Whilst it is morally right to protect civilians from a ruthless dictator, and the action has been authorised by the UN, I am very worried.
My concern is that we are unclear about our objectives:
How are civillians to be protected? Particularly in the long term?
I asked David Cameron these questions yesterday and didn’t get an answer.
Below is the transcript of myself and Jeremy Corbyn MP grilling David Cameron at PMQs.
Make Sure you read Ed Miliband’s speech – The Times said it was his best as party leader so far, and they were right.
Jeremy Corbyn: The Prime Minister will be aware that the Chinese Government have called for a special meeting of the Security Council this evening, and that India has expressed deep reservations about the bombardments that are going on. Can he tell us something about the apparent continuing falling away of support for the actions that have been taken, and what the end game actually is?
The Prime Minister: The point that I would make is that this matter was discussed in the UN Security Council and the Chinese, Indians and Russians decided to abstain. Two of those countries have a veto and decided not to exercise it. Everyone was clear at the time about what was meant by enforcing a no-fly zone and taking all necessary measures to protect civilians. I will come on in my speech to describe how I believe what
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has happened is in no way disproportionate or unreasonable. Indeed, I would argue that it is absolutely in line with what the UN has agreed.
Iwill address specifically the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn). I know that it has not been selected, but I want to ensure that we address everything in this debate. There is much in the amendment that I welcome. I assure the House that we will do everything we can to avoid civilian casualties. Indeed, last night our RAF pilots aborted their mission when they determined that there were civilians close to the identified military targets. I also agree with the hon. Members who signed the amendment about the need to avoid the use of depleted uranium and cluster munitions. We do not use those munitions. I welcome their support for those struggling for democracy and freedom in the region, and back their call to restart the middle east peace process.
However, I take issue with two crucial parts of the amendment. The first is the suggestion that there was somehow time for further consultation before undertaking military action. The United Nations gave Gaddafi an ultimatum and he completely ignored it. To those who say that we should wait and see, I say that we have waited and we have seen more than enough. The House is aware that the Cabinet met and agreed our approach on Friday. On Saturday morning, as I was travelling to the Paris summit, the Deputy Prime Minister chaired a meeting of Cobra. He was presented with a final analysis of the state of play on the ground in Libya and the advice was very clear. We were in a race against time to avoid the slaughter of civilians in Benghazi. All of us would have hoped to avoid the use of force, and that could have been achieved if Gaddafi had complied immediately and fully with the requirements of the resolution. The fact is that he did not. That left us with a choice either to use force, strictly in line with the resolution, or to back down and send a message to Gaddafi that he could go on brutalising his people. We should remember that this is the man who told the world that he would show the people of Benghazi no mercy. I am convinced that to act with others was the right decision.
John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab) rose-
The Prime Minister: I give way to the other author of the amendment.
John McDonnell: I almost thought that the Prime Minister was about to support our amendment in total, but I live in hope on other matters. He made the specific point about avoiding the use of depleted uranium ordnance. Will he give a more categorical assurance that we will not use those weapons?
The Prime Minister: I could not have been more clear that we do not use those weapons and are not going to use those weapon
Let me be clear with the hon. Gentleman about why, specifically, I do not agree with the amendment. My second objection is that it says we should “acknowledge” rather than “support” UN Security Council resolution 1973. I think that is profoundly wrong. It is an important resolution that the UK helped to bring about, and I believe that the House should be frank and clear in welcoming it.
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Emily Thornberry: What would be a successful outcome to this military action, and is it possible that it could take a number of years for us to get out of Libya now?
The Prime Minister: A successful outcome is the enforcement of the will of the UN, which is the ceasing of attacks on civilians. That is what we are aiming at. But let me be absolutely frank about this: it is a more difficult question, in many ways, than the question over Iraq, because in Iraq we had been prepared to go into a country, knock over its Government and put something else in place. That is not the approach we are taking here. We are saying that there is a UN Security Council resolution to stop violence against civilians and to put in a UN no-fly zone, and then the Libyan people must choose their own future. The point I would make is that they have far more chance of choosing their own future today than they did 24 or 48 hours ago.
Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con): My right hon. Friend is being very generous in giving way.
Given our poor record of intervention in the past, can my right hon. Friend explain to the sceptics among us why we do not allow the Arabs to take the lead on this, particularly the Arab League, which has called for intervention, and let them instigate a no-fly zone? After all, Egypt is well placed, and we have been selling these Arab nations the capability.
The Prime Minister: I would answer that question in two ways. First, if we had waited for that, Benghazi would have fallen, and from that Tobruk would probably have fallen, and Gaddafi would have rolled up the whole of his country in the next 24 to 48 hours. The fact is, it was the Arab League that asked us to come in and provide the no-fly zone. I am as keen as anyone to make sure that this coalition of the willing is as broad-based, and has as much Arab support, as possible, but we should be clear that in the early stages, in order to act quickly, it had to have very strong American, British and French participation.
Several hon. Members rose –
Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con): My right hon. Friend knows that I am strongly supportive of the actions that he has taken, and he deserves great credit for them, but on Friday he indicated that we would see a summary of the legal advice from the Attorney-General. We know from what he said on Friday, and indeed from the note that has been supplied in the Library, that the Cabinet has consulted the Attorney-General and is satisfied with the legal advice, but it does not seem from what I have seen so far that we have been supplied with a summary of the Attorney-General’s legal advice. Is that going to be forthcoming?
The Prime Minister: What we have provided, which I do not think any Government have done before, is a note on the legal advice. That is, I think, the right thing to do. One of the reasons why it is so short is, frankly, because the legal advice is so clear. Members can see that when they read the UN Security Council resolution.
Several hon. Members rose –
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The Prime Minister: I will take as many interventions as I can, but before I give way any more, let me turn to some of the other questions that have been raised in recent days.
First, as some hon. Members have asked today, has the use of force been reasonable? As I have said, we have undertaken the use of force in two ways. The first is to suppress Libyan air defences, which I believe is absolutely essential. As Prime Minister, I would not have been prepared to sanction our participation in enforcing the no-fly zone without doing everything possible to reduce the risk to our servicemen and women beforehand. That seems to me absolutely vital. The second area of activity has been action designed explicitly to safeguard civilian populations under attack. As the resolution explicitly authorises, it was quite clear that the population of Benghazi was under heavy attack. Civilians were being killed in significant numbers and exodus from the town had begun, so there was an urgent need to take action to stop the slaughter. As I have said, I am absolutely convinced that what has been done is proportionate.
Targets must be fully consistent with the UN Security Council resolution. We therefore choose our targets to stop attacks on civilians and to implement the no-fly zone, but we should not give a running commentary on targeting and I do not propose to say any more on the subject than that.
Several hon. Members rose –
The Prime Minister: I give way to the leader of the Green party.
Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): I am grateful to the Prime Minister. I am sure he would agree that any military action needs to be principled and consistent, but last year, the UK issued £231 million-worth of arms exports licences to Libya and £55 million of licences to Saudi Arabia, including the very personnel carriers that were rolling into Bahrain just last week. Does he not agree that our position would be a lot more consistent and a lot more principled if we stopped selling arms to repressive regimes anywhere in that region?
The Prime Minister: The hon. Lady makes an important point, which we have discussed several times during statements and questions. We are having a proper review of not just arms exports, but training licences and other relations. Of the 118 single and open licences for Libya, we have revoked all licences that cover equipment of concern. However, I agree with the hon. Lady that there will be lessons to learn from the conflict for the future.
Dan Byles (North Warwickshire) (Con): The Prime Minister has been pressed to rule out putting any boots on the ground as part of the operation. May I ask him to reassure the House that, in the event of any British pilots being downed on operations over Libya, the UN resolution will not tie our hands and prevent us from putting in a robust search and rescue operation, should one be required to recover our pilots?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes an important point, but the UN resolution could not be clearer about no occupying army-it is not about an invasion. People need that reassurance not only in the House but in the country and throughout the Arab world.
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Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab): The Prime Minister should know that he has the support of the vast majority of Members of all parties for the Government’s actions and those of our troops, who are undertaking the work on our behalf. Does he agree that it is hard to see how the Libyan people will be safe from the threat of violence while Colonel Gaddafi remains in charge of that country?
The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman puts it absolutely correctly. We know what our job is-to enforce the UN’s will. It is for the people in Libya to decide who governs them, how they are governed and what their future is, but none of us has changed our opinion that there is no future for the people of Libya with Colonel Gaddafi in charge.
Obviously, there are those, including some in the House, who question whether Britain really needs to get involved. Some have argued that we should leave it to others because there is not sufficient British national interest at stake. I believe that argument is misplaced. If Gaddafi’s attacks on his own people succeed, Libya will become once again a pariah state, festering on Europe’s border, and a source of instability exporting terror beyond its borders. It will be a state from which literally hundreds of thousands of citizens could try to escape, putting huge pressure on us in Europe. We should also remember that Gaddafi is a dictator who has a track record of violence and support for terrorism against our country. The people of Lockerbie, for instance, know what that man is capable of. I am therefore clear that taking action in Libya with our partners is in our national interest.
Andrew George (St Ives) (LD): The legal note that accompanies the debate makes it clear that the Security Council resolution recognises that Libya
“constitutes a threat to international peace and security.”
Although I do not recommend that we take such action, from the point of view of consistency, why are we not taking action against Yemen?
The Prime Minister: We are obviously extremely disturbed by what is happening in Yemen, particularly recent events. We urge every country in that region to respond to the aspirations of its people with reform, not repression. We have a specific situation in Libya, whereby there was a dictator whose people were trying to get rid of him, who responded with armed violence in the streets. The UN has reached a conclusion and I think that we should back it. As I said the other day, just because we cannot do the right thing everywhere does not mean we should not do it when we have clear permission for and a national interest in doing so. One commentator put it rather well at the weekend: “Why should I tidy my bedroom when the rest of the world is such a mess?” That is an interesting way of putting it.
Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): May I express from the Liberal Democrat Benches our strong support for the resolution and the Government’s action? Clearly, the position is different from Iraq. However, does the Prime Minister agree that there is an urgent need to internationalise the mission as far as possible to cement support across the international community should things not run entirely tidily and also so as not to over-extend our forces?
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The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. We want to internationalise the action to the maximum degree possible on the military front and in what must follow in humanitarian aid and assistance to the people in Libya.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned Iraq and I want to deal with the way in which we will ensure that this is not another Iraq. My answer is clear: the UN resolution, which we, with the Lebanese, the US and the French, helped draft, makes it clear that there will be no foreign occupation of Libya. The resolution authorises and sets the limit on our action. It excludes an occupation force in any form on any part of Libyan territory.
However, I would argue that the differences from Iraq go deeper. It is not just that this time, the action has the full, unambiguous legal authority of the United Nations nor that it is backed by Arab countries and a broad international coalition, but that millions in the Arab world want to know that the UN, the US, the UK, the French and the international community care about their suffering and their oppression. The Arab world has asked us to act with it to stop the slaughter, and that is why we should answer that call
Several hon. Members rose –
The Prime Minister: I will give way to the hon. Gentleman.
Several hon. Members rose –
Mr Speaker: Order. We need to be clear who is intervening. I think it is the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr Havard).
Mr Dai Havard (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) (Lab): The legal advice summary, which I have only just seen-we have not seen the whole thing-clearly excludes
“a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory”
but also says that the resolution
“further authorises Member States to use all measures…to carry out inspections aimed at the enforcement of the arms embargo”.
Does that mean that on the one hand we cannot have troops on the ground, but on the other hand we might allow people to make inspections or go there for search and rescue purposes? Is there clarity about having no troops on the ground in Libya?
The Prime Minister: The point about the legal advice, which refers back to the UN Security Council resolution, is that it makes provision to put in place an arms embargo and to inspect ships going to Libya. A number of countries have volunteered their forces specifically for that purpose, which we should welcome.
That brings me to my next point. Some accept that Britain should play a part but worry that we might shoulder an unfair burden. I want to assure the House that that is not the case. Let me explain how the coalition will work. It is operating under US command, with the intention that that will transfer to NATO, which will mean that all the NATO allies-I read out a list earlier of who wants to contribute-will be able to contribute. Clearly, the mission would benefit from that and from using NATO’s tried-and-tested command and control machinery.
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With the fourth largest defence budget in the world, Britain clearly has the means to play its part, but given that British troops are engaged in Afghanistan, that part must be in line with our resources, and so it will be. No resources have been diverted from the Afghanistan campaign to carry out the enforcement of resolution 1973, and I have the assurance of the Chief of the Defence Staff that both operations can take place concurrently. Crucially, the impact of what we are doing in Libya will not affect our mission in Afghanistan.
Several hon. Members rose –
The Prime Minister: I will give way to my parliamentary neighbour.
Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con): May I congratulate the Prime Minister on obtaining the UN resolution to give us the legal cover that we require? The problem with Iraq was that there was no proper post-war reconstruction plan. Is he giving thought to what a post-war reconstruction plan ought to be, and will he encourage members of the Arab League to play their full part in that once the military phase is over?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point about humanitarian planning for afterwards, which I will come to later in my speech. My right hon. Friend the International Development Secretary is leading cross-Government work to ensure that that plan is robust. However, let me be frank about one difficulty that we have. Because we are saying that there will not be an invasion and that there will not be an occupation, we must have a different sort of plan-a much more international plan with a greater role for the UN, the EU and aid agencies, all of which we will support.
Several hon. Members rose –
The Prime Minister: I shall give way to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner), but then make some progress.
Mr Skinner: It is easy to get into a war; it is much harder to end it. When will all those nations that are taking part know the circumstances for pulling out and ending the war? We know now that this is not about regime change-the Prime Minister has already said that-and we hope that there will be no forces on the ground, but what circumstances will enable those nations to say, “It’s all over”?
The Prime Minister: For once, I agree with the hon. Gentleman-I entirely agree with the first part of his question, because it is easier to start these things than to finish them, and we should always be cautious and careful before we go ahead. However, as I have tried to lay out for the House today, not acting would have led to a completely unacceptable situation. The answer to his question is that this will be over and finished when we have complied with and implemented the UN Security Council resolution. That is about protecting civilians and protecting life, and giving the Libyan people a chance to determine their own future. This is different from Iraq. This is not going into a country and knocking over its Government, and then owning and being responsible for everything that happens subsequently. This is about protecting people and giving the Libyan people a chance to shape their own destiny.
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Mr David Lammy (Tottenham) (Lab): May I take the Prime Minister back to what he said about NATO? Is he confirming that when the US gives up command of this phase of the operation, he expects the UK, under the auspices of NATO, to take over?
The Prime Minister: No, I am not saying that. I am saying that at the moment there is basically American command and control, under which the French, British and others are operating. Over time, we want that to transition to NATO command and control, using NATO machinery, so that all the partners in NATO and all those who want to contribute from the outside can be properly co-ordinated. That might easily still be an American, French or British individual, but it would be under the auspices of NATO. It is tried and tested, it works, it co-ordinates and brings people together, it has operated no-fly zones before, and it is the right way of doing things. The international community is agreed on that.
Of course, there are those who ask whether the risks will outweigh the benefits. Clearly, as I have said, there is no action without risk, but alongside the risks of action, we have to weigh the risks of inaction: the sight of the international community condemning violence but doing nothing to stop it; the effect across north Africa and the middle east if Gaddafi succeeds in brutalising his own people; the humanitarian consequences for the city of Benghazi and beyond; and the consequences for Europe of a failed pariah state on its southern border. In my view, all these risks are simply too great to ignore. So yes there are dangers and difficulties, and there will always be unforeseen consequences, but it is better to take this action than to risk the consequences of inaction, which would be the slaughter of civilians and this dictator completely flouting the United Nations and its will.
Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): In addition to brutalising his own people, is it not the case that the Gaddafi regime is daily harassing our brave British journalists, making it increasingly difficult for them to report from places such as Tripoli?
The Prime Minister: I am sure that everyone in the House would want to pay tribute to the risks taken by, and the bravery of, journalists, including British journalists. Everyone should remember that people reporting from Tripoli are doing so under very strong reporting restrictions. I hope that not only everyone in the House, but everyone in the country and broadcasting organisations will remember to repeat regularly the sort of restrictions the reporters are operating under.
Several hon. Members rose –
There are also some who say we are just stirring up trouble for the future. These people say that Arabs and Muslims cannot do democracy and that more freedoms in these countries will simply lead to extremism and intolerance. To me, this argument is not only deeply condescending and prejudiced, but is utterly wrong and has been shown to be wrong. Let us remember that people made this argument about Egypt only a short month ago. They said that the departure of Mubarak would lead to a dangerous vacuum in which extremists would flourish. Of course, I deplore-and the House
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will deplore-the attack on Mohamed e1-Baradei at a polling station, but the overwhelming picture from Saturday was one of millions of people queuing up patiently and proudly to exercise their democratic rights, many for the first time. As democrats in this House, we should applaud what they did.
Inevitably, information about the Libyan opposition is not complete, but the evidence suggests that it consists predominantly of ordinary Libyans from all walks of life who want freedom, justice and democracy-the things we take for granted.
Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): Should the Gaddafi regime finally be toppled, will the Prime Minister assure us that his Government will do everything possible to help the Metropolitan police to conclude their investigations into who killed PC Yvonne Fletcher?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend, who has considerable expertise and has taken a great interest in this matter, makes an important point, which is that if the Libyan people choose a new future for themselves and their country, there might be huge opportunities to find out not only what really happened to PC Yvonne Fletcher, but about the support for Northern Irish terrorism that did so much damage in our country.
People will be rightly concerned that we should have a clear plan for what happens next in Libya-both in humanitarian terms, and also politically and diplomatically-following the successful conclusion of the no-fly zone. On humanitarian issues, the UK was one of the first to respond to the humanitarian needs arising from Gaddafi’s actions. We provided tents and blankets from our stores in Dubai for the thousands of migrant workers crossing the borders to escape the regime’s violence. We were the first country to provide flights to enable 12,000 migrant workers to return to their homes. This timely assistance prevented what was a logistical emergency from becoming a humanitarian crisis. The Development Secretary announced last week that we will now support the International Committee of the Red Cross to deploy three medical teams. They will help to provide both medical assistance to the 3,000 people affected by the fighting, and food and essential items for 100,000 of the most vulnerable. From the beginning, we urged the United Nations to lead international pressure for unfettered humanitarian access within Libya. We are now planning for new humanitarian needs that may emerge as a result of the conflict.
Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton) (Lab): I am sceptical about this country’s involvement in air raids on another Muslim and Arab country. However, I accept that there has been a huge success in saving lives in Benghazi. It would make me feel more relaxed about the resolution this evening if the Prime Minister gave a commitment to report back regularly to the House and to ask for further authority to continue the operations.
The Prime Minister: Of course there should be regular statements in this House. I gave a statement on Friday and we are having a debate on a substantive motion today. There should be regular updates on the humanitarian situation, what our defence forces are doing, and political and diplomatic activity. I do not believe that right now
21 Mar 2011 : Column 713there is a need to go back to the UN for further permission, because the resolution could not be clearer. It combined three different elements: an immediate ceasefire, action for a no-fly zone, and action to protect civilians and stop the loss of life. It was an incredibly complete UN resolution, and that is why we should give it such strong support.
Several hon. Members rose –
The Prime Minister: Let me say one more word about the issue of planning for the humanitarian situation. It is important that in supporting the implementation of the resolution, the international system should plan now for stabilising the peace that we hope will follow. That could include rapidly restoring damaged infrastructure, keeping important services such as health and education running, reforming the security sector, and ensuring an open and transparent political process to elections. All that will take time and require an internationally led effort, but Britain is committed to playing its part.
Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way and for the leadership that he has shown on this issue. Given what has been said about Kurdistan this afternoon and the reports that Gaddafi has mustard gas, what action will the allies take to stop him if he starts using it against his own people?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend raises an issue of real concern, on which we keep a very sharp focus. After Gaddafi supposedly came in from the cold, there was an agreement for him to give up weapons of mass destruction. He destroyed some of them, but he still has the supplies to which my hon. Friend refers. We have to make sure that there is absolutely no sign of their being used.
In terms of what happens politically and diplomatically, what is crucial is that the future of Libya is for the people of Libya to decide, aided by the international community. The Libyan opposition has made it clear that it does not want to see a division of its country, and neither do we. It has also expressed a clear and overwhelming wish for Gaddafi to go, and we agree with that too, but the UN resolution is limited in its scope. It explicitly does not provide legal authority for action to bring about Gaddafi’s removal from power by military means. As I have said, we will help to fulfil the UN Security Council’s resolution. It is for the Libyan people to determine their Government and their destiny, but our view is clear: there is no decent future for Libya with Colonel Gaddafi remaining in power.
Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): On a wider point, it is a change in philosophy on the part of the UN and the international community not to tolerate those involved in the internal repression of their own populations. What is going to happen to leaders in other countries round the world who are indulging in Gaddafi-style behaviour?
The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, and that is why UN Security Council resolution 1973 could be something of a breakthrough. The world has come together and said that what this dictator is doing to his people-within his own country, but totally in breach of international law and all sign of
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human rights-is wrong and can be stopped by all necessary means. In the act of stopping him, let us hope that that sends a message to dictators the world over.
Mr Sam Gyimah (East Surrey) (Con): With a no-fly zone in operation, a tyrant as brutal and determined as Gaddafi could decide to move the conflict into urban areas. In that scenario, does the resolution as it stands give us the scope to act to stop any humanitarian disaster that could occur?
The Prime Minister: The resolution gives us the scope to act, but clearly we have to act at all times to minimise civilian casualties. We must bear that in mind very carefully when we think about the military operations that we are engaged in.
Several hon. Members rose –
The Prime Minister: I will not give way any more.
Gaddafi has had every conceivable opportunity to stop massacring his own people. The time for red lines, threats and last chances is over. Tough action is needed now to ensure that people in Libya can lead their lives without fear and with access to the basic needs of life. That is what the Security Council requires and that is what we are seeking to deliver. There are rightly those who ask how and where this will end. Of course, there are difficulties and dangers ahead, but already we know, beyond any doubt, that we have succeeded in chasing Gaddafi’s planes out of the sky. We have saved the lives of many Libyans and we have helped to prevent the destruction of a great and historic city.
Of course, no one can be certain of what the future can hold, but as we stand here today, the people of Libya have a much better chance of determining their destiny and, in taking this action, we should be proud that we are not only acting in British interests but being true to our values as a nation. I commend the motion to the House.
Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab): I rise to support the Government motion. Let me first welcome the fact that the Government have decided to have a substantive motion and, indeed, vote in this House, because it is right that the decision to commit our forces is made in this House. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer), I urge the Prime Minister and his colleagues to ensure that the House has regular chances to debate this issue in the days and weeks ahead.
I want to pay tribute to our brave armed forces who are engaging in military action. I am sure that the thoughts of the whole House are with them. The issue at the heart of today’s debate is this: on the one hand, we have the case for action outside our borders when we see people facing repression and butchery from others; yet, on the other hand, we have the caution that we must always show in the exercise of western and, indeed, British power for reasons of basic principle, imperial history and the consequences that might follow.
Today, I want to set out to this House the case why I believe that we should support the motion today and support our armed forces. I do so because I believe that the three key criteria for action exist: it is a just cause with a feasible mission and it has international support.
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Secondly, I want to address the central issue, not least among those raised by my hon. Friends, of how we reconcile the decision to intervene in Libya and the hard cases elsewhere. Thirdly, I want to raise a number of issues that will require clarity if this mission is to succeed.
Today and in the coming weeks, our duty as the official Opposition is to support the UN resolution and at the same time to scrutinise the decisions that are made to maximise the chances of success of this mission. Let me start with the case for action. In the days and weeks ahead-the Prime Minister said this in his speech-we must always remember the background to the debate. We have seen with our own eyes what the Libyan regime is capable of. We have seen guns being turned on unarmed demonstrators, we have watched warplanes and artillery being used against civilian population centres, we have learned of militia violence and disappearances in areas held by Gaddafi’s forces and we have heard the leader of the Libyan opposition say:
“We appeal to the international community, to all the free world, to stop this tyranny from exterminating civilians.”
And we have heard Colonel Gaddafi gloat that he would treat the people of Benghazi, a city of 700,000 people-the size of Leeds-with “no mercy or compassion”.
In 1936, a Spanish politician came to Britain to plead for support in the face of General Franco’s violent fascism. He said:
“We are fighting with sticks and knives against tanks and aircraft and guns, and it revolts the conscience of the world that that should be true.”
As we saw the defenceless people of Libya attacked by their own Government, it would equally revolt the conscience of the world to know that we could have done something to help them yet chose not to.
Mr Cash: In the context of the important issue of arming those who are resisting Gaddafi, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that every effort must be made, within the terms of the resolution, to apply to the sanctions committee of the United Nations to enable paragraph 9(c) of resolution 1970 to be applied in such a way as to ensure that people in Benghazi and elsewhere are properly supplied with arms so that they can defend themselves? As the right hon. Gentleman has said, there is a parallel with what happened in 1936.
Edward Miliband: As the Prime Minister said when we discussed the issue a week or so ago, we need to be cautious and ensure that we always comply with the terms of the UN mandate, but as long as we stick to the UN mandate, that is the right thing to do.
Robert Halfon: Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that, in part, we are where we are because of the actions of the last Government in appeasing and collaborating with Gaddafi, in selling him weapons, and in building business and academic links?
Edward Miliband: To be fair to the Prime Minister, he conducted this debate in the right terms. Let me say to the hon. Gentleman that today is not the day for party-political point-scoring. Let me say this also: in
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2005, when Tony Blair made the decision that he made, voices were not raised against him, because there was no sign of a popular uprising in Libya. What people worried about was Colonel Gaddafi-and the Prime Minister eloquently described the problems and dangers posed by him-possessing nuclear weapons and threatening the rest of the world, and I think that Tony Blair was right to try to bring him into the international community.
A debate is often conducted about rights to intervene, but this debate is about not rights but responsibilities. The decade-long debate about the “responsibility to protect” speaks precisely to this question. As the House will know, the responsibility to protect was adopted in 2005 at the world summit and was endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly and the United Nations Security Council, and it should help to frame our debate today. It identifies a “responsibility to react” to
“situations of compelling human need with appropriate measures…and in extreme cases military intervention”.
It identifies four cautionary tests which will help us in this debate as we consider intervention:
“right intention, last resort, proportional means and reasonable prospects”.
Mr John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): The Leader of the Opposition is making a very thoughtful case. Can he tell us how much intervention he thinks it reasonable for the west to make in what is really a civil war in which the rebel side is experiencing considerable difficulties?
Edward Miliband: I have great respect for the right hon. Gentleman, but I do not agree that this is a civil war. There was a popular uprising against the Gaddafi regime that Gaddafi is cruelly and brutally trying to suppress. I think that we should bear that in mind as we implement the terms of the resolution.
The responsibility to protect identifies those four tests that we should apply, and I think that they will inform the debate today. The first is the test of “right intentions”. Our intentions are right: we are acting to protect the Libyan people, to save lives, and to prevent the Gaddafi regime from committing serious crimes against humanity. We do not seek commercial gain or geopolitical advantage, and we are not intending to occupy Libya or seize her natural resources. This is not a power play or an attempt to install a new Government by force. Colonel Gaddafi is the one who is trying to impose his political will with violence, and our role is to stop him.
This is the “last resort” to protect the Libyan people. Sanctions and other measures have been tried, including in resolution 1970, and they have not stopped Colonel Gaddafi. As the Prime Minister said, his ceasefire was simply a lie paraded to the international community before his forces once again attacked Benghazi. As for proportionality, the UN resolution makes it clear that the means must be proportional, and we should always follow that in what we do.
Jeremy Corbyn: My right hon. Friend will be aware that, although what he is saying is of great importance, there are also lessons to be learned. Does he not think that it is time for a wholesale review of our policy of military co-operation and arms sales in the case of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, and of what is happening in
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Yemen and further afield in the Congo, the Ivory Coast and other places? At what point is he prepared to say that we should be involved or not involved, and at what point is he prepared to say that we will seriously scale down our arms export industry, which actually leads to much of the oppression in the first place?
Edward Miliband: Let me deal with those two very serious points. On the first point about arms exports, we have rightly said that there should be a comprehensive review of the implementation and nature of our policy on arms sales. When we see what has happened in parts of north Africa, we are worried about the use of British arms for internal repression. If my hon. Friend will allow me, I will come to his second point about double standards later in my speech. The Prime Minister has also talked about that very important issue.
Mr Baron: Compliance with the UN resolution might not equal an endgame. What does the right hon. Gentleman propose that we should do about the no-fly zone if we manage to comply with the resolution but at the same time Gaddafi is left in place because there is a stalemate on the ground?
Edward Miliband: I am going to talk about that in my speech as well, but I want to respond directly to the hon. Gentleman. We do not always know how things will end, so the question is whether, when we are faced with the choices we face, it is better to take action or to stand aside. This is a really important point and we will be scrutinising the Government and the Prime Minister in coming weeks, looking for a clear strategy. I have looked back at the debate about Kosovo in 1999, which was led by Robin Cook, and people were making the same arguments then. The truth is that we did not know where things were going to end, but by taking action in Kosovo we saved the lives of tens of thousands of people.
Nadhim Zahawi (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con): Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that one way in which we can help the Libyan people and the rebellion against Gaddafi is by recognising them as the legitimate Government. Would he support the Government in taking that position if it were put forward?
Edward Miliband: This is a very tricky issue, but let me respond to the hon. Gentleman. In a joint statement with President Sarkozy, the Prime Minister recognised the transitional council as one of the reasonable interlocutors-I think that was the phrase. The reason for that is that we need to scrutinise very carefully who the best interlocutors are and who the natural alternative to Colonel Gaddafi is. There is a history to this and jumping too early in that regard has its own dangers. I think it is right to recognise the transitional council as a reasonable interlocutor.
Sir Menzies Campbell (North East Fife) (LD): The right hon. Gentleman’s reference to Kosovo is entirely apt because it was out of the frustrations of Kosovo, for which no United Nations Security Council resolution could be obtained, that the doctrine of the duty to protect arose. Its genesis was in a speech made by Tony Blair in Chicago in 1999. In this particular case, are we not on much stronger ground because the Security Council has said expressly in the provision that “all necessary measures” may be taken?
Edward Miliband: The right hon. and learned Gentleman has huge expertise in this area and he makes an important point. This is a very important moment for multilateralism because a UN resolution has been passed without opposition at the Security Council. This is a real test of the international community and its ability to carry through not just our intentions but the intentions and values of the United Nations. He is completely right about that.
I was talking about proportionality, which is the third test of the responsibility to protect. It is right to say that our targeting strategy and that of our allies-this is something that the Prime Minister and I have discussed-must be restricted to military targets that pose a threat to civilians. We should always exercise the utmost care in the nature of our targeting because we know how important that is both as a matter of principle and for the conduct of our campaign.
On the fourth criterion of reasonable success, there is every reason to believe, as we have already shown in the past few days, that we can stop the slaughter on which Colonel Gaddafi appears to have embarked.
Mr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman talks about the important matter of targeting by the allies in the attacks against the regime, but is he aware that Colonel Gaddafi is putting civilians in the places where such targets are, thereby making the situation for the coalition Government ever more difficult?
Edward Miliband: The hon. Gentleman speaks eloquently to the evil of Colonel Gaddafi in doing that. The care taken by our armed forces, which the Prime Minister has talked about, is incredibly important because they are facing incredibly difficult decisions.
The responsibility to protect recognises that there need to be tests applied to intervention, but also, crucially, that interventions require international authority and consent. In this case, the Arab League endorses a no-fly zone, and the UN Security Council expressed a clear will, with the support of 10 countries. It is worth drawing attention to which countries those are, because they include Lebanon, Colombia and South Africa. A broad spectrum of countries from across the world gave their support to the UN resolution.
There is international consent, a just cause and a feasible mission, but we also need-this is very important-to maintain public support here at home, because this House is not just contemplating expressing its support for an international resolution; it is discussing its position on the use of armed forces. We are a generous and compassionate people, but there will no doubt be some people in the country-indeed, we have heard it in parts of this House-wondering whether it really needs to be us, now, at this time. It is a valid and important question, but in the end, as well as there being the geopolitical questions that the Prime Minister raised, we have to make a judgment about our role in the world and our duty to others. Where there is just cause, where feasible action can be taken, and where there is international consent, are we really saying that we should be a country that stands by and does nothing? In my view, that would be a dereliction of our duty, our history, and our values. Let us not forget that those who have risen up against Colonel Gaddafi are part of a
21 Mar 2011 : Column 719wider movement for reform and democracy that we are seeing across north Africa. We cannot and should not abandon them.
Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): I have supported humanitarian interventions in the past, and I am minded to do the same in this case, but the reason why we are expected to intervene, rather than others, is that we are stronger than others. The right hon. Gentleman knows that there has been a huge hole in the defence budget. Does he know from his conversations with the Government whether the funding for what could be a very long-term and expensive operation will be added to the core defence budget, or taken from it?
Edward Miliband: I have been given those reassurances by the Prime Minister. Today, as the House debates this question, I want to concentrate on the important issues before us, including the capability of our armed forces, but I have been given that reassurance by the Government.
Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): It is obviously right that we should focus on Libya today, but as my right hon. Friend knows, the situation in Yemen is deteriorating every hour. Is there not a duty on the Arab League and coalition partners to try to work to prevent further conflict in Yemen by promoting the need for dialogue?
Edward Miliband: I know that my right hon. Friend has been one of the leading voices on the question of Yemen, and he is absolutely right about that; I am coming to that now in my speech. I have set out the case for support for the resolution and our participation, but-this is the second part of my remarks-that will not be enough for everyone in the House, including my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn).