Japan and the Middle East — Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:41 pm on 14th March 2011.

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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) 4:41 pm, 14th March 2011

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.