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With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a statement on Libya.
When we met here on that Friday in March, Gaddafi’s tanks bore down on Benghazi, his air force had already begun strikes against his people, and his army had smashed through Zawiyah, with a grave loss of life. Gaddafi had vowed to hunt down his own people like rats, using the full might of his armed forces, backed up by mercenaries. I did not think Britain should stand by as Gaddafi slaughtered his people. Nor could we allow a failed pariah state festering on Europe’s southern border, with the potential to threaten our own security.
The Libyan opposition and the Arab League both called for NATO to protect the civilian population, so, together with the US and France, we secured agreement for UN Security Council resolutions 1970 and 1973 and, with this clear legal mandate, this House voted by a majority of 544 in favour of military action. Today, the Libyan people have taken their country back.
I am grateful for the support that all parts of this House have given over the last six months, and I am sure the whole House will join me in paying tribute to the incredible dedication and professionalism of our pilots, sailors, ground crew and everyone in our armed forces who has been involved in this mission.
But we should also pay a full tribute to the bravery and resilience of the Libyan people themselves. This has been their revolution and none of it could have happened without them. Ordinary Libyans from all walks of life came together and rose up against Gaddafi. From the villages of the Nafusa mountains to the tower blocks of Misrata, the alleyways of Zawiyah and the streets of Benghazi, the Libyan people fought with incredible courage. Many paid with their lives. Others have been seriously injured, and the struggle is not over. They still face forces loyal to a dictator who last week threatened to turn Libya “into a hell”.
And the long work of building a new Libya is just beginning, but what is clear is that the future of Libya belongs to its people. The task of the international community now is to support them as they build that future. That means helping to finish the job, ensuring security, addressing the immediate humanitarian needs and supporting the longer-term process of reconstruction and political transition to democracy. Let me address each in turn.
First, on finishing the job, Britain has been at the forefront of the military operation to protect the Libyan people. Our aircraft have made over 2,400 sorties across Libya, carrying out one fifth of all NATO airstrikes, against some 900 targets in Gaddafi’s war machine. Our warships have supported this effort, helping to enforce the UN arms embargo and bringing aid to those in need. At its peak, some 2,300 British servicemen and women were deployed on Operation Ellamy, with 36 aircraft including 16 Tornados, six Typhoons, five attack helicopters, tankers and specialist surveillance aircraft and helicopters. These were supported over the course of the operation by eight warships and a hunter-killer submarine.
But the job is not over. As we stand, the free Libya forces have liberated Tripoli and control Libya’s key population centres, but pro-Gaddafi forces still pose a threat and, in particular, control the towns of Bani Walid, Sirte, and Sabha in the south of the country. The national transitional council has been working to negotiate a peaceful outcome, but its leaders have explicitly requested that NATO continue its operations to protect civilians until that is achieved. Over the weekend, RAF Tornados struck eight military command and control installations south-west of Waddan and nine weapons and ammunition stores near Sirte.
For as long as Gaddafi remains at large, the safety and the security of the Libyan people remain under threat. So let me be clear: we will not let up until the job is done. First, Britain and its NATO allies will continue to implement UN Security Council resolutions 1970 and 1973 for as long as we are needed to protect civilian life. Those thinking that NATO will somehow pull out or pull back must think again. We are ready to extend the NATO mandate for as long as is necessary.
Secondly, we will support the Libyan people in bringing Gaddafi to justice. This is a man whose crimes are becoming ever more apparent every day and who is wanted by the International Criminal Court. There must be no bolthole; no pampered hiding place from justice. He must face the consequences of his actions, under international and Libyan law.
Turning to security, the early signs have been encouraging. There has been some disorder, but it has been focused on symbols of the former regime. The national transitional council is moving to stand down fighters from outside Tripoli. The police are returning to the streets, and the council leaders have been clear and consistent in cautioning against disorder and, crucially, against reprisals. Britain and its international partners are helping, too, working closely with the national transitional council in securing chemical weapons sites and supporting mine clearance in Misrata, Benghazi and other affected areas.
On the humanitarian situation, Britain has played a leading role from the outset. The priorities today are health, water, food and fuel. On health, our humanitarian partners report that hospitals and clinics in Tripoli are now functioning well, and staff are returning to work. Britain is providing additional support through the International Committee of the Red Cross, including surgical teams and medicines to treat up to 5,000 war-wounded patients.
On water, substantial numbers of people in Tripoli are still without running water. However, UNICEF is procuring 11 million litres of bottled water, and the Libyan authorities are working to repair the water systems. The NTC reports that 100 wells are back online, representing 20% of capacity.
On fuel, there remain significant shortages but the situation is improving, and the World Food Programme shipment is supporting the national transitional council with the procurement of 250,000 litres of fuel.
Let me turn to reconstruction. Libya is a country of 6.5 million people. It is one of the richest in Africa. Its proven oil reserves are the ninth largest in the world. Libya is fully capable of paying for its own reconstruction. Of course there is a role for foreign advice, help and support, but I do not think we want to see an army of foreign consultants driving around in 4x4s, giving the impression that this is something being done to the Libyans, rather than something that is being done by them.
What the Libyans need above all is their frozen assets back. A week ago, Britain got Security Council agreement to release £1 billion-worth of dinars back to the Central Bank of Libya, and RAF planes have already flown in hundreds of millions of dinars of these banknotes. At the summit in Paris last Thursday, the international community committed to unfreezing $15 billion of Libyan assets, and for their part—vitally—we expect the new Libyan authorities to meet their pledge of ensuring transparent and accountable financial systems.
Next, on political transition, some people warned, as Gaddafi himself did, that the Libyan people could not be trusted with freedom—that without Gaddafi there would be chaos. What is emerging now, despite years of repression, and the trauma of recent months, is impressive and encouraging. In a far-reaching road map and constitutional declaration, the new authorities have set out a clear vision and a process for a new democratic Libya. This is not being imposed from above; it is being shaped by the Libyan people. At the Paris summit, chairman Abdul-Jalil spoke of his determination to build a society of tolerance and forgiveness, with respect for the rule of law. A national conference will bring together all the tribes—civil society; men and women, from east and west—united to shape this political transition. They are planning for a new constitution and elections within 20 months.
Britain is also in discussions in New York about a new UN Security Council resolution to reflect the new situation. The new Libyan authorities must now be able to represent their country at the United Nations, as they did last week at the Arab League. I also look forward to building our bilateral relationship with the new Libyan authority. We have close relations with the NTC through our mission in Benghazi, and today the UK’s special representative is going to Tripoli to re-establish our full diplomatic presence in that city.
Our relationship with the new Libya must, of course, deal with a series of problems from the past. On Megrahi, this is obviously a matter for the Scottish Executive. I have made my position clear: I believe that he should never have been sent back to Libya in the first place. On WPC Yvonne Fletcher, I want to see justice for her family. There is an ongoing police investigation, and the House will wish to know that Prime Minister Jabril has assured me of the new Libyan authority’s intention to co-operate fully.
Finally, significant accusations have been reported today that under the last Government relations between the British and Libyan security services became too close, particularly in 2003. It was because of accusations of potential complicity by the British security services in the mistreatment of detainees overseas, including rendition, that I took steps in July last year to try to sort this whole problem out. As the House will remember, we acted to bring to an end the large number of court cases being brought against the Government by former inmates of Guantanamo; we have issued new guidance to security and intelligence services personnel on how to deal with detainees held by other countries; and we have asked retired judge Sir Peter Gibson to examine issues around the detention and treatment of terrorist suspects overseas. This inquiry has already said that it will look at these latest accusations very carefully. My concern throughout has been not only to remove any stain on Britain’s reputation, but to deal with these accusations of malpractice so as to enable our security services to get on with the vital work that they do. Because they cannot speak for themselves, let me put on the record, once again, our enormous gratitude for all they do to keep our country safe.
The achievement of the Libyan people gives hope to those across the wider region who want a job, a voice and a stake in how their country is run. On Syria, Britain will continue to lead the argument for a UN resolution to build on the EU’s oil embargo, which is now in place. The message to President Assad must be clear: he has lost all legitimacy and can no longer claim to lead Syria, the violence must end and he should step aside for the good of his country.
It is the Libyan people who have liberated their country; there was no foreign occupying army. This has been a Libyan-led process, assisted by the international community. Many cynics proclaimed stalemate and asserted that Gaddafi would never be defeated—the Libyan people proved them wrong. It was a unique set of circumstances and not something that we can or would wish to repeat all over the world, but I have never accepted the argument that because you can’t do everything, you shouldn’t do anything. Removing Gaddafi from power was a major achievement. Although the work is not yet done, the Libyan people can be proud of what they have achieved and we can be proud of what we have done to help them. I commend this statement to the House.
May I start by thanking the Prime Minister for his statement? Let me join him in paying tribute to the courage of the Libyan people, because this was their uprising. They knew the price that might be paid if they rose up against the regime to claim a better future and yet they found the courage to do so and to win through. We on the Opposition Benches salute their bravery and sacrifice, but change in Libya would not have come about without action from the international community. Let me therefore commend the role played by the Prime Minister and the British Government in making it happen. The initiative of pressing for UN resolutions 1970 and 1973 made the action to protect civilians possible. It was a risk and it was the right thing to do. For our part, we supported it at the time, we have remained steadfast in our support and we support it now.
If we had not acted, we would have spent recent months not talking about the progress of our action in Libya but wringing our hands over slaughter in Benghazi, as we did after Bosnia. This time, however, the international community did not stand by—it acted through and with the authority of the United Nations. Once again, as the Prime Minister said, it was to our brave British servicemen and women that we turned and as always, they have risen to the challenge. They represent the best of our country and again we owe them a debt of gratitude.
I want to ask a number of questions about the security situation, economic stabilisation, the political settlement now required and some of the wider lessons, but let me first say that I agree with the Prime Minister that the Gibson inquiry must get to the bottom of the allegations we have seen about the involvement of the security services in relation to Libya. No part of the British state should ever be complicit in torture.
Let me turn first to the security situation. The Prime Minister is right to say that there should be no artificial deadlines for the end of NATO action. We are in Libya to enforce a Security Council resolution and we should be engaged in action for no more and no less than the time it takes to ensure that the UN mandate for the protection of civilians is fulfilled. Given the symbolic and substantive importance of the national transitional council’s taking up its place in government in Tripoli, will the Prime Minister give us a sense from the Paris conference about when we might expect that to happen, as that will speak to the security situation in Tripoli?
We know from past conflicts that security matters but that essential to a successful transition is economic and social reconstruction, and we all agree that that must be Libyan-owned. I welcome the extra assistance that the Government have announced to help provide medicine and food and to reunite families who have been affected by the fighting. The Prime Minister will agree that the role of the UN will be very important in co-ordinating that help, so will he say what discussions he has had with UN special envoy al-Khatib and how prepared he believes the UN is to provide the necessary help to the Libyan people? Will he also share with the House his thoughts on how the new UN resolution he talked about, which will provide recognition for a new Government, will also provide a mandate for a longer-term UN mission to support the Libyan Government?
The Prime Minister is right that the oil wealth of Libya offers huge potential for its people. Given that the legitimacy of the popular uprising was based around the fact that the Libyans themselves were clearly in the lead, that also needs to be true of the oil resources. Does he agree that we should learn the lessons of the period following past conflicts and ensure that the role of private companies working in Libya is to operate transparently and in a way that clearly benefits the Libyan people?
On the politics, I join the Prime Minister in welcoming the NTC’s commitment to establishing a new constitution and holding elections within 18 months. On the former members of the regime, we agree that we should provide full support to the Libyan people and their new Government in bringing Colonel Gaddafi and the leadership to justice either through the ICC or the Libyan courts, but we have also learned from past conflicts the need for a broad based and inclusive political process of reconciliation —indeed, the Prime Minister talked about that in his statement—as well as for the vital work of maintaining Government services. Will the Prime Minister share with the House his understanding of how the NTC will continue to use officials from the lower level of government to keep basic services running?
We also know that democracy takes root not just through the formal process of the ballot box but through a strong, vibrant civil society. Will the Prime Minister tell us what specific plans there are for direct relationships between Libya and organisations such as the BBC World Service, the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and the British Council, which can play an important role in helping to build up civil society?
Let me finally ask about the lessons of this conflict for Britain and for the international community. The Arab spring was clearly not envisaged at the time of the strategic defence and security review and has meant a call on some resources that were due to become obsolete. May I ask the Prime Minister whether he sees the case that I see for there to be gain in formally looking afresh at the SDSR in the light of events in Libya and the Arab spring?
For the international community as a whole, the lesson is of the effectiveness it can have when it comes together through the UN and speaks with one voice. No two situations are the same, as the Prime Minister has said. Of course, the situation in Syria is different for a number of reasons, not least practical issues, in relation to the idea of military intervention and, indeed, the lack of support for it. We support the use of all non-military means at our disposal in relation to Syria. I have heard the Prime Minister’s remarks about President Assad and I share his view. He talked about the need for a new UN resolution, but will he tell us how he assesses the chances of getting that resolution and what further steps he believes can be taken against the Assad regime in the absence of a resolution?
Let me end on this thought: the Arab spring has seen the overthrow of authoritarian regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. It is right that Britain has been on the side of those who are fighting to enjoy the basic social, economic and political rights that we take for granted. Let me end by agreeing with the Prime Minister that we should take pride in the role we have played in protecting the Libyan people as they claim a better future. We should now help them as they enter the next phase—moving from popular revolt to stable, democratic government.
First, may I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks in response to my statement? He is right to pose the alternative and ask what would have happened had we stood back and done nothing—what we would have been discussing today? Of course, he is also right to praise our brave service personnel. I note what he said about backing the Gibson inquiry and the important work that it needs to do in looking at all the accusations of complicity.
On the three issues of security, stabilisation and politics let me try to answer the right hon. Gentleman’s questions. First, on security, he is right that there should be no artificial deadline for NATO. We must continue until the job is done. On the NTC’s move from Benghazi to Tripoli, that is already under way. Parts of the NTC have moved and it is very important that it should move as a whole. We should not try to second-guess everything it does. I have been very struck through this process by the fact that the NTC often gets criticised. Calls are made for it to do this and that, and in the end it always seems to rise to the challenge. I think it has been effective and we should not underestimate the people working in it.
On stabilisation, the right hon. Gentleman mentioned the UN’s role. It is important to differentiate between the role of Mr al-Khatib, who was trying to look at ways of finding a peace process before this conflict resulted in the fall of Tripoli, and the role of Ian Martin, who is specifically drawing up the plans for a UN mission to Libya. I think those plans are well under way and it is very important that we focus on the things that the Libyans want rather than on the things we think they might want. It was quite interesting, in Paris, to hear the specific things they cared about most. Clearly, one role that the UN can play is to make sure that the elections, when they come, are properly observed and are free and fair. The point that the right hon. Gentleman makes about private companies is a good one and we should learn all the lessons from past conflicts as he says.
In terms of the process of reconciliation and maintaining Government services, one thing that the NTC has been trying to do—again, quite effectively, I think; we have been advising and helping where we can—is make sure that there is no de-Ba’athification process and that relatively junior officials in departments are encouraged to go back to work. These are very early days and there are going to be huge problems at the end of a conflict like this, but the signs are that things such as rubbish collection, hospital services and getting the police back on the streets seem to be working.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about longer-term relationships with the British Council and others. Clearly, once the security situation is in a better state, those relationships can be built from a very strong basis.
On the strategic defence review, I would argue, having followed this very closely through the National Security Council on Libya, which met sometimes daily through this conflict, that the case for what we are doing in the review has been proved. It has been proved that it was the right decision to keep the Tornado aircraft with the Storm Shadow capability, which performed magnificently over the skies of Libya. Typhoon has in many ways come of age. One of the things that became clear in the conflict was the need for greater ISTAR—greater eyes in the sky, greater technical capabilities—and that is provided for in the strategic defence review. Of course, after any such conflict and an intense period of military, Government and humanitarian activity, it is right to learn the lessons. Sir Peter Ricketts, my national security adviser, will be leading a lessons-learned exercise on how the Whitehall machine operated and what lessons we can learn. That should include the operation of the oil cell, which I think did a very good job of trying to help deny oil to the regime and to make sure that the rebels, who were not getting oil products, got them.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the UN resolution on Syria. We will continue to work for a strong resolution. It has obviously been difficult to get agreement to date. The EU oil embargo is an important step forward and has a real effect. Above all, I want to thank the right hon. Gentleman for what he said. I agree with him that we can take pride in what British forces and British officials have done on this occasion.
Order. Understandably, there is wide interest in the Prime Minister’s statement. If I am to accommodate that interest, I require brevity. In pursuit of a helping hand, I look to an old hand—Mr Nicholas Soames.
I join in the praise from the Prime Minister for the magnificent performance of the British armed forces and for the courage and resolution of the Libyan people. Does my right hon. Friend agree that matters are inevitably about to become a little messy in Libya in the months ahead, and that it will be important for Britain to continue to offer what help it can in a spirit of general co-operation and humility?
That is absolutely right. It is very important that when people are looking at the humanitarian plan, the reconstruction plan and the plan for political progress in Libya, we recognise that this is something that the Libyans are doing themselves. We are there to help and to assist, but it is their plan, not our plan. Humility on this occasion is right.
I endorse the remarks of my right hon. Friend Edward Miliband in praising the leadership that the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and other Ministers have shown during the whole of this period. There is no doubt that that was decisive in securing international co-operation and in following it through.
On the allegations that have been made overnight, as Foreign Secretary at the time, may I say two things? First, as the Prime Minister knows, it was the consistent policy of the previous Government, as it is of his, to be wholly opposed to any complicity in torture, ill treatment or unlawful rendition. Secondly, given the serious nature of the allegations, it is entirely right that they should be examined in every detail by the inquiry under Sir Peter Gibson.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for what he says about me, the Foreign Secretary and others. On the issue that he raises, it is right that Sir Peter Gibson can look at the whole area. It is important that nobody rushes to judgment. We have to remember that in 2003, two years after 9/11, there was a Libyan terrorist group that was allied to al-Qaeda. At all times our security services and intelligence services are trying to work for the good of the country to keep us safe, so it is important to remember the circumstances at the time. Nobody should rush to judgment, but it is the right hon. Gentleman’s view, my view and the view of the entire House that Britain should never be complicit in torture or in extraordinary rendition, and it is very important that we make sure that that is the case.
My right hon. Friend has been circumspect in his references to the documents which have recently emerged, and with good reason, but does he agree that there is one lesson that can be learned at this stage—that particularly when dealing with unsavoury regimes in the shadowy world of intelligence, it is necessary to maintain both fastidiousness and distance so as to avoid accusations of impropriety or illegality?
My right hon. and learned Friend is entirely right. As I put it in my statement, the accusation is that after Libya came in from the cold and gave up the weapons of mass destruction, the relationship almost became too close at times. There was a degree of credulity. I think that is the accusation. It is important to put on record our thanks to the security services for what they do. What I have tried to do and what the Government have tried to do is put in place a new set of arrangements—proper guidance to intelligence and security services personnel to clear out these Guantanamo Bay cases that were going to drag through our courts and bring our security services and our country down, to deal with them properly, and then to have an inquiry, so that we get to the bottom of what happened and if there was any malpractice, we deal with it. It is important that we clear up the issue once and for all, and I believe the steps that we have taken will do that.
I, too, commend the Prime Minister on the role that he has played this year, but I urge him to use the same dedication when it comes to Syria, because many of us—all of us, I suspect—are scandalised by what we have seen throughout these summer months. He is visiting Moscow, as I understand it, next week. I hope that he will make it absolutely clear to the Russian Government—both sides of the Government; the President and the Prime Minister—that thus far their protection of the Syrian Government has been wholly abhorrent to those of us who hate the human rights abuses in such countries.
I certainly join the hon. Gentleman in loathing the human rights abuses that are taking place in Syria. What we have seen happening is simply appalling—the loss of life, the damage and terror that the President has been inflicting on his own people.
On Russia, one of the encouraging things is that the Russians came to the Paris conference, were one of the 63 countries represented there and supported the statement that came out of it about NATO continuing its work and making sure that we complete the job in Libya—[ Interruption. ] The hon. Gentleman is right then to say from a sedentary position, “What about Syria?” I think that the whole international community can learn the lesson of some success in Libya and apply that elsewhere in terms of the unity that we need to see in the UN Security Council to put pressure on Syria.
As someone who had reservations about the principle of intervention, may I congratulate the Prime Minister on a successful outcome in Libya? It was largely achieved by two aspects: first, it was legal; and secondly, it had the support of the Libyan people. Further to the previous question, however, will my right hon. Friend now use it as an illustration to persuade permanent members of the Security Council, such as Russia and China, that a well conducted intervention can be successfully used to restrain autocrats in countries such as Syria?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he says. Everyone should have misgivings about such operations, and one should never have the naive belief that they are easy or that everything is going to go to plan. That very rarely happens, and we should always be hard-headed and careful about such things. We should also respect the fact that this is not done—this is not completed yet.
Also, I think that we should be very cautious about trying to draw up a new doctrine, because it seems to me that as soon as a new doctrine is established, a case comes up that flies completely in its face, but I do hope that other members of the Security Council will see that there has been success in removing a dictator, and in giving that country a chance of peaceful and democratic progress, which will be good for the world.
Will the inquiry conducted by Sir Peter Gibson be held entirely in public? Will it have access to all the documents that have been discovered in Libya which, apparently, are now under the control of the national transitional council? Will it look at the question of British military involvement with Libya up until March and what lessons can be learned from that?
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s question. On Sir Peter Gibson’s inquiry, some of it will be held in public and some of it by necessity—because of the very sensitive nature of what he will be looking at—will be held in private.
On the documentation, Sir Peter will have access to all the paperwork he wants to see. Clearly, what has come out of Libya in recent days is relevant to him, and I think he has already announced that he is looking forward to seeing that information.
On Britain’s relationship with Libya, as I have said, it is entirely understandable that it was the previous Government’s wish to have with Libya a new relationship after getting rid of weapons of mass destruction. In some instances, it was too credulous—I have mentioned particularly Megrahi—and, obviously, we need to think carefully about our security, our military involvement and our sales to all regimes. That is why at the start of the Arab spring we reviewed our practices, and we should keep them under review.
One should treat all these reports with concern, and we should obviously always look carefully at who we are dealing with, but one of the long-term answers to Islamic extremism is the successful development of democracy in the Arab world.
This is a three-part play: part one is getting rid of bin Laden; part two is greater democracy throughout the middle east; and part three is a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. To think that supporting such dictators helped us to deal with Islamic extremism is to be profoundly wrong. We find that many of the Islamic extremists whom we are fighting or dealing with in Pakistan or, even, in Afghanistan come out of countries such as Libya and Syria, and we should ask, “Why?”
Large numbers of Libyans have fled their country in the past few months. What discussions have there been with countries such as Italy and Malta to enable them to return?
The Italians and Maltese are extremely keen that people should return and there is now every reason that they can. I have been impressed by the members of the Libyan diaspora in London who have been in and out of Libya even while the conflict has been going on. The pressure can be great, particularly on small countries such as Malta. As the hon. Lady knows, we have a relationship with Malta through which we will use our embassies elsewhere in the world to help it with this issue.
It is absolutely a matter for the Intelligence and Security Committee what it examines, but I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Malcolm Rifkind will want to look closely at those allegations. As I say, I do not think that any of us should rush to judgment. We have to remember the situation that the world and this country were in post 9/11, when there was a real concern about people who wanted to damage our country. The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group was allied with al-Qaeda. It is not any more and has separated itself from that organisation. Let us allow the inquiries to take their course and not rush to judgment.
May I join in the tributes to the courage of our servicemen and women in their action over Libya, to the Libyan people, and to the political leadership of the Prime Minister and his colleagues during this time? The Prime Minister rightly talked about the issue of legacy, and he referred to Megrahi and WPC Yvonne Fletcher. He said that Libya must deal with the series of problems from the past. Among those will be the issue of compensation and justice for the many hundreds of victims of Libyan-sponsored IRA terrorism. Can I seek an assurance from the Prime Minister that he continues to back the case for justice, and that he will do what he can to secure compensation from the new regime?
I certainly will do that and it is a vital issue. There is no doubt that the Libyan provision of Semtex to the IRA was immensely damaging over many years, and it possibly still is today. We need to be clear that this will be an important bilateral issue between Britain and the new Libyan authorities. Clearly we have to let this Government get their feet under the desk, but this is very high up my list of items.
After the liberation of Kuwait, in which Britain also played a significant part, the financial costs of our contribution were fully reimbursed, largely by Kuwait itself. Does my right hon. Friend intend to seek a similar contribution from the Libyan authorities once oil begins to flow?
That is not a consideration that we have gone into so far. Clearly there have been costs to the UK from this operation, which are in the region of £120 million, excluding munitions. Obviously, that has been funded from outside the defence budget through the reserve, so it will not impact on other defence spending. My right hon. Friend makes an important point that we can bear in mind.
The Prime Minister rightly said that we would urge that there be no de-Ba’athification process in Libya. However, the reality is that the institutions across Libya are corrupted and weak. In particular, the courts, which are central to a functioning modern democratic society, have Gaddafi’s placemen in position. Is Britain, perhaps with the European Union, prepared to put real effort into supporting the development of those civil structures?
We will certainly make available our advice on those issues if it is wanted. In Paris, Chairman Jalil and Prime Minister Jibril talked specifically about the importance of police training and of ensuring that their police are properly independent. It was encouraging to hear them say that. Of course, having a strong, independent justice system is part of any free and democratic society, so we stand by to help in any way that we can.
I welcome the progress of the Libyan people and the success of the United Nations’ principle of the responsibility to protect. The catalyst of the uprising was the
The hon. Lady makes an important point, and I think one of the best ways to do that is to work with the non-governmental organisations that have particular expertise in that area. I repeat that this is not the same as Iraq, where basically an intervention knocked over a Government, and there was then a de-Ba’athification process and we had to try to put back in place what had gone. Here, we are trying to work with the Libyans, who are putting things in place themselves. I absolutely agree that a much stronger society will emerge if there is a proper and appropriate role for women, which tragically there is not in so many societies. I think going through non-governmental organisations is probably the right answer.
May I join others in commending the Prime Minister’s role in these issues? He will know that there are 8,000 Libyan students studying in the United Kingdom at the moment, 2,000 of whom are state-sponsored. The funds for those students are being held by the British Arab Commercial Bank, which cannot release them without the approval of the NTC. Will he use his good offices to ensure that this matter is resolved so that the students can complete their studies and return to rebuild their country?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for what he says and for his kind comments. My understanding is that the money is now being released, but if there are any problems, we will certainly try to help secure it. I think there will be a welter of problems in dealing with unfrozen assets of people who have got stuck in a different country and all the rest of it, and we will have to work through each of those problems in turn.
May I commend my right hon. Friend for acting in a way that vindicates his policy of Britain acting as an effective global power? May I also commend him for not rushing to a new doctrine or going back to an old one such as liberal interventionism? Does the situation not demonstrate the importance of maintaining armed forces with global reach, so that we can influence global events and project our interests?
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. What I would say about doctrine is that if you overdo your belief in a particular doctrine, you will find that the next problem that confronts you will fall completely outside it and you will have to spend a lot of time inventing a new doctrine to deal with it. I am a practical—[Interruption.] Members say that I am a Conservative, and that is right. I am a practical, liberal Conservative—that is what I believe, and I think this was a practical, liberal, Conservative intervention. [Hon. Members: “A new doctrine.”] It is a way of thinking.
On what my hon. Friend says about armed forces being able to project our reach and power, I absolutely agree with him, and we cannot maintain that reach and power by not having a defence review and by sticking with massed battle tanks in Europe. What we need to do is modernise our armed forces and make sure that we have the reach for the challenges of the future. I repeat what I said: far from disproving the strategic defence review, I think Libya proved the case for the sort of changes that we are making.
No one will be sorry to see the end of Gaddafi’s criminal regime, which was deeply involved in international terrorism, but is there not some hypocrisy in all this? Is it not a fact that up to this year, Britain was selling the Gaddafi regime sniper rifles and crowd control equipment? Now we learn that there was a close collaboration between some western countries—not only Britain—and the Gaddafi regime, in which terror suspects were actually sent to Gaddafi’s torture chamber.
Far be it from me to join the hon. Gentleman in attacking the last Government. To be fair, I think it was right to have a new relationship with Libya when we could persuade it to get rid of its weapons of mass destruction, discontinue its nuclear programme and try to take a different path. I have my criticisms of the last Government, as I think they were then too gullible and went too far in that direction. Specifically, when we had the O’Donnell report into Megrahi it found that the last Government were trying to facilitate his release, but I do not criticise the general intent of wanting a new relationship. What really changed was the treatment by Gaddafi of his own people. That was the moment for the world to act, and I am proud of the fact that the world did so.
The most impressive aspect of this intervention is the Libyan pride in what Libyans see as a Libyan event. Will the Prime Minister reassure the House that he will do all he can to restrain the irresistible desire of the international community to micro-manage and over-intervene? We should remember that in this kind of intervention, less is more.
I know that my hon. Friend speaks with considerable knowledge, not least because rather against my will, he spent two days last week in Tripoli. He has seen for himself that the Libyans are managing the transition quite effectively, but what he says about trying to make sure that we understand our role as backing a Libyan plan rather than substituting our judgment for theirs, is the right way ahead.
Has the Prime Minister reviewed Cabinet Office papers to ascertain whether Tony Blair personally authorised the co-operation with the Libyan intelligence services that led to Abu Munthir’s detention and removal to Tripoli in 2003? Will he revise the terms of reference of the Gibson review, so that the nine human rights agencies that currently do not feel that they can co-operate with it because it is not up to the standards of international human rights can co-operate, so that the review will be open and transparent, and so that we can get to the bottom of those questions?
First, let me put the hon. Lady right on one thing: there is a rule that Ministers cannot, willy-nilly, see the papers provided to a previous Government, not least because Governments would probably spend their entire time doing that rather than governing the country, which is what they are supposed to do. That is why there is an inquiry, which is being carried out by an independent judge. We should allow Sir Peter Gibson to get to the bottom of what happened in that case, and indeed to the bottom of any decisions that Ministers of that time made, for which they will have to answer. I believe that that is the right approach, and it is the one that we will follow.
I very much welcome the Prime Minister’s statement. Many of our constituents have probably said over the last few months something along the lines of, “We don’t want another Iraq,” and the post-conflict stage is obviously on people’s minds. Will the Prime Minister give a little more detail on how the lessons of immediately post-conflict Iraq are being applied in this situation?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that a lot of people have said, “We don’t want another Iraq,” but we should also listen to those people who said, “We don’t want another Bosnia.” The prevention of a massacre was very important in these circumstances.
On the difference between Libya and Iraq, I would say this: because the Libya operation has not involved an occupying force or an invading army, the Libyan people rightly feel that they have done this largely by themselves. Yes, they have had NATO assistance, for which they are grateful, but just as they own the end of Gadaffi, so they are owning the transition to democracy and all the problems of disorder and crime that there will be in the interim. However, from what I can see, they are dealing with those problems well, and we should be with them, but helping rather than telling them what to do.
May I follow the point on migration raised by my hon. Friend Ms Stuart? One thing that became clear during the previous regime was that many of the people who have ended up in Lampedusa and Malta originated not in Libya, but from other countries, sponsored by an illegal criminal network in which Gadaffi no doubt had a role. That means that such places have huge numbers of cases that are difficult to manage. How will the Prime Minister manage that situation, and will he assure the House that he will open a dialogue with the NTC to ensure that those criminal routes are closed down straight away?
I certainly will do that. First, it is important to get this into perspective: we should bear it in mind that we still get more asylum claims from the countries of northern Europe than we get from the countries of southern Europe. Secondly, we have a relationship with Malta. Clearly, it cannot afford to have embassies all over the world, and we use our embassies in countries such as Niger, Mali and elsewhere to try to help the Maltese to return people to their country of origin. As the hon. Gentleman says, many people coming through Libya are not from Libya.
For the new constitution of Libya to be legitimate, and indeed sustainable, is it not the case that freedom of speech and religion should be included? In particular, should it not give protection to the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Serbian Orthodox Church, the Russian Orthodox Church and the Greek Orthodox Church?
My hon. Friend makes a good point, and we have seen, particularly in Egypt, the importance of protecting Coptic Christians and others. I am heartened by what Chairman Jalil has said about respect for human rights and tolerance, and I am sure that he will want to follow those things through.
I do not have an estimation, but it is in Libya’s interests that the production of oil gets back to normal as fast as possible. Some people say, though, that it could take up to three years to get back to full capacity. The encouraging thing is that a lot of the refineries and other oil installations, such as the ones in Ras Lanuf, Brega, Zawiyah and elsewhere, have not been badly damaged, so there is no reason this should not happen as rapidly as possible.
Like other Members, I would like to congratulate the Prime Minister on the leadership he has shown in supporting the will of the Libyan people over the past few months. Will he tell the House what role is envisaged for the Arab League and other Arab nations in the post-conflict reconstruction in Libya in the months ahead?
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s comments. I think that there will be a big role for the Arab League. As I said in my statement—this is one area where we can learn the lessons of the past—I do not think that Libyans want huge numbers of people driving around in 4x4s telling them what to do. Arab assistance can play a huge role in helping Libyans to get back on their feet. However, they seem very keen to do a lot of this on their own.
The Prime Minister is absolutely right to stress that the political future of Libya needs to be determined by the Libyan people, not by outsiders. Can he cast any light on the statements coming from the African Union about its concerns that the transitional arrangements are not fully inclusive? What discussions is he or the Foreign Secretary having with key African leaders to ensure that any future UN resolution gets African buy-in?
I was very encouraged that at the Paris meeting there were a number of African leaders strongly supportive of the NTC and democratic transition in Libya. Frankly, the African Union has not always been as clear as I would have liked about the importance of democracy, freedom, human rights and progress in Libya. I hope now that all the countries of the African Union will get behind the new Libyan authorities and give them the support and help that they need.
Like my hon. Friend, I feel that this is an extremely important issue for the bilateral relationship between Britain and Libya. At the Paris conference, I spoke to Prime Minister Jibril about this issue and told him how important it was to people in our country. It was an appalling act and a reminder of what the Gaddafi regime was capable of. We should put it alongside the provision of Semtex to the IRA that took hundreds of lives and the appalling act of blowing up an airliner over the skies of Scotland. This regime was capable of appalling things and now there is a chance to find justice for these people. We should pursue that very strongly.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement and the end—hopefully—of Gaddafi, but given that we are in the aftermath of what in many respects was a civil war, how comfortable is he with a 20-month time frame for the delivery of a new constitution and elections? What measures will be put in place to protect human and political rights, including on freedom of movement and international observers?
I believe that the timetable is realistic. The key issue is whether we have faith in the NTC. I have found, throughout my dealings with Prime Minister Jibril and Chairman Jalil, both of whom I have met on a number of occasions, that they want this to be a national process, representing the whole country and bringing the country together, that they want it to be transitional—this is a move towards democracy, not a takeover—and that they see Libya in the future not in an Islamist or tribal fashion, but as a democracy. Clearly, it will have Islamic elements—it is a Muslim country—but that is the path that its people want to take and one that we can encourage them down.
Musa Kusa is helping the police with their inquiries into, for instance, the Yvonne Fletcher case, and they will go on having conversations with him. That will go ahead. Sir Peter Gibson’s inquiry can go wherever the evidence leads, and he can call for papers that he wants to see. The key things that he is looking at are the accusations of complicity in torture, rendition, malpractice or maltreatment.
We in the Scottish National party join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to the brave men and women in our armed forces who have been involved in these operations. We also welcome the extension of Sir Peter Gibson’s inquiry, but does the Prime Minister believe that it will be enough to get to the bottom of these allegations of such truly awful and reprehensible acts? Will he, for example, be able to interview former Labour Ministers and ask what they knew about those operations? Will he also be able to make some sort of judgment about the activities and actions of the last Labour Government?
As I said, what Sir Peter Gibson will be able to do is call for papers and people, and question people about the decisions that they took. He is looking into accusations of complicity in mistreatment, rendition or torture, and all those things, and if Ministers, whether in the last Government or not, have questions to answer, they will then need to answer those questions. That is the correct way for these things to be done.
As I said in my statement, I do not subscribe to this idea that because we cannot fix every problem in the world, we should not fix any problem in the world. It seemed to me that, in a totally practical way, here was a problem that we had a moral obligation to try to deal with because we could prevent a massacre—as well as, if you like, an “ought”, there was also a “could”. We were able to do this because we had the support of Arab nations, because we had NATO behind us and because we convinced the UN Security Council to vote for it. When “ought” and “can” come together, there is a pretty good case for action.
The Prime Minister has spoken of hope across the wider region following events in Libya. Will both the premium that he and other international leaders have put on inclusion and consensus in building constitutions and states, and the primacy of democratic elections also be reflected in their response to the current efforts of the Palestinian Authority in respect of statehood, given that this month is the target date when statehood was to be recognised at the UN?
As I said earlier, I see all these issues as being linked. Just as we want to see greater democracy, peace and progress in middle eastern countries across the board, so we want to see the Palestinians have the dignity of their own state. However, we believe in the two-state solution, so it must be a Palestine alongside a secure Israel. When it comes to the whole issue of recognition, the test for us is: are we doing something that will help to push forward the peace process? That is the most important thing. In the end, we cannot compel Israel and Palestine to reach peace between themselves; they have to want to do it.
As the Prime Minister knows, I have called for several years for an inquiry into rendition, but I have to say that Sir Peter Gibson’s preparatory work is already a source of concern. Is the Prime Minister aware that he has already decided not to follow the same certification process that Lord Butler used in his inquiry to ensure that he got the right papers, that he has decided against appointing an independent investigator and that, contrary to the spirit of the reply that the Prime Minister gave me when setting up the Gibson inquiry, he will not be looking at detainee transfers in theatre? Will the Prime Minister look again at the protocol, to ensure that Sir Peter can do a proper job?
I will look very carefully at what my hon. Friend says, because he has been pursuing this issue with dogged determination over the years, and quite right too. What I would say though is that we are dealing with an inquiry that is almost entirely concerned with the security and intelligence services. This is an extremely difficult area to inquire into, and it has to be done with great sensitivity. I do not want to do anything that puts our country at risk or jeopardises the work of our security and intelligence services. I see this as a package: there was the clearing of the Guantanamo Bay detainee cases, which was vital so that the security services could get on with their work; there was the new guidance, so that our officers in the field knew what they should and should not do; and there is this inquiry to try and clear up the problems of the past. Yes, it is about uncovering any mistreatment or malpractice, which is not to be justified in any way, but it is also about enabling our security services to get on with the job of keeping us safe.
The Prime Minister has rightly praised the professionalism, skills and ethos of the 2,300 service personnel. If Libya is to take over responsibility for its own security so that those service personnel can return to base and to other duties, will he ensure that, in financial terms, the training that we provide will help to build a new Libyan army, air force and navy that are competitive with those of other countries, so that we can pull our own service personnel back? If we can provide that training, we can build a new relationship between our armed forces.
Certainly we will make available our advice, services and help for the new Libya. As I have said, we must allow the Libyan people to choose what they want to do, rather than force things on them. I do not think we should have the attitude that because we have helped to liberate Libya we should therefore get some sort of automatic preferred status. We should do it on the basis of what we have to offer, and on the basis of all the normal rules and regulations that we bring to this.
I commend the Prime Minister’s resolve on this issue. He is right to stress that it is for the Libyan people to determine their future, but the removal of Gaddafi unearths a complex network of tribal alliances, and we are not out of the woods yet. Does my right hon. Friend agree that stability over the next few months will be critical if we are to see a role reversal in which the rebels become the state and the pro-Gaddafi tribal forces become the insurgents?
My hon. Friend is quite right to draw attention to the risks involved in moving from a situation in which Gaddafi is in command to one in which he is on the run and the NTC is taking over. There are all sorts of risks, and we should not be complacent or over-confident about what will follow. All I would say is that those who warned that Libya was a country riven with tribal loyalties, divided between Benghazi and Tripoli and prone to extreme Islam have so far not been proven correct. This revolution was not about extreme Islamism; al-Qaeda played no part in it. It was about people yearning for a voice and job, and it is our duty to get behind them and help them to build that new country.
As the Prime Minister has suggested, some of the rebels have an al-Qaeda past. We all want good relations with the new Libya, but does he agree that it is important that the House has as much information as possible about the history of those who are now assuming positions of power, so that we know exactly who we are dealing with?
Of course that information is valuable and, as I have said, we should not be naive and think we are dealing with just one type of people; we are dealing with all sorts of different people. Encouraging people who have a strong belief in the Muslim faith into a democratic role, rather than a violent role, is the right approach. Obviously, there are concerns about where that can lead, but when we look at a country such as Turkey, whose Government have some pedigree out of Muslim politics, we see that that can be compatible with a very successful democracy.
The international community has come to the conclusion that the Assad regime in Syria has become an illegitimate regime, and Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Jordan have withdrawn their ambassadors from Syria. How far away are we from reaching that conclusion?
I think we should act with others, and in a way that maximises our influence. What has happened among Arab countries, including their progressive recognition that Assad is illegitimate and cannot now take his country forward, is very important, but we still have not got to a position where there is unanimity about that across the Arab world, or indeed in the United Nations itself.
Although Libya is the second richest African nation in terms of gross domestic product per capita, it suffers from unemployment rates in excess of 30%. Will the Prime Minister tell us how the international community will be able to help the new Libyan Government to develop a more knowledge-based economy and to increase Libya’s share of trade with the European Union and its other major trading partners?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. We are trying to change the entire European neighbourhood policy to make it much more about market access and trade, and in some ways we have been successful. If those north African countries traded as much with each other and with the EU as European countries do, they would have far higher levels of GDP and much more balanced economies. The exciting thing about Libya is that, because of its oil wealth and its relative size, it can be an economic success story. For too many countries, oil has been a curse rather than a blessing, but Libya has this opportunity to make a new start and to put those oil revenues to good use.
The Prime Minister has indicated that the British Government is planning to play a role in the vital training of the new military forces of the new Libyan Government. Will the resources allocated to this task be greater or less than those allocated by the previous Labour Government in the training of Colonel Gaddafi’s forces, which enabled him better to repress his own people?
That is an ingenious question. The point is that we should wait and see what it is the Libyans want us to do. We clearly have strong capabilities in the training of armed forces and police forces, in advising on having an independent judiciary and the like, and I believe we should make these available and see what the Libyans want. Training the police forces of other countries is a difficult issue. In getting into it, one is often accused of helping a regime that might not be perfect in every sense, but if we do not do it, we lose the opportunity to explain some of the finer points of independent policing and respect for human rights. This is a very difficult issue that we have not yet got right.
The Prime Minister rightly emphasised that President Assad of Syria has lost all legitimacy, that he should stand aside and that the violence must end. At the same time, the Prime Minister recognises that there is not yet the degree of international agreement necessary to give effect to those expressions of intent. Will he tell us more about what he and his Government are doing to try to build international agreement to the level where it becomes possible to force President Assad to pay attention to what the right hon. Gentleman described in respect of Libya as the moral imperative of stopping the slaughter of civilians?
The answer to the right hon. Gentleman is that it is a series of permanent conversations, particularly those that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is having. At the European level, there is a high degree of unity—in some ways, I think the EU has led the way, particularly with the oil embargo—but we also need to have, and are having, strong discussions with the permanent members of the Security Council. The right hon. Gentleman’s hon. Friend Chris Bryant mentioned Russia, which I shall be visiting soon. We also need discussions with the non-permanent members like South Africa and others, and more widely, including with the Arab League, so that we build international support. There is no substitute for a lot of hard work and diplomacy to try to build the strongest possible coalition.
My right hon. Friend’s actions, saving many lives in Libya, have been totally vindicated. So that the National Transitional Council is not overwhelmed with offers of help, who will take the lead in reconstruction in Libya and precisely what role will this country play?
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for what he said. The key is building up—and my right hon. Friend the International Development Secretary has been key to this—a Libyan-led and Libyan-owned plan for transition. It is Libya’s plan—we have assisted and helped to co-ordinate, but it is the Libyans’ plan; others can then slot into it. It has been interesting to hear what they want—not always the things that one might expect. The biggest single demand made in Paris was for temporary classrooms, because so many schools had been used by Gaddafi’s forces, and for some temporary housing. We will fit into these requests, but it is a Libyan-led plan.
I understand that it is indeed early days for the new Libya, but will the Prime Minister say a little more about the discussions about unfreezing assets? While there is justifiably a need and an urgency to distribute these assets, there are also some concerns about whether they will go to the correct places and whether the concerns expressed around the Chamber will come to fruition, as they might be affected by these assets. Will the Prime Minister say a little more about the discussions so far?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. What we are doing at the moment is taking through parts of unfreezing assets on an ad hoc basis through the UN Security Council. We were able to unfreeze the Libyan dinars printed by De La Rue in this country, and we can now distribute them back to the Libyan people. As for making sure that they are properly received, as I said in my statement there should be a proper accounting and transparency initiative in Libya. As for a more general asset release, we need a new UN resolution, and we are pushing for it, but we do not want to lose what we have at the moment, which is a
UN resolution that enables the NATO mission to go on protecting civilians. It is a balance: we want to get both those things so that the assets can be unfrozen more broadly.
The last Government consistently told us that the whole reason for working more closely with Libya was the agreement reached in 2003 on weapons of mass destruction. Following the collapse of the Gaddafi regime, we now see that Gaddafi kept hardly any part of that agreement. He hoarded massive stocks of chemical weapons in order continually to brutalise and ignore human rights. Does the Prime Minister not think it rather odd that the last Government knew that all along, but for eight years continued to increase co-operation with the Libyans?
That is an important point. Hopefully, with a new Government in Libya, we shall be able to see how much of the agreement over weapons of mass destruction was kept. It is concerning that there are still large supplies of unweaponised mustard gas, on which the international community and, now, the NTC must keep a close eye, but, as I have said, when the new Government get their feet under the table, we may find out more.
Glapwell Contracting Services in my constituency was in the process of completing a contract with the Libyan oil industry when the uprising started. The failure of that contract to reach completion caused significant financial problems for the company, and it has taken me more than two months to get the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to respond to me. Can the Prime Minister tell me whether he will be able to secure any support for the British businesses that are in the middle of contracts with Libya, and what weight he will be able to put behind that?
The hon. Gentleman has raised an important point. I think it will help that not only do we now have a mission in Benghazi, but our ambassador will be becoming established in Tripoli. There will be full support for that, and companies such as the one that the hon. Gentleman represents in his constituency will be able to contact the embassy, which will be able to help with the contract.
I commend the Prime Minister for his leadership throughout this episode, but may I press him on the issue of cost? What is the latest Treasury estimate of the cost of British intervention in Libya? Given that some $15 billion of assets are about to be unfrozen, given that Libya is an oil-rich nation, and given that the Arab League wanted us to become involved, surely it is not unreasonable to ask for at least a contribution to the cost that the British taxpayer incurred in freeing the country.
That is an entirely reasonable point. So far the cost of our contribution to operations has been £120 million. The cost of spent munitions is in excess of that figure—I think around £140 million. Clearly Britain has spent money to help the Libyan people to free themselves, and, as my hon. Friend says, Libya is a wealthy country. We have had not had conversations about that to date, but I am sure that those are matters we can take into account for the future.
My hon. Friend has made the important point that this would not have happened without the Libyan people. They took the initiative, although we were able to help them. I think it important to the future development of the country for young Libyans in the future to learn about the incredibly heroic things that their fathers and grandfathers did. This was something that the Libyans did for themselves rather than our doing it for them, and—in terms of their history, their pride, and what I hope they will build in their country—that will be fantastically important for the future.
Bearing in mind the widespread media interest in the whereabouts of Musa Kusa, can the Prime Minister confirm that he is still in the United Kingdom? If Musa Kusa is not in the United Kingdom, what part did the Prime Minister play in letting him leave, and how can our intelligence services be expected to debrief him properly?
I believe that Musa Kusa is currently in Doha, where he has spent quite a lot of time, but I understand that he is co-operating fully with the police inquiry and has been questioned by the police. No special or sweetheart deals were done in respect of Musa Kusa, and, as I have said, I hope that the police investigation will continue.
The act of surrendering is probably the most dangerous thing that a combatant has to do. How can we encourage the forces of the NTC to act within the rules of war, and specifically within the Geneva convention? If they do, the remnants of Gaddafi’s forces will be encouraged to surrender more quickly, and there will be less loss of life.
My hon. Friend speaks with great knowledge of this matter, and he is right to make that point. I have been impressed by the fact that the Free Libya Forces have extended the deadline for Gaddafi forces to surrender. Of course, there have been reports of abuse on all sides, although the Gaddafi war crimes put everything else into perspective. On the whole, however, it has been remarkable how the Free Libya forces have tried to behave properly and to integrate people who want to give up and reconcile.
May I congratulate the Prime Minister on his work in going to the UN before any military action was taken in Libya? I reiterate to him that a constituent of mine fled Libya. They were full of nothing but praise. They were from Benghazi and, having been a British citizen originally, they were in fear of their life following the threats that Gaddafi made.
Will my right hon. Friend assure the House and the country that the Government’s policy will continue to be that no military action will take place anywhere in the world unless it is through the UN or NATO? Will he bear that in mind when recent reports from the US about the possible nuclear aspirations of Iran come into the debate?
I hear absolutely what my hon. Friend says, but I do not think that I can entirely give that assurance. I think it is important that Britain is able to act in self-defence, and sometimes there is not time to go to the UN or NATO, so I do not believe in giving that sort of assurance. On this issue, however, I think it was right to go to the UN, right to act with allies and right to bring together Arab partners to work with us. At all times, one should try to build the broadest alliances.
I am delighted to do that. As I say, the Tornado performed magnificently in the skies above Libya, but the Typhoon did, too. That is a tribute to the pilots, the ground staff and ground crew, but also to all those involved in manufacturing and maintaining that aircraft. Touching the wood of the Dispatch Box, I think that those airplanes and their crews have performed very well.
I too congratulate the Prime Minister on leading the international effort in Libya. May I say that it is rather refreshing finally to have a Prime Minister who leads from the front? Will he give us a few more details on the humanitarian aid that Britain and the international community are providing and are planning to provide, which will be incredibly important in the days, weeks and months ahead?
I am happy to do that. We have helped through the ICRC to provide medical assistance to 5,000 people. We have provided food for, I believe, around 700,000 people. We are working with others to provide water as well. On the humanitarian situation, we have always been ready to do more. The planning carried out by the Department for International Development has been first class. The needs have not always been as great as predicted, because the Libyans have responded themselves relatively rapidly to deal with shortages and problems.
A lot of lessons have been learned, such as not helping the sons of dictators with their university coursework, but one of the key elements of the success has been the role of the Arab League, particularly the role played by nations such as Qatar with their special forces. Will the Prime Minister implore the Arab League to take strong action and to condemn what is happening in Syria?
Arab League. The role that the Emiratis, the Qataris and the Jordanians played made a lot of these things possible. We should also reassess how we work with those countries and what more we can do in training and working together, because that has been very successful on this occasion.
I join colleagues who have praised the military effort and the clarity of the Prime Minister’s purpose. He is of course right to say that this was a Libyan civil uprising and a Libyan triumph, but does he agree that one of the consequences of the international action in the civil uprising was that many more civilian lives were saved than might have otherwise been so? The fact that the international community was prepared to take a role shows other countries where there are aspirant democracies against dictators that we will play an appropriate role if required.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he says. I hope that dictators throughout the world will have taken note of what has happened and recognise that the long arm of international law can have, as I put it earlier, a long reach and a long memory. I also pay tribute to our armed forces and all those responsible for targeting for the huge work that was done to try to avoid civilian casualties and to avoid damaging civilian infrastructure. One of the reasons that parts of Libya are getting back to work, I hope relatively quickly, is that a lot of the civilian infrastructure was left untouched.
I too congratulate the Prime Minister both on his role throughout this conflict and the cautious way forward he has charted. Does he agree that Israel falling out with its old ally Turkey shortly after the awful border problems with Egypt is not making life any easier for the moderate voices in the Arab League and those who want to move the region forward?
My hon. Friend is entirely right. We need to encourage Israel to work with all its moderate friends and allies for a safe and secure future, and obviously that is more difficult when relations between Israel and Turkey are more challenged.
I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance. That is why I raised the case personally with Prime Minister Jibril at the Paris conference. I would just say that I think it is important that we allow this new Government to get their feet under the table in
Tripoli before pressing the case a huge amount further. This is a police investigation too, and I would urge the Metropolitan police to do what they can to push the investigation forward and work with the new Libyan authorities.
As my right hon. Friend will be aware, and as we have heard this afternoon, a number of businesses, including some in my constituency, have been seriously adversely affected by the conflict in Libya, leaving them with large unpaid bills. Will he agree to do all he can, through whatever reasonable channels there are, to put pressure on the NTC to pay those bills as soon as possible, to protect British jobs and companies—and perhaps also work in future with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to put in place a system that protects companies that do business in some of these more volatile countries?
Obviously, the Government cannot stand behind every contract that every individual firm enters into anywhere in the world, but I completely understand why my hon. Friend feels strongly on behalf of his constituents, and that is why we have embassies around the world, and why we will now have a new ambassador in Tripoli, Dominic Asquith, and a new team around him that will be able to make progress on all such issues that hon. Members raise.
I agree with the Prime Minister that we should not rush to judgment on some of these issues, but does he agree that it is at least questionable for the last Government to have sent UK police officers to Libya to train Gaddafi’s forces when those responsible for WPC Fletcher’s murder were still at large?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Let me say again that I think it was right to re-form a relationship with Libya when it gave up weapons of mass destruction, but we had to do that in the right way, and I do not believe we made enough progress on issues such as the murder of Yvonne Fletcher, and I also do not think that the al-Megrahi case was handled in the right way.
I have a feeling that if they invited him again, they might treat him rather differently this time. As I have said: it is right to have a new relationship but wrong to be quite so gullible in how that was carried out—and, for all the reasons that have been given, I also think that helping to complete PhD theses is probably not a role Ministers should enter into in respect of other countries.