"Mr Speaker, before turning to discussions at last week's European Council, I am sure the whole House will want to join me in sending our deepest condolences to the Japanese people following the earthquake and tsunami that struck their country over the past few days. We are all deeply shocked and saddened by the devastation that we have seen and by the loss of life, the full scale of which will take many days to comprehend. As yet there are no confirmed British fatalities but we have severe concerns about a number of British nationals. I spoke to our ambassador in Japan who was one of the first to get to the affected region and his team are working around the clock to help British nationals.
Over the weekend, we have had three rapid deployment teams of 20 staff operating in the worst affected areas. They will be augmented by a further team of 17 arriving in Tokyo this afternoon and advancing to the affected area tomorrow. They are working together to help British nationals caught up in the tragedy and to help find out information for the families who are so worried about them. We have set up a helpline for these families. It has taken several thousand calls and we are following up each lead.
We have, of course, offered humanitarian assistance to the Japanese Government and we stand ready to assist in any way that we can. At their request, a 63-strong UK search and rescue team, which includes medical personnel and two dogs, has already been deployed and arrived in Japan yesterday morning.
The whole House will have been concerned at the worrying situation at the nuclear power station at Fukushima. The Japanese Government have said that the emergency cooling system at three reactors at the plant has failed because of the tsunami. There have been explosions due to the release of hydrogen gas at both the Fukushima 1 and Fukushima 3 reactors. This is clearly a fast moving and rapidly changing picture, and the Japanese Government are doing everything that they can to manage the situation they are facing. We are in close touch with the Japanese authorities and have offered our nuclear expertise to help manage this very serious incident.
The Energy Secretary has asked the chief nuclear inspector, Dr. Mike Weightman, for a thorough report on the implications of the situation in Japan. The UK does not have reactors of the design of those in Fukushima and neither does it plan any; nor are we in a seismically sensitive zone. But if there are lessons to learn, we will learn them.
COBRA has met several times over the weekend and again this morning, and we will keep our response to this tragedy and our support for Japan and the wider Pacific region under close and continuous review. The devastation we are witnessing in Japan is of truly colossal proportions. It has been heart-breaking to listen to people who have had all their relatives, friends and livelihoods simply washed away. Those who have survived will not recognise the place where their homes once stood. We do not yet know the full and dreadful toll, nor can anyone truly understand the impact these events will have. Japan and the Japanese people are a resilient and resourceful nation. We have no doubt that they will recover. We will do all we can to aid and assist those affected and our thoughts are with the Japanese people.
Let me turn to the substance of Friday's special European Council. The reason for having this Council was twofold: first, to make sure that Europe seizes this moment of opportunity to support the Arab people in North Africa and across the Middle East in realising their aspirations for a more open and democratic form of government; and secondly, to address the difficult situation in Libya. The Council addressed both of these issues and I will be frank with the House about where progress has been made and what more needs to be done.
The first is supporting the building blocks of democracy in the Arab world. The aim should be a big, bold and comprehensive offer to those countries in our southern neighbourhood that want to move towards becoming more open societies. There was some real success. The Council declaration talks of a "new partnership" founded on,
"broader market access and political co-operation", and with an approach that gears support to those countries where progress is being made in meeting their citizens' aspirations. This could be so much better than the failed approach of the past. But now Europe needs to follow through on its declaration with a real and credible offer to these countries based on the prospects of deeper economic and trade economic integration with the EU, and the free movement of goods, services and investment.
Turning to Libya, it was right for the EU to meet and discuss how we can work together to deal with this crisis. There has been considerable international co-operation on evacuation. We have now got over 600 British nationals out and have assisted over 30 other nationalities. Around 220 British nationals remain in Libya, the overwhelming majority of whom are long-term residents, and many are, of course, dual nationals or the spouses of Libyan nationals. Many of this group have told us they wish to remain in Libya, but a number of other British nationals are now contacting us for the first time. We will stay in contact with these people and continue to assist those who wish to leave.
We have also been at the forefront of the response to the humanitarian situation in Libya and on its borders, but we remain deeply concerned by the humanitarian situation for people inside Libya caught up in the fierce fighting, and the Development Secretary has repeatedly called for the protection of civilians and for unfettered humanitarian access to those in need.
On further isolating the Gaddafi regime, the Council made good progress. Two weeks ago, we put in place a tough UN Security Council resolution and agreed in record time asset freezes, travel bans and an arms embargo, as well as referral to the International Criminal Court. At this Council, all European leaders were united, categorical and crystal clear that Gaddafi must "relinquish power immediately". We widened the restrictive measures against individuals close to Gaddafi and strengthened the financial sanctions on the regime, adding the Libyan central bank and the Libyan Investment Authority to the EU asset-freezing list. In doing so, the UK has increased the total of frozen Libyan assets in this country from £2 billion to £12 billion.
We now need to make clear the next measures in terms of putting further pressure on the regime and planning for what other steps may be necessary. Two weeks ago, I told this House that I believed contingency planning should be done, including plans for a no-fly zone. NATO is now carrying out that work. As we have said before, a no-fly zone would need international support based on three clear conditions: demonstrable need, regional support and a clear legal basis.
In recent days, first the Gulf Co-operation Council and now the Arab League have called for a no-fly zone. In terms of the European Council, of course, the EU is not a military alliance and there is always a hesitation in discussing military options, but the Council expressed its,
"deep concern about attacks against civilians, including from the air", and agreed that member states will "examine all necessary options" for protecting the civilian population, provided there is a demonstrable need, a clear legal basis and support from the region. There was some progress, especially compared with where Europe was in advance of Friday's Council, but we need to continue to win the argument for a strong response in the international community, Europe included.
Along with others in the United Nations Security Council, the UK is following up urgently the lead given by the Arab League by drafting a resolution, which sets out the next measures that need to be taken, including the option of a no-fly zone. Included in the resolution in our view should be much tougher measures against mercenaries and the states from which they come, as well as others who are attempting to breach the sanctions and assist Gaddafi.
Every day Gaddafi is brutalising his own people. Time is of the essence. There should be no let-up in the pressure we put on this regime. I am clear where British national interest lies. It is in our interests to see the growth of open societies and the building blocks of democracy in north Africa and the Middle East, and when it comes to Libya we should be clear about what is happening. We have seen the uprising of a people against a brutal dictator and it will send a dreadful signal if their legitimate aspirations are crushed, not least to others striving for democracy across the region.
To those who say it is nothing to do with us, I simply respond: do we want a situation where a failed pariah state festers on Europe's southern border, potentially threatening our security, pushing people across the Mediterranean and creating a more dangerous and uncertain world for Britain and for all our allies as well as for the people of Libya? My answer is clear: that is not in Britain's interests. That is why Britain will remain at the forefront of Europe in leading the response to this crisis. I commend this Statement to the House".
My Lords, I thank the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement by the Prime Minister in the other place. I start by associating myself and these Benches with the remarks in the Statement about the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. The tragedy that has hit Japan and the Japanese people is of an almost unimaginable horror and scale. All of us will have been shocked by the scenes of devastation that we have seen on our screens over the weekend. We fully support our Government in their efforts to help the Government and people of Japan in their hour of need.
This is clearly an anxious time for friends and family of UK nationals and I know that consular staff will be working around the clock to provide all help and assistance. Our thanks must go to the staff of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office who are doing a fine job at this very difficult and demanding time, when they must be focused on Japan, Libya, northern Africa and the wider Middle East. Can the Leader of the House assure us that, while clearly stretched, they have adequate resources?
The Statement mentioned the helpline for families for people who must be desperately worried and we welcome the extraordinary help that that line gives. Does the Leader of the House agree that it would be useful if members of the public whose loved ones are found could inform our officials? I well understand that finding someone who was lost must be overwhelming and making a phone call may be far from mind. However, it would ensure that resources could be targeted on finding those who are still lost. That was a lesson that we on these Benches learnt after 9/11. The circumstances are clearly different, but we are talking about lost people who we hope to God are found. I also associate myself with the remarks in the Statement about the work of British search and rescue teams.
On the understandable concern about the nuclear power issues following the earthquake and tsunami, we should clearly see whether there are lessons to be learnt but avoid a rush to judgment. The scale of what has happened in Japan is such that there is a long way to go on many if not all of these issues. I am pleased that the chief nuclear inspector, Dr Mike Weightman, has been asked for a report on the implications of the situation in Japan. Will the Minister confirm that the report will be published when the Government receive it in due course?
On last Friday's meeting of the European Council, I will focus on three issues: the military options available to the international community regarding Libya, the wider response and the need to re-energise the Middle East peace process. First, we welcome the clear and unequivocal statement in the Council declaration that the Libyan regime should relinquish power immediately. As the Statement repeated by the Leader made clear, the situation in Libya is grave and pressing. We said when the Prime Minister first publicly floated the idea two weeks ago that we welcomed the consideration of a no-fly zone. Can the Leader of the House give us a clearer picture of what the Government believe a no-fly zone would involve and whether it is contingent on the US Government participating, given that some parts of the Administration have expressed reservations?
I note the unanimous decision over the weekend of the Arab League in support of a no-fly zone, which was mentioned in the Statement. In view of the decision, does the Leader think that any no-fly zone would best be supported by the active engagement both in planning and in actions by countries that are members of the Arab League? It would be helpful if the Minister could arrange for the communiqué from the meeting of the Arab League to be placed in the Library of the House.
On timing, I note that the Statement repeats the statement made by the Prime Minister last week that the United Kingdom is now working on a new Security Council resolution. Given the urgency of the situation, what is the Government's best judgment about when such a resolution will be tabled? Above all, we on these Benches emphasise to him the importance of matching what is said in public with the diplomatic spade-work needed to win international support for a practical and legal plan. Given the position this morning of the former Foreign Secretary, the right honourable Member for Kensington and Chelsea in the other place, on arming the rebels, what is the Government's position on the legality and wisdom of this?
Secondly, can I ask about the other actions that we can take? I welcome what the Statement said about asset freezes and sanctions. To maximise pressure on the regime, have the Government made any formal communication to the International Criminal Court to impress on Libyan leaders and commanders individual accountability for commissioning and carrying out crimes against humanity? If the Government have not done so, I suggest to the Leader that they do. On the humanitarian crisis, is DfID planning to provide additional support to the other multilateral organisations, such as the World Food Programme and UNHCR? On these Benches, we have evidence that young men are being taken away from their homes and that Benghazi men living in Tripoli are specifically being targeted. I am sure that the Leader will also have such information, but if it would be helpful for us to share that information we will certainly do so.
Thirdly, we welcome the reference to the Middle East peace process. Can we reiterate to the Government the central importance of not losing sight of this issue? Last week, both the Prime Minister and the Leader of my party held separate talks with President Abbas during his visit to London. What discussions took place at the European Council on how the EU can help to get the peace process back on track? In particular, what representations have been made to the United States following its recent veto of the UN resolution on settlements?
I hope and think that we are united in a view that this must be a moment when the European Union and the international community show that they are more than a sum of their parts, whether on Libya specifically, north Africa more widely or the Middle East process more generally. We hope that the Prime Minister of our country and other leaders will do all that they can over the coming days and weeks to make that happen.
My Lords, I thank the Leader of the Opposition for her warm words. I very much welcome those words of support for the people of Japan, but they come as no surprise to me because one thing that this country is good at-and this Parliament in particular-is showing solidarity when in another part of the world an immense tragedy has befallen people.
I also thank the noble Baroness for her tribute to the FCO. She is right in pointing out that it has a lot on its plate at the moment. The FCO is using its resources effectively and has established crisis centres; it has learnt a lot over many years on how to deal with these emergencies and is able to focus its response not just on Japan but on Libya, preparing for potential crises as they come about. We are living in the most uncertain of uncertain times, and I believe that the FCO continues to do sterling work. In particular, the ambassador in Japan, David Warren, and his team are doing a remarkable job in providing support.
The noble Baroness's suggestion of targeting resources on helping to reunite people who are lost is extremely wise and sensible. I am sure that officials have thought of that; I had not, and I thought that it was extremely useful. Likewise, I welcome the noble Baroness's comments about the UK search and rescue teams. They are an important group of people with immense experience, knowledge and ability in finding people under the most difficult circumstances. They have moved quickly; they are on-site and working hard.
The noble Baroness asked me about the publication of the report of Her Majesty's Nuclear Installations Inspectorate. We do not yet know what form the report will take, but when a report is made, clearly, a decision will be taken on whether to publish it. I cannot imagine the circumstances under which it would not be published.
Turning to the situation in the Middle East and Libya in particular, the noble Baroness said that it was a grave and depressing situation; she is completely right in that. We have been very keen to see co-operation across alliances and countries for the no-fly zone concept. We have been much supported in that view by the Arab League. I shall look into why the Arab League's communiqué has not been published; if it is publishable, I shall ensure that she gets a copy and that a copy is placed in the Library of the House.
In the UN, we are working closely with our allies-in particular, France-to draft a resolution that will maximise support among all those whom we need to influence. I cannot give any update as to when the new resolution will be tabled, but I hope that it will be soon. The International Criminal Court is of course an independent body. It is not for the UK Government to make that referral; that has already been done by the United Nations. The United Nations has communicated with the ICC and has asked it to look into that. I am not sure what would be gained by the UK doing that separately, but I will certainly pass that question to officials. The noble Baroness produced some useful intelligence as to what is happening on the ground in Benghazi and Tobruk.
Finally, the noble Baroness rightly asked about progress on the Middle East peace process. As has been said many times at this Dispatch Box-under this Government and the previous one-there is an opportunity to start this work again, to seek to complete it. This weekend, the Council communiqué states at paragraph 17:
"The European Union is conscious of the wider political and economic impact of these events on the wider region and calls for reactivating the Middle East Peace Process".
That was included specifically at the request of the United Kingdom Government. It is very important that we should start that up. There is an opportunity that should not be missed; if it is missed, it will be a failure on all our parts not to have done everything to ensure that it continues.
Perhaps I may press the noble Lord a little on the UN aspect. I know that drafting UN resolutions is quite complicated, but it does not take two weeks, which is what we have been saying is going on in New York. Has the time not now come to put down a resolution on the table? It is only when a resolution is on the table that people are forced to take a position on it. With the Arab League now supporting a no-fly zone, the tactical situation should have changed quite a lot.
Will the Leader confirm that, so far as legitimacy or a legal basis is concerned, this country flew sorties to enforce a no-fly zone in Iraq for 12 years without a specific authorisation from the UN? During that time, no one challenged the legality of that, although it was based on a Chapter 6 resolution that had no mandatory force. There is now a Chapter 7 resolution on Libya, which requires Colonel Gaddafi to stop repressing his people. The legitimacy or legality-whichever you like to call it-of acting even without an UN authorisation is therefore rather clear, as was the case also in Kosovo.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, with his former experience, brings to the House a knowledge that is shared by few. I am sure that he is right that the sooner a resolution is tabled the better, but it will not be tabled until we, the French and our other allies feel that we have adequate support. I have no further news to give on that situation. I note what the noble Lord said about the legal basis or legitimacy. He made a useful comparison with Iraq and Kosovo. These issues are being actively discussed at the moment.
My Lords, does the UN arms embargo apply to both sides? The Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council have said very welcome words about a no-fly zone. Does that extend to an offer to supply military assets in support of a no-fly zone? The Statement referred to increased political co-operation with the countries of the Maghreb and the southern flank of the Mediterranean. Earlier efforts-for example, the Barcelona process of 1995 and the Union for the Mediterranean of President Sarkozy-have failed for clear political reasons, including the position of Israel, Morocco and Algeria over the Polisario. What indications are there that this effort will be any more successful than the past failed efforts?
My Lords, we are obviously operating under very different conditions. It is impossible to say at this stage whether what everybody is seeking will be successfully achieved. It is a fast-moving picture in Libya, as it is in the rest of the Middle East. My understanding is that the Arab League, while supporting the no-fly zone, has not made any offer of physical assets.
My Lords, not only have we taken a very firm line from the beginning of this process on freezing the assets of Colonel Gaddafi and his close associates and family, but that has been extended this weekend in the European Council. As a result of this cumulative effort, £12 billion of assets has now been frozen in the United Kingdom. On top of that, as my noble friend will know, we have removed Gaddafi's head-of-state exemptions from UK controls and we have prohibited the export of uncirculated Libyan banknotes from the UK. There are of course other countries that will wish to undermine these sanctions, but we, with our allies-and there is a very united view about this-will do everything that we can to make sure that Gaddafi feels the pain of sanctions as quickly as possible.
My Lords, I welcome the support that Her Majesty's Government are giving to the drafting of a Security Council resolution on the option of a no-fly zone. May I emphasise that in the search for legality a Security Council resolution is the only real, universally accepted basis, difficult as it may sometimes be to get? Any other basis is where there is an agreed international understanding that there is an overwhelming human disaster, such as with the Kurds, the Marsh Arabs or in Kosovo, where I was involved. Will the noble Lord give an indication that such a situation has not yet arrived, brutal as the regime in Libya is? Will he indicate the Government's thinking on that? At the same time, will he perhaps encourage the Americans to join the International Criminal Court, which our Government set up?
My Lords, I will not be drawn on that final question, but the noble and learned Lord again raises some valuable and useful material about the legal basis, in particular the resolution at the United Nations. We want to get the widest possible support for action-in the EU, within NATO and among our wider allies, as well as in the United Nations. It is difficult to forecast at this stage exactly what kind of support that will be, but it is useful that we should try as hard as possible to get that unified view.
My Lords, serious concern has been expressed about the cooling system in the three nuclear reactors in Japan. When the nuclear inspector, Dr Mike Weightman, produces his report, will it be made available to the public and will full account be taken of it before we in the United Kingdom proceed with our nuclear power stations here? Also, the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, rightly asked about the position of the Obama Government on a no-fly zone. What discussions have taken place and where do the Government stand on this issue?
As the Statement pointed out, the types of nuclear installation affected in Japan are not ones that we have in Britain, nor are any of them planned. However, it was entirely right to invite the nuclear inspector to give us a report to see what lessons can be learnt. I told the noble Baroness that I did not know what form that report would take. I cannot imagine the circumstances under which it would not be published, but I cannot confirm that at this stage. Apart from anything else, if lessons are to be learnt, the more widely those views are propagated the better. Concerning discussions with the United Nations, those are obviously ongoing within NATO and President Obama has given his full support to NATO looking at the planning of such an operation.
My Lords, while I welcome the statement from the Arab League and do not in any sense diminish its importance, does the Leader of the House think that there is any real prospect of countries which are part of the Arab League and which have the military capacity taking part in the no-fly zone operation? Does he think that seeking such support would be a help or a hindrance to getting a resolution through the Security Council?
My Lords, there are members of the Arab League that would have the capability to involve themselves in policing a no-fly zone, but I sense that we are a long way from that at this stage. There is still a diplomatic process to be completed of resolutions in the United Nations, but there is certainly no bar to making the co-operation across nations and alliances as wide and as deep as possible.
My Lords, is not the technical legal situation fairly straightforward and simple? Under Article 39 of the United Nations charter, where there has been a threat to peace or an act of aggression the Security Council is entitled to take that into account; it appears to have made a ruling on that basis. That triggers Article 42 of the charter, which allows-it is permissive, not mandatory-the Security Council to use any measure, including the use of force in the air, on land and at sea. However, prudence and practicality might well suggest that, for a no-fly zone to succeed, it would be necessary for there to be an elimination of the 20 or more surface-to-air missile sites that lace the coastal belt in Libya. Very great caution should be exercised before coming to such a decision.
My Lords, I agree that there should be caution. I am less with the noble Lord that these legal matters are clear and simple; so far as I can see they are immensely complicated. That is why we want the widest international support from Europe, the Arab League and beyond, and it is why we are working in the United Nations to draft a resolution with France. Things need to be taken step by step-we are not going to overreach ourselves-and we are working with our partners at the United Nations, in NATO and in the US to look at all the options. It is clear that a no-fly zone needs international support, a clear trigger and a legal basis; no country will go for it alone. The question of the surface-to-air missiles that the noble Lord raises, and of Libya's whole defence resources, will no doubt be taken into account.
My Lords, I revert to the horrendous events that have so tragically overtaken Japan. Although it is clearly much too early to form any picture as to what happened at Fukushima's nuclear power plants, is it not remarkable that those buildings, which were so close to the centre of the earthquake, seem to have withstood so successfully the onslaught to which they must have been subjected?
The second point that I want to make concerns the peace process in the Middle East. Given what has been happening throughout northern Africa and elsewhere, is there not evidence that the youth of those countries are desperate for greater freedom and a more secure economic basis for their existence? Would this not therefore be a wise and helpful time for Israel to show some indication that it understands what is going on inside Gaza and to take some humanitarian steps to assist the people suffering there?
My Lords, on my noble friend's first point about the nuclear installations, I agree that lessons need to be learnt-I am sure that they will be-in terms of siting and design of nuclear plants and in terms of what went wrong in the earthquake that led to the problems, which I am sure were unforeseen when the plants were originally built. That will come in not only our internal review, but those of the Japanese Government and any other international organisations. On the second point raised by my noble friend, I agree that there is an opportunity for Israel to, in his words, show that it understands what is happening right across the Middle East and to show a determination to seek a long-term peaceful solution.
My Lords, are we learning lessons from the past in the use of no-fly zones? Have Ministers considered the comments of Mr John Nichol, an air navigator in Bosnia and Iraq, who described delays in securing legal authorisation for interception and delays in securing clarity over rules of engagement, with the result that there was a high incidence of failure by opposition aircraft-indeed, thousands of failures by opposition aircraft-to observe no-fly zones? Before we go down this route, can we get absolute clarity for pilots as to what the rules of engagement are and when they can act? Without it, the policy will fail.
Yes, my Lords, I agree with what the noble Lord just said, including his correct warning about the dangers of delay. I agree with him about the importance for pilots of clarity about the rules of engagement and that the legal basis should be as wide as possible, to cover all those who are flying within the area. That is, of course, a lesson that we have learnt from the past, which I hope is being put into effect, but the first step is to get international agreement so that we can move forward with unity.
My Lords, I welcome the changes that are now under way in the EU neighbourhood plans and in the conditions attaching to them. Does the Leader of the House agree that it is probably unlikely that there will be sufficient agreement for mounting an effective military intervention, even for the limited task of protecting the people of Cyrenaica who have established their own freedom? If so, will warning be given in good time to the leaders of the uprising that they will, in effect, not be defended or protected? Will sufficient transport be available for those involved in the insurgency who wish to leave the country? Are plans being made for where these people might wish to go?
My Lords, that is a very wide question and it is difficult to answer. The noble Lord is right that we are seeking, through support for a no-fly zone, to protect the people of Libya who have been involved in the uprising. There are, of course, other options, such as the idea of a humanitarian corridor to allow people who wish to leave to do so. Nothing that I have seen leads me to believe that we are planning to put troops on the ground in any way. We believe that the best way of protecting these individuals is by supporting a no-fly zone.
My Lords, will the Minister inform the House as to the attitude of Libya's two neighbour states, Tunisia and Egypt, to the intervention of other countries to assist the freedom fighters and protesters inside Libya? In particular, for example, in connection with the no-fly zone, have there been any discussions with the authorities in those two countries as to the availability of airfields, which would not involve our putting infantry on the ground but would be an enormous contribution to the operation of a no-fly zone?
My Lords, our discussions and negotiations about the possibility of a no-fly zone will include Libya's neighbours but, given the support from the Arab League at the weekend, I am much more optimistic about having the co-operation of those neighbours in playing a greatly supportive role, including the possibility, at least, of providing airfields.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Leader of the House for the Statement that he has made. We have talked previously about the domino effect gripping the Middle East and I wondered whether he would like to make some statement on the situation that we see emerging in Yemen and on the news stories that are reaching us about the Saudi intervention in Bahrain. Have the Government made any representations in that regard?
My Lords, just as I left my room to come to the Chamber, I saw reported on the television that the Saudi military had been invited by the Bahraini Government to go into Bahrain in order to restore law and order and to protect government buildings. I have no other information to give and certainly no official response from the British Government. However, my noble friend is right to raise what he called the "domino effect". Right across the Middle East we have seen enormous changes taking place, and these will continue. The role of the British Government is to be supportive of groups of people who wish to change their lives and to meet their aspirations and we have called on Governments across that region to allow those people to achieve those aspirations.