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Middle East and North Africa

Volume 727: debated on Tuesday 26 April 2011


My Lords, with permission, I will repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary in another place.

“Mr Speaker, with permission, I will update the House on recent developments in the Middle East and north Africa.

Britain has continued to take a leading role in international efforts to protect civilians in Libya, and the case for action remains compelling. Gaddafi’s regime persists in attacking its own people, wilfully killing its own civilian population. Our strategy is to intensify the diplomatic, economic and military pressures on Gaddafi’s regime and, since the House last met, we have made progress on all those fronts.

On the diplomatic front, I co-chaired the first meeting of the Libya Contact Group in Doha on 13 April. The 21 states and seven international organisations represented demonstrated clear unity, with participation from across the Arab world and the African Union in attendance. The group agreed that Gaddafi’s regime had lost all legitimacy, that the National Transitional Council should be offered further support and that the UN special envoy should take forward an inclusive political process. I will attend the next contact group meeting in Rome on 5 May.

At the NATO Foreign Ministers meeting in Berlin on 14 and 15 April, I joined colleagues in showing our determination to increase the pace of military operations to enforce UN Security Council Resolution 1973. The 28 NATO member states and six Arab countries that attended, 16 of which are engaged in military action, agreed a common strategy. That is an important milestone in world affairs, a sign of a growing ability to work across traditional regional divisions and a demonstration of the breadth and unity in the international coalition in support of the Libyan people.

Economically, since my Statement on 4 April, further Libyan entities have been sanctioned and the regime is now subject to some of the most comprehensive economic sanctions ever agreed by the United Nations. On military matters, since NATO assumed full control over all military operations on 31 March, more than 3,500 sorties and 1,500 strike sorties have been conducted. This action has seriously degraded Gaddafi’s military assets and prevented widespread massacres planned by Gaddafi’s forces. They remain unable to enter Benghazi, and it is highly likely that without these efforts Misrata would have fallen, with terrible consequences for that city’s brave inhabitants. Yesterday, Italy announced that its aircraft would take part in ground strikes and the United States Government have contributed Predator unmanned aerial vehicles to the coalition forces.

Heavy fighting continues around the towns of Brega, Ajdabiya, Yefren and Misrata. The regime’s indiscriminate shelling of residential areas in Misrata shows that it continues to target the civilian population. Gaddafi has shown that he has no regard for civilian lives. The International Criminal Court prosecutor has said that there is evidence of a case against Gaddafi for crimes against humanity. We look forward to the prosecutor’s report to the United Nations on 4 May. By his actions, it is clear that Gaddafi has no intention of observing the conditions in UN Security Council Resolution 1973 that I described to the House earlier this month. He has repeatedly ignored the ceasefires that he has announced.

Our military action is defined by the UN Security Council resolutions. We are also clear that Gaddafi should go, and it is impossible to see a viable or peaceful way forward for Libya until he does so. The Libya Contact Group’s statement made it clear that we and our allies regard the National Transitional Council, in contrast to Gaddafi, as a legitimate interlocutor, representing the aspirations of Libyan people. Our diplomatic mission in Benghazi is working with it. Our special envoy, Christopher Prentice, will shortly be succeeded by John Jenkins, currently Her Majesty’s Ambassador in Baghdad.

Last week, I announced our decision to expand this mission with a small advisory team of British military officers. Their sole purpose is to support the National Transitional Council’s efforts better to protect civilians by advising on military organisational structures, communications and logistics. They are not involved in training or arming the opposition’s forces, nor are they executing or providing operational military advice. This is fully in line with the UN resolutions, with which, I repeat to the House, we will remain wholly in accordance, retaining the moral, legal and international authority that flows from that.

We have supplied vital, non-lethal equipment to assist the National Transitional Council in protecting civilian lives. So far, this consists of telecommunications equipment and body armour. We are considering with our international partners further requests. In the coming weeks, we hope to agree internationally the process for establishing a temporary financial mechanism to provide a transparent structure for international financial support for short-term financial requirements such as public sector pay. Yesterday, Kuwait announced around £110 million worth of support for the NTC.

I am sure that the House will join me in paying tribute to the skill, bravery and professionalism of the men and women of the UK’s and allied Armed Forces. Their actions in the NATO operation have saved many lives and their efforts are essential to bringing a lasting peace and a better future for the Libyan people, who have suffered so much at the hands of this brutal regime.

The UK is also supporting the other needs of the Libyan people in every way we can. The humanitarian situation in the west of the country is getting worse every day. Many civilians in Misrata lack access to basic necessities, including food, water and electricity. There is a shortage of some crucial medical supplies. That is why my right honourable friend the International Development Secretary announced last week that the UK will provide medical and other emergency supplies and undertake evacuations for 5,000 migrants stranded at Misrata port in squalid conditions. The UK has so far given more than £13 million to meet immediate humanitarian needs, providing funding for medical and food supplies, emergency shelter, and assistance for evacuating poor and vulnerable migrants. In Misrata alone, UK support has given 10,000 people food and 2,000 families water and hygiene kits, and provided essential medical staff. But the regime must guarantee humanitarian access, not just broken promises which then put the lives of aid workers and volunteers at risk.

The wave of demand for change in the Arab world continues to gain momentum in other nations. As I said earlier today, we condemn utterly the violence and killings perpetrated by the Syrian security forces against civilians who are expressing their views in peaceful protests. This violent repression must stop. President Assad must order his authorities to show restraint and to respond to the legitimate demands of his people with immediate and genuine reform, not with brutal repression. The emergency law should be lifted in practice and the legitimate aspirations of the people met. The UK is working intensively with our international partners to persuade the Syrian authorities to stop the violence and respect basic and universal human rights to freedoms of expression and assembly.

Syria is now at a fork in the road. Its Government can still choose to bring about the radical reform which alone can provide peace and stability for Syria in the long term, and we urge them do so. Or they can choose ever more violent repression, which can only bring short-term security for the authorities. If they do so, we will work with our European partners and others to take measures, including sanctions, that will have an impact on the regime.

Given our concerns for British nationals in Syria we changed our travel advice on Sunday to advise against all travel there and to advise that British nationals should leave unless there is a pressing need for them to remain.

In Yemen, the UK welcomes the news this morning that the efforts of the Gulf Co-operation Council to resolve the current political deadlock are close to success. I understand that President Saleh and the parliamentary opposition have accepted the GCC’s proposal. This is potentially good news. Both sides now need to come together to confirm their commitment to the peaceful, inclusive and timely transition process that the GCC has brokered. The UK remains committed to our long-standing support for Yemen in these difficult times.

Although the immediate situation in Bahrain is calmer, there continue to be many credible reports of human rights abuses. I urge the Government of Bahrain to meet all their human rights obligations and uphold political freedoms, equal access to justice and the rule of law. Dialogue is the way to fulfil the aspirations of all Bahrainis. I urge all sides, including opposition groupings, to engage.

In Egypt, which I will visit shortly, we welcome the actions being taken by the authorities to move towards a broad-based, civilian-led Government and an open and democratic society.

In Tunisia, with EU partners we are providing support to help the Government in Tunisia meet the wishes of the Tunisian people. On 11 April, the commission responsible for bringing together opposition parties and civil society approved the draft law for the constituent assembly elections scheduled for 24 July. This is a step further towards free and fair elections and an open, democratic society.

The European Union has a crucial role to play in the southern Mediterranean. The great changes in the Arab world are truly historic and the response from the nations of the European Union should be bold and ambitious. The review of the European Neighbourhood Policy is due to be published in a fortnight. We have been making the case that we have the opportunity to use that policy to help the peoples of the southern Mediterranean achieve their desire for freer and more prosperous societies. A renewed Neighbourhood Policy should see the EU using its economic magnetism to encourage and support political and economic reform in neighbouring countries. A partnership of equals should reward those who make the necessary political and economic reforms, and—importantly—withdraw benefits from those who do not.

Finally, it remains essential that progress is made in the search for a just and lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestine conflict. This is what the majority of ordinary Palestinians and Israelis demand of their leaders. The extraordinary changes in the region are an opportunity to be seized, not an excuse for further prevarication leading to more frustration and discontent.

In our response to the dramatic events in north Africa and the Middle East we will continue to stand for reform, not repression, and for the addressing of grievances rather than brutal reprisals. It is a policy in accordance with our own beliefs, in line with our own national interest and in pursuit of the peace and prosperity of the wider world”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating for this House the Statement made by the Foreign Secretary on the Middle East and north Africa. We on the opposition Benches join him in supporting the Gulf Co-operation Council initiative to resolve the crisis in Yemen and to achieve a peaceful political settlement. I also associate these Benches with his remarks regarding the continued need for focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and, indeed, on the review of the European neighbourhood policy.

Every Member of this House will have been appalled by the recent reports of government violence and repression in Syria. First, can the Minister provide an estimate of the number of UK nationals who are in Syria at present? How many are in the southern city of Deraa? It has been reported that 5,000 soldiers and seven T55 tanks entered the city on Monday and attacked the protestors. Have the Government had any discussions with our European Union partners about working jointly, as we ended up doing in Libya, eventually, on contingency plans to try to help to get our people out if the need arises? Of course, I fully support the condemnation in the Statement of the actions of the Syrian Government.

It was only a few weeks ago, on 27 January, that the Foreign Secretary travelled to Damascus to meet President Assad. From these conversations, how likely do the Government judge it that President Assad will heed the Foreign Secretary’s calls for restraint and reform? I welcome the Minister’s statement that work is under way at the United Nations, but can he provide a more detailed analysis of what progress is being made regarding a statement and/or a resolution from the Security Council? In particular, can he outline what financial sanctions and freezes are being discussed at UN or EU level to make clear the international community’s condemnation?

In a statement this morning, the Foreign Secretary said:

“There needs to be accountability for the deaths that have occurred”.

What discussions have been entered into regarding the investigation of accusations of crimes against humanity and the call from Human Rights Watch for an official commission of inquiry? Finally, given the strong lead that the Arab League showed in relation to the unacceptability of Colonel Gaddafi’s actions, what diplomatic work is being done across the region to marshal unified condemnation of these actions?

While news has subsided slightly regarding Bahrain, the reports of the arrests of opposition figures, deaths in custody, allegations of torture and the denial of medical treatment are extremely concerning. Can the Minister update the House on the progress of the political reform process initiated by King al-Khalifa? Can the Government also tell us what recent discussions they have had with Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, who, it has been reported, has been close to reaching agreements with the protestors? Britain’s historically close ties to Bahrain should give us all the more reason to be clear and unequivocal in our urging for reform, not repression, as a response to popular protests on the islands.

We join the Minister in commending the brave service of our forces in Libya while the House has been in recess. The specific operational steps announced by the Government during that time—providing telecommunications, body armour and 10 military advisers —each had an operational rationale reflecting the new realities on the ground. Although we understand the rationale for these steps, will the Minister now update the summary of the legal advice previously provided, to cover each of the announcements that have been made during the Recess?

The ad hoc and unco-ordinated manner in which the Government steps were announced, rooted in no clearly articulated plan, has, we fear, served only to increase public anxieties, although in truth none of them is likely to significantly affect the strategic situation in Libya. As things stand neither Benghazi nor Tripoli appears likely to fall imminently to either side. Can the Minister give the House a fuller assessment of the present military situation? I ask this because the spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office stated this morning, in summarising the Foreign Secretary’s report to Cabinet colleagues earlier today, that we need to prepare for the long haul. Yet, on the Foreign Office website, there is a press release, published this weekend, entitled: “Foreign Secretary denies claims of stalemate in Libya”. The situation on the ground led the US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, to observe on Friday that Libya is “moving towards stalemate”. What information or insight does the Minister possess about military progress that apparently has not been shared with America’s most senior military figure?

That brings me to the question of political objectives and the military mission. On 21 March, speaking of Resolution 1973, the Prime Minister told the other place:

“It explicitly does not provide legal authority for action to bring about Gaddafi’s removal from power by military means”.—[Official Report, Commons, 21/3/11; col. 713.]

However, in the Times on 15 April, the Prime Minister and the Presidents of the United States and France said,

“so long as Gaddafi is in power, Nato and its coalition partners must maintain their operations so that civilians remain protected and the pressure on the regime builds”.

Would the House be correct in understanding the language of this article to mean that, in the view of the British Government, UN Security Council Resolution 1973 cannot be enforced without Gaddafi’s departure? Given the explicit commitment to maintain NATO operations so long as Gaddafi remains in power, is a Libya free of Gaddafi now a political aim—one, incidentally, shared on all sides of the House—or a military objective of the British Government?

Can the Minister further explain whether, following this joint statement, American fighter aircraft have been once again engaged in ground assault operations and whether this statement of aims has led to any significant alteration of the US force posture? Can he be clearer on the means by which the Government seek to achieve the outcome that they seek? It is vital to do so not simply to ensure that the Government address the real concerns at home and abroad; crucially, it matters also to convince Gaddafi’s henchmen that there is a credible strategy in place to ensure that his brutal attacks on civilians will not prevail.

We seek as broad a coalition as possible for these efforts and, in that spirit, I add my welcome for the addition of Italian fighter aircraft to the mission, as we heard announced today. Can the Minister update the House on the precise number of EU, NATO and Arab League countries that are respectively participating in the military operation? What efforts are being made to expand those numbers further? Do the Government believe that the contact group is proving agile and effective enough to direct the mission?

Does the Minister agree that the comparison made last week by the Defence Secretary between the present mission in Libya and the Afghanistan campaign, where, a decade on, we have about 11,000 troops in theatre, not only ignores the different order of the threat posed by al-Qaeda and its supporters but needlessly threatens support at home and abroad for the mission? In the light of that comparison, can he assure the House that no personnel or equipment will be redeployed from Afghanistan to Libya, given the continuing national security threat being confronted in Afghanistan?

The Government are acting in Libya for principled reasons, but that does not remove our obligation to look at practical questions. On the rebels, can the Minister update the House on whether any further information has come to light regarding possible al-Qaeda involvement? Amid talk of the long haul, it should not be overlooked that Resolution 1973 contained a number of diplomatic measures and non-military powers designed to maintain the pressure on and isolation of the Gaddafi regime, including sanctions and embargoes. What further progress has been made on this front, in particular to put the financial squeeze on the Gaddafi regime?

From these Benches, the Opposition remain steadfast in their support for the enforcement of the United Nations Security Council resolution. That decision, implemented with professionalism and bravery by both our own and our allies’ armed services, saved the 700,000 residents of Benghazi from a grim fate. The continued threat of murderous slaughter in Misrata shows why NATO forces still need to be in the skies over Libya, but we are not and should not be deaf to the anxiety in the country about Britain’s present and future role in the Libyan mission. Therefore, as the Opposition, we urge clarity and coherence from the Government’s side so as to maintain support for this mission at home and abroad.

I thank the noble Baroness warmly for the supportive nature of her remarks and for her commitment that Her Majesty’s Opposition stand fast behind the UNSC resolution and its implementation. That is a warming and strong message, for which I am grateful. I cannot possibly answer all her questions in detail, but I will attempt to answer those that I managed to write down as she spoke.

On UK nationals in Syria, there are figures, although I give them with some hesitation. It could be from about 700 upwards, but I do not want the noble Baroness to regard that as the final figure, as it is not always easy to gather all details quickly. However, the figure is in that sort of range. We are most certainly talking and co-operating with the European Union at many levels on how to react to the Syria situation.

On what we are doing about the very concerning developments in Bahrain, the answer is that we are in constant contact. We have been talking to Ministers as well as to the chief authorities in Bahrain, urging that they get back to the national dialogue that the King always wanted to argue for and observe standards of human rights as rigorously as possible. We have expressed considerable concern about the reports of torture and other aspects. We believe that our representations have to be constant and strong and we are continuing to press them.

The noble Baroness raised the issue, which one sees in many commentaries, of the possibility of stalemate in Libya. To my mind and to many of those observing the situation closely, the position is fluid rather than stalemated. There is clearly movement to and fro. One moment, a street in Misrata is in the hands of the opposition and the next it is in the hands of Gaddafi’s forces. No one can say that a stalemate, implying some sort of rigid settling-in of defensive lines on either side, has anywhere near been reached. The interventions of NATO in protecting civilians and destroying the weaponry that is killing them, with some precision in many areas, are part of the means by which the situation remains extremely fluid.

In the Statement, the Foreign Secretary reminds us of the words that he rightly used. If I get his words precisely right,

“it is impossible to see a viable or peaceful way forward for Libya”,

until Gaddafi goes. That has been reiterated by a number of world leaders and is apparently very much the view of the entire Arab League and leading Arab nations. While the UN Security Council resolution obviously does not involve, require or authorise direct attack on the personality of Gaddafi himself, there was a clear statement by the contact group in Doha and by the allies that until Gaddafi goes there will be no solution and no achievement of the aim of the Libyans being able to decide their own future peacefully.

How is that to be done and what are the pressures? The first pressure is in implementing the resolution and doing everything to protect civilians by all possible means. Beyond that, the organisation of freezes and sanctions has been extensive. The movements, by no means fully achieved, towards controlling the financial resources available to Gaddafi and his team are strong. As far as possible, given that many of Gaddafi’s funds are under other names or obscure patterns of ownership, those funds are being frozen and individuals in Libya are being named as those who cannot have access to them or admission to other countries.

In addition, pressure is preventing Gaddafi from achieving further revenues from oil sales. There have been some unauthorised liftings of oil on the side, but they may be coming to an end. If he cannot get oil money, he will not get money and he will not be able to buy in weapons, mercenaries or any other of the instruments that he is using to attack his own people. In addition to that, we look for further defections of the kind that we have already seen from those closely around him.

This all adds up to a pattern of international pressures that come particularly from the Arab League. I stress that this is not just an Atlantic, a western or even a European project; it is a united project with the support of a very wide number of countries, representatives of many of which attended the contact group in Doha the other day, including Japan. I cannot go into details about the precise contribution that the various allies, including the Americans, are making, but we welcome the arrival of the UAVs. We believe that they will help to reinforce the protection of civilians, which is the main aim of the whole project.

Ahead lie fluidity and increasing pressures on Gaddafi himself. Ahead lies a pattern in which the nations and regions of the world, including the Arabs, the African Union—to a lesser extent so far, I admit, although there have been some strong voices there as well—and certainly the responsible nations and democracies of the world, through the UN, are all depicting an end game and a better future for Libya, in which Libyans can decide their differences and carry forward their prospects without the dark and malign influence of Colonel Gaddafi. This is a possibility. To say that it is a probability at this stage is going too far, but it is an aim that can be worked for and is being worked for at this moment.

My Lords, does the noble Lord recognise that the Statement he has just read is one of the most remarkable that many of your Lordships will ever have heard? It is about complete convulsion in a very important area of the world which threatens very significantly our whole economy and the stability of the region and the durability and survival of an enormous number of people. It is a remarkable Statement in the breadth that it has represented. We know about Tunisia originally and then Egypt; we have been involved in Libya; we now see the situation in Bahrain, Yemen and Syria; and there are uncertainties in other Arab countries, which I will not particularly mention except maybe Morocco and Algeria, where there are concerns and rumblings.

There was some comment made about the Prime Minister’s comment that we are in for the long haul. What is absolutely without question is that it is going to be a very long haul whether it comes out well or badly. The economic and security implications of what is happening now are going to be with us for a very long time indeed. There is an old phrase, “The future is not what it used to be”. There has been a convulsive change and we may be in the middle of it now or we may be only just at the beginning.

I want to add one particular point. In the first instance the Statement is concerned with the outcome in Libya. Can the Minister comment in particular about the situation in Algeria and the Polisario? What evidence is there that Gaddafi is purchasing a considerable amount of mercenary assistance which may be concealing the fact that the support he has within his own country is rather less than he might seek to pretend?

I am very grateful to my noble friend whose experience in these matters is unquestioned. What he says is right: these are historic developments. They are of course different in the different countries. There is a danger, while there is a certain degree of cross-border infection and contagion, of seeing the political mechanics inside each country as similar, which they are not. Each country is different and I have been reminded of that very vividly having spent the whole of last week in the Middle East.

My noble friend asked particularly about Algeria and its involvement in this. It is something we are watching very closely indeed. We welcome President Bouteflika’s announcement that he intends to introduce political reforms, including the setting up of a constitutional commission and a revision to the law governing political parties. We hope that is a political reform statement that will be put in practice. There is no clear evidence of Algerian support for Colonel Gaddafi but it is certainly true that in the past Gaddafi has sought friends in that large neighbouring country, as he has sought friends throughout the African Union further south. Some of these friendships probably remain but I do not think I can comment further on the precise posture being taken up by Algeria externally at the moment; internally it is clear that the Algerian authorities are aware of the reform pressure operating on all governments which do not recognise the need for reform and do not recognise that the world has changed and that people now feel empowered to demand the freedoms and justice which they have been denied in the past.

My Lords, while the Minister has said the Government are resisting mission creep, does he not accept that the greater danger is mission drift? The contact group met once this month largely to reiterate what the policy previously was and it will not meet again until next month. This does not show any degree of urgency in this matter. Does he accept that a lack of cohesion and urgency appears to be shown by ad hoc statements made by Ministers which they contradict the next day? We said we were going to arm the rebels. No, we are not. We were going to train the rebels. Well, not really. Although the Minister has said specifically today Gaddafi is not a target, the Defence Secretary in New York, I think, two days ago said that Gaddafi was a legitimate target. We cannot have this position where we swing from one to the other. While the measures on sanctions and so on are important the fact is the urgency arises in stopping the fighting and the killing as soon as possible. I regret the idea we seem to have settled easily into the acceptance that it is going to be a long haul. A long haul will not really protect civilians. We really must show a greater deal of urgency than at present.

I do not accept that depiction of the situation at all. Of course in all dramatic and violent situations, such as the one that has developed in Libya, it would be the unwise person who predicted exactly what is going to happen next and exactly which path can be followed with clockwork results. The situation simply is not like that.

However, the overall strategy and direction are clear. They are to act within the resolution and to make the obvious point, which has been made throughout the entire Arab world and in parts of Africa and indeed in Asia as well, that there can be no peace and better future for Libya until the civilian killing stops and the chief agents of the civilian killing—notably, Colonel Gaddafi—go. Of course that raises questions of where and how he should go, which are not questions we feel are our responsibility to answer. However, the general trend is a strong one, although the timing is impossible to predict.

The actions are firm and have already been decisive in some areas, although in other areas less so. There are major difficulties where tanks and Howitzer artillery and mortar artillery and possibly some revolting weapons as well are being used by Gaddafi’s troops inside civilian areas—within the narrow streets of Libyan towns they cannot be picked out. This is the problem of fighting, which is bound to go to and fro. However, I do not think the noble Lord’s picture of indecision and drift is a fair one. There is a pattern here of responsibility to protect and responsibility to open a more stable future for this very sensitive part of the Middle East and the north Africa region.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Statement. It has been widely reported that mercenaries from various African countries are now fighting for the Gaddafi regime. Referring to the question of the noble Lord, Lord King, the Algerian supported Polisario Front is reported to have now sent 450 members to fight for Gaddafi’s regime. Am I to understand from the noble Lord’s reply to the noble Lord, Lord King, that the United Kingdom has made no representations on this matter?

On the broader issue of the Polisario and the United Nations resolutions, and the way that that affects not so much Algeria as Morocco, we have certainly said that we think that the resolutions should be upheld. As for the cross-currents, though—either the one that the noble Lord did not quite refer to of apparent Algerian support for certain aspects of Polisario activity or the Polisario involvement in Libya, encouraged by Algeria—I am afraid that I cannot give him any precise information. I would say that I would write to him, but I am not sure that such detailed information exists in the smoke and fog of battle. Certainly mercenaries have been brought in, drawn from many areas of Africa, who are fighting for Gaddafi and are receiving large wads of money for doing so. That has been proved by some of those captured or killed who have been found to have this money on them.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the questions that have come from other noble Lords about the Polisario actually concern the no-fly zone and its effectiveness? Will he at least explain to the House why that zone does not seem to extend to the road routes into Libya, which is apparently where these mercenaries are coming from? I understand that maritime routes are being re-examined to ensure that they are sealed, but road routes do not as yet appear to be sealed.

On the broader point, does my noble friend agree that the most intractable conflict in the Middle East is Israel-Palestine? What discussions have the Government had with the Middle East envoy or indeed through the quartet to attempt to do something to kick-start the process again and get both sides to break the impasses and move forward?

On Bahrain, will the Minister tell us at what stage he will believe that we have got to a stage with regard to human rights violations where we might do something more than just implore the Bahraini royal family to sit down and negotiate seriously?

My noble friend raises three questions. The no-fly zone is authorised over Libyan airspace, not over the back channels through which manpower and weapons may continue to be supplied into Tripoli and into the hands of Gaddafi’s forces. That is not a possibility consistent with strict adherence to UNSCR 1973.

On the Middle East peace process, we are arguing strongly that this is an opportunity, not a time for the Israeli authorities to draw back, hunker down, hope that things will pass over and wait and see. On the contrary, this could be a large and open window through which those who genuinely want peace and a two-state solution, and who want to see Palestine emerge as part of a two-state pattern in a sensible relationship, should now be pressing forward. That is a view that we have pressed very strongly and which is represented by our actions at the United Nations in support of certain relevant resolutions, which my noble friend will know all about.

As for the Bahraini situation, we are concerned about what has happened and we think that the pattern of handling the protests has not been successful or the right path. We have urged that the whole emphasis should be on seeking a national dialogue, which the king himself and some of his advisers always wanted from the start. We think that that is the right way forward. We believe that the concern of surrounding countries, including that expressed by Saudi Arabia in physical form through its support of security in Bahrain, if rightly handled, is part of a beneficial theme, in that we are seeing the GCC countries and the leading Arab regional authorities take seriously the internal security of their own region. The same applies in Yemen, where there may be some hope, as the Statement said, that the GCC solution is going to bring a breakthrough and a pattern of less bloody and less violent development. These are early days, though, and all that I can tell my noble friend is that we are in constant contact with the Bahraini authorities and urging the sensible course, which we believe lies along the path of national dialogue and reform.

My Lords, one of the striking points in the Statement was the fact that only six Arab countries attended the meeting on 14 and 15 April. There are of course 16 countries in the Arab League, not counting Libya, which might have been there. It is worrying that 10 Arab League countries did not attend. Can the Minister offer an explanation for this? It was of course the support from the Arab League countries for the humanitarian objectives of the action in Libya that neutralised opposition at the United Nations and allowed the Security Council resolution to go forward, so it is enormously important that the support of those countries is maintained during this period.

While we are looking so hard at Libya, I ask the Minister to assure us that we are observing and, as the Statement says, concerned about the carnage on the streets in Syria. It would be difficult to defend going in on a humanitarian basis to stop the wanton killing of unarmed civilians in Libya while doing nothing at all about the newsreels that we have seen of the Syrian armed forces simply gunning down people in the streets in a number of different cities in Syria. We must not be caught on the argument of double standards. It is important that we respond in equal measure to equal problems.

I understand the sentiments expressed by the noble Baroness, particularly in her last remarks. She is well positioned to know about these matters in an acute and profound form.

Attendance at the contact group of the Doha meeting was by invitation. In a sense, the Arab League authorities represent the whole range of smaller and larger Arab countries; it is their voice that has been sought, and to a large extent secured, in the recognition that one of the causes of the civilian killings is the personality, actions and attitudes of Gaddafi himself. That has come out clearly from the Arab League as a whole. However, I do not think that we expected all the smaller Arab countries to attend the Doha meeting, nor did they want to. I am not even sure that they were invited. The invitation was to the countries that are in a position to make contributions, both financial, as Kuwait has just done, as noble Lords heard in the Statement, and in terms of hardware, as Qatar and the UAE have done, as well as in a variety of other forms, as a major country like Saudi Arabia is interested in doing. The aim of the conference was not to invite every country, large and small, in the Arab region but to ensure that the Arab League as a whole spoke as far as possible for the whole region.

As for Syria, the noble Baroness is completely right. There is murder and mayhem on the streets of Syrian cities, Deraa and elsewhere. Thinking back through history, we all know of the colossal massacre that took place at Hama when the former president, Hafiz al-Assad, was alive—under the aegis, I seem to recall, of his brother, who was the chief police authority there. Sadly, this is not a new phenomenon. Our protests are extremely strong but of course this requires international co-ordination, which we have with the EU and through the UN.

There is also the question of criminal charges being pursued by the International Criminal Court, and I believe that an investigation has opened. That is an independent court that makes its own decisions, but they are certainly ones that we welcome as we watch with horror the unfolding violence that will get the present president, Bashar al-Assad, and his Government nowhere. They will simply move constantly behind the curve, as I was told in the Middle East last week, and they will fail to catch up with the outrage and fury that will simply grow greater the more blood that is shed and the more violence that there is in that country.

The Minister has reiterated the consistent attitude of the Government to regime change in Libya. However, is it not the case that our own forces, with those of our allies, are taking part in rigorous battlefield activities which, if successful, will have the effect of emasculating Colonel Gaddafi and degrading his capacity to murder his own people and, if that continues, ultimately there will be regime change? Therefore, is this the answer to the question: we do not aim for regime change, but our actions, with those of our allies, could well bring it about, and if that happens we will welcome it?

The noble Lord, with his usual precision and crystal-clear legal mind, has put the matter in a nutshell. This is the way that things will go. It is not just about the battlefield activities, the aerial activities, the advisory role and the provision of telecommunications equipment mentioned in the Statement. The international freezing of resources, assets and oil revenues, and the international pressure from every side on the existing Libyan regime, will also be part of the package of forces that will lead in the direction that the noble Lord so rightly described.

My Lords, in repeating the Statement the Minister described the Libyan regime as illegitimate for the very strong reason of its treatment of its citizens. Given the violence in Syria that has been mentioned during this debate, do the Government take the same view of the Syrian Government and the presidency of Bashar al-Assad?

I refer back to my observation that each country is seeing a different pattern unfold. If my noble friend thinks about the Libyan pattern, to which he has just referred, it is a country with clearly organised opposition forces holding certain cities and territory against the organised force of a murderous regime, which still holds authority in Tripoli. That is one scene. In Syria, something else is unfolding—a very unpleasant pattern it is—in which the authorities are clearly acting in murderous ways and authorising their security forces to take part in actions that smash up human rights, destroy lives and create still rising tensions. It is not at the same point in the curve and is not the same pattern of development. There could come a time when the shape of things will change in Syria. There could come times when attitudes towards the Syrian authorities will evolve and grow increasingly determined to see changes in the pattern. It could come but you cannot compare like with like at the moment. These are different countries with different patterns of turmoil and political discontent, which all manifest in different ways. We in this country will use our tailored pressures with the EU, our American allies and our Arab and African allies to try to temper these great forces that are sweeping the Arab world, and see that they bring change—but change that is beneficial and not soaked in blood.