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Libya — [Mr Christopher Chope in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:47 am on 26th October 2016.

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Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs 10:47 am, 26th October 2016

First, I confirm that I write my own speeches and I am happy to place that on the record. Secondly, if I may, I will come to the aftermath and what is happening in relation to international views later.

I stress the point about the context in which things happened in 2011, which was made by my right hon. Friend Alistair Burt, a former north Africa and middle east Minister, who is no longer in his place. There were elections in July 2012 and the General National Congress was formed. Libya was starting to take charge of its own destiny. In 2014, there were elections for the new Council of Deputies.

It is recognised today that perhaps we did not do enough. Perhaps the west could have done more, but many agencies, including UN agencies, were asked to leave Libya because the Libyan people wanted to take ownership of the path they wanted to pursue without interference from the west. Could we have done more? Of course we could have done more. That is what President Obama is looking at and why he is making those comments.

I certainly believe that, with the disparate society we are dealing with that had 40 years of misrule, not enough happened during Gaddafi’s reign for society to develop. I politely disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne that nothing has happened over the past five years. Elections have taken place, there is a Prime Minister in place and there is a structure, including a Government of National Accord, a Presidency Council, which needs to be confirmed and put in place, a House of Representatives and a State Council.

Those important infrastructure institutions must be given the opportunity to work. It is right to say that they are not working as efficiently as they should, because there are spoilers and stakeholders who are choosing to follow their own agendas. The challenge facing us today is getting them to realise who benefits if they do not support that infrastructure—the criminal gangs that move the migrants through and the extremism that flourishes in that vacuum.

The Skhirat process helped to empower the moderates and the Khartoum process brought together countries around Libya to ensure that they secure their borders and provide support to Libya—that was raised as a concern in the debate. International countries have come together. I have sat in many meetings discussing how better to co-ordinate our international aid and our work to improve governance, and to ensure that that happens. The issue came to the fore in December 2015 with the agreement that rolled into Security Council resolution 2259 formally recognising the Government of National Accord as the sole legislative body to take Libya forward.

I will pose a question, but I do not want to go down this rabbit hole. Which countries can intervene when something very bad is happening in another part of the world? I take hon. Members back to Rwanda and what happened there. The world blinked while a travesty took place. Is it right that the international community glosses over things and asks who in the world can step forward and which nations have the ability and commitment to do that? There are very few and they can be counted on one hand, but we are one of them. What would colleagues do if they were in No. 10 and Benghazi had tanks on the outskirts that were about to roll in? Would they have a plan for what happens next? They would have to think about that, and also about our duty as a permanent member of the United Nations interested in supporting international security and stabilisation and decide whether to act. That is exactly what David Cameron did and I believe it was the right decision.

Libya’s governance structure today is not as strong as it should be, but we must give our support to Prime Minister Siraj. I believe that the Libyan political agreement is the framework to enable things to move forward and make that happen. We want the Libyan Government to submit promptly a revised list of Ministers which the House of Representatives must endorse and we need a more unified command structure under General Haftar. He is a general and he needs to answer to civilian governance structures. That is very important indeed.

We must address the challenge of Daesh and people traffickers. If there is time I will come to that.

The conflict is unique and very different from all the others. There is a lot of plate-spinning in the middle east and north Africa, but this is different because there are working institutions. Oil is flowing—there are up to 500,000 barrels a day—and that money is going into the central bank. It is paying people who, ironically, are fighting on both sides of the argument. The salaries of teachers, doctors and nurses are being paid because those basic structures are in place. However, we certainly need to do more and that is why we have allocated £10 million to provide technical support for the Government of National Accord.

Operation Sophia was mentioned a couple of times. It is important to stem the flow of migrants choosing to make an horrific journey in an attempt to get to Europe. Unfortunately, we can work only in international waters. We cannot get into territorial waters at the moment because the Government are not fully in place to give us that permission and Russia is denying us the ability to use military capability in that space. We must answer that, otherwise we are encouraging people to come here. When ships pick them up, which British ships have done, those people are taken to Italy, so we are still not breaking the chain. We are now working to train a local coastguard to break that chain so the boats never leave Libyan soil in the first place.

Several hon. Members mentioned Daesh. It is absolutely right that we are concerned about the vacuum. Its numbers are down to 200 or 300 in strength and many are indigenous local people choosing to join that gang because that is where the money is. That is where the guns come from and where the success seems to be. That is why it is important that the Government offer something different to fill that vacuum of governance. It is important to recognise what we can do, but also where things are in the country. It is not as bleak as some of the comments today have suggested, but we are not there yet in any sense whatever.

In conclusion, Libya is extremely complex, as has been highlighted by colleagues today. It is dynamic and certainly challenging. The process of building trust between communities, confidence in political institutions and willingness to compromise for the common good will not be easy. It is up to the political leaders of Libya—I stress this—to make this work. We remain committed to supporting them, but also to working for peace and security in Libya, not just for the sake of stability in the region where the UK has important interests, but for the sake of the Libyan people.

I very much welcome this debate and look forward to the closing comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne. I will seek to provide a full and regular oral statement so that the House is informed as progress moves forward.