I inform the House that I have not selected the amendment. The House might be interested to know that no fewer than 62 right hon. and hon. Members have applied to speak, as a result of which a six-minute limit on Back-Bench contributions has been imposed. I appeal to Members, today in particular, not to approach the Chair to inquire where they are on the list. The Chair will do his or her best to accommodate Members in the course of the afternoon, but it will not be assisted by people toddling up and making inquiries. Interventions are the stuff of debate, but Members should be aware that a lot of interventions will impact on debate and that those who make many will necessarily fall down the list.
I beg to move,
That this House
welcomes United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1973;
deplores the ongoing use of violence by the Libyan regime;
acknowledges the demonstrable need, regional support and clear legal basis for urgent action to protect the people of Libya;
accordingly supports Her Majesty’s Government, working with others, in the taking of all necessary measures to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in Libya and to enforce the No Fly Zone, including the use of UK armed forces and military assets in accordance with UNSC Resolution 1973;
and offers its wholehearted support to the men and women of Her Majesty’s armed forces.
On Saturday, British forces went into action over Libya. The first British cruise missiles were fired from HMS Triumph at 7 pm. Subsequently, RAF Tornados were deployed in several missions. This marked the beginning of our involvement in an international operation, working with the US and others at the request of Arab nations to enforce the will of the United Nations.
In line with UN resolution 1973, there were two aims to these strikes. The first was to suppress the Libyan air defences and make possible the safe enforcement of a no-fly zone. The second was to protect civilians from attack by the Gaddafi regime. Good progress has been made on both fronts. I can announce to the House today that coalition forces have largely neutralised Libyan air defences and that, as a result, a no-fly zone has effectively been put in place over Libya. It is also clear that coalition forces have helped to avert what could have been a bloody massacre in Benghazi. In my view, they did so just in the nick of time.
Today, I can confirm that RAF Typhoon jets have been deployed to a military base in southern Italy within 25 minutes flying time of the Libyan coast, and two Typhoons will be helping to patrol the no-fly zone this afternoon.
I am sure the whole House will join me in paying tribute to our servicemen and women, who are performing with their usual professionalism and courage. Our thoughts must be with their families and their loved ones at this time, as they risk their lives to help save the lives of others.
Gaddafi had to meet under the requirements of international law set out by UN Security Council resolution 1973.
First, we said that a ceasefire had to be implemented immediately, and that all attacks against civilians must stop. Secondly, we said that Gaddafi had to stop his troops advancing on Benghazi. Thirdly, we said that Gaddafi had to pull his forces back from Ajdabiya, Misrata and Zawiyah. He had to establish water, electricity and gas supplies to all areas, and he had to allow humanitarian assistance to reach the people of Libya.
The removal of Gaddafi’s forces from those towns would safeguard civilians, enable the aid agencies to operate there safely and guarantee the humanitarian assistance that the UN resolution demands. So, let me be clear: the Government’s view is that those non-negotiable conditions are entirely consistent with implementing the UN resolution.
Gaddafi responded to the United Nations resolution by declaring a ceasefire, but straight away it was clear that he was breaking that promise. He continued to push his tanks towards Benghazi as quickly as possible, and to escalate his actions against Misrata. On Saturday alone, there were reports of dozens of people killed in Benghazi and dozens more in Misrata. Gaddafi lied to the international community, he continued to brutalise his own people and he was in flagrant breach of the UN resolution, so it was necessary, legal and right that he should be stopped, and that we should help stop him.
I am grateful to the Prime Minister for allowing an intervention. A great many people in this House and in the country had difficulty supporting previous international operations, because they did not have the backing of the United Nations, but this case is different as it does have the backing of the United Nations. Will the Prime Minister acknowledge the importance of a broad consensus on this issue, and, in doing that, the need to stick to the terms of the UN resolution and to address concerns about an open-ended commitment and the potential for mission creep?
I certainly want to build and maintain, in this House, throughout this country and, indeed right across the world, the widest possible coalition for the action that we are taking. We must work hard to make sure that many, many countries, including many Arab countries, continue to back what we are doing.
The UN Security Council resolution is very clear about the fact that we are able to take action, including military action, to put in place a no-fly zone that prevents air attacks on Libyan people, and to take all necessary measures to stop the attacks on civilians. We must be clear what our role is, and our role is to enforce that UN Security Council resolution. Many people will ask questions—I am sure, today—about regime change, Gaddafi and the rest of it. I have been clear: I think Libya needs to get rid of Gaddafi. But, in the end, we are responsible for trying to enforce that Security Council resolution; the Libyans must choose their own future.
I am very grateful to the Prime Minister. He will know that, at the moment, the military action is entirely by western states, and that interpretation of the resolution is everything. Will he ensure that, even if its forces are not deployed, the Arab League will be drawn properly into the strategic decision making?
I think the right hon. Lady makes an excellent point. I spoke to the secretary-general of the Arab League this morning. One of the things we want to do is to set up a coalition meeting, which happens regularly, for all parties to the mission to come together at a political level and help to give it leadership and guidance. She is right that Arab planes have not been involved in the mission so far, but, as I shall come on to later, the Qataris are producing a number of jets to help enforce the no-fly zone, and we will be doing everything we can to encourage others to come forward. As she knows and I am sure the House will appreciate, what happened on Friday and Saturday was a growing urgency, where action needed to be taken at once. It was vital that we did take that action at once, and, as a result, it was predominantly US, French and British forces that were involved in it.
The action will be limited by what the UN Security Council resolution says. As far as I am concerned, there are two absolutely clear bases for action—one is necessary measures to put in place a no-fly zone, and the second is necessary measures to prevent the deaths of civilians. In everything we do, we must be guided by clear legal advice underneath that UN Security Council resolution. I urge all hon. Members to read the resolution in full, because it gives a pretty clear explanation of what we can do, and we must act within both the letter and the spirit of that.
The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. The first resolution we passed—1970—specifically referred to the International Criminal Court. The message we should give today, very clearly, to those people still working or fighting for Gaddafi is that if you continue to do so, you could end up in front of the International Criminal Court, and now is the time to put down your weapons, walk away from your tanks, and stop obeying orders from this regime.
What I can guarantee is that we will stick to the terms of the UN resolution, which absolutely and specifically rules out an occupying force. We have to be clear: we are not talking about an invasion; we are not talking about an occupying force; we are talking about taking action to protect civilian life, and I think that is the right thing to do.
Of course, no two campaigns are the same, but there are similarities between this campaign and that to protect the Kurdish people when Saddam Hussein turned on his own people and began to attack them. The motion before the House calls for all necessary measures to protect the people of Libya. Can the Prime Minister confirm that when we vote on the motion tonight, that does not mean regime change in Libya, because that is up to the Libyan people?
My hon. Friend is entirely right, and he is right to draw attention to the issue of the no-fly zone that covered the Kurds. Indeed, at the meeting in Paris on Saturday the Iraqi Foreign Minister gave a passionate speech about how the no-fly zone had saved thousands of lives, and probably his own as well, and that is why it was the right step to take.
Certainly, the entire aim of the no-fly zone is to stop the attacks from the air by Gaddafi on his own people, but where the UN has had such a success here is that the resolution goes so much further than simply a no-fly zone because it talks about not only all necessary measures for a no-fly zone, but all necessary measures to protect the civilian population. That enables the international community to take quite tough, but absolutely necessary, steps—for instance, to stop those tanks going into Benghazi. We need to pay tribute to our military and what they are going to have to do over coming days to protect people—an absolutely vital part of what we are engaged in.
I am going to make some progress, and then I will take more interventions later.
This action was necessary because, with others, we should be trying to prevent this dictator from using military violence against his own people; it was legal because, as we have just discussed, it had the backing of the UN Security Council; and it was right, I believe, because we should not stand aside while he murders his own people—and the Arab League and many others agreed. In the summit in Paris on Saturday, the secretary-general of the Arab League and representatives of Arab states, including Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Jordan and Morocco, asserted their support for
“all necessary action, including military, consistent with UNSCR 1973, to ensure compliance with all its requirements.”
That is what was agreed in Paris.
As I have said, in terms of active participation, the Qataris are deploying a number of jets from their royal air force to help enforce the no-fly zone. I spoke to the secretary-general of the Arab League this morning, and he confirmed his clear support for all aspects of the UN resolution. We agree that it must be implemented.
Alongside America, France and Britain, a significant number of other countries are pledging their active support. I am sure that the House would want to hear some of the details. Spain has confirmed its active participation with four air defence fighters, a tanker aircraft, a surveillance aircraft and an F-100 frigate. Canada has committed six air defence fighters and a naval vessel. Norway and Denmark have committed a total of 10 air defence fighters. Belgium has offered air defence fighters. Italy has opened important bases in close reach of the Libyan coast, one of which we are using right now. Greece has excellent facilities and bases only minutes’ flying time from Benghazi.
The message in Paris was loud and clear: the international community had heeded the call of the Arab nations. Together, we assured the Libyan people of our
“determination to be at their side to help them realise their aspirations and build their future and institutions within a democratic framework.”
The Prime Minister will be aware that the Chinese Government have called for a special meeting of the Security Council this evening, and that India has expressed deep reservations about the bombardments that are going on. Can he tell us something about the apparent continuing falling away of support for the actions that have been taken, and what the endgame actually is?
The point that I would make is that this matter was discussed in the UN Security Council and the Chinese, Indians and Russians decided to abstain. Two of those countries have a veto and decided not to exercise it. Everyone was clear at the time about what was meant by enforcing a no-fly zone and taking all necessary measures to protect civilians. I will come on in my speech to describe how I believe what has happened is in no way disproportionate or unreasonable. Indeed, I would argue that it is absolutely in line with what the UN has agreed.
I will address specifically the amendment tabled by Jeremy Corbyn. I know that it has not been selected, but I want to ensure that we address everything in this debate. There is much in the amendment that I welcome. I assure the House that we will do everything we can to avoid civilian casualties. Indeed, last night our RAF pilots aborted their mission when they determined that there were civilians close to the identified military targets. I also agree with the hon. Members who signed the amendment about the need to avoid the use of depleted uranium and cluster munitions. We do not use those munitions. I welcome their support for those struggling for democracy and freedom in the region, and back their call to restart the middle east peace process.
However, I take issue with two crucial parts of the amendment. The first is the suggestion that there was somehow time for further consultation before undertaking military action. The United Nations gave Gaddafi an ultimatum and he completely ignored it. To those who say that we should wait and see, I say that we have waited and we have seen more than enough. The House is aware that the Cabinet met and agreed our approach on Friday. On Saturday morning, as I was travelling to the Paris summit, the Deputy Prime Minister chaired a meeting of Cobra. He was presented with a final analysis of the state of play on the ground in Libya and the advice was very clear. We were in a race against time to avoid the slaughter of civilians in Benghazi. All of us would have hoped to avoid the use of force, and that could have been achieved if Gaddafi had complied immediately and fully with the requirements of the resolution. The fact is that he did not. That left us with a choice either to use force, strictly in line with the resolution, or to back down and send a message to Gaddafi that he could go on brutalising his people. We should remember that this is the man who told the world that he would show the people of Benghazi no mercy. I am convinced that to act with others was the right decision.
I could not have been more clear that we do not use those weapons and are not going to use those weapons.
Let me be clear with the hon. Gentleman about why, specifically, I do not agree with the amendment. My second objection is that it says we should “acknowledge” rather than “support” UN Security Council resolution 1973. I think that is profoundly wrong. It is an important resolution that the UK helped to bring about, and I believe that the House should be frank and clear in welcoming it.
A successful outcome is the enforcement of the will of the UN, which is the ceasing of attacks on civilians. That is what we are aiming at. But let me be absolutely frank about this: it is a more difficult question, in many ways, than the question over Iraq, because in Iraq we had been prepared to go into a country, knock over its Government and put something else in place. That is not the approach we are taking here. We are saying that there is a UN Security Council resolution to stop violence against civilians and to put in a UN no-fly zone, and then the Libyan people must choose their own future. The point I would make is that they have far more chance of choosing their own future today than they did 24 or 48 hours ago.
My right hon. Friend is being very generous in giving way.
Given our poor record of intervention in the past, can my right hon. Friend explain to the sceptics among us why we do not allow the Arabs to take the lead on this, particularly the Arab League, which has called for intervention, and let them instigate a no-fly zone? After all, Egypt is well placed, and we have been selling these Arab nations the capability.
I would answer that question in two ways. First, if we had waited for that, Benghazi would have fallen, and from that Tobruk would probably have fallen, and Gaddafi would have rolled up the whole of his country in the next 24 to 48 hours. The fact is, it was the Arab League that asked us to come in and provide the no-fly zone. I am as keen as anyone to make sure that this coalition of the willing is as broad-based, and has as much Arab support, as possible, but we should be clear that in the early stages, in order to act quickly, it had to have very strong American, British and French participation.
My right hon. Friend knows that I am strongly supportive of the actions that he has taken, and he deserves great credit for them, but on Friday he indicated that we would see a summary of the legal advice from the Attorney-General. We know from what he said on Friday, and indeed from the note that has been supplied in the Library, that the Cabinet has consulted the Attorney-General and is satisfied with the legal advice, but it does not seem from what I have seen so far that we have been supplied with a summary of the Attorney-General’s legal advice. Is that going to be forthcoming?
What we have provided, which I do not think any Government have done before, is a note on the legal advice. That is, I think, the right thing to do. One of the reasons why it is so short is, frankly, because the legal advice is so clear. Members can see that when they read the UN Security Council resolution.
I will take as many interventions as I can, but before I give way any more, let me turn to some of the other questions that have been raised in recent days.
First, as some hon. Members have asked today, has the use of force been reasonable? As I have said, we have undertaken the use of force in two ways. The first is to suppress Libyan air defences, which I believe is absolutely essential. As Prime Minister, I would not have been prepared to sanction our participation in enforcing the no-fly zone without doing everything possible to reduce the risk to our servicemen and women beforehand. That seems to me absolutely vital. The second area of activity has been action designed explicitly to safeguard civilian populations under attack. As the resolution explicitly authorises, it was quite clear that the population of Benghazi was under heavy attack. Civilians were being killed in significant numbers and exodus from the town had begun, so there was an urgent need to take action to stop the slaughter. As I have said, I am absolutely convinced that what has been done is proportionate.
Targets must be fully consistent with the UN Security Council resolution. We therefore choose our targets to stop attacks on civilians and to implement the no-fly zone, but we should not give a running commentary on targeting and I do not propose to say any more on the subject than that.
I am grateful to the Prime Minister. I am sure he would agree that any military action needs to be principled and consistent, but last year, the UK issued £231 million-worth of arms exports licences to Libya and £55 million of licences to Saudi Arabia, including the very personnel carriers that were rolling into Bahrain just last week. Does he not agree that our position would be a lot more consistent and a lot more principled if we stopped selling arms to repressive regimes anywhere in that region?
The hon. Lady makes an important point, which we have discussed several times during statements and questions. We are having a proper review of not just arms exports, but training licences and other relations. Of the 118 single and open licences for Libya, we have revoked all licences that cover equipment of concern. However, I agree with the hon. Lady that there will be lessons to learn from the conflict for the future.
The Prime Minister has been pressed to rule out putting any boots on the ground as part of the operation. May I ask him to reassure the House that, in the event of any British pilots being downed on operations over Libya, the UN resolution will not tie our hands and prevent us from putting in a robust search and rescue operation, should one be required to recover our pilots?
My hon. Friend makes an important point, but the UN resolution could not be clearer about no occupying army—it is not about an invasion. People need that reassurance not only in the House but in the country and throughout the Arab world.
The Prime Minister should know that he has the support of the vast majority of Members of all parties for the Government’s actions and those of our troops, who are undertaking the work on our behalf. Does he agree that it is hard to see how the Libyan people will be safe from the threat of violence while Colonel Gaddafi remains in charge of that country?
The hon. Gentleman puts it absolutely correctly. We know what our job is—to enforce the UN’s will. It is for the people in Libya to decide who governs them, how they are governed and what their future is, but none of us has changed our opinion that there is no future for the people of Libya with Colonel Gaddafi in charge.
Obviously, there are those, including some in the House, who question whether Britain really needs to get involved. Some have argued that we should leave it to others because there is not sufficient British national interest at stake. I believe that argument is misplaced. If Gaddafi’s attacks on his own people succeed, Libya will become once again a pariah state, festering on Europe’s border, and a source of instability exporting terror beyond its borders. It will be a state from which literally hundreds of thousands of citizens could try to escape, putting huge pressure on us in Europe. We should also remember that Gaddafi is a dictator who has a track record of violence and support for terrorism against our country. The people of Lockerbie, for instance, know what that man is capable of. I am therefore clear that taking action in Libya with our partners is in our national interest.
The legal note that accompanies the debate makes it clear that the Security Council resolution recognises that Libya
“constitutes a threat to international peace and security.”
Although I do not recommend that we take such action, from the point of view of consistency, why are we not taking action against Yemen?
We are obviously extremely disturbed by what is happening in Yemen, particularly recent events. We urge every country in that region to respond to the aspirations of its people with reform, not repression. We have a specific situation in Libya, whereby there was a dictator whose people were trying to get rid of him, who responded with armed violence in the streets. The UN has reached a conclusion and I think that we should back it. As I said the other day, just because we cannot do the right thing everywhere does not mean we should not do it when we have clear permission for and a national interest in doing so. One commentator put it rather well at the weekend: “Why should I tidy my bedroom when the rest of the world is such a mess?” That is an interesting way of putting it.
May I express from the Liberal Democrat Benches our strong support for the resolution and the Government’s action? Clearly, the position is different from Iraq. However, does the Prime Minister agree that there is an urgent need to internationalise the mission as far as possible to cement support across the international community should things not run entirely tidily and also so as not to over-extend our forces?
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. We want to internationalise the action to the maximum degree possible on the military front and in what must follow in humanitarian aid and assistance to the people in Libya.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned Iraq and I want to deal with the way in which we will ensure that this is not another Iraq. My answer is clear: the UN resolution, which we, with the Lebanese, the US and the French, helped draft, makes it clear that there will be no foreign occupation of Libya. The resolution authorises and sets the limit on our action. It excludes an occupation force in any form on any part of Libyan territory.
However, I would argue that the differences from Iraq go deeper. It is not just that this time, the action has the full, unambiguous legal authority of the United Nations nor that it is backed by Arab countries and a broad international coalition, but that millions in the Arab world want to know that the UN, the US, the UK, the French and the international community care about their suffering and their oppression. The Arab world has asked us to act with it to stop the slaughter, and that is why we should answer that call.
Order. We need to be clear who is intervening. I think it is Mr Havard.
The legal advice summary, which I have only just seen—we have not seen the whole thing—clearly excludes
“a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory” but also says that the resolution
“further authorises Member States to use all measures…to carry out inspections aimed at the enforcement of the arms embargo”.
Does that mean that on the one hand we cannot have troops on the ground, but on the other hand we might allow people to make inspections or go there for search and rescue purposes? Is there clarity about having no troops on the ground in Libya?
The point about the legal advice, which refers back to the UN Security Council resolution, is that it makes provision to put in place an arms embargo and to inspect ships going to Libya. A number of countries have volunteered their forces specifically for that purpose, which we should welcome.
That brings me to my next point. Some accept that Britain should play a part but worry that we might shoulder an unfair burden. I want to assure the House that that is not the case. Let me explain how the coalition will work. It is operating under US command, with the intention that that will transfer to NATO, which will mean that all the NATO allies—I read out a list earlier of who wants to contribute—will be able to contribute. Clearly, the mission would benefit from that and from using NATO’s tried and tested command and control machinery.
With the fourth largest defence budget in the world, Britain clearly has the means to play its part, but given that British troops are engaged in Afghanistan, that part must be in line with our resources, and so it will be. No resources have been diverted from the Afghanistan campaign to carry out the enforcement of resolution 1973, and I have the assurance of the Chief of the Defence Staff that both operations can take place concurrently. Crucially, the impact of what we are doing in Libya will not affect our mission in Afghanistan.
May I congratulate the Prime Minister on obtaining the UN resolution to give us the legal cover that we require? The problem with Iraq was that there was no proper post-war reconstruction plan. Is he giving thought to what a post-war reconstruction plan ought to be, and will he encourage members of the Arab League to play their full part in that once the military phase is over?
My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point about humanitarian planning for afterwards, which I will come to later in my speech. My right hon. Friend the International Development Secretary is leading cross-Government work to ensure that that plan is robust. However, let me be frank about one difficulty that we have. Because we are saying that there will not be an invasion and that there will not be an occupation, we must have a different sort of plan—a much more international plan with a greater role for the UN, the EU and aid agencies, all of which we will support.
It is easy to get into a war; it is much harder to end it. When will all those nations that are taking part know the circumstances for pulling out and ending the war? We know now that this is not about regime change—the Prime Minister has already said that—and we hope that there will be no forces on the ground, but what circumstances will enable those nations to say, “It’s all over”?
For once, I agree with the hon. Gentleman—I entirely agree with the first part of his question, because it is easier to start these things than to finish them, and we should always be cautious and careful before we go ahead. However, as I have tried to lay out for the House today, not acting would have led to a completely unacceptable situation. The answer to his question is that this will be over and finished when we have complied with and implemented the UN Security Council resolution. That is about protecting civilians and protecting life, and giving the Libyan people a chance to determine their own future. This is different from Iraq. This is not going into a country and knocking over its Government, and then owning and being responsible for everything that happens subsequently. This is about protecting people and giving the Libyan people a chance to shape their own destiny.
No, I am not saying that. I am saying that at the moment there is basically American command and control, under which the French, British and others are operating. Over time, we want that to transition to NATO command and control, using NATO machinery, so that all the partners in NATO and all those who want to contribute from the outside can be properly co-ordinated. That might easily still be an American, French or British individual, but it would be under the auspices of NATO. It is tried and tested, it works, it co-ordinates and brings people together, it has operated no-fly zones before, and it is the right way of doing things. The international community is agreed on that.
Of course, there are those who ask whether the risks will outweigh the benefits. Clearly, as I have said, there is no action without risk, but alongside the risks of action, we have to weigh the risks of inaction: the sight of the international community condemning violence but doing nothing to stop it; the effect across north Africa and the middle east if Gaddafi succeeds in brutalising his own people; the humanitarian consequences for the city of Benghazi and beyond; and the consequences for Europe of a failed pariah state on its southern border. In my view, all these risks are simply too great to ignore. So yes there are dangers and difficulties, and there will always be unforeseen consequences, but it is better to take this action than to risk the consequences of inaction, which would be the slaughter of civilians and this dictator completely flouting the United Nations and its will.
In addition to brutalising his own people, is it not the case that the Gaddafi regime is daily harassing our brave British journalists, making it increasingly difficult for them to report from places such as Tripoli?
I am sure that everyone in the House would want to pay tribute to the risks taken by, and the bravery of, journalists, including British journalists. Everyone should remember that people reporting from Tripoli are doing so under very strong reporting restrictions. I hope that not only everyone in the House, but everyone in the country and broadcasting organisations will remember to repeat regularly the sort of restrictions the reporters are operating under.
I will make some progress, and take a few more interventions before the end.
There are also some who say we are just stirring up trouble for the future. These people say that Arabs and Muslims cannot do democracy and that more freedoms in these countries will simply lead to extremism and intolerance. To me, this argument is not only deeply condescending and prejudiced, but is utterly wrong and has been shown to be wrong. Let us remember that people made this argument about Egypt only a short month ago. They said that the departure of Mubarak would lead to a dangerous vacuum in which extremists would flourish. Of course, I deplore—and the House will deplore—the attack on Mohamed e1-Baradei at a polling station, but the overwhelming picture from Saturday was one of millions of people queuing up patiently and proudly to exercise their democratic rights, many for the first time. As democrats in this House, we should applaud what they did.
Inevitably, information about the Libyan opposition is not complete, but the evidence suggests that it consists predominantly of ordinary Libyans from all walks of life who want freedom, justice and democracy—the things we take for granted.
My hon. Friend, who has considerable expertise and has taken a great interest in this matter, makes an important point, which is that if the Libyan people choose a new future for themselves and their country, there might be huge opportunities to find out not only what really happened to PC Yvonne Fletcher, but about the support for Northern Irish terrorism that did so much damage in our country.
People will be rightly concerned that we should have a clear plan for what happens next in Libya—both in humanitarian terms, and also politically and diplomatically—following the successful conclusion of the no-fly zone. On humanitarian issues, the UK was one of the first to respond to the humanitarian needs arising from Gaddafi’s actions. We provided tents and blankets from our stores in Dubai for the thousands of migrant workers crossing the borders to escape the regime’s violence. We were the first country to provide flights to enable 12,000 migrant workers to return to their homes. This timely assistance prevented what was a logistical emergency from becoming a humanitarian crisis. The International Development Secretary announced last week that we will now support the International Committee of the Red Cross to deploy three medical teams. They will help to provide both medical assistance to the 3,000 people affected by the fighting, and food and essential items for 100,000 of the most vulnerable. From the beginning, we urged the United Nations to lead international pressure for unfettered humanitarian access within Libya. We are now planning for new humanitarian needs that may emerge as a result of the conflict.
I am sceptical about this country’s involvement in air raids on another Muslim and Arab country. However, I accept that there has been a huge success in saving lives in Benghazi. It would make me feel more relaxed about the resolution this evening if the Prime Minister gave a commitment to report back regularly to the House and to ask for further authority to continue the operations.
Of course there should be regular statements in this House. I gave a statement on Friday and we are having a debate on a substantive motion today. There should be regular updates on the humanitarian situation, what our defence forces are doing, and political and diplomatic activity. I do not believe that right now there is a need to go back to the UN for further permission, because the resolution could not be clearer. It combined three different elements: an immediate ceasefire, action for a no-fly zone, and action to protect civilians and stop the loss of life. It was an incredibly complete UN resolution, and that is why we should give it such strong support.
Let me say one more word about the issue of planning for the humanitarian situation. It is important that in supporting the implementation of the resolution, the international system should plan now for stabilising the peace that we hope will follow. That could include rapidly restoring damaged infrastructure, keeping important services such as health and education running, reforming the security sector, and ensuring an open and transparent political process to elections. All that will take time and require an internationally led effort, but Britain is committed to playing its part.
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way and for the leadership that he has shown on this issue. Given what has been said about Kurdistan this afternoon and the reports that Gaddafi has mustard gas, what action will the allies take to stop him if he starts using it against his own people?
My hon. Friend raises an issue of real concern, on which we keep a very sharp focus. After Gaddafi supposedly came in from the cold, there was an agreement for him to give up weapons of mass destruction. He destroyed some of them, but he still has the supplies to which my hon. Friend refers. We have to make sure that there is absolutely no sign of their being used.
In terms of what happens politically and diplomatically, what is crucial is that the future of Libya is for the people of Libya to decide, aided by the international community. The Libyan opposition has made it clear that it does not want to see a division of its country, and neither do we. It has also expressed a clear and overwhelming wish for Gaddafi to go, and we agree with that too, but the UN resolution is limited in its scope. It explicitly does not provide legal authority for action to bring about Gaddafi’s removal from power by military means. As I have said, we will help to fulfil the UN Security Council’s resolution. It is for the Libyan people to determine their Government and their destiny, but our view is clear: there is no decent future for Libya with Colonel Gaddafi remaining in power.
On a wider point, it is a change in philosophy on the part of the UN and the international community not to tolerate those involved in the internal repression of their own populations. What is going to happen to leaders in other countries round the world who are indulging in Gaddafi-style behaviour?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, and that is why UN Security Council resolution 1973 could be something of a breakthrough. The world has come together and said that what this dictator is doing to his people—within his own country, but totally in breach of international law and all sign of human rights—is wrong and can be stopped by all necessary means. In the act of stopping him, let us hope that that sends a message to dictators the world over.
With a no-fly zone in operation, a tyrant as brutal and determined as Gaddafi could decide to move the conflict into urban areas. In that scenario, does the resolution as it stands give us the scope to act to stop any humanitarian disaster that could occur?
The resolution gives us the scope to act, but clearly we have to act at all times to minimise civilian casualties. We must bear that in mind very carefully when we think about the military operations that we are engaged in.
I will not give way any more.
Gaddafi has had every conceivable opportunity to stop massacring his own people. The time for red lines, threats and last chances is over. Tough action is needed now to ensure that people in Libya can lead their lives without fear and with access to the basic needs of life. That is what the Security Council requires and that is what we are seeking to deliver. There are rightly those who ask how and where this will end. Of course, there are difficulties and dangers ahead, but already we know, beyond any doubt, that we have succeeded in chasing Gaddafi’s planes out of the sky. We have saved the lives of many Libyans and we have helped to prevent the destruction of a great and historic city.
Of course, no one can be certain of what the future can hold, but as we stand here today, the people of Libya have a much better chance of determining their destiny and, in taking this action, we should be proud that we are not only acting in British interests but being true to our values as a nation. I commend the motion to the House.
I rise to support the Government motion. Let me first welcome the fact that the Government have decided to have a substantive motion and, indeed, vote in this House, because it is right that the decision to commit our forces is made in this House. Like my hon. Friend Graham Stringer, I urge the Prime Minister and his colleagues to ensure that the House has regular chances to debate this issue in the days and weeks ahead.
I want to pay tribute to our brave armed forces who are engaging in military action. I am sure that the thoughts of the whole House are with them. The issue at the heart of today’s debate is this: on the one hand, we have the case for action outside our borders when we see people facing repression and butchery from others; yet, on the other hand, we have the caution that we must always show in the exercise of western and, indeed, British power for reasons of basic principle, imperial history and the consequences that might follow.
Today, I want to set out to this House why I believe that we should support the motion today and support our armed forces. I do so because I believe that the three key criteria for action exist: it is a just cause with a feasible mission and it has international support. Secondly,
I want to address the central issue, not least among those raised by my hon. Friends, of how we reconcile the decision to intervene in Libya and the hard cases elsewhere. Thirdly, I want to raise a number of issues that will require clarity if this mission is to succeed.
Today and in the coming weeks, our duty as the official Opposition is to support the UN resolution and at the same time to scrutinise the decisions that are made to maximise the chances of success of this mission. Let me start with the case for action. In the days and weeks ahead—the Prime Minister said this in his speech—we must always remember the background to the debate. We have seen with our own eyes what the Libyan regime is capable of. We have seen guns being turned on unarmed demonstrators, we have watched warplanes and artillery being used against civilian population centres, we have learned of militia violence and disappearances in areas held by Gaddafi’s forces and we have heard the leader of the Libyan opposition say:
“We appeal to the international community, to all the free world, to stop this tyranny from exterminating civilians.”
And we have heard Colonel Gaddafi gloat that he would treat the people of Benghazi, a city of 700,000 people—the size of Leeds—with “no mercy or compassion”.
In 1936, a Spanish politician came to Britain to plead for support in the face of General Franco’s violent fascism. He said:
“We are fighting with sticks and knives against tanks and aircraft and guns, and it revolts the conscience of the world that that should be true.”
As we saw the defenceless people of Libya attacked by their own Government, it would equally revolt the conscience of the world to know that we could have done something to help them yet chose not to.
In the context of the important issue of arming those who are resisting Gaddafi, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that every effort must be made, within the terms of the resolution, to apply to the sanctions committee of the United Nations to enable paragraph 9(c) of resolution 1970 to be applied in such a way as to ensure that people in Benghazi and elsewhere are properly supplied with arms so that they can defend themselves? As the right hon. Gentleman has said, there is a parallel with what happened in 1936.
As the Prime Minister said when we discussed the issue a week or so ago, we need to be cautious and ensure that we always comply with the terms of the UN mandate, but as long as we stick to the UN mandate, that is the right thing to do.
Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that, in part, we are where we are because of the actions of the last Government in appeasing and collaborating with Gaddafi, in selling him weapons, and in building business and academic links?
To be fair to the Prime Minister, he conducted this debate in the right terms. Let me say to the hon. Gentleman that today is not the day for party political point-scoring. Let me say this also: in
2005, when Tony Blair made the decision that he made, voices were not raised against him, because there was no sign of a popular uprising in Libya. What people worried about was Colonel Gaddafi—and the Prime Minister eloquently described the problems and dangers posed by him—possessing nuclear weapons and threatening the rest of the world, and I think that Tony Blair was right to try to bring him into the international community.
A debate is often conducted about rights to intervene, but this debate is about not rights but responsibilities. The decade-long debate about the “responsibility to protect” speaks precisely to this question. As the House will know, the responsibility to protect was adopted in 2005 at the world summit and was endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly and the United Nations Security Council, and it should help to frame our debate today. It identifies a “responsibility to react” to
“situations of compelling human need with appropriate measures…and in extreme cases military intervention”.
It identifies four cautionary tests which will help us in this debate as we consider intervention:
“right intention, last resort, proportional means and reasonable prospects”.
I have great respect for the right hon. Gentleman, but I do not agree that this is a civil war. There was a popular uprising against the Gaddafi regime that Gaddafi is cruelly and brutally trying to suppress. I think that we should bear that in mind as we implement the terms of the resolution.
The responsibility to protect identifies those four tests that we should apply, and I think that they will inform the debate today. The first is the test of “right intentions”. Our intentions are right: we are acting to protect the Libyan people, to save lives, and to prevent the Gaddafi regime from committing serious crimes against humanity. We do not seek commercial gain or geopolitical advantage, and we are not intending to occupy Libya or seize her natural resources. This is not a power play or an attempt to install a new Government by force. Colonel Gaddafi is the one who is trying to impose his political will with violence, and our role is to stop him.
This is the “last resort” to protect the Libyan people. Sanctions and other measures have been tried, including in resolution 1970, and they have not stopped Colonel Gaddafi. As the Prime Minister said, his ceasefire was simply a lie paraded to the international community before his forces once again attacked Benghazi. As for proportionality, the UN resolution makes it clear that the means must be proportional, and we should always follow that in what we do.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that, although what he is saying is of great importance, there are also lessons to be learned. Does he not think that it is time for a wholesale review of our policy of military co-operation and arms sales in the case of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, and of what is happening in
Yemen and further afield in the Congo, the Ivory Coast and other places? At what point is he prepared to say that we should be involved or not involved, and at what point is he prepared to say that we will seriously scale down our arms export industry, which actually leads to much of the oppression in the first place?
Let me deal with those two very serious points. On the first point about arms exports, we have rightly said that there should be a comprehensive review of the implementation and nature of our policy on arms sales. When we see what has happened in parts of north Africa, we are worried about the use of British arms for internal repression. If my hon. Friend will allow me, I will come to his second point about double standards later in my speech. The Prime Minister has also talked about that very important issue.
Compliance with the UN resolution might not equal an endgame. What does the right hon. Gentleman propose that we should do about the no-fly zone if we manage to comply with the resolution but at the same time Gaddafi is left in place because there is a stalemate on the ground?
I am going to talk about that in my speech as well, but I want to respond directly to the hon. Gentleman. We do not always know how things will end, so the question is whether, when we are faced with the choices we face, it is better to take action or to stand aside. This is a really important point and we will be scrutinising the Government and the Prime Minister in the coming weeks, looking for a clear strategy. I have looked back at the debate about Kosovo in 1999, which was led by Robin Cook, and people were making the same arguments then. The truth is that we did not know where things were going to end, but by taking action in Kosovo we saved the lives of tens of thousands of people.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that one way in which we can help the Libyan people and the rebellion against Gaddafi is by recognising them as the legitimate Government. Would he support the Government in taking that position if it were put forward?
This is a very tricky issue, but let me respond to the hon. Gentleman. In a joint statement with President Sarkozy, the Prime Minister recognised the transitional council as one of the reasonable interlocutors—I think that was the phrase. The reason for that is that we need to scrutinise very carefully who the best interlocutors are and who the natural alternative to Colonel Gaddafi is. There is a history to this and jumping too early in that regard has its own dangers. I think it is right to recognise the transitional council as a reasonable interlocutor.
The right hon. Gentleman’s reference to Kosovo is entirely apt because it was out of the frustrations of Kosovo, for which no United Nations Security Council resolution could be obtained, that the doctrine of the duty to protect arose. Its genesis was in a speech made by Tony Blair in Chicago in 1999. In this particular case, are we not on much stronger ground because the Security Council has said expressly in the provision that “all necessary measures” may be taken?
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has huge expertise in this area and he makes an important point. This is a very important moment for multilateralism because a UN resolution has been passed without opposition at the Security Council. This is a real test of the international community and its ability to carry through not just our intentions but the intentions and values of the United Nations. He is completely right about that.
I was talking about proportionality, which is the third test of the responsibility to protect. It is right to say that our targeting strategy and that of our allies—this is something that the Prime Minister and I have discussed—must be restricted to military targets that pose a threat to civilians. We should always exercise the utmost care in the nature of our targeting because we know how important that is both as a matter of principle and for the conduct of our campaign.
On the fourth criterion of reasonable success, there is every reason to believe, as we have already shown in the past few days, that we can stop the slaughter on which Colonel Gaddafi appears to have embarked.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about the important matter of targeting by the allies in the attacks against the regime, but is he aware that Colonel Gaddafi is putting civilians in the places where such targets are, thereby making the situation for the coalition Government ever more difficult?
The hon. Gentleman speaks eloquently of the evil of Colonel Gaddafi in doing that. The care taken by our armed forces, which the Prime Minister has talked about, is incredibly important because they are facing incredibly difficult decisions.
The responsibility to protect recognises that there need to be tests applied to intervention, but also, crucially, that interventions require international authority and consent. In this case, the Arab League endorses a no-fly zone, and the UN Security Council expressed a clear will, with the support of 10 countries. It is worth drawing attention to which countries those are, because they include Lebanon, Colombia and South Africa. A broad spectrum of countries from across the world gave their support to the UN resolution.
There is international consent, a just cause and a feasible mission, but we also need—this is very important—to maintain public support here at home, because this House is not just contemplating expressing its support for an international resolution; it is discussing its position on the use of armed forces. We are a generous and compassionate people, but there will no doubt be some people in the country—indeed, we have heard it in parts of this House—wondering whether it really needs to be us, now, at this time. It is a valid and important question, but in the end, as well as there being the geopolitical questions that the Prime Minister raised, we have to make a judgment about our role in the world and our duty to others. Where there is just cause, where feasible action can be taken, and where there is international consent, are we really saying that we should be a country that stands by and does nothing? In my view, that would be a dereliction of our duty, our history, and our values. Let us not forget that those who have risen up against Colonel Gaddafi are part of a wider movement for reform and democracy that we are seeing across north Africa. We cannot and should not abandon them.
I have supported humanitarian interventions in the past, and I am minded to do the same in this case, but the reason why we are expected to intervene, rather than others, is that we are stronger than others. The right hon. Gentleman knows that there has been a huge hole in the defence budget. Does he know from his conversations with the Government whether the funding for what could be a very long-term and expensive operation will be added to the core defence budget, or taken from it?
I have been given those reassurances by the Prime Minister. Today, as the House debates this question, I want to concentrate on the important issues before us, including the capability of our armed forces, but I have been given that reassurance by the Government.
It is obviously right that we should focus on Libya today, but as my right hon. Friend knows, the situation in Yemen is deteriorating every hour. Is there not a duty on the Arab League and coalition partners to try to work to prevent further conflict in Yemen by promoting the need for dialogue?
I know that my right hon. Friend has been one of the leading voices on the question of Yemen, and he is absolutely right about that; I am coming to that now in my speech. I have set out the case for support for the resolution and our participation, but—this is the second part of my remarks—that will not be enough for everyone in the House, including my hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn.
I will make a bit more progress. Many will ask one additional question: why are we intervening in Libya, but not in other countries around the world? It is a valid question, and it is right to say that there are many other hard cases. What is happening in Yemen is deeply troubling, and what is happening in Bahrain is equally troubling. Historically, the cases of Burma, Rwanda and other countries live on in our conscience, and yet here I do agree with the Prime Minister: the argument that because we cannot do everything we cannot do anything is a bad argument. In the world that we live in, the action that we take depends on a combination of principle and pragmatism—what is right, and what can be done. That is not perfect, but an imperfect world order is not an excuse for inaction.
My right hon. Friend and the Prime Minister have both enunciated what is really the Blair doctrine: “If you can’t do everything, it doesn’t stop you doing something.” I would be more supportive of that principle if there were clear criteria laid down in advance about when we should do something, rather than it looking as though it were an ad hoc decision on every occasion.
I am not sure that the Prime Minister and I are competing to call it the Blair doctrine. On the substantive question that my hon. Friend raises, he is right to say that we need criteria. I think that the responsibility to protect is of great assistance to us there. I think that it has been overlooked at times during our debates. It is endorsed by the UN Security Council and General Assembly.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the passing of UN Security Council resolution 1973 represents a watershed moment, as the Prime Minister seemed to intimate, because of the way in which the international community now looks at the behaviour of Governments repressing the citizens of their own countries?
I think it is too early to declare it a watershed moment, but the hon. Gentleman is right to suggest that those who desire a world order based on principle as well as on power should support the resolution and the motion before us today. Whatever the flaws of multilateralism and the UN—and there are many—they are our best hope for the kind of world order based on principle that we want to see. If we can demonstrate that the international community has come together in the case of Libya to prevent Colonel Gaddafi’s action against his people, this will mark an important moment. We will have acted on the basis of a firm legal base.
That Gaddafi is a murderous tyrant has never been in doubt from the time he seized power in 1969. Like all hon. Members, however, I am concerned about the situation in many other countries, and the doubt in my mind stems from the fact that intervention by western powers is so selective. Last week, 45 people were slaughtered in Yemen, yet no one has suggested that we should intervene there. In Bahrain, there has been armed intervention by Saudi Arabia, but our Government have not suggested that we should intervene. It seems that, to a large extent, we intervene only in countries whose regimes are considered anti-west.
It is hard to calibrate the different regimes, but I believe that Colonel Gaddafi’s threat to hundreds of thousands of people in Benghazi and elsewhere puts him in a particular category. I also say to my hon. Friend that this is not a perfect world and, in the end, we have to make a judgment about what can be done. This is something that I think can be done.
I want to make some more progress. I will try to give way before the end of my speech, but I am conscious that many people want to speak in the debate.
If we succeed, we will have sent a signal to many other regimes that, in the face of democratic protest and the demand for change, it is simply not acceptable to turn to methods of repression and violence. And yet, if this pragmatic case for action in Libya is to stand and win support, it is all the more important that we speak out firmly, without fear or favour, against repression wherever we find it. In Bahrain, where the regime has apparently fired tear gas into a hospital, and in Yemen, where the murder of innocent civilians has taken place, we must be on the side of people and against the forces of repression wherever we find them.
We should address the longer-running issues affecting security and human rights in the middle east, particularly Israel-Palestine, where we must show that we can advance the peace process, and we must put pressure on our American allies to do so. We cannot be silent on these issues, either as a country or as an international community.
Mr Skinner and other hon. Members have mentioned the concept of a successful outcome. How would the right hon. Gentleman define success in this context, and how will we know when we have reached the point at which it is appropriate to implement an exit strategy?
That is a question that the Government will no doubt be seeking to answer in the days and weeks ahead. It is hard to define success at this point, except to say that we have a clear UN resolution before us on the protection of the Libyan people, and that we must seek to implement that resolution. That is the best criterion for success that we have, for now. No doubt the Government will want to build on that as the campaign unfolds.
My right hon. Friend is right to say that it will be hard to know when we should end this action. Will he therefore press the Government to ensure that the House is given constant opportunities to review the situation, so that we can be assured that mission creep is not taking place and that we are not going beyond what is necessary, and so that we can make the right decision at the appropriate time?
I think that my hon. Friend probably speaks for Members across the House, and Ministers will have heard what she and my hon. Friend Graham Stringer said. It is important that the House is not just kept up to date but has the chance to debate these issues. I see the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary nodding.
The point about regular scrutiny of what happens is incredibly important, not just to hon. Members but for the wider public. Talking to constituents over the weekend, I discovered that they had great concerns about our involvement, and about the length and level of that involvement. A great deal is needed from the Government to reassure the public about that involvement, not just now but over the coming weeks and months.
My hon. Friend probably speaks for many hon. Members from all parts of the House who went back to talk to their constituents. There is obvious concern, for a range of reasons, about our engaging in another military action, and it is a completely understandable concern.
That takes me on to the third part of my speech, which is about not just defining the mission but ensuring that there is clarity as it moves forward. There are a number of questions and challenges that the Government must seek to answer in the days ahead. In particular, there are four areas that require clarity: clarity about the forces and command structure involved; clarity about the mandate; clarity about our role in it and the limits; and most difficult of all, clarity about the endgame.
On broad participation in the mission and the forces involved, I want to impress again on the Prime Minister, as I did on Friday—and he himself noted this—the central importance of Arab participation, not just in the maintenance of the no-fly zone but in all the diplomatic work that is essential to keep the coalition together. I welcome what he said about a regular coalition meeting, because that is important. The Arab League’s decision to support a no-fly zone was central to turning the tide of opinion, which is why there was concern in various quarters about the apparent comments of Amr Moussa, the secretary-general of the Arab League, yesterday. He has since sought to correct the interpretation of those comments. I urge the Prime Minister—I am sure that this is being done, but it is important—to develop the fullest and most comprehensive diplomatic strategy to maintain the support of those countries and, indeed, the broadest possible coalition. That means not just keeping the countries in the region informed of our mission but ensuring that they are consulted on it.
We must be clear about the mandate of the UN resolution. We all want to see Colonel Gaddafi gone, and the Prime Minister repeated that today. None of us, however, should be under any illusions or in any doubt about the terms of what was agreed. The resolution is about our responsibility to protect the Libyan people—no more, no less.
Not for the moment.
I say to the Government—and the Prime Minister will know this—it is incredibly important that the international community observes the terms of the resolution in its actions and in what it says. I shall not rehearse the arguments about past conflicts, but we all know that ambiguity about the case for intervention is often one of the biggest problems that a mission faces. The House should be clear about the degree of difficulty of what we are attempting in securing a coalition from beyond western powers to support intervention in another, north African, state, so we cannot afford mission creep, and that includes in our public pronouncements.
The point that my right hon. Friend is making is important. Gaddafi could prove to be very difficult indeed to remove, so we cannot impose limitations on the length of time that the action and the enforcement of the resolution will take. Civilians in Tripoli are as valuable as civilians in Benghazi, so the actions that we take will be measured by the people who support them, which will be a judgment on whether what we are doing is in line with the international agreement. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is an important point we must always bear in mind?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is very important in all our public pronouncements to be careful about what we say. As the Prime Minister said, in principle it must be for the Libyan people to determine the shape of their future.
Military action by the coalition can be accompanied by a wide range of non-military measures to continue the pressure on the Libyan regime. Security Council resolution 1973, as well as resolution 1970, sets out all the measures that can be taken, including cutting off access to money, trade, weapons and international legitimacy for Colonel Gaddafi. And we need to remind Libyan leaders and commanders that they will be brought to justice for any crimes they commit against their people.
I am grateful to the Leader of the Opposition who, like the Prime Minister, is giving a powerful and thoughtful speech. He spoke about the duty to protect, and looking to liberal interventionism as a possible breakthrough watershed in global politics. Does he believe that it requires UN resolutions in future for countries, including our own, to be involved in implementing a duty to protect?
In the end, we have to look at that on a case-by-case basis, and the responsibility to protect looks at that issue, but clearly the hon. Gentleman is right to say that international consent is incredibly important for any mission that we undertake.
On the point about our public pronouncements, my right hon. Friend will have seen headlines such as “Blown to Brits” and “mad dog” and references to Gaddafi’s head on a spike. Does he agree that in this very serious circumstance, such language is completely inappropriate when our military forces and the people of Libya are in such grave danger?
My right hon. Friend is entirely right that we must exercise extreme care in all our public pronouncements. I will leave it at that.
The third point on which we must be clear is the role and limit of our forces. The resolution is clear that this is not about an army of occupation. The Prime Minister said on Friday that it was not about boots on the ground. There are obviously operational and strategic constraints on what the Prime Minister can say about our intentions, but we need as much clarity as possible, including answers to the issues of public consent and public opinion that were raised.
Finally, the Prime Minister is, I am sure, aware about people’s worries that this will end up being a mandate for stalemate. The argument that we do not know the precise sequence of events that will unfold is not a good argument for inaction. As I said earlier, in the Kosovo debate in 1999 Robin Cook was confronted by exactly the same arguments. Today it is hard to find anybody who thinks that action was wrong. We were right to proceed, but equally, the Government and their allies cannot be absolved of the responsibility of planning a clear strategy for what might happen in different eventualities and what our approach might be.
I shall finish, as others want to come in.
It is essential that both we and multilateral institutions prepare for the peace, whatever form that might take. Indeed, alongside the responsibility to protect is the responsibility to rebuild. I am sure that is something that the Government will be urgently undertaking. It is imperative that they do.
Let me end on this point. Today’s debate is conducted in the shadow of history of past conflicts. For me, it is conducted in the shadow of my family’s history as well: two Jewish parents whose lives were changed forever by the darkness of the holocaust, yet who found security in Britain. This is a story of the hope offered by Britain to my family, but many of my parents’ relatives were out of the reach of the international community and perished as a result. In my maiden speech in the House, I said that I would reflect
“the humanity and solidarity shown to my family more than 60 years ago”.—[Hansard, 23 May 2005; Vol. 434, c. 489.]
These are the kind of things we say in maiden speeches, but if they are to be meaningful, we need to follow them through in deeds, not just words. That is why I will be voting for the motion tonight, and why I urge the whole House to vote for it.
Nothing could demonstrate more eloquently the difference between the ill-conceived Iraq war and this operation than the overwhelming agreement on both sides of the Chamber, including the very eloquent and moving speech by the Leader of the Opposition. We now have a no-fly zone, the effect of which has been to neutralise the Libyan air force and take it out of the conflict. There is a naval blockade on Libya, which means that none of the coastal towns can be subject to bombardment. However, Gaddafi’s army remains, and it is legitimate to ask how the objectives of the Security Council resolution can be met, given those circumstances.
As the Prime Minister and others have pointed out, the Security Council resolution allowed us to do that because “all necessary measures” is a very well-known term. I was puzzled when Mr Amr Moussa expressed confusion on behalf of the Arab League about the action being taken, given that Lebanon, a member of the league, was a sponsor of the resolution. He must have known what it was intended to lead to, and I am relieved that he has moved on from that.
What we have seen already is the use of military power—the UN is entitled to do this—to attack artillery, heavy weapons and tanks on the roads of Libya where they might threaten civilian populations, but that is also relevant to the difficult question asked by one of my hon. Friends: what about Libyan regime forces that might have penetrated the towns and cities, where direct attack might be very dangerous? The need to protect civilians is of course paramount, but I believe that that matter will be addressed, because even the regime troops that have penetrated the towns and cities will need to have supplies of fuel and food renewed and other equipment provided, and that can now be blocked because any attempt to provide such reinforcements from outside the towns and cities can now be subject to the most precise destruction by coalition forces. That aspect of the resolution is very welcome.
There is another aspect to consider. Although we talk about a no-fly zone, the areas where civilian lives might be endangered or threatened have in fact become a no-combat zone. It is worth considering that the Security Council resolution stipulates not only “all necessary measures”, but
“all necessary measures, notwithstanding paragraph 9 of resolution 1970”, which is the resolution that imposed the arms embargo. That must mean that it is now appropriate under the terms of the resolution to supply the insurgents in Libya with military supplies in order to protect the civilian populations in which those insurgents are to be found. I hope that the Foreign Secretary or whoever will be winding up the debate will confirm that.
We have such limited time that my hon. Friend will have to forgive me for not giving way.
The third factor, which is very significant, is the statement made by President Obama on behalf of all members of the coalition in which he said that this is not simply a question of a ceasefire, but that the Gaddafi authorities are required to withdraw from the various towns and cities they have been threatening. If they do not do so, under the cover of darkness or at some future moment we could face the same problem again. Those are the components available to the coalition and authorised by the United Nations, and I believe that that cannot be seriously disputed.
The second part of my remarks relates to the endgame. What will happen if Gaddafi not only announces a ceasefire, but is forced to respect it, as is likely in the next few days? Does that mean it is all over? I do not think that that would be an appropriate interpretation of the resolution. Even if he introduces a ceasefire that seems genuine for a few days or a couple of weeks, we would have to be satisfied that he was not going to break it as soon as a no-fly zone resolution is withdrawn, because it would be incredibly difficult to have it reinserted again. We would have to be satisfied that the Gaddafi regime, if it remained in power, would continue to be sincere about a ceasefire resolution. It might mean that bombing by coalition forces or raids that damage or destroy elements of the Libyan army are not required, but we would certainly be required to maintain the resolution in force so that it could be re-enacted with all severity, even if it appears that a real ceasefire has be conceded in a few days’ time.
What does that mean for the future of Libya? Well, we just do not know. We cannot pretend to predict what will happen, because so much could and ought to depend on the actions of the Libyans themselves. There might be an uprising in Tripoli, and there might need to be civilian protection in that area—in the capital city—as well. Gaddafi’s own cronies—his own generals and Ministers—might defect as they were doing just a few weeks ago when they realised the game was up, but the most important consideration, if we are to get rid of the Gaddafi regime, is for the Libyan people to liberate themselves.
If air power has now been removed from the Gaddafi regime, if the blockade prevents use of the Libyan navy, and if it is possible, as I have suggested, in certain circumstances for military supplies to be made available to some of the insurgents for the protection of civilians, then that provides an opportunity whereby, if the Libyan people themselves overwhelmingly, as they seem to, want to get rid of that noxious regime, they will have the military means, the support of the international community and the well wishes of the Arab League to do so. In that way, we can all be satisfied that a job will be truly well done.
I am a late and very reluctant supporter of these operations, and that is not because I have become a pacifist overnight, I can assure people. It is because it is relatively easy to support things on day one and relatively difficult to support them in month three, or in month nine—and this is a situation that cannot be foreseen. I remind people that, over the past couple of years, I have been somewhat concerned about the degree of enthusiasm in parts of this country—particularly in the media, but in parts of this House and in parts of the population as well—for yet another operation abroad, and I would have thought that that enthusiasm had been somewhat tempered by our recent experiences.
Sir Malcolm Rifkind says how different it is now, in the House today, from when we voted for the Iraq war, but may I remind him that it is not? There was a huge majority in favour of the Iraq war, and his own party was massively in favour of it.
One hundred and seventy-nine British lives and a lot of other consequences later, we can all see that there were some grave difficulties with getting involved, but many of those people who can see them now could not see them on that day.
On Afghanistan, 360 British lives and many consequences—
I am not going to give way.
On Afghanistan, we are now 360 British lives and many consequences later, but not so many of us could see the consequences on day one as can see them now. I was, and I am unashamedly happy to have been, reluctant and late in my support for the resolution.
I would not give my support tonight for the resolution if it were not for the fact that the United Nations had given its support, and that there was a breadth of support, including from the Arab League, for this intervention. That was because people worked at the issue, and worked at it pretty hard, so I commend the general positioning of the President of the United States of America, who flatly refused to lead on it until he could see that others were prepared to come with him. I think that his position was in part responsible for the breadth of support that there is.
I want people to agree that it is enormously important that we maintain that breadth of support, and I want to know from the Government that there will be a real attempt to maintain it. The Prime Minister has told us that, after American leadership of the military operations, the plans are to hand the mission over to NATO, and he knows that it will be necessary to get Turkey on board in order for NATO to be prepared to take over the command structures of the operation. That will be an enormously positive thing, and we must put all effort into seeing to it that Arab countries—and Turkey, which as a Muslim country, is really important here—are prepared to take a lead. Qatar being prepared to provide hardware is of huge significance.
Are we serious about allowing others to be seen to lead? The Prime Minister told the House that he, President Obama and President Sarkozy had agreed that there were certain non-negotiable conditions. Why can we not have more people involved in deciding what those non-negotiable conditions are? Let us make sure that we do not do anything other than strain every muscle to see to it that the coalition that supports this action is maintained and continues to be as broad as it can.
May I say to the Prime Minister that even if it were sensible that Colonel Gaddafi be targeted as part of this operation, it cannot possibly be sensible for the British Defence Secretary to give the impression that that is okay? I hope that that kind of loose talk does not continue.
There are other issues that we ought to come to—such as the strategic defence review and our own ability to conduct these kinds of operations in future—that it is not appropriate for us to go into at this time. Certain issues need to be talked about because this operation has become necessary, such as our ability to proceed. In these circumstances, and in so many others, there are a lot more legitimate questions as a result of what has needed to be said in the past couple of weeks, and we will have to have those conversations in the months to come.
I thought that the action against Saddam Hussein was illegal—it is a view that I have never had occasion to alter—but this action is necessary, legal and legitimate. It is necessary because of the systematic brutality of Colonel Gaddafi towards his own people, whose only crime is to want the opportunity to have a more democratic form of government and to enjoy freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. The lives of his people have been threatened in recent times by an immediate and chilling promise to go from house to house, from room to room, and to show no mercy. I invite the House to consider this: supposing we had allowed a slaughterhouse to take place in Benghazi, then what would have been the nature and the terms of the debate today?
I believe this action to be legal because of the express authority of a United Nations Security Council resolution, buttressed, as the Leader of the Opposition and I have just agreed, by the evolving doctrine of international law—namely, the duty to protect, which, as I pointed out, had its genesis in a speech made by Tony Blair in 1999 in Chicago, whereupon it was developed and adopted by the United Nations. There is legitimacy, yes, because this action springs from a universal repugnance of the international community against the brutal excesses of the Gaddafi regime, and it has the regional support of the Arab League and the Gulf Co-operation Council.
Be in no doubt, however, that Mr Gaddafi will be a dangerous opponent. Deceit, deception and defiance have kept him in power for many, many years. Be in no doubt, too, that to maintain the international coalition will require both skill and sensitivity. Be in no doubt that keeping public confidence at home will require resolve, determination and transparency.
Questions are already being asked in this House, as has been demonstrated by this debate, in an exercise of democratic scrutiny. I pause to observe that in Gaddafi’s Libya, no such opportunities are available. Mr Ainsworth spoke about targeting. Neither the resolution nor international law would justify the specific targeting––or, in truth, the assassination––of Colonel Gaddafi. However, if he were engaged in direct control of military operations contrary to the resolution, and the command and control centre in which he was to be found was the subject of attack, he would be a legitimate target.
Questions have been asked about what success will look like and what are the terms of disengagement. It is not possible to be specific, but the answers to those questions and to the continuing questions that are thrown up by this debate will be found in the framework of the resolution and in the conduct of Colonel Gaddafi. The onus is now on him.
Obviously we are all constrained by time, but these are grave matters not only for the people of Libya, but for the people of this country and for our allies, and indeed for the future of the United Nations.
In framing my remarks, I am minded to use the words of a wily old operator of recent years in this House, the late, great Eric Forth, who once said that when there is unanimity between the Front Benches, it is almost axiomatic that they are wrong. I do not believe that to be the case, but I believe that it is incumbent on us to examine most carefully those who do not agree with the proposition that is advanced by the Government and supported by the Opposition. I will vote with the Government tonight, but like my right hon. Friend Mr Ainsworth and any Member of this House who has any sense, I have a number of reservations about the nature of the path on which we are embarking, where it will take us, how it will end—which a number of Members have spoken about—how we can measure success, and what it presages for future international engagement and involvement.
International experience of recent times may lead us to different conclusions. The actions in Kosovo, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan and the complete inaction, for various reasons, in Rwanda and Zimbabwe have all had consequences for those involved. Otto von Bismarck, a politician perhaps not as great as Eric Forth, described politics as the art of the possible. In such issues, what matters is what is politically possible; I do not think that there is an abiding principle that unites them. It is a case of whether the ingredients necessary for international action and the will to undertake international action can be marshalled in the right proportion and with the requisite enthusiasm.
I can well understand those in this country who say, “This is nothing to do with us. Why, again, is it British armed forces—British servicemen and women—who are being placed in harm’s way when there is no direct British interest?” The Prime Minister referred to that point earlier. I agree that the interests of this nation and our people are not always directly connected to such matters. Sometimes there are dotted-line connections that have to be borne in mind. There are those who are asking, “Why should we get involved?” Somebody on the television last week, I think a former editor of The Sun, was saying that all the lives in Libya were not worth one ounce of British blood. I think that is a particularly brutal and unpleasant view of the world—that may be a prerequisite for being editor of The Sun—but I do not think many civilised people in this country share it.
The need to consider people’s reservations is important, though. We cannot offer all the guarantees that people would want, but as the Prime Minister pointed out and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition echoed, the fact that we cannot do everything does not mean we should do nothing. To those who want consistency and say, “You’ve made mistakes in the past,” the only answer is that that doctrine would lead us to believe that, for consistency’s sake, we must carry on making mistakes in the future, and that we should never do anything right if we have never done it before. More particularly, it would be to say, “Be a pioneer, by all means, but never do anything for the first time.” Sometimes there are cases in which we just have to.
The situation will be difficult, including in considering what the end will look like. There can be no end under Gaddafi, I am convinced of that. As Sir Malcolm Rifkind said, if Gaddafi were to scale down his operations and the UN were to say that resolution 1973 had been discharged and should be dispensed with, as soon as we were gone he would take up the struggle against his own people again.
I believe that the only previous no-fly zone was authorised against Iraq, and of course it was supplanted only by the invasion and the war. I am not clear what the end of the current situation will be. More particularly, I have grave concerns about how we will judge whether events are going well or badly. I assume that in the first instance it will be about whether the Libyan people are no longer being harassed by Gaddafi, at least not overtly. For as long as that is the case, we can claim some success. We can already, because the assault on Benghazi that was clearly intended did not materialise in the way that Gaddafi and his henchmen envisaged.
We have a difficult choice. I will support the Government in their motion to support resolution 1973, because I believe that is less bad than the alternative of doing nothing. It is also consistent with the type of nation that I believe the majority of the British people make up. We are not the kind of people who pass by on the other side of the road. Sometimes we have to put up or shut up. On this occasion I shall certainly now shut up, but I believe we should put up.
I fully understand why we intervened in Libya. Because of our actions today, on Friday and over the weekend, thousands of civilians are now safer than they were when they were within reach of Gaddafi’s butchering hand. We should reflect on the comments of Sir Menzies Campbell about Colonel Gaddafi’s statements that he would go from room to room, showing no mercy.
I pay tribute to the Prime Minister and his team for getting the resolution at the UN with considerable swiftness, and to our armed service personnel, who right now are risking life and limb to ensure that the civilians of Libya are protected from a regime that shows no appetite to stop.
Because of the military might of the west, we have to realise that the question of what comes next may arise more quickly than we think. We have already seen the accuracy of our armed forces and their ability to degrade a foreign power’s military, which means that we need to start thinking through the problems ahead. It is not enough just to implement and follow the spirit of resolution 1973. We have to show the world that we are doing so, and how. I believe that we need to be a little more transparent in that. We need to talk, perhaps, about the targets that we are hitting, because if we do not, Mr Gaddafi and the enemies of reform in the middle east may well fill the vacuum with their propaganda. We have already seen that today to some extent. It is important that, with the winds of change blowing through the middle east, we are very clear about what our red lines are and what we stand for. If we are not, we may be open to the charge of giving false hope to other countries, or to charges of hypocrisy.
We should remember that authority in the middle east has changed. It has moved away from the Ministers of Arab countries to whom we used to look for reassurances and towards the Arab street. Some Arab Ministers are not in as strong a position as they would like. We should not forget that the Arab street is becoming ever more emboldened throughout the region.
We should be consistent in our criticism. Bahrain is currently setting out on a course of sectarian violence and oppression against its 70% Shi’a majority. Indeed, a lady who worked for me recently and left Bahrain for Dubai was asked at every checkpoint whether she was Shi’a or Sunni. The Shi’as were taken out of the car and beaten and the Sunnis were allowed to progress.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way, and the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition for answering many of the concerns, worries and fears that my constituents expressed to me over the weekend. I say that as someone who played a small part in the no-fly zone over northern Iraq that lasted the best part of a decade. Does my hon. Friend agree that those fears, worries and uncertainties about the future are the legacy of Iraq?
I agree with my hon. Friend. It is all about trust, and we therefore need an element of transparency, and to demonstrate in the region how we are implementing the UN resolution as a way of keeping that trust and that broad support for the resolution. To lose that would be a backward step.
We need to bear in mind some questions in the next few days and weeks as we progress towards implementing the resolution. We need to ask ourselves and think through—perhaps in private but often in public—what happens if the rebels counter-attack. In wars, atrocities happen on both sides. What is our position? The resolution is about protecting civilians—that is our first and foremost duty. We must ask ourselves whether we are in danger of being manipulated by some groups. Are they using “one infidel against another”? Do people want democracy or a totalitarian state? What role can we play as a broad coalition to ensure that they follow the path of liberal democracy and tolerance?
Do we want regime change? Is that perhaps the inevitable end of the Gaddafi regime? Is Gaddafi himself a target? Speaking personally, I believe that Gaddafi is the same brutal mass murderer that he always was. He is the man who blew up Pan Am in the 1980s, armed the IRA in Northern Ireland and is responsible for the death of Yvonne Fletcher. We cannot teach old dogs new tricks, and some questions need to be answered about how we have got so far down the road as to allow an emboldened Gaddafi to be in his current position.
In the 13 years of the previous Government, there were some concerns about how the Foreign Office did its job. From time to time, we did not think through the problems. Let us remember that the Foreign Office recommended more deals with Gaddafi, and that some of us spoke out against that in the previous Parliament and before. Some of us said that Mr Gaddafi could not be trusted. Now we discover that the weapons of mass destruction deal—the deal that we were told in 2003 was the reason for bringing him in from the cold—was not honoured by Colonel Gaddafi. He kept some of his mustard gas, and the Foreign Office failed to inform us of that. If Mr Gaddafi is to go, he will not be missed by the House, but we should also ask ourselves whether he is the point of the exercise.
We should not forget the role that the modern age—the internet—has played in the revolution as it blows through the middle east. In 2009 in Iran, Twitter and Facebook empowered people on the streets. The movement will go from Libya to other places. However, let us not forget that every country in the middle east is unique. Factors such as Islam, sects, tribes, tradition and history should affect not only what happens on the ground but how we respond to the threat and to people who may be suppressed. We need to learn the lessons of history and remember that what we do today will have a ripple effect.
I do not envy the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary in the next stage of the challenge. Our action in Libya will ripple through the middle east. It may point in the right direction and lead the middle east into a more democratic, liberal environment. If we get it wrong—and it is a great gamble—we could end up with a middle east in the hands of Islamic fundamentalists and a less, not more, tolerant middle east. I wish the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary well in all that they do to try to ensure the right direction. It is time again to play the great game that we used to play so well rather than settle for the tactical, short-term policies of the past 13 years.
Two weeks ago, I re-watched “Hotel Rwanda”, the chilling film portrayal of the massacres of the defenceless civilians who were hacked to pieces by the so-called forces of law and order because they had the misfortune to belong to the wrong ethnic group. In July 2005, when the UK had the EU presidency, I went to Srebrenica in Bosnia for the 10th anniversary commemoration of the day in 1995 when 10,000 unarmed civilians were brutally murdered by the forces of law and order because, in that case, they had had the misfortune to belong to the wrong religious group.
In Rwanda and Bosnia, the UN solemnly considered what it should do. In both theatres, there were already blue-hatted UN troops on the ground, but they stood by as the massacres took place in front of them. Those troops were there as peacekeepers, but there was no peace to keep—rather, peace urgently needed to be made.
Doing nothing in the face of evil is as much a decision with consequences as doing something. This resolution is historically significant not just on its own terms, but because, as we heard from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, this is first occasion on which the Security Council has acted decisively upon the words relating to the responsibility to protect, which were agreed in the UN General Assembly in 2005, and in Security Council resolution 1674 2006.
I worked for Oxfam at the time of the Rwanda crisis and I strongly remember the awful situation in which UN forces found themselves. I hope the right hon. Gentleman was not implying fault on the part of the blue hats themselves, because their rules of engagement constrained them. The progress that the international community has made leading to the responsibility to protect is of course very positive.
I was implying no such criticism of the blue hats. The responsibility for what did not happen in Rwanda and Bosnia rested and rests with the Security Council and the international community, which failed to take action in the face of what amounted to genocide.
I am grateful to Sir Menzies Campbell for twice mentioning that former Prime Minister Tony Blair, in his groundbreaking speech in Chicago in 1999, laid the foundation for what six years later became the agreement on the responsibility to protect.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the efforts and success of our diplomats in the UN Security Council in ensuring the correct wording of resolution 1973 should be well recommended?
The hon. Gentleman anticipates what I was going to say, but I am happy to put that on the record, not least because as a former member of the Foreign Office diplomatic service, he served me and my predecessors and successors very well.
We all know what the consequences of doing nothing about Colonel Gaddafi would have been: industrial-scale slaughter. The medium and longer-term consequences of the military enforcement of Security Council resolution 1973 will be more benign, but we must recognise that the situation is fraught with uncertainties. The progress towards democracy in Libya and elsewhere in the middle east, which all hon. Members and the peoples of the region seek, will be inherently more difficult than eastern Europe’s progress towards democracy after the Berlin wall came down 20 years ago.
The middle east is a tough region, and its democrats will face two primary threats: the autocrats such as Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein, or Presidents Mubarak and Ben Ali; and alternatively, those who wish to misuse and misinterpret the great and noble religion of Islam to establish backward-looking autocracies no less terrible than those of Gaddafi or Saddam Hussein.
Ultimately, the solution has to lie in the hands of the people of Libya and these other countries, but the international community—the United Kingdom included—can profoundly influence the final outcome by taking the right action or by inaction. I welcome what the Prime Minister said about the plans on which Her Majesty’s Government are already working. However, I hope that they will also draw together and publish a strategy setting out the UK’s vision for the region and the assistance they will provide, as part of an international programme, for an economic and political reconstruction of Libya carried out by the Libyans for the Libyans. I hope that that will include not just traditional overseas aid, but the work of an enhanced Westminster Foundation for Democracy, to nurture and sustain the growth of democratic institutions.
As we have heard, there are those who are reluctant or unwilling to support our action in Libya, and who seek a rationalisation for that inaction by making the relativist argument that we should not intervene in Libya unless or until we also intervene in, for example, Yemen, Bahrain or Saudi Arabia. The immediate answer is that Libya is by far and away the most egregious case. I condemn the brutality elsewhere in the region as strongly as anybody else, but processes are under way in some parts—not all—of the region that might succeed, and in any event the democratic forces in those and other countries across the region will be greatly strengthened, not weakened, by the action we are taking in Libya. In my view, provided there is international pressure behind it, the revolution in attitudes sweeping the region will also increase the pressure on the Government of Israel properly to negotiate a settlement with the Palestinians. No longer can the Government of Israel rely on complacent and compliant countries on their borders within the Arab world.
There is a parallel with Iraq, and I understand—why would I not?—its controversy. However, there is not the least doubt—not least from the mouth of Colonel Gaddafi himself—that but for the military action in Iraq, Gaddafi would never have given up his well-advanced nuclear weapons programme and a significant part of his chemical weapons programme. In the end, he had to give them up. Gaddafi without nuclear weapons is dangerous enough, as we have seen; Gaddafi with such weapons would have been far more dangerous—perhaps so dangerous that the international community would have been prevented from dealing with him today.
I salute our military personnel, as they are placed, yet again, in harm’s way on our behalf and that of the international community. I give my wholehearted support to the motion before the House, and I commend the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary for their indefatigable work in securing—against the odds—the resolution.
Having watched these debates and diplomacy since the Falklands war, and having observed the battles on CNN and sanitised movie footage of jets taking off, troops returning fire and Union Jacks attached to aerials and advancing tanks, I find it a daunting thought to be in the House debating and contemplating our responsibility for the deployment of people whose principal purpose is to kill other people on our behalf. During my basic training in the Army, I realised that a sergeant shouting at me to stab and scream and stab again a bale of hay with a fixed bayonet was teaching me how to rip somebody apart. A few years later, I saw the remains of an IRA terrorist unit that had been ambushed by a Special Air Service unit. The remains had been shredded by the hundred of bullets that had gone through their bodies.
Following the first Gulf war, a friend of mine showed me some pictures that he had taken of the convoy attempting to escape back up to Iraq. One of the pictures was of the charred, black head and a desperate hand—black and maimed—of someone trying to leave their vehicle. There is nothing glorious or romantic about war. To those in the media who have portrayed what is happening now—or what has happened in previous wars—as some form of entertainment, I say that that is just not right. I am afraid that human beings need to commit brutal, savage attacks on each other to win wars.
I have spoken in the House before about our lack of political capital following the illegal war in Iraq and what I believe is a folly in Afghanistan. There may be moral reasons to fight again, but I will be honest: we are struggling to find the moral high ground from which to project that morality. As people have said, Gaddafi is the man who brought down the Pan Am plane over Lockerbie, the man who shipped the weapons that killed some of my colleagues and the man who killed WPC Fletcher. However, I feel uncomfortable about going to war. It is not a simple choice; it is a really difficult choice to contemplate.
This morning when I was coming to work, I listened to a phone-in from BBC television about whether we should kill Gaddafi. It was almost gladiatorial, as though people were phoning in so that we could see whether the populace was giving a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down. I have to say that I was fairly disgusted that the killing of another human being, however disgusting he is, could become a form of entertainment.
While we pontificate about morality and our obligations, brave men and women are putting their lives at risk at our request. This is not a debate about student fees, the Scotland Bill or the double summer time Bill; this is about the business of war. We do not take this decision lightly. While we wage war on our enemy, Muslim brothers and Arab leaders—with a few exceptions—remain silent. It is more convenient to wait for the infidel to kill their Muslim brothers and then gesture disapproval than it is to stand up to a tyrant. To the new leaders of the emerging democracies out there in the middle east, I say this: “The next time a murderer comes to the end of his reign, you gather in your House, like we are today, and think about how you’re going to take your share of the responsibility and what you’re going to contribute.”
I am not going to give way.
I said that this was a decision that I do not take lightly, and I do not think this nation takes it lightly either, but I will support the Government. The Prime Minister was right to secure a UN mandate. His leadership stands in stark contrast to the leadership that has gone before in this nation. Let us hope that the positive responses from the United Nations are a sign of something to come because, fundamentally, it is the weakness of United Nations members that has created so many international disasters in the past.
I would like to say something about the resolution and the immediate deployments, and then perhaps something about the exit strategy, the context in which all this is happening and its domestic effects over time.
Like everyone else, I have struggled with the question of moral relativism. Sometimes, the right statement comes out of the wrong mouth, which is difficult to deal with. However, there has been an ambivalence—certainly on the left—about revolutionary dictators in different parts of the world. My internationalism, which comes from my ethical socialism, has trumped all that, so on this occasion, because the proposal has UN support—something we claimed we needed for other things in the past—I will support the motion. However, I need to be clear: I will be supporting the Libyan people, the United Nations and Parliament, as opposed to the Government. There is a question about the Government keeping Parliament involved in the process, to which we will come back a number of times.
I have had the privilege of meeting armed service personnel, some of whom are probably delivering some of the activity at the moment: people forget about the T-boats, but suddenly they are terribly important. There are questions about aircraft—it was a little ironic to see American Harriers hopping back to their carrier, whereas our jets had to go a long way. There are all sorts of ironies in these things.
The question of intelligence for targeting is hugely important. We know that we cannot alienate the people; we need to show them that we are there to support them, and to do so. The illustration yesterday of an intelligent targeting process was very welcome and will, I think, pay enormous dividends, but it must be maintained.
On the no-fly zone, the Americans say, “Well, we’ve done that now. It’s in place. Job done.” I hope it is not “Mission accomplished”, as the Americans claimed in the last exercise we saw. The truth is that it is not a done deal. There might be some form of no-fly zone and sea blockade in place, but I asked about the clarity of the mandates, from which comes the clarity—or not—of the missions that are undertaken, and there clearly is not just one mission.
I do not want to go into the dispute about whether a decapitation strategy is necessary for Gaddafi. We need to understand that Gaddafi is an Arab and an African—he does not think as I think. He will do all sorts of things; we know that and we need to respond. Mr Wallace made some interesting points that need to be pursued. We need clarity about the mandate.
It was suggested earlier that we could bend the arms embargo to arm certain groups of people. Let us be very clear: we cannot bend anything. If we start doing that, there will be moral relativism and we will lose the legitimacy we have just achieved through the endorsement of the United Nations and through the broader coalition of people coming to support us.
The point I am trying to make is that this is not just about Parliament talking to Arab leaders. It is not just about diplomacy among the leaderships—between the party leaders in this country or between Arab leaders—but about diplomacy and a conversation with, as everyone now calls it, the Arab street. Let us engage in that discussion and see some effort put in. We need people on the ground, not as an occupation force but to help conduct such activity. That is doubtless already happening, to some degree—men in black with beards are doing wonderful things, and they will need some more support. The burden of effort needs to shift to the diplomatic efforts, in their broader sense, to provide some sort of solution. There is no kinetic solution—there is an intelligence-led solution that needs to be—
No, I am sorry but time will not allow me to do so.
Let me say something about the exit strategy. We need to do all the things I have mentioned and a lot of other things that I do not have time to itemise now, but it is important to ask who we do them with and where we do them. Will we train people? Where will we train them? Who will help with the training? The Arab states’ involvement in the process is key. We need to internationalise it and to do so much more than we have in the past.
There is also a question of sustainability. We are still in Afghanistan. We need to get real about what we can and cannot do and we then need a conversation about the domestic effects of all this. There are domestic effects on the strategic defence and security review and other matters. Will we have the capability to operate in the littoral in the future? Discuss. The Defence Committee will discuss these matters but Parliament needs to do so too. We need to be very clear about the question of sustainability over time, because this is not just about the military—it is about the Department for International Development and about foreign policy. We need a clearer foreign policy, as was stated earlier. Unless we have an idea of what we are trying to do, we will not equip ourselves to do it.
I support the Libyan people, our armed forces and their families and this deployment, but—
On Friday, I described the Prime Minister’s drive towards achieving the resolution as showing “courage and leadership”, but today let me first pay tribute to the courage and leadership shown by our armed forces. As John Nichol found when he was enforcing the no-fly zone in Iraq, those who fly into hostile territory take extreme personal risks. As ever, we make decisions that they then carry out, and we owe them as much as they are prepared to sacrifice on our behalf, which is everything. In that context, it was an extreme honour to be in the Chamber to hear the speech of my hon. Friend Kris Hopkins. It was one of the most powerful and moving speeches that I have heard in the House, and I hope that others listen to it as well.
However, political actions, too, show moral courage or the lack of it. The safe thing to do would have been to leave the leadership to the United States or to countries nearer to Libya, probably in Africa. There was a large chance—and I have to say that it was my own expectation—that the resolution would fail. Demanding publicly something quite so controversial shows not only real clarity about what is right and wrong, but a willingness to risk rebuff and potential humiliation in order to do right. I am proud that we have a Prime Minister and a Foreign Secretary who are willing to take such risks.
All the arguments against the resolution were considered by the United Nations in exhaustive detail and, in the end, rejected. Britain’s United Nations ambassador, Sir Mark Lyall Grant, is clearly a persuasive and respected man and is very, very good at what he does. We could have said that it was a matter for the Libyans; we could have left it to them, whatever the cost to civilians. But when the League of Arab States takes a different view, that suggests strongly that we ourselves should consider whether we should be so laissez-faire: our doing so would have had consequences elsewhere. Just as Arab countries were showing themselves ready to throw off tyranny, we would have been sending the message that the correct response for a tyrant is, in Gaddafi’s words, to show no pity and no mercy, and that message would have been heeded throughout the world. I therefore entirely support the motion.
However, this is only the beginning. There are some serious questions that need answering, and they will trouble those who support the motion just as much as they will trouble those who do not. First, what is the end state that we want to achieve? Obviously we would like to see the back of Gaddafi, but that is not part of the United Nations resolution; so with what will we be satisfied? Secondly, in general terms, what is our strategy for reaching whatever end state we wish to be satisfied with, and how will we decide when we have done so?
The right hon. Gentleman is, of course, correct to say that “getting rid of Gaddafi” is not part of resolution 1973, but the resolution that preceded it—resolution 1970, which provides for the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to investigate crimes against humanity in Libya—could easily bring about the arrest and incarceration of Colonel Gaddafi under international law. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that we need to factor that into our strategy?
I entirely agree. On Friday I asked whether the aims of resolution 1973 were impossible to reach unless Gaddafi were gone. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, however, said that the resolution was about giving protection to the civilians, with which I entirely agree. He went on to say that it was about giving the Libyan people the chance to determine their own future. I do not see anything in the resolution that says that, but I think we need to be clear about it.
Thirdly, will further resolutions from the United Nations be needed or sought as a result of some of the questions that will arise during this debate?
The fourth question is about exactly how far the advice of the Attorney-General takes us. We must be absolutely clear about what is sanctioned by the resolution and what is not. The summary of the Attorney-General’s advice is clear, because enforcing the no-fly zone is clearly allowed by the UN resolution. However, we need to know not only that what we are doing is legal but how far, legally, we are entitled to go. We must not leave a chink that will let people say, “The resolution allowed some things, true, but not this.”
Fifthly, will the Treasury be generous? Will my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer allow the Ministry of Defence to concentrate, at least for the next few months, on these operations rather than on its desperate scrabble to find the extra £1 billion, for this year alone, to which it was committed in the strategic defence and security review but which it still has not identified?
Sixthly, does my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary agree that ruling out the use of occupation forces does not rule out the use of ground forces? I am talking not just about search and rescue helicopters, which my hon. Friend Dan Byles mentioned during the Prime Minister’s speech, but about identifying targets that are free of civilians.
Seventhly, there is the difficult question of whether the ceasefire applies to the rebels. If the rebels try, in response to breaches of the ceasefire by Gaddafi, to retake areas that he has taken, should we use military force to stop them? That would seem a bit strange, but does the UN resolution permit the facilitation of arms supplies to the alternative Government, and if so should the United Kingdom be helping to provide that?
These are things that we do not know, as a result of the UN resolution, and we might need a further resolution to clarify things. Many more issues will arise, but I support this action. The House will not give a blank cheque to this action, so I welcome the Prime Minister’s willingness to return to the House to keep us updated on something that is moving very fast.
It is an honour to follow the Chairman of the Defence Committee, Mr Arbuthnot, and the Vice-Chairman, Mr Havard, both of whom I am pleased to serve with on the Committee. We support the Government on the actions they have taken in Libya, which are an appropriate response to the situation. It is often said that for evil to flourish all that is necessary is for good men to do nothing, but doing nothing was not an option for the Government and the international community in this case. In examining the decision that has been taken and the motion we are being asked to support this evening, I feel there are clear differences between the decision we are taking and previous decisions that we have been asked to take. I speak as someone who has consistently supported Governments in the past in the difficult decisions they have had to take about going to war.
May I correct the hon. Gentleman? This House is not taking any decisions: the Government have already taken a decision and have graciously allowed us a debate today. Does he agree that if we are to ensure that we stay properly informed, which the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition have both talked about, we need to resolve the question of the House’s rights in respect of when this country goes to war? As we are the elected Chamber there ought to be something in our Standing Orders or in the Cabinet manual or some other place that gives the Chamber the right to be consulted before or after an action takes place.
I was present on Friday when the Prime Minister made his statement to the House. We had a lengthy discussion at that stage and Members had an opportunity to put their views before we went into the conflict in Libya. I believe that the commitment of the Government in allowing us this debate takes us a further step along that road, and the Prime Minister has given a commitment to keep the House informed of further developments, so at least there are those indications that the Government are taking the House and the views expressed in it seriously.
I congratulate the Foreign Secretary and his colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office—the diplomatic service was mentioned earlier—on the excellent work done in building the international coalition. Again, that is a mark of the lessons that we have learned from the past. The Government have demonstrated a willingness to learn those lessons, and that is perhaps why there is broader consensus today, not just in this House, but in the nation, on the actions that the Government are taking, and we welcome that.
Right hon. and hon. Members have asked: what is the endgame? What will we regard as success? I accept entirely the position, articulated by the Prime Minister, that we do not know what the outcome will be. At the weekend, I had the joy of watching that excellent film, “The King’s Speech”. When Chamberlain announced that Britain was at war with Germany, it struck me that it was a recognition that appeasement had not worked, but no one at that time knew the outcome of the decision to go to war. Very often, that is the case with war: one simply does not know what the outcome will be.
Leadership is about taking decisions that have an element of risk attached and where there is an element of uncertainty about the outcome, but at least in this instance, given the broad international support, there is a prospect of ensuring that we minimise the loss of life in Libya. We have seen ample evidence of that already in Benghazi and other places, where people really were facing a very dangerous situation. We welcome the fact that intervention has already had success, in so far as it has halted Gaddafi in his tracks and preserved human life. What success will look like beyond that remains to be seen. It is for the people of Libya to determine their future, obviously with international assistance and support.
That brings me to my second point, which touches on the comments that the Vice-Chairman of the Defence Committee made about our capacity to do this kind of thing in future. In the strategic defence and security review and the national security strategy, we talk about the need to develop and strengthen our involvement in conflict prevention and resolution. If our armed forces are to be smaller in future, greater effort and resource needs to be put into preventing such conflicts in future, because our involvement in international affairs is often marked by the need to intervene to prevent human tragedy when conflict is well under way. It is right that we do that, but we also need to look to a future where conflict prevention is given greater priority in what the Government seek to do.
Forgive me if this sounds parochial—it is not—but the Prime Minister referred to the involvement of Colonel Gaddafi in supporting international terrorism. We know what Colonel Gaddafi is capable of; he has made it clear that if he remains in power—that is a possible outcome—he will seek retribution against those who acted against him. We in this country know what that can look like. We know what it looked like in Warrington, Manchester, Canary Wharf, Bishopsgate, Enniskillen and Warrenpoint, and on the Shankill road in Belfast, where the weaponry that Gaddafi supplied to terrorists was used to bring to an end the innocent lives of British citizens. We know what the man is capable of doing, not just to his people but to others.
Looking towards outcomes, I welcome the establishment of the dedicated team in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I know that the Foreign Secretary has been supportive of its work. If there is regime change, and Gaddafi is removed by his people, I hope that we will pursue a settlement on behalf of victims in the United Kingdom who suffered as a result of Gaddafi’s state-sponsored terrorism. If we are to send our armed forces halfway across the world to protect the lives of people in Libya, the least that we can expect is that any new Libyan Government will honour the obligations on the people of Libya to recognise the suffering of innocent civilians in this country as a result of what Gaddafi and his surrogates did here, and to support the efforts of the victims to secure a settlement that recognises their suffering.
This is not something that began in Libya, and it will not end in Libya. It came out of a regional situation. It is a response primarily to Egypt and Tunisia. We should be celebrating, but with immense caution, what both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have supported because of that broader regional context. We are talking about not one country and one month, but a series of countries and 30 years. We have to keep our eyes on that, or we will find ourselves in a very dangerous and difficult situation.
The situation in Libya and the no-fly zone are driven, of course, as everybody in the House has said, by our humanitarian obligation to the Libyan people. It is driven by our concerns for national security and, probably most of all—this is not something that we should minimise—by the kind of message that we are trying to pass to people in Egypt or Tunisia. If we had stood back at this moment and done nothing—if we had allowed Gaddafi simply to hammer Benghazi—people in Egypt, Tunisia and Syria would have concluded that we were on the side of oil-rich regimes against their people. We would have no progressive narrative with which we could engage with that region over the next three decades.
On that point, does my hon. Friend agree that it is incredibly significant that both the Arab League and countries in the area such as Qatar support the engagement and the UN resolution?
I agree very strongly. That is immensely significant, but the meaning of that needs to be clear. The limits that the Prime Minister has set are so important to all of us exactly because of that point. The reason we need the Arab League and the UN on side, the reason we need a limited resolution, and the reason all the comments from around the House warning that the situation should not become another Iraq are so important is that we are talking about 30 years, not just the next few months.
Respectfully, I disagree with Sir Menzies Campbell; the most important thing for us now is to be careful with our language and rhetoric, and careful about the kinds of expectations that we raise. I would respectfully say that phrases such as “This is necessary,” or even “This is legitimate,” are dangerous. All the things that the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have done to hedge us in, limit us, and say, “This isn’t going to be an occupation” are fantastic, but they are only the beginning.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the risks is that it might be said on the Arab street that we would not be interested if it were not for the oil in Libya?
That is a very important danger. The fact that Libya is not just an Arab country, but a country with oil, has to be borne in mind. The kind of legitimacy that we may have had in Kosovo will be more difficult to come by in Libya for that reason.
The biggest dangers—the dangers that we take away from Afghanistan—are threefold. The Prime Minister will have to stick hard to his commitment, because it is easy for us to say today, “So far and no further,” but all the lessons of Afghanistan are that if we dip our toes in, we are very soon up to our neck. That is because of the structure of that kind of rhetoric, and the ways in which we develop four kinds of fear, two kinds of moral obligation, and an entire institutional pressure behind reinvestment. That is why the former Secretary of State for Defence, Mr Ainsworth, is correct to sound his cautions.
What are the four fears? We can hear them already. First, people are saying, “We have to be terrified of Gaddafi. He is an existential threat to global security.”
That is the fear of the rogue state. The second fear is the fear of the failed state. Gaddafi is making that argument himself: “If I collapse, al-Qaeda will come roaring into Libya.” The third fear that people are beginning to express is a fear of neighbours. They are already beginning to say, “If this collapses, refugees will pour across the borders into other countries.” The fourth fear is fear for ourselves: fear for our credibility, and fear that we might look ridiculous if, in response to our imprecations or threats, Gaddafi remains. We have seen the same fears in Vietnam, where people talked about the domino theory. We have seen the same fears in Iraq when people talked about weapons of mass destruction. We have seen the same fears in Afghanistan, where people worried that, if Afghanistan were to topple, Pakistan would topple and mad mullahs would get their hands on nuclear weapons.
Those are all the same fears, and the same sense of moral obligation. We do not need to be able to name two cities in Libya to be able to talk about two kinds of moral obligation: our moral obligation to the Libyan people, and our moral obligation because we sold arms to the Libyans in the past. This is very dangerous, and we must get away from that kind of language and into the kind of language that is humble, that accepts our limits, and allows us to accept that we have a moral obligation to the Libyan people but that it is a limited one because we have a moral obligation to many other people in the world, particularly to our own people in this country.
Of course we have a national security interest in Libya, but we have such an interest in 40 or 50 countries around the world, and we must match our resources to our priorities. The real lesson from all these conflicts is not, as we imagine, that we must act. The real lesson is not just our failure, but our failure to acknowledge our failure, and our desire to dig ever deeper. It is our inability to acknowledge that, in the middle east, many people will put a very sinister interpretation on our actions. It is also our failure to acknowledge that “ought” implies “can”. We do not have a moral obligation to do what we cannot do. We have to consider our resources rather than our desires.
What does that mean? This is easy for someone on the Back Bench to say, and much more difficult for a Prime Minister or other leader to say. How do we set a passionately moderate rhetoric? How do we speak to people to support something that is important? How do we acknowledge the moral obligation and the national security questions, but set the limits so that we do not get in too deep? I suggest that we need to state this in the most realistic, limited terms. First, we need to say that our objective is primarily humanitarian: it is to decrease the likelihood of massacre, ethnic cleansing and civil war, and to increase the likelihood of a peaceful political settlement. Secondly, we will try, in so far as it is within our power to do so, to contain and manage any threat from Libya. Finally, we will deliver development and humanitarian assistance. In the end, however, the real message that we are passing on through limited rhetoric is not to the people of Britain but to the people of the middle east over the next 30 years.
Thank you very much, Mr Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak after one of the best speeches that I have ever heard in the House. Rory Stewart speaks with a passion matched only by his personal experience and absolute expertise, so it is with slight trepidation that I follow him in the debate. I want to build on what he has said, however, because I agree with much of it.
I think that everyone here agrees that we must take on our responsibility to protect civilian lives in Libya, that the criteria for intervention has been met and that this is being done on a legal basis. We agree that Gaddafi has violated the conditions of sovereignty that would allow him to protect his own people. He has gone so far against them that it is now incumbent on us to take some kind of action. I also give my absolute support to the United Nations, and to the international community, in helping Libyan civilians. Having said all that, it is a very big leap from the question of whether we should act to that of how we should act. We must not conflate the two.
I believe that we are also clear about the outcomes that we want. We all agree that we want to stop Gaddafi slaughtering civilians in Libya, but how we should do that has not been adequately explored, and the consequences of our actions have not been well enough thought through. Being well motivated and well meaning is not enough to go to war. We must consider carefully all the options and all the possible consequences of our actions. We hope that the outcome will spell liberation, democracy, self-determination, stability and greater security in the world. We are all keeping our fingers crossed that that will happen.
However, north Africa and the middle east have complexities that none of us fully understands. The outcome of the unrest in the region is unknowable. We know one thing, however. I shall take the advice of the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border and be careful about the words I use; I shall not call Gaddafi “mad”. He clearly has some mental health issues, however, and he is a terrifying human being, but he is not stupid. This weekend, he announced on television:
“We promise you a long drawn-out war with no limits”.
He knows that a long war would suit him. We must consider the consequences if the no-fly zone fails. We must also consider the consequences if our own air attacks kill Libyan civilians. Importantly, we must consider the consequences of the Arab League withdrawing its support. It is already wobbling, and if it does not fully support our actions, the consequences could be devastating.
Most importantly of all, we must have an idea of what success looks like. On the “Today” programme this morning, the Foreign Secretary said:
“I think we will know a ceasefire when we see it”.
I do not envy him his job, but those words did not fill me with complete confidence that we know what we are doing. Unless we have a clear idea of all the possible consequences of our actions, including the possibility that what we are doing might make things worse for Libyan civilians, we as a country and as part of the international community will open ourselves up to the accusation that we are acting in order to be seen to be doing something, rather than doing the right thing to protect Libyan civilians.
I will vote for the motion tonight because I see it as a vote of support for Libyan civilians and a vote of support for taking on our responsibility to protect them, but I will do it nervously. I wish the Government well, and I know that there will be very difficult times ahead, but we, the international community, are starting a war. We are doing it for the right reasons, but I do not think that we are clear enough about where it will end.
Eight years ago, this House discussed intervention in Iraq. I was not a Member of Parliament at the time. Instead, I was marching on the streets of Glasgow to protest against that war, along with more than 1 million other people across the United Kingdom. I deeply regret not only the UK’s role in Iraq but the legacy that it has left for UK foreign policy. As Kris Hopkins so eloquently pointed out, it has undoubtedly made the role of our diplomats much harder in their negotiations with other countries around the world. It has undermined much of what they do. It has also, understandably, made the Government and the British public more sensitive about any UK military action, even when it has United Nations support.
Libya is no Iraq, however. The two are worlds apart. Not only is international action in this case legally justified, but I believe that it is morally right to act to protect Libyan civilians. The situation is very different. In Libya, people are demanding action and the regional neighbours support them. Indeed, the Arab League’s request for help is highly significant.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important not to pigeonhole the support from the Council of the League of Arab States? Its decision of
“safe areas in places exposed to shelling as a precautionary measure that allows the protection of the Libyan people and foreign nationals residing in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya”.
Does not that provide the important basis for United Nations resolution 1973 to take all necessary measures, including the bombardment, to protect civilians?
The hon. Gentleman is quite right, and the Arab League also made it clear that it did not want a foreign invasion force. It is important that that is explicitly outlined in UN Security Resolution 1973.
As has been discussed, a new principle has developed in the international community of the UN’s responsibility to protect. That was not in place eight years ago, and would not have applied in any way to the situation in Iraq. It is hugely positive that the Security Council is prepared to take action under its responsibility to protect, to make it a meaningful concept, and not just warm words. Turning to the scope of the resolution, it is incredibly helpful that it is not just about a narrow no-fly zone, and represents the need to take all necessary measures to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under threat of attack. Indeed, it explicitly excludes a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory.
This is the most serious type of decision that the House can ever be asked to make, and it is vital that we are well aware of the risks of the action, of which there are many, including the risks to our forces and those of other countries when carrying out the action. We are taking action against Libya’s air defences to try to minimise those risks, but they are always there. We, in the safety and security of the House, owe a huge amount to those troops whom we have asked to take action in the name of the United Kingdom and, indeed, of the United Nations, and we commend them for their bravery.
There may have been optimism in Libya as the news came through of the UN Security Council resolution, but a scenario in which Gaddafi concludes that the game is up, and the Libyan pro-democracy campaigners celebrate a smooth transition to a free society is just a welcome fantasy—it is hardly likely to be the outcome. Even if Gaddafi goes, the building of democracy will be far from easy and, as is more likely, if he does not do so, the endgame is not necessarily clear and we may end up with stalemate. There is a further risk, if there is not a swift conclusion or a clear path to a specific end point, that there will be increased pressure on the international coalition, and it will be difficult to hold the consensus together. Indeed, as has been pointed out, it is perhaps not as firm as it was initially.
There is the risk, too, that Gaddafi will use the implementation of the no-fly zone for propaganda, and will try to paint a picture of the west as imperialist and imposing something on the middle east. From the UK perspective, with our forces overstretched in Afghanistan, we may not be able to react easily with military might to developments that would require a further response. We need to have our eyes open when considering how we will vote on the motion.
Not acting is not a neutral position, as there are huge risks in inaction, too, not least the bloodbath in Benghazi. Indeed, in Gaddafi’s own words, we have heard exactly what would happen. He said that he would show no mercy, and that he would track the fighters down
“and search for them, alley by alley, road by road”, and house by house. In making that broadcast on Libyan media, he made it clear that his aim was to terrorise his own people and make them cower in submission. As I said last week in Prime Minister’s questions, we must consider the risk of the message that we would send other oppressive regimes around the world—that they could do whatever they liked, and that under no circumstances would the international community act. In what other circumstances would we act? In this situation, there is regional consensus, there is public demand for action, and there is a clear legal position. If we did not act in this circumstance, in what circumstance would we act?
What about the message to other oppressed populations? We have seen the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, and now in Libya, and I am sure people are watching around the world. If we did not act, we would send the message that if populations asserted themselves and demanded their rights, asking the international community for help when peaceful protest was met with murder, their request for help would fall on deaf ears and a lack of international response. What hope in that circumstance could any population have? We would run the risk, if we did not act, of turning Libya into an isolated pariah state, where Gaddafi would have nothing to lose, and would be even more dangerous than before, like a wounded animal. We would run the risk, a few months from now, that we would repeat the collective hand wringing by the international community that we saw after the massacres in Rwanda.
It is not an easy decision for the House to make, and it is not something that we should do lightly. Indeed, it is one of the gravest decisions that we will ever be asked to take as Members of Parliament. It is absolutely right that we scrutinise the detail, but I believe that the House will come to the right conclusion. Action to protect Libyan civilians struggling for democracy is internationally supported, legally justified and morally right.
I am speaking on behalf of my own party and of the Scottish National party. Unlike Mr Donaldson, I have been known in the past for not supporting military action. The Government have taken the right course of action in seeking a mandate from the United Nations. They have secured that mandate, and what is happening is within that mandate, and therefore lawful. I am quite comfortable with that aspect of things, and I acknowledge that a lot of hard work has been done by the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister.
It would be easy to say that it would have been better to hold a debate before taking action, but it was worth taking that action to avoid the slaughter of tens of thousands of people in Benghazi, so I have no problems with that either. Resolution 1973 authorises action to enforce the no-fly zone which, as we heard, is operational, so I take it that there will be a scaling back of aerial bombing by the allied forces for the time being unless and until it is necessary. If, for example, tanks move in against Benghazi, that is a different matter altogether. I am pleased that the no-fly zone is in place and, thus far, it appears to be working.
I would, however, pose the following questions about resolution 1973. Does full compliance with it inevitably require the removal of Colonel Gaddafi? If not, will the Government be satisfied with his remaining in power in some parts of Libya in future? We are concerned that the wording of the resolution, which appears to be quite clear, may become clouded, and we are concerned that the whole matter could be a smokescreen or shorthand for regime change, which would be unlawful under international law, but which became the main war aim of Messrs Blair and Bush, even publicly midway through the Iraq conflict.
This is a different scenario. No one wants to see a long, drawn-out engagement in Libya, so we need to hear from Ministers that there will not be mission creep, and that we are not sliding into another awful Iraq-style scenario. What are the Government’s war aims? When will they be able to say that the job is done? How and when will we know that? I appreciate the fact that the Prime Minister will keep us updated, but we are concerned that the resolution might be deliberately interpreted to meet the aims of western allies, rather than being used for purely humanitarian aims. Questions have already been asked about the consistency of messages from the UK. Sir David Richards, the Chief of the Defence Staff, said that Gaddafi is not a target, and that targeting him would be outside the remit of resolution 1973 and therefore unlawful. However, that directly contradicts what the Defence Secretary said at the weekend, so we need clarity.
What efforts have been made to marshal the humanitarian aid and assistance that will be required as soon as the conflict subsides. One of the awful lessons of Iraq was the absence of forward planning on humanitarian aid and reconstruction, so I should like to press the Foreign Secretary on that. Will the Government confirm that full diplomatic efforts are being made in parallel with any other action, as that is vital? The Arab League has reconsidered its position after its statement a day or two ago in which it opined that the action taken was beyond the remit of resolution 1973. Given its reiteration of support today, it is vital that Arab League countries are at the forefront of these actions and decisions—
No, they are not, which is why I am making the point. If they are not, Gaddafi will claim a propaganda coup, and allege that the allied western powers are in it for their own gain once more.
Is not the right hon. Gentleman deeply concerned that in this exercise western forces are deployed in Libya, yet other than a promise from Qatar, not a single Arab state is deploying troops on the ground, in the air or on the sea to support that action? Does that not lead him to have very deep concerns about the position that he has just expressed?
The hon. Gentleman makes my point. I am trying to be fairly succinct as we have only a few minutes, but he is right. That is of great concern. One hopes the Arab League will shortly convert its support into something more tangible; otherwise it will be a propaganda coup for Gaddafi and his type. That is a vital point.
I hope that shortly we will be there merely as peacemakers. I do not want to see Colonel Gaddafi in any form of control, but if he is to be removed, it must be by his own people, not by western firepower and intervention. The Arab spring has so far shown peaceful success in Tunisia and Egypt. Egypt’s new constitution received 77% support yesterday. However, other protests in Bahrain and Yemen have met with significant violence, including Saudi troops breaching Bahrain’s sovereignty. I share the concerns of my hon. Friend Caroline Lucas, who made the point about arms sales, but I dare say that is a debate for another day.
Suffice it to say that within the strict remit of the resolution, we in Plaid Cymru and our friends in the Scottish National party are prepared to stand by and support today’s motion. We hope there will be no mission creep and no striding beyond the strict wording of the resolution. I echo what has been said by others: it is not an easy task. It will be difficult for the Prime Minister and the Government, but in that task I wish him and the Government well.
I begin by congratulating Members on their contributions, in particular my hon. Friend Kris Hopkins, who made a wonderful contribution, and my hon. Friend Rory Stewart, who offered a characteristically informed contribution on the present situation in Libya.
I will support the motion this evening for humanitarian reasons. We have already seen the benefit of the action that has been taken on the ground in Benghazi. For that reason alone, I will support the motion. I congratulate the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and everyone involved in securing United Nations support for this action. In the light of Iraq and other events, it is important that there is wide support throughout the Arab world and the wider world.
I would like to step back from talking about Libya and ask what our foreign policy should be. It strikes me that the men on the Front Bench who carry the burdens of the offices of state are in power at a time when foreign policy in the middle east, as dictated by previous Foreign Secretaries and previous officials at the Foreign Office, is crumbling. It was a foreign policy based on the realpolitik that we needed the gas, we needed the oil, and we needed to deal with whoever was in power. We could forget the masses because they did not know what was going on. However, because of the creation of something called the internet—ironically, by the free west—the people on the Arab street, as we keep referring to them, know exactly what is going on. They can see it. That is why the movement has spread from Tunisia to Egypt to Libya to Yemen and now, I fear, also to Syria. Foreign policy needs to be rethought in the light of the fact that people now know what is going on. We cannot afford to be inconsistent or incoherent.
Our approach to Libya is dictated somewhat by what we think we are about as a country. We have a permanent seat on the Security Council, which gives us power, but it also gives us quite a heavy responsibility. We are a free nation. That raises the question of whether we should try to support others who want to be free. I realise the reality of our situation with regard to Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. We are oil-dependent; we are still fossil fuel-dependent in this country. In 1973, after the Yom Kippur war, how did we respond to the subsequent energy crisis? We started digging for stuff in the North sea. How did the French respond? They started building nuclear power stations.
I wonder whether our response should be more than a response to the humanitarian crisis that could have ensued in Libya. Perhaps we ought to ask what our energy policy should be in future so that we do not feel uncomfortable about sanctioning the present intervention in Libya, which I fully support, but possibly not sanctioning intervention in Syria or the wider Arabian peninsula. We are somewhat compromised, are we not, by our dependence on the black gold. Perhaps we should not be. In view of the fact that the technology exists for us not to be so dependent, the sooner we are not, the better.
In closing, I want to share with the House a short anecdote. I was in Syria two or three weeks ago as part of a delegation. I went to the British Council and met some students who had had the opportunity provided by the British Council to learn English. My colleagues and I asked a series of questions about Egypt and Libya. Initially cautious, the students began to open up. At the end of the meeting, one of the students said, in answer to how he viewed the British Council, “It is my bubble of oxygen. It is my opportunity to express myself.” That stays with me. It is why I am happy to support the motion. But if we are to be consistent and coherent and to have the respect of the middle east, we need to start looking at our dependence upon oil and gas. Unless we do so, we will be having these debates over and over again.
It is a pleasure to follow Dr Lee, who correctly highlighted the importance of energy policy to all the issues that we are discussing.
I welcome the fact that debate is taking place today and that there is to be a vote. The traditions of the House have often meant that there have not been parliamentary votes on such matters. I would have preferred a vote to have taken place before troops were deployed, even if it meant the House convening on a Saturday. We need to consider that for the future. However, it is clear that there will be a full debate today, and there was a statement on Friday, when many aspects of the issue were discussed.
I have found the issues very difficult. I am disappointed that the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn was not selected, as it highlights some of the matters that concern me. Yet again, arms that have been supplied by British companies are being used against people internally by tyrants, and weapons that British companies have sold to Libya will probably be used against our own troops. We need to review that again and look at our policy on the arms trade,
The Arab world is going through revolutionary change, with uprisings in country after country, and we must look at the issue in that context. I of course support all those struggling for democracy and against tyrants and have always been appalled by the actions of Gaddafi. I fully understand the unwillingness to stand aside while the innocent are being slaughtered and so have every sympathy with those who feel that we must intervene. However, I have concerns about what we will actually be supporting the Government to do if we vote in favour of the motion. That is partly because the conflict is taking place in north Africa and previous interventions in that part of the world, including the middle east, have been very difficult for the west and inspired huge amounts of hatred towards it. The debate might be quite different if the conflict was taking place in a different part of the world.
I am also concerned because I genuinely fear that we might be entering what could be a long war. The wording of the UN resolution is very wide, and the reference to “all necessary measures” in some ways gives a blank cheque to the powers taking action. In other ways, however, it probably does not give those taking action the ability to do what they really need to do in Libya. We could easily end up being involved in a very long conflict but with Gaddafi remaining in power.
Although I find the issue difficult and think that there are many potential difficulties, as has been highlighted by colleagues on both sides of the House, I think that the key to the decisions we take over the coming period must be our relationships not only with Arab states, but with Arab peoples. Like many colleagues, I am particularly interested in what the Muslim and Arab communities in this country are saying at the moment and what Arab states and peoples will be saying over the coming period. In my short contribution, I wish to encourage Members on the Treasury Bench to listen to the messages coming from the middle east and north Africa, which should be taken on board when key strategic decisions are made.
I have deep concerns about this action and particularly about how long this war might last. We must look at it in the context of the war on terror. My fear is that if we continue with military action, particularly if it is conducted over an extended period by western powers, we might be giving ammunition to the fundamentalists in the middle east and the Arab world whose values are very different from those held by us in this House.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s contribution and very much hope that he is correct. We must be very alert to the extent to which what we are seeing in Libya is a genuine uprising by all the people or a civil war. When we look at what has happened in Iraq in particular, and also in Afghanistan, we will see that many in the west do not understand the tribal loyalties, but we must be very alert to them.
I have deep concerns about what is happening and very much hope, as Daniel Kawczynski has indicated, that it will lead quickly to the overthrow of Gaddafi. Like many people in this country, I am concerned that that might not be straightforward, because previous conflicts have not been. There will be serious political and financial implications if the House decides to endorse the Government’s motion. Domestically, we are seeing huge cuts in public spending, including spending on military equipment. We need to think carefully about the extent to which our constituents will feel that a long and expensive war, which follows on from previous conflicts, is something that they will support Parliament in pursuing. It is important that we take all those factors into account. I welcome the fact that this debate is taking place and that the Government are putting resources into looking at what is happening in the region, but I have concerns that, even if those taking the decisions do so with the best intentions, there might be consequences that we will live to regret.
It is a pleasure to contribute to this debate. I have yet to meet a soldier who has been to war who would rush to another one. It is difficult to experience the horrors of war first hand and ever be the same again. Having been to three on behalf of the previous Government, I am a firm believer that jaw-jaw is better than war-war, but I accept that the time for jaw-jaw sometimes comes to an end and we must act.
I join other Members in commending the Prime Minister for his speedy action to ensure that we have the United Nations resolution, but I am slightly concerned that there are many who breathe a sigh of relief and believe that, because we have the resolution and find ourselves in a very different position from that which the House was in when debating Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia, somehow that is all we need to secure a successful resolution in Libya. I fear that it is not.
One of the best pieces of advice I was ever given was never to go into a room without knowing where the exit is. I fear that we have no clear exit at the moment in Libya. That is understandable; anyone who stood up in this House with a clear idea of exactly how we will exit the situation would be at best naive. That is no reason not to go into the room, but I fear that we will need further UN resolutions before we see the end to the situation. To be honest, I think that what we have before us will probably at best get us to a stalemate. We will achieve much by preventing conflict and unnecessary deaths in Libya, and the House should be proud of this country’s contribution to securing the resolution, but it will not be enough. I would like the Government to continue to play their part in ensuring that we have the grounds on which we can ultimately get the appropriate resolution in the United Nations to secure that exit strategy. It is absolutely clear that we must have greater involvement from Arab nations, because without that we will lack the general support required. I know that the Prime Minister will continue to do his bit to ensure that that is the case.
We often talk about learning lessons from the past. It is of course easy to point to the Iraq conflict and say that one of the biggest mistakes we made was to have no great plan for reconstruction and stabilisation—I must declare an interest as a member of the military stabilisation and support group within our armed forces—but the problem we face now is very different from that which we faced in Iraq, because in Iraq we were able to deploy boots on the ground to assist that stabilisation. We cannot currently do that under the United Nations resolution. We can learn the lessons from the past, from Iraq, and say that we need to have greater reconstruction, but how are we going to deliver that on the ground in Libya?
The cross-departmental stabilisation unit, which the previous Government set up, involving the Department for International Development, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence, is fabulous but under-utilised. Rather like three strands of a rope, it does come together and the effect that the three Departments produce by working together is much greater, but I believe very strongly that the unit must plan now, working concurrently with existing military operations, to ensure that we have in place such reconstruction and stabilisation. Otherwise, the window of opportunity that we missed in Iraq could well be missed in Libya.
I also seek from the Foreign Secretary, when he winds up the debate, reassurances that we are working very closely with the United Nations to ensure that any work the Government can do after this period of military action, to help to reconstruct and stabilise Libya, is done under the United Nations umbrella. It cannot be delivered solely by Western powers; otherwise I fear that we will lose the consent we have, as we did in the past with Iraq.
Looking forward, I am delighted that we are where we are today. We have secured the UN resolution, with much thanks to the efforts of the Prime Minister, but we must not take our eye off the ball. We must look beyond our current operations to ensure that we have in place the bedrock on which we can deliver, far more effectively than we have in the past, the reconstruction and stabilisation of Libya after the event.
I wish we could have had this debate before military action had been taken. I referred to that on a point of order and do not want to dwell on it because time is very short, but we must establish that, when military action is going to be taken, the House of Commons should debate the issue first. There is no doubt what the result of any vote tonight will be, and there would have been no difference if one had taken place on Saturday, but it would have been better if the House had so decided.
Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that, if we had delayed such action any longer, which he wanted to do so that we could debate it in the House, people would have died?
The action started late on Saturday. We could have met on Saturday; we have done so on previous occasions. I have been present at Saturday sittings, and in my view that could have taken place, if not on Friday itself.
In view of the Security Council resolution, there is no doubt about the legality of the military operation. The Security Council has clearly carried the resolution, and the issue is not about whether the action is legal, because it clearly must be so, but about judgment and whether such intervention is justified. Much has been made of the Arab League and so on; incidentally, I do not know how many, if any, Arab League countries could be considered democracies. Be that as it may, I accept that none of them is quite in the same category as Gaddafi’s Libya.
Interestingly, the secretary-general of the league, just two days after the heavy bombing, is reported to have said that
“what we want is the protection of the civilians and not a bombardment of more civilians.”
If he is saying that at this particular stage, what is he going to say in the following days if the bombing continues? Undoubtedly, there will be civilian casualties, and yes, Gaddafi will make much of it, make propaganda—one would not expect otherwise. But one does not need to be a military expert to accept that one cannot carry out such military operations without civilian casualties. So while we talk about protecting the people and the reason—the justification—for the operation, we have to recognise that many innocent people are going to be killed or slaughtered, whatever word we use, because the situation cannot be otherwise.
We have spoken and debated from a western point of view, but I ask the House to look at the situation from the Arab point of view—not that of the Arab League, or the Arab rulers, but that of the ordinary people in Arab countries. They want a decent life; that is why the protests grew out of the suicide in Tunisia. Of course they want a decent life; that is one reason why there is such an influx of, and motivation for, immigration. We want a decent life, so do our constituents and so do the people in countries of acute poverty and deprivation. Human beings are the same the whole world over.
Let us look at the situation from the Arab point of view. In Yemen, the regime slaughtered 45 people last week. They were protesting. In Bahrain and Saudi Arabia there is repression, and of course Saudi Arabia actually took military action to intervene in Bahrain. Has anyone suggested that we should intervene against Saudi Arabia? Of course not. Even if repression grew in Saudi Arabia itself, or in Bahrain, one thing would be absolutely certain: the British Government would not draft a resolution with the United States to put before the Security Council of the United Nations. We know that.
It is interesting that every time we go to intervene somewhere there is a reference to the occupied territories: “We are going to do what we can for the Palestinians.” Yet the position of the Palestinians remains the same: more than 40 years of occupation, humiliating conditions, the wall, the deprivation of liberty, and the rest. Has there been any change as far as the Israeli occupation of the occupied territories goes? Not at all, but Prime Ministers—not just this one—always refer to it. I do not doubt their sincerity, but it is interesting as far as the occupied territories and the United States’ support for this current military action are concerned.
Only a few weeks ago, a resolution—
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman, whose speech I am listening to very carefully. He asks us to see the situation from an Arab point of view, but does he accept something that was put very forcefully to me at a public meeting in Qatar; namely, “You intervened in Iraq because it was about your security. Don’t you see that in Libya this is about our aspiration, our democracy, our freedom? Isn’t it time that actually you paid some attention to those things?”? Was not that the Arab street speaking, and not just Arab Governments? Is not that something we should listen to?
Yes. I take the point the Prime Minister makes, but at the same time what about the lack of freedom—the repression—in the other countries that I have mentioned? It is not just Libya. Yes, I concede the point—I have said so—that Gaddafi’s regime is so tyrannical, so bloody against its own people, and there was the arming of the IRA, Lockerbie and the rest of it. Gaddafi was up to his neck in Lockerbie, as well as in the murder of Yvonne Fletcher. I have no illusions on that score; all I am saying is that, from the Arab point of view, they do not quite see the situation as we and, to some extent, I do as a citizen of the United Kingdom.
I have many reservations. I must confess that I am debating with myself. I do not often do so, but I do not see any reason why I should not. [ Interruption. ] I do not recommend it. I may be somewhat introverted as a personality, but I do not recommend debating with oneself. The debate I am having is whether I should vote against the motion, because I cannot vote with the
Government. I will make up my mind, not because it is the Government’s motion but because of the reservations I have expressed. Having expressed those reservations, it would be somewhat hypocritical of me to vote for the motion, if there is a vote tonight—there may not be. If there is a vote, I am debating whether I should abstain or vote against the motion, and I will make up my mind.
I simply say this in conclusion: the action has been taken and we are in, but I hope it is going to be very short. Reference was made to mission creep. I hope we are not going to get involved in the same way as we did in Iraq and in Afghanistan. We are out of Iraq, most people want to see the end of British military involvement in Afghanistan and they certainly do not want a new, long war. That is why I hope so very much that it will be very short indeed. The sooner it ends, the better, because I do not believe, at the end of the day, that it is in the interests of Libya or the United Kingdom.
I join other hon. Members in sending my thoughts and prayers to our servicemen and women who are in operations over Libya and those who will be shortly, and of course, to their families.
As a former soldier, I believe that British soldiers, sailors and airmen should be committed to military action only reluctantly and as a last resort—a point that was eloquently highlighted by my hon. Friend Kris Hopkins in a very moving speech. When they are so committed, that cannot happen in a half-hearted way. They must have the resources—and, perhaps equally importantly, a mandate and a set of rules of engagement—to allow them to do robustly and properly the job they are asked to do.
I believe that the House is broadly united, with the possible exception of Mr Winnick, in believing that in the case of Libya, events had reached a stage where committing our military to enforcing the UN resolution is absolutely the right thing to do. Let us not forget where we were on Thursday afternoon. The momentum was with Gaddafi’s forces, who were advancing on Benghazi, and there was every indication that the city would fall in a matter of hours. Time was pressing. Sir Menzies Campbell has already read to the House the chilling words that Gaddafi himself read out over the radio about what might happen if the city did fall. Uncharacteristically, the United Nations Security Council not only passed a resolution swiftly but passed a robust one, and that robustness is very welcome. I congratulate the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary on the role that they played in securing that very important resolution.
It is vital that we ensure, at every stage of this operation, that we operate at all times within the legality of that UN mandate, and that we retain the broad support of the wider region. Like my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Malcolm Rifkind, I was concerned by the reports over the weekend that Amr Moussa, the secretary-general of the Arab League, had expressed some concerns about the UN mandate. Thankfully, he has now clarified his position, and the Arab League is firmly behind the action that is taking place. I am not surprised about that, given that its early call for international action was perhaps a key moment in allowing the UN to go forward with the mandate. However, this reflects the delicacy of the situation and the urgent need to include a broader alliance of regional forces in the operation that is taking place.
Like Mr Ainsworth, who is not in his place at the moment, I was pleased to hear of the imminent involvement of Qatari assets. I believe that such involvement is essential for the wider legitimacy of the operation, but it demonstrates the need for continuing diplomacy alongside military action and the need for us to be nimble and fleet of foot regarding the diplomatic situation—the shifting sands on which we will be operating. We should not be afraid to pause or freeze military action, if necessary, should we lose the support of the wider region. We must not tip over from doing what we were invited to do into being seen to impose on the region our view of what the solution should be. If that happens, we should maintain our grip very firmly on the big stick while walking a little more softly until we can rebuild the regional coalition.
The right hon. Member for Coventry North East expressed his deep concern following the lessons from Iraq, and he was right to do so. However, the spectre of Iraq should not prevent us from doing what we believe is right and is ultimately in our national interests, as the Prime Minister made clear, provided that we maintain the legal legitimacy and broad regional support. My hon. Friend Mark Lancaster is absolutely right when he says that this is just the start of the process and that we do not yet know how it will finish, but if we are to stay the course, we must ensure that we stay within the legal framework and maintain the regional support for what we are doing.
It is with some regret that I will be voting for the motion, because committing military forces to action anywhere in the world is regrettable. It will lead to dead soldiers, if not British, then Libyan; we must not forget that whichever side wins, there are casualties on the other side. I trust, however, that the majority of hon. Members will also vote for the motion, because we need to send a clear message tonight that we are united in this—that we as a House support the United Nations resolution, recognise that this action is both legitimate and necessary, and support our servicemen and women in the difficult and dangerous tasks that lie ahead.
I start, as have many others, by thanking the RAF ground crew and pilots and Royal Navy personnel who have seen action in Libya so far. In particular, I draw attention to the RAF crew who pulled back because of their concerns about potential civilian casualties. It is important that we recognise the professionalism of the RAF crews and naval personnel who are engaged out there.
I have had some concerns about this operation regarding civilians, the lack of a clear endgame, and our capabilities, but I have also looked at the potential of this seminal moment. There is a wind of unrest across the middle east. Elsewhere, we have had rose revolutions and orange revolutions, and now we seem to have a mobile phone revolution in which unrest across the middle east is generating a desire for change, openness, reform and greater freedom—a sharing of wealth and opportunity. It is important that we recognise and embrace this moment to take the opportunity of a new relationship with the Arab world. By backing the UN resolution and the no-fly zone, Arab leaders have shown a willingness to stand up and be counted, and to draw their own proverbial line in the sand. We must recognise that there will be a need for clear rules of engagement for all the participants in this endeavour—rules that everyone, including members of the Arab League, will have to sign up to.
The Chairman of the Defence Committee, of which I am a member, raised a valid point about the need to clarify all the circumstances. For example, what do we do if the rebels attack Gaddafi’s troops and he retaliates? Do we attack Gaddafi? That has not been made clear, and this House needs to know. We need to know who is going to take command and control responsibilities, which the US has indicated that it wants to pass on to NATO. Turkey is a member of NATO, and it is concerned about that. What is the Arab League’s role in embracing command and control responsibilities? Where do the enforcement of sanctions, the closing down of Gaddafi’s means of communications and the sharing of intelligence sit in our rules of engagement and our command and control agreements? The big task is going to be one of foreign policy and diplomacy. The Arab League’s continued engagement and movement into partnership with the west will not be easy to maintain, and it has to be one of our priorities. There will be tribal tensions between Shi’a and Sunni.
We have all heard the comments about Amr Moussa and civilian deaths. We must be up-front and acknowledge that civilians will die. A recent report by Save the Children stated that 90% of casualties in war zones are civilians. In the past decade, 2 million children have died, and 6 million have been permanently disabled, directly as a result of conflict. Our rules of engagement attempt to minimise such deaths, but the deaths will happen, and the allies must acknowledge that. We need to ensure that the International Committee of the Red Cross and all UN bodies have access to the war zone to monitor the situation so that we can have clear, neutral and impartial reporting.
It is not clear to me that we have an endgame. We know that there cannot be a foreign occupation force, but there is no clear indication of whether regime change is an objective. The strategic defence and security review states that we will deploy forces on the basis of a number of tests, including whether it is in our national interests. One of the tests is whether we have a “viable exit strategy”. No one today has clarified that exit strategy.
It has been suggested that we should not mention the SDSR. However, over the weekend, I have received many phone calls from members of the armed forces who feel angry. They feel that there has been talk of cuts and of loss of platform. That platform is now being brought into use. There is a concern that we must be up- front and acknowledge that we need our armed forces to take this matter forward for us. We in this House can agree to that, but it is our armed forces who are putting their lives on the line on behalf of the Libyan people and the people whom this House represents.
The more serious the situation, the better this House responds. That has been proved by some very fine speeches today. I wholeheartedly congratulate the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and their respective teams on their incredibly hard work over the past seven days. Many people were sceptical about the possibility of the UN agreeing to a no-fly zone. That agreement is therefore a great tribute to the diplomatic effort. The reasons for military intervention are clear and have been well rehearsed by Members from all parts of the House. I fully support the motion. I pay tribute to our armed forces for what they have achieved in such a short time.
I will turn to the future of Libya. On the BBC World Service earlier today, Rear-Admiral Chris Parry said:
“We really do have to get to grips with what happens afterwards. If we don’t, the military campaign will lose momentum, it will lack coherence and we’ll lose broader political support within the Islamic world.”
The pre-emptive action to establish a no-fly zone is almost complete. Colonel Gaddafi’s forces may well be starved of the necessary support and halted short of rebel strongholds. However, an impasse could follow. We must have a clear and coherent plan for how Libya can get to the next stage; for how the Libyan people, if it is their wish, can overthrow the Gaddafi regime; and for what might follow in its wake.
Before the invasion of Iraq, I criticised the then Government in this House for the lack of a post-conflict reconstruction plan. That was one of the most important reasons for the insurgency and violence following the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, and for the reconstruction of that country taking so long. It is vital that steps are taken now to ensure that that situation is not repeated in Libya.
Gaddafi still has significant capacity to defend himself and the so-called rebel force currently lacks the ability to overthrow him. It is unclear from UN resolution 1973 what more can be done in such a stalemate, as Members in all parts of the House have said. The resolution specifically excludes
“a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory”.
An amendment to that resolution or a new resolution that allowed occupying troops to be sent in would be unacceptable to this House and to this country. There is no appetite among the British public to be drawn into another potentially lengthy conflict. We have been in Afghanistan for almost 10 years and our armed forces, particularly the Army, need a break from conflict. Likewise, I do not think that arming the rebels would be wise. The west armed the mujaheddin in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war, and the consequences of those decisions are being felt to this day. When we arm one side, it is never quite clear where those arms will end up.
It is up to the people of Libya to push through a change of governance, but how they will do so remains unclear. I hope that the talk of a partition in Libya will be quashed at the earliest opportunity. To leave Gaddafi in the west and a new Government in the east would create far greater instability in the future, and would undoubtedly lead to further conflict.
Undoubtedly, the most important factor in planning for the future of Libya is support from its fellow Arab nations. The Arab League’s endorsement of the no-fly zone was clearly pivotal in securing it. We now need more countries to participate in it. I hope that this is the beginning of a process in which the UK, US, France and others work closely with the Arab League and Arab countries to consider the future of Libya. In the near future, Libya will need more assistance from its regional friends and neighbours. They can play a positive and constructive role in rebuilding the infrastructure of Libya and in helping to form a new nation. Ultimately, all members of the coalition need to speak with one voice to show their decisiveness and resolve to see this matter through. That extends in particular to the European Union and its officials.
I hope that this moment will represent a sea change in the Arab world, as the Prime Minister rightly said, and particularly among those leaders who oppress their peoples. After Iraq and Afghanistan, it was perhaps thought that the west would no longer intervene in the middle east under any circumstances. This action has shown dictators and tyrants everywhere in the world that they need to think twice before brutalising their own people and committing war crimes.
I end with a quotation that has been used by Mr Donaldson, but which is apposite. As a former Member of this House, Edmund Burke, said to his electors in Bristol, all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. It would be very wrong for us to do nothing in this case.
It is clear that without UN resolution 1973, there would have been appalling blood-letting in Benghazi. It is also clear that this is not another Iraq, because there is legitimate UN authority for action and there will be no occupying army. It is highly significant that the support has been gained, at least up to now, of the 23 members of the Arab League.
Having said that, and recognising that action of this kind invariably involves high risks, there are several issues on which this House and the British people want assurances. First, although the UN resolution is unquestionably strong, it focuses on the protection of civilians, as the Prime Minister declared repeatedly today. However desirable the end of Gaddafi may be, regime change is explicitly not covered by resolution 1973, contrary to the unfortunate impression that the Defence Secretary has given in a number of interviews that I have heard. There is always a risk of mission creep in matters of this kind, but if we are to retain the support of the wide coalition that has been assembled, it is vital that we are seen to keep strictly to the terms of the resolution and that we do not seek to put interpretations on it that suit our convenience.
A second concern is over the planning for the outcome of the conflict, which certainly did not happen in Iraq. As has been said, there could be a quick collapse if the Libyan military turns against Gaddafi, or there could be a long stalemate if the regime not only declares a ceasefire but observes it and holds on to what it retains in western and southern Libya. In either case, it is unclear at the moment—I wonder whether it is clear to the Government—how any intended outcome will be achieved. If Gaddafi is deposed or killed, given the strong tribal structure in Libya, what is to prevent the country from descending into civil war? How will law and order be imposed in such circumstances, particularly if the Libyan military retains its loyalty to the old regime—as some of it will—and refuses to do a deal with the rebels?
On the other hand, if Gaddafi is forced to end hostilities by the overwhelming force of allied air power, which is very likely, and opts to stay put in western Libya, what then? Will the words “all necessary measures” allow us to sidestep the arms embargo and channel arms to the rebels to enable them to carry on the fight, as Sir Malcolm Rifkind suggested earlier? The Prime Minister said on Friday that the resolution’s
“very strong language…allows states to take a number of military steps to protect people and harm those who are intending to damage civilians.”—[Hansard, 18 March 2011; Vol. 525, c. 623.]
But that cannot possibly justify arming one side when the other is observing a ceasefire. Equally, using superior allied air power to knock out Libyan army strongpoints if the rebels were to advance on Tripoli would be way outside the essentially defensive context of the UN resolution. In those circumstances, how would the stalemate be broken?
The third problem, which others have mentioned, is that of maintaining the all-important support of the Arab League, and not only during the initial ferocity of the allied onslaught.
Would my right hon. Friend be sympathetic in theory to the idea of a future UN resolution giving authority to an Arab-led UN force, spearheaded by the Egyptians and the Turks, as a peacekeeping transition force to solve some of the problems that he has mentioned after the first episodes have concluded?
There is nothing to stop those countries joining a coalition now, and I am not at all sure that it requires a further UN resolution. I have to say, I think such a result is unlikely.
The continued support of Amr Moussa, the secretary-general of the Arab League, is critical to the allied claim that this is not just another western war against a Muslim country in the Arab world, but rather action against a tyrant who has lost all regional backing and whose people are rising up against him. There are already ominous signs that Mr Moussa’s support may be wobbling, on the ground that the Arab League saw the UN resolution as an essentially defensive concept. The Arab League must not only be continually consulted but actually listened to, and its needs and demands must be taken account of in allied action.
My last point concerns the precedent that is being set. Of course every case is different, but the western powers and the UN did not intervene when there were arguably much stronger cases for it in Rwanda, in the Shi’ite uprisings against Saddam in southern Iraq in 1991 or in the three-week war and extensive killing in
Gaza. As many Members have asked, where will the new doctrine this time around lead?
The argument about selectivity and the application of moral principles has been widely voiced in the middle east. If protecting civilians against a dictator who is seeking bloodily to suppress demand for democratic reform is the prevailing policy, how can that doctrine not be applied to interventions in Bahrain, Yemen, Algeria or elsewhere? That question has been asked repeatedly, but it has not received an answer.
Those are all difficult questions, but I submit that it is better that they be faced up to now, before the initial jingoism—an unpleasant sensation that is being pushed in some of the media—perhaps gives way to dismay and disarray in the weeks and months ahead.
Like all Members, I am worried and concerned about activities in and surrounding Libya. I am worried about the disregard for basic human rights shown by the Libyan army and the Gaddafi regime, and concerned about the potential longer-term commitment that we may have embarked upon.
I pay tribute to the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Defence and the Foreign Secretary for their work and actions in securing and ensuring that the foundation on which the conflict has been drawn is very different from that on Iraq. It seems only a short time ago that many people were judging and criticising the so-called “loose talk” about the need for a no-fly zone. Some opponents even mocked the calls for one. Such judgments only show the risk of seeking to make short-term political points out of very difficult international situations, and I hope that Members of all parties will have learned a lesson from that.
Last Thursday night, the passing of UN Security Council Resolution 1973 changed the terms of the debate. The success in delivering the resolution is remarkable, particularly bearing in mind the statements and comments made by some allies beforehand. The support of the Arab League was critical, and the change of heart of the United States was essential in delivering the consequences of the resolution.
None the less, we need to recognise the concerns and doubts expressed by those who abstained, and the initial comments made by the Arab League subsequent to military action, which have since been clarified, because they indicate how things could develop. The resolution has secured the legality of the actions that have been taken, but their legitimacy and longer-term consequences depend on maintaining the broadest possible coalition.
The delay by the United States in clarifying its position was damaging, but diplomacy won it over. In spite of the abstentions of some nations, dialogues with those countries—Germany and India, and even Russia and China—need to be maintained. It is unlikely that they will ever U-turn on their positions, but as the Gaddafi regime resorts to the most inhumane tactics we can only hope to win their tolerance in private.
The reporting in the UK and elsewhere of the action that has been taken has taken many different tacks. There have been some spectacular pictures showing how effective military actions have been in removing anti-aircraft capabilities and military hardware from the Gaddafi regime, and showing the positive impact that our forces have had. None the less, we should never be seduced by such stunning and incredible images. Our defence technology is impressive and astonishing, but judgments about using it must be taken in the context of the wider difficulties that it can bring in the longer term.
Not only must we maintain the legal case, but the moral, political and public cases should always be at the forefront of our mind. Colonel Gaddafi is a master of propaganda and of using it to motivate some of his civilians. Many Arab nations will be sympathetic to his calls. Outgunning Colonel Gaddafi by moral, political and public means in the Arab nations is as important as outgunning him by military means. The UN resolution means that we do not need to defend the political or legal case for our military action, as was required in the Iraq conflict, but we do need to maintain our case and win over doubters in the Arab nations. Many of those nations have significant military resources, and it is essential that they should be used to help us achieve the UN objectives.
Finally, I wish to reflect on
The Government’s actions to date have been exemplary, as has been noted widely by Members of all parties. It is up to all of us to ensure that they remain so, with the broadest possible coalition of support and the acknowledgment of the doubters.
I welcome the debate today. It is important that Parliament plays a key role in deciding whether this country is involved in wars. I endorse the points that my hon. Friend Mr Allen made in an intervention about war-making powers. The House has a right to ask the Government many questions about the enterprise on which we are embarked and where it will lead. We should not be fooled by newspapers telling us, in a gung-ho and frankly offensive way in the case of The Sun and the News of the World,that the public are behind this. I am far from convinced of that. The public are concerned about public expenditure and the money that has been spent on the armed forces for the enterprise, and they are very worried about where it leads because they have been through the miserable experience of Iraq and they also have deep concerns about Afghanistan. It is therefore appropriate in today’s debate to have a serious discussion about where the action will lead.
An opinion poll in Metro this morning—I do not know how scientific that is—suggested that 58% of those questioned were against British involvement in Libya. Although I do not know how accurate that is, many people are very worried about the action. We must ask questions about the troops that we have committed through the Air Force. How long will they be there? What command structure are they currently under?
That is far from clear. Several air forces are involved, and it is not clear who is co-ordinating them, who is in charge or who decides what targets to bomb at what stage. That is enormously worrying.
My hon. Friend John McDonnell asked several questions about cluster bombs and depleted uranium. Cluster bombs are illegal. Children are still dying in Iraq and Afghanistan because of the use of cluster bombs in the past. Depleted uranium was used in the Gulf war in 1991 and that has led to a high level of cancers in southern Iraq. I hope that no other forces are using depleted uranium weapons, because of the long-term effects.
What is the mission all about? Only three weeks ago, we were training Libyan forces and selling arms to Libya. British companies were happily trading with Libya and British universities were happily accepting vast sums of money from Libya until a few weeks ago. It is an awfully short time in our relations with Libya in which to go from hero to zero. The rest of the world may be concerned about that.
My hon. Friend Mr Skinner intervened on the Prime Minister to ask about the endgame. One hopes that there will be an urgent ceasefire and some kind of political settlement in Libya, and that Libya’s independence as a state will be preserved. However, there is another scenario: a client state in the east around Benghazi; and a pariah state in the west around Tripoli, led by Gaddafi, and a source of constant conflict, disturbance and danger in the region. That is eminently possible, with oil companies trying to get their hands on the huge resources that are there.
Is my hon. Friend as concerned as I am about the composition of what is currently called “the rebel force”, which is a catch-all for anti-Gaddafi forces? Many of us could support that as a concept, but is my hon. Friend a little worried that we could end up with something even worse than the current regime? Libya is not a repressed democracy. We have not spent the past 30 years building up a democratic base there. It will not be Nick and Dave who take over, but unknown people. We are not sure about the endgame and we should be careful what we wish for.
My hon. Friend makes a valuable point. I do not know the politics, aims, ambitions or anything else of the people in Benghazi any more than I suspect he does. We should be cautious about going to war on behalf of a group of people whom we do not know or understand and of whose aims we are not aware. Many were Ministers in the Gaddafi Government, again, only three weeks ago. It is a very short time.
There is a danger that we do nothing about Bahrain because of close economic and military involvement, despite the US fifth fleet being there. There is a danger that we say nothing about Saudi Arabia because of the vast arms market there. The former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, felt that Saudi Arabia was so important that he stopped the Serious Fraud Office investigation into the al-Yamamah arms contract. In Yemen and Oman, people are dying. They thirst for exactly the same thing. I was at a conference this morning of Bahraini opposition groups who made strong points. They said that they were not campaigning about human rights in Bahrain yesterday, but last year, the year before, the year before that and so on. Indeed, I first met Bahraini opposition groups who were concerned about the overwhelming power of the king in 1986 at a UN human rights conference in Copenhagen.
Does the hon. Gentleman believe that action in Libya now helps the case for action in the countries that he mentioned later?
I do not believe that it does, because the economic interests in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain far outweigh any humanitarian concerns. I simply do not believe that it will happen.
However, we must use the opportunity to reassess our foreign policy, our arms sales policy and the way in which we get into bed with dictator after dictator around the world. We should also think for a moment about the message that goes out on the streets throughout north Africa and the middle east.
When Israeli planes bombed Gaza during Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09, I did not hear any calls for a no-fly zone over Gaza. F-16 jets pounded Palestinians, killing 1,500 civilians. We have to understand the bitterness of that period and the experience of the Palestinian people because many in the Palestinian diaspora, living out their lives in refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt—all over the region—want the right to return home. They see the double standards of the west: interested in supporting Israel at the expense of the Palestinian people; currently intervening in Libya but doing nothing to support the Palestinian people.
We are in an interesting period in history. There was an Arab revolution in the 1950s, supporting the principle of pan-Arab unity. Nasser was one of its leading figures. That degenerated into a series of fairly corrupt dictatorships that still run the Arab League. None feels very secure when they attend Arab League meetings. Indeed, they go home as quickly as possible afterwards, lest there be a coup.
We are seeing a popular revolution for accountable government, peace and democracy on the streets throughout the region. We have been on the wrong side in selling arms and supporting dictators. We have not thought through the implications of what we are doing now in Libya. I suspect that we might end up in a Libyan civil war for a long time and that this is not the only occasion on which we will debate the subject in the House. This is the easy bit; the hard part is yet to come.
We clearly live in interesting times. It is a pleasure to follow Jeremy Corbyn, because I share his analysis.
From Morocco in west Africa to Bahrain in the Gulf, we are seeing people grasp for freedom—proud people, many of whom have lived for too long under a veil of oppression. They are willing to put their lives on the line for the simple rights that we in the House and in this country take for granted.
I believe that it is right that we as a country use our military capabilities to stand with those who seek freedom and reform in Libya. Our values demand our active support for people who will no longer tolerate a corrupt regime that keeps them in ignorance, poverty and conformity. In the long term, as my hon. Friend Rory Stewart pointed out, our national interest will be best served by standing with those who share our values and against those who seek to suppress self-determination.
Let us be clear. Gaddafi is a brutal dictator, who has systematically murdered his own people simply because they dared to dream of freedom from his oppressive tyranny. He has murdered children and women and men and boys. He has shown that he is unfit to govern, and he should go.
My thoughts are today with the men and women of our armed forces who are in harm’s way. I pay tribute to their bravery. They are fighting for peoples whose courage and bravery in standing up unarmed against oppression is an inspiration to many across the region and the world. I have no direct experience of war. In that respect, my generation has been luckier than most. I have studied international politics and visited parts of the world that have been torn by conflict, and spent hours listening to people who have served their country. I know that there is no glamour in war. If the House forgets that for a single moment, it should reflect on the powerful contributions of my hon. Friends the Members for North Warwickshire (Dan Byles), for Milton Keynes North (Mark Lancaster) and for Keighley (Kris Hopkins).
Many in our community think that we should not get involved in other countries’ problems, but Libya is different from Iraq. We could not have stood by and watched Benghazi, a city the size of Glasgow, be wrecked by Gaddafi’s henchmen. Unlike Iraq, the UN is clear that action must be taken to protect civilians, and the international community has the backing of many Arab countries.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that people in Benghazi could still be massacred unless they are allowed to be armed? Resolution 1973 provides a means for that to happen through the committee on sanctions. Does he think that that should be used?
To some extent, I share the hon. Gentleman’s analysis that resolution 1973 could institutionalise stalemate. Although our short-term actions are tactically successful, we need a clear strategic plan. The Government must address that, and I am sure the Defence Secretary heard the hon. Gentleman’s ideas about one such avenue.
There is no such thing as a good war, but there could be such a thing as a just war. My grandfather fought Nazism in the very desert over which our planes are now flying, and he was right to do so. In standing up to this brutal warlord using our capabilities to protect civilians, we are doing the right thing today.
There are, however, lessons to learn. For too long, it has been common to assume that people in north Africa and the middle east live under dictatorships and repressive regimes because they in some way choose to do so. Over the last few months, we have seen the end of the myth of Arab exceptionalism and an unprecedented grasp for freedom by people who no longer want to live under tyranny and in fear.
This is not the end of regimes in Libya and elsewhere that cling to power without the consent of their people, but it is doubtless the beginning of the end for them. Thousands of brave souls have been prepared to stand up and to lose their lives for things that we take for granted, such as the right to speak our minds, to meet with whom we choose and to vote for a political party of our choice. It is therefore right to stand with those people in their struggle.
I join hon. Members who have said that we need a full review of our foreign policy in the region and beyond to ensure that we use all our capabilities to stand with those who want the right to choose their own Government. We cannot act everywhere, but we must no longer condone regimes that suppress their people or supply them with the tools and training to do so.
I urge Ministers to make it perfectly clear to Gaddafi and his commanders that we are watching them, and that we will prosecute them to the fullest extent under international law for any crimes and atrocities they commit. Clearly, the action on which we are embarked needs to create more than a stalemate on the ground, as one of my hon. Friends said earlier. The steps we have taken have led to tactical success, but our long-term strategy needs to be clear. We also need to look beyond that to a concerted international effort to deliver to the region the benefits of pluralism. After the second world war, the Marshall plan lifted Europe out of poverty. We now need similar for north Africa and the middle east. I welcome the prominence that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister gave to that in his remarks.
There is no doubt that we place a burden on our armed forces, with their continuing obligations in Afghanistan and elsewhere. We ask a lot of them, but they always rise to the challenge. Clearly, they are doing a fantastic job in difficult circumstances, but it behoves the House to remember that their resources are not infinite. If we want them to take on more challenges, we need to ensure that they are correctly resourced. I therefore welcome the use of the NATO command structure, which is a tried and tested vehicle for the delivery of no-fly zones, but I would also welcome further clarity on the rules of engagement that will be employed. We need to give our forces the best chance of defending themselves and prosecuting the UN resolution.
As this Arab spring unfolds before us, it is vital that we put our shoulder to history and stand with those who want the most basic rights—the right to choose their own destinies and to live without fear. My hope is that in all they do, the Government will help and not hinder the flourishing of this Arab spring.
I found it touching that Kris Hopkins and others expressed trepidation about entering a debate when we are sending troops into battle. I have been in the House for 14 years now, and I have done that on four occasions. I can tell them that it gets no easier. The more I have experience of conflicts and the more I understand the human suffering involved, the more I am committed to peace and conflict resolution, and the more I oppose such military interventions.
There comes a time in all such conflicts when the collateral damage—a disgraceful term—is reported to us, and evidence comes to light of families and children who get killed and maimed as a result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. When coffins draped in the Union flag come back, all hon. Members will ask, “Did we do enough to avoid the conflict? Did we do enough to ensure peace?” That is why my hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn and I tabled an amendment today. I appreciate that it was not selected for debate, Mr Deputy Speaker, but because it has been referred to, I should like to refer to it as well.
The amendment sought to demonstrate that we are using every means possible—straining every sinew—to gain peace, and not, as the Prime Minister set out, just doing that before the conflict. Often, the most successful peace talks are those that take place when military action has already been undertaken.
My hon. Friend says that we should do everything we can to avoid conflict, but the conflict has already happened. The people of Benghazi are under attack, and the people of Tripoli are suffering from the Gaddafi regime’s repression. In that sense, standing out of the conflict is also taking a position.
I am saying that we should secure peace now that the conflict has started. I oppose Britain’s involvement in the middle east because we have a century and a half of involvement—in pursuit of the region’s mineral wealth—that is steeped in blood, murder and maiming. We do not have the credibility to intervene constructively.
Nevertheless, the conflict has started, and our role is to secure peace as quickly as possible. That is why the amendment seeks to secure peace through negotiations. Already, there have been offers of mediation, in particular through the ALBA group of Latin American nations. We should take that offer. The amendment also states—
May I refer to those points to which the Prime Minister referred? He said that he would support the sentiments of the amendment, particularly in respect of ensuring that we keep civilians out of harm’s way. When I asked him about depleted uranium, he assured me that we do not use it, but we have used it consistently over time, and it has caused all sorts of harm to people in the middle east. This country, along with France, objected to the international ban on the use of such weapons, but I hope that the Prime Minister’s statement today means that we will now support the ban.
The Prime Minister said that he supports what we say about the need for a middle east conference. We need to engage to try to secure peace and stability and to promote democracy in the region. My view is that we need to do all we can to demonstrate our commitment to peace. The military action has already caused deaths. We do not know whether they are civilians, but the reports from Tripoli are that they are not dividing people from Gaddafi, but actually consolidating his support. The sight of the same countries that invaded Iraq killing Arabs again is of immense value to Gaddafi in his argument that this is another crusader invasion.
We have heard already that the Arab League is falling apart, with different statements coming out in different languages to hide the dissent. The UN is also dividing, with Russia and China, as we speak, urging that military action cease. They are not abstaining, but are convening the Security Council to try to end the action. NATO itself is displaying divisions as well. We have also heard statements from Turkey refusing to take on a longer term role. I have to say that statements in the House and by Ministers are increasingly confusing about the objectives of the military action. The UN resolution does not refer to regime change, but ministerial statement after ministerial statement clearly lead to that conclusion. Although the resolution states that there will not be a troop invasion or occupation, we now know that there is the potential for special forces and boots on the ground. That is all playing into Gaddafi’s hands by calling up images of a foreign invasion.
The charges of hypocrisy cannot go away. There is the lack of action in Yemen, Bahrain and Oman. I am talking not about physical action, which I would oppose anyway, but about the mealy-mouthed ministerial statements. There has been no threat to use the international courts against these killer regimes or to seize their assets, and there has been no threat even of diplomatic isolation. Neither has it helped that the images are still fresh in people’s minds in the middle east of our Prime Minister’s recent tour of the region to sell arms to these barbaric regimes. Finally, of course, my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North has mentioned the hypocrisy of refusing a no-fly zone when Gaza was invaded. We now face the prospect of a long-haul engagement in military action in Libya.
We risk being dragged into on-the-ground bloody combat, followed by a counter-insurgency struggle and then vulnerability to a lengthy terrorist campaign. It will all threaten the peace and stability of the region and have consequences for our own people and the global economy. That is why the message today from the Chamber should be that we seek peace, that we want to ensure the safety of civilians and that our concern is for the peace of the region and the promotion of democracy overall. I urge the Government to take up the offer of mediation from the ALBA countries. I urge the Chamber to send the message that we strive in every way possible to bring all parties together to seek peace. In that way, we might yet have the opportunity to restore some credibility to the role of this country in the middle east. I do not believe that that will be done as a result of the bombs and missiles now hurtling down on the Libyan people and causing death and destruction.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Will you speak to Mr Speaker to ensure that the rights of the House are properly represented, so that in future, when a motion is put down by the Government, who are meant to be being held to account by the House, sufficient time is allowed for amendments to be organised and tabled by people in the House of a different view? We all have reservations. No one has spoken tonight and said that they are 100% certain about what we are doing. If we allow other voices and amendments, and if we allow colleagues to accumulate sufficient signatures, would it not be in order to have a debate with amendments that could be voted on and which could present a different point of view in the House from the choice we are presented with tonight?
If I am to follow the good example of those engaging in genuine debate, I should refer to previous comments made tonight. Two of the speeches that have been much praised so far—quite rightly, in my view—were those from Sir Menzies Campbell and my hon. Friend Rory Stewart. They were praised not only because of their excellent delivery, but—one would like to think—substantially because of their comment and analysis. If I try to marry those two speeches, I come out with two propositions: intervention should be for humanitarian purposes only, and strict limits should be imposed on how we become militarily involved.
As will emerge as I develop my argument, I believe that the most likely result of such an approach—if it is what hon. Members want—would be not dissimilar to what was set out by the hon. Members for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) and for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell). That might surprise some hon. Members. I shall come back to that point in a moment, but I wish people to think about it a little. It is one thing to praise a speech about having limited objectives in a war, but it is quite another to proceed as if there will not be consequences of limiting those objectives in the way that we should rightly limit them.
In the early 1990s, when I was not in the House, I looked on in horror at what was happening in Bosnia, and I was particularly ashamed of the fact that our Foreign Secretary of the day, when asked why we would not go to the help of the moderate Bosnian Muslims and would not even allow them to have the weapons with which to defend themselves, replied that we did not wish to create a “level killing field”. I thought that that was a disgraceful statement.
My hon. Friend agrees that it was disgraceful.
I looked on with horror and impotence while the world and Britain stood by. Then, partly for that reason, in 1998, during my first term in the House, I was one of just three Conservative Members—if I remember correctly, the others were the now Lord Cormack and the late Michael Colvin—who actually called for military intervention against Milosevic in relation to Kosovo a year before the intervention actually happened. I therefore have a track record of supporting humanitarian intervention. I say that because I have grave reservations about what we are doing now. I will—very reluctantly—support the motion in the Lobby tonight, but I want hon. Members to realise the consequences that are likely to follow.
In such a situation, we need to ask ourselves four questions: who should intervene, how should the intervention be carried out, who should pay for it and what will be the result? Who should intervene? The answer is: those who are willing and strong enough to do so. How should it be done? Here we get to the nub of the matter. We can intervene in such a conflict by using what has been called air power but is actually the use of precision weapons from the sea and the air. We can intervene using such power only, which is what we say we are doing, or by introducing troops. If we confine ourselves to using precision weapons from sea platforms or the air, we should not expect Colonel Gaddafi to disappear.
The question of who should pay is terribly important. Throughout our years of opposition, we said that Labour Governments had let defence fall too far down our list of priorities. However, I have not noticed us proposing to increase the proportion of GDP we spend on defence. I note that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence is here. I have asked the Foreign Secretary this question twice, and he has brushed me off twice. Will this campaign be paid for out of the existing core defence budget, or will it be met by additional funds from the Treasury reserve? We have to know.
Finally, what will be the outcome? It will be entirely dependent on whether ground troops get involved. We have ruled out ground troops. If the Arab League wishes to see Gaddafi removed, it may have to supply ground troops, but we will not do so. We are left with a situation in which we are making a limited intervention to stop people being massacred. However, let us not fool ourselves into thinking that this will result in the removal of Colonel Gaddafi. Unless there is a coup or ground troop involvement by Arab states, Colonel Gaddafi will probably survive. He will lose control of part of the area, and we will have a long-term commitment to look after the remainder of Libya. For that, payment must be found.
I am glad to follow Dr Lewis, because he gave what I thought was his version of Tony Blair’s Chicago speech of 1999. Where Tony Blair had five criteria, the hon. Gentleman seems to have four, but the consequence would still be the interventionist view that I know he has held for many years.
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman should be so pessimistic about the consequences of what is happening in Libya. None of us can predict what will happen. He is quite right that the Gaddafi regime may persist for some time, in some form or other. He is also possibly right about the alternative outcome of partition, which other hon. Members have mentioned. Another view is that we could be moving towards what might be described as “Somalia with oil”, which would be the worst possible outcome. Therefore, we in Europe should be particularly concerned about what is happening in Libya, because it is geographically on the borders of the European Union. Libya is not remote or a long way away; it is of vital, direct, national and European interest to us.
In that context, I want to praise the work of our diplomats in the UN, who have worked hand in glove with French diplomats in the UN to get the Security Council resolution. What has been done through co-operation between Britain and France, as the two European permanent members of the Security Council, is vital. Unfortunately, the Defence Secretary has left his place, but at least the Foreign Secretary is here.
I wanted to ask the Defence Secretary about co-operation between the UK and France on the defence front, because clearly there is a new understanding and agreement. If, as is expected, the lead of the operation is transferred from the United States, there will be interesting questions about where it should go. Turkey appears to be blocking any development of a NATO-based command. What will happen then? Is an alternative arrangement possible? Clearly the European Union is not capable of performing that role and, given Germany’s position, would not be likely to do so. What will happen to control of the forces that are brought together? There will be a continuing US role, even though it wants to step back, and those forces will include other European states, the Qataris and others who will enter the coalition. Britain and France will be working at the core of that coalition, but we need to know how that will work in practice. Perhaps we could have an indication of that in the winding-up speeches.
In the time left to me, I want to concentrate on what the development of the Security Council resolution means for the future of international co-operation. There were four groups among the 15 members of the Security Council. There was Britain and France, which clearly saw early that an intervention had to be made to stop the massacres and the killing of hundreds of thousands of people in Libya. Then there was the United States, which clearly saw the same thing but, because of internal, institutional problems—and, I suspect, because the Obama Administration rightly want to take a multilateral approach to international politics, in contrast to the predecessor, Bush Administration—did not want to play the lead role.
I do accept that, but I think the US Administration left it pretty late before finally making up their mind to move. It would have been helpful if the prevarication had not gone on for quite so long, but in principle I agree with my hon. Friend.
Then there was a third group, made up of countries in the Security Council that supported the action, even though many of the countries in their region were unhappy. Three African member states—South Africa, Gabon and Nigeria—voted for action, despite the fact that the African Union collectively has not taken the same position. That is significant. There was also Lebanon, representing the only Arab voice in the Security Council.
Then we have the fourth group, made up of China and Russia—traditionally, one of them would have vetoed the resolution, but they chose not to—and Germany, which, as we all know, has its own national view and history. Germany does not wish to put its forces in harm’s way and has always been reluctant to take a role in any international involvement. Indeed, I remember the angst in the SPD—the German Social Democratic party—even when it debated sending people to peacekeeping missions outside Europe. Then there are Brazil and India, which take a more traditionalist view about non-intervention, which is similar to that of China and Russia.
My point is that, because of the responsibility to protect, which was agreed in 2005 and 2006, and because of the way this debate has been framed, the UN has passed a watershed. The interventions to defend the Kurds in Iraq in 1991 and 1992 were made without a Security Council resolution. The intervention in Kosovo was also made without one, as was the intervention in Iraq, but today we have a new approach, and I hope that it is a model for the future.
My first point is a House of Commons point, because I received an absolute assurance from the Leader of the House two weeks ago on the Floor of the House that before we went to war in future, there would be a substantive vote in the House of Commons. When we went to war in the Falklands, the House of Commons sat on a Saturday. We have to establish the principle—this is not just a House of Commons point; it is a serious and important constitutional point—that in future when we go to war, the House of Commons should vote first.
Secondly, I have a number of questions about what we are doing in this operation. I voted against the Iraq war, because although it was ostensibly about dealing with weapons of mass destruction, in fact, as we know, it was about regime change. A lot of people have said that the current situation is very different, but is it? We are told that it is about humanitarian objectives, but is it not, in fact, about regime change, just as in Iraq? We need to ensure that our objectives are entirely and only humanitarian, and about protecting the people in Benghazi.
In one sense, the current situation is very different from the situation in Iraq, because at least there we were determined to go in and achieve regime change. Speaker after speaker has asked what we are going to achieve with the current operation. People say that we cannot always foretell the future and that that is not an excuse for doing nothing, but surely if we set off on a journey, it is generally a good idea to know the destination. Planes do not occupy ground. Missiles can destroy tanks, but they do not destroy regimes. Bombing Tripoli might bolster the regime’s support among the population there—indeed, it already has.
I have already asked the Prime Minister on the Floor of the House—no answer can be given—what will happen if the current operation just produces a stalemate. What will we do then? Will we be able to resist the moral pressure to get more and more involved, and to send in troops? There is absolutely no enthusiasm in this country for getting involved in a third war in the Muslim world. Aircraft can stop things happening—they can stop tanks entering Benghazi and I will support the operation to that extent—but they cannot make things happen.
A lot of lazy thinking has gone on along the lines that the regime was so unpopular that simply imposing a no-fly zone would make it fade away. Will that happen? Where is our strategic interest in Libya, which after all is 1,500 miles away? What are Egypt and Tunisia doing? They are its neighbours. Why is there not a single Arab plane in action at this moment?
We know that the first casualty of war is truth. The second casualty may well be a UN resolution, so that we are sucked into something far beyond what we have voted for. What are Russia and China doing, or rather not doing? Why is Iran silent? Is it because it supports Islamist irregulars in the east and is already there? Why would Gaddafi need to contest a no-fly zone if he can simply infiltrate troops? Is this a humanitarian war or is it a military war to change the regime? Will our efforts simply make Libya into another long-term brutal Sudan-type war?
It is often assumed that there are good guys and bad guys, but in fact Cyrenaica, in the east and controlled by the rebels, has always been separated from Tripolitania in the west. The two parts only became one state in 1934 and there has been a long-term dispute or semi-civil war between them for a long time. Indeed, in the 18th century Tripolitania invaded Cyrenaica and there were many massacres. History is extremely complicated; this region is very complicated, and we need to understand what is going on.
“Speak softly and carry a big stick”, but we have been in danger of speaking loudly and breaking our sticks in two in the strategic defence review. Reading the British press, one would imagine that the whole world is hanging on to our words. They are not. I was reading the French press, and there was little mention of Britain. In Italy, no doubt, they believe that Berlusconi is taking the lead. There is only one capital that matters and that is Washington.
Oratory is not enough; we need air power. How many Tornados do we have? I believe that the strategic defence and security review was a disaster—as big a disaster as the Nott review, which was finally overtaken by the Falklands war. I hope that this operation overtakes the disastrous defence review. France has an aircraft carrier; Spain has an aircraft carrier; Russia has an aircraft carrier; the USA has 11 aircraft carriers; and we have to fly a round trip of 3,000 miles to impose our military force. By the way, all we have done is send three Tornados and two cruise missiles.
I am glad that my hon. Friend raised that point, which I did not have time to raise. Although it is true that in this case we can get by from land bases, when it comes to the fuel costs of flying a single mission, a Harrier from a carrier would have cost £5,750, one from Sicily or southern Italy costs about £23,000 and one from the United Kingdom costs £200,000.
My hon. Friend makes the point. We could have had a carrier just 100 miles off the coast. The Prime Minister could have been sending our power. The Army is primarily a projectile of the Royal Navy and the defence review has been an attack on our traditional maritime and air power. I hope that we will use this operation to learn lessons about that.
In conclusion, I believe that we should review the strategic defence review, and that we should state firmly that our operation is simply and only a humanitarian exercise to save people in Benghazi and that there is absolutely no intention of our trying to achieve regime change.
Would my hon. Friend welcome, as I would, an absolute assurance from the Government that if they feel compelled to escalate our involvement in Libya, this House will be given the opportunity to vote again on this matter?
I have already said that that is a very important constitutional point. I know that I am just a House of Commons man, but most of the time that is all I have been allowed to be. There is nothing wrong with that, and we on the Back Benches have to say loudly and clearly to the Government that if there is any escalation, we must be consulted through a substantive resolution and that what we are talking about tonight is simply a very limited humanitarian operation using only warplanes, with no question whatsoever of our being dragged into third war in a Muslim country. I hope that point will be made loud and clear by the House of Commons.
I apologise for my absence during the early part of the debate, but along with other hon. Members I had to attend a meeting of the Committees on Arms Export Controls. The House will probably understand that events in the middle east and beyond show pretty conclusively the importance of the work of that Committee, and others, in scrutinising UK policy on arms exports.
Many hon. Members have posed the very reasonable question of what we are getting into with the operation in Libya, and Iraq has come up time and time again. Indeed, the spectre of Iraq haunts us all. I was opposed to the invasion of Iraq—I remain of that view—but I also hold the view that the issues we are dealing with today are very different. This action was not preceded by speeches about axes of evil. There have been no off-the-shelf neo-con theories in which the answer was clear in advance and all that remained was the question that allowed that answer to be put into effect—the answer being that we would end up going to war.
In this case, the entire middle east is going through a transformation that we have never seen before—a huge upsurge in popular protest calling for rights and democracy—and the response in Libya was not only violent repression by the Gaddafi regime but a chilling warning that there would be the wholesale slaughter of civilians in Benghazi not in weeks or months but in days. Parallels are always dangerous at such times, but the parallel I thought of at the time was not Iraq but something that I came across soon after I was elected in the early 1990s—the scenes in Srebrenica and elsewhere in Bosnia. It seemed to me that we could not allow that to happen again.
In 2005, the United Nations, as a result of the experience of Bosnia, Rwanda and other places, agreed that the international community did and does have a responsibility to protect. That is right and this is a test of our willingness to do that. Our objectives must be clear. The UN framework established in the resolution passed on Thursday is open to interpretation, but it is more specific than many we have seen recently. We must also be aware that events are dynamic. We need a much clearer strategy of how to go forward and how to respond.
I hope that we will listen to the wise words of Rory Stewart about the need to be humble as well as confident and to be limited in our rhetoric and in what we know we can achieve. We should listen to what Mark Lancaster said about needing to think through the issues to do with stabilisation and our role in it.
We must be aware of the vital role of the Arab League and the Arab world. Without their support, the UN resolution simply would not have been possible, but now, after the events of the weekend, the comments that were made and the clarifications that were made on the back of those comments, we must have a much closer understanding with the Arab League about how we go forward. We need to recognise and put in place the liaison arrangements that will be necessary to enable and encourage the Arab League to play a much more active role in what transpires from now on rather than being cheerleaders for us. However, the Arab League must also accept that it has responsibilities so that not only Libya but Yemen, Bahrain and other countries in that part of the world can move forward.
We also need to understand, as my hon. Friend Katy Clark said, that we need to address not just Arab Governments but the Arab people. When they express their objections to what is happening in this part of the world, the term “double standards” comes up time and again.
While it is right for people to speak of the importance of pursuing the middle east peace process at this time without soft-pedalling, it is also true that “process” is not enough. The former Palestinian ambassador to the United Kingdom, Afif Safieh, put it usefully some years ago when he said it was not enough to have an endless peace process, and that what was needed was an enduring peace. I think that what the people of the Arab world are looking for from us to counteract the impression of double standards that we have given is not just condemnation of, for example, Israeli settlement building, but a resolution to do something about it; not just condemnation of death and destruction in Gaza, but action to ensure that 1.5 million people are no longer forced to live in a kind of open prison.
We need to address those issues, not just for the sake of our credibility, but to establish an understanding with the peoples of the middle east that will allow them to transform their region in the way that they want and allow far more justice in the world—and that will allow far more stability in our world.
Like my hon. Friend Dan Byles, I will vote very reluctantly. Every time a military conflict takes place, death is involved along with ramifications for future generations, and everything hinges on what we say in this Chamber. We all know that this Chamber is the nerve centre of the country.
Although we are debating the motion, I really believe that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary were right to take the actions that they have taken. We cannot stand by and watch people who are not that far away from us, geographically—on the shores of Europe—suffer as they are suffering. We are dealing with a man who, time and again, has violated human rights. Time and again he has killed his own people. He has killed people on our soil. People have been killed through his orders, indirectly, and by his regime, certainly.
Members on both sides of the argument have said that we should have had more time in which to discuss the motion, but cries for help have no time. Those cries for help are coming from 2,000 miles away, which is not very far, and we have to help people. We have to be part of this.
I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman is listening to the cries for help from the people of Bahrain who have been murdered by Saudi Arabian troops, the people in the south of Syria who have been murdered by troops, or the people in Yemen who have been murdered by another dictator there. Why select these cries for help to listen to?
It is the right thing to do at this time and in this case.
Let me tell the House a story of which I have personal knowledge. A good friend of mine who was a radio officer on a ship jumped off it into the ocean when he saw a British destroyer come past. The military on the ship from which he jumped threw grenades at him, one of which hit him but bounced off and, thankfully, did not explode. He swam for his life, and our boys pulled him out of the sea. He came to this country, and was thankful for that. He has been here for nearly 30 years. Just think of that. Let me tell the House something else. When the students were bombing Manchester in the 1980s, that man lied to everyone that he was Italian, because he was in fear of his life. That is the kind of regime that we are discussing today, and the kind of regime that we want to sort out once and for all.
What else happened in the 1980s? Yvonne Fletcher was shot on our own soil in front of the television cameras. Some people have very short memories, but I do not have a short memory, and what worries me is that if we had not acted as we have so far, massacres would now be occurring in Libya.
This is not about the moral high ground. We pulled a mission yesterday—or over the weekend, or whenever it was—because civilians were involved. We do not attack human shields. We should think about what we are doing here. Yes, we are putting our troops into a theatre, but we are also saving people’s lives, and we are sorting out a dictator who should have been sorted out years ago. This man was responsible for Lockerbie. Do Members remember that? I do. He was never brought to book. Dare I say it, but some Members wanted to appease that regime—and here we are today, having to take up the mantle to sort it out again.
I was outraged when Yvonne Fletcher was shot. What can we do about all this? We can do the right thing. When Members go through the Lobbies tonight, they should think about what has happened in the history of Libya and how it has affected this country and the middle east, and they should do the right thing.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this crucial debate. I also welcome the opportunity to pay tribute to the men and women in our armed forces, whose courage and commitment are beyond question. However, I think we owe it to them, and indeed to all in the middle east and north African region, to ensure that the role that Britain plays is beyond reproach or misunderstanding. That means that it must be consistent, that it must be principled, and that it must be likely to do good rather than harm. Measuring the military intervention that has taken place so far against those benchmarks, I am not sure that they are being met.
Let us take consistency. I have heard no serious answers to the charge that we are being enormously selective in the battles that we are choosing to fight. The Prime Minister has been asked whether military intervention in Libya signals a new direction for British foreign policy, and whether we might expect similar action to be taken against other oppressive regimes. Libya, we are told, is special. We are also told that the fact that we cannot do good everywhere should not be an argument against doing whatever we can. I consider it critical that if we choose to move in this direction, we should do so with clear principles that are as independent of self-interest as we can possibly make them. The fact that we are operating in the same week as invading Saudi forces are executing unarmed democracy protesters on the streets of Bahrain raises serious questions.
In considering whether our action is truly principled, we surely have to say why we think it appropriate to continue to sell arms to the region. I do not apologise for returning to that issue, because the Colonel Gaddafi who has been rightly described today as a murderous dictator has not suddenly become one. He was already a murderous dictator a few months, or weeks, ago, when we were happy to sell him tear gas, crowd control equipment, ammunition for wall and door-breaching projectile launchers, and plenty of other military equipment as well. In the nine months leading up to September last year, the United Kingdom issued millions of pounds’ worth of arms export licences for Libya, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
We cannot ignore our own complicity in arriving at this point. We cannot continue to arm regimes that abuse their own citizens, and try to claim the moral high ground when addressing the conflicts that those same arms have helped to perpetuate. As recently as last month, Ministers attended the IDEX—international defence exhibition—arms fairs in Abu Dhabi, and in less than six months the United Kingdom will host its own arms fair in London, where, no doubt, regimes that abuse their own people will once again seek to buy the tools of their repression. I hope very much that the commitment that we are hearing today—the commitment to upholding human rights in the middle east—will extend to our policies on arms exports, so that we can finally not just review but end the policy of selling arms to repressive regimes.
We need to ensure that intervention has a better chance of doing good than of doing harm. The motion asks the House to support the Government
“in the taking of all necessary measures”.
Like United Nations Security Council resolution 1973, it commits us to a course of action that is dangerously open-ended. It does not define success, unless it is the over-simplistic success of removing Gaddafi, but if that is our measure we risk simply repeating the errors of our recent history. UN resolution 1973 does not appear to rule out the use of ground forces in support of the rebels or in helping to protect civilians. That is a fairly wide definition. Earlier in the debate, we heard an interpretation of the resolution that suggested it provided for the arming of rebels as well. It is extremely over-optimistic to expect an air campaign to be decisive; hence, presumably, the scope to escalate any campaign further. I believe that could be fatal to the chances of an early peace and I am deeply concerned about the falling away of support so early in this mission. I refer not only to the secretary-general of the Arab League, but to the fact that Egypt and Algeria do not want to be involved in this action, that the US does not want to lead on it and that France’s speed of action seems to suggest that President Sarkozy is motivated at least in part by his domestic concerns.
There is a real risk of our making matters worse. If there is a stalemate—if Gaddafi does not fall in the next few weeks—we could face a civil war, a partitioned Libya and even a potential breeding ground for al-Qaeda. Given the west’s colonial past, its history of adventurism and support for dictatorships in the region, its failure to enforce UN resolutions in Palestine and the legacy of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, I think its motives in Libya will always be in doubt. The Prime Minister himself said a few days ago that a no-fly zone was not a simple solution but one of a series of steps needed to make sure that we
“get rid of this regime.”—[Hansard, 16 March 2011; Vol. 525, c. 291.]
How can that be that be read as being anything other than, in effect, support for regime change, which falls well outside the terms of the UN resolution?
I hope that in the Government’s summing up there will be further clarification of the inconsistencies between what is in the UN resolution and what is in the Government’s motion. I hope that they will review their trade and foreign policy through the screen of a genuinely ethical foreign policy and I hope that we can support the urgent convening of a middle east peace conference.
I thank all right hon. and hon. Members who have contributed to the debate this evening. It has been a substantial and broad debate and many issues have been thoughtfully covered. I congratulate the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, who is in his place, on the leadership they have demonstrated, especially in the embryonic formation and eventual birth of resolution 1973.
Just a few weeks ago, I was struck by the difficulty and pertinence of these issues when I examined a broadsheet newspaper. The front page showed a picture of an elderly Libyan gentleman with his arms outstretched, appealing to the west and asking why it would not help. In the middle was a cartoon picture of the Prime Minister—a rather pejorative one, I am afraid—with a little representation of Muammar Gaddafi sitting on his nose in the form of a fly. The Prime Minister was pointing a loaded revolver at the fly. That illustrated how difficult this issue has been. Mike Gapes made a pertinent point when he said that much consensus has been built. I think that John Simpson has referred to the Arab League as a usually timid and, if truth be told, disparate body. It is not always easy to get resolve, but I am heartened by the fact that the Prime Minister and many other leaders have taken a lead on this.
Is it not striking to note that the preamble to the lengthy and comprehensive resolution 1973 determines that the situation in Libya continues to constitute a threat to international peace and security? The notion that this is an intervention in a domestic war is therefore wholly wrong.
My hon. Friend makes the point very eloquently and I could not agree with him more wholeheartedly.
We all have a personal history and personal experiences that form our political opinions. Just last Wednesday, I came to the end of a very long political journey when I took a group of sixth formers from my constituency to Auschwitz-Birkenau. It was a cathartic day and a very personal experience, which I think will stay with me for the rest of my life. On reflection, there were many lessons to learn about that journey but one thing was more pertinent than anything else in my discussions with those sixth formers—they wondered how we had let that tyranny and oppression come to fruition.
The Leader of the Opposition referred to the holocaust in his speech, and I realise that some hon. Members might think it too much of a stretch to relate that situation to this one, so let me give another example. My maternal grandfather gave me many things, including a love of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, a mischievous sense of humour and a very personal story that strongly resonates with me to this day. At a time of partition in northern India, he stood against a mob who were determined to burn out their Muslim neighbours. They said, “We will go from house to house and there will be no mercy.” Those words have rung very loud in my ears over the past few days because they bring home what is right and what is wrong. To my pride, my maternal grandfather stood against the mob and said, “If anyone attacks this house, it will be an attack on my household,” and to this day that Muslim family is still in that village.
I have referred specifically to some personal issues and other right hon. and hon. Members have highlighted how difficult this issue is. I know that there might be charges of hypocrisy and that people are asking why we are choosing Libya and not Bahrain, why we are not addressing the situation in Yemen and why we are choosing to act in this specific situation, but we can only deal with the situation as it is presented to us. Colonel Gaddafi has shown that he is prepared to use his own people as human shields. He is prepared to go from door to door and show no mercy.
I appreciate that these are difficult issues, but it is absolutely necessary to do the right thing. The choice is simple and stark and has been laid out eloquently by both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. The choice, as in the terms of this motion, is to do something or to do nothing and I for one think that we do the right thing by acting.
I support the UN no-fly zone and the early intervention to take out Gaddafi’s machinery for the mass slaughter of hundreds of thousands of near-defenceless civilians without apology. The world could not stand by as Gaddafi used air power, tanks and soldiers to inflict wholesale massacre on those fighting for a peaceful, democratic future for Libya. UN resolution 1973, which sanctions the use of “all necessary measures” to protect civilians, needs to destroy Gaddafi’s military assets. We need to take out the tiger’s teeth.
I appreciate that some members of the Arab League fear that this could turn into a western invasion—some sort of neo-colonial crusade—but they and we need to remember that the authorisation of this resolution is specific and does not include that sort of invasion. We should work hand in hand with the Arab League with sensitivity to recent history. I also appreciate that we need an endgame in mind and a means to deliver that end game, but it is necessary to disarm that despot, who is intent on mass murder, even if we simply withdraw after that. If we did not have an endgame, but stopped the mass murder and then withdrew—not something that I would advocate—that would be better than simply standing aside and doing nothing, saying, “We don’t have an endgame, so let them die.”
The ultimate endgame would, of course, lead to a Libya at peace with itself, with a new constitutional settlement involving and embracing all its communities. However, that settlement must emerge over time from within, informed by Libyans at home and abroad. I certainly take the view that we parliamentarians should consult our Libyan constituents and communities, the Arab nations and the Arab League about our actions and about the shape of a Libyan future that embraces different communities—different ethnically, racially, and by gender—now, rather than later. Let us remember, however, that a United Nations resolution does not sanction ground forces delivering regime change, and certainly western ground troops would play into Gaddafi’s hands; their use would be seen as a grab for oil and as neo-colonialism.
We have talked this evening about United Nations action leading to stalemate. What would happen then? I have consulted quite closely a large Libyan community in Swansea, and they—or some of them, at least—are calling for an Arab-led peacekeeping force, probably spearheaded by the Egyptian army and the Turkish under a United Nations flag, after the disarming process to maintain the peace and oversee a transition. Obviously, that would need a further United Nations resolution, but it is something that we need to bear in mind when looking to the future.
Members have asked how we can justify intervention in Libya but not Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and other places with repressive regimes. This is not a completely satisfactory answer, but the fact is that one has to do what one can. There are certain things beyond our limitations. As has been said many times already, if we cannot do everything, it does not mean that we should not do anything. I believe that the action reflects the United Nations at its best, working together, gradually stepping forward in history. It is a step towards building a unified world based on a fundamental respect for humanity, and a future that we all share. I simply say: let us step forward together, with care, to share that future.
I begin by paying tribute to the air crews and other servicemen and women who, as we engage in jaw-jaw in the House, are engaged in war-war of a most dangerous kind. I also pay tribute to the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary for keeping up the pace and securing the United Nations Security Council resolution.
Just a week or so ago, no-fly zones were not particularly fashionable. They did not have many admirers in Washington, the capitals of Europe, or indeed some quarters of this House, but as Harold Wilson observed, a week is a long time in politics, and I suppose that means that in diplomacy a week is an eternity, because we have now secured this United Nations resolution, which can bring real, not abstract, hope to those thousands, possibly tens of thousands, of people in Libya who might otherwise have been killed by Gaddafi.
We have already heard some voices in this House say tonight that perhaps we are going beyond the United Nations resolution, as if somehow it is just the no-fly zone that matters. It would be naive to suppose that we could impose safely and quickly a no-fly zone without first destroying targets on the ground—air bases, surface-to-air missile sites, and command and control installations. That will at the very least ensure that our aircrews, who are trying to save the lives of others, are best protected. It is also naive to suppose that keeping the al-Quwwat al-Jawwiya—the Libyan air force—on the ground will do the job. In Benghazi, about 8,000 civilians alone have been killed by the heavy weaponry of Gaddafi’s ground troops. Unless we can take out those tanks and heavy weapons, we cannot defend lives.
We are now in a conflict situation, and it is right that the House should ask questions about the Government’s objectives. There are four key objectives. We should enforce the UN resolution—that may be obvious. We need to protect lives, and that is what we are doing, not simply through the actions that we have taken, but through the actions that we have not taken. As my hon. Friend David Morris said, the fact that we did not go through with the Tornado strike earlier today demonstrates clearly that we are keen to ensure that civilian lives are protected. Gaddafi knows that, and that is why he is using human shields, willingly or unwillingly, to protect his installations. That is why we must make sure that his armed columns do not get into Benghazi or other built-up areas, where it is much more difficult for our precision weapons to protect civilians while taking out his soldiers.
It is also important that we internationalise this operation as far as we can. The other day, thanks to my hon. Friend Daniel Kawczynski, I had the pleasure of meeting members of the Shura Council of Saudi Arabia. They said that they could not enforce a no-fly zone or deal with Gaddafi alone, and that they needed our help. We told them that we understood that, but that we, too, could not act alone and that they needed to be involved. I am pleased that Qatar is now becoming involved in the operation, but I hope that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will use all his undoubted eloquence to prevail on the Saudis and the Egyptians to play their military part in the operation, so that we can send a message to the Arab world that this is not some sort of NATO-inspired adventure but a serious international effort to protect the people of Libya from butchery by their President.
We must also ensure that the public here understand that our objectives are limited and temporary. I spoke to some of my constituents over the weekend and, as my hon. Friend Geoffrey Clifton-Brown said, there is no appetite for a protracted ground war or even a protracted air operation over Libya. I was pleased, therefore, to hear the Prime Minister make it clear that we will stick to the terms of the UN resolution. We are now engaged in the conflict. We have made a decision. The price of action is condemnation by some, but the price of inaction is the inevitable deaths of many. I think that we have, with regret, made the right choice. I hope that the House will support the Government tonight, and say that a few condemnatory remarks are a price worth paying.
I hope that, in a few weeks, the House will be able to rejoice that Gaddafi has gone. Few dictators have committed so many acts of psychopathic wickedness over such a long period of time. Many hon. Members will know of his atrocity at Abu Salim prison in Tripoli, where he marched 1,270 prisoners into a compound, locked the gate and instructed his soldiers to open fire from the courtyard rooftops. The gunfire and grenades rained down for more than two hours until all 1,270 people were dead. But that was in the dying days of John Major’s Government in June 1996, and Britain took no action.
I welcome resolution 1973. To take action now is right, but it would be disingenuous to claim that action was not possible without Britain’s military participation, involving just three planes. The question is not whether action against Gaddafi is right but whether it is we who have the primary duty and responsibility to take it. It is the families of many of those slain 15 years ago at Abu Salim who began this revolution in Libya, inspired by others across the region who had dared to rise up and demand justice and dignity from their leaders. I praise their courage, but I recognise that this is a civil war in Libya. In that respect, it is categorically different from other conflicts involving ethnic cleansing and religious domination by one faith over another. This is neither Bosnia nor Rwanda. UN resolution 1973 has authorised international interference in a civil war in which there has been no genocide and no ethnic cleansing: no Halabja there.
The resolution purports to allow no more than the humanitarian protection of civilians, but all acknowledge that the Libyan population will not be secure from harm until the country is rid of Gaddafi. Coalition leaders, when asked whether Gaddafi was a legitimate target, have been equivocal in their response. In such circumstances, the rose of humanitarian protection begins to smell of regime change, and by that name it is not so sweet. This became apparent to Amr Moussa over the weekend when he said:
“What is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone, and what we want is the protection of civilians and not the bombardment of more civilians”.
Perhaps the Arab League was too optimistic, because that is precisely what is likely to happen, if not by British and coalition missiles then by the rebels. It is naive to think that we can stop one side fighting in a civil war and not expect the other to take advantage. In a civil war, the tragedy is precisely that civilians are killed, if not by one side, then by the other. I do not believe that the international coalition will be even-handed in stopping rebel forces advancing in the same way.
The Prime Minister said in his statement on Friday that if we will the ends, we must also will the means. To will the means, however, does not entail the proposition that we must be the means. Many people in the UK are asking, “Why does Britain always have to get involved?” In two days, we will hear the Budget and the Chancellor will explain to the country why it is necessary to cut thousands of jobs to tackle the deficit. Those men and women who have been made redundant will no doubt sympathise with the Libyan people, but they will ask, “What has this got to do with Britain?” North Africa is not on our borders. It is not in our direct sphere of influence. Libya poses no direct threat to the UK, and we have no historical responsibility as the former colonial power, so why are we spending millions of pounds on cruise missiles, and endangering the lives of British soldiers to implement the resolution? It is ironic that many people asking these questions will be among the 17,000 military personnel who were judged to be surplus to requirements in last October’s defence review, when the Government cut £4 billion from the defence budget.
There is no contradiction in welcoming the enabling authority given by UN resolution 1973, which allows those who have a direct interest or who have historical responsibilities as the former colonial power to act in Libya and, at the same time, to insist that we have no such direct interest or responsibility. Today, we are debating this after the event—we have taken that responsibility before a vote in the House, yet no one in government has sought to explain the policy of the rebels, on whose side we now find ourselves. We know that they are against Gaddafi, and that is a good start, but we certainly have no knowledge that they intend to replace him with an open, tolerant, liberal democracy. The whole of north Africa and the middle east are changing more rapidly than at any time since Suez. Shi’a minorities in Yemen and Bahrain have been shot or silenced by an invasion from Saudi Arabia. Iran is known to be eager to get involved. Egypt and Tunisia have effected home-grown revolutions and even Syria is experiencing serious internal tension.
In that extraordinary context, the Government have judged it right and in Britain’s interest to involve our forces in military action. I pray that in a week’s time Gaddafi is gone, and I pay tribute to the valour of our armed forces, but I believe that the Government were wrong to ask this—
I congratulate the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, and everyone who, with patience and painstaking fortitude, has brought the UN resolution to fruition. I pay tribute, as other hon. Members have, to our armed forces who are implementing that resolution. That type of work is what protecting British national interests is all about. As other hon. Members have said, every generation needs to define what is in Britain’s national interest. In the modern world, our national interest encompasses security, humanitarian issues and commercial interests. It demands that, as a nation, we are prepared to build alliances, to contemplate military co-operation with other nations, and to deploy our unique soft and hard power assets. We are doing so in relation to Libya. We were right to act, but we were right not to act alone.
It was right to agree a resolution with clear parameters for engagement and with broad-based support, which means that, in this context, the international community can act without the United States necessarily taking the lead. It is an example, too, of Anglo-French co-operation, with Britain and France being seen to be in the lead. It confirms that we do not live in a unipolar world. Britain, in the modern world, with a new definition of our national interests, must be as flexible and co-operative as possible to protect its national interest.
As other hon. Members have pointed out, recent experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan have given the British people good grounds for caution about our country taking military action and being involved in foreign intervention. When I speak to my constituents in Halesowen and Rowley Regis, they are concerned about our commitments in the world. They have become weary in relation to Iraq and Afghanistan because they saw no clarity about the missions or their end point. We must not make the same mistake again with Libya.
It is vital that we avoid the tendency that has characterised some of our military interventions in the recent past to use over-optimistic language and to engender inflated expectations about what we can achieve and, in some contexts, a downright delusion about the lengthy effort required to achieve a successful outcome when we make the grave decision to intervene in the affairs of other countries. That mindset and language characterised our initial involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Our new modern national interest demands that we are pragmatic, realistic and straight with the British people about what we are trying to achieve through the resolution. We must see the debate tonight, and the United Nations resolution, in the context of Britain adopting a broader strategy towards the middle east, a region which in recent times has been subject to turbulence and unpredictability, forcing on Britain a posture of ambiguity in foreign affairs, and obliging us to live with that ambiguity and make decisions within that context.
Although we are taking military action under the UN resolution, we must also be determined to use our influence through alliances and through our soft power assets to help build functioning civil societies and democracy in the countries of the middle east. It is in our national interest to utilise those soft power assets simultaneously with making a focused decision to take the action that we are taking in Libya.
The resolution that we are debating tonight is clear and pragmatic. It has broad-based support and I believe it is in Britain’s national interest to take action against Gaddafi now, but at the same time to be mindful that in doing so, we are making a grave decision that must be combined with Britain using its soft power assets throughout the middle east to promote democracy and build civic society.
Order. Before I call the next speaker, I inform the House that I will take one more six-minute speech, then I will drop the time limit to four minutes to try and get in as many speakers as possible.
Clearly, all war is evil, and we should remember that when we talk about the business of war. But some evil is necessary. In reflecting on the vote tonight, we should bear that in mind. Some of the language in our media over the past few days has left me cold. It is indicative of a country that has not experienced bombing for well over 60 years, but for those who are poor and who see bombs raining on their country from up above, with necessary supplies disrupted and real fear in their hearts, the urgency and seriousness of what we are talking about is very great indeed.
In reflecting on how to vote, I think of how this all began on
Any action taken must clearly be proportionate. We must be mindful of the fact that the British public at large do not expect there to be large-scale civilian death as a result of our action. Any action must be proportionate and multilateral. This generation is mindful of the imperial past of our country and those countries that are part of the allied effort. That is important. That is why the multilateral approach is the right one. Against that backdrop, it is concerning that the Arab League, although it is prayed in aid, seems neither present, nor wholly behind what is happening. It is concerning that the African Union, too, clearly wants to disassociate itself from the bombing of Libya. How are we to present a multilateral force if those two major players are not part of it?
The generation of young people on the streets in the middle east, who are in communication with their generation in this country, ask two other major questions. First, what are the criteria by which we intervene? Why not Darfur or Zimbabwe? What is our position on Yemen and Bahrain? Is there consistency when we intervene? They are entitled to some answers on the new and changed circumstances, particularly in the context in which we are talking not about being invaded ourselves, but about intervention that is perhaps necessary in this new age. Secondly, that generation also asks for some consistency, integrity and principles in the UK’s position on arms. Just as we have taken noble positions on nuclear proliferation, the time has come not just for another review, but for statutory implementation on arms. We must ask ourselves why in the last year for which figures are available Europe spent €343 million arming Libya, involving companies from the UK, Italy, Germany and France. It was unacceptable when my party was in government, and it is unacceptable now.
It is a privilege to follow Mr Lammy.
First and foremost, my thoughts extend to our armed forces policing this no-fly zone and to their families. Our stated purpose is to save lives, and I am delighted that we have taken such a high moral and legal stand. I, like many here today, hope that we succeed in that worthy aim, and I commend the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary on their courage. All too often, leaders get it in the neck for failing to take the lead, but in this case they have, and I commend their courage, as other Members have.
I am, however, instinctively cautious, not least because there are so many deserving cases out there. We must remember that the resolution would not exist at all without the backing of the Arab League, therefore planes from those nations should be in action and soon. I welcome the news that Qatar is sending four warplanes, and I hope that Egypt and Saudi Arabia will follow suit. Should we lose the support of the Arab League for the resolution, it will put our Prime Minister and this country in a horrible predicament.
One of the burdens of the freedom we cherish is that we cannot idly stand by and watch while evil rides out, unleashing its vile intent. For that reason, I support any humanitarian relief that we can give to those fleeing Gaddafi’s brutality, but I do wonder where we will be operating next. Hon. Members have mentioned Zimbabwe, Liberia, Rwanda, Bahrain and Yemen. What if Saudi Arabia goes? I will leave the House with that thought.
The duty of any Government is to protect the nation, her people and her interests. Libya is of strategic significance, I believe, but I am concerned that we are walking on a knife-edge. Yes, we should be concerned about a pariah state festering on Europe’s southern boundary; wounded, Gaddafi’s regime would be even more dangerous. We must not forget his recent statement about uniting with al-Qaeda in a holy war against us. Let us not forget his support for the IRA and, of course, the murder of Police Constable Yvonne Fletcher and Lockerbie. The list goes on. But what if Gaddafi holds out in his western stronghold while menacing Benghazi? What happens then? Will that test the west’s resolve? I suspect it will.
In those circumstances and out of frustration, could an unintended consequence mean boots on the ground? Lessons from the recent past cannot be ignored. This is potentially much more than a no-fly zone, and that is where many of us have concerns. Currently, we know almost nothing about the insurgents or who, if Gaddafi were to fall, would take his place, but we have all learned to fear a vacuum in the Arab world. There is not going to be a brave new world in Libya where western democracy rules, and we would fool ourselves if we thought that.
I have such a short amount of time to speak, and I want other Members to come in, so I will put the spotlight back on defence. Our Secretary of State for Defence is not in his place, but the Foreign Secretary and a Defence Minister are. Owing to what is going on around the world, I call on our Front Benchers to reconsider the defence review. We have a duty to look after our armed personnel, and if we send them into harm’s way we have to make sure they have the arms and equipment to do the job on our behalf. Defending freedom has never ever come cheap.
As a soldier, I did not see active service. Although I was in Northern Ireland three times, I did not have a bullet fired at me personally, but speaking to friends who have, and given that many Members have asked about clarity, I can assure the House that the first thing that disappears when one makes contact with the enemy, is clarity.
It is sobering to think that, as we debate this motion tonight and allied aircraft are yet again deployed in action, there are inevitably men and women, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, who will not be going home tonight. They may, unfortunately, be allied air personnel; they will almost certainly be Libyan military personnel; and tragically they may very well be Libyan civilians who left home this morning to go to work but, for whatever reason, will not be returning.
I know that the Treasury Benchers and the Opposition Front Benchers take their responsibilities incredibly seriously: I know that the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and his colleagues do not relish, or seek jingoism in, their actions and the operations on which they must decide; and I know that the House recognises that my right hon. Friends the Members for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) and for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mr Alexander) seek to carry out the duty of an Opposition, which is to cast a critical eye over the actions of the Government, and will not pursue political opportunism, because that is not in order in this debate.
Much has been said about why we are doing this, and Members on both sides of the House have questioned the wisdom of it. I came into politics because 20 years ago this summer the west stood by and took no action when Yugoslavia tore itself apart. We saw footage from Srebrenica, Sarajevo and other places of the massacre of men and boys, women and children, and the west did nothing to stop that. I cannot possibly imagine what it must have been like to live in that country during those times. I therefore very much welcome the fact that the Government have stepped up and provided some leadership in this action. The Secretary of State will know that Opposition Members stand willing to provide support to the Government in pursuing that course.
I was very lucky to make my maiden speech on the same day as Bob Stewart, whom I have found inspiring over the past 10 months, both as a colleague on the Defence Committee and as a speaker in the House. I hope, if he will pardon my saying so, that in 10, 15 or 20 years’ time we do not have a situation where there are more Members like him who will have had to go in after the west did not take action to pick up the pieces of its indecisiveness. I will support the motion, with some reservations about casualties, but pleased that the west is taking action.
I will not speak about the defence review, which has already been covered, beyond saying that we will return to it in a future debate. However, I urge the Secretary of State to keep under review the issue of the warships and aircraft that we have. I pose two questions. First, will he give an absolute guarantee that the operational costs will be met from the Treasury reserve, not from departmental budgets? Secondly, will he give a guarantee that work is now under way between the Department for International Development, the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence on the reconstruction of Libya once the action has ceased?
Colonel Gaddafi does not do peaceful. Benghazi may be relatively safe for the moment, but what about elsewhere in Libya? That really worries me.
As my—dare I say, with some trepidation?—hon. Friend Thomas Docherty suggests, I have had experience in this respect. I remember very well that when I was the military commander in Bosnia in 1993, a little girl of six was brought to my house by a delegate from the International Committee of the Red Cross. She had been in a prison camp for 10 days. The Red Cross delegate said to me, “This girl needs shelter.” I said, “I’m the military commander.” She said, “You’ve got plenty of room in your house, and you’ve got two soldiers who look after you.” The soldiers turned to me and said, “We’ll look after her, sir.” They took her away, put her in a bath and washed her, and cared for her. They put a bed for her between their two cots. Three days later, that girl did not want to leave. I am worried that what had happened to her might be happening to people in Tripoli tonight. She was dragged out of her bed at 5 o’clock in the morning, with her mother, father and brother, told to get downstairs and made to lie on the grass by brutes with rifles. As she told it, her mother, father and brother lay down and did not get up again. This weekend, I spoke to members of the opposition in Tripoli, and you can bet your bottom dollar that Mr Gaddafi will be sending his thugs searching around there tonight.
What can we do to help? We cannot invade, we cannot assassinate—it is up to the Libyans to decide what we do. I have seen people with pitchforks try to take out tanks. How are those people going to be protected? They need help. Perhaps the Arab League could help a little more in that respect. Perhaps it could go forward. We cannot do it.
Nobody knows the endgame—we all realise that. If we were God, perhaps we would, but we do not. We live in hope. We do not have the endgame plotted out carefully.
We acted morally on the highest authority in the world—the Security Council of the United Nations. Thank goodness we did, because last Friday Colonel Gaddafi suggested he was going to go through houses in Benghazi and butcher everyone who opposed him. That did not happen. We have, by our actions, saved life. Politics can sort things out hereafter, but one thing is quite clear: there will be a lot more people around to watch what happens from now on than there would have been if we had done nothing last Friday. Thank you very much, Prime Minister. Thank you very much, Foreign Secretary. Thank you very much, the Opposition, for your full support. It is deeply appreciated by all of us.
Let us hope that someone has the brains of Methuselah and that we find out what the endgame is in due course. Perhaps the Foreign Secretary has the brains of Methuselah.
I have listened to all the Members who have spoken in this debate since 3.30 this afternoon. I rise to my feet with trepidation because I am in the minority of the few Members who do not think that this action is wise. I will explain why.
I believe that although the Prime Minister and the leader of my party are genuine and sincere in their desire for humanitarian intervention in Libya, many in this House and outside are not genuine in that desire but are itching to have a go at Colonel Gaddafi and Libya because of their support in the distant past for the IRA, the Lockerbie bombing, al-Megrahi and other reasons. I am afraid that many of those people are using this situation as a fig leaf for intervention.
Another reason, and I know that people do not like hearing this, is oil. Oil plays a massive role in this matter and in our economic and strategic interests in Libya. There are, of course, Members in this House who hold views like those of Robert Halfon, whom I heard last week say that he is proud to intervene in as many Muslim countries as we want to.
I urge caution because there is too little information about the real situation in Libya. Comparisons have been made with Iraq. Many people said that we did not know what the real situation was in Iraq; that the war would not be easy or straightforward; that we could not just go in, blast them and take over—end of story; and that everybody would run into the streets to welcome us. That is what we were told then, and we were told that we needed to do that war. The same drums are beating now for Libya.
There is the suggestion that the whole of the Arab League and everyone in Libya is saying, “Come and help us.” They are not. The states of the Arab League have their own vested interests. They are not that concerned about humanitarian issues. We talk about the rebels in Libya. Who are these rebels, when did they come about and how many are there? How deep is the resistance and the rebellion? Why is this not just seen as a civil insurrection that is going on in a country? Do we know what we will get in place of the regime?
I know that everybody is saying that we cannot tell what will happen at the end of the war, because when one starts a military intervention one does not know what will be the end. However, we should know exactly what we are going in for and exactly what we are trying to achieve. Everybody has a romantic notion of a no-fly zone, but, as Robert Gates said, it is a euphemism for war. If we want to maintain no-fly zones we have to send in many Scud missiles and bombs, and nobody can say that there will not be any civilian destruction as a result of all the bombing. It is wrong for everyone to pretend that the no-fly zone and strategic air drops will prevent civilian casualties. There will be massive civilian casualties, and we will have exactly the situation that we had in Iraq.
I always urge people to understand—even in the case of Iraq, although I was not in the House at the time—that we in this country and this House do not really understand the middle east and north Africa. We are meddling in things that we should not meddle in, because there are so many uncertainties. In the past 10 or 12 years, America, ourselves and others have spent trillions of dollars on being involved in conflicts in the middle east, and what have we left? We have not resolved any of the situations involved or made countries any better than when we went into them.
Gaddafi will not lose any sleep over anything that is said in the House, but I hope that those around him, whether they be civilian or military leaders, will take note. I was grateful to the Prime Minister, when I intervened on him about five and a half hours ago, for agreeing that those who continue to stand by Gaddafi could face their day before the war crimes tribunal. They will be hunted down and found, and they will have to answer for their actions.
Last week, I was in Afghanistan visiting our brave members of the armed forces in Helmand province. I am concerned that, as with Iraq, we will take our eye off the ball in Afghanistan. The Foreign Secretary will recall that in opposition we constantly raised concerns about the fact that our armed forces were under strength and overstretched, and we are now having cuts in the defence budget. I say to our Government that if we are to have a major role on the world stage, we must ensure that we have the forces and resources to deliver. I repeat that we must be careful about what happens in Afghanistan if we get too heavily involved in Libya. However, I back the motion and will support it.
The armed forces covenant forms part of the Armed Forces Bill, which is still proceeding through the parliamentary process. The feedback that I bring from the front line, from Camp Bastion and Lashkar Gah, is grave concern not just about the freezing of armed forces pay, which was the subject of a written statement today, but about the cuts to allowances. If we wish morale to be maintained, the Government need to look again at that.
I shall read a brief excerpt from a letter handed to me in Camp Bastion. It states:
“I joined the Armed Forces in 1982 and have progressed through the ranks from a Private soldier to a present day Major…I have never in 28 years service, complained in private or public…I am one of the very large silent majority of Armed Forces personnel that choose to serve Queen and Country. We love every day at work and truly believed that those who employ us, deploy us, or represent us, would always do their very best to look after both mine, my colleagues’, and where possible my family’s short and long-term interests…all my future financial plans that have been based on leaving the Army, with an immediate pension aged 55, are under attack.”
The letter goes on to spell out how that long-serving Army major, formerly a private, is now seeing his financial prospects under threat.
Time prevents me, unfortunately, from reading an excellent article by Lord Gnome in the wonderful organ Private Eye, but suffice it to say that it refers to the many occasions on which the Labour Government sold arms to Libya and Colonel Gaddafi.
I am glad to have the opportunity to speak in this important debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend Yasmin Qureshi on her brave speech.
I will support the Government in the Lobby tonight, partly because I genuinely believe that only swift action at the weekend avoided a bloodbath in Benghazi, and partly because I am convinced that we have a solid legal basis for the military action. That has not always been the case.
However, the Government would be wrong to take this evening’s vote as some sort of blank cheque. I point to the unsettling lack of real Arab involvement in the deployment so far. We know that the Arab League countries have plenty of military kit because we sold them most of it. Why is it not being deployed? Why are not senior Arab military people involved in the deployment?
Western-led bombardment of a Muslim country plays to the Gaddafi narrative of crusader invasion. We can knock Gaddafi, but that has a genuine visceral impact on the countries involved. There will be civilian casualties—there always are in such deployments—and it will not take many for public opinion in Arab countries to turn against the deployment. We should bear that in mind.
Let me remind the House of Colin Powell, the American Secretary of State who tried to argue against Iraq with his colleagues Bush and Cheney. He reminded them of the Pottery Barn rule. Pottery Barn is a chain in America that sells china. The rule is “You break it, you own it”. If we intervene with a massive military deployment in north Africa, we will inevitably own the development of the story from here.
I am not at all sure that civilians can be protected with Gaddafi in power. I do not know how Gaddafi can be removed through air bombardment alone. The British people are very humane and I think that they understand that we intervened swiftly to save lives in Benghazi. However, I do not believe that there is a will or a willingness among them for us to get dragged into a long-running civil war in north Africa because we follow the logic of our rhetoric.
I will vote for the letter of the resolution. It is not a blank cheque. It is not the will of my constituents or British people generally to give the Government a blank cheque. We have done the right thing so far, but, as other hon. Members have said, we want Front Benchers to return to the House for a full debate before we take any further steps, which could get us involved in a third war in a Muslim country in a decade.
I welcome the debate and want to make three points, given the time available. I want to consider why we got here today, the resolution, and the role of the United Nations.
I accept that it is not only the past 10 years of policy on Libya that has caused the current problems. Indeed, we can go back to the 1950s, when the British first installed King Idris on the throne. Although he was liked and popular, he was weak. Gaddafi emerged on the scene in the late 1950s. I mentioned last week in the middle east debate that my father shook Gaddafi’s hand as he walked down the streets of Tripoli as a popular colonel. The coup against King Idris was bloodless; he was in Turkey at the time. Astonishingly, there was an American air base near Tripoli, but the Americans did nothing to stop the coup. The west has therefore been getting it wrong about Colonel Gaddafi for many years, and in the past few years, it got it even more wrong.
I welcome the United Nations resolution and the Prime Minister’s leadership. The no-fly zone was essential to stop a massacre of the citizens of Benghazi in particular. However, we need to go further because there is a strong likelihood, which I mentioned earlier, that Gaddafi may use mustard gas. The policy to try to contain his weapons of mass destruction went wrong. If it happens, we do not want another Halabja, which I visited not long ago, on our hands.
I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Malcolm Rifkind that we must supply weapons to the resistance fighters. We cannot just leave them to Gaddafi’s troops, albeit under a no-fly zone. We must also ensure that all kinds of humanitarian aid reaches the citizens of Tripoli and Benghazi and the surrounding areas.
The Leader of the Opposition said earlier that he was unsure whether this is a watershed moment in our international affairs, but I think it is. The UN has so often failed us and not intervened when it should have done, but the Libyan situation is an example of the UN behaving differently and acting in an almost united way. That is why it is a watershed moment—it marks an important moment in our international affairs.
Yasmin Qureshi said that I believe in intervention everywhere, and she is not wrong. I believe in muscular enlightenment, and that it is our duty to promote freedom around the world. That need not always happen militarily; we can also use soft power—hearts and minds. However, it must be our role in the world to promote freedom, human rights, the rule of law, tolerance and women’s equality wherever we can.
I returned last night from a visit to Egypt, where I had the privilege of seeing Egyptian democracy in action. On Saturday, that country voted in a referendum on the amendment to its constitution. From visiting polling stations, I can say that what the Prime Minister said in his opening speech is quite correct. It is a fine example of a new democracy, from the enthusiastic queues to the independent scrutiny by the judiciary of the polling process.
I also had the opportunity to talk to people at all levels about the wider implications of the Egyptian revolution for the middle east, including Palestine, Bahrain, Yemen and Libya. I talked not only to the interim Government and to Amr Moussa, but to the opposition forces, from the youth coalition to the Muslim Brotherhood. Not one person or group to whom I spoke was opposed to the letter of the UN resolution, which is perhaps unsurprising given the empathy of the people in Tahrir square for the people of Benghazi.
Before coming to the House today, I met Arab Muslim community leaders to take their views. They, too, were broadly in favour, but they expressed views that ranged from, “We should do anything necessary to get rid of Gaddafi”—one can understand why Libyans living in Britain take that view—to, “We are already exceeding the limits of the resolution,” in the sentiments that Amr Moussa has expressed.
In the brief time available, I should like to develop those caveats. First, the basic picture shows western planes bombing a Muslim Arab country and killing people, including civilians. That is why it is so important to get the support of the wider Muslim and Arab community. I hope we have done that through the Arab League resolutions.
Secondly, the problem of double standards will not go away, whether in respect of Yemen or the atrocities that have been committed over the years in the middle east, including the massacre in Syria in 1982 by the late President Assad; the massacre at Sabra Shatila by the Maronite Christians with the support of the Israeli Government; or the massacres in Gaza two years ago or in Lebanon in 2006, when, to my Government’s shame, we did not even call for a ceasefire. Those double standards need to be addressed if we are to have the confidence and support of the Arab people of the middle east.
Thirdly and finally, on the limits of our aims and actions, it is not good enough for the Government to say that they are not prepared to talk about targeting. I understand why they would not want to do it. However, on the same day the Defence Secretary said that assassinating Gaddafi might be a possibility, General Sir David Richards said, “Absolutely not!” They have to address this issue.
Amr Moussa made a perfectly reasonable point. We are there to protect the lives of civilians, so we must take every possible step to ensure that our military action does not kill civilians. That is not inconsistent with the resolution. I agree with Bob Stewart that we cannot know what the outcome will be. Nevertheless, we have to take this action. However, we have to be aware that it will be a very long haul, and we have to be there not just in the days ahead, but in the months ahead. That is what the people of Libya will expect from this country.
Brevity demands bluntness, for which I hope the Government will forgive me. I support the motion, but I think that we need to be honest about the consequences of what we are taking on. First, we have crossed a threshold, and by approving this motion, the House is crossing it with our political leaders. Hon. Members should have no illusions: there is no such thing as limited war, in all its bloody terror and dirt. Secondly, I remind the House that
“no one starts a war—or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so—without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it.”
So wrote Karl von Clausewitz.
The Government must admit that on that there is some doubt and the potential for confusion and indecision. The Prime Minister set that out again today when he outlined the limited aims of the UN Security Council resolution alongside our aspiration to remove Gaddafi. The former Chief of the General Staff, General Lord Dannatt, wrote at the weekend:
“Unless the military planners are crystal clear about the strategic objective to be achieved then the focusing of effort is going to be misaligned from the outset.”
That is a danger we face today. He talked of how military planners are
“trained to work out the implied tasks as well, to ensure that the campaign plan fulfils entirely what the higher authority's intentions are. In this case, the specified task is the protection of civilians, but the implied task—and the end-state to be achieved—must be the removal of Colonel Gaddafi and his regime”.
At times, the Prime Minister seemed to be talking as though we could just implement a no-fly zone and go home. Of course, we will have to maintain a no-fly zone until the political situation is resolved. How else is the stalemate to be resolved?
We have a duty to be clear. Either the removal of Gaddafi is the legitimate military aim, or I put it to the Foreign Secretary that we must drop it from our public statements and focus our words on the more limited task we are setting our military. We cannot do both. Clausewitz again:
“The political object is the goal, war is the means of reaching it, and the means can never be considered in isolation from their purposes.”
The UK has to balance the will to obtain a preferred outcome—Gaddafi’s removal—with the wider issue of security and stability.
This action derives its political credibility because of support from Libya’s fellow Arab nations. Can we afford to risk losing their support or that of the United States, which acts as underwriter for the military effort? I submit not. We can succeed in preventing the atrocity in Benghazi, but should the Arab League walk away from the confrontation with Gaddafi, why should it be our fight? We had better fix our goal and military strategy accordingly rather than invite mission creep by over-extending that rhetoric.
In the meantime we must settle the other vital questions that the Prime Minister started to address. Who is in command of this operation? I would like NATO to be in charge. Who is in command of the communications strategy? Where is the Jamie Shea—he was so effective in the Balkans—of this operation? Finally, how are these matters being considered by the Government? The Public Administration Committee, which I chair, conducted an inquiry into how Government strategy is decided. Strategy is not about setting certain policies in stone; it is about the ability to adapt plans to changing circumstances. To that extent, it is not about whether we reopen the strategic defence and security review; it is about how the SDSR should be adapted to changing circumstances. We have already had six strategic shocks since the SDSR.
I believe that this debate has done justice to the seriousness of the motion before the House this evening. The House has benefited from speeches reflecting the huge experience, knowledge and concern that hon. Members bring to this debate and this decision. We heard cogent cases made by former Defence Secretaries on both sides of the House. My right hon. Friend Mr Ainsworth spoke with wisdom and authority in expressing his reluctance to put British forces in harm’s way once again. Sir Menzies Campbell spoke with his characteristic clarity and insight on the importance of the United Nations. His insight was matched by one of his old sparring partners, the former Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend Mr Straw, who rightly urged that consideration be given now to issues of reconstruction.
Given the time available, I hope that the House will forgive me if I do not acknowledge all the contributions that we have heard in this debate. As the Leader of the Opposition made clear, we will support the Government in the Lobby this evening. We do that not because we are eager for conflict or simply because we wish to show support for our forces; we do so because we believe that this action meets three criteria: it is a just cause, with a feasible mission and with international consent. We support United Nations Security Council resolution 1973, and we are determined to see it enforced.
That determination to offer our support is matched by our determination to scrutinise this Government and ask the questions that the public deserve to have answered. Support for the enforcement of the United Nations mandate; scrutiny of the Government’s conduct in its implementation—this is, and will remain, the approach of the Opposition. When military force is contemplated, Governments cannot expect—nor are they entitled to expect—unquestioning support. It is through serious and sustained scrutiny that, as the Opposition, we best serve the men and women of our armed forces. That is why, in the time ahead, the Government must ensure that this House is regularly updated. Voting for the deployment of our servicemen and women is and always should be a last resort. The personnel of our armed forces in action in Libya now and in the days ahead will be in our thoughts and prayers.
That issue has already been the subject of some debate in the House today. The terms of the Security Council resolution are clear, and as I will seek to emphasise in my winding-up speech, we are under an obligation to adhere to the terms of that resolution.
I believe that it is the duty of the Government to act in what they judge to be the national interest, and that it is the duty of the Opposition to support them when they agree in that judgment. Concerned voices in this House—such as those of my hon. Friends the Members for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) and for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi), and the hon. Members for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) and for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas)—are not only appropriate to this place; they are appropriate to this debate. Let me therefore acknowledge from this Dispatch Box that the Opposition recognise the heavy responsibility that the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Government have to bear in these difficult days.
The terms of the motion before the House make it clear that the Government seek explicit approval for an explicit objective. That objective is to implement UN Security Council resolution 1973, through “all necessary measures” to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under threat of attack in Libya, and to enforce the no-fly zone. The background to the approval of the resolution has been well documented and well rehearsed today. In the context of the broader Arab spring, and in the wake of popular protests in Tunisia and Egypt, people in both eastern and western Libya took to the streets to demand a better future. In response, popular protests were repressed and the protesters beaten, imprisoned or killed. Hospitals were attacked and patients disappeared.
On Thursday, Gaddafi’s troops arrived outside Benghazi, a city of roughly 700,000 people. Gaddafi promised to
“cleanse the city of Benghazi”.
He told the people there:
“We will have no mercy and no pity.”
Leaders of the transitional national council in the city said there would be a “massacre” that would
“be on the international community’s conscience”.
Although Members will have real and legitimate questions about what happens next, let us be in no doubt what would have happened last weekend if there had been no action from the international community. Not to have acted would itself have been a choice and would have led to terrible consequences. That is why, even at such a late hour, it was vital that the international community came together to act and I pay generous tribute to the work of the Government in achieving the adoption of Security Council resolution 1973.
Let me turn next to the mission and its limits. The authorisation given in that resolution was for measures to implement a no-fly zone and to protect the civilian population. Following the passage of the resolution, the US President made very clear what was expected: a ceasefire must be implemented immediately; all attacks against civilians must stop; Gaddafi’s troops must be pulled back from Benghazi, Ajdabiya, Misrata and Zawiyah; and humanitarian assistance, electricity and water must be allowed through. Gaddafi has ignored that expectation and so the Government are asking today for the endorsement of a mission subject to very specific limits, which are laid down in resolution 1973. They do not ask for—and would not be entitled to—a mandate to pursue armed regime change.
Everyone in this House, including senior Ministers, must recognise the importance of the words they choose and speak with care and clarity. So given the earlier remarks of the Defence Secretary about the possible targeting of Gaddafi and the categorical rejection of this position by the Chief of the Defence Staff, I hope that the Foreign Secretary, when he winds up, will bring both clarity and coherence to the Government’s position. The House deserves it and our armed forces need it.
We should all be mindful that this conflict will be fought on the airwaves as well as in the air. To maintain pressure on Gaddafi and sustain international support, the House should be crystal clear that the mission is to protect Libya’s population, not to choose Libya’s leadership. That decision should rest only with Libya’s people.
Let me also raise the issue of ground forces. Security Council resolution 1973 is clear that although it authorises the protection of civilians, that authorisation excludes
“a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory”.
The communiqué from the Paris summit concludes that
“we recall that UN Security Council resolution 1973 does not allow for any occupation of, or attempt to occupy the Libyan territory”.
The US President went further in saying
“we will not—I repeat—we will not deploy any U.S. troops on the ground.”
Last week, the Prime Minister said
“no ground troops and no occupying force”.—[Hansard, 18 March 2011; Vol. 525, c. 621.]
No one asks for—and no one would be entitled to—a mandate for an occupation of Libya, but Members deserve clarity, which I hope the Foreign Secretary can provide, about in which circumstances, if any, UK personnel would be authorised to enter Libyan territory.
We will support the Government tonight not simply because it was vital to avoid what the right hon. and learned Member for North East Fife warned would be the “slaughterhouse of Benghazi”. The impact of that decision—the decision we take tonight—will be felt not only in Tripoli but in other capitals across the region and across the world. I believe that for the United Nations, this now represents a test of faith as well as of strength. In the face of the global challenges we face, we need strong and effective multilateral institutions, so the United Nations should be the focus both of diplomacy and of action.
The lasting shame of Rwanda, Somalia, Srebrenica and East Timor cannot, of course, be removed in one Security Council resolution, but this resolution can give new life to the doctrine that developed in response to those failures—the responsibility to protect. That should not hide the fact that military action almost always leads to the loss of life, but it should give us courage that the motion tabled today reflects the broadest consensus of international views, approved by the highest multilateral body. If we believe in a responsibility to protect, if we believe that multilateral institutions should be used for the protection of civilian life, discussion should be followed by decision and by action.
Many Members from both sides of the House have mentioned the situations in Bahrain and in Yemen, which are both deeply concerning and deteriorating. Notwithstanding its historical ties, Britain must be unequivocal in its condemnation of the violence, and must make it clear to both the Bahraini and the Yemeni Governments that a security response cannot be an alternative to political reform.
The commencement of military action should not be a signal that the time for diplomacy is over. This crisis will test not just our military strength, but our diplomatic skill and stamina. It is vital that the diplomatic work continues to hold together this precious coalition. I welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement of regular political-level meetings of the coalition, and I would welcome a clear and continuing role for the Arab League.
I hope that the Foreign Secretary will be able to update the House on the work that is being done to sustain support in the region, to increase pressure on the countries that have allowed their citizens to become mercenaries in Libya, and to sustain non-military pressure on the regime. Our commitment to Libya’s future, through our membership of the European Union, must be serious and long-term. The whole House will wish to know what work is under way on contingency planning for post-conflict reconstruction. What are the structures equal to this immense task, who will lead the work, and how will the House be assured that this vital work is being done? We should also bear in mind that Britain needs to be working, now, on a trade, aid and civil society response in case the Libyan people choose a new future.
The House has the privilege of discussion, but it also has the responsibility of decision. All of us who will support and stand with the Government tonight must have the humility to acknowledge that, at this moment of decision, we cannot say for certain what lies ahead. Intervention, even in support of humanitarian ends, brings with it unforeseen and uncertain consequences, but by our decision tonight we will be supporting action that has already prevented the foreseeable and certain killing of many Libyan citizens. We will also be supporting action that has broad support in the region and is underpinned by a Security Council resolution that authorises the necessary force required to protect the Libyan people.
We have a legal, political and moral mandate to act to protect civilian life. That is the international community’s responsibility, that should be Britain’s choice, and so that must be the House’s decision. I urge all Members to support the motion.
We have heard 50 speeches tonight, and I have listened to the vast majority of them. Every single one has raised proper questions and issues. It will, of course, be impossible to respond to all of them in the 16 minutes that remain, but I will do my best to respond to the general themes and to some of the specific questions.
The debate has naturally focused on UN Security Council resolution 1973 and the situation in Libya, but many Members have pointed out that there are wider conclusions to be drawn, and a need to address our policy on the entire region. Mr Straw, for instance, referred to the dramatic changes that have taken place throughout the region: changes that may already constitute the most important event of the early 21st century—even more important than 9/11 or the 2008 financial crisis—in terms of their possible consequences.
If many of the countries of the middle east turn into stable democracies and more open economies, the gains for our security and prosperity will be enormous. If they do not, the potential breeding grounds for terrorism and extremism will prosper. That is why it is so much in our national interest to address these issues, and why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I have argued that the response of the whole of Europe must be as bold, as ambitious and as historic in its intentions as these events are in their nature. We should be holding out to the countries of the middle east the prospect of free trade, areas of customs union and a new economic area with the European Union. We should be providing it with incentives and acting as a magnet for positive change in that region.
We can be optimistic about the prospects for positive change in many of those countries. In Egypt, the Egyptian army’s decision to protect the people kept the spotlight firmly where it was supposed to be—on a Government who had to listen to people’s aspirations. In Tunisia, too, after deplorable violence against unarmed protestors, the Government crumbled, accepting the will of the people and beginning a transformation of the political system. The situation in Libya is completely different. In the past three weeks we have heard reports of soldiers being burned alive for refusing to obey orders to crush the protests. We have seen the use of mercenaries to slaughter civilians, the cutting off of food, electricity and medical supplies to population centres and the broadcast of televised threats to purge whole cities and to hunt down people in their homes. Just today, after the announcement of a second ceasefire by the Gaddafi regime, Reuters has reported that Gaddafi’s forces fired on a crowd of unarmed people late today in the centre of the city of Misrata. In Ajdabiya, there have been reports of body thefts, with military casualties being made to look like civilian casualties. Al-Jazeera reports that Gaddafi’s forces continue to shell the town of Zintan heavily and that they have given residents two hours to surrender or face total execution. That is what passes for a ceasefire according to the Gaddafi regime.
It is against that background that the House has today weighed carefully the arguments that we have presented for and against our military actions. There has been nothing gleeful or gung-ho about the atmosphere in the House and there is nothing gung-ho about the atmosphere in and decisions of the Government. The great majority of hon. Members who have spoken today have spoken in support of the Government’s actions and the motion, and many explained that they did so with reluctance or regret. The Government have approached this issue with the same sense of gravity.
It was fascinating to listen to my hon. Friend Kris Hopkins, who spoke of the horror of violence. My hon. Friend Mark Lancaster, who has served in three wars in the past decade, pointed out that nobody who has served in them ever wants to be involved in one again. Hon. Members have wrestled with their consciences. Mr Winnick said that he was debating with himself and for a moment he did, indeed, debate with himself in front of the whole House, which was quite a spectacle. The fact that he should be wrestling with his conscience illustrates the difficulty of the choices we face and the general unity that the House has come to, which is not an automatic or unthinking unity but is because we think it right to act in this situation. We are conscious that any military action can involve loss of life, but we are clear that when our armed forces take action they take the greatest care to avoid civilian casualties. When our pilots were on their mission last night and thought that civilians were in danger, they turned back—what a contrast with a regime that turns its guns on its own people and regards the lives of its citizens as mere shields.
We are clear that we are engaged in this action to protect the civilian population and we were clear, as last week went on, that we had to act with all possible speed. That is why we moved heaven and earth, diplomatically, to pass the UN resolution on Thursday night. Yes, we took a risk in doing that because nine positive votes are required in the Security Council and there can be no vetoes. To have been defeated on that resolution would have made it hard to take any subsequent action, but any later would have been too late. Once the resolution was passed, we had to move with all possible speed. As the House knows, the Cabinet met on Friday morning to consider the UN resolution at length, with the legal advice of the Attorney-General in front of us for all members to read, and the Prime Minister came to the House at the earliest possible moment to state our intention.
Some hon. Members have asked whether the House should have sat on Saturday to consider the motion; of course, in future instances, that can be considered, but they should be clear that to effect the situation, we had to give the orders for military action on Saturday afternoon. Other hon. Members have asked that there be no mission creep. I am happy to assure them that if the Government ever fundamentally change the nature of the mission that we have described to the House, we will return to the House for a further debate to consult it again. We will also enshrine in law for the future the necessity of consulting Parliament on military action.
My right hon. and learned Friend Sir Menzies Campbell quite rightly asked—the shadow Foreign Secretary echoed this—what debate we would be having today had we not taken action last week. How many people would now be wringing their hands? How many would be lamenting the fate of a proud city and the lives of people who live there?
I will mention the hon. Gentleman in a moment, so he can intervene then, but I am trying in a very short time to answer the questions that have been asked. How many extra tens of thousands of people would now be streaming to the borders? We should be proud that our forces were able to respond in time. One of the reasons—the main reason—why people have heard of forces from only the United States, France and the United Kingdom going into action is that they are among the few countries in the world with the capability to act so quickly. It is not necessarily that other countries are unwilling; their capability is not as great.
The reason why we were able to act in that way and win such support at the United Nations is that the support—the call—of the Arab League for a no-fly zone and the protection of the people of Libya was unprecedented. That has had an enormous impact. Barry Gardiner gave the other side of the argument, and asked why Britain should get involved. Given the background—we are one of the five permanent members of the United
Nations Security Council, one of only three of those members who believed that it was necessary to take action, and one of the few countries with the military capability to do something about the situation—if we had not got involved in the resolution and the action, then such a resolution and such action would probably not have happened at all. That is our responsibility in the United Kingdom, as well as our clear national interest. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said, it is not in our national interest for a dangerous dictator with a record of violent acts beyond his own country to run a pariah state on the very edge of the European Union.
I will not. I give way hundreds of times in other debates, but I am trying to answer the points made today.
It is not in our interests for Egypt and Tunisia to be destabilised. Of course, the action that we have taken is not without risks and dangers to our armed forces and the people we are trying to help, and many hon. Members have highlighted the risks involved, but as the Leader of the Opposition said in a powerful speech, the argument that we do not know the sequence of events to come is not an argument for inaction. As was said by Jim Dowd, who was trying to intervene, just because we have made mistakes in the past, it does not mean that we should not try to do something right; I absolutely agree with him.
My hon. Friend Rory Stewart made a memorable and powerful speech, and I would love to hear the 60-minute version, not the six-minute version. He reminded us that our mission is to protect human beings, and that the temptation to dig ever deeper in all such situations must be resisted. We are conscious of that in the Government. As my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Malcolm Rifkind pointed out, we are seeking to implement the United Nations resolution so that the people of Libya can determine their own future. We will make every effort to maintain and consult our broad coalition, closely consulting the Arab League and working with our NATO partners, including Turkey, as several hon. Members have asked us to do.
Some Members asked what the Arab League intended to say. I spoke to Mr Amr Moussa yesterday afternoon—the Prime Minister spoke to him today—and he made it clear to me that he did not mean to criticise the mission, and he supports the UN resolution and its enforcement. Others have asked if our approach is part of a wider approach to the region and a commitment to the middle east peace process; it certainly is. They asked whether we will make conflict prevention central to our policy; yes, of course we do, as we have shown recently in Sudan. They asked whether we will plan for different scenarios, including humanitarian assistance when it is necessary; yes, we certainly are doing so.
Some of my hon. Friends have asked whether this decision showed that an aircraft carrier should have been retained, but I can tell them that the Tornado aircraft that are most suited of all to perform these missions could not have been flown from an aircraft carrier. Other hon. Members have asked whether the costs will be met from the reserve, and I can tell them that they will. We have also been asked to look carefully at all legal advice on the meaning of the arms embargo of paragraph 4 of the resolution, and of course we are doing so.
In the case of Libya, the desire to be rid of a decaying dictatorship has run up against a regime that has shown itself to be one of the most ruthless, unprincipled and savage. The Arab world and the western world care about the civilians of Libya, but their Government do not. We are determined to stop violence, bloodshed and suffering—the very things that the Gaddafi regime is happy to unleash. When the Prime Minister said in the House three weeks ago that we should not just stand by if Colonel Gaddafi used military force against his own people, he was seen by many as being too bold. But he meant what he said, and we mean to stand by his words just as we are standing by the people of Libya.
With our allies and partners, we have carried through the United Nations Security Council a resolution that is clear, unequivocal and comprehensive, and that leaves the legality of what we are now doing not in the slightest doubt. We have acted at the behest of the Arab League, and are joined by Arab nations. We have taken every care to ensure that doubts about lawfulness and regional support, such as those that have dogged earlier decisions, do not apply in this case. As my hon. Friend James Morris said, we are right to act but right not to act alone.
This is not the west imposing its views on Libya; it is the world saying that the people of Libya should be allowed to express their views without their Government setting out to slaughter them. We are not trying to choose the future Government of Libya. That is a matter for Libyans, who must find their own solution to the mis-government that they have been subjected to, but this resolution, and our enforcement of it, gives them their only chance of being allowed to do so. This is not a legal fudge or a questionable interpretation of international law; it is the rigorous application of international law. Our actions are all the stronger for the breadth and determination of the international coalition, but they are also stronger for the breadth and determination of this House, which we have seen today.
The brave members of our armed forces who have patrolled the skies above Benghazi today or flown through the night to destroy the air defences of a regime that used air power against its own citizens can know that they do so armed not only with the weaponry that they are so well trained to deploy but with every advantage of knowing that what they do is legally warranted, morally necessary, internationally supported and, I hope, democratically agreed through a vote of this House of Commons. They can have the satisfaction of knowing that, in precipitating the retreat of Gaddafi’s forces from Benghazi, they have already averted a catastrophe and a new outpouring of human misery. In pressing our case at the United Nations, in insisting that what we do must be legal, in taking extreme care to protect civilians and in acting with a speed and precision that few armed forces on Earth can rival, this country is doing what it said it would do, doing what is absolutely right and joining in giving a lead to the world, and it should enjoy the united support of the House tonight.
Question put .
The House divided:
Question accordingly agreed to.
That this House welcomes United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1973; deplores the ongoing use of violence by the Libyan regime; acknowledges the demonstrable need, regional support and clear legal basis for urgent action to protect the people of Libya; accordingly supports Her Majesty’s Government, working with others, in the taking of all necessary measures to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under threat of attack in Libya and to enforce the No Fly Zone, including the use of UK armed forces and military assets in accordance with UNSC Resolution 1973; and offers its wholehearted support to the men and women of Her Majesty’s armed forces.