Libya

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Office – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 15th March 2011.

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Photo of Caroline Dinenage Caroline Dinenage Conservative, Gosport 2:30 pm, 15th March 2011

What recent discussions he has had with his international counterparts on support for and participation in the enforcement of a no-fly zone over Libya.

Photo of William Hague William Hague The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

We are working closely with partners, including the United Nations, the European Union and NATO, to develop contingency plans to allow the international community to respond quickly and effectively to the developing situation on the ground in Libya. The plans cover a range of options, including the possible establishment of a no-fly zone. As I have said, G8 Foreign Ministers have welcomed the recent declaration by the Arab League calling for measures to support and protect the Libyan population.

Photo of Caroline Dinenage Caroline Dinenage Conservative, Gosport

Given that the Arab League and the Gulf Co-operation Council recently endorsed the idea of a no-fly zone, would it not be prudent to allow them to take the lead while the United Kingdom adopts the same policy as the United States of strategic patience?

Photo of William Hague William Hague The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

Patience must, of course, be tempered by recognition of the fact that the situation is urgent and that events in Libya are moving rapidly on the ground, or at least have done so in recent days. As for my hon. Friend’s important point about participation and the Arab states and the GCC taking the lead, one of the vital elements in any no-fly zone or other operations to protect and support the Libyan civilian population would be the active participation of Arab states.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth Labour, Coventry North East

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that there are many reasons for the American President’s caution? He is worried about the west being seen to lead, his forces are stretched, and he is enormously worried about the potential for difficulties in the Gulf and the Arabian peninsula. If we share his analysis, why do we not share his caution?

Photo of William Hague William Hague The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

The United States has agreed with us on the contingency planning in NATO, and also about the very serious nature of what is happening in Libya and the need for Gaddafi to go. The things for which we have argued are the same things for which the United States has been arguing.

As the right hon. Gentleman says, there are currently many other demands on military and diplomatic resources, but I think he will agree that if Libya were left as a pariah state, particularly after recent events—with Gaddafi running amok, exacting reprisals on his own people and estranged from the rest of the world as a potential source of terrorism in the future—that would pose a danger to the national interest of this country and, I would argue, that of the United States as well.

Photo of Richard Ottaway Richard Ottaway Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee

The Foreign Secretary has confirmed what the Prime Minister said yesterday: that a no-fly zone will not be imposed unless there is a clear legal basis for it. Will he confirm that that is a reference to a United Nations chapter VII resolution?

Photo of William Hague William Hague The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

The clearest legal base for any such operation is obviously a chapter VII resolution of the United Nations Security Council. Lawyers can provide my hon. Friend, and all of us, with extensive arguments about the various circumstances in which nations are allowed to take action, which can of course include self-defence but can also include overwhelming humanitarian need. This is not a completely open-and-shut argument, but the clearest basis is a chapter VII resolution.

Photo of Denis MacShane Denis MacShane Labour, Rotherham

But can the Foreign Secretary confirm that, actually, UN law is whatever communists in Beijing say it is? There is a whiff of Bosnia of 15, 16, 17 years ago about all this. We do not want the Foreign Secretary to talk about discussions at the UN, empty EU statements and NATO meetings that result in nothing; we want him to discover his mojo and take a lead in putting policies in place before Benghazi falls.

Photo of William Hague William Hague The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I will make a point of hoping never to discover what motivates the right hon. Gentleman, and never to partake of any of it. [Interruption.] Labour Members are agreeing with me.

I do not accept that UN law is made in Beijing. It is important to have a clear legal base for actions we take internationally, as well as widespread international support and demonstrable need, and since the British Government, along with the French Government, have been absolutely in the forefront of ensuring that all the international sanctions and measures so far have been taken, the right hon. Gentleman is not in much of a position to criticise.