Skip to main content


Volume 527: debated on Tuesday 3 May 2011

7. What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the Government's actions with respect to Libya; and if he will make a statement. (53525)

11. What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the Government’s actions with respect to Libya; and if he will make a statement. (53530)

The UK continues to take a leading role in international efforts to protect civilians in Libya. The case for action remains compelling. Gaddafi’s regime persists in attacking its own people and wilfully killing its own civilian population. We have taken diplomatic action, including co-chairing the Libya contact group, and have played a key role in military action by NATO and provided more than £13 million of humanitarian aid to the Libyan people.

With the no-fly zone over Libya having been in place for more than a month now, will the Secretary of State join me in praising Royal Air Force air and ground crews for their role? What level of sorties is now taking place compared with when the action started?

Yes, I certainly join in what my hon. Friend says about Royal Air Force air and ground crews, and of course the Royal Navy is also playing an important role in the vicinity of Libya. The number of sorties continues to mount, with hundreds over the weekend, and the UK continues to play a very strong role, including through strike sorties. I am pleased to say that more nations have been involved in those strike sorties, reflecting the continued increase in the tempo of the military activity and the strengthening of the international coalition.

What are the outcomes so far of having British military officers on the ground in Libya to advise the Libyan rebels?

These are early stages for the deployment to which my hon. Friend refers. What I can say is that we are confident that that military liaison advisory team is giving real and worthwhile assistance to the transitional national council for the objectives of helping with headquarters operations—how to organise headquarters and logistics—which I set out in my announcement. That is beginning to have some effect, but it is too early to give a definitive account.

Considering the killing of one of Gaddafi’s sons and his very, very young grandchildren, is it not the case that, despite the denials that have been made, the policy of NATO is now first and foremost regime change, and secondly to kill Gaddafi himself?

We want Gaddafi to go, and virtually the whole world wants him to go—let us be in no doubt about that—but the incident to which the hon. Gentleman refers was an attack on a command and control location. NATO has increased the number of air strikes against the command and control functions of the Libyan regime, which in our view is wholly legitimate within the implementation of resolution 1973, and such attacks will continue.

My right hon. Friend will remember that the support of the Arab League, and indeed that of virtually the whole House of Commons, was based on an understanding of the limitations contained in resolution 1973. Is he concerned that even the appearance of targeting Colonel Gaddafi may cause that support to be loosened?

No, and there is no indication that that is leading to such a thing. In fact, I held discussions with the secretary-general of the Arab League, Mr Amr Moussa, in Cairo yesterday. Indeed, the restrictions in the resolution were the product of discussions between him and me on the day that the resolution was passed at the UN. He is supportive of how the resolution is being interpreted, and the Arab League continues to support our efforts. Arab nations will be strongly represented at the contact group meeting in Rome on Thursday, which I will attend. I hope I can reassure my right hon. and learned Friend on those points.

I have listened with care to the Foreign Secretary’s answers. Those on both sides of the House are on record as saying that Libya’s future would be better served with Gaddafi gone.

The Government have stated that the UN mandate allows for the targeting of command and control operations that threaten civilians, but for clarity, will the Foreign Secretary tell the House whether he agrees that the resolution excludes the direct targeting of individuals, and will he publish an updated summary of the legal advice, so that the House can be fully informed on those matters?

I do not think that it would be right to expand on what I have already said about targeting. Whether individuals are targeted depends, of course, on how they behave, and whether they are part of command and control centres, and on where they are at the time. I do not think it right to provide a running commentary on targeting, and nor is it militarily sensible to do so, and I therefore do not want to expand on my earlier answers.

Of course, the Government will consider requests made in the House in respect of the legal advice. We published very clearly a note on the legal advice at the time of the 21 March debate. However, again, I do not think that it would be right for Governments to start to publish legal advice on a regular basis every few days, but we will consider any requests that are made.

Let me see whether the Foreign Secretary can be a little more forthcoming on this question. I understand his earlier answer—he said that it was too early to give a definitive account of the work being undertaken by British military officers on the ground in Benghazi—but will he undertake to publish the terms of reference under which they are operating?

They are operating on the basis that I set out in the House of Commons. Last week, I think, when the House resumed, I made a statement on these matters and set out their purposes in a few sentences. Those are their purposes; they have not gone with an entire book of terms of reference. They have gone as a military liaison and advisory team to give their expertise on the organisation of logistics, headquarters and so on, as set out last week. There is nothing further to expand upon.

In my right hon. Friend’s discussions with the Arab League, did he convey the message that although it rightly called for a no-fly zone over Libya, there is widespread disappointment over its silence on Bahrain and Syria?

Certainly, I discussed the wider region. In particular, we had a detailed discussion about the situation in Syria. I absolutely condemn the Syrian regime’s actions over recent days, particular in relation to the city of Deraa and similar places that have been under attack by the Syrian army. I have urged the Arab League to take a strong line on this. Arab League Foreign Ministers are meeting on Thursday. After the contact group meeting in Rome, they will meet in Cairo, and they will discuss Syria then.

I have regular discussions with Secretary Clinton on the situation in Libya, as on all other international issues. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has similar discussions with President Obama, and my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary was in Washington last week. I look forward to seeing Secretary Clinton in Rome on Thursday.

Has the Foreign Secretary had discussions with his American counterparts on the possibility of arms being smuggled to the Gaddafi regime from countries neighbouring Libya? Has there been an intelligence assessment yet about the possible influence of anti-western elements that might want to exacerbate the situation in Libya?

Certainly, I have had discussions with Secretary Clinton and representatives of many other nations about the smuggling of arms or mercenaries into Libya by land routes. That is under discussion. I do not have anything to announce today about it, but clearly where such things are taking place, they are in breach of UN Security Council resolutions, so we reserve the right to take action. We have made representations to neighbouring countries in connection with these matters, and we will certainly continue to pursue them.

What evidence can the Foreign Secretary disclose showing that the target of the missile strike that killed three of Gaddafi’s grandchildren was a command and control centre, and was being used for military purposes?

I do not believe that it would be right to disclose evidence regarding each separate military operation, for obvious operational and security reasons. It would make those operations more difficult to conduct, if we felt we had to disclose evidence about them.

Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that, as it now appears to the whole world, the alliance has given up on a diplomatic solution, and is now involved in regime change and targeting individuals within the Libyan Government? Does he not think that at some point there will have to be a political solution led by the Arab League and the African Union? Does he not think it time to apply pressure in that direction, rather than continue the bombing of civilian targets?

The hon. Gentleman refers to the bombing of civilian targets, but NATO and its allies have saved probably thousands of civilian lives from the intentions of regime forces that indiscriminately attack civilian targets. If we followed the course he recommended, civilian casualties would be immense indeed, because of what the Gaddafi regime would do to people across Libya. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the international coalition is very strong on, and supportive of, the actions we have taken. As I said, more countries have moved their aircraft into strike activity. Of course, however, there must be a political settlement, but Colonel Gaddafi can open the way to that by departing from power.

Are the Government still in complete agreement with the United States on the clear need for legal authority for any military action against individual targets, however loathsome we may find the individuals?

We are in complete agreement about the meaning of legal advice on these matters, and about the need—I stress this again as I stressed it to the House last week—to stay clearly within the United Nations resolutions in order to maintain the legal, moral and international support we have for these actions. So there is no disagreement between the UK and the United States. However, I do not think it is right to speculate about individual targets.