Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:39 pm on 21st March 2011.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of James Arbuthnot James Arbuthnot Chair, Defence Committee, Chair, Defence Committee 5:39 pm, 21st March 2011

It is a pleasure to follow Mr Havard, who is Vice-Chairman of the Defence Committee. I hope to return to one of his observations later in my speech.

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?