3.4 pm

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): This is a very important and valuable debate, in which a wide range of opinions have been expressed. I was disappointed that the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr Offord) should make such an unpleasant remark about my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick), who had expressed a perfectly legitimate and well thought-out point of view. Remarks of that kind do no credit to the debate.

Mr Winnick: I am most grateful to my hon. Friend—what he has said is very kind—but in view of what the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr Offord) said, I must say that any insult from him is a compliment indeed.

Mr Offord: Likewise.

Jeremy Corbyn: I am glad that I have helped to perpetuate the sense of equality that we are observing this afternoon.

Obviously, this is a vital debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North rightly drew attention to its historical connotations, and to Britain’s historical involvement in the region. We tend to delude ourselves in the House that Britain is seen as a benign liberal democracy that never operates out of self-interest but is concerned only with the greater good of mankind as a whole, and that we seek to promote the rule of law, democracy and independence throughout the world. Sadly, the history of Britain’s involvement in north Africa and the middle east hardly adds up to that. We have seen, for instance, the 1952 coup in Iran and all its subsequent ramifications, the Suez operation in 1956, the United States bombing of Libya in 1986 when the planes took off from this country, the obsessive dealing in arms in exchange for oil, and the turning of a blind eye to volumes and volumes of human rights abuses in countries that we claim are close friends of ours.

Last week I tabled what I thought was a perfectly innocuous and reasonable question to the Secretary of State, asking him to tell me on which occasions since June last year

“human rights issues have been raised with… (a) Morocco, (b) Tunisia, (c) Algeria, (d) Libya, (e) Egypt, (f) Yemen, (g) Saudi Arabia and (h) Bahrain”.

I was very disappointed to be told that the Minister would answer “shortly”. I hope that he will answer shortly—

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Alistair Burt) rose—

Jeremy Corbyn: I will give way to the Minister immediately so that he can give me the answer to my question.

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Alistair Burt: I will not give the answer quite yet, but I signed off the question this morning, and it is therefore in my mind. I will ensure that the text is available to me in time for my winding-up speech so that I can make one or two references to it. The hon. Gentleman can be sure that a very good and complete answer is well on its way to him.

Jeremy Corbyn: I would expect nothing less, but I should have loved to have it before the debate so that I could have referred to it. That is why I tabled the question. However, I thank the Backbench Business Committee for securing the debate in the first place.

We need to embark on a complete reappraisal of our policy on the whole region. We cannot go on supporting potentates and dictators, absolute monarchs and abuses of human rights. We cannot continue to sell arms, tear gas, riot shields and all kinds of weapons of destruction, and then not be surprised when they are used. As my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North said in relation to the sale of arms to Libya, who on earth was supposed to be attacking Libya? Why should it require such a vast array of armoury, along with Saudi Arabia among other countries? We need to think carefully about that.

According to an article in the online edition of The Guardian,

“NMS took up to 50 British companies to arms fairs in Libya in 2008 and last November. The last exhibition reportedly showcased military wares such as artillery systems, anti-tank weapons, and infantry weapons.”

All those are being used as we speak. As for the question of arms sales, the Campaign Against Arms Trade refers to

“UK weapons used against pro-democracy protesters in the Middle East”,

and goes on to report:

“The UK sold tear gas, crowd control armament and sniper rifles to Libya and Bahrain in 2010.”

As we speak, they are being used against protesters there. The Prime Minister, rather bizarrely, took a number of arms salespersons with him on his recent trip. Only a year before that, we were selling equipment to Saudi Arabia that is currently being used in Bahrain. And so the list goes on and on.

We cannot continue to assume that none of that has anything to do with us. It is time that we changed our policy on arms sales completely, and ceased to have an economy that is apparently so dependent on the sale of arms to so many people around the world. You cannot sell arms and then complain about human rights abuses when those arms are used against people who suffer as a result.

Mr MacShane: On 17 February, the Foreign Secretary said that the UK

“would strongly oppose any interference in the affairs of Bahrain by other nations”.—[Official Report, 17 February 2011; Vol. 523, c. 1135.]

Is my hon. Friend aware of any statement from the Foreign Office calling on the Saudis immediately to withdraw their invasion force?

Jeremy Corbyn: I am not aware of any such statement, and I wish there was such a statement, because the Gulf

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Co-operation Council sending forces into Bahrain is an invasion and an occupation, and is resulting in a great deal of oppression of people in Bahrain at present.

I want to mention three further specific matters. Palestine has been raised on a number of occasions, and there are a lot of issues to do with Palestine; indeed, last weekend I was at a conference dealing with Palestinian prisoner issues. I shall refer to just one astonishing fact, however: since 1967, Israeli occupation forces have arrested more than 800,000 Palestinians, and at present there are thought to be 6,600 Palestinians in Israeli prisons, including children, elected members of the Palestinian Authority, a number of prisoners who are in isolation and at least 1,000 who are deprived of any kind of family visit. Those are abuses of the human rights of those individuals. Add that to the construction of the wall, add that to the settlement policy, add that to the checkpoints, add that to the imprisonment of the people of Gaza, add that to the huge levels of unemployment resulting in Gaza, add that to the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians living in the Negev desert, add that to the removal of Israeli-Palestinian homes in Haifa and Jaffa—add all that up and what we clearly get is a constant harassment of all the Palestinian people.

I hope that we are serious about human rights, but Israel has been building the wall and continuing the settlements in defiance of all international law and all pressures to the contrary. Where are the condemnations and the sanctions? Where is the public discussion in the west of Israel’s behaviour and policy? I do not want any bombing or assassinations—I do not want any murders or killings—but we see a whole process of hate developing because there is no condemnation of what is being done, which is so damaging to the Palestinian people.

One issue that has not so far been raised is the situation in Morocco, and the Moroccan occupation of the Western Sahara and the several hundred thousand Sahrawi people who have been in refugee camps in Algeria since 1975. I hope that one day the UN through MINURSO—the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara—will take on a human rights role, which I think it should have, and that it will succeed in carrying out the decolonisation statutes, which would give the people of the Western Sahara a right of self-determination.

There is now a third generation of residents in those refugee camps in Algeria, hoping one day to be able to go home. Can we imagine what that must be like? It is not good enough for Morocco to say, “Well, there can be a degree of autonomy in the Western Sahara.” Under international law, it is absolutely clear that, as a former Spanish colony, Western Sahara should, on removal of the colonial power, have the right of self-determination. That right has been denied to the Sahrawi people. It is a sore that runs through their feelings and that runs through the whole region. Again, that can be the start of a problem for the future. I am well aware that the Minister has some sympathy with the views that I am expressing. The all-party group on Western Sahara had a useful meeting with him, and I hope he will be able to give us some further news on this issue in his speech.

Three weeks ago I went on a short visit to Tunisia, where I spent a lot of time talking to people of all political persuasions: those of the left, the centre, a number of Islamic groups and others. It was clear that

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they were delighted with the removal of President Ben Ali, but they were frightened about the possible return of the Ben Ali regime in a different guise through the power of the security services and patronage in the state. They were therefore frightened of what may well happen in the future.

I was talking to some students in the central square who were very effectively kettling a group of army officers and soldiers, as well as their equipment and tanks. It was slightly bizarre to see a lot of students keeping the army in a square, because in most demonstrations I have been on if the army turns up, people generally think it is bad news. These students thought it was good news to keep the army there because, as they explained to me, a vast array of European-supplied anti-riot equipment was around the corner in the hands of the riot police and they thought that keeping the army in the square would keep the police out because they probably would not fire on the army. It was therefore a perfectly logical choice to make.

I discussed with the students what their hopes for the future were, and the answers were diverse; there was no coherent central theme to what they wanted, except freedom to demonstrate, freedom of assembly, freedom of expression and so on. When I asked them whether they wanted western help they said, “No, because when the west comes in it never leaves. We want to do this ourselves and we want to achieve something different ourselves.”

Amnesty International has sent out a very interesting briefing, pointing out the abuses of human rights and the shootings of people that have gone on in so many countries: Tunisia, Algeria, Sudan, Egypt, Bahrain, Oman and Saudi Arabia. The list goes on and on, and it includes Yemen, describing what is happening there at the moment. There is a common theme, which relates not only to the thirst for peace and democracy, but to an economic issue. So many of those countries have adopted economic policies that resulted in mass youth unemployment. This is about the anger of young people who see no future and no security for themselves in an oppressive state that has been largely supported by the west.

We need to think very carefully. We need to express a great deal of hope about what is going on throughout the region, but military intervention has brought problems in every place that we have been in in the past. I understand all the arguments for a no-fly zone over Libya, but I do not see how it will do anything other than exacerbate an already tense situation.

3.17 pm

Rory Stewart (Penrith and The Border) (Con): This debate is, of course, an extraordinary phenomenon. We have been stuck in intervention for the past 20 years. We have spent $3 trillion, we have had 100,000 lives lost and we have had more than 1 million soldiers pass through Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan, yet we do not seem to have a clear answer on what we do in Libya. The lessons that we are taking from history are very dubious. People are referring to Bosnia, but they are forgetting that Bosnia was a sovereign, independent state when it asked for assistance—the entire debate in the Security Council was completely different. We fail also to understand ourselves. As hon. Members from all

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parts of the House have mentioned, we fail to understand our own tendency to be unable to do something with passionate moderation. We shift quickly from dipping our toe in the water to being submerged up to our neck—we go from a no-fly zone into a troop deployment.

The final thing that we misunderstand—this is the reason why we need to lift our eyes from Libya—is the way in which we are increasingly perceived in the middle east after our interactions with Iraq and Afghanistan. If we were discussing this immediately after the events in Kosovo, the whole debate would be completely different. If those events had just happened, we would be able to stand up and say, “We don’t care that the Russians are blocking us in the Security Council. We have done a good job in Kosovo and we are going to do the same thing in Libya.” But the intervening 10 years have made that option impossible, which is why the Government’s position is the correct one.

If I understand it correctly, the Government’s position is to push strongly for a no-fly zone, but a no-fly zone only with strong international backing. Many people on both sides of the House have suggested that that is a paradox and that it is somehow impossible. They say, “Either you push for a no-fly zone or you don’t. Your rhetoric has to be matched with your action. If you think you have a humanitarian right and an obligation, you should do it regardless of the international politics.” That no longer makes sense. It is perfectly consistent to say that we have a moral right and a moral duty to impose a no-fly zone but will not do so without the support of the United Nations. One of the most important things to remember in that context is not Russia but Brazil, India and South Africa—the emerging powers who are not, at the moment, on our side. If we try to lurch into this thing without bringing with us what will probably be the majority of the countries in the world, it will be extremely unwise and very dangerous. Does that mean that we should do nothing? No. It means that we need to lift our eyes above Libya. We need to see the incredible potential in this region, if we are patient, over the next 20 to 30 years.

We tend, I think, to get caught up in exactly what happens when a helicopter lands near Benghazi, rather than keeping our eyes on Egypt and Tunisia and on what the middle east and north Africa mean to us. They mean so much to us. It is not just that they are on the other side of the Mediterranean. It is not just that they have this incredible young, unemployed population who are both a potential source of prosperity for their own nations and for us and a potential threat to us. We also have much greater leverage on those countries than on the nations that are much further away, such as Afghanistan.

The relationships between France and Morocco and between Italy and Libya—indeed, around the whole Mediterranean littoral—are so close that that region is definitely within Europe’s sphere of influence. If we can move from panicking about exactly what is happening in Libya to considering how to invest over the next 10 to 30 years and how to put ourselves in a position where all the talk about what we do to make this our 1989 and to make the middle east and north Africa another example, along with central and eastern Europe, of how we can move countries to a more prosperous, democratic future, it will obviously be good for us and for them.

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We need to be cautious. A lot of nonsense is talked about democratisation and it is very easy for us to imagine that we can somehow go into someone else’s society and create civil society and good governance and eliminate corruption when those are not things that we have proved very able to do in Kenya, Nepal or Afghanistan. That does not mean, however, that we can do nothing.

The lesson from the experience of central and eastern Europe is that progress is possible, but the kind of progress we should make is exactly the kind of progress that we have been speaking about. I applaud what the Government have said about access—to markets and to people—but the lesson from eastern Europe is that that needs to be adjusted. What was very smart about what we did in eastern Europe was that our policy, for example, towards Slovakia was different from our policy towards the Czech Republic—we were more open towards the Czech Republic, and people in Slovakia saw that and moved. Too often, our policy towards north Africa has been a one-size-fits-all policy. We now need a policy that not only no longer says that Tunisia is simply within France’s sphere of influence—that we will not do anything about Tunisia because that is a French affair—but says that Tunisia might deserve different treatment from countries such as Libya, and that Egypt might deserve different treatment from countries such as Morocco.

Mr MacShane: The hon. Gentleman is making a fascinating speech. Frankly, the comparisons with 1989 are wrong, because this is more like the crushing of what happened in Hungary or Prague than a gentle transition to democracy. We should never forget that Mrs Thatcher did not support German unification at that time. In 1980, when Solidarnosc was suppressed, many countries were quite happy to see stability restored and caution was the watchword of the day.

On the hon. Gentleman’s narrow point about how we treat Tunisia, when I was Europe Minister I tried to get Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria switched to the European department of the Foreign Office, but the Africanists put their little feet down and said, “No, they belong permanently to Africa.” Will he talk to his colleagues at the Foreign Office and get those countries treated as part of the broader south Mediterranean and European hinterland rather than African ex-colonies?

Rory Stewart: I disagree very strongly and I think that in 10 to 20 years’ time, the right hon. Gentleman will have been proved wrong. I think the situation is equivalent to 1989 and that is the direction in which those countries are heading. It is patronising and mistaken of him to believe that this is simply a repeat of the 1950s and 1960s.

Let us look at Libya specifically. Gaddafi is going to be a very peculiar, eccentric and isolated figure even within his own country. Everything is shifting against that man. When he came to power, the population was rural and there was an anti-colonial movement. He now faces a situation in which 80% of Libyans live in cities in which he is perceived as a colonial oppressor. He has gone from the bloodless revolution that brought him to power four decades ago to a bloody attack on his own people. What we are hearing in Egypt and Tunisia is not some accidental, sporadic pop-up that will be constrained by inevitable forces of tyranny or Arabic culture. It is

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probably something closer to what we have seen in central and eastern Europe and in Latin America in the past 20 to 30 years. Furthermore, it is in our political and moral interests to support it. Even if I am wrong and it is not an inevitability but only a probability that things are going in that direction, it is the direction in which we should be pushing. This is Britain’s opportunity and Europe’s moment, and that is the direction we need to go in.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): I take absolutely no issue with the hon. Gentleman’s comment that it is our political and moral duty to do that. However, at the risk of rehearsing European history, the 10 countries that joined the European Union in 2004 were democracies before the iron curtain fell, so we were restoring democracy and we did it within the framework of membership of the European Union. It is different.

Rory Stewart: I thank the hon. Lady for those comments. The last thing that I, or any of us, want is to be starry-eyed about this. The differences that she has raised are incredibly important and have to be considered in relation to how we speak to the middle east. The whole movement in central and eastern Europe and the ability to speak about democracy, liberty and joining NATO and the European Union was driven by the history of the 1930s and by the cold war. The language on the streets in the middle east today is very different. I am afraid that George Bush has done a great disservice to words such as liberty, equality and democracy—words that were on the lips of Vaclav Havel—which do not sit so easily today when we talk to those countries. We need new words and I was pleased to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames) talk instead about dignity and justice. We need a whole new language and it needs to be driven by them, not us. Freedom is not something that is given but something that is taken.

All those words of caution need to be considered, but we can, nevertheless, have a constructive role over the next 20 to 30 years in helping the middle east and north Africa be more stable, more prosperous and more humane than today. That is our mission. That is what we have to put our weight behind and is where we need to invest, which means a number of things for our foreign policy. Rhetorically and financially we have been stuck in Asia. Financially, if we include debts and veterans’ costs, we are spending more than £7 billion a year in Afghanistan. Rhetorically, we have been in China and Brazil for good reasons—they are big emerging countries—but this is a wake-up call about what is going on at the other end of the Mediterranean, which, in demographic, energy, religious and security terms will prove to be more important to our institutions and future than we have acknowledged in the past five to 10 years. We therefore need to invest in institutions.

I absolutely celebrate what the Foreign Office is doing in recruiting more Arabists. We need people who can focus on Azeri and people who speak different languages. There are not enough British ambassadors in the middle east who speak fluent Arabic. We need to make sure that Tunisia is no longer seen as some French extension and we also need to take into account the lessons from European enlargement. We need to look at the way in which the Commission approached Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia and we need

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to give the prestige and investment to our energies in north Africa and the middle east that was given to those countries.

If we get those things right and we keep to the principles on Libya that the Government have put in play—first, clarity; secondly, a coalition; thirdly, a recognition that we can set strategic direction without having to rush in with our troops; and finally, institutional investment over the next 10 to 20 years in our relationships with these countries—I think we will find that although we can do much less than we pretend, we can do much more than we fear.

3.30 pm

Mr William Bain (Glasgow North East) (Lab): It is a pleasure to speak in the debate and to follow the interesting and thought-provoking speech made by the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart).

We are living through extraordinary times when a single incident in Tunisia has sparked a movement against dictatorship and repression, and a movement for democracy, human rights and freedom, throughout the regions of north Africa and the middle east. It is still too early to say whether these times possess the precise significance of the events that led to the fall of the communist regimes in eastern Europe in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but the international community must ensure through its collective action over the coming days and weeks that the Arab spring does not become simply another Prague spring. While democracy should never be imposed by external forces, we should endeavour to assist those who are campaigning for human rights and freedoms in their hour of need.

Let me turn first to the most pressing area of concern: Libya. The unrest there began on 16 February following the arrest of Fathi Terbil, the human rights lawyer, and peaceful demonstrations in the east of the country, which for many years has been left in a state of under-development by the Gaddafi regime. Those protests led to a widespread rebellion against the regime and then the bloody fight back that the regime has launched against its own people. It is clear that the Gaddafi regime has lost its authority to remain in power, and the Libyan people should be supported in their efforts to remove it.

There is a need for immediate action by the international community to prevent further attacks by the Gaddafi regime on the protesters and the interim national council. While we have been engaged in this debate, the BBC and Reuters have said that air strikes have been reported on the outskirts of Benghazi and at Benghazi airport, so the situation is clearly fast-moving. If the regime launches a brutal counter-attack, there is a strong possibility of a severe loss of life in Benghazi, so the international community must be ready to consider measures such as a ceasefire and a no-fly zone over Libya. Latest reports, and indeed the Foreign Secretary’s opening speech, indicate that the UN Security Council might consider and vote on the draft resolution on Libya in the next few days.

Views differ about the nature of any no-fly zone. General McPeak, the former US air force chief of staff who helped to oversee no-fly zones in Iraq and the Adriatic, has advocated a no-fly zone over rebel-held areas, which would not require the incapacitation of air defence systems. Other no-fly zones have been extremely

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demanding to police, as they have required AWACS, aircraft refuelling support and round-the-clock monitoring. We should be mindful of what we might ask of the pilots involved in policing a no-fly zone, as well as the risk of incidents of friendly fire. A no-fly zone did not stop the Srebrenica massacre in 1995, but if such a measure proves vital for humanitarian reasons in the coming days and weeks, the Security Council should follow the lead of the Arab League.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): A no-fly zone did not stop what happened in Srebrenica—I was there earlier than that—but the no-fly zone over Bosnia was ineffective because it was not properly set up. If we are going to do something, let us do it properly and make sure that it works—otherwise forget it.

Mr Bain: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, and one I will refer to later in my remarks.

We ought to follow the lead of the opposition national council and the EU and take the steps required to protect against future and further atrocities by the regime. There are important contrasts with the more complex no-fly zone that operated in Iraq between 1991 and 2003, which required on average 34,000 sorties a year, at an annual cost of nearly $1.5 billion. Shashank Joshi said recently:

“In Libya, by contrast, NATO might only need to cover Tripoli, its transport corridors, and… urban areas threatened by Qadhafi loyalists.”

As he also pointed out this week, arming the opposition would cause a serious risk. Portable anti-aircraft missiles could slip out of responsible hands and be used against western targets, and small arms proliferation is already a blight in that part of the world.

Mr Cash: Does the hon. Gentleman realise what he has just said? I think that he said that we should not arm the resistance movement. Does he realise that Richard Dannatt and many others who have great experience are calling for these people to be properly armed? Otherwise, there will be a massacre. Does he really appreciate what he is saying?

Mr Bain: There is a range of views on this, and we should proceed very carefully and in full recognisance of all the arguments before taking steps over the next few days, particularly on arms.

It is clear that any no-fly zone would require a sound legal mandate invoking chapter VII of the UN charter where possible. There are also practical difficulties in enforcing a no-fly zone against helicopters, as a breach of it might require attacks against ground targets.

The humanitarian situation in Libya and its neighbouring states has worsened over the past few weeks, with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees reporting that more than 280,000 people have fled Libya and crossed the borders into Tunisia and Egypt. This week, the UNHCR reported that people seeking to flee combat areas in search of refuge are unable to do so or are being prevented from doing so, with a particularly critical situation affecting trapped refugees and asylum seekers who have been detained. We should support

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UNICEF in its efforts to make an immediate response to alleviate the humanitarian crisis as soon as it can safely enter the country.

The key point is that the international community cannot abandon the Libyan people in this time of need. This must not be another situation like 1992 where, having supported the Shi’a community in Iraq, we then abandoned them when Saddam began to attack them and gave little other than moral support thereafter.

In the few moments remaining I will turn to some of the other states in the neighbouring areas. In Bahrain, movement towards a genuine constitutional monarchy seems to me to be the most likely step to bring about reconciliation and progress. Other middle east Governments must respond to the movements for political and economic reform, such as those in Saudi Arabia and Yemen. As many Members have said, we need to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and secure a viable Palestinian state, cohabiting alongside an Israeli state, in order to begin the process of providing a better future for people in the region.

I saw some very interesting data from the Pew global attitudes project last year, which found a decline in support in the Muslim world for radicalism and terrorist attacks. I think that that shows the genuine beliefs of the people in the middle east. They want peace and security and, above all, economic development and reform. As Secretary of State Clinton set out in her speech in Doha on 13 January, there are many signs of the potential for a new and innovative middle east, but there are also huge problems, such as mass youth unemployment, which is approaching 20%, a stagnant political order and depleted resources. We in the west can play our part by securing a completion of the WTO Doha round to liberalise trade and to encourage growth in poorer states, and by building links between the EU and the middle east and north Africa.

Developing civil society, helping to reform the economy and helping the peoples of the middle east and north Africa to increase their human rights and freedoms will be vital to their future and to the security of the region, and in an interconnected world it will be increasingly important for our security here at home in Britain, too.

3.40 pm

Laura Sandys (South Thanet) (Con): My mind has been expanded by many people’s contributions today. We have looked at the situation in the middle east from many different perspectives, and I was interested to hear the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Bain) talk about trade issues. I will begin by looking at what has been going in the middle east and its wider diplomatic impact on us, and then I will come back to the pressing issue of what we must do for the 1 million people in Benghazi.

The world has changed fundamentally. It has changed financially in the past four years, and now our diplomatic policy, which has held for decades in the middle east, has been shaken. Stability, over legitimacy, has been the watchword, but now we have reversed that and need to ensure that not only we as a country but Europe and the west are at the forefront of this new, emerging and neighbouring area in the middle east.

We face a new world order, with not only instability in the middle east, but changing priorities for some of our closest allies, and that requires a revised response

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from this country—a reshaping of our approach to diplomacy. Dealing with volatility diplomatically is always difficult, and certainty is most certainly elusive in the middle east and north Africa, but the desire for certainty must not tempt us to back winners throughout the region.

Many, including myself, think that it might be more than 10 years before we can see an exact pattern—an exact level of stability—in countries that are going through such fundamental change, but it would be extremely dangerous if we at this stage chose who we believed were going to be the Governments or the winners in those countries, so we need to be cautious of supporting one iteration of these dynamic events over another.

We need to be seen to be the supporters of the citizens of those countries, rather than of their Governments. If their future Governments reflect the wishes of those citizens, our stated support for their aspiration will coincide with support for their Government. If those Governments are not in step with their people, they will not represent stability, so we need to be more subtle, nuanced and sensitive to the citizens, not just to their Governments. Volatility in diplomacy is going to be the new certainty.

Fundamental changes in power structures are also taking place. Regional power is playing a stronger role, over the global structures that we have had in the past, and it is really positive to see the Arab League making some decisions. For too long it has been merely a talking shop, but Europe needs to be more united, too, and to have a stronger voice throughout north Africa and the middle east.

These developments, particularly in the middle east, have revealed a changing world and, explicitly, changing expressions of interest. Direct national interest appears to be determining countries’ appetite for engagement, and the US has shown quite a reluctance to commit one way or another, but ironically that has offered greater space for, and demanded increased responsibility from, regional actors, such as the Arab League, Europe and the African Union.

Our Government and European countries are taking the lead in the UN. I know that there are some questions about certain members of the European Union, but it is a European initiative that is coming forward. We now need to allow for regional solutions to come forward too, with people neither expecting nor depending on intervention by global powers. However, although regional responses may be positive in sharing responsibility and expanding the horizons of different parts of the European and African space, they might create increasing instability and less international control over conflicts and crises.

I should like to return to the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash) has ensured we have not forgotten. One million people are trapped in a town that has been surrounded and is being bombed at this moment. We are facing a very horrid dilemma. Do we enter Libya? Do we arm the rebels in Benghazi? Are we to ensure that we deliver a no-fly zone? Should we be looking at the supply lines as being the crucial bloodstream that is allowing Gaddafi to intervene?

These are some of the approaches that we have used in the past. I believe that we now need to look carefully at a new international peacekeeping and humanitarian toolkit. Are we being creative enough? Will our UN

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resolution allow for arms to enter Benghazi as part of the UN right to protect? Are we able to adopt new mechanisms that reflect our support for people over their Governments? I ask one question of the Government: are they offering support for the Libyan rebels in support of their desire and need to establish a small enclave very quickly? I am looking to see whether it would be possible to establish a humanitarian state over a short period and create a humanitarian protectorate immediately. We need game-changers, because the game has changed. I hope that the new, more creative and immediate responses that we need will be put in place quickly enough to save the 1 million people in Benghazi.

3.47 pm

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for South Thanet (Laura Sandys), who put her finger on the main issue that I want to address—no-fly zones. There has been a confusion between military and humanitarian aims and outcomes, and if we are not clear when we are taking military action and do it under the guise of humanitarian action, we might end up doing neither properly.

The hon. Lady also mentioned the move towards a duty to protect—a concept that the United Nations has started to develop. The question of the stage at which the United Kingdom feels that it should step into the breach in a duty to protect is a very live one. The Foreign Secretary said in his evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee that it depended on circumstances. Of course, that is right, but this place, at some stage—probably not now—needs to think through what the duty to protect would mean in practice. If there was one mistake that the Blair Administration made in the run-up to the Iraq invasion it was that the debate should have been about “Why now?” rather than weapons of mass destruction. That should have been the logic of his Chicago speech and the subsequent actions.

However, today’s debate is about north Africa and the middle east. I should like to make a technical and narrow contribution about no-fly zones, which many people have talked about. Even when the Prime Minister raised the issue, I was not entirely convinced that he really knew what he was asking for. I thought it might be useful to look back at the experiences of previous no-fly zones and the lessons that we should have learned from them regarding where they worked and where they did not.

The no-fly zone in northern Iraq from 1991 to 2003 is, by and large, seen as a successful one. The reason is that the northern no-fly zone linked western air operations with Kurdish political parties and militias. In combination, they deterred Iraqi military action against the Kurds, which enabled a stable and sophisticated political and economically prosperous autonomous Kurdish cell. That success endured, even after the 2003 chaos. The northern Iraqi no-fly zone is arguably the most successful single engagement of the entire UK military engagement in Iraq since 1991. We ought to hold on to that point, because I do not think that the subsequent two no-fly zones were successful and we must consider why.

The southern Iraqi no-fly zone lasted from 1992 to 2003, and was imposed after the brutal repression of the Shi’as was effectively complete. In other words, we stepped in after the disaster had happened. No coherent

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Shi’ite political structure was accessible to the west and there was no appetite for direct action to prevent Iraq draining the southern marshes, on which the Shi’as depended for survival. From a humanitarian standpoint, the no-fly zone achieved little. As a coercive policy instrument, it achieved more. In 1994, it was extended from latitude 32° north to 33° north. To prevent a re-attack on Kuwait, its terms were widened to make it a no-drive zone for Iraqi armoured and mechanised divisions. In 1998, Operation Desert Fox was launched through the southern no-fly zone against sites associated with the development of weapons of mass destruction in central Iraq. The capture of Iraq’s senior commanders in 2003 revealed that Operation Desert Fox persuaded Iraq to abandon its manufacture of WMD.

The third no-fly zone I will discuss was in Bosnia from 1993 to 1995, and I am glad that there is somebody in the Chamber who knows much more about it than I. The assessment is that it was neither a practical nor a political success. Its effectiveness was limited by restricted rules of engagement that prevented action against helicopters, and by poor co-ordination between NATO and the UN. Its coercive impact was seriously undermined by a bitter political dispute between European capitals and the Clinton Administration over America’s preference to lift the arms embargo on the Bosnian Muslims and to strike the Bosnian Serbs directly.

I come now to the practicalities and what we should do in Libya. The conflicts in Iraq, Syria and Yugoslavia indicate that air forces equipped with 1970s and 1980s Soviet and French aircraft are comprehensively outmatched by air forces equipped with modern western aircraft and training. Technically and tactically, the US and NATO have consistently proved their ability sufficiently to suppress 1980s vintage integrated air defence systems, and thus enable air operations at an acceptable level of risk. That does not necessitate the complete destruction of the IADS. Indeed, that was never achieved in Iraq or the Balkans. In Iraq, between 1998 and 2000, there were 470 separate engagements of American and RAF aircraft by Iraqi surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft artillery. They were defeated by a combination of tactics, self-protection counter-measures carried by all participating aircraft, aircraft equipped with anti-radiation missiles designed to attack air defence radars, and airborne stand-off jammers. Importantly, the US remains the only nation with the electronic warfare and ARM capabilities needed to support sustained operations against a functioning IADS.

Clear command and control to prevent the destruction of friendly military or civil aircraft is a prerequisite for any air operations, as are legal and unambiguous rules of engagement. Ambiguities that might allow transport aircraft and helicopters to fly or for civilian aircraft to be used for combat operations provide obvious points of challenge. The southern Iraqi no-fly zone was undermined by Iraqi Airways flights between Baghdad and Basra, and Baghdad and Mecca. The Bosnian no-fly zone was rendered ineffective by the consistent use of helicopters, particularly by the Bosnian Serbs. The success of the US special forces and air power and the Northern Alliance’s forces in Afghanistan 2001 reinforces the experience of the northern Iraqi no-fly zone. To be effective, air operations must be designed to affect the surface of the earth and influence protagonists.

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Mr Ellwood: The hon. Lady is making a powerful case about something that we are only starting to understand—the strength of the armed forces involved. She is absolutely right to say that second-generation bits of kit are involved in the current situation, some of which have fallen into the rebels’ hands and are being used. However, it is dangerous to compare Libya with Bosnia, Iraq and other places, because the terrain is very different. A 750-mile stretch of land, 5 miles wide, is the area that needs to be controlled, so we are comparing apples and pears. I urge caution in suggesting that because something did not work in Iraq or Bosnia, it could not work in Libya, which is a very different ball game.

Ms Stuart: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because he allows me to correct the impression I might be giving that I am against no-fly zones. I believe that we need to consider this carefully and positively and work out how to make it happen. In a sense the Libyan terrain is much easier, not least because, to state the obvious, it is much flatter than Bosnia in particular.

However, I do not believe that we yet have the local engagement with the political parties and groups on the ground that made the northern Iraq no-fly zone successful. We have not yet achieved that in Libya, and we need to establish it. I suggest that the Libyan air force capabilities are probably pretty much comparable with what Yugoslavia and the Iraqis had in the 1990s.

I think it was the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) who cautioned us to try to learn from history. As A. J. P. Taylor said, it is perfectly possible not to learn lessons from history and to make entirely new mistakes. There are some things that we can learn from no-fly zones. We need absolutely clear and unambiguous rules of engagement and absolute clarity about when the purpose is humanitarian and when it is military, and unless the no-fly zone supports something that is happening on the ground, it will not help. We had better be aware of that.

3.57 pm

Paul Maynard (Blackpool North and Cleveleys) (Con): It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. I have listened carefully to all the contributions so far, and I have been struck by the efforts of various speakers to understand better what is going on by finding some frame of historical reference to link it to. Is it more like 1989, 1956, 1918, 1848, 1789 or 1453? It is a tempting game to play. As the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) made clear, historians often debate whether we can learn adequately from the past, or whether we repeat mistakes from the past. I would argue, however, that we can learn some lessons from the themes of the past.

Members have spoken about the revolutions that we have seen in the Arab world. It is worth remembering the etymology of the word “revolution” and the circumstances in which it was first used. It was in the Italian city states of the renaissance, where rich families ruled cities and feuded with each other. One family would take over amidst much bloodshed, and there would be a change of ruling family. That was called a “revolution”, because there had been a full cycle and things came back to exactly where they had started.

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The big fear about the situation in north Africa is that we will see the blooming of potential but then a return to the status quo. That would be the greatest tragedy of all. History has shown that at the moment when autocracy is weakened and a dictator takes his foot off the neck of the people whom he is oppressing, not only is there the greatest opportunity for more freedom and democracy but there is the greatest risk that extremists will be able to use the opportunity to flourish and to gain legitimacy through the ballot box.

I was pleased to hear hon. Members speak earlier about the importance of civil society. One contributor said that civil society could not be created from outside, but I strongly believe that the greatest contribution the Government can make to what is sadly occurring in north Africa and middle east is to do all they can to use their soft power to strengthen civil society.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames) was quite right to point to the need for evolution over time, but equally we have been urged to raise our sights over and above Libya. That is difficult to do on the day we hear of Benghazi being bombed, and of a million inhabitants being threatened. Who knows what Muammar Gaddafi will unleash?

When an autocrat takes his foot off the gas, the international community seems to get the message that now is the time for him to go, as we saw in Egypt and Tunisia. However, when a dictator appears to be more implacable, as in Libya and—dare I say it?—Côte d’Ivoire, they appear to manage to gain greater legitimacy, and indeed more staying power, and the developed world ceases to take notice. Suddenly, those dictators are not on the front page but on page 2, or on page 22 of Le Monde, as someone noted earlier. It is important that when the international community sends a message, it remains resolute, so that the message does not diminish over time.

As someone who came to political maturity—if I can call it that—during 1989, I found it deeply inspirational to see people reclaiming democracy in Egypt. As the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston pointed out, the Egyptians had a history of democracy and civil society, and were claiming it back. However, true democracy and true freedom is not a matter of forming an orderly queue outside a polling station to cast a vote; it is far greater than that. I want to ensure that we do not replicate in Egypt what we saw happen in Gaza, where the mechanisms of freedom and an electoral process gave an opportunity to Hamas to take power, and to exploit and misuse those opportunities. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman) spoke eloquently and more than adequately about the true nature of Hamas—I have no wish to repeat what she said, because it was all entirely true.

I would rather we looked to the example of Turkey, where an Islamist party has managed to demonstrate its democratic credentials and minimise the role of the army. My great concern in the case of Egypt is the immense strength that the army retains, in terms not merely of military power but of economic power. The Egyptian army has fingers in so very many pies—it even owns tourist hotels and transport companies. The great danger is that we will see a true renaissance revolution in Egypt, whereby in a few months’ time we will have gone through the cosmetic process of creating an electoral register and holding notionally free elections, but the

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power behind the throne remains. That is not a democratic revolution, but merely a changing of the guard.

I am also greatly concerned about the impact that events in Egypt will have on Israel. No matter what some in the House say, Israel remains in a very fragile strategic position. Compromise becomes ever harder to find in Israeli politics. We have spent a lot of time in this debate discussing the impact of demographics on the unleashing of the Arab spring. As one hon. Member said, the combination of a young population and the lack of economic growth conjured up a perfect storm. We see a similar perfect storm in Israel. The higher birth rate among the orthodox community and the Arab population in Israel is changing Israeli electoral dynamics. As the hon. Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick) rightly pointed out, Israel has a very pure form of proportional representation that allows very small parties to get in on very small shares of the vote. It then becomes extremely hard to build broad-based, stable and endurable Governments that are committed to the cause of peace.

I am greatly concerned that as these demographic trends continue the pro-peace centre of Israeli politics will shrink and shrink, and it will become ever harder for the great number of people in Israel who want peace to prevail within their own political system. I know that we do not like to interfere in other people’s electoral systems, but I strongly believe that until Israel addresses the stability of its Governments, the chances of achieving a lasting and endurable peace will be that much harder.

Jonathan Reynolds (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab/Co-op): The hon. Gentleman is making an admirable speech, and I support a lot of what he says. He made an interesting point about the nature of Israeli politics and its influence on the peace process. However, does he agree that if Israeli citizens felt more secure they might choose candidates and Governments more conducive to the peace process?

Paul Maynard: That is an interesting point. There is a wider one though, which is that the nature of the electoral system gives a disproportionate amount of power to those more radical. It is their influence rather than the amount of support they have that causes the problem in Israel.

Finally, I want to make the point I feel most passionate about. We have spoken about the importance in north Africa and the middle east of inculcating democracy, freedom and the ability to live a free, harmonious, economically meaningful life. That is at risk, however, for a key and important group of people in the region—the Christian community. I have been deeply disturbed to learn of disquiet—bordering on violence—in Cairo, with the Coptic Christian community, and deeply concerned to learn of the murder of a Polish monk in Tunisia. The hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) rightly pointed out that a lot of nasty things will creep out from under the stones of revolution, and I deeply hope that one of those is not more violence against Christian communities of whatever denomination. We have seen it happen in Algeria, and I do not want it happening across the whole of the middle east, because if that region is to succeed in the way that my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) pointed out, it needs a deeper level of harmony. That

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means the ability of people of all faiths, be they Jewish, Muslim or Christian, to get on. Until those divides are healed, I fear that the middle east will not take up its rightful role in the world.

It is worth bearing in mind that many in Europe regard the Mediterranean as a border. However, some of the finest Roman ruins are in Leptis Magna on the Libyan coast. In Roman times, the Mediterranean was called Mare Nostrum—“our sea”. As someone who usually does not have much time for the European Union, I think it is important that in the Euro-Med process and in what President Sarkozy has sought to do we reach out to north Africa and see it as part of Europe, not just another continent that we do not wish to know about.

4.8 pm

Mr Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard). Of course, if he goes to Tunis, he will see the ruins of Carthage, where our dear Roman friends sought to ensure that the Carthaginians were destroyed and not permitted a future. We do not want to revert to that kind of parallel.

There are a couple of interesting anniversaries for us to consider today. One is dear to me: it is 30 years since the suppression of the Polish union Solidarnosc at the end of 1981. That great hopeful moment of liberation for the Polish people was then crushed by a cruel dictatorship, and we did not know how to respond. I hope that we can think constructively about what is happening in north Africa, which indeed is a revolutionary moment and a hopeful moment for the world. We have heard good speeches from both sides of the House in what is a most enjoyable debate to listen to.

Today is also an anniversary of a different sort, because exactly one month ago, on 17 February, the Foreign Secretary came to the House to make a statement on Bahrain, in response to an urgent question granted by Mr Speaker. The Foreign Secretary had just been there, and immediately following his visit there were the first demonstrations, repressions and killings; however, he did not seem to know that this was about erupt. It is that lack of what I would call intuitive imagination about world affairs that is the problem in our handling of foreign policy. I am not making a strictly party political point, because the same applies just as much to the previous Administration. I asked the Foreign Secretary to come to the House and, as the hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames) pointed out in his excellent speech, I asked him:

“Does he agree that a wind of change is blowing through the Arab world”?

I also put it to him that he should

“agree to a wide review of UK foreign policy in the region before it is too late”.—[Official Report, 17 February 2011; Vol. 523, c. 1136.]

I wish that such a review had taken place earlier, but as so often in our country, it is now taking place under the force of events. There have been some unhappy reactions, but there is no point going over who made a mistake, who went on an arms sales trip, which planes could not leave the tarmac and the rest of it. Rather, we should work out how we need to go forward.

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I will not talk about making any sort of military intervention in Libya, because there are others who are experts. However, if, as the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) pointed out, the intervention in Iraq helped to increase al-Qaeda’s standing and status, then perhaps non-intervention in Libya will have exactly the same impact. In the non-intervention philosophy of the 1930s—if I could take my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) a little before her birth date—the line was “Do not intervene”, and as a result the most horrible dictatorships and repressions were given the green light.

What do we have as a foreign policy? There are perhaps three components to our foreign policy: hard power, soft power and political influence. Sadly, because of cuts in the military our hard power is, frankly, decreasing. We have two aircraft carriers that are now Britain’s no-fly zones because we do not have planes that can fly off them. We are also heavily engaged in Afghanistan. However, just as America’s international influence was drained by its presence in Vietnam year after year—the Americans stayed for many years after they could serve any useful purpose, allowing Brezhnev and other horrible dictators to roam freely round the world—we need to look at reducing our profile in Afghanistan faster.

We need to look at the fact that we are cutting back our diplomatic service, including our diplomatic foreign language training schools. The hon. Member for Penrith and The Border appealed for more Arab-speakers. “Ditto,” say I, but we are not just cutting Arab-speaking diplomats; we are cutting our entire diplomatic presence.

Moving to soft power, the last time the Foreign Secretary came to the House to answer an urgent question, it was to defend the cuts to the BBC World Service. Two weeks ago the Secretary of State for International Development announced that he was cutting support for the International Labour Organisation’s core funding. However, there are trade unions in Egypt and Tunis; indeed, I have been meeting them on and off for 20 years, including the Union Générale Tunisienne du Travail, the one Tunisian trade union that has some independence. That union wants help from the ILO and the TUC, but we are cutting such aid at the very moment that it could be most useful in building civil society.

We are also reducing the number of students from those areas coming to study in Britain. We have fewer Chevening scholarships, but more importantly, we are saying to those students around the world, “You’re no longer welcome to come and study in mainstream British universities,” because of the anti-immigration nostrums of the Conservatives, in thrall to an unpleasant press. That is the decline in our soft power. I put it to the House that every Tunisian, Libyan or Egyptian who comes and gets a degree in Britain leaves a friend of Britain.

Ms Gisela Stuart: Does my right hon. Friend also recognise the work of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy? Its funding has been increased, but it has also been working in Lebanon and Egypt on strengthening parliamentary democracy.

Mr MacShane: I am a fan of the WFD, but its total income is less than half the going rate for a banker’s bonus—[ Interruption. ] For once, that was not my phone.

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Madam Deputy Speaker and I have a relationship over my mobile phone—over it sounding in the Chamber, I hasten to add.

We are saying to the students of the region, “You are not welcome in Britain any more.” We are losing it on the soft power front. We are even withdrawing the pitiful amount of funding that we give to the Quilliam Foundation, whose director was imprisoned in Cairo and who knows the leaders of the Cairene opposition. It is preposterous that the Home Office should be shutting down that outfit at a time when it needs more help, not less.

I understand from replies to my parliamentary questions that the Department for International Development will spend more than £1 billion in the next four years on aid to India, a country with more billionaires and millionaires than we have, with a space programme—almost a man-on-the-moon programme—and with its own aid programme. We are giving £1 billion to India, yet we are not finding any money at all for Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco because they were not on any United Kingdom aid programme. Tunisia was not even a target country for our trade promotion activities.

That is what I mean about the Government’s utter lack of intuitive, emotional understanding of the changes that are about to take place. I know that there has been a crisis at the Foreign Office and that that has been uncomfortable for Ministers, and I do not blame officials, although perhaps I am not so sure about all the strategic top grip. I wrote an article in May last year saying that the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr Clegg) should become the Foreign Secretary and that the right hon. Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Mr Hague) should become the Deputy Prime Minister. I still think that that is a job swap that the Prime Minister should consider. The foreign policy announced after the change of Government was very simple. It consisted of trade, trade and more trade—hence the embarrassment of the arms sales to which hon. Members have referred, which continued for two more days after 17 February when the Foreign Secretary came to the House to make his statement.

We also need to find ways of making our Parliament more involved and engaged in these extraordinary events, not only in the region that we are discussing but elsewhere around the world. Since November last year, I have made 11 requests at business questions for a debate in Government time on international and foreign affairs. We are now having such a debate, but only thanks to the Backbench Business Committee. Yes, we have debates on specific issues relating to the middle east or to a particular country or cause of concern, but we do not discuss synoptically what we want from our foreign policy. Of course we can all do the party political knockabout, but there should be much more that unites us than divides us. For that to be achieved, however, we need more parliamentary involvement. When hon. Members go abroad, the event should not be pilloried in the press as a “junket”, and the Whips have to understand that travel not only broadens the mind but makes for a better House of Commons.

Finally, I repeat the appeal that I made to the Prime Minister, to which I have received a sympathetic response, that we need to create a British foundation for democracy development. This would in part incorporate the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and transform

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it from a £4 million or £5 million a year outfit to an £80 million or £100 million a year organisation. Even that amount would still not be remotely close to the annual allocation that we will give to India and other countries that benefit from DFID aid. Let that be what we will learn from this whole crisis, which will continue, albeit unevenly. I learn from

Le Monde

today that there is a lot of repression in Morocco, for example, and I am worried about Prince Charles going there later this week. Tunisia is also far from stable, and Egypt still effectively has military power. Britain needs to think differently, and this House should be at the heart of making that happen.

4.19 pm

Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane), who always brings an interesting angle to these debates.

I begin by congratulating the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and my Front-Bench team on recognising the scale of the unprecedented change that is taking place in the middle east and the role that the international community must play in promoting democratic reform. That is in stark contrast to some of our allies, who have been either slow or deliberately hesitant to speak out and join us in calling for change. It poses the question: how good are the international alliances and organisations of which we are part if they fracture at the first contact with an international crisis? For the UN, the EU and the G8, these are questions worth addressing so that we can act more propitiously when these events take place in future. I pose a question to Germany. It is a staunch ally and close colleague in Europe but why does it remain silent and fail to support a no-fly zone over Libya?

I called some friends in America, two Senators in particular, to ask why we had not heard more from the other side of the Atlantic. A lot of noise came back: concerns about spreading forces and interests too widely across the world, still undecided issues about Afghanistan, but also questions about who we are dealing with and the consequences of removing this particular dictator. After all, he is a much-improved dictator than he was 10 years ago.

Mr MacShane: If it is any consolation to the hon. Gentleman, he gets an extra minute by giving way to me. In some respects, the hon. Gentleman and other speakers are slightly behind the curve, as the United States is now working at the UN with Britain and France on a composite motion with good things in it. On Germany, I agree with him, but is the response surprising when some Members make speech after speech in this House attacking Germany and the EU and then, when they need Germany’s help, turn round and say, “Will you be our friends after all?”?

Mr Ellwood: First, I am aware of where the US now stands and, secondly, I am not attacking anyone, but simply asking for some form of clarification of why Germany has taken the stance it has. I have inquired about it, but got no reply.

On the issue of why countries might be reticent, the particular dictator we are dealing with is a relevant issue. Gaddafi had, after all, turned his back on terrorism;

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he had stopped funding the IRA; he had paid compensation to victims of the Lockerbie bombers; he had suspended his nuclear programme; and he was no longer seeking weapons of mass destruction. He was co-operating with the EU on the movement of refugees. Yes, he might well be bad, but what will his successor be like? If we want to avoid another Somalia, perhaps we should keep this guy.

We also need to bear in mind the reputation we gain for wandering into countries, particularly in Arab countries such as Iraq. I happened to disagree with our invasion in 2003, but the long-term consequences of it on Britain’s reputation in the Arab world as a whole are huge—and stay with us to this day. This reticence to go into Libya is strengthened by reports circulating in America that suggest that twice as many foreign fighters against the US in the Iraq invasion came from Libya than from any other part of the Arab world. I can understand those arguments, but I do not agree with them.

The first problem is that such arguments fail to recognise the changing mood across the Arab nations. The mother of all Parliaments here should, after all, encourage democracy. The world is a much smaller interrelated global community. Oil prices, stock exchanges, trade movements and deals, business interests and so forth: for all these, we are so much more interrelated in comparison with the independence we used to have—perhaps enjoyed—in the decades and centuries before. Politicians move; ideas are set; and there are consequences when an event happens in one part of the world—whether it be a natural disaster as in Japan, or a human catastrophe such as we are seeing in Libya, with the movement of refugees and so forth. We cannot dissociate ourselves from what is going on in north Africa.

There are also more moral questions. One issue not much talked about is the level of genocide. How many people need to die before we wake up and say, “We must step in”? I am reminded of the spokeswoman who, in May 1994, said of Rwanda—Members might recall it from the films about the country—that the word “genocide” should not be used, and that “acts of genocide” should be used instead. She could not bring herself to use that term.

Apparently, 5,000 people have already died in Libya. We must ask ourselves at what point we should make a judgment from a moral perspective, let alone a legal one.

The Prime Minister has made clear three requirements for the establishment of a no-fly zone: a need for it, legal grounds for it, and of course regional support. Unfortunately, the dithering that has taken place over the last couple of weeks has allowed Gaddafi to regroup his forces. It has allowed to him to recruit mercenaries—because he cannot trust many of his own troops—and to steal the initiatives.

We should also ask ourselves why the “good” dictators, if I may call them that, have stepped down in this Arab spring, while the bad dictators—the ones who stay in there and fight—are being rewarded by being allowed to keep their jobs. Our failure to support the people in that regard sends a message to the other dictators, who say, “Let us hold our ground. Let us stick it out.” That is what will happen if the international community is not organised enough, and has not the necessary gravitas and determination, to mount a challenge.

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The Arab League has been mentioned, and I referred to it in an intervention. The Arab League has no power. It is a group of Foreign Ministers who have no influence over the dictators to whom they report back. Moreover, Arab forces have never been organised. If we look back at the 1948, 1967 and 1973 wars, we see that they have never been united. If a no-fly zone is imposed or intervention takes place, it will not be through those Arab nations. Their armed forces are nowhere near as strong as they seem to be on paper.

It is also necessary for us to understand the terrain. As I said when I intervened on the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart), a no-fly zone in Libya would be very different from a no-fly zone in Bosnia or Iraq. We need to understand the structure of communities in Libya. There is one long road leading from east to west which contains two main cities, two main groups of communities in Tripoli and Benghazi. We should control Libya with not just a no-fly zone but a no-drive zone. Such a measure would be far easier to implement than any that we have seen before.

Allowing Gaddafi to stay will have a number of consequences. There will be repercussions for his own people, and questionable alliances will develop. Gazprom will eye the region with envy, and will resolve to take over all the operations in north Africa and Libya in particular if Gaddafi stays. That may be one reason why it is not willing to support a no-fly zone.

We have also touched on military tactics. What is the purpose of a no-fly zone? Is it humanitarian or military? Those of us who have served in the military know that it is a force multiplier—a way of creating an advantage for one side or another. It would probably be necessary only to create a no-fly zone over Benghazi initially, and then to move forward from that. A no-fly zone is intended to prevent aircraft from moving, but that can be done in another way. A Storm Shadow missile could be fired right now, landing on the runways and preventing the aircraft from taking off in the first place. The aircraft that are available are not good, and many of them are already in rebel hands. There are other questions we should ask about tactics. We tend to grab at labels and to say, as armchair generals do, “That is what we have done in the past, so that is what we should do now.”

Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con): My hon. Friend asks, “What is a no-fly zone?” That is exactly the question that should be asked. Does he agree that it should not be merely a humanitarian air umbrella protecting people from being attacked in Benghazi, but should extend to Tripoli, so that Gaddafi cannot import more mercenaries—his merchants of death?

Mr Ellwood: We are getting into the weeds here. We need to step back and consider the creation of a no-fly zone from a strategic perspective. What is our mission in supporting the rebels, rather than trying to create something about which the military tacticians need to decide? We must determine what our strategy is. A no-fly zone may be part of it, and the extent of the no-fly zone might be considered as well.

We are becoming very focused on Libya, but I mentioned the importance of Egypt in another intervention. The revolution there is not complete. There are worrying signs, such as the agreements that we have seen between

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the Muslim Brotherhood and the armed forces. People are being told, “You can only be a full citizen of Egypt if you can prove that your grandfather and your father were born in the country.” That completely removes a group of middle-class citizens who could possibly help to establish a new political society. We must not lose sight of where Egypt is going. Because it is so influential in north Africa and the Arab world in general, where Egypt goes other nations will follow.

Many comparisons have also been drawn with the changes following the fall of the iron curtain, and they are useful to some extent. However, communism was a one-party system, and it is far simpler to make the transition from that to a democracy—especially as many of the countries concerned were democracies prior to being entrapped behind the iron curtain—than it is to make the transition to democracy from a dictatorship, where the power is focused on an individual and the society is based on fear. Huge dangers arise when oppressive rule is released from its shackles, when they have been broken because of the creation of a power vacuum. We should consider our experiences in Afghanistan: 10 years after we wandered in there and tried to install some form of democracy, we are still struggling.

The world has been following the latest headlines very carefully. As we speak, Gaddafi is doing exactly what I said he would: he is deliberately bombing the runways in Benghazi to stop the rebels using their planes. The world is asking why the international community is not doing more, and the people of Libya are asking the same question. The turbulent chapter in world history that we are now experiencing, and which opened with the fall of President Mubarak, is far from over, and future generations will judge the current generation of leaders on its outcome.

At the heart of the matter is freedom, and the desire to grasp a rare opportunity to sow the seeds of democracy as people-power tries to usurp dictatorships across north Africa and the middle east. Events in the middle east are testing the international community, and they are moving too swiftly for us to be able to be a positive influence or force. To do nothing is to leave things to fate, and I fear that Iran is not going to do that, and nor is al-Qaeda. It is a sad irony that the global community is more than willing to help on one side of the world in saving and rebuilding lives after a natural disaster, but fails to act to prevent, or intervene in, a man-made disaster.

For Libya, the window of opportunity is closing. Gaddafi has taken advantage of our collective dithering to regroup and unleash hell on those who dared to stand up to him in the name of democracy. Across north Africa and the middle east I believe that, unfortunately, the worst is still to come, and the west must be better prepared to respond.

I shall end as I began, by praising the work of our Government and the lead they have taken. I only hope our allies will now play catch-up.

4.32 pm

Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) (Lab): I, like all other Members of the House, am pleased at events in Tunisia and Egypt, and I welcome the desire of the people of the Arab world to bring about change in their countries. That certainly puts paid to the myth peddled

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by some in this House and the media that democracy is somehow incompatible with Islam. We should now provide humanitarian assistance, and help the people of the Arab world to set up a good system of civic governance and capacity-building. I know that the Foreign Secretary and the Foreign Office are supportive of that.

Today and in the past, we in this House have talked about the hypocrisy of various countries around the world, and Iran has been mentioned many times, but is it fair to single out one country as hypocritical? Have we not at many—or, indeed, all—times applied double standards in our dealings with different countries? As the senior American politician, Senator Lindsey Graham, observed last month:

“There are regimes we want to change, and those we don’t.”

Let me give some examples of our double standards. We talk of democracy, yet there was a democratic movement in Egypt in the ’50s, and we quelled it. We did the same in Iran in the ’50s: we opposed democracy there, and supported the Shah on the throne. As we see on our television screens, there are many parts of the world where there has been systematic genocide, ethnic cleansing and humanitarian disasters, with hundreds of thousands of deaths, yet we did nothing. Countries we could mention include Bosnia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda. To those who say, “Well, those are past conflicts,” I refer to current conflicts in countries including Zimbabwe, Sudan, Palestine and Sri Lanka, with the Tamil Tigers’ rebellion. Thousands and thousands of people died in that war, so why did we not intervene there? Why do we choose where we want to intervene?

Bob Stewart: The answer to the hon. Lady’s rhetorical question is that we can do only what we can do. We would like to go into some of these countries, but we cannot possibly do so because we just do not have the means or the local support—we have got to have that.

Yasmin Qureshi: But that is not right, because if the test is whether a humanitarian disaster is taking place or whether human rights are being violated, we should not be cherry-picking which fights we want to have; we should be prepared to go for all of them or stay out of all of them.

Martin Horwood: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Yasmin Qureshi: I just want to deal with my next point.

I was not planning to talk about Palestine, but I shall do so because so many hon. Members have referred to it and it is an interesting case. The undisputed facts of the history of Palestine are that before the creation of the state of Israel 9% of the land belonged to the Jewish people and 91% belonged to the Palestinians; the Nakba resulted in 75% of Palestinians being forced out of their homeland; 4 million people have since been left displaced—they are living in Lebanon, Jordan and elsewhere—and many thousands have died; and the massacres at Shatila and Sabra refugee camps killed more than 20,000 people.

The UN has passed a number of resolutions regarding the illegal settlements, but they have not been dismantled and continue to be built. As the Prime Minister said on Monday, if Israel carries on in this way there will be no land for a two-state solution. The people of Gaza have been collectively punished, with some 1.5 million people

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living on 3 km of land. That situation has been declared illegal by the UN, and when visiting Turkey our Prime Minister described Gaza as a “prison camp.” I went to Gaza last year and I was appalled by the conditions in which people are living there. If that is not an abuse of human rights, what is? The segregation wall has also been declared illegal. Again, land and livelihoods have been taken but nothing happens. We do not do military intervention there. I am not asking for military intervention there, but I am saying that we need to be careful when we start invading other countries.

We have heard about the concept of so-called “liberal interventions.” If we really want to undertake those, the United Nations should set up a special international army representing all the different nations. All the nations would make a contribution and it could then go to all the various hot spots of the world to sort the problems out. However, I know that that is unrealistic and it is not going to happen. We cherry-pick the disputes we want to have and decide that we do not want to bother with others, perhaps because the regime has been sympathetic to us in the past or perhaps because we have economic trade with the regime and we conveniently forget about whatever else it might have done. That has been the problem for our international policy, because perhaps we have not been an honest broker in a lot of these world disputes—perhaps it is about time we became one. This is not a party political point, because successive Governments have been carrying on with these policies. However, in some respects there has been no genuine honest brokering of the peace.

I recall hearing the speech that Robin Cook made in this Chamber setting out in a very analytical way the reasons not to go into Iraq. He mentioned a number of things, including the lack of information, the fact that the need for the war might have been pumped up and the fact that drumbeating for the war had risen sharply. He urged caution and said that we should not go into the war. Many people did not accept or heed what he said and now, with the benefit of hindsight, most people say, “Oh yes, what Robin Cook said was right.” We now hear that we had the wrong information.

On Libya, the situation is bad and I do not condone the death of anyone. I was sad to hear about the Fogel family in Israel. I do not believe in killing people and do not think that it can be justified. On those grounds, I am one of those people who do not believe that we should go into a sovereign nation and invade it. If we want to do that, we should invade all other nations where there have been even bigger problems. For example, in Sudan, 100,000 people have died—Libya is nothing in comparison.

Jeremy Corbyn: Does my hon. Friend acknowledge that wars are awful, invasion is awful and occupation is awful and that at the end every war has to be settled politically in some way? Does she join me in regretting that far greater efforts were not made at the beginning of the Libyan crisis to emote some sort of political settlement despite all the obvious obstacles?

Yasmin Qureshi: I agree entirely. We do not have to look far afield—we need merely to look to Ireland, with all its history and violence. In the end, a political

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settlement was reached. That has been the way forward. We need to try that with all the countries in the world.

Hon. Members can call me cynical, but the difference is that Sudan, Zimbabwe, Kashmir, Palestine, Sri Lanka and all those other countries do not have oil. Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo do not have oil. Libya does. Is that our motivation? Do we want to ensure that we control that country?

Mr MacShane: My hon. Friend mentioned Robin Cook and I served with him as a Parliamentary Private Secretary for a number of years. I remember how bitterly he was criticised by some hon. Members who are now present in the Chamber for authorising and supporting the intervention in Kosovo without UN sanction and, indeed, the bombing raids on Iraq, some of which were without UN sanction. Kosovo had no oil—the intervention was illegal and did not have UN authority. My hon. Friend was not in the House at that time, but where did she stand on that particular armed intervention?

Yasmin Qureshi: I happened to spend two years working in Kosovo after the armed conflict and after the Serbian bombing. Having seen the situation, I can say that that was an immediate international humanitarian disaster that followed the massacre of 100,000 Muslim Bosnians. It was very much an effort by the United Nations to do with that particular war.

As has been mentioned, one cannot compare two things as though they are the same. Libya is a very different ball game to Kosovo and Serbia. Everybody knows what happened in the former Yugoslavia—hundreds of thousands of people were massacred and something had to be done. That is not the situation that we are talking about here.

Damian Collins (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): I think the point being made by the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane) was that there was not a British commercial interest in going into Kosovo—we did it to save lives and because it was the right thing to do. That is the comparison that we are seeking to draw here.

Yasmin Qureshi: A number of people in this country, even at that time, did not want to go into Kosovo. One might say that there was no economic rationale for going into Kosovo, but there was certainly an American strategic reason. The listening post in Cyprus was soon coming to an end and they wanted an additional listening post in the area of Kosovo. I spent two years in Kosovo and I saw the Americans’ Camp Bastion, which was a solid construction while most other countries had NATO flat-pack constructions, so there was certainly a strategic reason for the Americans to go in there. I agree that Robin Cook was able to persuade the then Government regarding Kosovo, but that has been the only honourable exception in all the disputes of the past 30 to 40 years.

4.45 pm

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): I thank the hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) for her speech. I have to say that I am struck by the idea of there being a listening post in Kosovo and I am particularly struck by the idea that the second world war and the Falklands war were negotiated settlements. We actually had to fight to win those wars.

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I am afraid that I, too, want to talk about Libya, particularly about the timing of decisions and what we should do. I feel very lucky, as we all do, to live in the United Kingdom. I have been to a few rotten places in my life and I feel very strongly as an internationalist that we should help countries and peoples who are less fortunate than ourselves. Where we can help, we should—I made that point earlier in an intervention—but we have to be pragmatic about our foreign policy. There should also be a moral dimension and we should be constructive. I am no warmonger. I have seen for myself what conflict brings. As the first British United Nations commander in Bosnia, I witnessed man’s inhumanity to man and I found it loathsome. For me, the political lesson of Bosnia was this: if you are going to do something, do it—make your decision and act. Be decisive, and be clear about your objectives. I do not think we can pussyfoot around when it comes to international crises. We should either do something effective or do nothing. Indecision is next to useless.

In such situations, the mission has to be clear from the start, but that did not happen to me in Bosnia. I had no formal mission for three months, but I said to my soldiers that we would have a mission. I told them that our mission was to save lives and I do not reckon that would be a bad mission for us in Libya—I think that all hon. Members present would agree with that. The tactics being used by Gaddafi’s thuggish forces seem remarkably similar to the tactics that I saw being used by General Mladic in Sarajevo in 1992 and 1993. He had no thought whatever for civilian casualties. I watched that happening and I felt impotent with rage because we could have done something about it but we did nothing. We all abhor what is happening in Libya on the road to Benghazi. Some hon. Members have suggested that we should not take too much from the past, but I am afraid that I am a bit of a dinosaur and I think that the lessons of Bosnia hold true.

The military situation for the rebels in Libya, which we have not touched on, is pretty dire at the moment but is not terminal yet. In the west, Gaddafi’s forces have not yet taken Misurata. In the east, approximately 5,000 of Gaddafi’s troops are besieging Ajdabiya, which is close to the strategic crossroads leading to either Tobruk or Benghazi. We know that Gaddafi’s forces rely heavily on mercenaries. Those guys carry out their business for gold, not love, and we somehow have to get to them.

Mr Ellwood: I hesitate to interrupt my hon. Friend, who is making a powerful speech, but does he agree that Gaddafi’s trust in his armed forces is questionable? He cannot predict that a pilot getting into an aircraft who is told to go and bomb the rebels will actually go and do that and not fly somewhere else. That is why he is having to resort to using mercenaries.

Bob Stewart: I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Gaddafi has unreliable forces, so he needs to use mercenaries, whom he pays in gold.

Gaddafi’s forces are on extended lines of communication and supply, which is a good thing because he is not going as fast as he would want to. The key point is his rate of progress. Assuming the current rate of progress of his forces, it seems that they might take another month to get to Benghazi. There might therefore be a

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window of opportunity for action—perhaps up to 28 days or even more, but hopefully not a shorter period. However, as more time goes by, our chances of helping drop dramatically, so we must act as soon as we can. We are in a race against time and we must move fast.

Despite speed, however, we still must act morally and within a legal framework. What do we need in place? Many hon. Members have touched on the requirement for a Security Council resolution. The trouble with the Security Council is that it often takes decisions at the speed of a striking slug. Of course, there might also be a problem with one or two of the permanent members. However, as many hon. Members have stressed, it is essential that we have such a resolution because it gives us top cover.

Secondly, we must have Libyan support. By hook or by crook, we must ensure that whatever we do has the support of those people who oppose Gaddafi. At the moment they want a no-fly zone. As Gaddafi’s forces advance—I hope they do not; I hope they are defeated—I bet those people’s wish for more extensive military action in their support will become greater. I would like to see the no-fly zone for which they are calling, but let us be clear that there cannot be a no-fly zone without the United States.

Jeremy Corbyn: What happens at the point when the opposition forces in Libya ask for something beyond a no-fly zone—ordnance, troops or whatever?

Bob Stewart: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but the answer is that I do not know. I would like to think that we would have some form of answer. I would also like the Arabs to come forward with assistance for their brothers in arms, which brings me on to my next point. We have good Arab League support although, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) stressed, it might not be speaking for its members’ Governments, even though it should be.

Yasmin Qureshi rose

Bob Stewart: I shall give way to the hon. Lady because she gave way to me.

Yasmin Qureshi: And everyone else as well.

I was interested that the hon. Gentleman said, “I don’t know,” when my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) asked what would happen if the rebels asked for more help. The hon. Gentleman talked about the hope that other Arab countries would intervene, but surely we cannot plan a war without knowing what we are ultimately prepared to do.

Bob Stewart: We are not planning a war; we are trying to stop Libyans dying. My mission in Bosnia was to stop people dying.

Yasmin Qureshi rose—

Bob Stewart: I shall not take another intervention from the hon. Lady. I was generous because she gave way to me.

Europe must participate, too. France is doing its best, but I would like to know where Italy would stand, given that Libya was one of its colonies—until, of course, the Eighth Army kicked them out in 1943. Finally, we must

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consider our own British public, who need to be fully on side. I suspect that they would be on side if the conditions that the Prime Minister and other hon. Members have laid down came into play. I do not think that we could do it unilaterally, and certainly not without a Security Council resolution.

I agree with the no-fly zone, but it must be effective. It cannot just be words. We must be able to strike on the ground if necessary. I am sorry about that, but that is what a no-fly zone means. I was underneath Bosnian Serb jets in 1993; there was supposed to be a no-fly zone, but they were 200 feet above me. A no-fly zone requires a lot of organisation and, of course, it requires the Americans to help. I happen to agree with the idea of arming the rebels, but when we arm people we must also train them.

There is an embargo in place on Gaddafi. My long-standing right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) has made a plea that we should somehow get around that embargo for the rebels, and I support that idea. Military ground intervention, which is another option, is extremely unlikely on the part of the west. Some have suggested that Egypt might do something, but I think that that, too, is unlikely. If we have time we can establish a no-fly zone. We could even start to arm the rebels in Benghazi.

In conclusion, I am prepared to support a no-fly zone and the arming of rebels, particularly if the substantial conditions I have outlined are in place. The Libyans are crying out for our help. They are pleading for help.

Martin Horwood: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Bob Stewart: I have so little time that I will not.

If we want to help the Libyan people, we must do something very quickly. Time is of the essence. It may already be too late.

4.57 pm

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): One of the reasons we need to have this debate today is that recent events have shown that Government policy toward the middle east has failed lamentably in recent years. It has been inconsistent, because on one hand we played realpolitik, appeasing certain regimes, and on the other hand we have said that dictators are evil and that we must take action against them. It has been ineffective, because we are friendly with a number of repressive states, particularly those in the Gulf, hoping for low oil prices. However, as current events have shown, this appeasement has not led to the stability we hoped for. More significantly, the policy has been intolerable, because it has had a very limited effect on stopping human rights abuse or promoting democracy, with exceptions that I will come on to later.

It is often said that the measure of a man can be found by looking at his friends. In the same way, the measure of a country can be found by looking at its allies. Honour killing is still legal in Iran, Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian Authority. Homosexuality is still punishable by death in Iran and Saudi Arabia, and by three years’ imprisonment in Syria. The events of recent years in particular have shown us that our middle eastern policy has been wrong.

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I am not ashamed to admit that I tend towards the neo-conservative view of the world, as someone who believes that freedom, human rights, property rights, the rule of law, equality towards women, religious tolerance and rejection of terrorism are all inalienable human rights and should be spread all over the world. They say that a neo-conservative is a liberal who has been mugged by reality. While I am not talking about my colleagues on the coalition Benches, I prefer to use the term “muscular enlightenment”.

It seems to me that realpolitik involves appeasing or collaborating with unsavoury regimes in order to achieve certain foreign policy objectives. It is as far removed from an ethical foreign policy as it is possible to be. Let us examine how realpolitik has failed. With the Saudis, the deal seems to be that we work with them financially, and in exchange they are allowed to promote their strain of Wahabi Islam throughout the world, a branch of Islam which many orthodox Sunni and Shi’a groups consider extremist and heretical. On top of that, the Saudis are allowed to pour millions into our universities. What has been the result? There has been terrorism at home and abroad; Islamist extremism in our universities has increased; and we are no closer to a two-state solution in Israel and Palestine.

Nowhere is the failure more true than in our relations with Libya. My family knows something about that country, as my grandfather lost his home and business to Gaddafi, and my father was born there and even remembers shaking Gaddafi’s hand sometime in the 1950s, before he took power. With the release of al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie bomber, the previous Government hid behind the fig leaf of devolution to help facilitate the release of a mass murderer. In return for stability and curtailing Gaddafi’s alleged weapons of mass destruction, Tony Blair and the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) went far beyond what was necessary to build relations with Libya. Appeasement became collaboration, and we saw that Government boost business links with Libya and facilitate university contracts with the Libyan authorities.

As reported on the website of Liverpool John Moores university, dated 3 May 2007, the British ambassador to Libya, Sir Vincent Fean even said:

“My vision for Libya…is”—


“a closer and more productive relationship with the UK than with any other country.”

Let me repeat that phrase:

“a closer and more productive relationship with the UK than with any other country.”

If hon. Members think of Libya, they will find that that statement is quite astonishing. It is a totalitarian state which murdered our own citizens in the Lockerbie massacre, yet our own ambassador says that he wants deeper relations with Libya than with any other country. Truly, the fish rots from the head down.

It was wrong for universities in Britain to do deals with Libya, but we cannot blame them completely. Yes, the London School of Economics and other universities signed contracts worth millions of pounds, but the Government urged them on, and, as written answers have revealed, the previous Labour Government met at the most senior levels to push those issues forward

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with the Gaddafi regime. We have to ask: why was this happening, what were we selling and what were the Libyans buying in terms of influence and acceptability?

John Kennedy said that foreign policy should be idealism without illusions. The realist school says, “You can’t just drop democracy from a B52 bomber,” but that was always a misrepresentation of muscular enlightenment. It was never just about military invasion; it was about winning hearts and minds and supporting throughout the globe those democratic movements that share the ideals of freedom. I reiterate the point that has been made this afternoon: democracy is not just about elections. If it is only about elections, we have the situation of 2006 in Gaza, where Hamas sent its militia on to the streets, attacking members of the more moderate Fatah party and throwing them off the rooftops.

Those who oppose freedom in the middle east, however, are exactly like those who opposed the end of slavery in the southern states of America in the 19th century. They always said, “Yes, we want to end slavery, but not yet,” and the realpolitik of the middle east says, “Yes, they should have democracy and human rights for women, but not yet.” So, what can we do to help freedom spread throughout the middle east?

Mr Winnick: Does the hon. Gentleman condemn the settlements in the occupied territories and agree with the UN resolution, which was voted for by Britain but vetoed by the United States?

Robert Halfon: No, I do not agree, actually. I believe in a two-state solution, and I believe that some of the west bank will obviously be given over as part of a Palestinian state, but I did not agree with my Government when they voted for that motion.

I accept that popular uprisings, such as the waves of protest throughout north Africa and Arab countries, might lead to Islamist fundamentalist rule, and we are not sure yet whether this is eastern Europe 1989 or Iran 1979. Arguably, indeed, Iran is living through its own version of the terror that followed the French revolution in 1789, with a despotic and brutal regime. That is why we have to divert aid into building democratic institutions and nurturing them where they exist.

I want to turn to Iran as the elephant in the room. Through Hezbollah, Iran has huge influence in Lebanon. In Gaza, Iran supports Hamas. Iran also has close relations with the President of Syria. We know that Iran supports activities against British troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. It may soon have more influence in Bahrain. And, of course, it is about to have nuclear weapons. Iran is what Reagan once described the Soviet Union as—the new evil empire. Using the example of Iran, we must not let the middle east fall out of the frying pan of dictatorship into the fire of Islamism.

Nicholas Soames: Does my hon. Friend agree that it is very important not to confuse the Iranian people with the Iranian Government?

Robert Halfon: My hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point. I agreed with much of his speech. The Iranian people have a totally opposite view from that of the regime which, sadly, has suppressed them for so long.

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What is to be done? We need a radical reappraisal of our foreign policy. We need a strategy that supports democracy over dictatorships. The thrust has to be to support reformist movements in the region. Let me briefly talk about two of them. First, there is Kurdistan. To those who argue that democracy takes hundreds of years to evolve, and who say that we should not interfere, Kurdistan, in northern Iraq, proves the opposite. Established only in 2003, the regional government makes its own laws, controls its own army, and decides its own pace of economic development. It is a relatively terrorist-free and progressive Muslim country, despite facing continuous threats from al-Qaeda. I declare an interest, because I am an active member of the all-party group on Kurdistan and recently visited the country. Only today, the Bishop of Arbil was in Parliament—because I was here in the debate I was not able to go—explaining that Kurdistan has welcomed thousands of Christians who have suffered very badly from terrorist attacks in Iraq. I urge the Government to do more to support Kurdistan in its welcoming of Christians to the region.

In the same way, our current policy towards Israel should be much more supportive. Criticism of Israel is out of all proportion to that of other countries. It is always incredible how everyone wants to be a candid friend of Israel but no one is a candid friend of France, Germany or America. Yes, of course Israel is imperfect, and yes, there are problems with settlements, but the fact is that in a region of dictators, Israel is a bulwark of freedom. The excuse is often given that Israel-Palestine is the driving force behind all conflict in the middle east, but recent events have disproved that. I believe that peace would happen incredibly quickly in Israel with two states—a Palestinian state and an Israeli state—if Arabist dictators stopped funding terrorism. The more democratic these countries become, the less likely there is to be a war. I do not think there is an example in history of two democracies that have fought each other. I have often met Palestinian moderates who have the will to make peace, but not the authority, whereas Hamas, sadly, has the authority but not the will.

Let us have a foreign policy in the middle east that actively supports democracy over dictatorships. As my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) said, let us do all we can to have a no-fly zone in Libya. Let us do all we can to supply arms to those bravely fighting against Gaddafi—today or tomorrow, if possible, and unilaterally, if we have to. In doing so, we will reverse the many mistakes of recent years and make a stand for the people in the middle east who have the right to freedom.

5.9 pm

Stephen Phillips (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): It is an enormous pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), and to have learned for the first time that his father shook the hand of Colonel Gaddafi. I suspect that there are many in the House this afternoon, and indeed across the world, who rather wish that he had shaken him by some other part of his anatomy.

There have been contributions of great substance during the debate. For the most part, they have rightly focused—for perfectly understandable reasons, given where we are today—on the situation that currently prevails in Libya. I will concentrate my remarks a few hundred miles to the east, on the nation of Egypt. In

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Egypt, a largely bloodless transition occurred and elections have been promised by the interim military Government within the next six months. As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) indicated, those elections are extremely important and our Government will have to hold the interim Egyptian Government to that promise.

Like many people, I think that Libya would not be in the state that it is today if it had followed the template of what happened in Egypt. It has an uncertain immediate future and has the potential to return to its pariah status, should the Gaddafi regime prevail in the current struggle. Most, if not all, Members hope that that does not occur.

The lesson from Egypt, as from other areas of the world, is clearly one of hope. We must not lose sight of that in the course of this debate. Authoritarian regimes across the region may from time to time win battles against those in whose name they purport to govern. However, in the end, like Ozymandias, their fate is always the same: it is to fall at the hands of those to whom they have done such disservice.

This country has a historical responsibility for Egypt. We played a part in its governance, although not always a glorious one, for a not inconsiderable period. Given current events, it is not without irony that I read what Valentine Chirol wrote as long ago as 1920 at the end of chapter 16 of his book entitled “The Egyptian Problem”:

“Not till we have left behind us the No Man’s Land of government by martial law can we hope to regain the confidence of a new generation of Egyptians by applying to the altered conditions which any measure of self-government must imply the same broad constructive statesmanship which won for us the confidence of an older generation.”

With the exception of an 18-month period between 1980 and 1981, martial law has effectively held sway in Egypt since 1967 when the emergency law of 1958 was first used. The transition to democracy in Egypt will not be easy. However, we all hope—and I have no doubt this will prove to be the case if the Government hold to their position, as they should—that this marks the end of the application of that emergency law, with all that it has entailed for ordinary Egyptians and for peace in the middle east.

The removal of that law and other emergency laws across the region is necessary for the democratic aspirations that led to the recent uprisings to find expression in Governments who have broad support. In Egypt, there must be a Government who have support across a nation that straddles the east and the west, and which has so often been the hinge on which world events have turned. It is now a nation of more than 80 million people. It has a unique history, of which all Egyptians are justifiably proud.

This situation is not something of which we should be afraid. Democracy is not easy. It has mostly been easy for people in this country, but that is not the experience across the world. Democracy is not something to which we should pay lip service only. Our interference in the middle east, often ostensibly in the name of stability—Egypt is as good an example as anywhere else—has done our nation little good. It has caused resentment and on occasion bloodshed, as well as setting back the cause of democracy for others across the world.

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The demonstrations of the 1920s in Egypt and the subsequent rise of nationalism were ample indication of a people ready to govern their own destiny. Had we left the Egyptians to get on with their own lives rather earlier than 1954, the generations that have come since might well have had a better quality of life, and the Egyptian state a growing democratic maturity, which would have assisted in the cause of peace throughout the region. It is for that reason, if for no other, that the Prime Minister was entirely right to hold talks with the interim Government last month in Cairo immediately after President Mubarak announced that he would step down.

There is little in Egypt or in the region by way of a model for an open and democratic society upon which those who seek to promote such a society can draw. There is only so much that can be borrowed from nations such as ours, given the different cultural histories and the lack of entrenched democratic traditions in the region. Demonstrations of support for the transition to democracy are important, since Egypt and the other countries in which revolution—if that is the right word—has been seen this year need to know that the interference of the west is a thing of the past. They need to know that, like them, we have grown up and that the rights that we take for granted but value are not just for us but for the southern and eastern Mediterranean and the Gulf states. In short, they need to know that we now trust the nations of the middle east in a way that the generations that immediately preceded us showed no sign of doing. Those demonstrations of support are important also for reasons alluded to by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard). We do not want to see in countries across the middle east the sort of revolution that merely involves one dictator stepping down to be replaced by another.

I have alluded to the fact that we have not always done well by those in the middle east, but one exception, and one person who supported Arab independence, was of course T. E. Lawrence. In preparing my remarks today, I came across his review in The Observer of 19 September 1920 of Chirol’s work, to which I have already referred. It shows again that, whatever the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) says, history teaches us much. As Lawrence wrote, more than nine decades ago now, to read Chirol’s book

“is to learn that the diseases of the Government of Egypt are mostly mental, and the statement of the causes nearly cures them”.

As he also noted, this country provided a sorry sequel to Lord Cromer’s magnificent beginning. It has taken 90 years for the prospect of good government in Egypt to re-emerge.

The current picture is one of hope. If the Egyptians succeed in creating a successful model of what a free Arab democracy can look like in this century, their neighbours, including in Libya, will be hard-pressed not to follow suit. It is the task of Members of this House to assist the Egyptian people and those across the middle east as best we can. Given the prize before us, I look forward to hearing from the Minister at the end of the debate, and again as often as may be convenient in future, precisely how the Government propose that that task should be accomplished.

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5.17 pm

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): This has been a timely and excellent debate, and Members on both sides of the House have made valuable contributions. I wish to follow on from the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), who made some very good points. One was about the amount of time that we should allow for significant changes to take place in north Africa and the middle east. He talked about it taking two decades or more, and I think he was absolutely right. Although things are happening very fast in the immediate situation, we have to take a long-term view.

My hon. Friend was also right to say that we have to be more engaged and flexible with the various nation states that we are dealing with and make use of collective European values as well as the experiences of individual states. The relationship between France and Morocco is a good example, but not the only one, and we need to be intelligent about how we respond to developments.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Mr Gale) made an interesting point. He wondered why we were not in Hungary in 1956. The answer is that we were in Suez. He wondered why the west was not dealing with Czechoslovakia in 1968, and the answer is that we were in Vietnam. Well, we were not, but certainly the United States was. That is a signal that we have to think about our interests much more carefully than we have in the past.

There are some parallels between the current situation and 1989 to 1991, but one of the most important parallels is with 1975, when the Helsinki accords were agreed. They gave comfort to the people of the Warsaw pact countries, because President Gerald Ford and others insisted on including human rights as a key plank of the accords. We should remember that and think about what it did later. We need to give that type of comfort to the middle east and north Africa now.

The points that other hon. Members have made are worth embellishing. Democracy is a great thing, but the Foreign Secretary is absolutely right to say that we cannot rely on elections only—we also need democratic institutions, the rule of law and so forth. The Westminster Foundation is valuable in providing such help, but the EU needs to be willing to promote our values. Many hon. Members asked why the EU should show interest in the middle east and north Africa. The answer is that they are nearby, and we should have interests and links in nearby places.

Damian Collins: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Neil Carmichael: I cannot, because we have only five minutes left, and I know my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) wants to say a few words.

Developing economic links and ensuring that countries benefit from the opportunities of trade links and entrepreneurial activity is important. I have been to many countries in the middle east, including Morocco and Israel, and noted an interest in getting on with entrepreneurial activities, which we need to stimulate.

Interestingly, the shadow Foreign Secretary asked how Saudi involvement in Bahrain came about. I, too, wonder about that. Who invited the troops? Did the

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Saudis make the suggestion or was a request made? He was quite right to ask whether the Americans were involved. There is a danger in unilateral action; we need more collective and multilateral action, which is why I emphasised the role of the EU. We also need to work hard with other key nation states, notably America, but also those that neighbour north Africa and the middle east. In that respect, should Turkey, whose geopolitical role we need to think about carefully in this context, be involved?

I firmly believe that we need a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine problem. Nothing less will do, and we must ensure that we encourage the US to think in the same terms. It was refreshing to hear other hon. Members say that the 1967 boundaries should, broadly speaking, give or take, be respected. The truth is that the Israelis, who must be fed up with wondering who will attack them next, will also benefit from a solution. We must make it abundantly clear that they need the security that will come from a two-state solution.

Obviously, things are moving fast in Libya and, worryingly, Colonel Gaddafi’s forces are moving towards Benghazi. I am not convinced that a no-fly zone will happen, and nor am I convinced that it would necessarily work, because there is an awful lot of ground activity rather than air activity. However, we must learn lessons. Our attitude to such crises must be based on a willingness to construct coalitions. We must also learn how to deal with such situations in future, because in some respects we have failed to act quickly enough.

However, we should never think that interventions should happen just because we feel like it. We must ensure that people in the countries involved want us to be there. This country, other EU members and other active nation states, but above all states in north Africa and the middle east, should encourage that.

5.25 pm

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): The situation in the middle east and north Africa is the most challenging and tumultuous for more than 30 years. Our Foreign Office team faces a great challenge in dealing with countries emerging from dictatorships that, for whatever reasons, Governments of both political persuasions have had to make deals and arrangements with. As a result, the people who have rebelled against those dictators have a natural distrust of Britain, the United States and other western powers. The challenge for our foreign policy, as we develop it over the next few weeks and months, is to ensure that it embraces the people who will be forming the next Governments in these countries.

I believe that Iran’s Government have had a long-standing aim to be the central, dominating power in the region. Western policy used to be that Iraq and Iran balanced each other out. As colleagues know, more people were killed in the wars between Iraq and Iran than in the first world war; both sides sacrificed their personnel by throwing them against each other. When our country joined the US in invading Iraq, we unbalanced the position, and now we have an Iranian state that wishes to pursue the nuclear option and to dominate the region. I was shocked when I heard that Iranian battleships had been allowed to use the Suez canal for the first time. It will start to make all countries in the region nervous about Iran’s intentions, so we should make representations

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to the new Egyptian Government to ensure that they do not allow Iran that free and unfettered access. The fear is that it will unbalance the countries in the region that we count on as allies.

Much of the debate on north Africa has been about Libya, yet we forget Tunisia, which depends on visitors. People there are suffering because the economy is shot to pieces, and it needs to rebuild and encourage visitors, yet people remain deterred from visiting. As a result, unemployment is high and the economy is in a state of shock. That needs to change.

My next remarks will concentrate on the situation in Israel and Palestine. Israel faces a challenge to develop a two-state solution with Palestine—a solution I wholeheartedly support—but on the northern border Hezbollah, armed by Iran, is preparing once again for a potential attack on Israel. The Israelis say it is only a matter of time before there is another war between them and Hezbollah, which could trigger other events. We have to put pressure on Iran to stop it arming Hezbollah in order to prevent those attacks.

On the west bank, the economy is growing well—it is developing far better than the British economy. Fatah and the Palestinian Authority are ready and willing to become a proper democratic state, yet in Gaza Hamas refuses to take part in elections. In this fledgling democracy, the party ruling Gaza refuses to participate in elections, so does not have a renewed mandate. We need to put pressure on the PA and Hamas to agree on elections, so that we can have a democracy under the PA that can negotiate with Israel.

Finally, on the situation in Israel, those who go to see Jerusalem will know that the security barrier has stopped suicide bombings and other attacks on Israelis and Arabs in Jerusalem, and that has to be good news. Although the security barrier looks unacceptable to the outside world, it has clearly solved the security problem. I look forward to the day when that security barrier is dismantled and all the people of Israel and Palestine can coalesce together. That is the challenge.

I will end with the issue that I raised in Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions earlier this week. The murder of the Fogel family in Itamar has made it much harder for Prime Minister Netanyahu to drive forward the peaceful settlement that we all seek. What we need to get across to the terrorists in Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad is that their activities will never, ever succeed. They need to participate in a peaceful process leading to the two-state solution so that everyone can thrive.

5.30 pm

Stephen Twigg (Liverpool, West Derby) (Lab/Co-op): Last month I visited Israel and the west bank, and I refer hon. Members to my relevant entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

We have had an excellent and wide-ranging debate, with a number of powerful speeches, in particular from the hon. Members for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames) and for Beckenham (Bob Stewart). I found myself in pretty much complete agreement with what both had to say. We have also had a number of interesting speeches from Opposition Members, including from my hon.

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Friend the Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes), the previous Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee. However, I should apologise to the hon. Members for South Thanet (Laura Sandys) and for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) and to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) for not being in the Chamber for their speeches.

Members in all parts of the House have addressed the practical challenges that we as British politicians face in providing the support to build democracy in the middle east and north Africa. I want to echo what a number of hon. Members have said about the importance of the work of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy. There has been some discussion about the appropriateness or otherwise of drawing parallels with previous periods of our history. The Westminster Foundation for Democracy was born out of the collapse of the iron curtain and the Berlin wall, and it has done some important work in central and eastern Europe, Africa, Lebanon and other parts of the world. We in the Opposition applaud that work and see an opportunity for the foundation, working with similar European, American and other foundations in north Africa and the middle east, to provide practical support in building democracy, not just for elections, but for all the other aspects of democracy that hon. Members have described.

Quite understandably, hon. Members have referred to the history of the region and the mistakes that we and others have made. Let me say that because we have got things wrong in the past—and we have—that does not mean that we should not try to get things right in the future. It is not about the external imposition of democracy; it is about how we respond most appropriately to the demands of the people. My right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane) made an important point about Parliament’s role as an institution in supporting democracy, both in discussions such as today’s debate and in all the practical ways that we can support the development of democracy in other parts of the world.

Crucial to that is the point that the hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) made about the failure of multilateral institutions in the past few weeks, and in particular the slow response of the United Nations and the European Union. There are significant lessons that we need to learn from these crises, both now, as a matter of urgency, and moving forward. The hon. Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway), the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, spoke about the responsibility to protect. The crisis in Libya demonstrates that a great deal more work needs to be done to make policy on the responsibility to protect fully operational, otherwise it is, frankly, meaningless.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) challenged us to consider the grounds on which intervention should be made. She was absolutely right to remind us of the need for rigour in deciding when we should and should not intervene. We all have perspectives shaped by our own experience. For me personally, the failures of the international community in Bosnia and Rwanda in the 1990s shaped my outlook on many of the challenging issues that we now face. As I think the hon. Member for Beckenham said in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton South East: where we can, we should. That is absolutely right. What we actually do is a whole other matter, and it will not necessarily involve military intervention. The discussions

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on intervention on both sides of the House have tended to focus purely on the military, which has relevance, but it also involves broader diplomatic, economic and other forms of engagement.

Another important point made by a number of speakers was that there is no one-size-fits-all response to what is happening. The countries involved are very different from each other, with different histories, different political systems and different levels of development in their civil society. No two countries will require the same response.

Jeremy Corbyn: The one thing that most of those countries do have in common is that they have been the recipient of large amounts of arms sales. Most of them have trade agreements with the European Union, all of which contain human rights clauses. Those clauses have all been universally ignored. Does my hon. Friend not think that we need to be a bit more proactive on the legal front, particularly on human rights and arms sales?

Stephen Twigg: My hon. Friend makes a very fair point. Members on both sides of the House have referred to this matter today, and my simple answer to him is yes, we do need to have that debate. We need to look at how we can strengthen the existing codes, which, as he rightly says, refer on paper to human rights and other considerations. Those terms do not always seem to be kept to when arms sales are taking place.

Let me focus now on the middle east peace process. Several Members have referred to the appalling murders last weekend of the Fogel family in Itamar. I join them in deploring those wicked acts. As the Foreign Secretary said in questions earlier this week, we must respond to that appalling act by stepping up our efforts to reach out to the moderate majority of Israelis and Palestinians who really do want to see the two-state solution to which speakers on both sides of the House have referred today. This week, in Gaza and on the west bank, we have seen thousands of young people protesting for peace and national unity in Palestine.

I welcome the Government’s decision to upgrade the status of the Palestinian delegation here in London to that of a mission. I echo the view expressed by a number of hon. Members that it is vital that Israel place an immediate moratorium on the building and expansion of settlements. It is equally vital that Gilad Shalit be released. These are the conditions that can create reconciliation and peace. I echo the views expressed by the hon. Member for Mid Sussex on the Arab peace initiative in his powerful speech, and I want to say to the Government that we see that initiative as central to the prospects of moving forward in this crucial period for the middle east peace process.

It is difficult in 15 minutes to do justice to all the elements of today’s debate, but let me say something about Iran. In his opening speech, my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mr Alexander) reminded us of the threat of Iran’s nuclear programme, and invited the Minister to update the House on what work the Government were doing, with international partners, to increase the legitimate pressure on Iran to comply with UN Security Council resolutions. A number of hon. Members referred to Iran’s negative role in exploiting Sunni-Shi’a divisions in the region and in supporting terrorism. Its support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and for the Taliban in

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Afghanistan were mentioned, and we must not forget the appalling domestic human rights position in Iran itself. That must remain high on our agenda.

On Libya, everyone who has spoken today has shared the feeling of revulsion at what Gaddafi has done and what we have seen on our television screens over the past few weeks. My right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South asked a number of questions, to which I hope the Minister will respond, about the possible military, diplomatic and economic measures that could be put in place to make a difference to the situation on the ground in Libya.

These events since January—in Tunisia, through events in Egypt, Libya and parts of the Gulf—remind us, as a number of hon. Members have said, that democracy, human rights and freedoms are universal aspirations. We have witnessed the enormous courage of people across the middle east and north Africa in standing up against dictatorships. Ordinary people in the Arab world value democracy just as much as we do.

When I was in Israel and Palestine last month, I met young people in Nablus and Tel Aviv, whose passion for justice and freedom matched that of the young people we have seen on the streets of Cairo, Tunis and now Benghazi. For the Palestinian people, justice must mean a viable state based on 1967 borders with equivalent land swaps, appropriate security arrangements, Jerusalem as the capital of both Israel and Palestine and a just solution for Palestinian refugees. For the people of Israel, justice must mean true security, an acceptance that security is a real challenge for them and recognition by the Arab countries of the middle east of Israel’s right to exist. I hope and trust that a democratic Egypt will reaffirm the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.

What today’s debate has demonstrated is the profound sense of solidarity felt by us in Parliament but, more importantly, by the people we are sent here to represent. Yet it is a solidarity, I would argue, that is tempered by a frustration at the weakness and inertia of international institutions. Almost 20 years on from the genocide in Rwanda, the United Nations has again been too slow to act. Two decades on from Bosnia, Europe has again been hesitant and divided. I would say to the Minister and to the Foreign Secretary as a matter of some urgency, that the British Government have an opportunity to lead a debate on making the responsibility to protect a practical, operational reality. Otherwise, it will simply be fine words on paper. We must also press our European partners to give practical support to help achieve democracy and self-determination across the region.

As a number of Members have said, stability has been the cornerstone of our policy in the middle east for decades; stability based on the suppression of freedom, however, is no genuine stability. It is in our national interest, as well as being morally right, for us to support democracy, strong civil societies and the protection of minorities across the middle east and north Africa. My right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham made the point that this House has an important part to play in promoting these shared values. Today’s debate has demonstrated that we are rising to that challenge.

5.43 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Alistair Burt): I thank the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg)

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for his contribution, which has been absolutely up to the high standards we have seen this afternoon; I agree with much of what he said. I also commend the House for the excellent standard of contributions in these genuinely extraordinary times.

We began with an outstanding contribution by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, in which he analysed the broad sweep of events into the turn of the year. He then looked at the more immediate issues on which we urge or will an end to the violence, which prevents the establishment of the conditions necessary for the peaceful pursuit of legitimate aspirations and the chance of a response from existing Governments.

It has become a commonplace to recognise the events we are living through in north Africa and the middle east as a generational shift—a massive historical change in the Arab psyche. As my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames) noted, in what I thought was a succinct, deep and well-informed speech that set the tone for the debate, the stability we went along with for so long was frozen in time and nothing will ever be the same again. He is right; it will not.

My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway) said that history would ask whether we should have anticipated these events and what we could have done. I suspect that that will be a matter of debate for a long time to come as we examine all the ramifications. It should not go unsaid, however, that this countryhas persistently maintained in relation to many other countries—both publicly and privately, and often quietly—that although there may be different roads to stability, there are certain building blocks for democracy. It may not necessarily be a Westminster style of democracy, but key factors are freedom of expression and assembly, human rights, some form of representative system to express opinion, free trade, and peaceful relations with neighbours.

Equally, as has been recognised in several speeches today, the strategic needs of the United Kingdom have required, and still require, that we maintain relationships with Governments of many kinds, not all of whom have demonstrated the fullest adherence to international obligations or been free from problems with their own people. That applies to the region that we are discussing, and to other parts of the world. A number of Members have reflected today that these events provide an opportunity to reset relationships, and that must be true. The Prime Minister has referred to the “precious opportunity” that they have created, an opportunity that should be seized and not denied. I think that the House will re-examine those relationships with great excitement and genuine relish.

It is in that atmosphere of change, and recognition of change, that today’s debate has taken place. Let me set the tone by making some key points before dealing in more detail with issues that Members have raised.

There must be a recognition of the sovereign position of the peoples in the region. This is not a west-inspired change; it is an Arab-inspired situation, locally driven and locally led. I too have met some of the young people in Egypt. I met some just last week who had been part of the Tahrir square protest, and who are now part of the national dialogue. Their style and commitment should give any of us in this place genuine hope for the future.