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Volume 804: debated on Monday 13 July 2020


Asked by

My Lords, we remain deeply concerned by the conflict in Libya, which continues to threaten stability across the region. The UK is clear that all parties to the conflict and their external backers must de-escalate, commit to a lasting ceasefire and return to UN-led political talks. We welcome recent engagement by the Government of National Accord and the Libyan National Army in the UN-led ceasefire negotiations.

My Lords, in the civil war in Libya, Egypt, our friend the United Arab Emirates and France aligned with the rebel side along with Russia and even some support from Washington, but Turkey and Italy, which are NATO allies, supported the UN-recognised Government of National Accord. Will my noble friend indicate which side we are on, if any, and how we can mediate in this increasingly bloody conflict, given that the Geneva talks have failed to produce any results?

My Lords, Her Majesty’s Government are on the side of peace and political settlement. That is why it is important that both sides get together. My noble friend is right that there are proxies at work on both sides. Therefore, the outcome of the Berlin Conference is what we should focus on. It was held in January and of course the follow-up has been taken up at the UN Security Council. We need to get all sides, including external backers, around the table.

My Lords, I declare an interest as I have worked on a government-funded project in Libya over the past two years. To go further, what steps have the Government taken to work with civil society in Libya to try to bring about an end to the conflict? To take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, what conversations have the Government had with those countries which have shown an interest, often for their own gain, in the conflict in Libya?

My Lords, the role of civil society mentioned by the noble Lord is very important and we continue to emphasise its engagement and involvement. Until all sides are firmly around a table, we are some distance away from their effective involvement. Equally, the role of women and particularly women peace mediators is key. The noble Lord asked what we had done so far. We engaged as penholders on the UN Security Council after the Berlin Conference to ensure the passing of Resolution 2510. Most recently, my right honourable friend the Minister for the Middle East took part in the UN Security Council meeting, again emphasising the need for political discussions.

The UN Secretary-General has called for immediate international attention and described the situation as gloomy. I have been a member of the APPG on Libya for some years and visited Tripoli with the much respected interfaith advocate Dr Zaki Badawi to participate in a conference on African and Arab women. I met highly educated outstanding women leaders of Libya. Over the past decade we have heard nothing about their suffering and that of their families in the persistent battle over oil and resources to which we may have inadvertently contributed. What assessment have our Government made, alongside the international community, of the well-being of civil society and women and their fullest possible participation in the imminent dialogue and future settlement in Libya?

My Lords, it is an inevitable and tragic consequence of any conflict that the most vulnerable communities, including women, specifically suffer. We continue to make the case. I have already alluded to what I believe is the most appropriate form of resolution engaging women in every part of the peace process.

My Lords, I used to visit Libya regularly to help in the setting up of clinical medical schools in Benghazi and Tripoli, and it was much appreciated. When does the Minister think we should encourage a resumption of these activities? They are in desperate need all over the place.

My Lords, I pay tribute to my noble friend’s work in this area. I would very much welcome a discussion with him to see how best we can make this part of the current discussions.

In his report to the Security Council last week the UN Secretary-General decried what he termed as high-level direct foreign interference in the conflict which is contrary to the resolution to which the Minister referred. Over the weekend the US and the Libyan national oil corporation criticised foreign capitals for pressure which has led to the reinstatement of the blockade of oil exports. What actions are the Government taking to ensure the resilience of Libyan institutions such as the national bank, the oil corporation and the investment authority so that they can resist this kind of direct foreign interference and provide support for all people in all parts of Libya which is so desperately needed?

My Lords, the noble Lord is right to raise the issue of central banks. Both sides need to get together on the two institutions to ensure equality of approach on that. We deeply regret that the oil blockade has been reimposed on oil facilities and we call on all parties, including those engaging in support of either side, to ensure that oil revenues can start flowing and bring some kind of economic rebuilding to the country.

My Lords, to what extent have the Government influence with the various participants directly to persuade them to join the conference that is so greatly needed?

My Lords, we continue to have strong alliances. Turkey is a NATO partner and, as has already been said, the UAE and Egypt continue to be constructive partners and allies to the UK. We will use our influence bilaterally and through multilateral fora.

My Lords, what assessment have the Government made of whether Egypt is about to enter the conflict directly and move, possibly with the acquiescence of Russia, in support of Khalifa Haftar? What is HMG’s evaluation of the proximity to UK interests, including NATO operations? What is their strategy and approach?

My Lords, the important thing is that all parties come together, irrespective of which side they appear to be on or have declared their backing for, because this requires support not just from the two parties in-country but from those supporting either side.

My Lords, at a recent Security Council meeting Stephanie Williams of the UN Support Mission in Libya warned of a massive influx of weaponry, equipment and mercenaries. Can the Minister assure the House that no UK company is indirectly linked to the supply of weaponry and that no UK citizen is involved in the sort of mercenary services provided?

My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that the UN arms embargo on Libya needs to be respected. We take very seriously any reports of breaches of the embargo. They are considered by the UN sanctions committee, of which the UK is a member.

My Lords, the Government now have some hundreds of British troops in other parts of the Sahel working closely with the French in combating tribal warfare and Islamic extremism. How far does the conflict in Libya, with the explosion in the number of weapons there, spill over to the rest of the Sahel? Do we share the view of the French and the UAE that the Muslim Brotherhood is promoting extremism which may also spill over into the rest of the Sahel?

My Lords, as the noble Lord knows well, Islamist extremism is a scourge not just of that region but globally, and we should take all the steps necessary to ensure that it does not add to an already very long and bloody conflict in Libya.

My Lords, members of the ironically named Security Council are attracted to regional conflicts in oil-rich parts of the world, such as Libya, in the name of strategic interests and are selling arms that promote and sustain conflict and horrendous suffering. I know I am going to be told that the UK has one of the strictest arms control policies in the world, but will the Government give a lead to move to a new and less 19th-century view of strategic interest?

My Lords, our intervention in Libya was right because of the humanitarian crisis that was pending in Benghazi. Unlike the noble Lord, I take the view that the UN Security Council does play and will continue to play a very important role.

My Lords, for years the countries of the western Balkans have been major manufacturers of small arms used in Libya with weapons being purchased by foreign Governments, some of them our allies, and supplied to Libya’s warring factions. What steps have the Government taken or will they take to stop that flow of arms to Libya? Will they seek to impose UN sanctions and travel bans on those who are in clear breach of the UN arms embargo under UN Security Council Resolution 2510?

My Lords, I assure my noble friend that as penholders on Libya we will continue to make that case. She is right that there have been abuses of the arms embargo in Libya, but I make it clear that all member states must respect international law and call on the Security Council to take seriously any reports of violations. We must act to ensure that those who are not adhering to the embargo do so and respect international law.