Libya and the Middle East — Statement

– in the House of Lords at 5:32 pm on 28th February 2011.

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Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster 5:32 pm, 28th February 2011

My Lords, this might be a convenient moment for me to repeat a Statement that was made in another place by the Prime Minister earlier this afternoon. The Statement is as follows.

"Mr Speaker, I would like to update the House on the evacuation of British nationals from Libya, the actions that we are now pursuing against Colonel Gaddafi and his administration and developments in the wider region.

We have been working intensively to get our people out. As of now, we have successfully removed around 600 British nationals from Libya. The evacuation has centred on three locations: Tripoli airport, the port at Benghazi and the desert oil fields. At Tripoli airport, a series of six aircraft organised by the Foreign Office and an RAF C130 Hercules flight have brought out more than 380 British nationals and a similar number of foreign citizens. At Benghazi, HMS 'Cumberland' has carried out two evacuations from the port, taking out 119 British nationals and 303 foreign citizens. The first of these evacuations took place in very difficult sea conditions. The second arrived in Malta earlier today. These evacuations were assisted on the ground by five rapid deployment teams. In total nearly 30 extra staff from the Foreign Office helped marshal British citizens in the midst of chaotic scenes in and around the airports and ports.

The most challenging part of the evacuation has, of course, involved those British nationals scattered across over 20 different locations in the oil fields deep in the desert. On Friday evening, I authorized a military operation to bring as many as possible out of the desert. On Saturday, two RAF C130 aircraft flew into the eastern desert and picked up 74 British nationals and 102 foreign nationals at three different locations. A second mission took place yesterday, bringing out a further 21 British nationals and 168 foreign nationals. On the second mission, one of the aircraft involved suffered minor damage from small arms fire. This underlines the challenging environment in which the aircraft were operating.

Indeed, Britain has taken on a leading role in co-ordinating the international evacuation effort. Our AWACS aircraft are directing international aircraft involved. Brigadier Bashall, who is commanding the operation, has established a temporary joint headquarters in Malta. I have thanked the Maltese Prime Minister personally on behalf of the country. Not for the first time in our history we must pay tribute to Malta and her people. In terms of numbers of British citizens remaining in Libya, this is, of course, difficult to ascertain precisely given the situation on the ground. Many of them will be dual nationals and not all of them will want to leave. I asked for urgent work to be done on accurate numbers in both categories: those who wish to leave and those who currently do not. Our current indications are that, as of today, there are fewer than 150 British citizens remaining in Libya, of which only a very small proportion wish to leave. Clearly this can change at any time. We will keep the House regularly updated.

We will continue to do all we can to ensure that those who wish to leave can do so. HMS 'Cumberland' will remain in the area, together with HMS 'York', which also stands ready off Tripoli to assist. We have military aircraft, including C130s and a 146, in Malta ready to fly in at very short notice. The Government will continue to focus on making sure our citizens are safe. COBRA has met regularly to co-ordinate the effort and I personally chaired three meetings over the weekend. The National Security Council is looking at the overall strategic picture, meeting last Friday and again today, not least to look at other risks to British citizens in the wider region. As I said last week, there will be lessons we will wish to learn from this evacuation, including in respect of the hiring of charter aircraft, use of defence assets and the need for greater redundancy.

Clearly an important decision was when to extract the embassy. This was taken at the COBRA meeting on Friday and carried out on Saturday after the remaining civilians had been extracted from Tripoli airport in parallel with the start of desert operations, which were of course planned from Malta. Our judgment throughout has been that the risk to British citizens has been growing. The Americans, French and Germans have similarly suspended the operations of their embassies. Britain also retains a consul in Tripoli and a consular warden in Benghazi. We have arranged that Turkey, which still has several thousand of its own citizens in Libya, will look after British interests while our embassy's operations remain suspended.

I am sure that the whole House will want to put on record its thanks to all those who have made the rescue effort possible, to the skill of the RAF pilots, to all those involved from all three armed services, to our diplomatic service and to all those who put themselves in harm's way to help our people leave safely.

Let me turn to the pressure we are now putting on the Gaddafi regime. We should be clear. For the future of Libya and its people, Colonel Gaddafi's regime must end and he must leave. To that end we are taking every step possible to isolate the Gaddafi regime, deprive it of money, shrink its power and ensure that anyone responsible for abuses in Libya will be held to account.

With respect to all these actions, Britain is taking a lead. Over the weekend, we secured agreement for a UN Security Council resolution, which we had drafted and which is unusually strong, unanimous and includes all of our proposals. It condemns Gaddafi's actions, and imposes a travel ban and assets freeze on those at the top of his murderous regime. It demands an immediate end to the violence and the killing of protesters, access for international human rights monitors, the lifting of restrictions on the internet and media, an end to the intimidation and detention of journalists and refers Libya's current leaders to the International Criminal Court to face the justice they deserve.

We were also the driving force behind a special session of the UN Human Rights Council on Friday, which started work to eject Libya from the council; and the Foreign Secretary is in Geneva today along with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to see this work through. With our European partners, we have today secured agreement on freezing the assets of a wider group of individuals, banning them from entering the European Union and also imposing a wider arms embargo on the Libyan regime. Britain is also leading in implementing these direct measures against the regime.

I can tell the House today that here in the UK a special Privy Council session was held yesterday as a result of which we have now frozen the assets of Gaddafi, five of his family members, people acting for them or on their behalf and entities that are owned or controlled by them. The Treasury has stepped in to block a shipment of some £900 million in banknotes destined for Libya. The Government have revoked Colonel Gaddafi's immunity as a head of state and neither he nor his family may freely enter the UK any more. We have also revoked the visas of a number of Libyans linked to the regime who are now on immigration watch lists.

We will look at each and every way of stepping up pressure on this regime, including further isolation of the regime by expelling it from international organisations and further use of asset freezes and travel bans to give the clearest possible message to those on the fringes of the regime that now is the time to desert it. We do not in any way rule out the use of military assets. We must not tolerate this regime using military force against its own people. In that context, I have asked the Ministry of Defence and the Chief of the Defence Staff to work with our allies on plans for a military no-fly zone. It is clear that this is an illegitimate regime that has lost the consent of its people. My message to Colonel Gaddafi is simple: go now.

Everyone hopes this situation will be resolved quickly but there is a real danger now of a humanitarian crisis inside Libya. We are acutely conscious of the risks of shortages and are monitoring the situation closely. We have dispatched technical teams to be in place at both the Tunisian and Egyptian borders. Currently the most pressing need is assisting the large numbers of migrant workers into Egypt and Tunisia to get home. Tomorrow, in response to a request from the UN, Britain will fly in tents and blankets from our stocks in Dubai for use at the Tunisian border. The International Development Secretary will be visiting the region later this week to assess the situation on the ground for himself.

North Africa and the wider Middle East are now at the epicentre of momentous events. History is sweeping through this region. Yes, we must deal with the immediate consequences, especially for British citizens caught up in these developments, but we must also be clear about what these developments mean and how Britain and the West in general should respond. In many parts of the Arab world, hopes and aspirations which have been smothered for decades are stirring. People, especially young people, are seeking their rights, and in the vast majority of cases they are doing so peacefully and bravely. The parallels with what happened in Europe in 1989 are not, of course, precise, but there is no doubt that many of those who are demanding change in the wider Middle East can take inspiration from other peaceful movements for change, including the velvet revolutions in central and eastern Europe or the peaceful transition to democracy in Muslim countries like Indonesia. Of course there have been many disappointments in the past, but those of us who believe in democracy and open societies should be clear: this is a precious moment of opportunity.

While it is not for us to dictate how each country should meet the aspirations of its people, we must not remain silent in our belief that freedom and the rule of law are what best guarantee human progress and economic success. Freedom of expression, a free press, freedom of assembly, the right to demonstrate peacefully-these are basic rights, and they are as much the rights of people in Tahrir Square as Trafalgar Square. They are not British or western values but the values of human beings everywhere; so we need to take this opportunity to look again at our entire relationship with this region, at the billions of euros of EU funds, at our trade relationship and at our cultural ties. We need to be much clearer and tougher in linking our development assistance to real progress in promoting more open and plural societies, and we need to dispense once and for all with the outdated notion that democracy has no place in the Arab world.

Too often in the past, we have made a false choice between so-called stability on the one hand and reform and openness on the other. As recent events have confirmed, denying people their basic rights does not preserve stability, rather the reverse. We should be clear too that now is not the time to park the Middle East peace process, quite the opposite. This is a problem that is long overdue for resolution, and we should use developments in the region to drive forward progress, not hold it up. In short, reform, not repression, is the way to lasting stability. No one pretends that democracy and open societies can be built overnight. Democracy is the work of patient craftsmanship, and it takes time, as we know from our own history, to put its building blocks in place. What is happening in the wider Middle East is one of those once in a generation opportunities, a moment when history turns a page. That next page is not yet written. It falls to all of us to seize this chance to fashion a better future for this region, to build a better relationship between our peoples and to make a new start. As the inspiring opposition leaders I met in Tahrir Square said to me last week, 'we now have the opportunity of achieving freedoms that you in Britain take for granted'. I am determined that Britain will not let them down, and I commend this Statement to the House".

Photo of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Shadow Leader of the House of Lords, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow Spokesperson (Northern Ireland) 5:47 pm, 28th February 2011

My Lords, I thank the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement on Libya and the Middle East made by the Prime Minister. I should like to ask him about four areas-the immediate safety of British nationals, the future of the Libyan regime, the wider Middle East, and the lessons learnt from this crisis. First, however, I should like to join the Leader in expressing the deep and abiding gratitude of this side of the House to the members of the British Armed Forces, who have succeeded, with such extraordinary courage and professionalism, in evacuating so many of our own citizens, and those of many other countries, from Libya over the past week. These brave men and women are a credit to our nation. I also add my thanks to the Foreign Office staff on the ground in Libya for their efforts.

Our first concern must always be the safety of our own people. For obvious operational and security reasons, I would not expect the Leader to discuss any future operations; but can he assure the House that all contingencies continue to be looked at in relation to any remaining UK citizens stranded against their will? Given the closure of the British embassy on Saturday, can he reassure us that everything is still being done to keep in close contact with those citizens who remain and tell us what means of communication are available to them?

On the question of Libya's political future, I think that the whole House will endorse the view, publicly expressed by the Prime Minister today, that the only acceptable future is one without Colonel Gaddafi and his regime. We welcome what the Leader of the House says about a possible no-fly zone. We also welcome the international isolation of Colonel Gaddafi expressed in UN Security Council Resolution 1970, including sanctions, an arms embargo and a decision to refer the killing of protestors to the International Criminal Court. The resolution imposes travel bans for 17 Gaddafi loyalists and asset freezes on six of those individuals. Do the Government think that the asset freezes go wide enough in covering all those beyond Colonel Gaddafi's immediate family who have made the decision to stand with him? Will the Government make full use of the provision in paragraph 23 of the resolution to nominate additional regime members who should be targeted by travel bans and asset freezes?

On the human rights situation, there is clearly a growing humanitarian crisis on the Tunisian and Egyptian borders. On these Benches, we welcome the Statement's points on British action to help the humanitarian assistance to displaced migrant workers, and we look forward to the report later this week on the visit of the International Development Secretary. I understand that one of the most pressing needs identified by the Tunisian Government is transport for displaced workers from Libya who wish to return to their own country. May I ask the Leader of the House to draw this to the attention of the Secretary of State for International Development for his consideration during his visit to the region this week?

I turn to events beyond Libya, in the wider region. The events now unfolding across the Middle East are as significant as the revolutions that liberated eastern Europe in 1989, as the Statement says. Our response to them needs to be equally ambitious. There is a popular will in many of these countries for democratic reform. This movement is in line with the values that we share, and the stability promised by the undemocratic regimes in many cases has turned out to be hollow. Does the Leader of the House therefore agree that there must be no question but that our hopes-indeed, our interests-lie unequivocally with those demanding economic and political reform?

Does the Leader agree that we need to build a strategic response, including closer economic ties, support for civil society and institution building? However, does he agree that, in order to do so, we have to embrace closer contact with civil society, including academic institutions and non-governmental organisations committed to building a democratic future for their citizens? In respect of that aim, does he agree that full support should be given to the work of bodies such as the British Council and the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, both of which have carried out important work in this area over the past few years?

Does the Leader concede that while there is much that we can and should do bilaterally, real progress will require sustained will and effort at a multilateral level, including via the European Union? Can he tell the House whether the negotiations for an EU-Libya association agreement on both free trade and human rights have been suspended? Libya is a member of both the Arab League and the African Union. Can the Leader say what efforts the Government have made with the countries of both organisations to bring pressure to bear on the current Libyan Government against the violence that we have seen? Does he also agree with these Benches that it would be a tragedy if in this moment of change the opportunity was not grasped to make progress on the issue of Israel/Palestine? I therefore give the support of these Benches to the Government's calls for the rapid resumption of talks between Israel and the Palestinians, and to the Government's decision to support the recent UN Security Council resolution on these settlements. Can he say what steps the UK will now be taking to get negotiations moving again? On the question of arms sales, can the Leader confirm that the Government will work with EU partners to strengthen the guidelines and their operation?

Finally, I should like to ask about the lessons to be learnt from the immediate crisis response during the past week. Many Members of your Lordships' House, on all Benches, have in recent days either been aware of or had close experience of people who have been deeply anxious about family members, friends, colleagues or others stranded in Libya. I add our thanks to those expressed by the Prime Minister to the Maltese Prime Minister for the evacuation of British nationals and everything else that he is doing to assist. However, does the Leader accept that the Foreign Office should have done more, as other countries did, to ensure that planes were on the ground in Libya on Tuesday, rather than late on Wednesday night, to evacuate our citizens? Can he explain why this happened? Given the scale of the emergency and the transparent need for co-ordination across government, do the Government now agree that the emergency committee, COBRA, should have been convened earlier than Thursday? Can he explain why this did not happen? Can he also share with the House the wider lessons that have been learnt on the Benches opposite about the running of the Government?

I think that the whole country has now, thankfully, seen the scale of response that can be mobilised to help our citizens, and we are grateful. However, can the Government promise that British nationals abroad in future will not be let down as they were by the chaos and incompetence of early last week?

The Statement mentions the crucial role played by HMS "Cumberland" in the evacuation of British and foreign nationals. I was in Plymouth myself on Saturday and the citizens in Plymouth were immensely proud of what that ship was doing. Can the Leader give the House a clear assurance that the defence cuts currently planned will not in future preclude such vital rescue tasks for our citizens caught up in violence overseas?

Is the Leader satisfied with the way in which the warden system has worked? There have been reports that some of those working in the oilfields have found it very difficult-for some, impossible-to make contact with our consuls or with the embassy. I would welcome the opportunity to raise one or two of these issues later with the Leader of the House on Privy Council terms, if he thought it were appropriate.

These are questions which need to be the subject of thorough investigation and consideration. Given the volatile nature of the position, not just in Libya, but throughout the region, this needs to be carried out rapidly. We all hope that the levels of violence that we have seen in Libya will not be repeated there or elsewhere in the region, but there are signs of unrest in other countries in the area. British nationals working and living in the region need to be confident that their Government and their country have both the capacity and the will to assist them, including bringing them home safely should the need to do so arise.

Finally, will the Leader give a commitment to this House that when these inquiries and considerations are completed, he will come back to your Lordships' House to report on both the findings and the lessons learnt for the future?

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster 5:55 pm, 28th February 2011

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her response, and I am largely in agreement with much of what she said. I will try to answer the questions that she raised, and I will write to her about those that I do not manage to deal with this afternoon. I thank her for the tribute that she gave to the Armed Forces and others who have worked immensely hard during these difficult few days, including those in the FCO.

The safety of UK citizens is paramount to the Government, as the noble Baroness would expect. She asked specifically, since the embassy has closed, about the steps that we are taking to keep in touch with those who are in the country. We are working hard to keep in touch with them, and we are reviewing various options to assist those who wish to leave. However, as the noble Baroness herself pointed out quite rightly, it would be inappropriate for me to speculate on what those options might be or to go into the detail of potential operations. Technology certainly exists in a number of ways for British nationals in Libya to contact the Government. There are phone lines that are manned 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. There is, of course, Skype, and there is an efficient tweeting system to send information out to people who would like to be kept informed.

The noble Baroness raised the issue of the Security Council resolution. I agree with her that this was an extremely important resolution, one which I believe will make a substantial difference. She asked whether the asset freeze goes far enough and whether we would seek to extend it. The answer to that is yes; if we felt that it was necessary to do so, then we would. It is very important that this asset freeze is seen to be as effective as possible so as to maximise the pressure on the leadership in Libya, who need to understand that the rest of the civilised world will not put up with the kind of internal violence that we have seen over the past few days.

I very much welcome the visit of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development, who hopes to visit the area later on this week. Of course we will report back to Parliament on his visit.

The displaced migrant workers leaving Libya and seeking to find their own way home are another important issue. I know that the department is well aware of it and that substantial groups of officials are at the border posts offering advice to try to get them home.

The noble Baroness asked about the significance of the wider issues. Nobody seeing this extraordinary, rapid development throughout north Africa over the past few weeks can fail to be amazed at the speed and the comprehensive nature of the changes taking place. Of course we need to have a strategic response, and we need a response at almost every level, as the noble Baroness pointed out, including with elements of civil society in these countries. I am glad to say that we have made wide-ranging contacts with civil society. We have always had them to some extent, and rightly so. The Foreign Secretary met some of these contacts on his recent visit to the region earlier this month, as well as meeting British Council colleagues who play such an important part in all of this.

We also look to other countries and other multinational bodies to exert influence and pressure on what remains of the Libyan Government. We should leave no stone unturned in making the Libyan Government understand that the best way forward for them is to leave office and to hand it over as peacefully as possible.

The noble Baroness finished with one or two comments about the role of the Foreign Office. Having looked at what has been done, I do not share the view that the Foreign Office should have done very much more very much more quickly. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has long been a member of the Non-combatant Evacuations Operations-a planning group which is run by the MoD and the structure that led the joint planning for the mixed evacuation in Libya. Every crisis is different. Libya is different from Egypt and both are different from the 2006 evacuation from Lebanon. The NEO model is a flexible response to that reality.

We put a consular rapid deployment team into Tripoli on Tuesday, 22 February to assist with the evacuation. We also deployed five rapid deployment teams totalling nearly 30 extra staff from the FCO. Those are the people who have done such a magnificent job in getting British nationals on planes in the horrific and dangerous circumstances at the airport. The Australian team arrived on Friday and the Canadians on Tuesday from Egypt. In any action of this kind-in any mission that comes out of nowhere-there are always lessons to be learnt. There will be a review and we will have to learn whatever lessons there are. But I am confident that the FCO reacted quickly and was prepared for this. One of the signs of that was the relative success of the operation that took place.

Photo of Baroness Falkner of Margravine Baroness Falkner of Margravine Liberal Democrat 6:02 pm, 28th February 2011

My Lords, from these Benches, I share in the tributes that have been paid to our Diplomatic Service and armed services in helping to evacuate our citizens. Several noble Lords want to speak and I will be brief.

I congratulate the Prime Minister on securing Resolution 1970 through the Security Council. Do the Government see it in the context of the broader responsibility to protect? I speak specifically about the sentiments in the Statement about the no-fly zone. Will my noble friend reassure us that preparations are advancing? We know from the barbarous nature of this regime that we may well have to intervene on the responsibility to protect to take those minimal measures implied in a no-fly zone. I wonder whether we will be prepared to do that as part of a framework outside of the UN Security Council if we are not able to achieve agreement there.

On the broader sentiments on democracy, this is such a significant Statement from a UK Government: I do not believe that I have seen one in my 25 years of trying to think about democracy in the Middle East. Will my noble friend reassure us that with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and through all the other work that the Government will do with civil society institutions they will bear in mind that women in the Middle East, as elsewhere, comprise the majority of the citizens of that region? They have for far too long not had a voice in the governance of the region. Will this Government be steadfast in ensuring that women's voices are heard in the reform process going forward?

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her comments. On the no-fly zone, there are no details at present and there will not be until we have had discussions with various allies about the feasibility and speed with which it can be put up and about compliance with other international organisations to make sure that everything we do is entirely legal. But the preparations continue, and it is important that they should.

On the organisations that support democracy such as the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, I can confirm that in the current year the budget has been increased. There is nothing I can possibly add to what my noble friend said about the importance of women in politics, particularly in some of these countries. It is self-evidently true.

Photo of Lord Lloyd of Berwick Lord Lloyd of Berwick Chair, Ecclesiastical Committee (Joint Committee)

My Lords, the Leader of the House referred to the Government having revoked Colonel Gaddafi's immunity as head of state. Can he tell us a little more about how that has been done? Will the revocation operate retrospectively and have any other Governments taken the same step? It sounds like a sound step if it can be done and perhaps other Governments should be encouraged to do the same.

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

My Lords, it has been done. I gather that it is a matter of state action that any Government can choose to take and the Government have so chosen. I understand that other countries have done something similar, but I cannot name which ones. As for the action being retrospective, I am not sure that it is important that it should be retrospective, but the noble and learned Lord may have been making a clever legal point that at the moment I have missed.

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

I am glad to see that the noble and learned Lord said no.

Again, it is part of putting pressure on the regime and senior supporters of the regime including looking at the role of the International Criminal Court. It should complete its investigations so that we can bring this truly appalling situation to an end as quickly as possible.

Photo of Baroness Liddell of Coatdyke Baroness Liddell of Coatdyke Labour

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for repeating the Statement from the Prime Minister and I am glad that the opportunity will be taken to learn lessons from the procedures, particularly around the evacuation. If one contrasts the evacuation from Libya with the evacuation just a couple of years ago from Lebanon, it was at a much slower pace. However, I have a much more mundane, long-term question. For the courageous young people that we have seen throughout the region to reach their aspirations, there will have to be a sound economy throughout that region. With the turbulence surrounding events of the past couple of weeks, we have seen oil prices rising to $120 a barrel. That has a direct impact on this economy and on the fragile economies of the developing world.

I am aware that the structures exist to bring together oil producers and consumers both within and outwith OPEC to discuss the operation of oil markets. Will the Leader of the House indicate whether there has been an opportunity to begin those discussions? If we do not secure stability in oil markets in the Middle East, many of these courageous young people will experience continuing poverty, and such poverty of aspiration is what brought them onto the streets in the first place.

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

My Lords, the noble Baroness did not ask a mundane question. It is a crucial one and goes to the heart of how the situation will develop possibly over the next few months but certainly over the course of the next few years. The key is about the economy in these countries. As the noble Baroness pointed out, a lot of that is dependent on the price of oil and how it is managed. The second part of her question was about the role of young people, the proportion of whom as a population appears to be far greater in some of these countries than in Europe.

To the specific question on whether discussions are ongoing with oil producers, particularly OPEC, the answer is yes, and they will continue. There are no easy answers to what the noble Baroness called her mundane question, but we are very much aware of them. The decisions, depending on how events pan out over the next few weeks, will have a great bearing on the success of the north African economy over the next few years.

Photo of Baroness Morris of Bolton Baroness Morris of Bolton Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

I thank my noble friend for repeating the Statement. I am delighted that the Prime Minister visited Tahrir Square and leaders of the opposition in Egypt last week. While it is absolutely right that the peoples of the Middle East should determine their own futures, we have a lot to offer in institution-building and in developing the concept of stable and effective opposition. I am delighted that my noble friend said that the Westminster Foundation for Democracy will receive funding and that the British Council and others will be encouraged to work with civil society. However, there are a number of opposition leaders in Arab countries who have not had the luxury of being able to travel here and who would like to come to visit different political parties and institutions. Will my noble friend do all that he can to facilitate that as quickly as possible? That has to be in all of our interests.

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend Lady Morris. She is right when she talks about institution-building and the role that we can play. That includes looking at the experience post-1989 and the building of democracy in central and eastern Europe. Bodies such as the Westminster Foundation for Democracy play a very important part. As I said in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Liddell, it is partly about building these institutions and partly about rebuilding their economies. The two very often go hand in hand, and we should be looking at the two in making sure that we can bring all of this to a successful conclusion.

Photo of Lord Maginnis of Drumglass Lord Maginnis of Drumglass UUP

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for bringing the Statement to the House. I congratulate the Government and our security services on how they have worked effectively together so that this operation has been completed without casualties. I suggest that perhaps the Government would do well to look at their relationship with the press, who appear to have been pre-emptive and working on a minimal amount of information when they evoked the initial criticism of the operation.

It is important that civilian firms employing British civilians overseas keep a proper record of who they employ and where they are employed. If they already do so, was that information available as quickly as it should have been to the Government? I should be grateful if the Minister could answer those two questions. Lastly, this House should and does acknowledge the gratitude due to our Turkish friends and allies, who have once again stepped into the breach to support us at this difficult time.

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

My Lords, perhaps I may say how grateful we are for Turkish help in this developing crisis. They have now taken over the role of representing the United Kingdom in Libya. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, for what he said about the role of the Armed Forces, the Government, and the security services, in this instance. I will not entirely follow him down the route of overly criticising the press, but it is certainly true, in planning these operations, that they are delicate, they need to be kept secret, there are enormously important elements of security, and our very free and open society is open to everyone, including Libyan armed forces. I hope that, over time, people will look back and see this process as having been rather more successful than was perhaps perceived at the end of last week.

The noble Lord asked a totally reasonable question about the amount of information that was made available on the whereabouts of individual employees. We are dealing with an area in the desert which is something like four times the size of the United Kingdom and I understand that some of the information we received was not as good as we would have wanted. No doubt that is one of the lessons we shall all learn.

Photo of Lord Gilbert Lord Gilbert Labour

My Lords, will the Government make sure that any no-fly zone encompasses both rotary-wing and fixed-wing aircraft? This is a very obvious thing which has been overlooked occasionally in the past. I have confidence that Her Majesty's Government have been canvassing friendly countries as to who would wish to join in the enforcement of any no-fly zone. Can the noble Lord tell us how many positive answers he has had-I am not asking him to identify the individual countries-and have those answers come from states that are actually in a position to contribute to the enforcement of a no-fly zone, particularly with respect to possession of the right sort of air assets, attitudes, and all the other ingredients that are necessary to take part in that sort of activity?

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

My Lords, the noble Lord is entirely right, and he should not shrink from stating the obvious, that we should look carefully at whether a no-fly zone should ban both rotary-wing and fixed-wing aircraft. The rest of his questions are entirely fair, but I am not able to help him with them at the moment. Work is ongoing with allies and other multinational organisations to see how a no-fly zone could be best put into effect and policed. Only when the Government have that information available will we be able to make it public.

Photo of Baroness Hussein-Ece Baroness Hussein-Ece Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I thank the Leader of the House very much. This Statement will go a long way and will be welcomed by the many brave people we have seen on our television screens and read about, who are demonstrating and fighting for democracy and for their freedom. I think it is going to improve the reputation of this country tremendously in those places. I should like to ask two questions. First, specifically about the British nationals who are still scattered and missing, or who have not been located, in the oilfields in the desert, what contribution has been made by the oil companies that they work for to help to locate these people and to evacuate their own workers to safety? Presumably they have resources at their disposal to help that effort. Secondly, although I welcome my noble friend's comments and those of the Prime Minister about the outdated notion that democracy has no place in the Arab world, which has clearly been demonstrated now to have been a myth, what lessons have been learnt specifically regarding previous policies and the previous Government's policies in arming and cosying up to dictators who oppress their own people?

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend on the cause, which we have seen on our television screens, of people fighting for freedom and for democracy, but most of all for choice and for change and to remove these old regimes that have oppressed their people for so long. On the first question on UK nationals, I mentioned to the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, some of the role undertaken by UK companies. Generally speaking, there has been a lot of support from UK companies in helping the Government to trace the employees, so that has on the whole been a reasonably good story.

As to the second question about cosying up to dictators, of course I agree with my noble friend. However, successive British Governments cannot always pick and choose the kind of Governments that countries have chosen for themselves or have had imposed on them. At different times, different Governments will work in different ways with all sorts of people, some of whom are deeply unsavoury.

Photo of Lord Craig of Radley Lord Craig of Radley Crossbench

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. He has rightly acknowledged the considerable contribution of the Armed Forces in this, and it is a great regret to me that they were not brought in earlier, as happened with the French and German air forces, which arrived in Tripoli at the beginning of last week.

Bearing in mind that some of the assets used on this occasion are about to be scrapped and that others have already gone that could be used on similar occasions, has not the time come for the Government to consider some quantitative easing of the defence budget?

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

My Lords, I understand exactly why the noble and gallant Lord has asked the question, and the way in which he did so. We believe that, even with the strains on the MoD budget, we still have the capability to carry out the evacuation process that has been carried out over the past few days.

Photo of Lord Davies of Coity Lord Davies of Coity Labour

My Lords, I, too, express appreciation for the Statement made by the Leader of the House, repeating what the Prime Minister said. I am also pleased with the evacuation measures that have been taken. However, early on in this crisis, millions of British people saw the Foreign Secretary on the television saying that Colonel Gaddafi, the tyrant of this issue, was in Venezuela. Have the Government made any assessment of the impact that that incorrect statement has had on the British public?

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

No, my Lords, and I think that it would be impossible to do so.

Photo of Lord Marlesford Lord Marlesford Conservative

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the defection of senior Libyan diplomats from around the world may prove to have been a significant component in the removal of Gaddafi? Furthermore, in the context of the withdrawal of the British diplomatic mission from Tripoli, is there any news on what is happening to the Libyan embassy in London?

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

No, my Lords, there is no news on the embassy in London. But my noble friend is right that the defection of senior Libyan diplomats, particularly at the United Nations, was a signal to many others that this regime had come to an end. That is part of the combined exerted pressure that we wish to see to encourage more defections and bring this regime to an end as quickly as possible.