With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a statement updating the House on the actions we are taking to protect civilians in Libya and other issues of concern in the middle east.
First, I must confirm the sad news that a British national was killed in a bus-bombing in Jerusalem yesterday, which injured over 30 Israelis, eight of them seriously. Her family was informed last night. Our embassy in Tel Aviv and consulate-general in Jerusalem are doing everything possible to assist her family and those who were travelling with her. I know the House will join me in sending our deepest condolences to her family at this tragic time, as well as in expressing our solidarity with the people of Israel in the face of such a shocking and despicable act of terrorism. I condemn this attack in the strongest terms and call for those responsible to be held to account.
I am also gravely concerned about renewed rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza and the deaths of Palestinian civilians in Gaza. I urge all parties to restore calm and to work to achieve the two states that are the only lasting hope for peace.
On Libya, we continue to take robust action to implement UN Security Council resolution 1973, which authorised military action to put in place a no-fly zone to prevent air attacks on Libyan people and take all necessary measures to stop attacks on civilians while ruling out an occupation force. The case for this action remains utterly compelling. Appalling violence against Libyan citizens continues to take place, exposing the regime’s claims to have ordered a ceasefire to be an utter sham.
Misrata has been under siege for days by regime ground forces, although coalition air strikes are helping to relieve the pressure on its citizens, many of whom have been trapped in their homes without electricity or communications, with dwindling supplies of food and water, and facing sniper fire if they venture into the streets, while the local hospital is swamped with casualties. Ajdabiya continues to be under attack, with reports of civilian deaths from tank shells. This underlines the appalling danger its inhabitants would be in without coalition action, as do continued threats by Gaddafi forces to “massacre” residents in areas under bombardment.
There is universal condemnation of what the Libyan regime is doing from the United Nations, the Arab League, the African Union and from Europe. The regime’s actions strengthen our resolve to continue our current operations and our support for the work of the International Criminal Court. Our action is saving lives and protecting hundreds of thousands of civilians in Benghazi and Misrata from the fate that otherwise awaited them. That is what UN Security Council resolution 1973 was for, and that is why we are implementing it.
We are taking the utmost care to minimise the risk of civilian casualties. The only forces acting indiscriminately or deliberately inflicting casualties are the forces of the Gaddafi regime. UK forces have undertaken a total of 59 aerial missions over Libya, in addition to missile strikes. Last night, our forces again participated in a co-ordinated strike against Libyan air defence systems. A no-fly zone has now been established and the regime’s integrated air defence system has been comprehensively degraded. There are no Libyan military aircraft flying.
Over 150 coalition planes have been involved in military operations, including Typhoon and Tornado aircraft from the Royal Air Force. Thirteen nations have currently deployed aircraft to the region. A number of additional nations have made offers of aircraft and other military support, which are in the process of being agreed. Royal Navy vessels are in the region supporting the arms embargo. Those coalition operations are currently under United States command, but we want them to transition to NATO command and control as quickly as possible. NATO has already launched its operation to enforce the arms embargo, its planning is complete for the no-fly zone and we are making progress on NATO taking on all measures under resolution 1973 needed to protect civilians from Gaddafi’s attacks. We need agreement to unified command and control for it to be robust, and we expect to get that agreement soon.
Resolution 1973 lays out very clear conditions that must be met, including an immediate ceasefire, a halt to all attacks on civilians and full humanitarian access to those in need. We will continue our efforts until these conditions are fulfilled, and the Libyan regime will be judged by its actions not its words. Our message to the Gaddafi regime is that the international community will not stand by and watch it kill civilians—that is a view that this House overwhelmingly endorsed last week. To his forces we say that if they continue to take part in Gaddafi’s war against his own people, they will continue to face the military force of the coalition, and if they commit crimes against Libyan people, they will be held to account.
I announced yesterday that Britain will host an international conference next Tuesday to take forward the implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1973. We are inviting NATO allies, key international organisations, including the UN, the Arab League and the African Union, and many Arab nations. We continue to engage in intensive diplomatic activity to increase the multilateral pressure on the Libyan regime. Further UN and European Union sanctions have been agreed targeting Gaddafi and his associates, and those Libyan organisations responsible for funding his regime. As of today, the EU has designated the National Oil Corporation of Libya, thus cutting the regime off from future oil revenues.
We are gravely concerned about the well-being of up to 80,000 internally displaced people. The Secretary of State for International Development is in close communication with his counterparts in international organisations about immediate and longer-term support to the Libyan people. The United Kingdom is beginning preliminary consultations with international partners and organisations on an internationally led stabilisation effort to get Libya back on its feet in the longer term.
It is not for us to choose the Government of Libya. That is for the Libyan people themselves, but they have a far greater chance of making that choice now than seemed likely on Saturday, when the opposition forces were on the verge of defeat and the lives of so many were in danger. We continue to deepen our contacts with the Libyan opposition, including the interim national council based in Benghazi. I spoke to Mahmoud Jabril, the special envoy of the council, on Tuesday to discuss the situation on the ground and to invite him to visit London. In the words of the Arab League resolution, the current regime has completely lost its legitimacy. We call on all those, including the interim national council, who believe that Colonel Gaddafi has led the people of Libya into an impasse to begin to organise a transition process.
In Syria, there are reports of many deaths and the use of live rounds after security forces cleared a mosque in Deraa. We call on the Government of Syria to respect their people’s right to peaceful protest and to take action about their legitimate grievances. We also call for the utmost restraint on all sides, including by the Syrian security forces, during the further protests that have been called for tomorrow in Syria. In Bahrain, we support a process of dialogue leading to political reform that can address the legitimate aspirations of all the people of Bahrain, and I urge all parties to join, without preconditions, the proposed national dialogue.
In Yemen, a state of emergency has been declared by the Government and a day of marches is planned in Sana’a tomorrow. There has been looting and disorder in that city and in other cities, and more than 50 protesters died in Sana’a last Friday. We call even now on the opposition, the Government and the various factions of the Government to engage in dialogue. There are still some British nationals who have chosen to remain in Yemen. Since October, we have been unable to provide consular assistance in Yemen because of the significant terrorist threat. There are many parts of Yemen that the ambassador and his staff are unable to reach. In the light of the rapidly deteriorating security situation and the protests tomorrow, I have temporarily withdrawn part of the British embassy team in Sana’a, leaving a small core of staff in place. Commercial flights to and from Yemen are still operating, although that could clearly change. Should there be further violence in Yemen, normal means of leaving, particularly through the commercial airport in Sana’a, could be blocked, and the ability to travel around Yemen will be severely restricted. On 12 March, we advised all British nationals to leave Yemen as soon as they could. As the situation has deteriorated further since, I want to make it absolutely clear today that all British nationals remaining in Yemen should leave without delay.
The United Kingdom believes that the people of all these countries must be able to determine their own futures. That is why in all of them we argue for reform not repression, and why in Libya, supported by the full authority of the United Nations, we have acted to save many lives threatened by one of the most repressive regimes of them all. This will continue to be our approach as change continues to gather pace in the middle east.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his statement and for allowing me advance sight of it this morning. May I join him in condemning the act of murder witnessed on the streets of Jerusalem yesterday, where a British national lost her life? This atrocity should be unequivocally condemned across the world, and our condolences are with the people of Israel and the families of those affected, including those in this country.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about the situation in Yemen, which the House will know is deeply concerning. Amid the worrying developments, Britain must be consistent in urging the embrace of more democratic government by countries in the region. The Government are therefore right to urge progress on national dialogue with opposition parties and democratic reforms. Now that our embassy team has been withdrawn, for reasons that I fully appreciate, will he tell the House how and through what mechanisms Britain will continue to urge restraint and reform on the Yemini authorities? He explicitly urged UK nationals to leave Yemen, but can he also assure the House that all appropriate contingency plans are in place for any remaining UK nationals?
The BBC reports that at least 10 people have been killed and dozens wounded after Syrian police opened fire on people protesting in Deraa. Given the Foreign Secretary’s very recent visit to Damascus, will he update the House on his views as to whether any further protests are likely to be met with reform or with further repression? Will he also take this opportunity to update the House on any recent discussions the British Government have had with the King of Bahrain about the recent unrest in that country? Will he also inform the House what steps the Government have taken to get a clear picture from the authorities in Saudi Arabia of their intentions towards Bahrain? He will of course understand the risk not only that the legitimate demands of the people of Bahrain are suppressed, but that the country becomes a fulcrum of violence in the region.
I shall now address the pressing situation in Libya. May I associate myself and all Labour Members with the Foreign Secretary’s words of support and admiration for the role our armed forces are playing in this action? Last Monday, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary made the case in this House for enforcing UN resolution 1973. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition made it clear that we support the Government in this action to protect the Libyan people, but it is the Opposition’s responsibility in offering this support also to scrutinise the Government’s actions in implementing the mission.
Many hon. Members on both sides of the House made it clear in Monday’s debate how important it was for this mission to have and to retain broad international and regional support, and therefore welcomed the endorsement of the Arab League. I have been calling for more than a fortnight for a joint meeting of representatives of the Arab League and the European Union, so I welcome today’s news that London will host a meeting next to help to bring together nations involved in this effort. The Prime Minister indicated at the Dispatch Box on Monday that coalition meetings would be a regular occurrence. How regular will they be? Will they be at foreign ministerial or Heads of Government level?
Will the Foreign Secretary update the House on the details of the Arab military involvement that has materialised so far and on what has been promised for the immediate future? He updated the House by saying that the UK has undertaken a total of 59 aerial missions, but House how many missions including planes from Arab countries have been undertaken? Will he also be clearer about the UK Government’s position on the NATO command and control structure for this mission? In particular, will he let us know whether he would wish the operations degrading Gaddafi’s assets to be overseen by an ad hoc group of Ministers or to be answerable to the full North Atlantic Council? Does he agree that although the focus at the moment is understandably on the military pressure, it is vital that we maintain and increase pressure on the regime in other ways?
Given the importance placed by resolution 1973 on the prevention of mercenaries arriving in Libya from other countries, will the Foreign Secretary assess the accuracy of reports that mercenaries are still arriving in Libya? What action is being taken against those countries providing mercenaries and will he tell the House what progress has been made on investigating at least the possibility of an escrow account for Libyan oil money that could contribute to a fund to address post-conflict reconstruction in Libya?
Does the Foreign Secretary believe that a lead individual of international standing should be appointed to take charge of co-ordinating post-conflict planning? The whole House and the public will want to know what work is under way on contingency planning. I heard his remarks about an international stabilisation effort and the work of the International Development Secretary. What, in the British Government’s view, are the structures equal to this immense task, who will lead the work and how will the House be assured that this vital work is being done?
Let me ask one final question. Will the Foreign Secretary assure Members that in the light of the coming recess the Government will ensure that Members are kept updated and, if necessary, that the House will be recalled if circumstances merit that course of action? We continue to support the Government and our armed forces as they act to protect the Libyan people and we will continue with that support and with detailed scrutiny of the Government’s decisions in the days ahead.
I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman and for the continued strong unity across the Floor of the House on so many of these issues—on all of them, at the moment. Of course, he joined me in condemning the bomb attack in Israel.
In answer to the right hon. Gentleman’s questions about Yemen, not all the embassy team has been removed. A core of staff remains, including the ambassador, but as I saw for myself when I was in Yemen last month it is not easy for our staff to move around. Last year, there were two separate attempts to kill our ambassador and the embassy staff, and moving around even in the capital is a very difficult process. To move around more broadly in the country is dramatically more difficult and that is why it is so difficult to give consular assistance to British nationals who might be scattered in different parts of Yemen.
I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that there are detailed contingency plans that can go into operation at very short notice for the evacuation of the British nationals who remain, but if we had to trigger them it would have to be a military-only evacuation, possibly in very difficult circumstances. It would therefore be difficult to be assured that we would be able to bring out everybody from remote parts of Yemen. That is the importance of stressing now that British nationals should leave. There are reports that oil companies are withdrawing their staff from Yemen. I want to emphasise that we will give every assistance we can and that we have contingency plans ready to go at any time, but that does not guarantee that we could get everybody out.
The right hon. Gentleman asked whether further protests in Syria are likely to be met with repression. The evidence is that yes, they would be. Of course, we will use all our diplomatic efforts with the Syrian authorities to say that they should not do so, but that is what has happened and there are reports this morning that up to 25 people have been killed in the protests over the last couple of days.
We are in regular touch with the Government in Bahrain. I think I mentioned a few days ago that the Prime Minister spoke to the King of Bahrain and I spoke to the Foreign Minister a week ago. I hope to speak to the Crown Prince of Bahrain again shortly about the status of the national dialogue that he attempted to launch. Clearly, there have been difficulties on both sides of the argument in Bahrain as regards participating in that national dialogue and it is important that they are all ready to enter into it. The forces that have entered Bahrain from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other Gulf states are there legitimately at the invitation of Bahrain. They are not engaged in crowd control or in dealing with the protests, but are safeguarding installations. I discussed this at length with Prince Saud, the Saudi Foreign Minister, who was here with us two days ago. The British Government are encouraging dialogue in Bahrain and we look to Saudi Arabia to encourage that as well, and we look to all the Gulf states to play a constructive role, which I believe they wish to do.
On the right hon. Gentleman’s questions about Libya, the work of our armed forces continues to enjoy strong international and regional support. I think we should be clear about that. There were some doubts when the House debated the matter on Monday about the position of the Arab League, but it has subsequently made statements giving robust support for the implementation of UN resolution 1973.
We are still working out some of the questions about command and control. The simplest and most effective solution is for all the operations conducted within NATO to come under the North Atlantic Council and for other countries to plug into that and to work with it. We have made a great deal of progress, as I said in my statement. We should understand that this is a new coalition, put together last week and very quickly, for obvious reasons. There are bound to be issues to sort out in its management, but we are getting through them pretty well. I will discuss the remaining issues with Secretary Clinton and with my French and Turkish counterparts later this afternoon to try to iron out the remaining difficulties with future NATO command and control. I should stress that representatives of the nations involved in this operation can meet in Brussels on a regular basis, so the regularity of the meetings is established.
On Arab involvement, the forces of Qatar are taking part in the missions to enforce the no-fly zone. Other Arab nations have not yet sent a military contribution, although they remain strongly supportive of the mission. We are still in discussions with some of them about sending further military contributions to those operations. The right hon. Gentleman is quite right to draw attention to reports of mercenaries entering Libya. Given the danger they might pose to civilians, they do so at their peril and they should be aware of that.
I mentioned how the designation of the National Oil Corporation of Libya means that future oil revenues are stopped. Oil has not been lifted from Libya over the past few weeks, so the flow of oil cash to the regime has stopped for the moment in any case. We are still discussing the idea raised by the right hon. Gentleman about an escrow account.
My right hon. Friend the International Development Secretary is working hard on the post-conflict situation. In our view, this must be a unilateral and UN-led effort and we will be able to have discussions about that with other nations at the conference next week. Of course, we will want to keep the House updated. I and my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Defence and for International Development will make further statements as necessary. The Leader of the House has announced a debate just before the House rises for the recess in the week after next. It is probably too early to speculate about the recall of Parliament two weeks before the recess, but we will of course do whatever is necessary to keep the House informed.
Order. Many colleagues are seeking to catch my eye, but the House might like to know that no fewer than 35 hon. and right hon. Members are seeking to contribute to the Budget debate, so economy is of the essence if I am to be able to accommodate the level of interest.
I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s statement and, in particular, his point about sanctions being strengthened and the National Oil Corporation being listed. That should focus minds. He was quizzed quite hard last week about the arms embargo. Has he reviewed the position and is there any way that support in some form or another can be given to the rebels, who are facing a fairly unequal battle?
We are continuing to review the position and I do not have a new announcement to make to the House or to my hon. Friend about that. There are a variety of legal opinions about the relevant paragraph of the UN resolution. Whatever we do, on this and all the issues involved, must be in strict accordance with the UN resolution and we must maintain the legal, moral and international authority that comes from that. We will not do anything that we think would transgress that resolution. We are looking at it in that light and I will update the House when we have come to any conclusions about it.
The Foreign Secretary mentioned the meeting to be held in London and said that the African Union will be involved in it. The African Union is specifically mentioned in Security Council resolution 1973 as having a mission that is engaged in the area. Will he update us as to whether there is potential for the African Union to play a positive role in getting a peaceful resolution to the conflict in the near future?
Yes, there is a role, but a peaceful resolution would require the Gaddafi regime to observe resolution 1973. If that happened, all concerned could be in discussions with the African Union, but that requires a ceasefire, an end to violence and an end to attacks on civilians. There is certainly a role for the African Union and I hope we will be able to discuss that with it. I do not yet have confirmation of who will attend the conference in London, but it has been invited to attend and this is exactly the sort of thing we want to discuss with it.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will excuse me if I press him a little further on the issue of command, which has both military and political implications. While it is clear that the present arrangements have not impaired in any way the military effectiveness of the operations, it is equally clear that they are not sustainable in the long term. Will he tell us what undertakings, if any, he has received from Secretary of State Clinton to the effect that any transition will not be hurried and will be both effective and smooth?
My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right to point out that the discussions about this issue have in no way impaired the military operations that have taken place so far. All the nations concerned have that very much in our minds during our discussions and our absolute priority is to implement the resolution and get these organisational questions sorted out while we are getting on with that. I have already mentioned in my response to the shadow Foreign Secretary that I will discuss these issues with Secretary Clinton later today. I think there is a common determination among all the nations involved to sort this out. We are in the business of seeking not that kind of undertaking but a solution regarding the command and control of operations going forward, and I hope that we are close to achieving that.
Is it not clear, given the brutal suppression of protests in Bahrain, that most Gulf countries do not recognise the need for the sort of political reform that the Secretary of State has spoken about? In order to maintain support for what we are doing in Libya, which I strongly endorse, do we not need to be wholly consistent in our approach to democracy and human rights in the middle east?
We do need to be consistent, but we also need to recognise where countries make reform efforts. If I may say so, it is something of a generalisation to say that the Gulf countries do not recognise the need for reform because many of them have embarked on such reform in recent times. Kuwait has introduced considerable reforms, including the election of its Parliament, the Sultan of Oman has made very substantial reforms, including major changes in his Government in the past few weeks, and Prince Saud was describing to me, when he was here on Tuesday, some of the reforms being contemplated in Saudi Arabia. I think there is a recognition, including in the Gulf states, that it is necessary across the Arab world for reform to take place. That reform will be at a different pace and of a different nature according to the culture of each country, but I think they are seized of that fact. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister gave a powerful speech about this in the Kuwaiti Parliament last month and there has been a strong measure of support for that among the Gulf states. In addition, other countries, such as Morocco, are adopting very serious reforms. That kind of peaceful evolutionary reform is what we have to encourage, rather than the violence we have seen in so many countries.
Will my right hon. Friend say something about the relationship between the action we are taking in Libya and the strategic defence and security review? Might we need to reconsider some of the decisions taken in that review, such as the scrapping of some reconnaissance aircraft and even some ships?
The Prime Minister has made the position on this clear. It was precisely in order to be able to deal with more than one situation or conflict at a time that we came to the conclusions we did in the review, and that means we are able to continue our operations in Afghanistan while also conducting this operation. That is also why we chose to adopt the adaptable posture in the defence review, as my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary has often explained, and why we chose to retain such a wide spectrum of military capabilities, so that many of them could be expanded in future if necessary. We must continue to work in the framework of our defence review. We are able to bring the necessary equipment into this operation with the forces we have now, so the issues that my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Arbuthnot) raises are really for the longer term.
Both the Foreign Secretary and the shadow Foreign Secretary have spoken about the critical situation in Yemen and we know that it is going to get worse with the declaration of a state of emergency. We appreciate the efforts being taken by the Foreign Secretary, but is it not necessary to try to bring sides together? May I urge him or the Prime Minister to make that call to the President of Yemen to see whether we can get both sides together? We are hugely respected there and this is our time to act.
Yes, I will absolutely respond to the right hon. Gentleman’s urging. As he well knows, there has been no shortage of effort on the part of this country to do that urging. That is why I went there myself last month and met not only the President but opposition groups and urged them all to be generous to each other in their dealings. I cannot say that our urging has yet been heeded, but we will continue it over the coming days, doing exactly as he says.
With unrest spreading throughout the region and civilian casualties rising at the hands of autocratic leaders, what circumstances would need to exist, if any, for Britain to instigate or consider instigating a no-fly zone in other countries?
I must again stress something that the Prime Minister has explained: just because we cannot do everything does not mean that we should not do something where there is a particularly grave situation that particularly offends our belief in human rights, especially the right to live. That has been the situation in Libya. Whatever we do in any other country, we will always be guided by the criteria we established before the passing of the UN resolution, which are that there must be a demonstrable need and a clear legal basis for any British involvement and that there must be strong support from within the region. The establishment of those principles has put us in a very strong position in relation to the crisis in Libya and those principles would guide us elsewhere.
In condemning utterly the barbarous attack on the bus stop in Jerusalem, with the consequent loss of innocent life, and the Israeli attacks in Gaza that have resulted in the deaths of many civilians, including a grandfather who was playing football with his teenage grandchildren, will the right hon. Gentleman make it clear to the Government of Israel that Israel cannot be exempted from the wave of yearning for emancipation that is sweeping the middle east? Will he also make it clear that unless the Israeli Government respond, there will be no peace for Israel and the country’s future existence will be placed in jeopardy?
As the right hon. Gentleman will have heard in my statement, I condemn all those attacks and the deaths on both sides—of Palestinians in Gaza and of those who died in the terrible terrorist attacks on Israel in recent days. In the middle of the important developments and dramatic change in the middle east, I have underlined and will continue to underline that those events add to the urgency of the peace process. It is important that both Israeli and Palestinian leaders understand that and that they are prepared to make the necessary compromises to get direct talks towards a two-state solution going again. I have put that in my own way, but what I have said is strongly in accordance with the sentiments the right hon. Gentleman has expressed.
When the Government decided to withdraw the last of our carriers and the Harrier force with it, they did so at the last minute and for financial reasons. Now that both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have confirmed what I sought to establish previously—that these operations will receive extra funding from the Treasury reserve—will the Foreign Secretary have urgent discussions with the Secretary of State for Defence on reactivating HMS Ark Royal and some of the Harriers, because, I assure him, people who know about these matters know how versatile and valuable such a capacity would be?
No. I have urgent discussions every hour or so with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, but it is important to implement the strategic defence and security review and to bear in mind that fundamental to our national security is the restoration of our national finances. Yes, we have had to do some things that in an ideal world we would not have done, and the defence budget has had to be controlled, but we have been able to do, and continue to do, what is necessary in Libya without the equipment to which my hon. Friend refers. Our operations are conducted by Typhoon aircraft and, for ground attacks, by Tornado aircraft. These are flying from land bases in the Mediterranean and are able to conduct the operations very easily without, in this case, the need for an aircraft carrier.
Like everyone else, I deplore Gaddafi’s continued military offensive, which undoubtedly is costing the lives of many civilians. Will the Foreign Secretary tell us whether any diplomatic efforts are being made by countries such as Russia, China, and particularly Turkey, to see what can be done to persuade Gaddafi to stop the fighting?
I think that the whole world is pretty much united on urging Gaddafi not only to stop the fighting, but to leave the scene. That is the view even of countries that did not support the UN Security Council resolution. This is a worldwide view. However, Colonel Gaddafi is clearly not easily persuaded to engage in a dialogue to reach out to the opposition. We hope he will see that the situation is such that it is necessary for him to go, and that is the only way forward for the Libyan people. The countries to which the hon. Gentleman refers are certainly of that opinion as well and certainly do not want the Gaddafi regime to continue.
On that very point about the Gaddafi regime continuing, some of us were briefed this week by the BBC journalist who had been detained in horrendous circumstances in Tripoli. He is clearly no apologist for the regime, but he said that it was remarkable how quiet Tripoli was, with demonstrations confined to one suburb and engaging only 200 or 300 people. Clearly the people there are cowed and massive subsidies are being poured at them. As some of us have asked constantly, what will happen if Gaddafi simply beds down in Tripoli? What is the game plan? What are we trying to achieve? Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that we are only on a humanitarian operation to protect the people of Benghazi and no more?
Almost, as it is not just the people of Benghazi we need to protect. Although UN resolution 1973 specifically mentions Benghazi, it also calls for the taking of all necessary measures to protect the civilian population and populated areas in other parts of Libya. That is our mission. Our military mission is defined as clearly as any military mission has ever been by a UN resolution, and we will stick to that resolution. Clearly it is highly desirable for Gaddafi to go, as we have said for many weeks, but in military terms what we have set out to do is enforce the resolution. That means protecting Libya’s civilian population, attempting to bring about a ceasefire and not putting any occupation force on to any part of Libyan soil. We will stick strictly to the resolution.
Since Turkey has said it would supply ships and submarines to enforce the arms embargo, that leaves Germany as the only major NATO member state that is not contributing to the actions in Libya. Will Germany be invited to the conference next Tuesday?
Yes, Germany will be invited. It is a crucial partner of this country in the European Union and in NATO. The different countries in NATO have of course taken varying decisions about their level of participation, and indeed on whether to participate, but Germany has not been unhelpful or obstructive and has not attempted to block the work we need to do in NATO. It set out its position at the UN Security Council and did not vote for the resolution, which we must respect, but it has not been unhelpful in so many other ways. I hope that it will attend the conference in London.
I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s statement, particularly the positive news of contact with the interim national council in Libya. I know that a review and revocation of arms export licences to Libya has already taken place, but will all arms export licences to the Governments of Yemen, Syria and Bahrain now urgently be cancelled if they have not been already?
My hon. Friend will be aware that more than 100 licences have been revoked in the case of Libya, that many have been revoked in the case of Bahrain and that successive Governments have been extremely careful about the licences granted in the case of other countries, such as Syria. We constantly review these licences in the light of changing developments in the middle east. I do not have a new announcement to make about that today. If we think it necessary to revoke other licences for the countries he mentioned, we will certainly do so, and I will keep the House updated on that.
May I thank the Foreign Secretary for the promptness and fullness of his briefing to the House? We look forward to the conference next Tuesday, for which we expect a similar briefing. Will he take that opportunity to make it quite clear that, in so far as we know what the end game will be for this complex situation, the commitment of British ground troops will not be part of it?
As I said in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh), we will stick very strictly to the terms of the UN resolution. As the hon. Gentleman is aware, that rules out any occupation force in any part of Libya. He can be absolutely assured that there will be no invasion of Libya. To give a fuller answer, there have already been occasions on which we have sent special forces into Libya, for instance to rescue the oil workers in the desert three weekends ago. We can neither exclude such necessary, small-scale things, nor anticipate what might come up, but we are not preparing for a ground invasion of Libya and will not be doing so.
My right hon. Friend was right to underscore the Government’s support for the work of the International Criminal Court, but will he expand a little on his understanding of what the ICC is doing to ensure that those close to and around Gaddafi appreciate and understand that if they are responsible for directing attacks that inflict civilian casualties, they too stand liable to be indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity?
My hon. Friend makes an important point, and every time we make that point we are doing what he is calling for, which is stressing to the people involved that they may well have to answer in future to the ICC. The prosecutor of the Court has begun the necessary investigations, so material can now be gathered and sent to it. The best way to communicate that is through the media, which is why my right hon. and hon. Friends and I, and our colleagues in other countries, have stressed very strongly in the international media, including al-Jazeera and other channels, that this is what is now set in train and that people must remember when they contemplate any crime or atrocity in Libya that the reach of international justice can be very long.
It means the implementation of the UN resolution. I cannot stress this strongly enough—that we operate within international law and under the mandate of UN resolution 1973. So success requires a real ceasefire, not the fake ceasefires announced by the Gaddafi regime in recent days, and a real ceasefire means disengaging from areas of conflict, ceasing attacks on civilians, an end to violence and harassing and menacing civilians, and the full establishment, which we have now achieved, of a no-fly zone over Libya. Those are the requirements of the resolution, and that is the mission that we are embarked on. It is too early to say what will happen when that point has been achieved, because we are still working hard to achieve the protection of civilians and the bringing about of a ceasefire, but that is as far as our military mission in Libya goes.
The country will welcome my right hon. Friend’s remarks about the tragic loss of the innocent British citizen to Palestinian terrorists in Jerusalem yesterday, but on his remarks about Syria, and given that the Syrian Government attacked a funeral in recent days, what steps can the British Government take to make sure that we do not see a repeat of the tragic massacre in 1982 of thousands and thousands—up to 40,000—Syrians by the Assad regime?
The steps that we can take at the moment are diplomatic steps to make it clear to the Syrian Government that the forcible suppression of protest and the killing of protesters is wrong, morally and legally, and also very unwise, because experience throughout the middle east is showing that violence on the part of the authorities does not bring about a solution to such issues or to disorder in various parts of the region. We will of course continue to stress that to the Syrian authorities and redouble our efforts to do so.
I have received strong representations from the Shi’a community in Cheetham Hill and Crumpsall in my constituency. It is extremely concerned about a possible deterioration of the situation in Bahrain and worried about the protection of the Shi’a community there. Can the Foreign Secretary give any assurances, beyond supporting increased dialogue, about how the British Government could protect the Shi’a community in Bahrain?
The sectarian aspect of the problems in Bahrain is deeply worrying, particularly if the stand-off continues and tensions are raised on both sides of that sectarian divide—there are clearly concerns on the Shi’a and Sunni sides of it. It is in the interests of the Shi’a community in Bahrain for a dialogue to be successful, because when we think about it we find that there is no other way forward for Bahrain, other than a constitutional settlement between the two sides of that sectarian divide. It is a country with a Shi’a majority, but it has a Sunni minority of about 40% of the population, so they have to find an agreed way forward if the country is to function.
That is why we stress the need for dialogue, but we do not just stress the need for it here: we urge it on the leaders of the Government in Bahrain, through our regular contacts with them, and our ambassador has also urged it through all our contacts—and we have good contacts—with the opposition groups and human rights organisations in Bahrain. We are one of the countries with the strongest such contacts, so we are taking practical action on both sides to encourage dialogue.
The scale of the foreign policy challenge in the middle east and in north Africa is immense, with the UN action in Libya and the situation in any one of Bahrain, Syria and Yemen having the potential to become a major crisis. Despite that, will the Foreign Secretary assure the House that he will not take his eye off the ball elsewhere, particularly in providing vital support to the democracy building in Tunisia and in Egypt which is crucial to the future stability of the whole region?
Yes. My hon. Friend is quite right, because overarching all that we have discussed in today’s statement is what I referred to in the House on Monday: the need for a bold, ambitious and historic programme on the part of the United Kingdom and the European Union to provide a magnet for positive change to the countries of north Africa and the middle east. Although today we are discussing the detail of what is happening in individual countries, that is all under the umbrella of a European policy towards the region that has to be drastically revised to come up with solutions and offers that match the unprecedented—in this century—challenge that we all now face.
With so much international attention focused on Libya for obvious reasons, other regimes in the region appear to think that they can use military force against civilians with impunity. The Foreign Secretary has commented on the matter already, but what specific steps will he take with Syria, which is killing its civilians in Deraa, and with Israel, which is almost daily killing civilians in the Gaza strip?
In answer to earlier questions, I have made clear the position on Israelis and on Palestinians, and the need for them all to make the necessary compromises. We have also discussed Syria and the strong messages that we have sent to the Syrian regime, but the hon. Gentleman does not provide an exhaustive list. At this time, Iran has imprisoned opposition leaders and become one of the most oppressive regimes in the world. It also has one of the worst human rights records in the world. We will of course vigorously continue to raise those issues as well.
I cannot see—so many Government throughout the world have said this so many times over the past few weeks—any peaceful or viable future for the people of Libya if Gaddafi is still there. It is more than desirable; I put that in its politest form. It is essential that he gets out; it is essential that he goes. I hope my hon. Friend will not mistake in any way the strength of our message and the international community’s message on that. Let me also stress, however, as I did in answer to the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel), that our military mission is to implement the United Nations resolution, and that we will stick strictly to its implementation.
Given the responses to earlier questions, how would the Government deal with a situation where it became clear that Gaddafi was going to stay in power for the foreseeable future? Would we leave our forces and sanctions in place indefinitely?
I am not sure that in this situation it is helpful to get into all the hypothetical scenarios of what may come. Clearly, we are planning for scenarios, particularly on the humanitarian and stabilisation side, as I said, but we have to concentrate on the implementation of the resolution and on taking such work forward. A whole variety of scenarios could be foreseen, but to get into providing a commentary and speculating on each of them would be helpful neither to our forces involved at the moment nor in achieving our immediate objectives.
May I congratulate the Foreign Secretary on the work that he not just did, but continues to do, with the UN in making sure that the action is wholly legal? It restores faith in this place after the years that have gone by. Has he considered, or has an assessment been made of, the potential situation in Lebanon, and is the diplomatic service in high-level talks with Israel to ensure that that border situation does not exacerbate the situation crossing the region?
My hon. Friend draws attention to another point of tension in the middle east, one that I discussed intensively with President Assad when I visited Syria at the end of January. Of course, we want to see stability in Lebanon. In particular, we want to see the special tribunal for Lebanon continue to conduct its work, so that it is clear that crimes cannot be committed with impunity there; and of course, we want to see stability on that border. It underlines the importance and urgency of taking forward the middle east peace process, as several other hon. Members have said, because that is one way to bring about a greater assurance of stability between Israel and Lebanon.
I join the Foreign Secretary in condemning the terrorist murder in Jerusalem, and equally the deadly attacks on civilians on Gaza.
The Foreign Secretary has said that the conference on Tuesday will be very much aimed at looking at the whole of the UN resolution. The second item of that refers not only to the high delegation from the African Union but to the UN special envoy. It is also the part that refers to a peaceful and sustainable solution. Will he ensure that that is given due consideration on Tuesday, because there needs to be greater understanding about its meaning and its prospects, and we need to ensure that any pursuit of it is not undermined by any military measures undertaken through other mandates in the resolution?
Yes—basically. It is important to have regard to all elements of the resolution and to ensure that all the international organisations to which the hon. Gentleman refers are involved. I would stress that the creation of a ceasefire and bringing about an end to violence, which is what we are engaged in now—the protection of civilians and implementing those aspects of the resolution—are essential to the kind of work to which he refers, because at the moment there is not the right atmosphere for any of that other work to take place. We will have regard to the whole of the resolution at the meeting in London.
Would the House be correct in interpreting the Foreign Secretary as saying, in effect, that if there was a ceasefire—a real ceasefire—and attacks on civilians ceased and there was no danger to them, a divided Libya would be a successful outcome of the operation?
No. Of course, we support the territorial integrity of Libya; I stress, though, that it is our military mission that is laid down in the resolution. That is because we will always stay within international law, with international support and with regional support—and that very much continues to be the case. We are not looking for a divided or a partitioned Libya. We want the people of Libya to be able to determine their own future, and it is only in the event of an end to violence, and the ceasefire that the resolution calls for, that they will be able to do that.
With specific reference to the Foreign Secretary’s update on the involvement of the Arab League, will he clarify whether the Qataris have been involved in flying over Libya?
These assets belong to the people of Libya, and so in all normal circumstances—if we can describe any of these circumstances as normal—they would be available to a future Government of Libya. They are frozen, not confiscated. In this case, of course, they are very substantial. In the UK, we have frozen £12 billion of assets; in the United States, I think there were $30 billion of assets. That just shows that the Libyan people could have a much more prosperous future if they had a more economically open and politically free approach. Those assets are held for them.
Now that the no-fly zone is operational, does the Secretary of State agree that there is little justification for the continuation of bombing of Libyan infrastructure and idle assets, and that offensive enforcement of a no-fly zone should be targeted only at mobilised Libyan Government military forces?
Operations have been directed against military forces or against the command and control of those forces. As my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary always stresses in our meetings, we take the greatest care to avoid civilian casualties, and there have been no confirmed civilian casualties caused by coalition activities so far. We do everything we can to minimise the risks of that. Certainly, the air strikes and missile strikes that we have authorised are on military targets—on air defence systems, on forces that are threatening the civilian population of Libya, or on the command and control of those systems. Those are all wholly legitimate targets.
As I mentioned earlier, there is a regular meeting in Brussels between contributing nations—representatives of the countries involved. Many of those are, for instance, permanent representatives to NATO. That takes place all the time. We are also, at a ministerial level, in daily touch across the coalition through telephone calls and visits from one country to another. The conference that we will host in London on Tuesday is at the broadest level—the highest strategic level—to look at future stabilisation and humanitarian questions, as well as at what is going on in Libya now. I assure the hon. Gentleman that all those things together form a mass of consultation and involvement—with daily conversations with the Arab League, for instance. The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), and I speak to Amr Moussa, the secretary-general of the Arab League, pretty much every day. There is extensive consultation.
May I push the Foreign Secretary a little further on any international stabilisation force? What is the Government’s thinking on which UN agency should lead any post-conflict work, and which individual would lead such a potentially huge task?
Those are perfectly legitimate questions, but slightly in advance of where we have got to. My right hon. Friend the International Development Secretary is engaged in discussions about that. There are a variety of agencies and a variety of individuals who can lead it. That is one of the things that we will be able to discuss with our partners at the conference next week.
The logic is that it will still be possible to get an arrest warrant if there is a reasonable chance of prosecution. It makes this country rather ridiculous if people can get an arrest warrant for people from other countries where there is no realistic chance of prosecution. It is therefore important to change that law. The law as it stands has been abused in relation to visitors from several other countries. It was abused, in my view, when there was a threat to the proposed visit of Mrs Livni to the United Kingdom. She is an Israeli politician of great importance, and a strong advocate of the peace process, but she feels unable to visit the United Kingdom because of that law. If we want, as we do, to be able to engage in pushing forward the peace process, we need such people to be able to visit the United Kingdom.