United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:47 pm on 21st March 2011.

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Photo of Jeffrey M. Donaldson Jeffrey M. Donaldson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Equality), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Defence) 5:47 pm, 21st March 2011

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.