Humanitarian Relief and Libya

Part of Bill Presented — Sustainable Energy (Local Plans) Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:08 pm on 5th April 2011.

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Photo of Stephen Gilbert Stephen Gilbert Liberal Democrat, St Austell and Newquay 4:08 pm, 5th April 2011

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, and particularly to follow Mr MacShane. Having watched the events across north Africa and the middle east unfold, I share his analysis that we are not even at the beginning point of understanding their historical significance.

Unlike my hon. Friend Mr Leigh, I remain firmly of the view that the international community took the right decision to intervene in Libya to prevent a humanitarian disaster. That intervention was both legal and necessary, and to date it has been robust but proportionate. In fact, the whole emphasis of the international community’s determination to take action has been based on humanitarian grounds: first, the overwhelming need to protect the people in Benghazi from slaughter at the hands of the regime; and now the need to ensure that the people who have been displaced and are suffering as a consequence of the action that the international community has taken are protected.

It is clear that Libya faces a humanitarian crisis, particularly on its borders. It has been estimated that about 380,000 people have left the country since the unrest began and that about 13,000 people are stranded on the borders with Tunisia and Egypt. We know that the UN is still negotiating for access to send its teams to the affected parts of the west of the country and, of course, without that access it is hard to say what might be occurring in that part of Libya.

As Ms Harman said earlier, let us be very clear that the failure of the Gaddafi regime to allow the UN to enter the west of Libya is a breach of UN resolution 1973. For anybody who has any doubt about the nature of the regime that we are dealing with, we now have an individual leader who is refusing the UN the right to access his people and to provide them with humanitarian assistance. That is quite wrong and we must use every avenue possible to stop it, to get access to those people and to provide humanitarian assistance across Libya.

In that context, I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. It is quite clear that he and his colleagues in the Cabinet have taken determined action to take the humanitarian consequences of the military intervention very seriously. Indeed, DFID has already spent about £8 million helping people to leave Libya and to be resettled. As is customary for us as a nation, the UK was among the first to respond to the crisis on the border, providing shelter for up to 10,000 of the people stranded there. I am sure that Members from all parties will support the fact that the UK was among the first to intervene while encouraging many other countries to follow the lead we have taken, particularly those countries in Europe that are not playing as much of a supporting role in tackling some of the humanitarian issues as they could be and as it would be right for them to do.

I welcome the fact that we were the first country to provide blankets, tents and food supplies to about 100,000 of the people who are most in need. The Government have also provided funding for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, enabling it to provide three medical teams to treat and provide medical support and supplies directly to the 3,000 people affected by fighting in Libya.