Japan and the Middle East — Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:48 pm on 14th March 2011.

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Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster 4:48 pm, 14th March 2011

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 I cannot imagine the circumstances under which it would not be published.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.