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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.