United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:22 pm on 21st March 2011.

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Photo of Phillip Lee Phillip Lee Conservative, Bracknell 6:22 pm, 21st March 2011

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.