Humanitarian Relief and Libya

Part of Bill Presented — Sustainable Energy (Local Plans) Bill – in the House of Commons at 3:46 pm on 5th April 2011.

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Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Commission, Chair, Public Accounts Commission 3:46 pm, 5th April 2011

That was a good intervention. It might be that I have misunderstood and that the equipment will be used in an entirely peaceful way to avoid friendly-fire actions and that there is no question of any telecommunications equipment—not weaponry—being used to bring down fire on the enemy, but the point is made.

Another thing that worries me very much is whether, because of the talk of regime change, we are being sucked into supporting people of very dubious credentials.

Let us take the case of Musa Kusa, the former Libyan Foreign Minister, who is probably up to his elbows in blood, in terms of arming the IRA. We are told that no indemnity against prosecution will be given to him, but there have been reports this morning that we are lifting the freeze on some of his assets. How appalling it would be if that man—who at best is morally dubious and at worst may be a mass murderer through involvement with Lockerbie—is allowed to enter and leave this country with a lot of ill-gotten gains. I am reminded of one of the speeches given before the war, by Winston Churchill I think, about the danger that foreign policy can start in the Chancelleries of Europe with a broad, grand staircase and gradually, by twists and turns, descend into the torture chambers of the damned. I am very concerned that we should not get sucked into actions that are morally dubious because we are so intent on regime change that we will use any means to get it.

In the first debate on Libya I asked some questions about our strategy such as what the endgame was, what we were trying to achieve and whether we could impose a solution simply from the air, which had never been done before. I think there was some lazy thinking at the time that the Gaddafi regime was so weak that the mere existence of a no-fly zone would ensure its collapse, but that clearly is not happening. It is obvious that there is a very strange war going on there at the moment. To read the popular press, one would think this was something like the Africa Corps against the Eighth Army, but it is not. It appears to be tiny, pocket-sized groups of irregular troops, and the Libyan coastline is 2,500 km long. There is an appalling weakness in the information that we get, but it is wishful thinking to assume that Gaddafi is simply going to go away.

Something else that was not mentioned in the original debate was where the Italians were in all this. We know where they were originally: Italy agreed to pay £2.5 billion in so-called reparations for colonial rule and apologised for having colonised Libya. It agreed to help to build a pan-Libyan motorway, in return for which—this is the important point—Gaddafi would crack down on north African illegal immigrants to Italy, and it is true that they had almost completely dried up in the past two or three years, but not recently. Obviously, some deal was done between the Italians and Gaddafi that he would stop those immigrants. Italy has made the very serious point all along that if we engaged in the war there was a real danger that we would get a flood of immigrants, and that is now in danger of happening. We saw what happened with Berlusconi and the island of Lampedusa recently; it would be a tragedy indeed if by instituting this military action we created another flight of immigration.

I should also like to know what on earth the United States is doing. It announced yesterday that it was pulling out all its aircraft, but it has 2,132 F-15s, F-16s and F-22s in service. If it has more than 2,000 aircraft, why is it taking its bat away? We have only 62 Typhoons and 136 Tornadoes. It is very difficult to get information out of the Ministry of Defence, but Sir Stephen Dalton, the head of the RAF, said yesterday:

“It’s a heck of a lot to be doing at one time.”

Questions are increasingly being asked about whether we should look again at the strategic defence and security review, as the hon. Member for Barnsley Central suggested in the part of his speech that I agreed with. At the same time as we are embarking on another war, we heard yesterday that 17,000 military personnel would be cut by the MOD—7,000 from the Army, 5,000 from the RAF and 5,000 from the Navy. I know that

The Sun newspaper is held in contempt by some of the more thinking Members of the House, but it is unwise for politicians to ignore it. Its headline today is “Don’t you know there are 2 bloody wars on?” That is a retake of a headline it published on 28 August 2009 as an attack on Gordon Brown: “Don’t you know there’s a bloody war on?”

Who are the rebels? We talk about them as though they were jolly members of Sevenoaks Conservative association—[ Interruption. ] There are increasingly reports of flickers of al-Qaeda. There is Colonel Khalifa Hifter, the former commander of the Libyan army in Chad who was captured and changed sides in 1988, setting up an anti-Gaddafi Libyan national army, reportedly with CIA and Saudi backing. For the last 20 years he has been living quietly in Virginia before returning to Benghazi to lead the fight against Gaddafi.

Another odd person is Abdul Hakeen al-Hassadi, a Libyan who fought against the US in Afghanistan before being arrested in Pakistan, imprisoned, probably at Bagram in Afghanistan, and then mysteriously released. The US Deputy Secretary of State, James Steinberg, told Congressmen that he would speak of Mr Hassadi’s career only in a closed session. Let us be careful before assuming the we are not in danger of scoring a spectacular own goal. Those who talk about arming the rebels may well be talking about groups such as the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which is undoubtedly there.

I know that these are appallingly difficult issues and that there is no obvious solution, but I urge the House to bear in mind what this country’s geopolitical interests are. We have never been the colonial power there. We clearly have a humanitarian objective. We may now realise that there is a stalemate, and it might have been wiser to have tried to persuade the UN to try to enforce a ceasefire. Perhaps we did not talk enough about a ceasefire at the time because we were too focused on regime change. I think that we should focus on a ceasefire and accept that it is not for us to impose a solution on Libya. Appalling as the Gaddafi regime is—no one here makes any apology for it—it would seriously destabilise our relations with the Arab world if we were to seek to impose a solution. In my view, we stick to the UN resolution, in terms of a humanitarian ceasefire; we do not insist on any kind of regime change; and we hope that out of that will come some decent and proper future for the people of Libya.