Humanitarian Relief and Libya

Part of Bill Presented — Sustainable Energy (Local Plans) Bill – in the House of Commons at 3:06 pm on 5th April 2011.

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Photo of Malcolm Bruce Malcolm Bruce Chair, International Development Committee 3:06 pm, 5th April 2011

I am perfectly happy to acknowledge that fact. I had great admiration for Robin Cook’s activities as Foreign Secretary, and the right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to remind us of them. I hope that he will accept, none the less, that this was the first application of a full engagement under a resolution of this nature.

It is important that that engagement involves more than just a no-fly zone. We are using all the powers required to protect the civilian population. I do not intend to detain the House with a discussion of where it might all end, because none of us knows. We hope that lives will be saved and that space will be created to allow one regime to depart and some other form of government to develop. We also hope that that will be determined by the Libyan people and not by outside interests.

It is also worth mentioning that, yes, Libya is an oil-producing country but we should nail the lie that that is the reason for the international community’s intervention. I really do not believe that that is the reason. Indeed, the amount of oil that Libya produces is a relatively small proportion in world terms and certainly not something that fundamentally drives the price of oil—in spite of its current record highs. We need to get across to people the fact that this is a humanitarian intervention entirely based on the threat to the people of Benghazi and nothing to do with the fact that Libya was and is an oil producer.

It would be helpful if the Secretary of State could clarify in his reply what he believes DFID’s engagement in the region is likely to be in the future. On the basis of the reply he gave to my Select Committee colleague, Hugh Bayley, I understand that to date—he might want to update us further—£10.04 million has been allocated to meet the immediate humanitarian crisis. I doubt whether any Member would take issue with that, but we would like to know how much further finance is likely to be committed.

I hope that the Secretary of State agrees that Libya is not a poor country. What it needs is co-ordinated aid and action. What it does not need is overseas development assistance—there are other places and other people who have more urgent need of that. I hope that he will reassure us that development assistance will not apply in Libya. I understand that he has been given a particular role by the Prime Minister to help to co-ordinate the humanitarian relief, and I think that he and his Department are ideally placed to do that.

I understand that the Secretary of State intends to reply to Lord Ashdown’s report in May. He might like to engage with the United Nations to see whether its leadership and co-ordination can be improved along the lines that Lord Ashdown recommended. One suggestion from Lord Ashdown was that the Department for International Development should have a director general to focus specifically on humanitarian relief, resilience and co-ordination. That seems a sensible suggestion that the Secretary of State might wish to take up.

The role of the international community is an important issue. The UK has taken quite a leading role on Libya, but I think I could be forgiven for saying that this is not a hugely British responsibility—other than the fact that we are the kind of people we are. It seems to me that other countries might have as great, or a greater responsibility and that our job should be to co-ordinate and to share the burden, not to take too much of it on ourselves. In the wider context, there are countries whose commitment to international development, support and assistance is rather less than ours, but they could be doing rather more—not least because they lie closer to the affected area so that the impact on them is more direct.

In that context, will the Secretary of State say more about the role of the European Union? We deliver a substantial amount through the direct budget contribution to the EU, in addition to which we give our own development funding to the EU. I believe that in that capacity it receives more than £1 billion a year. The Secretary of State will know of the discussion in the International Development Committee—indeed, we propose to produce a report on the EU as a development partner—about the fact that quite a lot of the core budget to which we effectively contribute willy-nilly to the EU goes towards overseas development assistance in, for example, Turkey. Some EU member states are strongly engaged in arguing that we should give support and assistance to our neighbours. My point for the Secretary of State is that it might not be a bad idea to reprioritise the existing EU budget to take account of the changing situation. It seems to me perfectly reasonable to expect that to happen. I am not suggesting that there should be no more funding for changed circumstances, but we should be careful not to divert too much of our development assistance, which by definition should go to more needy causes.

I intervened on the Secretary of State earlier on the subject of the multilateral review. Let me make it clear that I have no problem with the Government’s decision on the International Labour Organisation, and I completely take the point that the core funding still comes from Her Majesty’s Government, but through a different Department. I was anxious to test the Secretary of State and his reply was entirely where I wanted him go—to the effect that, where the ILO can be a useful partner, as it can be in parts of the world, we should work directly with it. I was reassured by that answer, as across north Africa—indeed, this is also a salutary lesson for what we are trying to do in sub-Saharan Africa—there is no point in giving people skills, hope and aspiration and then failing to deliver livelihood opportunities.

When we boil it down, that is the core of the problem that has led to an explosion in these communities of youngish people who feel—and they are entitled to feel—that they have not been given their space in the sun, which their education and the means of the countries they live in could have provided them. The key to the future must surely be a more dynamic programme designed to give people jobs and opportunities and to share their country’s resources more equally. To the extent that we can help to co-ordinate such a programme and assist with it, that seems to me to be an entirely legitimate role. It is not all about money; it is about engagement, partnership, understanding and allowing people’s aspirations to find their own level rather than imposing solutions from outside.

In conclusion, let me make passing reference to the situation in the Côte d’Ivoire—and, by association and neighbourhood consequence, Liberia. We all welcome the fact that the Government have responded quickly and in a practical way and that the Under-Secretary of State for International Development is evaluating the situation on the ground. That is precisely what we would expect the Government to do, but I hope that the Secretary of State will acknowledge that this should not be a priority area for the UK. It is an immediate crisis and we want to be part of assisting to resolve it, but again other countries and international agencies are better equipped than we are to take responsibility for the long-term future of the Côte d’Ivoire—as and when, hopefully, a legitimate Government can be put in place without being assaulted and can proceed with its proper job of delivering for the people of the region. Is it not ironic, however, that this is taking place next door to Ghana, which has over the last 12 months had a wholly successful election? The opposition won and the Government were not happy. The Administration changed, however—as far as I am aware, without even a broken nose, let alone anything more serious. It seems an ironic, almost tragic situation, that two countries that are so similar in so many ways and exist next door to each other are finding such a different destiny. One hopes that partnership between those countries will, in the longer run, show how best practice can deliver the best results. To the extent that our Department for International Development can assist in that, I believe that it would have the support of the whole House.