Japan and the Middle East

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 3:33 pm on 14th March 2011.

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Photo of Ed Miliband Ed Miliband Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party 3:33 pm, 14th March 2011

May I start by associating myself with the Prime Minister’s remarks about the Japanese earthquake and tsunami? The tragedy that has hit that country is of almost unimaginable horror and scale, as all of us will have felt after seeing the pictures on our television screens over the weekend. We fully support the Government in their efforts to help the Government of Japan in their hour of need and, indeed, to help Japan’s people.

This is clearly an anxious time for the friends and family of UK nationals and I thank the Prime Minister for what he said about our consular activity. I am sure that consular staff will be working around the clock to deal with the inquiries that they receive. Let me also associate myself with the Prime Minister’s remarks about the work of British search and rescue teams.

On nuclear power, we should clearly see if there are lessons to be learned, but should avoid a rush to judgment given that we have a good safety record in this country. It is important not to lose sight of that.

Turning to the European Council, I want to focus on three issues: the military options available to the international community regarding Libya, the wider response to the Libyan crisis and the need to re-energise the middle east peace process. Let me take each issue in turn.

First, I welcome the clear and unequivocal statement in the Council declaration that the Libyan regime should relinquish power immediately. As the Prime Minister made clear in his statement, the situation in Libya is grave and pressing. I said, when the Prime Minister first publicly floated the idea of a no-fly zone two weeks ago, that we welcomed the possibility. It is disappointing that Friday’s communiqué did not mention it, although it is, as he has said, encouraging that the Arab League has expressed support for it. In view of the gravity and urgency of the situation, and to win greater support for the idea, it seems to us that the priority must be to translate the no-fly zone phrase into a practical plan. To that end, may I ask what progress has been made since he asked the Ministry of Defence to draw up such a plan two weeks ago? Specifically, was such a plan presented by the UK at the NATO Defence Ministers meeting last Thursday or by him at the European Council?

On the European Council, may I ask whether the ambivalence among our EU partners is based on opposition to a no-fly zone in principle or is because of practical doubts about the workability of such a proposal? Can he give us a clearer picture, because that is necessary to win broader support, of what he believes the no-fly zone would involve and, furthermore, whether it is contingent on the US Government’s participation, given that some parts of the Administration have expressed reservations about the idea?

On timing, I note that the Prime Minister repeated his statement of last week that the UK is now working on a new Security Council resolution, which I welcome. Given the urgency of the situation, to which he rightly drew attention, what is his best judgment about when such a resolution will be tabled? Above all, may I emphasise to him the importance of matching what is said in public with the diplomatic spadework needed to win international support for a practical and legal plan?

I have one more question on the military options that are available. Given the position expressed this morning by the former Foreign Secretary, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, on providing arms to some of the rebels against Colonel Gaddafi, what is the Government’s position on the legality and wisdom of that idea?

Secondly, let me turn to the other actions that we can take. I welcome what the Prime Minister said about asset freezes and sanctions. May I make a further suggestion? To maximise pressure on the regime, have the Government made any formal communication to the International Criminal Court to impress on Libyan leaders and commanders the importance of individual accountability for the commissioning and carrying out of crimes against humanity? If he has not done so—and I believe that it is open to individual countries to do this—may I suggest that he looks into the UK Government doing so?

On the humanitarian crisis, to which the Prime Minister referred, may I ask him whether the Department for International Development is planning to provide additional support to other multilateral organisations such as the World Food Programme and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees?

Thirdly and finally, may I discuss briefly the middle east peace process? He and I both had the chance last week to meet President Abbas during his visit to London. May I reiterate to the Prime Minister something with which I know he agrees—the central importance of not losing sight of that issue as other, more immediate crises face us. Will the Prime Minister therefore tell us what discussions took place at the European Council about how the EU can help to get the peace process back on track? In particular, what representations have been made to the United States following its recent veto of the UN resolution on settlements?

Finally, let me tell the Prime Minister that he and I are united in the view that this must be a moment when the European Union and the international community show they are more than the sum of their parts, whether it is on Libya specifically, north Africa or the middle east peace process. I hope that he and other leaders will do all they can over the coming days and weeks to put in the hard work and diplomacy that can make that happen.