Humanitarian Relief and Libya

Part of Bill Presented — Sustainable Energy (Local Plans) Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:41 pm on 5th April 2011.

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Photo of Alec Shelbrooke Alec Shelbrooke Conservative, Elmet and Rothwell 4:41 pm, 5th April 2011

Today’s debate has inevitably focused on the military action in Libya. I want to focus on humanitarian relief, which is important, but there are also a couple of points that I want to make about the military action.

We have often been asked, “Why are we doing it?”, and so on. Britain has a strong history in helping the oppressed, including the Jewish refugees who came to Britain from Germany and elsewhere in Europe in the 1930s—not to mention the security that we need for our own borders. I very much enjoyed the speech by Dan Jarvis. I am sure that, had it been in his speech, he would have said that when he was taking part in military patrols in other countries, he felt that he was doing humanitarian aid work, rather than serving as a soldier in an aggressive force. I am sure that many in the armed forces would feel that way too.

We did indeed learn the lessons of Srebrenica. When I was a young man watching what was going on in the Balkans, I completely lost faith in the UN. I wondered what the point of it was, if it was going to stand by and let innocent people be murdered. We learnt those lessons; we have approached the current situation properly. We went to the UN and we have a mandate. However, having secured that mandate and protected countless lives in Benghazi, as my hon. Friend Damian Hinds has just said, we have to move forward. I believe that we have strengthened this Parliament by taking the action that we have and by saying to the British public, “We’ve done this wholly legally—we’ve gone to the UN and we’re backing it up.” However, we will lose that faith in this Parliament if we let a humanitarian crisis develop. I therefore praise the Secretary of State for his work in helping the humanitarian effort.

There has been a lot of comment about the previous Government’s work with Gaddafi and whether that was right. Again, we can learn from history. Perhaps the previous Government were looking at what happened in Northern Ireland with the Good Friday agreement and how, when we spoke directly to the terrorist organisations, we were able to bring about a peace that is now so strong that all sides in Northern Ireland jointly condemned the murder of the police officer this week. However, the difference was that we were not dealing with a lunatic. In the 1930s we tried to deal with Hitler with appeasement, but we were dealing with a lunatic, and Gaddafi is also a lunatic—a man who has murdered our citizens in Northern Ireland and Scotland, and who would quite happily murder his own civilians for his own need.

We have brought about that faith in this Parliament and we have realised that, as history has shown us, we cannot go down the road of appeasement. However, just because the leadership may not be civilised, that does not mean that the people of Libya are not civilised. Overall, it is a civilised society, with highly developed cities. It is our duty to protect the innocent people from what is happening there. There are families on the borders, with young women, children and elderly people in the cold and not knowing where to go. Some are ill; some are sick; some are wounded. It is our responsibility to ensure that we can work to supply aid on and around the borders of those countries.

We have rightly focused on Libya, but I congratulate the Secretary of State on his earlier comments about the aid that we are putting into the areas around Côte d’Ivoire as refugees pour across the borders. We have the means and the ability to help people in those areas, and we can rightly stand up and be proud of that. It is all very well trying to intervene in world crises, although we are right to do so, especially when asked to do it in a totally legal way, but we must take that further step. It is not good enough simply to drop the bombs. Tragically, sometimes, people who are not involved in the conflict are killed, but in dictatorships such as Libya, the regime will draw into itself, and to hell with the people it is supposed to represent. That is when a responsible country such as ours has to step in.

I am very proud that we will be giving 0.7% of our gross domestic product in international aid by 2013. That is something that we can all be proud of, and that unites Members on both sides of the House. When people say to us on the street, “Why should things be cut when we are giving money to foreign people?”, we can tell them that it is the right thing to do. It is the right thing to do in the world, and for our country. It also benefits our country. If we can create the proper security and meet the humanitarian needs of the refugees pouring out of those countries, or keep them within their area, it will be easier to repatriate them when times become more stable. We will not then see masses of immigrants flooding into our country. We would rightly offer them asylum here, as we have done in the past, but if we can solve the problem in their own country, that is the right thing to do. That is the message that we must send out from this place. This is not only the right thing to do; it also has a direct impact on the people of this country.

I commend the Secretary of State and his Department for their efforts. He has shown Britain to be a beacon of hope to the oppressed people of the world. We are following the right path in taking legal military action, but let us not underestimate the importance of ensuring that the humanitarian relief that we put in place in all those zones is seen to be effective by the people it is helping, and that it is actually helping the people in those countries.