Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Nowhere is that more so than in Yemen, where 73 per cent of the population is under the age of 30. As I have seen for myself when visiting, it is a country divided by fundamental tribal and religious differences, it has a chronic shortage of water and is a shelter for al-Qaeda. It is a poor country that is having to deal with a continual influx of desperate Somalis fleeing the nightmare that is their homeland.

The issues in Libya have been well expressed today. There is the deliberate government policy of physically seeking to destroy political opposition. There are all the humanitarian consequences of that, which for us perhaps means a mass of people from north Africa seeking entry into Europe. Again, that is a human tragedy, but it impacts on the European political debate and European attitudes. The situations in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Libya, Bahrain, Syria and others do not suggest clear endings and we will need to look at each country on a case-by-case basis.

In addition to the yearning for political change and economic opportunity, there remains one issue about which all Arabs, young and old, feel passionately: the Israel/Palestine conflict. We have a particular interest as violence and tension there invariably affect the attitudes and emotions of many British citizens. Ultimately, in a sense, in the Middle East, all roads lead to Jerusalem. I would have thought that this is precisely

1 Apr 2011 : Column 1492

the time for Israel, in its own best interests, to think out of the box and counterintuitively and to send a different message to all those young Arabs who are so clearly expressing themselves politically and to road-test a more radical approach in its relationships with its near neighbours.

This brings me to Syria, where there are real concerns about civil and political rights and police activity. I declare an interest as a director of the British Syrian Society. The geopolitical location of Syria has always been pivotal in the region. Whatever political developments take place there in the future, it is worth reminding ourselves that Israel, a vibrant democracy, illegally occupies a substantial chunk of Syrian territory. There is no religious or strategic reason for this. Syria has sought a dialogue with Israel, brokered by Turkey. It deploys Hezbollah to punish Israel for this occupation, hence the link to Iran.

What is happening in the Middle East is a moment to be seized upon. It is spontaneous and has little to do with Iranian theocracy or Osama bin Laden. Dramatic change offers a potential opportunity to resolve a problem at the heart of the region. In this unfolding drama, we are seeing the emergence of Turkey, our great friend, as a wise and steady regional influence; we see yet again how vulnerable we are in respect of energy security; and we see the United States, fiscally and militarily overstretched, drawing back as the American public demands. What we cannot escape from is that what is happening in the Middle East is happening in our own backyard, and whatever emerges in the region will impact on us, whether we like it or not.

1.23 pm

Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde: My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for initiating this debate and add my thanks to my noble friend Lady Royall of Blaisdon, who asked for this debate last week when we had the first Statement on the implementation of the no-fly zone over Libya.

This has been a wide-ranging and interesting debate. I have a particular interest in our Armed Forces personnel. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, used the term "strategic balance". I think that that term would do justice to a diplomat from the Foreign Office in the sense that I believe that this is about overstretch. I am concerned about our Armed Forces personnel because UN Resolution 1973 calls for a no-fly zone and the people who have to implement it are our Armed Forces. We call on them, they deliver what they are asked to do and they do it time after time.

HMS "Cumberland" has been playing a very important role over the past two weeks. She was on her way home, having been at sea for months. Obviously, the personnel on that ship will now not see their families for some time. Some folk may regard that as a small issue against the important issues of the Middle East. In its own right, that is possibly the case, but alongside the "Cumberland" is HMS "York", which was on her way to the Falklands and had to be diverted. My concern is that what we are asking the Armed Forces to do is actually stretching the overstretch. It is a concern that we have to respond to more substantially than perhaps we were able to do before.

1 Apr 2011 : Column 1493

That said, I have yet to come across anyone who disagrees with what has happened and I congratulate the Government on delivering the broad-based coalition of countries and forces. But here we are again with UK forces in the first wave, at the forefront, and on this occasion not even alongside our American allies. We cannot keep doing this. At some point we have to recognise that if this is the wish of British Governments of whatever colour-I include the previous Government -we have to make sure that our Armed Forces have the resources and the respect that they deserve. The personnel on HMS "Cumberland" will lose their jobs when they get back to the UK. I do not know, but some of the pilots will also probably leave the services through redundancy. We say fine words about the work that they do, but if I was a member of the Armed Forces I would be looking at it from my family's point of view.

This year, anyone in the services earning £21,000 or above will not get a pay award. Again, people may think that that is a small issue when set against an international challenge such as this, but we must take into account the fact that accommodation charges have increased, and that is for accommodation that many of us would not deem to live in. Also, we were given to understand that service pensions would not be involved in the public sector review of pensions, but they now have been. If we want to treat our Armed Forces personnel during periods of austerity in the same way as we treat people walking up and down Whitehall doing safe day-in, day-out jobs, we are going to have a very different Armed Forces in this country from what we have at the moment. That is something that we need to address.

Some people may feel that it is not appropriate to raise these issues in a debate about foreign policy and strategy, but we cannot carry out our foreign strategy without the full support of our Armed Forces in delivering it for us. They will decide whether we actually succeed or we fail. I think that I speak for many of us when I say that the noble Lord, Lord Astor, has done a sterling job keeping us informed through the briefings that he has been holding on the strategic defence and security review. The pay bill, as I know only too well having chaired the Armed Forces Pay Review Body some years ago, is not the lion's share of our defence budget. There is no real need to be punitive towards the gallant men and women who do such a proud job for this country. I urge the Government to take the opportunity offered by the situation in Libya to review the situation for our Armed Forces personnel. They will not appear to be making a U-turn and they will not lose face, because many of us will thank them and congratulate them on recognising the covenant that we owe to our Armed Forces.

1.29 pm

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: My Lords, I join others in thanking the Minister for his opening statement and his continuing leadership in this House, alongside the leadership being shown by our Government on the international stage for the necessary and measured action to date in Libya. I also join many in this House in extending our thoughts and prayers to our brave Armed Forces and, of course, the innocent civilians who have been caught up in this tragic conflict.

1 Apr 2011 : Column 1494

Some of the key questions that were asked of the coalition's intervention in Libya have already been answered. Bloodshed in Benghazi was to be averted and thankfully it has been. The no-fly zone was to be effective and the Libyan air force is at a standstill. That has been achieved. There are cracks, as we hoped, in Colonel Gaddafi's top ranks; the defection of ex-Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa reflects that.

However, challenging questions remain. Do we arm the rebels? The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, and the noble Lord, Lord West, referred to that. Who are the rebels? Who specifically leads them? Many reports suggest that on both of these questions no one is clear. The old adage, "My enemy's enemy is my friend", is perhaps in part applicable in this instance.

People are united by one noble aim, some would argue, but notable aim nevertheless, which is opposition to the current regime led by Colonel Gaddafi. If Colonel Gaddafi is to be toppled or if he, as far removed as it sounds currently, steps aside, what will be the premise of the interim Government? The noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, referred to tribalism. Does the interim council represent the wide-ranging interests of Libya? It is believed that there are up to 140 tribes in Libya and the influence of many of them extends beyond the political boundaries into Tunisia, Egypt and Chad. Of these tribes, there are arguably about 30 with demonstrable influence in Libya. Indeed, as was mentioned earlier, some of the people coming to Libya to fight for the cause are coming because of these tribal associations. Notwithstanding Colonel Gaddafi's 42-year rule, many Libyans depend on their tribes for their rights and protections and their ability to secure employment.

Alongside this historical perspective and the emerging political leadership, there also remains a void in the military leadership, strategy and direction. The noble Lord, Lord West, referred to that. We have all witnessed media reports on our televisions of scenes bordering on the chaotic as we see fighters without direction or strategy driving up a road one moment and then coming back down the next. Are these the people who we are seriously suggesting should be armed? What about their training? Who provides that, even in terms of basic weaponry? A level of training is needed. Should the UN, NATO or the coalition countries specifically provide it? Indeed, as has been said, are we resourced to do that?

Of course, there is finally the question of the legality of such an action within existing resolutions. One of the real achievements of the current action has been the secure, legal base on which I believe the coalition has acted, in comparison with the intervention in the second Iraq war. However, we have already seen the extent to which there are now varying explanations of UN Security Council Resolution 1973. The noble Baronesses, Lady Falkner and Lady Kennedy, have said that this security resolution was based on the responsibility to protect-a noble doctrine that emerged in the aftermath of the tragic genocides in Bosnia and Rwanda. The six principles set out by the responsibility to protect have, to a large part, been met already. However, if we decide to arm the opposition, whoever they may be, I am concerned that the fragile coalition

1 Apr 2011 : Column 1495

that currently exists not only will be tested but will crack. That would be to the detriment of the success that we have seen thus far.

One of the major failings of the second war in Iraq was the fragmented international response-the lack of authority. As many, including me, argued at the time, there was a lack of a legal international sanction. We need to learn the lesson and ensure that, if required, a new resolution, as other noble Lords have said, is sought.

What next for Libya and the region? Ceasefire is indeed a noble intent-an objective of Resolution 1973. What we see right now, as we all acknowledge, is a civil war. Whether it is to our liking or not, there remains a small amount of support for Colonel Gaddafi and his regime. I refer back to the tribes of Libya, as I believe that the resolution lies in part with them. Those tribes have affiliations across the wider Arab and African region. My noble friend the Minister talked about the Libyan contact group, but I believe that we should also seek to engage the tribal leaders from across Libya to ensure that, alongside the interim council, they are empowered in the country's future and have a stake in it. In that way, we will demonstrate actively that we respect the historical traditions and cultures of the people of the country and of the wider region, which will bring greater benefit.

Secondly, on the continuation of the no-fly zone, that is where countries of the Arab League and others, such as Turkey and Egypt, can lend help. Notwithstanding Egypt's own difficulties, it has a large air force and it should help. These are our allies in the region and now is the time for them to stand up and be counted through support in military means as well. This would carry a dual benefit: it would involve the region in resolving some of its own issues and challenges but, more importantly, it would allay the concerns and ever increasing support behind the idea and perception that this intervention again demonstrates that it is the West against the Arab countries or, as some including Colonel Gaddafi's regime suggest, it is the crusaders against Islam or the Muslim world. It is not.

Thirdly, there is the international role in state building and the institutions that need to be built. I believe, as we all do, that Parliament and the judiciary are key in ensuring that we do not descend into a situation of prolonged instability that benefits no one. Certainly, that is where we can lend not only our support and expertise but, dare I say it, our people in helping to strengthen assistance in building the infrastructure of the country and in energy security.

In a question that I posed to my noble friend the Leader of the House some weeks back, I asked about the domino effect across the Middle East, which continues. We remain concerned about the continuing and deteriorating situations as we speak in other Middle East countries including Yemen and Bahrain and, of course, in the continuing conflict between Israel and Palestine. However, what we do in Libya and how we seek to resolve the challenges of where we are today will, to my mind, determine how we are judged by history and, perhaps more significantly, on the criteria of morality and protecting civilian life, which we have set as the basis of our intervention.

1 Apr 2011 : Column 1496

1.38 pm

Lord Boyd of Duncansby: My Lords, as Lord Advocate I prosecuted the Lockerbie trial. I mention that not to claim any great insight into the present situation in Libya. Nor do I claim that the focus of attention should be on that one horrific incident, although I can at least bear witness to the horror of one aspect of Gaddafi's terrorism. The priority has to be the protecting of the civilian population, while ensuring a transition to a democratic state founded on the rule of law and respecting human rights. Thereafter, there are any number of criminal offences that should be addressed.

I mention Lockerbie because it has been central to our relations with Libya over the past two decades and more, and because the trial has some lessons for us in the pursuit of justice and the rule of law. Before I go any further, I say that I am speaking strictly for myself as it is four and a half years since I have been in the Crown Office and had any contact with any of the evidence. Megrahi was convicted of the murder of 270 people: 259 on Pan Am 103 and 11 on the ground in Lockerbie. Scottish terms of conviction and indictment also narrate certain factors which go along with the conviction. In this case, Megrahi was convicted while acting along with others, who were unnamed. Moussa Koussa's defection to the United Kingdom and his connection to Lockerbie have been much commented on in the past 24 hours. From my knowledge, which I emphasise is elderly, he is a "person of interest". I am pleased that the Prime Minister has acceded to the Crown Office's request that prosecutors and police should have access to him. However, he is no more than that. No warrant has been issued for his arrest, and there are others who would also be of interest. That should be borne in mind, and I say no more on the matter.

The other aspect of the conviction was that Megrahi was acting in furtherance of the aims and objectives of the JSO, the Libyan intelligence services, so the court was satisfied of the culpability of the Libyan state for what happened, acting through the agency of its intelligence service. The conviction was important in bringing to justice one of the people who was responsible for that atrocity. The trial was innovative both in being in the Netherlands and in the adaptations that were made for that purpose. I pay particular tribute to the late, lamented Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary who was particularly important to that, and to the Foreign Office, which set it up.

Thereafter, the road becomes somewhat trickier. I choose my words carefully: there were times, more than once, when I had the strong impression that Megrahi's conviction was seen as an inconvenience and an impediment to developing relations with Libya.

I acknowledge that the rapprochement was significant and important because it led to the renunciation by Gaddafi of weapons of mass destruction. Other claims that were made for it, such as the provision of intelligence on al-Qaeda, I take with, frankly, a little more scepticism, particularly as Gaddafi is now claiming that virtually everyone who is involved in the rebellion is motivated by al-Qaeda. However, the negotiation of the prisoner transfer agreement, in the expectation-and, I suspect, the hope-that it would lead to the return of Megrahi

1 Apr 2011 : Column 1497

to Libya, was an error of judgment. It was in the face of an agreement with the United States that, if convicted, he would remain in Scotland and serve his sentence there, and, importantly, of commitments that were given to American relatives-often through me, acting, as I believed at the time, on the advice of the Government of the day.

The announcement of the enhanced judicial co-operation, which included a commitment to the prisoner transfer agreement, at the same time-and I think in the same press release-as the contracts for BP, did nothing to dispel the impression that we were prepared to compromise on our principles of justice. This, along with the eventual return of Megrahi, undermined the confidence of the United States and of American relatives in our commitment to justice on this issue. One has only to have regard to the letter from Robert Mueller to the Justice Minister in Scotland, Kenny MacAskill, to understand the depth of anger that was provoked. I remind the House that if, and I stress "if", there were to be any prospect of any new trial arising out of the Lockerbie incident, or possibly on other matters that need US co-operation, that co-operation has been put in difficulty as a result of what was done by the British and Scottish Governments. Relations between prosecutors remain good but between Governments they do not.

Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, might I ask the noble and learned Lord a question? He appears to have overlooked the view of the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission on this matter; it found the conviction unsafe.

Lord Boyd of Duncansby: It did not. It said that there may have been a miscarriage of justice and referred it back to the Appeal Court. Had the appeal gone forward, it would have been the Appeal Court that ruled on that. For myself, I think it was unfortunate that that appeal was withdrawn, since the matter was then not dealt with. However, there now seems to be at least an acceptance that Libya was responsible for the Lockerbie bombing.

At the end of the trial, Louis Freeh, the then director of the FBI, telephoned me. One of the messages that he wanted to give me was that it demonstrated to the world, particularly to the United States, that we can bring justice home to terrorists with patience and international co-operation, and that the US could learn that it did not need a military response. That lesson has been lost or obscured in the aftermath of 9/11, but it is even more relevant now.

We need to bring through a strong commitment to international justice. One of the most powerful of the speeches that I have listened to today was that of the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, who outlined the reason for that. Through our present mission, we are promoting that international justice. I accept with limitations that we are doing the right thing and that it is legal, but we must go further.

What we have seen and witnessed in Libya is truly shocking: enforced disappearances, beatings, torture, horrific rapes and extrajudicial killings, as well as attacks on civilian populations. Holding people to

1 Apr 2011 : Column 1498

account for these crimes is of vital importance, and part of that is ensuring that people are brought before the International Criminal Court or other courts as appropriate. It sends out a powerful message, not just to dictators and despots but also to those who chafe under such tyrannical regimes. If we are to build a world where human rights are universally respected, our commitment to those fundamental values must not be waived in the face of expediency.

1.46 pm

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, it is customary in this House to welcome the holding of a debate on a subject as important as the one that we are discussing today and to thank the initiator of the debate, in this case the Government in the form of the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford. I do so all the more because the noble Lord introduced the debate with an extremely wide-ranging and thoughtful contribution which set us off on the right foot.

I do so, though, feeling that the timing of the debate has been a bit dilatory. We should have had a debate on a matter as significant as the commitment of the Armed Forces of this country to active service at the latest on the same day as the House of Commons, which was 21 March. That we did not shines an uncomfortable light on the relative inflexibility of our procedures in comparison with those in another place. Be that as it may, I believe that I spotted in the Statement of the right honourable gentleman the Foreign Secretary that the Government intend in future to put decisions about the engagement of our Armed Forces on either a conventional or a statutory basis. That surely means that we in this House will need to adapt our procedures accordingly or be completely marginalised. My own view is that we should respect the primacy of the other place, which would mean not taking a vote on the matter here, but that we should ensure that our views are taken into account. That can be done only if we hold a debate no later than any proceedings in the other place. I hope that the Minister can say that these issues will be considered carefully by the Government and that they will revert to the House in due course.

It is striking that, amid all the acres of newsprint that have been devoted to the issue of Libya in the past few weeks, so little reference has been made to the watershed nature of the decision taken by the Security Council in Resolution 1973. Five years ago, the whole membership of the United Nations, all 192 of them, signed up to the principle that, where a regime was unable or unwilling to protect its own citizens, the international community had a responsibility to protect them, if necessary and as a last resort by the use of force. I suppose that I should declare an interest as having been a member of the panel which made the recommendation for that decision to the Secretary-General of the UN, who passed it on to the membership.

Since that time, 2005, there has been much verbal commitment but considerable controversy and absolutely no real action to give effect to the responsibility to protect, if one leaves on one side the rather welcome efforts which the international community made to prevent Kenya slipping into anarchy after its contested elections. Many believed, and quite a few hoped, that

1 Apr 2011 : Column 1499

the responsibility to protect would remain just so many words on paper-an empty aspiration but not a reality. Well, now Resolution 1973 has given the lie to that, and has done so in the most solemnly legal and legitimising way, in a resolution aimed at protecting the citizens of Libya, who were being grievously repressed by their own ruler. In my view, that resolution is every bit as important a Rubicon to have crossed as was Resolution 678, which authorised the use of force to reverse Iraq's aggression against Kuwait in 1990. Both will be seen as important landmarks in the post-Cold War history of the UN, of much wider significance than the issues at stake in Iraq or Libya themselves.

Success in the operations which are being undertaken under Resolution 1973 cannot be guaranteed. Many have already spoken in this debate about the challenges we face-the costs, the risks of failure and the risks of stalemate. But it is surely legitimate to ask them, and to ask all those worldwide who have raised their voices in criticism, what alternative they would have favoured. How were they prepared to prevent the inhabitants of Benghazi and other cities in the east of Libya to whom Colonel Gaddafi had promised no mercy? Would they have preferred us to watch and wash our hands of the whole matter-to have stood by, as we did during the Cold War when civilians were slaughtered as, for example, they were in Hama in Syria by President Hafez al-Assad? In my view, great credit is due to our Government and to those other Governments who make up the coalition and voted for Security Council Resolution 1973, and who are now working to implement it.

We should not overlook the wider benefits that could accrue if this operation is successful-the precedent that will be created by making the responsibility to protect a living reality and the deterrent effect that that could have in future on those rulers who might be tempted to oppress and massacre their citizens.

How should we be defining success? Clearly, it is crucial to stick firmly to the mandate that we have to protect as many of the citizens of Libya as we can from the tender mercies of Gaddafi and, on the other hand, to avoid any occupation of the country. If carrying out that mandate imposes constraints on us, they are surely worth accepting as a necessary price for keeping together a wide coalition including, above all, the Arab League. That is the argument against being drawn into loose talk about targeting Gaddafi or speculating on the case for allowing mission creep to bring us towards regime change. Although I am no lawyer, I have had a good deal to do with drafting and interpreting Security Council resolutions, and I find the assertions that Security Council Resolution 1973 in some way overrides or provides a way round the arms embargo on Libya in an earlier resolution fairly dubious and not very convincing.

We should also be doing everything we can to help those Libyans who have escaped from Gaddafi's grasp to create and build up the institutions of civil society needed to make a market economy, so that in due course they can stand on their own feet and decide their own future in free and fair elections. That is what was done successfully in the Kurdish-populated parts of Iraq in 1991 and thereafter, once the northern

1 Apr 2011 : Column 1500

no-fly zone had deterred Saddam Hussein from overrunning them. It was underpinned by earmarking a proportion of the resources from Iraq's oil exports, and it was done without challenging the future territorial integrity of the country. There could surely be a lesson there for Libya and a task for the UN's humanitarian agencies to help the population in those parts of the country where they can work freely and in security. I doubt whether it is wise to look too far ahead at this point at the situation in Libya. It is extraordinarily fluid. I suggest that we need to avoid setting artificial deadlines and agonising too much about exit strategies. The first priority is to implement the mandate which we have.

Of course, there will be lessons to be learnt and conclusions to be drawn-some of them nearer to home-from those events. The role we played at the UN and the role we are playing in Libya is appropriate for a country which is a permanent member of the Security Council and one of the two leading European states in working for international peace and security, but we cannot do that without providing our Armed Forces with the resources they need to do the tasks we ask them to undertake. I fear that in our preoccupation with the need for austerity we may have cut too close to the bone.

We also need to work harder to achieve European solidarity on big decisions in regions which are effectively on our doorstep. I very much regret the German decision to abstain on Resolution 1973, particularly as it was completely unnecessary. The German Government could have supported the resolution while making it clear that their forces would not be involved in any military action. Other members of the Security Council did that. However, it is more important to look ahead and avoid such divisions in future. That is all the more necessary given the clear US preference for working in future as a member of coalitions of a wider kind, not just coalitions of the obedient, as they did in the past.

We Europeans have been calling for such an evolution in US policy for years. We must not flinch from it or criticise it now that it is upon us-however unexpectedly. Europe has an important role to play in these game-changing developments in the wider Middle East, in the economic as well as in the political and military fields. The EU should surely be spearheading a wider international effort to offer assistance to those countries which emerge from autocracy and set themselves on the course of establishing democratic institutions and the rule of law. We should be providing better trade access, encouragement for investment and advice, where it is welcome. I very much hope that the Minister can set out what the Government intend to do to ensure that the EU rises to the occasion in that wider context.

1.57 pm

Lord Stone of Blackheath: My Lords, as a follow-on to that, I propose to the House something which may seem too wide and long term for this debate, but it is a proposal that would give hope to civilians in the region if we begin to take it seriously now.

Since our previous debate on the Middle East, in which I spoke briefly about the work of Moon Valley in the West Bank, I have been approached, because of

1 Apr 2011 : Column 1501

what I said but also because of the positive response from the Minister, by the Tunisian ambassador, the Government of Jordan, the Egyptian ambassador through the British Egyptian Society and Morocco as well as by Gaza through the quartet. They are all now asking for similar involvement in their countries. That in itself is remarkable. I know that the Lord Speaker and many other noble Lords have been working towards broadening the awareness of the work of this House, so we should pause and take note of the significant and wide attention paid to our debates and the positive effects that they can have on world events.

I realise that today's debate was called mainly for views on the immediate military, security, political and humanitarian situation. However, it is now recognised that the danger of large-scale aggressive interventions, however well meant, arises when no exit has been pre-planned and when the work of helping the people to rebuild a peaceful and prosperous future for the nation is not taken as seriously as resolving the conflict itself.

I suggest today to Her Majesty's Government, but also collectively to noble Lords, many of whom have experience and skills in retail, farming, philanthropy and international business, that on a larger scale than the project in the West Bank, we could now start to structure and organise help for the people in many of these reformed countries in north Africa and the Middle East to get back into sustainable and profitable employment.

Moon Valley, to remind noble Lords, is a social enterprise that, with the help of DfID, Oxfam, the Portland Trust, which is Sir Ronald Cohen's foundation, and Technoserve, which is an excellent American NGO, and with the encouragement and support of Sainsbury's, Marks & Spencer, the Co-operative Group, Ottolenghi the restaurateur and others, are helping West Bank farmers to sell their goods to UK retailers and to Europe and North America.

The countries that contacted me are all, in their various ways and at different stages, committed to developing a system of government which is conducted with the consent of their people. They can produce some fabulous products-now I am on home ground and in my element. In north Africa and the Middle East, many of these countries provide herbs and exotic spices, succulent tomatoes and peppers, nutritious dates and nuts, olives and olive oil products using traditional methods from biblical times, long staple cottons and yarns and exquisite textiles and clothing.

In addition to the food and textile business, these countries possess another potential. There is scope to create non-oil energy from agricultural waste, including olive oil waste, to the benefit of the farmers. After the last, excellent debate of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, here, and then the subsequent discussion with people at the Saïd Business School in Oxford, they have asked to get their people into sustainable employment by helping them with market access; that is, connection to the retailers of food and clothing; training and skills in technology and agronomy, and the quality standards that come with them; and business mentoring in entrepreneurship and finance. In particular, however,

1 Apr 2011 : Column 1502

they want to know how to develop responsible processes to ensure that their farmers and workers down the line-at least one-third of whom are women, who also want to be able to run their own countries-get the benefits of this trade.

This is what we are beginning to develop in the West Bank, and I think that it can eventually be extended to Tunisia, Morocco, Jordan, Egypt and, perhaps later, Sudan, Gaza and, whatever happens, eventually Libya. Today I am suggesting to the House and to Her Majesty's Government that we can help create for these countries a new organisation, a social enterprise that could provide specific, pragmatic help to the people in these countries that want to develop and grow. This social enterprise could eventually be run by Arab businesspeople, become self-financing, and allow all the people, particularly the farmers and traders who have a stake in the emergence of the Arab spring, to be involved.

We have therefore been in discussion with retailers in the EU and the USA-I was with Wholefoods USA here last week-and, in this country, with Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury's, the Co-operative Group, the mail-order N Brown Group, of which I am a non-executive director, and ASOS, through my noble friend Lord Ali. I also chair the Sindicatum Climate Change Foundation, which is a charity that works on sustainable energy in the region. All of these, I am pretty sure, would support such an enterprise and would even, I think, be willing to put some skills and resources into it. I am also speaking to representatives of the Governments of those countries and businesspeople within them.

We can foresee the formation of "Moon Crescent", a special enterprise committed to working like Moon Valley in the West Bank but on a wider scale, helping any country in the MENA region that has decided to govern with the consent of its people by providing market access, transferring business and marketing skills with technical high-quality standards and ensuring fair trade so that the workers in those industries are well treated.

Will the Minister ask Her Majesty's Government in what way they might support such an initiative, possibly together with the Arab League, the African Union, the quartet and the World Bank? I suggest that we might invite those interested in supporting such initiatives, together with people trying to build new forms of government in the region, to meet with us and discuss on a pragmatic basis how this concept may be put into practice.

2.04 pm

Lord Dobbs: My Lords, it has been a privilege to listen today to such an incisive, important and well informed debate. I thank the Minister for enabling this to take place. Most of all, I offer my thanks to the young men and women of our Armed Forces who, once again, have been sent into the eye of the storm and performed brilliantly. It is because of their expertise that so few civilians, if any, have died as a result of the coalition bombing. If there had been casualties, you may be sure that Gaddafi would have dragged every camera crew in Tripoli to the mortuary to see them, as he did in 1986.

1 Apr 2011 : Column 1503

Nevertheless, we stand on a difficult and potentially slippery slope. The Middle East has often proved to be a pathway to chaos. It is difficult to think of a single occasion since the Second World War when we have become heavily involved in events in the region and not come away with a bloody nose. I hope I am wrong. Perhaps I have forgotten some great triumph, but from Suez to Iraq, Iran, Palestine and so many of the deserts beyond, it has been a desperately hard road. That is why we must be deeply cautious about arming any of the combatants. The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, referred to some of the legal questions that arise, and many others to the practical difficulties. I, like them, simply do not know who these anti-Gaddafi rebels are or what they want. They may not even know themselves what they want, apart from to get rid of Gaddafi. Are these people any better than Osama bin Laden? We have to ask those difficult questions because we in the West armed him, too-another very bloody nose.

There has also been a potentially dangerous tendency to equate every anti-government demonstration in the Middle East with a demand for democracy. I am not sure that link is always clear or convincing. There has been an even bolder leap of faith in proclaiming that Arab democracy will lead to peace in the Middle East and a willingness to deal with Israel. The hatred of Israel has been a remarkably popular cause in much of the Arab world. We cannot change that fact simply by trying to ignore it. That is why we should applaud the Prime Minister for calling the summit earlier this week in London, not simply to examine the conditions of combat but to start work on the still more important plan for the peace that might lie beyond.

Let us face it: we occupy no great moral high ground in this process. The war in Iraq saw to that. Too many people remember our chaotic dealings with Gaddafi himself, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Boyd, pointed out. Our policy towards Gaddafi over the past 30 years has been blown from one corner to another. We reviled him and imprisoned his agent for mass murder; then we embraced him and educated his sons; and now-another somersault-we are trying to get rid of him. Diplomacy requires us to climb into some pretty uncomfortable beds at times, but there have been few beds as rumpled as that of Colonel Gaddafi. If we found it necessary to climb into his bed, surely it was never necessary to kiss him on both cheeks in the process. Gaddafi must have been laughing all the way back to his tent after that. He made fools not just of Mr Blair but of us all.

However, perhaps we can now make the fresh start that we need. There is a fashionable description of what we are seeing. It is called, as we have heard, the Arab spring. I hope that is right and that it is more than simply a headline. It is undeniable that some sort of profound change is happening in many countries. The Facebook revolution has stripped these oppressive regimes of the power to cover up their crimes. The secret state has been undermined. This opens up opportunities for a broader peace in the Middle East that were unthinkable even a few years ago. We may be on the brink of a historic opportunity; it is one we cannot afford to miss. People ask, "What is the end

1 Apr 2011 : Column 1504

game?". That must be the end game-peace, not just in Libya but more broadly throughout the Middle East.

That is easier said than done, of course. If peace is to happen, it is a process in which, as the noble Lords, Lord Alderdice and Lord Risby, said, Israel must play its part, no matter how difficult that must be for it. A true peace will require courage and initiative from the Israelis. It will require them to take great risks and give up things that they cherish. But any hope of peace must also embrace ordinary Arabs, not just elites. If this Arab spring is to turn to glorious summer, it must mean a much wider spread of economic opportunity than is currently the case in most of these societies.

If it is to be part of our policy to help rebel Arab groups form new Governments, it must also be part of our policy to insist that they become partners in a wider Middle East peace, one based on the recognition that Israel has the right to exist. It would be folly to help Libyan rebels take power only to discover yet again that we had backed the wrong horse. The details will be far more complex than simply the recognition of Israel of course, but we have to pursue the goal of a wider peace remorselessly, unremittingly and, if necessary, ruthlessly; otherwise, what is the point of all this? We have to use all the power and influence we have with our allies, particularly the United States, to insist that this battle we are fighting in Libya does not turn into another wasted opportunity. Whatever aid is given, it has a price, and that price is a commitment to a wider peace. It is not just the future of Libya we are fighting for; our future is also at stake here.

2.11 pm

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, when one has at some time in one's career been exposed to classified papers one recognises how little one knows when the stream of classified papers dries up. I have had that experience twice. I did not enjoy it on either occasion but I feel rather naked talking about these matters at a time like this when so much is changing so fast.

Two issues are being discussed today. One is whether we should or should not arm the very brave young freedom fighters in Libya. It seems to me that if Mr Gaddafi is to be defeated by military means-that is not the only possibility, of course-we have only two choices: either we arm them or we do it ourselves. I do not detect much appetite among your Lordships for doing it ourselves. Therefore, we need to think very carefully about giving the means to do it to other people.

It has been said that we do not know anything about these freedom fighters. I dispute that. I think that we know a great deal about them. First, they are very brave. I am very grateful to the Minister for his remarks about al-Qaeda. He pointed out that through all this turbulence in the Middle East there has been virtually no support for al-Qaeda. People are not shouting in the streets for al-Qaeda, they are shouting for democracy, freedom of assembly and freedom of speech-things they have learnt from us. That is marvellous. From everything I can see, events in the Middle East over the past few weeks have been nothing more than a disaster for al-Qaeda. It has not got very

1 Apr 2011 : Column 1505

far with its recruiting campaigns among the young men on the streets of Sanaa or Damascus or those battling Gaddafi in Libya. I very much agreed with the comments of my noble friend Lord Soley. I will give him the reference to Edmund Burke later. Burke advised us not to ask what the lawyers tell us we may do but to find out what peace, honour and justice tell us we must do. My noble friend and I, and I am sure a lot of other Members of this House, agree with those sentiments.

I will not spend long talking about the military side of this. We have a marvellous opportunity with the arrival of Mr Moussa Koussa. His name sounds like a very bad Greek dessert. No doubt he will have been talking. If he has not been, I suggest that we tell him that we have a seat in a C-130 waiting to take him back to Tripoli as soon as we can get him on board. He would then start to sing quite quickly. We should make a recording of everything that Mr Moussa Koussa says to our interrogators and play it back to Libya. Given the comments that some of his colleagues in Tripoli have made recently, it would be interesting if this came to the ears of Colonel Gaddafi, and it might encourage quite a few others to follow Mr Moussa Koussa as quickly as possible.

I will make a couple of more general points. It has been said, not least by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, that Libya is not of vital interest to us. I am sorry that I have the temerity to disagree, but Libya at the moment is of absolutely vital interest to us. If things go wrong there, it will have an appalling effect on the rest of the Middle East, with consequences for our interests as well. I am not suggesting that we change the deployment of forces, but we should concentrate our diplomatic efforts on Mr Moussa Koussa and Libya, to the detriment of other diplomatic activities that we have been engaged in recently. I hate to think what will happen if Libya goes wrong.

We have tended to view the situation in Libya too much through the prism of UK interests. We are understandably concerned about the case of policewoman Fletcher and about Lockerbie. However, those issues do not play strongly on the streets of Yemen, Bahrain and Syria. What to them is the loss of one policewoman? What is the loss of 130 people in an aeroplane? It is terrible to us, but they are not as interested because of the number of corpses on their streets every day.

My noble friend Lord Robertson said that what is happening in Libya is a wake-up call for the European Community. I heard my noble friend say the same at the time of Kosovo. I do not think that there is a full recognition in this country of the enormity of the military contribution of the United States to what is going on in the Middle East. Two hundred Tomahawk missiles have been launched, with brilliant accuracy. My noble friend said that the only people who had these were us and the United States. He did not point out that we sent three winging through the air while the United States sent 200. It is rather reminiscent of Kosovo, where 85 per cent of the attack missions were flown by American aircraft. What is happening now is that the Americans are using B-2s-a brilliant piece of kit-all the way from Kansas, not Norfolk. We read

1 Apr 2011 : Column 1506

that other European NATO nations are supplying hundreds of planes, but I have not seen any sign of them in action.

I am glad to see my noble friend Lady Turner in her seat. She was very distressed by what happened in Kosovo. She spoke of indiscriminate bombing. I was the Minister responsible for approving every target that we attacked in Kosovo and I assure her that the bombing was not indiscriminate. I am sure that I will not persuade her to my point of view as to its utility, but I assure her that it was far from indiscriminate.

I have one question for the Government and I should be very obliged if the Minister would take it on board. With this, we come to political matters. I do not understand why this Government, most of whose activities over Libya I sincerely applaud, are still recognising Gaddafi's administration. There was an answer to that in another place on 18 March. The Prime Minister said in reply to a question from Mr Chishti, Member for Gillingham and Rainham:

"My hon. Friend asks a good question. As he knows, in this country, we recognise countries rather than Governments".-[Official Report, Commons, 18/3/11; col. 632.]

I read that sentence countless times and I still do not understand it. What the devil is the difference between a country and a Government? How do you withdraw recognition from Canada or Nigeria? That sentence is absolute gobbledegook. There is no reason whatever why we cannot withdraw recognition. In this country, as I understand it, we recognise who is in control of a country, whether we like them or not. To say "we recognise countries" is blithering nonsense. Can the Minister define what the Prime Minister meant and say why on earth we cannot follow the French, the Qataris and many others in giving recognition to the interim council based in Benghazi? I think that that would be a major contribution to isolating Gaddafi in Tripoli even further than he is already.

2.22 pm

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, and the Government for providing us with the opportunity to have this timely and thorough debate on the developing events in Libya and the wider north African and Middle Eastern regions.

In opening the debate, the noble Lord said that he had not been able to give us a crystal-clear analysis. We well understand that, and we understand that what is happening in Libya and across the Middle East is indeed a fast-moving and fluid picture. However, the noble Lord made an important and impressive speech in the House today in bringing us up to date with events and looking ahead to what may happen in the weeks to come.

At this point, I apologise for the absence from these Benches of my noble friend Lady Symons of Vernham Dean for this part of the debate. She was clearly in her place for the first part of the debate but she has an unavoidable personal commitment this afternoon, which means that I am rising in her place.

I begin my remarks by placing on the record our admiration of and gratitude for the work of our Armed Forces who are currently engaged in the Libyan

1 Apr 2011 : Column 1507

conflict, as many noble Lords have said. Our men and women of the RAF and Royal Navy are bravely carrying out their duties in the skies and seas around Libya, and working diligently to implement the terms of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973. Their work is difficult and they are operating in dangerous circumstances. We all owe them a debt of gratitude.

I thank the Minister for relaying the message from the people and council of Misrata about the accuracy of the air strike earlier this week and the fact that no civilians were hurt during it. As my noble friend Lord West said, enormous effort and care is taken by our Air Force. However, we should also heed his warning that civilians could be wounded or killed, and this, as many noble Lords have said, would be a tragedy-not only for the individuals themselves but because of the impact that it would have on the views of our citizens and of citizens in the Arab world.

Over the weekend of 19 and 20 March, it was right, alongside others in the international community, and with the legal force of the United Nations, for the UK to intervene in Libya. We saw with our own eyes what the Libyan regime was capable of, and we heard from the media reports, from Libyans on the ground and from British citizens evacuated from Tripoli and oil fields across the Libyan desert of the violent crackdown on unarmed demonstrators by Gaddafi's forces. We learnt of militia violence and disappearances in areas held by his forces, and we heard Colonel Gaddafi boast that he would go house to house and treat the 700,000 people of Benghazi with no mercy or compassion. Military action in Libya has already avoided the scale of slaughter that would have taken place. As Her Majesty's loyal Opposition we support the Government's actions under the UN resolution. However, it is also our duty as an Opposition to be serious about scrutiny of the Government, and we will not hesitate to ask tough questions when they need to be asked.

Having listened to the debate today, I am encouraged that noble Lords from across your Lordships' House are prepared similarly to speak with appropriate candour. It is important to remember the background to this debate. We have all watched over the past few months-at times with nervous anticipation, and at times with grave concern-as a movement for change has spread from Tunisia and Egypt, to Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, and now Syria, a movement in which women as well as men are participating. Events in north Africa and the Middle East are demonstrating that real power can lie in the common causes that unite people and that the denial of freedom is unsustainable.

Rising aspiration and a greater urgency in the desire for change has motivated youthful civilian populations to rise up and act against oppression which they feel they have too long endured. These are combustible circumstances, and the world has been witnessing an unprecedented wave of change whose end point is as yet unknown. The international community has a duty to the people of north Africa and the Middle East, and to the world, to ensure that what began with the best intentions is able to reach stable conclusions. The Government were right to convene the conference on Libya held in London on Tuesday, and we support

1 Apr 2011 : Column 1508

the establishment of a Libya contact group, a move for which my right honourable friend the shadow Foreign Secretary has called.

I suggest that the Minister and his colleagues might consider inviting representatives of other UK political parties to such conferences in the future. As my noble friend Lord Robertson said, all British Governments are too government-centric and we should be reaching out to all those who can contribute to the discussions and solutions. It is vital that military action in the region has international support and, most importantly, support among the countries of the Arab League. While the majority of the military might being exercised in the implementation of UN Resolution 1973 is American, French and British, we welcome the transfer of command for the Libya operation to NATO. My noble friend reminded us of the enduring importance of NATO not only as the cornerstone of our security, but as a force for empowering the decisions taken by the international community.

The continuing importance of the support from the Arab League is clear. However, there are reports that across Arab countries there is a growing ambivalence about the intervention. Success and legitimacy of intervention depends on these states' support. Can the Minister tell us what the Government are doing to ensure the stability of the international coalition? In terms of military support, can he update us on which Arab nations have committed forces to the conflict? Does he agree that now is the time for all-party parliamentary groups for Arab League countries to reinvigorate their contacts with groups in those countries?

The decision to take part in military action in Libya comes with difficulties. Of course I understand why some may ask why we have chosen to intervene in Libya when there are hard cases elsewhere, as my noble friend pointed out, but it was right that the international community took the action that it did in Libya. When the UN resolution was passed we had a responsibility to protect. We have both the responsibility and the opportunity to help enforce international law and save innocent citizens from slaughter. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, that with UN Resolution 1973 a Rubicon has been passed. We are now acting on that responsibility, and all agree that we must protect people when the UN says that we should.

The Libyan national council's call for a democratic new Libya is encouraging. However, are the Government fully aware of the intentions and motivations of all the rebels on the ground? The Minister suggested that al-Qaeda is not behind those fighting in opposition to the Gaddafi forces, and I welcome that. I trust, however, that the risk assessment called for by my noble friend is being undertaken. Such uncertainty ties in to wider questions about what the intended outcome of this conflict is in the eyes of this Government and the wider international community. I was glad to hear of the key task that Turkey was given at the London conference in relation to the post-conflict situation. However, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, and my noble friend Lady Liddell asked, how do we know what the end game looks like? The noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, said that it is peace, but peace can come in different shapes and sizes.

1 Apr 2011 : Column 1509

On Monday, in his Statement to the other place, the Prime Minister explicitly said that there would be no British boots on the ground. Does the Minister envisage this continuing to be the case? Mission creep is dangerous and we must respect Resolution 1973 and, if necessary, go back to the UN.

Several of my noble friends raised the importance of the covenant and of reviewing the SDSR. Does the Minister agree with his honourable friend James Arbuthnot MP, chair of the Defence Select Committee in the other place, that in the light of events and our experiences in Libya it is now time to revisit the strategic defence and security review? The Minister has spoken about the defection to the UK by the Libyan Foreign Minister, Mr Koussa. We do not forget his past and we agree that he must not escape justice but we also agree that his treatment must not discourage further defections from the Gaddafi regime.

Libya is rightly uppermost in our minds today but this debate is also about the wider Middle East. In Tunisia, political parties are emerging. Public meetings are taking place about constitutional and legal reform. Of course there is disagreement. There have been reports that some parties want to see the country governed by Sharia law and some commentators are saying that women should not participate in public life. But the prevailing tone is very positive and an inclusive process appears to be gaining ground. It is significant that the interim Government have set aside the use of capital punishment, have signed the international protocols against the use of torture and have signed up to the International Criminal Court. I understand that a Tunisian trade delegation to this country is expected shortly. That is an excellent indication of growing confidence and determination to underpin the new political freedoms with sound economic activity. I trust that my noble friend Lord Stone will speak to the delegation about the Moon Valley social enterprise.

Egypt is arguably one of the two most important countries in the Arab Middle East. It has a huge population of almost 80 million and extremes of great wealth and abject poverty. As the noble Lord, Lord Risby, said, there is high unemployment and, in particular, a lack of jobs for young people, which is causing social unrest. Moreover, Egypt has been one of the main bulwarks of the Middle East peace process and any change in its Government's policy towards that peace process has self-evident implications for prospects of peace across the region and beyond.

There is a wide range of opinion in Egypt about the way the future of the country should develop. There is a strong sense of optimism among many in Egypt that the election planned will be the beginning of a new political settlement. We are mindful of course about the attacks on the Coptic church, as raised by the right reverend Prelate, and about the attacks on women. It is our view that we need as much contact and discussion as possible with our friends in Egypt about the sort of future that they are hoping to build. I wholeheartedly agree with my noble friend Lady Kennedy of The Shaws about the importance of the role of women in building the new institutions and systems of that country and the other countries of the region.

1 Apr 2011 : Column 1510

The Minister spoke of the tensions in Yemen, a country which is so tragically a byword for violence and lawlessness. Perhaps we do not hear as much about Yemen as we do about other countries in the region but its fate should concern us all. The situation in Yemen is urgent and potentially catastrophic-not only for Yemen itself but for the stability of its neighbours. It is, after all, in Saudi Arabia's backyard and the Saudis are unlikely to fail to react if Yemen sinks into complete anarchy.

Your Lordships have today voiced concerns in the redrawing of the political landscape of the Middle East about the future of the Middle East peace process. The fact is that in the next few years many people throughout the region will have the right to elect their Governments. The feelings of frustration and anger about the continued inability of the United Nations-either through resolutions or via persuasion-to engage in any meaningful process may well find expression in how such people vote.

Put at its most brutal, there is a window of opportunity now for the Israelis to engage with their close neighbours-the Palestinians, the Egyptians and the Jordanians-as partners in the search for peace. We urge them to take it. We urge them to take it because the two-state solution may not be on the table for very much longer. The Israelis need to listen to their friends while there is still time to do so.

Your Lordships have spoken with knowledge and concern about the winds of change in the Middle East, in Libya and throughout the region. Change there undoubtedly is, but there is also great uncertainty about what this change will lead to. We want to see this change lead to greater democracy not only because we believe in the rights of all individuals to express an opinion about what sort of Government they live under, but because it is the most fair, just and stable form of government. Democracy, human rights and the rule of law are the bedrocks of civil society. That is the prospect that change in the region, in Libya and throughout the Middle East holds out. That is the future we want to see in the Middle East. That is the future the Middle East and, especially, the people of the Middle East deserve.

2.36 pm

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, I begin by thanking all noble Lords who have spoken and the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, who spoke for the Opposition, for their very positive support for the overall pattern of government policy and for the trend and direction we are seeking to go in. No one is going to claim-I shall not-that there is complete certainty and that we can predict exactly what is going to happen. We cannot. There are risks and twists and turns ahead that none of us can foresee, but the general support is strong, and that is very gratifying. What is even more gratifying for all of us, and it will be gratifying for our Armed Forces, is the praise for the way they are performing, as usual, with efficiency, precision and determination. We have our debates across the Floor about equipment and resourcing generally-they have gone on almost regardless of who is in government-and we are right to be concerned about them, but our Armed Forces

1 Apr 2011 : Column 1511

are composed of very dedicated, brave and courageous people. There is no question about that. That shows up in moments of crisis.

It is not physically possible for me to address every one of very many fine speeches that have been made this afternoon, so I shall just have to make my peace afterwards with noble Lords I do not mention. I will try to cover as best I can a number of specific questions that have very properly been put to me. I am sure I shall not achieve total satisfaction; in fact, I know I will not. We will just have to do our best and sort things out afterwards.

I shall deal first with the great general questions that have dominated the debate this afternoon. The first and central question is: are we sticking to the resolutions? We have the legal cover of the two resolutions: Resolution 1970 and Resolution 1973. Are we adhering to them? The answer is an emphatic yes. We believe we are in every respect. There were questions about how they should be interpreted and whether they allowed certain developments. I am not going in any particular order, but I come to the very authoritative comments on the resolutions by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy. I point out to her and to others who are quite properly examining this problem that Resolution 1973 authorises "all necessary measures" to protect civilians,

That is why it is seen as a powerful resolution that fully covers what the allied coalition forces, including HMG's forces, are doing. That is why there has been a wider debate on how much more it would permit. We must distinguish between legal advice from the expert lawyers on what it would permit and what is actually intended. One of the questions that came up, which my right honourable friend the Prime Minister dealt with, is, "Would it cover the arming of the rebels?", as opposed to, "Do you intend to arm the rebels?". As far as the first question is concerned, there is a legal opinion, which may be disputed by other expert lawyers because-surprise, surprise-not all the lawyers agree with each other, that in certain circumstances it would permit the arming of rebels. Is there a policy intention so to do? No, that is not the intention at this stage, but nevertheless there is a resolution standing and that is how it could be interpreted.

The bigger question that has run through the debate is not so much about whether we arm the rebels as who the rebels are. What exactly is their provenance? Are they a mixture of people, are there good and bad among them, and how do we distinguish between them? The answer is that it is not easy. We are maintaining a regular dialogue with the Interim Transitional National Council in Libya. Both my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary met Mr Jabril, one of the most prominent leaders of the national council, when he visited London earlier this week. We have sent an initial mission to Benghazi which has been successful and plan to follow up with a second mission very soon. We will be exploring the humanitarian reconstruction and development needs as a priority, and we are actively considering what assistance we can provide within the provisions of UNSCR 1970 and 1973. That both answers the question about what we are doing and enables us to establish a

1 Apr 2011 : Column 1512

channel through which we can assess more clearly the nature and resource of the people operating, whether they are people we would not wish to associate with, and so on. These things cannot be answered in precise terms from the Dispatch Box now or at any point in the near future, but this is what is happening.

Another general question that we have all asked each other during the debate is: what happens next? There is of course the first Libya Contact Group meeting in Doha in a fortnight's time, which I described in my earlier comments. However, once again, it would be foolish for anyone at this Dispatch Box to claim that they could predict exactly what the course of events on the ground will be. In my opening speech I mentioned that the Gaddafi regime's forces-including some mercenaries, a point made by one of your Lordships-had very recently made some substantial advances again. But the tide can flow either way and things may look very different in two weeks' time.

I turn to the important point made repeatedly by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, and many others: how do we maintain and mobilise this vast coalition of forces-forces which have their origins far outside the old traditional pattern of the western alliance-and how do we keep the momentum going? This is exactly what the contact group will address and increasingly focus on. Clearly, as was said at the London conference on Tuesday, the need is not just for involvement in the immediate problems of preventing civilians being slaughtered in large numbers, which is what the immediate mission is all about, but for mobilising to support Libya with a really cohesive and effective post-conflict strategy. Some people, looking back to the light and shade of the Iraq conflict, would say that that was what was missing in that campaign. A post-conflict strategy was not there and the whole pattern, which was declared wrongly in its first military days as one of total success then spiralled downwards into appalling years of slaughter and bloodshed. That we do not want to see again, ever.

Those are the general themes that emerged in the debate and these are my general answers, always with the necessary qualification that none of us can see exactly how this situation is going to pan out over the next few days or weeks. Our aim is the protection of civilian life and our political strategy has been openly declared by Ministers, by the Arab League and by many countries around the world, which is that the world would be a much better place and Libya would be in a much better situation if Gaddafi and his gang were to go. That is our political strategy which is being backed up by pressures of the financial and trading kind, and all kinds of other pressures which I cannot go into now. That is the pattern of activity as we go forward.

I now come to a range of specific issues that were raised by your Lordships and I will try to address them by name. The noble Baroness, Lady Liddell, made an obviously very learned and well-informed speech. She rightly said that we must be on our guard over the presence of dark forces such as al-Qaeda. As far as Yemen is concerned, she is absolutely right. There is a real al-Qaeda problem in northern Yemen. It is not the only problem in Yemen, which is in a very

1 Apr 2011 : Column 1513

dangerous situation, as I said in my opening speech. We have advised British nationals, and I would advise all other nationals, to get out as quickly as they can, because if the explosive situation occurs, the first thing that will be closed and inaccessible is the airport. We have been advising for some time all our nationals to get out. But the al-Qaeda danger is there.

That danger may be in other of the countries where there is protest-there are only traces-but it is interesting how, as the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, was saying, Egypt and Tunis and, as far as we can tell, in the completely different situation in Libya, the jihadist extremist element has been invisible: it has not been there. That is not to say that al-Qaeda strategists-if there are such people-and those who are looking for the opportunity for more murder and mayhem will not be studying the situation and seeing what they can make out of it, but at the moment they have not been playing a leading part. They are not part of the cause of and motivation for what is happening.

The noble Baroness, Lady Liddell, also said that I was a bit sanguine on oil prices. Her judgment may be better than mine, but it is a bold person who predicts oil price movements in the future. It is rather like currency movements: one does not know at all what will happen. Generally, at the moment, it seems that oil markets have not exploded in the way they did in some of the oil shocks of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. They have not even risen to the heights of 2008. There are factors, even as the world recovers from recession, that seem to be calming the overall energy markets. Of course, that could change.

How will Qatar go through the mechanism of trading and selling Libyan oil from the Libyan fields under opposition control and use the money for humanitarian support for the opposition forces? That has yet to be worked out and I cannot give the noble Baroness a precise mechanism by which that will be done, but a lot of work is going on at the moment.

My noble friend Lord Trimble and several other noble Lords all raised the question of the EU's role in all of this. As the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said, the German abstention had been in his words "a major blow". The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, referred to that in a well-informed speech. Obviously, this meant that the initial impact of the role of the EU was not as co-ordinated and focused as it should have been. But the EU has collectively and strongly condemned Colonel Gaddafi's policies and person. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said that he hoped the EU would rise to the occasion. So do I. It seems to me possible and hopeful that that will happen. The EU Council conclusions welcomed Resolution 1973 and the Council expressed its determination to contribute to its implementation as well. That is where it has got to and maybe it will now develop further thoughts.

We had some debate this afternoon on whether the EU should develop a military dimension. I cannot comment on whether that will happen. For the moment, what we see is that NATO has taken the lead, as the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, rightly said. NATO is in charge; it is the one body that has acted extremely swiftly and effectively. I suspect that will be the way

1 Apr 2011 : Column 1514

forward with it as the organising force. If there are additional humanitarian roles that the EU can play, those will be very welcome indeed.

My noble friend Lord Bates asked where the African Union featured in the pattern of things. We know that there will be a diverse range of views among African states. That is not surprising; one or two African states were always traditionally supporters of Colonel Gaddafi. He spread a lot of money around in Africa, no doubt in trying to buy other friends as well. However, the African Union has condemned what Colonel Gaddafi's regime is doing and continues to support our actions in Libya, particularly our objective of protecting civilians and securing an end to the violence perpetrated by the Gaddafi forces. That is the African Union's position and while I cannot guarantee this, I understand that it will be represented at future meetings. We shall be working very hard to see that it is involved.

My noble friend Lord Bates made another interesting point which had not really occurred to me. He said that it was perhaps not right to refer to one possible outcome in Libya-it is not one I hope for-as a civil war, because that would somehow immediately give credibility to the Gaddafi side of it. As he rightly said, this is not a civil war but a very cruel and dangerous dictator inflicting hideous damage on his own citizens. Somehow, a civil war sounds a little more respectable than that, which it is not.

My noble friend also asked about Italy. The Italians have made a significant contribution to the military effort, including surveillance, air defence and ground attack planes as well as maritime assets. As of yesterday, we understand that Italy had 12 aircraft, four ships and one submarine under NATO command for use in Libya. Some air operations have of course been from Italian airbases as well, so the contribution has been substantial. I could go into the longer-term history of Italy's connection and involvement with Libya but that would take much too long. That raises investment and oil production issues but Italy has been active in recognising the need for the sort of action that we are seeking to take.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds asked about the Middle East peace process, as did a number of your Lordships. We are pushing as hard as we can for the parties to return to negotiations as soon as possible and we are co-ordinating closely with France and Germany as the so-called E3. We have set out our views on what the parameters for negotiations should be: the 1967 borders, with arrangements to protect Israel's security; preventing the resurgence of terrorism; having a just, fair and agreed solution to the refugee question; and, fulfilling the aspirations of both parties for Jerusalem. We have debated those matters again and again in this House and they are very familiar to us. If we can get some movement on that now, even among the general turmoil of the region, that in our view will be a major step forward.

The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, asked in addition about the Ivory Coast, which is not exactly in our brief today but indicates how broad a canvas we are dealing with. The situation in the Côte d'Ivoire is moving fast. We are committed to the crisis being resolved and

1 Apr 2011 : Column 1515

President Ouattara taking up the office to which he has been democratically elected. The obstruction of the democratic process and associated violence raises broad concerns that affect the global community and democracy in Africa. As the noble Baroness can hear, I am reading out a suggested brief from officials in my department which does not give much information beyond what we knew already, However, from what I have seen for myself in the newspapers the situation in Abidjan is very dangerous and there will obviously great violence before President Gbagbo, who was declared to have been unelected long ago, finally surrenders. If more of his troops desert, that would finally bring him down. Côte d'Ivoire is perhaps an example of the general point that we cannot engage in everything, but that does not rule out our need to focus carefully on certain selected areas. That we are focusing on Libya seems to be entirely right.

Some, such as the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Stamford, have asked whether we should not have the same sort of policy approach towards Bahrain. We argue that that is a completely different position. We have to be selective, use our judgment and accept that in Bahrain there is a different set of issues. We are clear that the Government of Bahrain and their security forces should respect the civil rights of peaceful protesters. We have called for an end to all acts of harassment by the Bahraini security forces. We are in direct contact with the Bahraini authorities and their leaders and have insisted that they show real leadership in promoting tolerance, equal access to justice and the rule of law. They are seeking a reform process and, as the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, urged, we should be very firm in pressing it on them, as indeed we are. However, to compare the situation there with Libya is to make a large jump in logic that is not justified.

Lord Davies of Stamford: I entirely agree with the Government about Bahrain. The point that I was making was simply that there are inevitably going to be people misinterpreting the position. Once you get into an active, interventionist foreign policy, people will always try to find areas where we appear to be acting inconsistently and hypocritically.

Lord Howell of Guildford: That is a fair point, which I think the noble Lord recognises is a point of argument rather than of policy, and I accept it.

The noble Lord, Lord Stone, comes forward in these debates with marvellously constructive proposals for really making things hum on the ground. He spoke about opening small businesses, retail shops and so on, which are the lifeblood of almost all the economies that we are talking about and without which they will never prosper again. He said that our powerful supermarket chains in this country could help. These are fascinating proposals; I shall take them away and study them as closely as his earlier proposals in a debate that we had a few weeks ago about Palestine.

The noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, wanted to know what the Prime Minister meant on the recognition issue when he said that we recognise countries, not Governments. I would use almost the same words although perhaps I would say that we recognise states, not Governments. I do not see the difficulty that the

1 Apr 2011 : Column 1516

noble Lord is having over this. States have Governments that are lawful; if there is not a lawful Government or no clear Government, there is no basis for recognition. At the moment we recognise those countries that have a lawful Government. Even if they are in a state of hostility, we still recognise them. I am not too sure that I see the problem. Perhaps he can explain it.

Lord Gilbert: The Minister just talked about lawful Governments but he has agreed, as everyone else has done, that Colonel Gaddafi has lost his legitimacy. Does it not follow from this that Gaddafi is not a lawful Government?

Lord Howell of Guildford: My noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire, who is a considerable expert on these finer points, tells me that it is a question of being in control of territory. That is the judgment. In many of these areas there is a neat formula and there is real life, and when it comes to real life one has to use a bit of judgment in assessing who to recognise and who is in charge or control of any Government in any country at any one time. The position is that it is states that we recognise, not Governments.

All the speeches today were good so comparisons are odious, but my noble friend Lord Alderdice put the matter with wonderful clarity when he said that the answer to "What are we doing?" is that we are doing our duty as a responsible nation: policing international law. That is a matter that all nations which want to play in the responsible league and not wash their hands and step aside or be freeloaders have to face as well. On that basis, we shall be seeking more and more coalition co-operation from a wider range of nations, all of whose interests, including ours, are affected by having a potential rogue state, or a state promoting illegal violent acts which destroy other states, in our midst. That is what a rogue Libya could do. It is a big oil state near our own continent of Europe which is very influential in being able to damage trade routes and whose influence could even extend down towards the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean area. This affects everyone's interests increasingly, in this globalised, integrated trading and energy system on which we all depend.

The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, in a characteristically fine speech, asked the big question about Benghazi and what we have done in the past few days. Could we have stood by? Suppose we had done nothing, and just watched while the Gaddafi troops rode into Benghazi, shot down the women and children, piled up their bodies, and said, "This is the way it is". The world would once again have allowed a crazed dictator to exert his evil will on innocent people. Of course we could not have done that; of course we had to act, and of course other countries had to act with us. I believe that that case will sink in even to those countries that have stood back from the UN resolution or actually opposed it. However, nobody on the Security Council did that-there were abstentions but no opposition.

As for the defectors who have arrived here and made all the headlines in recent days, including Moussa Koussa, I said at the beginning of the debate that he will not be given immunity. Nevertheless, he is in a way a symptom or evidence of a trend which one feels may

1 Apr 2011 : Column 1517

be helpful-the desertion of Gaddafi by his immediate gang. How he would hang on and whether he would hang on, whether he would seek peace, are all questions that have been raised and will be debated. If all those around him, one by one, or maybe in twos and threes, desert him, that would, in a sense, be one of the most satisfactory ways of moving out of this dark situation, resulting in the total abandonment by all his advisers of this unpredictable and dangerous man.

Those are my comments on the detailed points raised by your Lordships. In the short term, we will continue to take measures to isolate this man and his regime and to secure their departure. We will continue to support the opposition, to prevent attacks on the civilian population and to prevent humanitarian crises. We will see this through-that is our aim. Our long-term objective is a unified Libya under a central Government who represent the will of the people for more openness and democracy, which is not run by Gaddafi and does not pose external threats either in the region or more broadly.

I tried at the beginning of this debate to place events in a wider strategic context. As your Lordships have echoed and recognised, a wind of change is blowing through the Middle East. Every BBC broadcast that one listens to on waking up brings news of more dramatic developments in countries we have not even mentioned in the debate, such as Kuwait, Jordan and, indeed, Iran. It is the responsibility of civilised nations across the world to react to these calls for change and to play our part in taking humanitarian action,

1 Apr 2011 : Column 1518

safeguarding human rights and promoting democracy. That is why the United Kingdom will continue to be at the forefront of the international efforts to assist the Libyan people and those across the Middle East more generally.

The pace of change across the world is very fast and unpredictable. If the UK is to prosecute a successful foreign policy in future, one that protects and promotes our interests and our nation, our approach must reflect the reconfigured international order that is now emerging. That means working not only bilaterally, to build new links with both established and emerging powers, but also multilaterally, to make our engagement with multilateral institutions much more effective. The way in which we have responded to the Libya crisis and the wider change in the Middle East that we have discussed today is evidence that we are successfully rising to the current challenges in foreign policy.

Motion agreed.

Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill

First Reading

3.05 pm

The Bill was brought from the Commons, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

House adjourned at 3.06 pm.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page