no doubt be some people in the country—indeed, we have heard it in parts of this House—wondering whether it really needs to be us, now, at this time. It is a valid and important question, but in the end, as well as there being the geopolitical questions that the Prime Minister raised, we have to make a judgment about our role in the world and our duty to others. Where there is just cause, where feasible action can be taken, and where there is international consent, are we really saying that we should be a country that stands by and does nothing? In my view, that would be a dereliction of our duty, our history, and our values. Let us not forget that those who have risen up against Colonel Gaddafi are part of a wider movement for reform and democracy that we are seeing across north Africa. We cannot and should not abandon them.
I have supported humanitarian interventions in the past, and I am minded to do the same in this case, but the reason why we are expected to intervene, rather than others, is that we are stronger than others. The right hon. Gentleman knows that there has been a huge hole in the defence budget. Does he know from his conversations with the Government whether the funding for what could be a very long-term and expensive operation will be added to the core defence budget, or taken from it?
I have been given those reassurances by the Prime Minister. Today, as the House debates this question, I want to concentrate on the important issues before us, including the capability of our armed forces, but I have been given that reassurance by the Government.
It is obviously right that we should focus on Libya today, but as my right hon. Friend knows, the situation in Yemen is deteriorating every hour. Is there not a duty on the Arab League and coalition partners to try to work to prevent further conflict in Yemen by promoting the need for dialogue?
I know that my right hon. Friend has been one of the leading voices on the question of Yemen, and he is absolutely right about that; I am coming to that now in my speech. I have set out the case for support for the resolution and our participation, but—this is the second part of my remarks—that will not be enough for everyone in the House, including my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn).
I will make a bit more progress. Many will ask one additional question: why are we intervening in Libya, but not in other countries around the world? It is a valid question, and it is right to say that there are many other hard cases. What is happening in Yemen is deeply troubling, and what is happening in Bahrain is equally troubling. Historically, the cases of Burma, Rwanda and other countries live on in our conscience, and yet here I do agree with the Prime Minister: the argument that because we cannot do everything we cannot do anything is a bad argument. In the world that we live in, the action that we take depends on a combination of principle and pragmatism—what is right, and what can be done. That is not perfect, but an imperfect world order is not an excuse for inaction.
My right hon. Friend and the Prime Minister have both enunciated what is really the Blair doctrine: “If you can’t do everything, it doesn’t stop you doing something.” I would be more supportive of that principle if there were clear criteria laid down in advance about when we should do something, rather than it looking as though it were an ad hoc decision on every occasion.
I am not sure that the Prime Minister and I are competing to call it the Blair doctrine. On the substantive question that my hon. Friend raises, he is right to say that we need criteria. I think that the responsibility to protect is of great assistance to us there. I think that it has been overlooked at times during our debates. It is endorsed by the UN Security Council and General Assembly.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the passing of UN Security Council resolution 1973 represents a watershed moment, as the Prime Minister seemed to intimate, because of the way in which the international community now looks at the behaviour of Governments repressing the citizens of their own countries?
I think it is too early to declare it a watershed moment, but the hon. Gentleman is right to suggest that those who desire a world order based on principle as well as on power should support the resolution and the motion before us today. Whatever the flaws of multilateralism and the UN—and there are many—they are our best hope for the kind of world order based on principle that we want to see. If we can demonstrate that the international community has come together in the case of Libya to prevent Colonel Gaddafi’s action against his people, this will mark an important moment. We will have acted on the basis of a firm legal base.
That Gaddafi is a murderous tyrant has never been in doubt from the time he seized power in 1969. Like all hon. Members, however, I am concerned about the situation in many other countries, and the doubt in my mind stems from the fact that intervention by western powers is so selective. Last week, 45 people were slaughtered in Yemen, yet no one has suggested that we should intervene there. In Bahrain, there has been armed intervention by Saudi Arabia, but our Government have not suggested that we should intervene. It seems that, to a large extent, we intervene only in countries whose regimes are considered anti-west.
It is hard to calibrate the different regimes, but I believe that Colonel Gaddafi’s threat to hundreds of thousands of people in Benghazi and elsewhere puts him in a particular category. I also say to my hon. Friend that this is not a perfect world and, in the end, we have to make a judgment about what can be done. This is something that I think can be done.
I want to make some more progress. I will try to give way before the end of my speech, but I am conscious that many people want to speak in the debate.
If we succeed, we will have sent a signal to many other regimes that, in the face of democratic protest and the demand for change, it is simply not acceptable to turn to methods of repression and violence. And yet, if this pragmatic case for action in Libya is to stand and win support, it is all the more important that we speak out firmly, without fear or favour, against repression wherever we find it. In Bahrain, where the regime has apparently fired tear gas into a hospital, and in Yemen, where the murder of innocent civilians has taken place, we must be on the side of people and against the forces of repression wherever we find them.
We should address the longer-running issues affecting security and human rights in the middle east, particularly Israel-Palestine, where we must show that we can advance the peace process, and we must put pressure on our American allies to do so. We cannot be silent on these issues, either as a country or as an international community.
The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) and other hon. Members have mentioned the concept of a successful outcome. How would the right hon. Gentleman define success in this context, and how will we know when we have reached the point at which it is appropriate to implement an exit strategy?
That is a question that the Government will no doubt be seeking to answer in the days and weeks ahead. It is hard to define success at this point, except to say that we have a clear UN resolution before us on the protection of the Libyan people, and that we must seek to implement that resolution. That is the best criterion for success that we have, for now. No doubt the Government will want to build on that as the campaign unfolds.
My right hon. Friend is right to say that it will be hard to know when we should end this action. Will he therefore press the Government to ensure that the House is given constant opportunities to review the situation, so that we can be assured that mission creep is not taking place and that we are not going beyond what is necessary, and so that we can make the right decision at the appropriate time?
I think that my hon. Friend probably speaks for Members across the House, and Ministers will have heard what she and my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) said. It is important that the House is not just kept up to date but has the chance to debate these issues. I see the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary nodding.
The point about regular scrutiny of what happens is incredibly important, not just to hon. Members but for the wider public. Talking to constituents over the weekend, I discovered that they had great concerns about our involvement, and about the length and level of that involvement. A great deal is needed from the Government to reassure the public about that involvement, not just now but over the coming weeks and months.
My hon. Friend probably speaks for many hon. Members from all parts of the House who went back to talk to their constituents. There is obvious concern, for a range of reasons, about our engaging in another military action, and it is a completely understandable concern.
That takes me on to the third part of my speech, which is about not just defining the mission but ensuring that there is clarity as it moves forward. There are a number of questions and challenges that the Government must seek to answer in the days ahead. In particular, there are four areas that require clarity: clarity about the forces and command structure involved; clarity about the mandate; clarity about our role in it and the limits; and most difficult of all, clarity about the endgame.
On broad participation in the mission and the forces involved, I want to impress again on the Prime Minister, as I did on Friday—and he himself noted this—the central importance of Arab participation, not just in the maintenance of the no-fly zone but in all the diplomatic work that is essential to keep the coalition together. I welcome what he said about a regular coalition meeting, because that is important. The Arab League’s decision to support a no-fly zone was central to turning the tide of opinion, which is why there was concern in various quarters about the apparent comments of Amr Moussa, the secretary-general of the Arab League, yesterday. He has since sought to correct the interpretation of those comments. I urge the Prime Minister—I am sure that this is being done, but it is important—to develop the fullest and most comprehensive diplomatic strategy to maintain the support of those countries and, indeed, the broadest possible coalition. That means not just keeping the countries in the region informed of our mission but ensuring that they are consulted on it.
We must be clear about the mandate of the UN resolution. We all want to see Colonel Gaddafi gone, and the Prime Minister repeated that today. None of us, however, should be under any illusions or in any doubt about the terms of what was agreed. The resolution is about our responsibility to protect the Libyan people—no more, no less.
Not for the moment.
I say to the Government—and the Prime Minister will know this—it is incredibly important that the international community observes the terms of the resolution in its actions and in what it says. I shall not rehearse the arguments about past conflicts, but we all know that ambiguity about the case for intervention is often one of the biggest problems that a mission faces. The House should be clear about the degree of difficulty of what we are attempting in securing a coalition from beyond western powers to support intervention in another, north African, state, so we cannot afford mission creep, and that includes in our public pronouncements.
The point that my right hon. Friend is making is important. Gaddafi could prove to be very difficult indeed to remove, so we cannot impose limitations on the length of time that the action and the enforcement of the resolution will take. Civilians in Tripoli are as valuable as civilians in Benghazi, so the actions that we take will be measured by the people who support them, which will be a judgment on whether what we are doing is in line with the international agreement. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is an important point we must always bear in mind?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is very important in all our public pronouncements to be careful about what we say. As the Prime Minister said, in principle it must be for the Libyan people to determine the shape of their future.
Military action by the coalition can be accompanied by a wide range of non-military measures to continue the pressure on the Libyan regime. Security Council resolution 1973, as well as resolution 1970, sets out all the measures that can be taken, including cutting off access to money, trade, weapons and international legitimacy for Colonel Gaddafi. And we need to remind Libyan leaders and commanders that they will be brought to justice for any crimes they commit against their people.
I am grateful to the Leader of the Opposition who, like the Prime Minister, is giving a powerful and thoughtful speech. He spoke about the duty to protect, and looking to liberal interventionism as a possible breakthrough watershed in global politics. Does he believe that it requires UN resolutions in future for countries, including our own, to be involved in implementing a duty to protect?
On the point about our public pronouncements, my right hon. Friend will have seen headlines such as “Blown to Brits” and “mad dog” and references to Gaddafi’s head on a spike. Does he agree that in this very serious circumstance, such language is completely inappropriate when our military forces and the people of Libya are in such grave danger?
My right hon. Friend is entirely right that we must exercise extreme care in all our public pronouncements. I will leave it at that.
The third point on which we must be clear is the role and limit of our forces. The resolution is clear that this is not about an army of occupation. The Prime Minister said on Friday that it was not about boots on the ground. There are obviously operational and strategic constraints on what the Prime Minister can say about our intentions, but we need as much clarity as possible, including answers to the issues of public consent and public opinion that were raised.
Finally, the Prime Minister is, I am sure, aware about people’s worries that this will end up being a mandate for stalemate. The argument that we do not know the precise sequence of events that will unfold is not a good argument for inaction. As I said earlier, in the Kosovo debate in 1999 Robin Cook was confronted by exactly the same arguments. Today it is hard to find anybody who thinks that action was wrong. We were right to proceed, but equally, the Government and their allies cannot be absolved of the responsibility of planning a clear strategy for what might happen in different eventualities and what our approach might be.
I shall finish, as others want to come in.
It is essential that both we and multilateral institutions prepare for the peace, whatever form that might take. Indeed, alongside the responsibility to protect is the responsibility to rebuild. I am sure that is something that the Government will be urgently undertaking. It is imperative that they do.
Let me end on this point. Today’s debate is conducted in the shadow of history of past conflicts. For me, it is conducted in the shadow of my family’s history as well: two Jewish parents whose lives were changed forever by the darkness of the holocaust, yet who found security in Britain. This is a story of the hope offered by Britain to my family, but many of my parents’ relatives were out of the reach of the international community and perished as a result. In my maiden speech in the House, I said that I would reflect
“the humanity and solidarity shown to my family more than 60 years ago”.—[Official Report, 23 May 2005; Vol. 434, c. 489.]
These are the kind of things we say in maiden speeches, but if they are to be meaningful, we need to follow them through in deeds, not just words. That is why I will be voting for the motion tonight, and why I urge the whole House to vote for it.
Nothing could demonstrate more eloquently the difference between the ill-conceived Iraq war and this operation than the overwhelming agreement on both sides of the Chamber, including the very eloquent and moving speech by the Leader of the Opposition. We now have a no-fly zone, the effect of which has been to neutralise the Libyan air force and take it out of the conflict. There is a naval blockade on Libya, which means that none of the coastal towns can be subject to bombardment. However, Gaddafi’s army remains, and it is legitimate to ask how the objectives of the Security Council resolution can be met, given those circumstances.
As the Prime Minister and others have pointed out, the Security Council resolution allowed us to do that because “all necessary measures” is a very well-known term. I was puzzled when Mr Amr Moussa expressed confusion on behalf of the Arab League about the action being taken, given that Lebanon, a member of the league, was a sponsor of the resolution. He must have known what it was intended to lead to, and I am relieved that he has moved on from that.
What we have seen already is the use of military power—the UN is entitled to do this—to attack artillery, heavy weapons and tanks on the roads of Libya where they might threaten civilian populations, but that is also relevant to the difficult question asked by one of my hon. Friends: what about Libyan regime forces that might have penetrated the towns and cities, where direct attack might be very dangerous? The need to protect civilians is of course paramount, but I believe that that matter will be addressed, because even the regime troops that have penetrated the towns and cities will need to have supplies of fuel and food renewed and other equipment provided, and that can now be blocked because any attempt to provide such reinforcements from outside the towns and cities can now be subject to the most precise destruction by coalition forces. That aspect of the resolution is very welcome.
There is another aspect to consider. Although we talk about a no-fly zone, the areas where civilian lives might be endangered or threatened have in fact become a no-combat zone. It is worth considering that the Security Council resolution stipulates not only “all necessary measures”, but
“all necessary measures, notwithstanding paragraph 9 of resolution 1970”,
which is the resolution that imposed the arms embargo. That must mean that it is now appropriate under the terms of the resolution to supply the insurgents in Libya with military supplies in order to protect the civilian populations in which those insurgents are to be found. I hope that the Foreign Secretary or whoever will be winding up the debate will confirm that.
We have such limited time that my hon. Friend will have to forgive me for not giving way.
The third factor, which is very significant, is the statement made by President Obama on behalf of all members of the coalition in which he said that this is not simply a question of a ceasefire, but that the Gaddafi authorities are required to withdraw from the various towns and cities they have been threatening. If they do not do so, under the cover of darkness or at some future moment we could face the same problem again. Those are the components available to the coalition and authorised by the United Nations, and I believe that that cannot be seriously disputed.
The second part of my remarks relates to the endgame. What will happen if Gaddafi not only announces a ceasefire, but is forced to respect it, as is likely in the next few days? Does that mean it is all over? I do not think that that would be an appropriate interpretation of the resolution. Even if he introduces a ceasefire that seems genuine for a few days or a couple of weeks, we would have to be satisfied that he was not going to break it as soon as a no-fly zone resolution is withdrawn, because it would be incredibly difficult to have it reinserted again. We would have to be satisfied that the Gaddafi regime, if it remained in power, would continue to be sincere about a ceasefire resolution. It might mean that bombing by coalition forces or raids that damage or destroy elements of the Libyan army are not required, but we would certainly be required to maintain the resolution in force so that it could be re-enacted with all severity, even if it appears that a real ceasefire has be conceded in a few days’ time.
What does that mean for the future of Libya? Well, we just do not know. We cannot pretend to predict what will happen, because so much could and ought to depend on the actions of the Libyans themselves. There might be an uprising in Tripoli, and there might need to be civilian protection in that area—in the capital city—as well. Gaddafi’s own cronies—his own generals and Ministers—might defect as they were doing just a few weeks ago when they realised the game was up, but the most important consideration, if we are to get rid of the Gaddafi regime, is for the Libyan people to liberate themselves.
If air power has now been removed from the Gaddafi regime, if the blockade prevents use of the Libyan navy, and if it is possible, as I have suggested, in certain circumstances for military supplies to be made available to some of the insurgents for the protection of civilians, then that provides an opportunity whereby, if the Libyan people themselves overwhelmingly, as they seem to, want to get rid of that noxious regime, they will have the military means, the support of the international community and the well wishes of the Arab League to do so. In that way, we can all be satisfied that a job will be truly well done.
I am a late and very reluctant supporter of these operations, and that is not because I have become a pacifist overnight, I can assure people. It is because it is relatively easy to support things on day one and relatively difficult to support them in month three, or in month nine—and this is a situation that cannot be foreseen. I remind people that, over the past couple of years, I have been somewhat concerned about the degree of enthusiasm in parts of this country—particularly in the media, but in parts of this House and in parts of the population as well—for yet another operation abroad, and I would have thought that that enthusiasm had been somewhat tempered by our recent experiences.
The right hon. and learned Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) says how different it is now, in the House today, from when we voted for the Iraq war, but may I remind him that it is not? There was a huge majority in favour of the Iraq war, and his own party was massively in favour of it.
One hundred and seventy-nine British lives and a lot of other consequences later, we can all see that there were some grave difficulties with getting involved, but many of those people who can see them now could not see them on that day.
On Afghanistan, 360 British lives and many consequences—
I am not going to give way.
On Afghanistan, we are now 360 British lives and many consequences later, but not so many of us could see the consequences on day one as can see them now. I was, and I am unashamedly happy to have been, reluctant and late in my support for the resolution.
I would not give my support tonight for the resolution if it were not for the fact that the United Nations had given its support, and that there was a breadth of support, including from the Arab League, for this intervention. That was because people worked at the issue, and worked at it pretty hard, so I commend the general positioning of the President of the United States of America, who flatly refused to lead on it until he could see that others were prepared to come with him. I think that his position was in part responsible for the breadth of support that there is.
I want people to agree that it is enormously important that we maintain that breadth of support, and I want to know from the Government that there will be a real attempt to maintain it. The Prime Minister has told us that, after American leadership of the military operations, the plans are to hand the mission over to NATO, and he knows that it will be necessary to get Turkey on board in order for NATO to be prepared to take over the command structures of the operation. That will be an enormously positive thing, and we must put all effort into seeing to it that Arab countries—and Turkey, which as a Muslim country, is really important here—are prepared to take a lead. Qatar being prepared to provide hardware is of huge significance.
Are we serious about allowing others to be seen to lead? The Prime Minister told the House that he, President Obama and President Sarkozy had agreed that there were certain non-negotiable conditions. Why can we not have more people involved in deciding what those non-negotiable conditions are? Let us make sure that we do not do anything other than strain every muscle to see to it that the coalition that supports this action is maintained and continues to be as broad as it can.
May I say to the Prime Minister that even if it were sensible that Colonel Gaddafi be targeted as part of this operation, it cannot possibly be sensible for the British Defence Secretary to give the impression that that is okay? I hope that that kind of loose talk does not continue.
There are other issues that we ought to come to—such as the strategic defence review and our own ability to conduct these kinds of operations in future—that it is not appropriate for us to go into at this time. Certain issues need to be talked about because this operation has become necessary, such as our ability to proceed. In these circumstances, and in so many others, there are a lot more legitimate questions as a result of what has needed to be said in the past couple of weeks, and we will have to have those conversations in the months to come.
On 18 March 2003, just over eight years ago, I voted against military action against Saddam Hussein. If I thought that the present action was illegitimate, I should have no hesitation in voting against it, because if we ask our young men and women to put their lives at risk, as we do, then the cause must be just, not only in strict legality terms but in political and even social terms.
I thought that the action against Saddam Hussein was illegal—it is a view that I have never had occasion to alter—but this action is necessary, legal and legitimate. It is necessary because of the systematic brutality of Colonel Gaddafi towards his own people, whose only crime is to want the opportunity to have a more democratic form of government and to enjoy freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. The lives of his people have been threatened in recent times by an immediate and chilling promise to go from house to house, from room to room, and to show no mercy. I invite the House to consider this: supposing we had allowed a slaughterhouse to take place in Benghazi, then what would have been the nature and the terms of the debate today?
I believe this action to be legal because of the express authority of a United Nations Security Council resolution, buttressed, as the Leader of the Opposition and I have just agreed, by the evolving doctrine of international law—namely, the duty to protect, which, as I pointed out, had its genesis in a speech made by Tony Blair in 1999 in Chicago, whereupon it was developed and adopted by the United Nations. There is legitimacy, yes, because this action springs from a universal repugnance of the international community against the brutal excesses of the Gaddafi regime, and it has the regional support of the Arab League and the Gulf Co-operation Council.
Be in no doubt, however, that Mr Gaddafi will be a dangerous opponent. Deceit, deception and defiance have kept him in power for many, many years. Be in no doubt, too, that to maintain the international coalition will require both skill and sensitivity. Be in no doubt that keeping public confidence at home will require resolve, determination and transparency.
Questions are already being asked in this House, as has been demonstrated by this debate, in an exercise of democratic scrutiny. I pause to observe that in Gaddafi’s Libya, no such opportunities are available. The right hon. Member for Coventry North East (Mr Ainsworth) spoke about targeting. Neither the resolution nor international law would justify the specific targeting––or, in truth, the assassination––of Colonel Gaddafi. However, if he were engaged in direct control of military operations contrary to the resolution, and the command and control centre in which he was to be found was the subject of attack, he would be a legitimate target.
Questions have been asked about what success will look like and what are the terms of disengagement. It is not possible to be specific, but the answers to those questions and to the continuing questions that are thrown up by this debate will be found in the framework of the resolution and in the conduct of Colonel Gaddafi. The onus is now on him.
Obviously we are all constrained by time, but these are grave matters not only for the people of Libya, but for the people of this country and for our allies, and indeed for the future of the United Nations.
In framing my remarks, I am minded to use the words of a wily old operator of recent years in this House, the late, great Eric Forth, who once said that when there is unanimity between the Front Benches, it is almost axiomatic that they are wrong. I do not believe that to be the case, but I believe that it is incumbent on us to examine most carefully those who do not agree with the proposition that is advanced by the Government and supported by the Opposition. I will vote with the Government tonight, but like my right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North East (Mr Ainsworth) and any Member of this House who has any sense, I have a number of reservations about the nature of the path on which we are embarking, where it will take us, how it will end—which a number of Members have spoken about—how we can measure success, and what it presages for future international engagement and involvement.
International experience of recent times may lead us to different conclusions. The actions in Kosovo, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan and the complete inaction, for various reasons, in Rwanda and Zimbabwe have all had consequences for those involved. Otto von Bismarck, a politician perhaps not as great as Eric Forth, described politics as the art of the possible. In such issues, what matters is what is politically possible; I do not think that there is an abiding principle that unites them. It is a case of whether the ingredients necessary for international action and the will to undertake international action can be marshalled in the right proportion and with the requisite enthusiasm.
I can well understand those in this country who say, “This is nothing to do with us. Why, again, is it British armed forces—British servicemen and women—who are being placed in harm’s way when there is no direct British interest?” The Prime Minister referred to that point earlier. I agree that the interests of this nation and our people are not always directly connected to such matters. Sometimes there are dotted-line connections that have to be borne in mind. There are those who are asking, “Why should we get involved?” Somebody on the television last week, I think a former editor of The Sun, was saying that all the lives in Libya were not worth one ounce of British blood. I think that is a particularly brutal and unpleasant view of the world—that may be a prerequisite for being editor of The Sun—but I do not think many civilised people in this country share it.
The need to consider people’s reservations is important, though. We cannot offer all the guarantees that people would want, but as the Prime Minister pointed out and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition echoed, the fact that we cannot do everything does not mean we should do nothing. To those who want consistency and say, “You’ve made mistakes in the past,” the only answer is that that doctrine would lead us to believe that, for consistency’s sake, we must carry on making mistakes in the future, and that we should never do anything right if we have never done it before. More particularly, it would be to say, “Be a pioneer, by all means, but never do anything for the first time.” Sometimes there are cases in which we just have to.
The situation will be difficult, including in considering what the end will look like. There can be no end under Gaddafi, I am convinced of that. As the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) said, if Gaddafi were to scale down his operations and the UN were to say that resolution 1973 had been discharged and should be dispensed with, as soon as we were gone he would take up the struggle against his own people again.
I believe that the only previous no-fly zone was authorised against Iraq, and of course it was supplanted only by the invasion and the war. I am not clear what the end of the current situation will be. More particularly, I have grave concerns about how we will judge whether events are going well or badly. I assume that in the first instance it will be about whether the Libyan people are no longer being harassed by Gaddafi, at least not overtly. For as long as that is the case, we can claim some success. We can already, because the assault on Benghazi that was clearly intended did not materialise in the way that Gaddafi and his henchmen envisaged.
We have a difficult choice. I will support the Government in their motion to support resolution 1973, because I believe that is less bad than the alternative of doing nothing. It is also consistent with the type of nation that I believe the majority of the British people make up. We are not the kind of people who pass by on the other side of the road. Sometimes we have to put up or shut up. On this occasion I shall certainly now shut up, but I believe we should put up.
I fully understand why we intervened in Libya. Because of our actions today, on Friday and over the weekend, thousands of civilians are now safer than they were when they were within reach of Gaddafi’s butchering hand. We should reflect on the comments of the right hon. and learned Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) about Colonel Gaddafi’s statements that he would go from room to room, showing no mercy.
I pay tribute to the Prime Minister and his team for getting the resolution at the UN with considerable swiftness, and to our armed service personnel, who right now are risking life and limb to ensure that the civilians of Libya are protected from a regime that shows no appetite to stop.
Because of the military might of the west, we have to realise that the question of what comes next may arise more quickly than we think. We have already seen the accuracy of our armed forces and their ability to degrade a foreign power’s military, which means that we need to start thinking through the problems ahead. It is not enough just to implement and follow the spirit of resolution 1973. We have to show the world that we are doing so, and how. I believe that we need to be a little more transparent in that. We need to talk, perhaps, about the targets that we are hitting, because if we do not, Mr Gaddafi and the enemies of reform in the middle east may well fill the vacuum with their propaganda. We have already seen that today to some extent. It is important that, with the winds of change blowing through the middle east, we are very clear about what our red lines are and what we stand for. If we are not, we may be open to the charge of giving false hope to other countries, or to charges of hypocrisy.
We should remember that authority in the middle east has changed. It has moved away from the Ministers of Arab countries to whom we used to look for reassurances and towards the Arab street. Some Arab Ministers are not in as strong a position as they would like. We should not forget that the Arab street is becoming ever more emboldened throughout the region.
We should be consistent in our criticism. Bahrain is currently setting out on a course of sectarian violence and oppression against its 70% Shi’a majority. Indeed, a lady who worked for me recently and left Bahrain for Dubai was asked at every checkpoint whether she was Shi’a or Sunni. The Shi’as were taken out of the car and beaten and the Sunnis were allowed to progress.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way, and the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition for answering many of the concerns, worries and fears that my constituents expressed to me over the weekend. I say that as someone who played a small part in the no-fly zone over northern Iraq that lasted the best part of a decade. Does my hon. Friend agree that those fears, worries and uncertainties about the future are the legacy of Iraq?
I agree with my hon. Friend. It is all about trust, and we therefore need an element of transparency, and to demonstrate in the region how we are implementing the UN resolution as a way of keeping that trust and that broad support for the resolution. To lose that would be a backward step.
We need to bear in mind some questions in the next few days and weeks as we progress towards implementing the resolution. We need to ask ourselves and think through—perhaps in private but often in public—what happens if the rebels counter-attack. In wars, atrocities happen on both sides. What is our position? The resolution is about protecting civilians—that is our first and foremost duty. We must ask ourselves whether we are in danger of being manipulated by some groups. Are they using “one infidel against another”? Do people want democracy or a totalitarian state? What role can we play as a broad coalition to ensure that they follow the path of liberal democracy and tolerance?
Do we want regime change? Is that perhaps the inevitable end of the Gaddafi regime? Is Gaddafi himself a target? Speaking personally, I believe that Gaddafi is the same brutal mass murderer that he always was. He is the man who blew up Pan Am in the 1980s, armed the IRA in Northern Ireland and is responsible for the death of Yvonne Fletcher. We cannot teach old dogs new tricks, and some questions need to be answered about how we have got so far down the road as to allow an emboldened Gaddafi to be in his current position.
In the 13 years of the previous Government, there were some concerns about how the Foreign Office did its job. From time to time, we did not think through the problems. Let us remember that the Foreign Office recommended more deals with Gaddafi, and that some of us spoke out against that in the previous Parliament and before. Some of us said that Mr Gaddafi could not be trusted. Now we discover that the weapons of mass destruction deal—the deal that we were told in 2003 was the reason for bringing him in from the cold—was not honoured by Colonel Gaddafi. He kept some of his mustard gas, and the Foreign Office failed to inform us of that. If Mr Gaddafi is to go, he will not be missed by the House, but we should also ask ourselves whether he is the point of the exercise.
We should not forget the role that the modern age—the internet—has played in the revolution as it blows through the middle east. In 2009 in Iran, Twitter and Facebook empowered people on the streets. The movement will go from Libya to other places. However, let us not forget that every country in the middle east is unique. Factors such as Islam, sects, tribes, tradition and history should affect not only what happens on the ground but how we respond to the threat and to people who may be suppressed. We need to learn the lessons of history and remember that what we do today will have a ripple effect.
I do not envy the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary in the next stage of the challenge. Our action in Libya will ripple through the middle east. It may point in the right direction and lead the middle east into a more democratic, liberal environment. If we get it wrong—and it is a great gamble—we could end up with a middle east in the hands of Islamic fundamentalists and a less, not more, tolerant middle east. I wish the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary well in all that they do to try to ensure the right direction. It is time again to play the great game that we used to play so well rather than settle for the tactical, short-term policies of the past 13 years.
Two weeks ago, I re-watched “Hotel Rwanda”, the chilling film portrayal of the massacres of the defenceless civilians who were hacked to pieces by the so-called forces of law and order because they had the misfortune to belong to the wrong ethnic group. In July 2005, when the UK had the EU presidency, I went to Srebrenica in Bosnia for the 10th anniversary commemoration of the day in 1995 when 10,000 unarmed civilians were brutally murdered by the forces of law and order because, in that case, they had had the misfortune to belong to the wrong religious group.
In Rwanda and Bosnia, the UN solemnly considered what it should do. In both theatres, there were already blue-hatted UN troops on the ground, but they stood by as the massacres took place in front of them. Those troops were there as peacekeepers, but there was no peace to keep—rather, peace urgently needed to be made.
Doing nothing in the face of evil is as much a decision with consequences as doing something. This resolution is historically significant not just on its own terms, but because, as we heard from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, this is first occasion on which the Security Council has acted decisively upon the words relating to the responsibility to protect, which were agreed in the UN General Assembly in 2005, and in Security Council resolution 1674 2006.
I worked for Oxfam at the time of the Rwanda crisis and I strongly remember the awful situation in which UN forces found themselves. I hope the right hon. Gentleman was not implying fault on the part of the blue hats themselves, because their rules of engagement constrained them. The progress that the international community has made leading to the responsibility to protect is of course very positive.
I was implying no such criticism of the blue hats. The responsibility for what did not happen in Rwanda and Bosnia rested and rests with the Security Council and the international community, which failed to take action in the face of what amounted to genocide.
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) for twice mentioning that former Prime Minister Tony Blair, in his groundbreaking speech in Chicago in 1999, laid the foundation for what six years later became the agreement on the responsibility to protect.
The hon. Gentleman anticipates what I was going to say, but I am happy to put that on the record, not least because as a former member of the Foreign Office diplomatic service, he served me and my predecessors and successors very well.
We all know what the consequences of doing nothing about Colonel Gaddafi would have been: industrial-scale slaughter. The medium and longer-term consequences of the military enforcement of Security Council resolution 1973 will be more benign, but we must recognise that the situation is fraught with uncertainties. The progress towards democracy in Libya and elsewhere in the middle east, which all hon. Members and the peoples of the region seek, will be inherently more difficult than eastern Europe’s progress towards democracy after the Berlin wall came down 20 years ago.
The middle east is a tough region, and its democrats will face two primary threats: the autocrats such as Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein, or Presidents Mubarak and Ben Ali; and alternatively, those who wish to misuse and misinterpret the great and noble religion of Islam to establish backward-looking autocracies no less terrible than those of Gaddafi or Saddam Hussein.
Ultimately, the solution has to lie in the hands of the people of Libya and these other countries, but the international community—the United Kingdom included—can profoundly influence the final outcome by taking the right action or by inaction. I welcome what the Prime Minister said about the plans on which Her Majesty’s Government are already working. However, I hope that they will also draw together and publish a strategy setting out the UK’s vision for the region and the assistance they will provide, as part of an international programme, for an economic and political reconstruction of Libya carried out by the Libyans for the Libyans. I hope that that will include not just traditional overseas aid, but the work of an enhanced Westminster Foundation for Democracy, to nurture and sustain the growth of democratic institutions.
As we have heard, there are those who are reluctant or unwilling to support our action in Libya, and who seek a rationalisation for that inaction by making the relativist argument that we should not intervene in Libya unless or until we also intervene in, for example, Yemen, Bahrain or Saudi Arabia. The immediate answer is that Libya is by far and away the most egregious case. I condemn the brutality elsewhere in the region as strongly as anybody else, but processes are under way in some parts—not all—of the region that might succeed, and in any event the democratic forces in those and other countries across the region will be greatly strengthened, not weakened, by the action we are taking in Libya. In my view, provided there is international pressure behind it, the revolution in attitudes sweeping the region will also increase the pressure on the Government of Israel properly to negotiate a settlement with the Palestinians. No longer can the Government of Israel rely on complacent and compliant countries on their borders within the Arab world.
There is a parallel with Iraq, and I understand—why would I not?—its controversy. However, there is not the least doubt—not least from the mouth of Colonel Gaddafi himself—that but for the military action in Iraq, Gaddafi would never have given up his well-advanced nuclear weapons programme and a significant part of his chemical weapons programme. In the end, he had to give them up. Gaddafi without nuclear weapons is dangerous enough, as we have seen; Gaddafi with such weapons would have been far more dangerous—perhaps so dangerous that the international community would have been prevented from dealing with him today.
I salute our military personnel, as they are placed, yet again, in harm’s way on our behalf and that of the international community. I give my wholehearted support to the motion before the House, and I commend the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary for their indefatigable work in securing—against the odds—the resolution.
Having watched these debates and diplomacy since the Falklands war, and having observed the battles on CNN and sanitised movie footage of jets taking off, troops returning fire and Union Jacks attached to aerials and advancing tanks, I find it a daunting thought to be in the House debating and contemplating our responsibility for the deployment of people whose principal purpose is to kill other people on our behalf. During my basic training in the Army, I realised that a sergeant shouting at me to stab and scream and stab again a bale of hay with a fixed bayonet was teaching me how to rip somebody apart. A few years later, I saw the remains of an IRA terrorist unit that had been ambushed by a Special Air Service unit. The remains had been shredded by the hundred of bullets that had gone through their bodies.
Following the first Gulf war, a friend of mine showed me some pictures that he had taken of the convoy attempting to escape back up to Iraq. One of the pictures was of the charred, black head and a desperate hand—black and maimed—of someone trying to leave their vehicle. There is nothing glorious or romantic about war. To those in the media who have portrayed what is happening now—or what has happened in previous wars—as some form of entertainment, I say that that is just not right. I am afraid that human beings need to commit brutal, savage attacks on each other to win wars.
I have spoken in the House before about our lack of political capital following the illegal war in Iraq and what I believe is a folly in Afghanistan. There may be moral reasons to fight again, but I will be honest: we are struggling to find the moral high ground from which to project that morality. As people have said, Gaddafi is the man who brought down the Pan Am plane over Lockerbie, the man who shipped the weapons that killed some of my colleagues and the man who killed WPC Fletcher. However, I feel uncomfortable about going to war. It is not a simple choice; it is a really difficult choice to contemplate.
This morning when I was coming to work, I listened to a phone-in from BBC television about whether we should kill Gaddafi. It was almost gladiatorial, as though people were phoning in so that we could see whether the populace was giving a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down. I have to say that I was fairly disgusted that the killing of another human being, however disgusting he is, could become a form of entertainment.
While we pontificate about morality and our obligations, brave men and women are putting their lives at risk at our request. This is not a debate about student fees, the Scotland Bill or the double summer time Bill; this is about the business of war. We do not take this decision lightly. While we wage war on our enemy, Muslim brothers and Arab leaders—with a few exceptions—remain silent. It is more convenient to wait for the infidel to kill their Muslim brothers and then gesture disapproval than it is to stand up to a tyrant. To the new leaders of the emerging democracies out there in the middle east, I say this: “The next time a murderer comes to the end of his reign, you gather in your House, like we are today, and think about how you’re going to take your share of the responsibility and what you’re going to contribute.”
I am not going to give way.
I said that this was a decision that I do not take lightly, and I do not think this nation takes it lightly either, but I will support the Government. The Prime Minister was right to secure a UN mandate. His leadership stands in stark contrast to the leadership that has gone before in this nation. Let us hope that the positive responses from the United Nations are a sign of something to come because, fundamentally, it is the weakness of United Nations members that has created so many international disasters in the past.
I would like to say something about the resolution and the immediate deployments, and then perhaps something about the exit strategy, the context in which all this is happening and its domestic effects over time.
Like everyone else, I have struggled with the question of moral relativism. Sometimes, the right statement comes out of the wrong mouth, which is difficult to deal with. However, there has been an ambivalence—certainly on the left—about revolutionary dictators in different parts of the world. My internationalism, which comes from my ethical socialism, has trumped all that, so on this occasion, because the proposal has UN support—something we claimed we needed for other things in the past—I will support the motion. However, I need to be clear: I will be supporting the Libyan people, the United Nations and Parliament, as opposed to the Government. There is a question about the Government keeping Parliament involved in the process, to which we will come back a number of times.
I have had the privilege of meeting armed service personnel, some of whom are probably delivering some of the activity at the moment: people forget about the T-boats, but suddenly they are terribly important. There are questions about aircraft—it was a little ironic to see American Harriers hopping back to their carrier, whereas our jets had to go a long way. There are all sorts of ironies in these things.
The question of intelligence for targeting is hugely important. We know that we cannot alienate the people; we need to show them that we are there to support them, and to do so. The illustration yesterday of an intelligent targeting process was very welcome and will, I think, pay enormous dividends, but it must be maintained.
On the no-fly zone, the Americans say, “Well, we’ve done that now. It’s in place. Job done.” I hope it is not “Mission accomplished”, as the Americans claimed in the last exercise we saw. The truth is that it is not a done deal. There might be some form of no-fly zone and sea blockade in place, but I asked about the clarity of the mandates, from which comes the clarity—or not—of the missions that are undertaken, and there clearly is not just one mission.
I do not want to go into the dispute about whether a decapitation strategy is necessary for Gaddafi. We need to understand that Gaddafi is an Arab and an African—he does not think as I think. He will do all sorts of things; we know that and we need to respond. The hon. Member for Wyre and Preston North (Mr Wallace) made some interesting points that need to be pursued. We need clarity about the mandate.
It was suggested earlier that we could bend the arms embargo to arm certain groups of people. Let us be very clear: we cannot bend anything. If we start doing that, there will be moral relativism and we will lose the legitimacy we have just achieved through the endorsement of the United Nations and through the broader coalition of people coming to support us.
The point I am trying to make is that this is not just about Parliament talking to Arab leaders. It is not just about diplomacy among the leaderships—between the party leaders in this country or between Arab leaders—but about diplomacy and a conversation with, as everyone now calls it, the Arab street. Let us engage in that discussion and see some effort put in. We need people on the ground, not as an occupation force but to help conduct such activity. That is doubtless already happening, to some degree—men in black with beards are doing wonderful things, and they will need some more support. The burden of effort needs to shift to the diplomatic efforts, in their broader sense, to provide some sort of solution. There is no kinetic solution—there is an intelligence-led solution that needs to be—
No, I am sorry but time will not allow me to do so.
Let me say something about the exit strategy. We need to do all the things I have mentioned and a lot of other things that I do not have time to itemise now, but it is important to ask who we do them with and where we do them. Will we train people? Where will we train them? Who will help with the training? The Arab states’ involvement in the process is key. We need to internationalise it and to do so much more than we have in the past.
There is also a question of sustainability. We are still in Afghanistan. We need to get real about what we can and cannot do and we then need a conversation about the domestic effects of all this. There are domestic effects on the strategic defence and security review and other matters. Will we have the capability to operate in the littoral in the future? Discuss. The Defence Committee will discuss these matters but Parliament needs to do so too. We need to be very clear about the question of sustainability over time, because this is not just about the military—it is about the Department for International Development and about foreign policy. We need a clearer foreign policy, as was stated earlier. Unless we have an idea of what we are trying to do, we will not equip ourselves to do it.
I support the Libyan people, our armed forces and their families and this deployment, but—
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr Havard), who is Vice-Chairman of the Defence Committee. I hope to return to one of his observations later in my speech.
On Friday, I described the Prime Minister’s drive towards achieving the resolution as showing “courage and leadership”, but today let me first pay tribute to the courage and leadership shown by our armed forces. As John Nichol found when he was enforcing the no-fly zone in Iraq, those who fly into hostile territory take extreme personal risks. As ever, we make decisions that they then carry out, and we owe them as much as they are prepared to sacrifice on our behalf, which is everything. In that context, it was an extreme honour to be in the Chamber to hear the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Kris Hopkins). It was one of the most powerful and moving speeches that I have heard in the House, and I hope that others listen to it as well.
However, political actions, too, show moral courage or the lack of it. The safe thing to do would have been to leave the leadership to the United States or to countries nearer to Libya, probably in Africa. There was a large chance—and I have to say that it was my own expectation—that the resolution would fail. Demanding publicly something quite so controversial shows not only real clarity about what is right and wrong, but a willingness to risk rebuff and potential humiliation in order to do right. I am proud that we have a Prime Minister and a Foreign Secretary who are willing to take such risks.
All the arguments against the resolution were considered by the United Nations in exhaustive detail and, in the end, rejected. Britain’s United Nations ambassador, Sir Mark Lyall Grant, is clearly a persuasive and respected man and is very, very good at what he does. We could have said that it was a matter for the Libyans; we could have left it to them, whatever the cost to civilians. But when the League of Arab States takes a different view, that suggests strongly that we ourselves should consider whether we should be so laissez-faire: our doing so would have had consequences elsewhere. Just as Arab countries were showing themselves ready to throw off tyranny, we would have been sending the message that the correct response for a tyrant is, in Gaddafi’s words, to show no pity and no mercy, and that message would have been heeded throughout the world. I therefore entirely support the motion.
However, this is only the beginning. There are some serious questions that need answering, and they will trouble those who support the motion just as much as they will trouble those who do not. First, what is the end state that we want to achieve? Obviously we would like to see the back of Gaddafi, but that is not part of the United Nations resolution; so with what will we be satisfied? Secondly, in general terms, what is our strategy for reaching whatever end state we wish to be satisfied with, and how will we decide when we have done so?
The right hon. Gentleman is, of course, correct to say that “getting rid of Gaddafi” is not part of resolution 1973, but the resolution that preceded it—resolution 1970, which provides for the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to investigate crimes against humanity in Libya—could easily bring about the arrest and incarceration of Colonel Gaddafi under international law. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that we need to factor that into our strategy?
I entirely agree. On Friday I asked whether the aims of resolution 1973 were impossible to reach unless Gaddafi were gone. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, however, said that the resolution was about giving protection to the civilians, with which I entirely agree. He went on to say that it was about giving the Libyan people the chance to determine their own future. I do not see anything in the resolution that says that, but I think we need to be clear about it.
Thirdly, will further resolutions from the United Nations be needed or sought as a result of some of the questions that will arise during this debate?
The fourth question is about exactly how far the advice of the Attorney-General takes us. We must be absolutely clear about what is sanctioned by the resolution and what is not. The summary of the Attorney-General’s advice is clear, because enforcing the no-fly zone is clearly allowed by the UN resolution. However, we need to know not only that what we are doing is legal but how far, legally, we are entitled to go. We must not leave a chink that will let people say, “The resolution allowed some things, true, but not this.”
Fifthly, will the Treasury be generous? Will my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer allow the Ministry of Defence to concentrate, at least for the next few months, on these operations rather than on its desperate scrabble to find the extra £1 billion, for this year alone, to which it was committed in the strategic defence and security review but which it still has not identified?
Sixthly, does my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary agree that ruling out the use of occupation forces does not rule out the use of ground forces? I am talking not just about search and rescue helicopters, which my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Dan Byles) mentioned during the Prime Minister’s speech, but about identifying targets that are free of civilians.
Seventhly, there is the difficult question of whether the ceasefire applies to the rebels. If the rebels try, in response to breaches of the ceasefire by Gaddafi, to retake areas that he has taken, should we use military force to stop them? That would seem a bit strange, but does the UN resolution permit the facilitation of arms supplies to the alternative Government, and if so should the United Kingdom be helping to provide that?
These are things that we do not know, as a result of the UN resolution, and we might need a further resolution to clarify things. Many more issues will arise, but I support this action. The House will not give a blank cheque to this action, so I welcome the Prime Minister’s willingness to return to the House to keep us updated on something that is moving very fast.
It is an honour to follow the Chairman of the Defence Committee, the right hon. Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Arbuthnot), and the Vice-Chairman, the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr Havard), both of whom I am pleased to serve with on the Committee. We support the Government on the actions they have taken in Libya, which are an appropriate response to the situation. It is often said that for evil to flourish all that is necessary is for good men to do nothing, but doing nothing was not an option for the Government and the international community in this case. In examining the decision that has been taken and the motion we are being asked to support this evening, I feel there are clear differences between the decision we are taking and previous decisions that we have been asked to take. I speak as someone who has consistently supported Governments in the past in the difficult decisions they have had to take about going to war.
May I correct the hon. Gentleman? This House is not taking any decisions: the Government have already taken a decision and have graciously allowed us a debate today. Does he agree that if we are to ensure that we stay properly informed, which the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition have both talked about, we need to resolve the question of the House’s rights in respect of when this country goes to war? As we are the elected Chamber there ought to be something in our Standing Orders or in the Cabinet manual or some other place that gives the Chamber the right to be consulted before or after an action takes place.
I was present on Friday when the Prime Minister made his statement to the House. We had a lengthy discussion at that stage and Members had an opportunity to put their views before we went into the conflict in Libya. I believe that the commitment of the Government in allowing us this debate takes us a further step along that road, and the Prime Minister has given a commitment to keep the House informed of further developments, so at least there are those indications that the Government are taking the House and the views expressed in it seriously.
I congratulate the Foreign Secretary and his colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office—the diplomatic service was mentioned earlier—on the excellent work done in building the international coalition. Again, that is a mark of the lessons that we have learned from the past. The Government have demonstrated a willingness to learn those lessons, and that is perhaps why there is broader consensus today, not just in this House, but in the nation, on the actions that the Government are taking, and we welcome that.
Right hon. and hon. Members have asked: what is the endgame? What will we regard as success? I accept entirely the position, articulated by the Prime Minister, that we do not know what the outcome will be. At the weekend, I had the joy of watching that excellent film, “The King’s Speech”. When Chamberlain announced that Britain was at war with Germany, it struck me that it was a recognition that appeasement had not worked, but no one at that time knew the outcome of the decision to go to war. Very often, that is the case with war: one simply does not know what the outcome will be.
Leadership is about taking decisions that have an element of risk attached and where there is an element of uncertainty about the outcome, but at least in this instance, given the broad international support, there is a prospect of ensuring that we minimise the loss of life in Libya. We have seen ample evidence of that already in Benghazi and other places, where people really were facing a very dangerous situation. We welcome the fact that intervention has already had success, in so far as it has halted Gaddafi in his tracks and preserved human life. What success will look like beyond that remains to be seen. It is for the people of Libya to determine their future, obviously with international assistance and support.
That brings me to my second point, which touches on the comments that the Vice-Chairman of the Defence Committee made about our capacity to do this kind of thing in future. In the strategic defence and security review and the national security strategy, we talk about the need to develop and strengthen our involvement in conflict prevention and resolution. If our armed forces are to be smaller in future, greater effort and resource needs to be put into preventing such conflicts in future, because our involvement in international affairs is often marked by the need to intervene to prevent human tragedy when conflict is well under way. It is right that we do that, but we also need to look to a future where conflict prevention is given greater priority in what the Government seek to do.
Forgive me if this sounds parochial—it is not—but the Prime Minister referred to the involvement of Colonel Gaddafi in supporting international terrorism. We know what Colonel Gaddafi is capable of; he has made it clear that if he remains in power—that is a possible outcome—he will seek retribution against those who acted against him. We in this country know what that can look like. We know what it looked like in Warrington, Manchester, Canary Wharf, Bishopsgate, Enniskillen and Warrenpoint, and on the Shankill road in Belfast, where the weaponry that Gaddafi supplied to terrorists was used to bring to an end the innocent lives of British citizens. We know what the man is capable of doing, not just to his people but to others.
Looking towards outcomes, I welcome the establishment of the dedicated team in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I know that the Foreign Secretary has been supportive of its work. If there is regime change, and Gaddafi is removed by his people, I hope that we will pursue a settlement on behalf of victims in the United Kingdom who suffered as a result of Gaddafi’s state-sponsored terrorism. If we are to send our armed forces halfway across the world to protect the lives of people in Libya, the least that we can expect is that any new Libyan Government will honour the obligations on the people of Libya to recognise the suffering of innocent civilians in this country as a result of what Gaddafi and his surrogates did here, and to support the efforts of the victims to secure a settlement that recognises their suffering.
This is not something that began in Libya, and it will not end in Libya. It came out of a regional situation. It is a response primarily to Egypt and Tunisia. We should be celebrating, but with immense caution, what both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have supported because of that broader regional context. We are talking about not one country and one month, but a series of countries and 30 years. We have to keep our eyes on that, or we will find ourselves in a very dangerous and difficult situation.
The situation in Libya and the no-fly zone are driven, of course, as everybody in the House has said, by our humanitarian obligation to the Libyan people. It is driven by our concerns for national security and, probably most of all—this is not something that we should minimise—by the kind of message that we are trying to pass to people in Egypt or Tunisia. If we had stood back at this moment and done nothing—if we had allowed Gaddafi simply to hammer Benghazi—people in Egypt, Tunisia and Syria would have concluded that we were on the side of oil-rich regimes against their people. We would have no progressive narrative with which we could engage with that region over the next three decades.
I agree very strongly. That is immensely significant, but the meaning of that needs to be clear. The limits that the Prime Minister has set are so important to all of us exactly because of that point. The reason we need the Arab League and the UN on side, the reason we need a limited resolution, and the reason all the comments from around the House warning that the situation should not become another Iraq are so important is that we are talking about 30 years, not just the next few months.
Respectfully, I disagree with the right hon. and learned Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell); the most important thing for us now is to be careful with our language and rhetoric, and careful about the kinds of expectations that we raise. I would respectfully say that phrases such as “This is necessary,” or even “This is legitimate,” are dangerous. All the things that the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have done to hedge us in, limit us, and say, “This isn’t going to be an occupation” are fantastic, but they are only the beginning.
That is a very important danger. The fact that Libya is not just an Arab country, but a country with oil, has to be borne in mind. The kind of legitimacy that we may have had in Kosovo will be more difficult to come by in Libya for that reason.
The biggest dangers—the dangers that we take away from Afghanistan—are threefold. The Prime Minister will have to stick hard to his commitment, because it is easy for us to say today, “So far and no further,” but all the lessons of Afghanistan are that if we dip our toes in, we are very soon up to our neck. That is because of the structure of that kind of rhetoric, and the ways in which we develop four kinds of fear, two kinds of moral obligation, and an entire institutional pressure behind reinvestment. That is why the former Secretary of State for Defence, the right hon. Member for Coventry North East (Mr Ainsworth), is correct to sound his cautions.
What are the four fears? We can hear them already. First, people are saying, “We have to be terrified of Gaddafi. He is an existential threat to global security.” That is the fear of the rogue state. The second fear is the fear of the failed state. Gaddafi is making that argument himself: “If I collapse, al-Qaeda will come roaring into Libya.” The third fear that people are beginning to express is a fear of neighbours. They are already beginning to say, “If this collapses, refugees will pour across the borders into other countries.” The fourth fear is fear for ourselves: fear for our credibility, and fear that we might look ridiculous if, in response to our imprecations or threats, Gaddafi remains. We have seen the same fears in Vietnam, where people talked about the domino theory. We have seen the same fears in Iraq when people talked about weapons of mass destruction. We have seen the same fears in Afghanistan, where people worried that, if Afghanistan were to topple, Pakistan would topple and mad mullahs would get their hands on nuclear weapons.
Those are all the same fears, and the same sense of moral obligation. We do not need to be able to name two cities in Libya to be able to talk about two kinds of moral obligation: our moral obligation to the Libyan people, and our moral obligation because we sold arms to the Libyans in the past. This is very dangerous, and we must get away from that kind of language and into the kind of language that is humble, that accepts our limits, and allows us to accept that we have a moral obligation to the Libyan people but that it is a limited one because we have a moral obligation to many other people in the world, particularly to our own people in this country.
Of course we have a national security interest in Libya, but we have such an interest in 40 or 50 countries around the world, and we must match our resources to our priorities. The real lesson from all these conflicts is not, as we imagine, that we must act. The real lesson is not just our failure, but our failure to acknowledge our failure, and our desire to dig ever deeper. It is our inability to acknowledge that, in the middle east, many people will put a very sinister interpretation on our actions. It is also our failure to acknowledge that “ought” implies “can”. We do not have a moral obligation to do what we cannot do. We have to consider our resources rather than our desires.
What does that mean? This is easy for someone on the Back Bench to say, and much more difficult for a Prime Minister or other leader to say. How do we set a passionately moderate rhetoric? How do we speak to people to support something that is important? How do we acknowledge the moral obligation and the national security questions, but set the limits so that we do not get in too deep? I suggest that we need to state this in the most realistic, limited terms. First, we need to say that our objective is primarily humanitarian: it is to decrease the likelihood of massacre, ethnic cleansing and civil war, and to increase the likelihood of a peaceful political settlement. Secondly, we will try, in so far as it is within our power to do so, to contain and manage any threat from Libya. Finally, we will deliver development and humanitarian assistance. In the end, however, the real message that we are passing on through limited rhetoric is not to the people of Britain but to the people of the middle east over the next 30 years.
Thank you very much, Mr Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak after one of the best speeches that I have ever heard in the House. The hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) speaks with a passion matched only by his personal experience and absolute expertise, so it is with slight trepidation that I follow him in the debate. I want to build on what he has said, however, because I agree with much of it.
I think that everyone here agrees that we must take on our responsibility to protect civilian lives in Libya, that the criteria for intervention has been met and that this is being done on a legal basis. We agree that Gaddafi has violated the conditions of sovereignty that would allow him to protect his own people. He has gone so far against them that it is now incumbent on us to take some kind of action. I also give my absolute support to the United Nations, and to the international community, in helping Libyan civilians. Having said all that, it is a very big leap from the question of whether we should act to that of how we should act. We must not conflate the two.
I believe that we are also clear about the outcomes that we want. We all agree that we want to stop Gaddafi slaughtering civilians in Libya, but how we should do that has not been adequately explored, and the consequences of our actions have not been well enough thought through. Being well motivated and well meaning is not enough to go to war. We must consider carefully all the options and all the possible consequences of our actions. We hope that the outcome will spell liberation, democracy, self-determination, stability and greater security in the world. We are all keeping our fingers crossed that that will happen.
However, north Africa and the middle east have complexities that none of us fully understands. The outcome of the unrest in the region is unknowable. We know one thing, however. I shall take the advice of the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border and be careful about the words I use; I shall not call Gaddafi “mad”. He clearly has some mental health issues, however, and he is a terrifying human being, but he is not stupid. This weekend, he announced on television:
“We promise you a long drawn-out war with no limits”.
He knows that a long war would suit him. We must consider the consequences if the no-fly zone fails. We must also consider the consequences if our own air attacks kill Libyan civilians. Importantly, we must consider the consequences of the Arab League withdrawing its support. It is already wobbling, and if it does not fully support our actions, the consequences could be devastating.
Most importantly of all, we must have an idea of what success looks like. On the “Today” programme this morning, the Foreign Secretary said:
“I think we will know a ceasefire when we see it”.
I do not envy him his job, but those words did not fill me with complete confidence that we know what we are doing. Unless we have a clear idea of all the possible consequences of our actions, including the possibility that what we are doing might make things worse for Libyan civilians, we as a country and as part of the international community will open ourselves up to the accusation that we are acting in order to be seen to be doing something, rather than doing the right thing to protect Libyan civilians.
I will vote for the motion tonight because I see it as a vote of support for Libyan civilians and a vote of support for taking on our responsibility to protect them, but I will do it nervously. I wish the Government well, and I know that there will be very difficult times ahead, but we, the international community, are starting a war. We are doing it for the right reasons, but I do not think that we are clear enough about where it will end.
Eight years ago, this House discussed intervention in Iraq. I was not a Member of Parliament at the time. Instead, I was marching on the streets of Glasgow to protest against that war, along with more than 1 million other people across the United Kingdom. I deeply regret not only the UK’s role in Iraq but the legacy that it has left for UK foreign policy. As the hon. Member for Keighley (Kris Hopkins) so eloquently pointed out, it has undoubtedly made the role of our diplomats much harder in their negotiations with other countries around the world. It has undermined much of what they do. It has also, understandably, made the Government and the British public more sensitive about any UK military action, even when it has United Nations support.
Libya is no Iraq, however. The two are worlds apart. Not only is international action in this case legally justified, but I believe that it is morally right to act to protect Libyan civilians. The situation is very different. In Libya, people are demanding action and the regional neighbours support them. Indeed, the Arab League’s request for help is highly significant.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important not to pigeonhole the support from the Council of the League of Arab States? Its decision of 12 March called not only for a no-fly zone to be imposed, but for the establishment of
“safe areas in places exposed to shelling as a precautionary measure that allows the protection of the Libyan people and foreign nationals residing in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya”.
Does not that provide the important basis for United Nations resolution 1973 to take all necessary measures, including the bombardment, to protect civilians?
The hon. Gentleman is quite right, and the Arab League also made it clear that it did not want a foreign invasion force. It is important that that is explicitly outlined in UN Security Resolution 1973.
As has been discussed, a new principle has developed in the international community of the UN’s responsibility to protect. That was not in place eight years ago, and would not have applied in any way to the situation in Iraq. It is hugely positive that the Security Council is prepared to take action under its responsibility to protect, to make it a meaningful concept, and not just warm words. Turning to the scope of the resolution, it is incredibly helpful that it is not just about a narrow no-fly zone, and represents the need to take all necessary measures to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under threat of attack. Indeed, it explicitly excludes a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory.
This is the most serious type of decision that the House can ever be asked to make, and it is vital that we are well aware of the risks of the action, of which there are many, including the risks to our forces and those of other countries when carrying out the action. We are taking action against Libya’s air defences to try to minimise those risks, but they are always there. We, in the safety and security of the House, owe a huge amount to those troops whom we have asked to take action in the name of the United Kingdom and, indeed, of the United Nations, and we commend them for their bravery.
There may have been optimism in Libya as the news came through of the UN Security Council resolution, but a scenario in which Gaddafi concludes that the game is up, and the Libyan pro-democracy campaigners celebrate a smooth transition to a free society is just a welcome fantasy—it is hardly likely to be the outcome. Even if Gaddafi goes, the building of democracy will be far from easy and, as is more likely, if he does not do so, the endgame is not necessarily clear and we may end up with stalemate. There is a further risk, if there is not a swift conclusion or a clear path to a specific end point, that there will be increased pressure on the international coalition, and it will be difficult to hold the consensus together. Indeed, as has been pointed out, it is perhaps not as firm as it was initially.
There is the risk, too, that Gaddafi will use the implementation of the no-fly zone for propaganda, and will try to paint a picture of the west as imperialist and imposing something on the middle east. From the UK perspective, with our forces overstretched in Afghanistan, we may not be able to react easily with military might to developments that would require a further response. We need to have our eyes open when considering how we will vote on the motion.
Not acting is not a neutral position, as there are huge risks in inaction, too, not least the bloodbath in Benghazi. Indeed, in Gaddafi’s own words, we have heard exactly what would happen. He said that he would show no mercy, and that he would track the fighters down
“and search for them, alley by alley, road by road”,
and house by house. In making that broadcast on Libyan media, he made it clear that his aim was to terrorise his own people and make them cower in submission. As I said last week in Prime Minister’s questions, we must consider the risk of the message that we would send other oppressive regimes around the world—that they could do whatever they liked, and that under no circumstances would the international community act. In what other circumstances would we act? In this situation, there is regional consensus, there is public demand for action, and there is a clear legal position. If we did not act in this circumstance, in what circumstance would we act?
What about the message to other oppressed populations? We have seen the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, and now in Libya, and I am sure people are watching around the world. If we did not act, we would send the message that if populations asserted themselves and demanded their rights, asking the international community for help when peaceful protest was met with murder, their request for help would fall on deaf ears and a lack of international response. What hope in that circumstance could any population have? We would run the risk, if we did not act, of turning Libya into an isolated pariah state, where Gaddafi would have nothing to lose, and would be even more dangerous than before, like a wounded animal. We would run the risk, a few months from now, that we would repeat the collective hand wringing by the international community that we saw after the massacres in Rwanda.
It is not an easy decision for the House to make, and it is not something that we should do lightly. Indeed, it is one of the gravest decisions that we will ever be asked to take as Members of Parliament. It is absolutely right that we scrutinise the detail, but I believe that the House will come to the right conclusion. Action to protect Libyan civilians struggling for democracy is internationally supported, legally justified and morally right.
I am speaking on behalf of my own party and of the Scottish National party. Unlike the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr Donaldson), I have been known in the past for not supporting military action. The Government have taken the right course of action in seeking a mandate from the United Nations. They have secured that mandate, and what is happening is within that mandate, and therefore lawful. I am quite comfortable with that aspect of things, and I acknowledge that a lot of hard work has been done by the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister.
It would be easy to say that it would have been better to hold a debate before taking action, but it was worth taking that action to avoid the slaughter of tens of thousands of people in Benghazi, so I have no problems with that either. Resolution 1973 authorises action to enforce the no-fly zone which, as we heard, is operational, so I take it that there will be a scaling back of aerial bombing by the allied forces for the time being unless and until it is necessary. If, for example, tanks move in against Benghazi, that is a different matter altogether. I am pleased that the no-fly zone is in place and, thus far, it appears to be working.
I would, however, pose the following questions about resolution 1973. Does full compliance with it inevitably require the removal of Colonel Gaddafi? If not, will the Government be satisfied with his remaining in power in some parts of Libya in future? We are concerned that the wording of the resolution, which appears to be quite clear, may become clouded, and we are concerned that the whole matter could be a smokescreen or shorthand for regime change, which would be unlawful under international law, but which became the main war aim of Messrs Blair and Bush, even publicly midway through the Iraq conflict.
This is a different scenario. No one wants to see a long, drawn-out engagement in Libya, so we need to hear from Ministers that there will not be mission creep, and that we are not sliding into another awful Iraq-style scenario. What are the Government’s war aims? When will they be able to say that the job is done? How and when will we know that? I appreciate the fact that the Prime Minister will keep us updated, but we are concerned that the resolution might be deliberately interpreted to meet the aims of western allies, rather than being used for purely humanitarian aims. Questions have already been asked about the consistency of messages from the UK. Sir David Richards, the Chief of the Defence Staff, said that Gaddafi is not a target, and that targeting him would be outside the remit of resolution 1973 and therefore unlawful. However, that directly contradicts what the Defence Secretary said at the weekend, so we need clarity.
What efforts have been made to marshal the humanitarian aid and assistance that will be required as soon as the conflict subsides. One of the awful lessons of Iraq was the absence of forward planning on humanitarian aid and reconstruction, so I should like to press the Foreign Secretary on that. Will the Government confirm that full diplomatic efforts are being made in parallel with any other action, as that is vital? The Arab League has reconsidered its position after its statement a day or two ago in which it opined that the action taken was beyond the remit of resolution 1973. Given its reiteration of support today, it is vital that Arab League countries are at the forefront of these actions and decisions—[Interruption.] No, they are not, which is why I am making the point. If they are not, Gaddafi will claim a propaganda coup, and allege that the allied western powers are in it for their own gain once more.
Is not the right hon. Gentleman deeply concerned that in this exercise western forces are deployed in Libya, yet other than a promise from Qatar, not a single Arab state is deploying troops on the ground, in the air or on the sea to support that action? Does that not lead him to have very deep concerns about the position that he has just expressed?
The hon. Gentleman makes my point. I am trying to be fairly succinct as we have only a few minutes, but he is right. That is of great concern. One hopes the Arab League will shortly convert its support into something more tangible; otherwise it will be a propaganda coup for Gaddafi and his type. That is a vital point.
I hope that shortly we will be there merely as peacemakers. I do not want to see Colonel Gaddafi in any form of control, but if he is to be removed, it must be by his own people, not by western firepower and intervention. The Arab spring has so far shown peaceful success in Tunisia and Egypt. Egypt’s new constitution received 77% support yesterday. However, other protests in Bahrain and Yemen have met with significant violence, including Saudi troops breaching Bahrain’s sovereignty. I share the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), who made the point about arms sales, but I dare say that is a debate for another day.
Suffice it to say that within the strict remit of the resolution, we in Plaid Cymru and our friends in the Scottish National party are prepared to stand by and support today’s motion. We hope there will be no mission creep and no striding beyond the strict wording of the resolution. I echo what has been said by others: it is not an easy task. It will be difficult for the Prime Minister and the Government, but in that task I wish him and the Government well.
I begin by congratulating Members on their contributions, in particular my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Kris Hopkins), who made a wonderful contribution, and my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), who offered a characteristically informed contribution on the present situation in Libya.
I will support the motion this evening for humanitarian reasons. We have already seen the benefit of the action that has been taken on the ground in Benghazi. For that reason alone, I will support the motion. I congratulate the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and everyone involved in securing United Nations support for this action. In the light of Iraq and other events, it is important that there is wide support throughout the Arab world and the wider world.
I would like to step back from talking about Libya and ask what our foreign policy should be. It strikes me that the men on the Front Bench who carry the burdens of the offices of state are in power at a time when foreign policy in the middle east, as dictated by previous Foreign Secretaries and previous officials at the Foreign Office, is crumbling. It was a foreign policy based on the realpolitik that we needed the gas, we needed the oil, and we needed to deal with whoever was in power. We could forget the masses because they did not know what was going on. However, because of the creation of something called the internet—ironically, by the free west—the people on the Arab street, as we keep referring to them, know exactly what is going on. They can see it. That is why the movement has spread from Tunisia to Egypt to Libya to Yemen and now, I fear, also to Syria. Foreign policy needs to be rethought in the light of the fact that people now know what is going on. We cannot afford to be inconsistent or incoherent.
Our approach to Libya is dictated somewhat by what we think we are about as a country. We have a permanent seat on the Security Council, which gives us power, but it also gives us quite a heavy responsibility. We are a free nation. That raises the question of whether we should try to support others who want to be free. I realise the reality of our situation with regard to Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. We are oil-dependent; we are still fossil fuel-dependent in this country. In 1973, after the Yom Kippur war, how did we respond to the subsequent energy crisis? We started digging for stuff in the North sea. How did the French respond? They started building nuclear power stations.
I wonder whether our response should be more than a response to the humanitarian crisis that could have ensued in Libya. Perhaps we ought to ask what our energy policy should be in future so that we do not feel uncomfortable about sanctioning the present intervention in Libya, which I fully support, but possibly not sanctioning intervention in Syria or the wider Arabian peninsula. We are somewhat compromised, are we not, by our dependence on the black gold. Perhaps we should not be. In view of the fact that the technology exists for us not to be so dependent, the sooner we are not, the better.
In closing, I want to share with the House a short anecdote. I was in Syria two or three weeks ago as part of a delegation. I went to the British Council and met some students who had had the opportunity provided by the British Council to learn English. My colleagues and I asked a series of questions about Egypt and Libya. Initially cautious, the students began to open up. At the end of the meeting, one of the students said, in answer to how he viewed the British Council, “It is my bubble of oxygen. It is my opportunity to express myself.” That stays with me. It is why I am happy to support the motion. But if we are to be consistent and coherent and to have the respect of the middle east, we need to start looking at our dependence upon oil and gas. Unless we do so, we will be having these debates over and over again.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee), who correctly highlighted the importance of energy policy to all the issues that we are discussing.
I welcome the fact that debate is taking place today and that there is to be a vote. The traditions of the House have often meant that there have not been parliamentary votes on such matters. I would have preferred a vote to have taken place before troops were deployed, even if it meant the House convening on a Saturday. We need to consider that for the future. However, it is clear that there will be a full debate today, and there was a statement on Friday, when many aspects of the issue were discussed.
I have found the issues very difficult. I am disappointed that the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) was not selected, as it highlights some of the matters that concern me. Yet again, arms that have been supplied by British companies are being used against people internally by tyrants, and weapons that British companies have sold to Libya will probably be used against our own troops. We need to review that again and look at our policy on the arms trade,
The Arab world is going through revolutionary change, with uprisings in country after country, and we must look at the issue in that context. I of course support all those struggling for democracy and against tyrants and have always been appalled by the actions of Gaddafi. I fully understand the unwillingness to stand aside while the innocent are being slaughtered and so have every sympathy with those who feel that we must intervene. However, I have concerns about what we will actually be supporting the Government to do if we vote in favour of the motion. That is partly because the conflict is taking place in north Africa and previous interventions in that part of the world, including the middle east, have been very difficult for the west and inspired huge amounts of hatred towards it. The debate might be quite different if the conflict was taking place in a different part of the world.
I am also concerned because I genuinely fear that we might be entering what could be a long war. The wording of the UN resolution is very wide, and the reference to “all necessary measures” in some ways gives a blank cheque to the powers taking action. In other ways, however, it probably does not give those taking action the ability to do what they really need to do in Libya. We could easily end up being involved in a very long conflict but with Gaddafi remaining in power.
Although I find the issue difficult and think that there are many potential difficulties, as has been highlighted by colleagues on both sides of the House, I think that the key to the decisions we take over the coming period must be our relationships not only with Arab states, but with Arab peoples. Like many colleagues, I am particularly interested in what the Muslim and Arab communities in this country are saying at the moment and what Arab states and peoples will be saying over the coming period. In my short contribution, I wish to encourage Members on the Treasury Bench to listen to the messages coming from the middle east and north Africa, which should be taken on board when key strategic decisions are made.
I have deep concerns about this action and particularly about how long this war might last. We must look at it in the context of the war on terror. My fear is that if we continue with military action, particularly if it is conducted over an extended period by western powers, we might be giving ammunition to the fundamentalists in the middle east and the Arab world whose values are very different from those held by us in this House.
Immediately after the 1986 bombing of Tripoli there were an estimated 12 coups against Colonel Gaddafi. He is deeply despised by the Libyan armed forces. Does the hon. Lady not share my confidence that, given an equal footing and western intervention, he will soon be toppled by his own people?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s contribution and very much hope that he is correct. We must be very alert to the extent to which what we are seeing in Libya is a genuine uprising by all the people or a civil war. When we look at what has happened in Iraq in particular, and also in Afghanistan, we will see that many in the west do not understand the tribal loyalties, but we must be very alert to them.
I have deep concerns about what is happening and very much hope, as the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) has indicated, that it will lead quickly to the overthrow of Gaddafi. Like many people in this country, I am concerned that that might not be straightforward, because previous conflicts have not been. There will be serious political and financial implications if the House decides to endorse the Government’s motion. Domestically, we are seeing huge cuts in public spending, including spending on military equipment. We need to think carefully about the extent to which our constituents will feel that a long and expensive war, which follows on from previous conflicts, is something that they will support Parliament in pursuing. It is important that we take all those factors into account. I welcome the fact that this debate is taking place and that the Government are putting resources into looking at what is happening in the region, but I have concerns that, even if those taking the decisions do so with the best intentions, there might be consequences that we will live to regret.
It is a pleasure to contribute to this debate. I have yet to meet a soldier who has been to war who would rush to another one. It is difficult to experience the horrors of war first hand and ever be the same again. Having been to three on behalf of the previous Government, I am a firm believer that jaw-jaw is better than war-war, but I accept that the time for jaw-jaw sometimes comes to an end and we must act.
I join other Members in commending the Prime Minister for his speedy action to ensure that we have the United Nations resolution, but I am slightly concerned that there are many who breathe a sigh of relief and believe that, because we have the resolution and find ourselves in a very different position from that which the House was in when debating Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia, somehow that is all we need to secure a successful resolution in Libya. I fear that it is not.
One of the best pieces of advice I was ever given was never to go into a room without knowing where the exit is. I fear that we have no clear exit at the moment in Libya. That is understandable; anyone who stood up in this House with a clear idea of exactly how we will exit the situation would be at best naive. That is no reason not to go into the room, but I fear that we will need further UN resolutions before we see the end to the situation. To be honest, I think that what we have before us will probably at best get us to a stalemate. We will achieve much by preventing conflict and unnecessary deaths in Libya, and the House should be proud of this country’s contribution to securing the resolution, but it will not be enough. I would like the Government to continue to play their part in ensuring that we have the grounds on which we can ultimately get the appropriate resolution in the United Nations to secure that exit strategy. It is absolutely clear that we must have greater involvement from Arab nations, because without that we will lack the general support required. I know that the Prime Minister will continue to do his bit to ensure that that is the case.
We often talk about learning lessons from the past. It is of course easy to point to the Iraq conflict and say that one of the biggest mistakes we made was to have no great plan for reconstruction and stabilisation—I must declare an interest as a member of the military stabilisation and support group within our armed forces—but the problem we face now is very different from that which we faced in Iraq, because in Iraq we were able to deploy boots on the ground to assist that stabilisation. We cannot currently do that under the United Nations resolution. We can learn the lessons from the past, from Iraq, and say that we need to have greater reconstruction, but how are we going to deliver that on the ground in Libya?
The cross-departmental stabilisation unit, which the previous Government set up, involving the Department for International Development, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence, is fabulous but under-utilised. Rather like three strands of a rope, it does come together and the effect that the three Departments produce by working together is much greater, but I believe very strongly that the unit must plan now, working concurrently with existing military operations, to ensure that we have in place such reconstruction and stabilisation. Otherwise, the window of opportunity that we missed in Iraq could well be missed in Libya.
I also seek from the Foreign Secretary, when he winds up the debate, reassurances that we are working very closely with the United Nations to ensure that any work the Government can do after this period of military action, to help to reconstruct and stabilise Libya, is done under the United Nations umbrella. It cannot be delivered solely by Western powers; otherwise I fear that we will lose the consent we have, as we did in the past with Iraq.
Looking forward, I am delighted that we are where we are today. We have secured the UN resolution, with much thanks to the efforts of the Prime Minister, but we must not take our eye off the ball. We must look beyond our current operations to ensure that we have in place the bedrock on which we can deliver, far more effectively than we have in the past, the reconstruction and stabilisation of Libya after the event.
I wish we could have had this debate before military action had been taken. I referred to that on a point of order and do not want to dwell on it because time is very short, but we must establish that, when military action is going to be taken, the House of Commons should debate the issue first. There is no doubt what the result of any vote tonight will be, and there would have been no difference if one had taken place on Saturday, but it would have been better if the House had so decided.
The action started late on Saturday. We could have met on Saturday; we have done so on previous occasions. I have been present at Saturday sittings, and in my view that could have taken place, if not on Friday itself.
In view of the Security Council resolution, there is no doubt about the legality of the military operation. The Security Council has clearly carried the resolution, and the issue is not about whether the action is legal, because it clearly must be so, but about judgment and whether such intervention is justified. Much has been made of the Arab League and so on; incidentally, I do not know how many, if any, Arab League countries could be considered democracies. Be that as it may, I accept that none of them is quite in the same category as Gaddafi’s Libya.
Interestingly, the secretary-general of the league, just two days after the heavy bombing, is reported to have said that
“what we want is the protection of the civilians and not a bombardment of more civilians.”
If he is saying that at this particular stage, what is he going to say in the following days if the bombing continues? Undoubtedly, there will be civilian casualties, and yes, Gaddafi will make much of it, make propaganda—one would not expect otherwise. But one does not need to be a military expert to accept that one cannot carry out such military operations without civilian casualties. So while we talk about protecting the people and the reason—the justification—for the operation, we have to recognise that many innocent people are going to be killed or slaughtered, whatever word we use, because the situation cannot be otherwise.
We have spoken and debated from a western point of view, but I ask the House to look at the situation from the Arab point of view—not that of the Arab League, or the Arab rulers, but that of the ordinary people in Arab countries. They want a decent life; that is why the protests grew out of the suicide in Tunisia. Of course they want a decent life; that is one reason why there is such an influx of, and motivation for, immigration. We want a decent life, so do our constituents and so do the people in countries of acute poverty and deprivation. Human beings are the same the whole world over.
Let us look at the situation from the Arab point of view. In Yemen, the regime slaughtered 45 people last week. They were protesting. In Bahrain and Saudi Arabia there is repression, and of course Saudi Arabia actually took military action to intervene in Bahrain. Has anyone suggested that we should intervene against Saudi Arabia? Of course not. Even if repression grew in Saudi Arabia itself, or in Bahrain, one thing would be absolutely certain: the British Government would not draft a resolution with the United States to put before the Security Council of the United Nations. We know that.
It is interesting that every time we go to intervene somewhere there is a reference to the occupied territories: “We are going to do what we can for the Palestinians.” Yet the position of the Palestinians remains the same: more than 40 years of occupation, humiliating conditions, the wall, the deprivation of liberty, and the rest. Has there been any change as far as the Israeli occupation of the occupied territories goes? Not at all, but Prime Ministers—not just this one—always refer to it. I do not doubt their sincerity, but it is interesting as far as the occupied territories and the United States’ support for this current military action are concerned.
Only a few weeks ago, a resolution—
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman, whose speech I am listening to very carefully. He asks us to see the situation from an Arab point of view, but does he accept something that was put very forcefully to me at a public meeting in Qatar; namely, “You intervened in Iraq because it was about your security. Don’t you see that in Libya this is about our aspiration, our democracy, our freedom? Isn’t it time that actually you paid some attention to those things?”? Was not that the Arab street speaking, and not just Arab Governments? Is not that something we should listen to?
Yes. I take the point the Prime Minister makes, but at the same time what about the lack of freedom—the repression—in the other countries that I have mentioned? It is not just Libya. Yes, I concede the point—I have said so—that Gaddafi’s regime is so tyrannical, so bloody against its own people, and there was the arming of the IRA, Lockerbie and the rest of it. Gaddafi was up to his neck in Lockerbie, as well as in the murder of Yvonne Fletcher. I have no illusions on that score; all I am saying is that, from the Arab point of view, they do not quite see the situation as we and, to some extent, I do as a citizen of the United Kingdom.
I have many reservations. I must confess that I am debating with myself. I do not often do so, but I do not see any reason why I should not. [Interruption.] I do not recommend it. I may be somewhat introverted as a personality, but I do not recommend debating with oneself. The debate I am having is whether I should vote against the motion, because I cannot vote with the Government. I will make up my mind, not because it is the Government’s motion but because of the reservations I have expressed. Having expressed those reservations, it would be somewhat hypocritical of me to vote for the motion, if there is a vote tonight—there may not be. If there is a vote, I am debating whether I should abstain or vote against the motion, and I will make up my mind.
I simply say this in conclusion: the action has been taken and we are in, but I hope it is going to be very short. Reference was made to mission creep. I hope we are not going to get involved in the same way as we did in Iraq and in Afghanistan. We are out of Iraq, most people want to see the end of British military involvement in Afghanistan and they certainly do not want a new, long war. That is why I hope so very much that it will be very short indeed. The sooner it ends, the better, because I do not believe, at the end of the day, that it is in the interests of Libya or the United Kingdom.
I join other hon. Members in sending my thoughts and prayers to our servicemen and women who are in operations over Libya and those who will be shortly, and of course, to their families.
As a former soldier, I believe that British soldiers, sailors and airmen should be committed to military action only reluctantly and as a last resort—a point that was eloquently highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Kris Hopkins) in a very moving speech. When they are so committed, that cannot happen in a half-hearted way. They must have the resources—and, perhaps equally importantly, a mandate and a set of rules of engagement—to allow them to do robustly and properly the job they are asked to do.
I believe that the House is broadly united, with the possible exception of the hon. Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick), in believing that in the case of Libya, events had reached a stage where committing our military to enforcing the UN resolution is absolutely the right thing to do. Let us not forget where we were on Thursday afternoon. The momentum was with Gaddafi’s forces, who were advancing on Benghazi, and there was every indication that the city would fall in a matter of hours. Time was pressing. The right hon. and learned Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) has already read to the House the chilling words that Gaddafi himself read out over the radio about what might happen if the city did fall. Uncharacteristically, the United Nations Security Council not only passed a resolution swiftly but passed a robust one, and that robustness is very welcome. I congratulate the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary on the role that they played in securing that very important resolution.
It is vital that we ensure, at every stage of this operation, that we operate at all times within the legality of that UN mandate, and that we retain the broad support of the wider region. Like my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind), I was concerned by the reports over the weekend that Amr Moussa, the secretary-general of the Arab League, had expressed some concerns about the UN mandate. Thankfully, he has now clarified his position, and the Arab League is firmly behind the action that is taking place. I am not surprised about that, given that its early call for international action was perhaps a key moment in allowing the UN to go forward with the mandate. However, this reflects the delicacy of the situation and the urgent need to include a broader alliance of regional forces in the operation that is taking place.
Like the right hon. Member for Coventry North East (Mr Ainsworth), who is not in his place at the moment, I was pleased to hear of the imminent involvement of Qatari assets. I believe that such involvement is essential for the wider legitimacy of the operation, but it demonstrates the need for continuing diplomacy alongside military action and the need for us to be nimble and fleet of foot regarding the diplomatic situation—the shifting sands on which we will be operating. We should not be afraid to pause or freeze military action, if necessary, should we lose the support of the wider region. We must not tip over from doing what we were invited to do into being seen to impose on the region our view of what the solution should be. If that happens, we should maintain our grip very firmly on the big stick while walking a little more softly until we can rebuild the regional coalition.
The right hon. Member for Coventry North East expressed his deep concern following the lessons from Iraq, and he was right to do so. However, the spectre of Iraq should not prevent us from doing what we believe is right and is ultimately in our national interests, as the Prime Minister made clear, provided that we maintain the legal legitimacy and broad regional support. My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North (Mark Lancaster) is absolutely right when he says that this is just the start of the process and that we do not yet know how it will finish, but if we are to stay the course, we must ensure that we stay within the legal framework and maintain the regional support for what we are doing.
It is with some regret that I will be voting for the motion, because committing military forces to action anywhere in the world is regrettable. It will lead to dead soldiers, if not British, then Libyan; we must not forget that whichever side wins, there are casualties on the other side. I trust, however, that the majority of hon. Members will also vote for the motion, because we need to send a clear message tonight that we are united in this—that we as a House support the United Nations resolution, recognise that this action is both legitimate and necessary, and support our servicemen and women in the difficult and dangerous tasks that lie ahead.
I start, as have many others, by thanking the RAF ground crew and pilots and Royal Navy personnel who have seen action in Libya so far. In particular, I draw attention to the RAF crew who pulled back because of their concerns about potential civilian casualties. It is important that we recognise the professionalism of the RAF crews and naval personnel who are engaged out there.
I have had some concerns about this operation regarding civilians, the lack of a clear endgame, and our capabilities, but I have also looked at the potential of this seminal moment. There is a wind of unrest across the middle east. Elsewhere, we have had rose revolutions and orange revolutions, and now we seem to have a mobile phone revolution in which unrest across the middle east is generating a desire for change, openness, reform and greater freedom—a sharing of wealth and opportunity. It is important that we recognise and embrace this moment to take the opportunity of a new relationship with the Arab world. By backing the UN resolution and the no-fly zone, Arab leaders have shown a willingness to stand up and be counted, and to draw their own proverbial line in the sand. We must recognise that there will be a need for clear rules of engagement for all the participants in this endeavour—rules that everyone, including members of the Arab League, will have to sign up to.
The Chairman of the Defence Committee, of which I am a member, raised a valid point about the need to clarify all the circumstances. For example, what do we do if the rebels attack Gaddafi’s troops and he retaliates? Do we attack Gaddafi? That has not been made clear, and this House needs to know. We need to know who is going to take command and control responsibilities, which the US has indicated that it wants to pass on to NATO. Turkey is a member of NATO, and it is concerned about that. What is the Arab League’s role in embracing command and control responsibilities? Where do the enforcement of sanctions, the closing down of Gaddafi’s means of communications and the sharing of intelligence sit in our rules of engagement and our command and control agreements? The big task is going to be one of foreign policy and diplomacy. The Arab League’s continued engagement and movement into partnership with the west will not be easy to maintain, and it has to be one of our priorities. There will be tribal tensions between Shi’a and Sunni.
We have all heard the comments about Amr Moussa and civilian deaths. We must be up-front and acknowledge that civilians will die. A recent report by Save the Children stated that 90% of casualties in war zones are civilians. In the past decade, 2 million children have died, and 6 million have been permanently disabled, directly as a result of conflict. Our rules of engagement attempt to minimise such deaths, but the deaths will happen, and the allies must acknowledge that. We need to ensure that the International Committee of the Red Cross and all UN bodies have access to the war zone to monitor the situation so that we can have clear, neutral and impartial reporting.
It is not clear to me that we have an endgame. We know that there cannot be a foreign occupation force, but there is no clear indication of whether regime change is an objective. The strategic defence and security review states that we will deploy forces on the basis of a number of tests, including whether it is in our national interests. One of the tests is whether we have a “viable exit strategy”. No one today has clarified that exit strategy.
It has been suggested that we should not mention the SDSR. However, over the weekend, I have received many phone calls from members of the armed forces who feel angry. They feel that there has been talk of cuts and of loss of platform. That platform is now being brought into use. There is a concern that we must be up- front and acknowledge that we need our armed forces to take this matter forward for us. We in this House can agree to that, but it is our armed forces who are putting their lives on the line on behalf of the Libyan people and the people whom this House represents.
The more serious the situation, the better this House responds. That has been proved by some very fine speeches today. I wholeheartedly congratulate the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and their respective teams on their incredibly hard work over the past seven days. Many people were sceptical about the possibility of the UN agreeing to a no-fly zone. That agreement is therefore a great tribute to the diplomatic effort. The reasons for military intervention are clear and have been well rehearsed by Members from all parts of the House. I fully support the motion. I pay tribute to our armed forces for what they have achieved in such a short time.
I will turn to the future of Libya. On the BBC World Service earlier today, Rear-Admiral Chris Parry said:
“We really do have to get to grips with what happens afterwards. If we don’t, the military campaign will lose momentum, it will lack coherence and we’ll lose broader political support within the Islamic world.”
The pre-emptive action to establish a no-fly zone is almost complete. Colonel Gaddafi’s forces may well be starved of the necessary support and halted short of rebel strongholds. However, an impasse could follow. We must have a clear and coherent plan for how Libya can get to the next stage; for how the Libyan people, if it is their wish, can overthrow the Gaddafi regime; and for what might follow in its wake.
Before the invasion of Iraq, I criticised the then Government in this House for the lack of a post-conflict reconstruction plan. That was one of the most important reasons for the insurgency and violence following the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, and for the reconstruction of that country taking so long. It is vital that steps are taken now to ensure that that situation is not repeated in Libya.
Gaddafi still has significant capacity to defend himself and the so-called rebel force currently lacks the ability to overthrow him. It is unclear from UN resolution 1973 what more can be done in such a stalemate, as Members in all parts of the House have said. The resolution specifically excludes
“a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory”.
An amendment to that resolution or a new resolution that allowed occupying troops to be sent in would be unacceptable to this House and to this country. There is no appetite among the British public to be drawn into another potentially lengthy conflict. We have been in Afghanistan for almost 10 years and our armed forces, particularly the Army, need a break from conflict. Likewise, I do not think that arming the rebels would be wise. The west armed the mujaheddin in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war, and the consequences of those decisions are being felt to this day. When we arm one side, it is never quite clear where those arms will end up.
It is up to the people of Libya to push through a change of governance, but how they will do so remains unclear. I hope that the talk of a partition in Libya will be quashed at the earliest opportunity. To leave Gaddafi in the west and a new Government in the east would create far greater instability in the future, and would undoubtedly lead to further conflict.
Undoubtedly, the most important factor in planning for the future of Libya is support from its fellow Arab nations. The Arab League’s endorsement of the no-fly zone was clearly pivotal in securing it. We now need more countries to participate in it. I hope that this is the beginning of a process in which the UK, US, France and others work closely with the Arab League and Arab countries to consider the future of Libya. In the near future, Libya will need more assistance from its regional friends and neighbours. They can play a positive and constructive role in rebuilding the infrastructure of Libya and in helping to form a new nation. Ultimately, all members of the coalition need to speak with one voice to show their decisiveness and resolve to see this matter through. That extends in particular to the European Union and its officials.
I hope that this moment will represent a sea change in the Arab world, as the Prime Minister rightly said, and particularly among those leaders who oppress their peoples. After Iraq and Afghanistan, it was perhaps thought that the west would no longer intervene in the middle east under any circumstances. This action has shown dictators and tyrants everywhere in the world that they need to think twice before brutalising their own people and committing war crimes.
I end with a quotation that has been used by the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr Donaldson), but which is apposite. As a former Member of this House, Edmund Burke, said to his electors in Bristol, all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. It would be very wrong for us to do nothing in this case.
It is clear that without UN resolution 1973, there would have been appalling blood-letting in Benghazi. It is also clear that this is not another Iraq, because there is legitimate UN authority for action and there will be no occupying army. It is highly significant that the support has been gained, at least up to now, of the 23 members of the Arab League.
Having said that, and recognising that action of this kind invariably involves high risks, there are several issues on which this House and the British people want assurances. First, although the UN resolution is unquestionably strong, it focuses on the protection of civilians, as the Prime Minister declared repeatedly today. However desirable the end of Gaddafi may be, regime change is explicitly not covered by resolution 1973, contrary to the unfortunate impression that the Defence Secretary has given in a number of interviews that I have heard. There is always a risk of mission creep in matters of this kind, but if we are to retain the support of the wide coalition that has been assembled, it is vital that we are seen to keep strictly to the terms of the resolution and that we do not seek to put interpretations on it that suit our convenience.
A second concern is over the planning for the outcome of the conflict, which certainly did not happen in Iraq. As has been said, there could be a quick collapse if the Libyan military turns against Gaddafi, or there could be a long stalemate if the regime not only declares a ceasefire but observes it and holds on to what it retains in western and southern Libya. In either case, it is unclear at the moment—I wonder whether it is clear to the Government—how any intended outcome will be achieved. If Gaddafi is deposed or killed, given the strong tribal structure in Libya, what is to prevent the country from descending into civil war? How will law and order be imposed in such circumstances, particularly if the Libyan military retains its loyalty to the old regime—as some of it will—and refuses to do a deal with the rebels?
On the other hand, if Gaddafi is forced to end hostilities by the overwhelming force of allied air power, which is very likely, and opts to stay put in western Libya, what then? Will the words “all necessary measures” allow us to sidestep the arms embargo and channel arms to the rebels to enable them to carry on the fight, as the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) suggested earlier? The Prime Minister said on Friday that the resolution’s
“very strong language…allows states to take a number of military steps to protect people and harm those who are intending to damage civilians.”—[Official Report, 18 March 2011; Vol. 525, c. 623.]
But that cannot possibly justify arming one side when the other is observing a ceasefire. Equally, using superior allied air power to knock out Libyan army strongpoints if the rebels were to advance on Tripoli would be way outside the essentially defensive context of the UN resolution. In those circumstances, how would the stalemate be broken?
The third problem, which others have mentioned, is that of maintaining the all-important support of the Arab League, and not only during the initial ferocity of the allied onslaught.
Would my right hon. Friend be sympathetic in theory to the idea of a future UN resolution giving authority to an Arab-led UN force, spearheaded by the Egyptians and the Turks, as a peacekeeping transition force to solve some of the problems that he has mentioned after the first episodes have concluded?
There is nothing to stop those countries joining a coalition now, and I am not at all sure that it requires a further UN resolution. I have to say, I think such a result is unlikely.
The continued support of Amr Moussa, the secretary-general of the Arab League, is critical to the allied claim that this is not just another western war against a Muslim country in the Arab world, but rather action against a tyrant who has lost all regional backing and whose people are rising up against him. There are already ominous signs that Mr Moussa’s support may be wobbling, on the ground that the Arab League saw the UN resolution as an essentially defensive concept. The Arab League must not only be continually consulted but actually listened to, and its needs and demands must be taken account of in allied action.
My last point concerns the precedent that is being set. Of course every case is different, but the western powers and the UN did not intervene when there were arguably much stronger cases for it in Rwanda, in the Shi’ite uprisings against Saddam in southern Iraq in 1991 or in the three-week war and extensive killing in Gaza. As many Members have asked, where will the new doctrine this time around lead?
The argument about selectivity and the application of moral principles has been widely voiced in the middle east. If protecting civilians against a dictator who is seeking bloodily to suppress demand for democratic reform is the prevailing policy, how can that doctrine not be applied to interventions in Bahrain, Yemen, Algeria or elsewhere? That question has been asked repeatedly, but it has not received an answer.
Those are all difficult questions, but I submit that it is better that they be faced up to now, before the initial jingoism—an unpleasant sensation that is being pushed in some of the media—perhaps gives way to dismay and disarray in the weeks and months ahead.