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House of Commons

Friday 18 March 2011

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): I beg to move, That the House sit in private.

Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 163).

Question negatived.

Wreck Removal Convention Bill

Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee, considered .

Third Reading

Queen’s and Prince of Wales’s consent signified.

9.35 am

Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

After that comedy of errors, it is appropriate that it is red nose day today. I will open with a quick question. What do you find lying on a seabed shivering? The answer is a nervous wreck. Perhaps I am a bit of a nervous wreck because I finally get to speak to the Bill that stands in my name.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to introduce this Bill. In my constituency, which contains the premier port of Felixstowe, large ships, including many cargo tankers, as well as container ships, are a feature on the horizon looking out across the North sea. However, they also bring to mind the risk of the greatest possible casualty for any marine vessel and any mariner—a shipwreck. Although the seas can be a dangerous place, we are justly proud of our record in this country in preventing accidents and dealing with those that do occur.

However, complacency is no place to be, and we have an opportunity through this Bill to implement the International Maritime Organisation’s international convention on the removal of wrecks. The underlying principle of that convention is that the liability for removing wrecks is placed firmly with the shipowner rather than the British taxpayer. The wreck removal convention is a new international instrument negotiated by the previous Government, and primary legislation is required to implement it. I commend this to my hon. Friends because it is not a European competence; the powers of this House are required to initiate this important law.

The Bill’s provisions will be enacted only if nine other nation states ratify the convention. One state has already done so, and eight have proceedings under way. I believe that the United Kingdom Parliament, by enacting this in due course, will lead as an example to other nation states in encouraging them to get on with it and put this important convention in place.

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Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on having found a piece of legislation that is not a European competence.

Dr Coffey: I thank my hon. Friend for that. One can imagine that I picked my Bill carefully so that it was not a money Bill and required our primary competence.

Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con): Is it not correct that if my hon. Friend were to take all the possible provisions that she could have promoted in the House on a random basis, there would be a seven out of eight chance that she would pick something that was not a European competence?

Dr Coffey: That may well be true, but when I came to choose my Bill I wanted something that was relevant to the people of my constituency and to the United Kingdom, and I am proud to have done so.

Why does this Bill matter? A wreck can cause a number of problems. It may constitute a hazard to navigation, potentially endangering other vessels and their crews. It may block a port, which would be highly damaging to our country’s trade, as well as to offshore infrastructure such as oil rigs, buoys, wind farms and similar. It may cause substantial damage to the marine and coastal environments, both of which are precious. It can also be exceptionally expensive to deal with. Currently, there is no requirement for a shipowner to remove a wreck or pay for its removal, except in specific cases of pollution, where the Secretary of State can already act. Even then, however, the cost of recovery is not guaranteed. The UK has no powers to act on UK and non-UK ships outside its territorial seas, except in circumstances of pollution within the UK’s pollution zone.

Let me offer in support of the Bill two examples of recent incidents. In 2007, MSC Napoli, a UK-registered container ship, suffered flooding in her engine room during severe weather conditions. Due to the risk of pollution, SOSREP—Secretary of State’s Representative—an agency of the UK Government, in conjunction with the French authorities, used its emergency powers to intervene. To date, the Government’s costs in dealing with this wreck are approximately £2.8 million, which they do not expect to be able to recover in full. If this convention had been in place, we could have done so.

A second example, which is a bit closer to home for me, is that of the Lagik, a non-UK registered ship that was grounded on the River Nene in 2000. A combination of the weight of the ship and the cargo of steel broke the ship’s back as the tide ebbed. It was declared a total constructive loss. That incident closed the port of Wisbech for 44 days. I dread to think what would happen if the port of Felixstowe was closed for a similar length of time. The Lagik was abandoned by her owners, so the task fell to the Government and their agencies at a cost of about £1.25 million. Despite attempts to recover the costs through legal action, not a single penny has been recovered. Again, that would not have been the case if the convention had been in place.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on introducing the Bill. It clearly has the potential to save the taxpayer a great deal of money. Does it extend as far as covering the costs of consequential

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damage caused by a shipwreck, such as that caused by the escape of its cargo, which could be oil and would thereby have a tremendous, adverse environmental impact?

Dr Coffey: I understand that consequential costs could also be recovered. There are already powers to deal with pollution, including oil spills.

The purpose of the convention and of the Bill is to lay primary responsibility for the removal of the wreck and subsequent clearing costs with the shipowner, while providing powers to the Secretary of State to act if the shipowner does not do so expeditiously.

The Bill requires ships of 300 gross tonnage and above to maintain insurance for this liability, which will be enforced through a wreck removal insurance certification scheme. I assure hon. Members that as soon as 10 nation states implement the convention, that will effectively become a worldwide requirement, so it will not deter boats from coming to UK ports. Importantly, the UK authorities will be given the power to take action to recover costs directly from insurers.

It is a great privilege to take a Bill through this House and I am happy to be doing so in my first Session. I hope that it will progress well in the Lords, and indeed in this place. My predecessor, Lord Deben, was never fortunate enough to be called in the ballot, so this is one small achievement that I now have as the Member for Suffolk Coastal. This is an important Bill and I commend it to the House.

9.42 am

Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) on bringing the Bill successfully to this stage. She said in her maiden speech, which I read yesterday, that you, Mr Speaker, had given her training in public speaking some years ago. Clearly it has paid off, because she did not come across as the nervous wreck that she joked about. She outlined clearly why the measure is important not only to her constituents, but to the UK. She also said in her maiden speech that she was often told on the doorstep that she had big shoes to fill in taking the place of Mr John Gummer, who had a distinguished career in government and in Parliament. In bringing this Bill forward, she has made a very good start in filling those shoes. There are not many Members who, in their first year of service in this place, have the chance to introduce a Bill, let alone to pilot one through successfully, if hon. Members will forgive the shipping pun. She has achieved that, so I commend her and pay tribute to her ability, tenacity and success in getting to this point.

I will be brief because, as the hon. Lady said, we supported this measure when we were in government. In Committee, the Minister said:

“In line with the ‘polluter pays’ principle, the owner of a ship creating a problem should bear the costs.”––[Official Report, Wreck Removal Convention Public Bill Committee, 7 February 2011; c. 4.]

The hon. Lady has reiterated that and we support that position. The adoption of the international convention by the International Maritime Organisation indicates the support of the shipping community worldwide. We are rightly proud to have the IMO’s headquarters in London. Efthimios Mitropoulos, the secretary-general

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of the IMO, leads that organisation with great dignity and vision. He is a good friend to the UK, and is a good friend to the shipping Minister. He certainly was in my period in that office. My only query about the Bill is where we go from here. That was outlined by the hon. Lady, and I am sure that the Minister will say what timetable he anticipates for this measure being ratified and coming into international law.

The hon. Lady has done a service to the House and the country, and I congratulate her on bringing this Bill forward. We support Third Reading.

9.45 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mike Penning): It is a pleasure to be here today. I did not get elocution lessons or speaking notes from you many years ago, Mr Speaker. Perhaps I would have done as well as my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) did a few moments ago if I had. We did, however, share many platforms together many years ago.

I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend on steering the Bill through so quickly. It has shocked some colleagues just how quickly it has progressed. It has done so because it has cross-party and international support. It is a very important measure. The International Maritime Organisation will be watching us closely—it is based only a short distance across the river. I hope that other maritime nations will also be watching, and will implement their part of the measure as soon as possible. It is imperative that we get the support of the 10 nations as soon as possible, so that the convention can be ratified.

This great seafaring nation has more than 10,500 miles of coastline, which we need to protect. Our coastline has many areas of outstanding natural beauty, as I have seen many times. Some of those are in my hon. Friend’s constituency, which I know very well, and in the last few days I have been in the Western Isles and on Shetland, which have amazing beauty. We must ensure that we protect that beautiful coastline.

The Bill has the full support of the Government and the Opposition. I hope that it has a quick and safe passage through the Lords, to use another seafaring term. The key, as the shadow Minister said, is that we lead on this matter, and we intend to do so. I will speak to other seafaring nations in the next few days and urge them to push forward as fast as possible, as we have done. It is not for me to tell them how to do that in their Parliaments, but we must get to 10 nations as fast as possible to get ratification and implementation, because it is crucial that the polluter pays. We will do the work and clear up, but at the end of the day, the cheque will come from the polluter. This Bill will make sure of that.

I hope that the Bill passes speedily through the other place and that the other states that need to ratify the convention do so. The IMO has done a wonderful job to pilot the convention through, and the hon. Lady has done a wonderful job to pilot the Bill through the House in her first term, and I congratulate her on doing so.

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9.48 am

Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con): I apologise for being in weekend clothes, Mr Speaker.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) on her success with the Bill so far, and I welcome the words from both Front Benches. My seafaring experience is limited to seven weeks serving on a cargo ship coming back from Brisbane to Liverpool in 1963, so I do not claim that it is up to date. I was also the chairman of the parliamentary maritime group at one time.

The IMO has done well on this matter, and the convention will help. I pay tribute to our lighthouse, harbour and conservation authorities for the work that they do. If anyone thinks that we do not mark our wrecks at the moment, they are wrong. However, the convention will place an obligation on us and on others.

I think I will be permitted to say briefly that the biggest task of all is to prevent ships from becoming wrecks. There is the danger of collisions and other things going wrong because of the manning of vessels, especially at night in the busy channels. That often leads to wrecks—it is not only bad weather, but bad navigation. People who read the professional maritime press will understand the risks and dangers that have to be guarded against every hour of every day in every part of our waters.

There is the slight consequential problem that when there is a wreck and there are removal costs, the insurance requirement will be imposed only on vessels that come into our harbours or go to one of our offshore installations. My reading of the convention and the rules is that vessels that are making a passage will not have to have the certificate. I hope that at some stage we will be able to place that requirement on people passing through restricted waters as well. However, I welcome the Bill and the convention.

Question put and agreed to .

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

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United Kingdom Parliamentary Sovereignty Bill

Second Reading

9.50 am

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I am delighted to see in the Chamber distinguished colleagues who are members of the European Scrutiny Committee and others who have kindly agreed to support the Bill. My hon. Friends the Members for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) and for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) are two such Members.

I am delighted that, pursuant to the principle of parliamentary sovereignty, at 11 o’clock the Prime Minister is going to come along and tell Parliament about the implications of the European Security Council resolution last night.

Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con): UN, not European.

Mr Chope: The UN—I thought I said that.

Sir Peter Bottomley: No, you said “European”.

Mr Chope: That just shows how they’ve got at me, doesn’t it? I am going to tell the House later about some of my discussions earlier in the week in, dare one say it, Brussels.

The principle of parliamentary sovereignty means that the UK Parliament can enact any law whatsoever on any subject whatsoever, and can do so by ordinary legislation. That means that if the people want to change the law, their representatives elected to Parliament can do so. Likewise, if the people do not want the law to be changed, their parliamentary representatives can ensure that it is not. If the courts interpret laws that we have passed in a way that Parliament does not wish, it can change those laws.

This is still a hot topic, despite the lengthy discussions about it in this place when we debated the European Union Bill. To give a flavour of it, I shall give examples of the regular correspondence that I get from constituents on it. I have a letter dated 10 March, an old-fashioned holograph from a lady from Christchurch. She says that she is fed up with the way in which the British people are being overridden by the EU and disappointed by what the Prime Minister said in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) about a referendum. She thinks that the sooner we get the British people a say in the issue, the better.

I have another letter, which came this Monday, which talks about the people’s pledge and the desire for the voters of the UK to decide once and for all whether we should remain in the EU or leave it. In a sense, the purpose of the Bill is to ensure that we do not have to go through that process, because we in this elected House would be able to decide what we wanted and what we did not want in relation to EU legislation.

Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con): Under my hon. Friend’s splendid Bill, would we also be able to overturn the vote against reaffirming the sovereignty of the UK

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that the House took during the debates on the European Union Bill? Would it effectively put us back where we really belong?

Mr Chope: I am grateful to my hon. Friend and indebted to him for the work that he has done on this subject. This is but the latest in a series of Bills, many of which he has drafted. Of course, he knows the answer to his question, which is that if the Bill were passed, it would have the effect that he has described. I think the House and the country would be a better place as a result.

Sir Peter Bottomley: I may be anticipating a point that my hon. Friend will make later—he may just be clearing his throat and will turn to the contents of the Bill in a moment. May I take him to the last word of clause 1, which is “reaffirmed”? If the Bill is enacted with the words:

“The sovereignty of the United Kingdom Parliament is hereby reaffirmed”,

will that change the current situation or leave it as it is?

Mr Chope: Arguably, it would leave it as it is. There was a debate on the European Union Bill about whether we needed to reaffirm our sovereignty. My concern, which I think was first expressed in the House by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood), is: “If you don’t use it, you lose it.” The monarch—the Queen—is sovereign, but because she has not exercised her sovereignty for a period of time and is exercising it less and less, there comes a stage when people say, “You have given it up.”

The concern that I and a lot of other Members have is that if we do not keep reasserting our sovereignty, we might suddenly find that an external body or court interprets that as meaning that, by default, we have conceded that Parliament no longer has sovereignty in various aspects of our country’s affairs. That is why clause 1 is in the Bill. It may seem bizarre that we have to reassert that, but I believe that we need to do so because our Parliament is under continual assault from external organisations that are trying to interfere with our right to decide our own affairs.

Mr Cash: May I refer vicariously, through my hon. Friend, to the book written by Jeffrey Goldsworthy, which would give my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) an opportunity to catch up with the meaning that should be given to the words “parliamentary sovereignty”? It points out that the necessity to reaffirm that is becoming acute, for the reason that the European Scrutiny Committee’s report published the other day stated clearly. Certain judges in the Supreme Court are strongly suggesting that parliamentary sovereignty has been qualified, and that they hold ultimate authority. That is a recent and extremely dangerous move.

Mr Chope: My hon. Friend is absolutely right.

Sir Peter Bottomley: I do not want to detain my hon. Friend, but it was not the beginning of clause 1 that I was questioning; it was the word “reaffirmed”. I wonder whether the word “affirmed” or “exists” would have done.

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In 1948, or sometime about then, when NATO was created, we agreed to give our sovereignty on starting a war to people who were then at Fontainebleau and later moved to Brussels. I do not mean that as an argument against my hon. Friend, and I am not opposing what he is trying to do, I am just trying to clear up what clause 1 actually means and why its last word matters.

Mr Chope: My hon. Friend asks why use the word “reaffirmed” rather than “exists”. I have chosen that particular word, but other words could be substituted for it. I am not saying that it is the only word that could be used in clause 1 to convey the meaning that I wish to get across. I think it is a good word, and unless and until somebody comes up with an amendment that they think is better, I would like to keep it in the Bill. If my hon. Friend would like to join me in considering the Bill in Committee in due course, I am sure he will have the chance to move amendments and speak to them to explain why he thinks his choice of words is better than the words in the Bill.

May I take the House back briefly to the “Invitation to Join the Government of Britain”, which was the title given to the Conservative party manifesto at the last general election? On page 114, under the subtitle “Promote our national interest—an open and democratic Europe”, it is stated:

“The steady and unaccountable intrusion of the European Union into almost every aspect of our lives has gone too far. A Conservative government will negotiate for three specific guarantees—on the Charter of Fundamental Rights, on criminal justice, and on social and employment legislation—with our European partners to return powers that we believe should reside with the UK, not the EU. We seek a mandate to negotiate the return of these powers from the EU to the UK.”

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I understand that the Ministry of Defence has had to pulp several books because it does not like them. Is it correct that Conservative central office has tried to pulp all the previous manifestos?

Mr Chope: I do not know, but I think my hon. Friend is perhaps a bit harsh. I hope that all Conservatives in this Parliament, who were elected on that manifesto, are trying their hardest to ensure that its words are implemented. My hon. Friend is in the forefront of trying to achieve that objective.

We were also promised in an informal meeting of the Conservative parliamentary party that there were red lines around our policy on Europe in the coalition agreement. We therefore believed that the words that I have just read out would not only remain part of the Conservative party manifesto but be inherent in the coalition manifesto.

I do not want to go back over the European Union Bill because we had long discussions about it, but recent events have brought home to me the fact that the gradual erosion of our sovereignty remains a live issue. We had a debate on Wednesday evening, which is, in a sense, unfinished business, because the Division is deferred to next Wednesday, about the fact that the Government have decided to use section 6 of the European Union (Amendment) Act 2008 so that the Prime Minister can agree to amend article 136 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union next weekend to establish a permanent stability mechanism for the euro.

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The hon. Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) made one of the most interesting interventions in that short debate when he asked:

“Would it not be more appropriate for an intergovernmental agreement to be reached among the member states of the eurozone, rather than have some change to the treaty on the functioning of the European Union?”

My right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe replied:

“It would have been possible for the member states of the eurozone to have come to such an intergovernmental agreement, but they chose not to do so.”

Surely if member states want to set up intergovernmental arrangements centred around the euro and the eurozone, they should be allowed to do so. There is no reason for the Government, controlled by Parliament, to be dragged into that process. It then became apparent that Parliament was being asked to give the Government authority to negotiate away some of our powers because it was thought sensible for us to be party to an unnecessary treaty amendment. If it is not necessary, why are we doing it? How is that consistent with what was said in our manifesto?

Later in the debate, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe said:

“Should there be any suggestion of amending the draft decision at the European Council—there is no such suggestion from any quarter at present—”.—[Official Report, 16 March 2011; Vol. 525, c. 422-24.]

However, as I said, I was in Brussels for three days at the beginning of this week and I picked up a copy of European Voice, a newspaper that circulates there. An article on page seven, under the headline “MEPs confident of getting say on bail-out mechanism”, states:

“MEPs expressed optimism on…8 March that EU member states will accept their demands to link a permanent bail-out mechanism for the eurozone more closely to the EU institutions.”

Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab): I am curious about who publishes European Voice. Is it a paid periodical, something that the Commission publishes or something that circulates among MEPs?

Mr Chope: It may be all those—I do not know. However, I suspect that the people who ultimately pay for it are the hon. Gentleman and I through our taxes. Interestingly, on the same page, without comment or criticism, a paragraph states:

“MEPs vote to increase their own office allowances”

to €225 a year. Since that news item is included without any adverse comment, I suspect that the publication is associated with the European Parliament.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): Is my hon. Friend completely accurate? Is it €225 a year or a second?

Mr Chope: It is €225,000 a year. I got that in quickly because I feared that if I mentioned it too slowly, Mr Speaker, you might intervene and say it was not relevant to the debate.

Mr Speaker: Order. May I just say that the hon. Gentleman has been entirely relevant so far? He has nothing to fear.

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Mr Chope: Accolades from Mr Speaker are always welcome in my heart.

The article continues:

“The European Parliament’s constitutional affairs committee on Monday (7 March) gave its backing to a limited EU treaty change to incorporate the European Stability Mechanism into the EU treaty, only on condition that the new system is kept ‘as close as possible’ to the EU system, with the involvement of the European Commission and the Parliament.”

Basically, we are in a position whereby our Government are telling Parliament that the stability mechanism is solely to do with eurozone members and asking for authorisation for a treaty change, but the European Parliament is saying that the consequence of that change is giving the European Commission and the European Parliament a say over something that our Government tell us has no relevance to the United Kingdom.

Mr Cash: I do not know whether it is any consolation to my hon. Friend, but under the arrangements, the European Parliament has a right only to be consulted in that respect. However, it is pressing hard and I doubt that he has missed the fact that it deliberately moved consideration of the question to the date—24 and 25 March—when the European Council meets to exert pressure on it. Its ambition to get control and to insist on the Community method knows no bounds.

Mr Chope: My hon. Friend’s suspicions are well founded and backed by the facts that he gives the House. As we speak, moves are afoot on that issue.

I wish to address the remainder of my remarks to another matter—the admission of the European Union into the European convention on human rights. Page 113 of the Conservative manifesto states:

“We will never allow Britain to slide into a federal Europe.”

Yet article 6 of the Lisbon treaty and article 59 of the European convention on human rights as amended by protocol 14 provide for the European Union to accede to the European convention on human rights. On that basis, the European Union would become a non-state contracting party to the convention. It is said that it would be entitled to have a European Union judge, joining the other 47 judges from the member states of the Council of Europe, to adjudicate on issues relating to interpretation of the convention.

Clearly, that is not some innocuous move whereby the European Union submits to the European convention on human rights because it thinks that it is a good thing and desirable that European Union institutions should comply with the principles laid down in it. The European Union clearly has it in mind to put its toe in the door—or, perhaps more appropriately at this time of year, to be a cuckoo in the nest—and effectively drive out the convention and replace it with its own charter of fundamental rights, administered by the European Court of Justice.

If one looks back, one sees that the first reference in European Union law to fundamental rights was in article 6(2) of the 1992 Maastricht treaty, which provides that the European Union

“shall respect fundamental rights, as guaranteed by the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms…and as they result from the constitutional traditions common to the Member States, as general principles of Community law.”

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Of course, no one would quarrel with that because it basically enunciated that there is no difference between the European Union law and approach to fundamental rights and the approach of the European convention on human rights. However, since then, the EU has developed its interpretation of those fundamental rights far in excess of what was originally thought reasonable.

Mr Nuttall: Is there not the danger that the EU will allow nationals of foreign states to vote in our general elections?

Mr Chope: My hon. Friend has a point—that is part of the European charter of fundamental rights. Thinking along those lines caused one of the witnesses to the Select Committee on Political and Constitutional Reform last month to say that even if we won the day against the European convention on human rights on prisoner voting, we would find a case brought against us by the European Court of Justice—the EU would prosecute us through the ECJ for failing to comply with the fundamental freedoms it has laid down. In the same way, the bizarre ruling the other day will result in my 21-year-old daughter paying a much higher insurance premium for driving than the marketplace says she should pay. How absurd is that? That is another example of the way in which the EU uses its institutions to continue to interfere with what should be our domestic law.

Mr Cash: Both the charter of fundamental rights and the European convention on human rights, in their differing judicial aspects—the ECJ and the European Court of Human Rights—impinge on UK sovereignty. Is my hon. Friend aware that the Lord Chancellor himself took part in a European Committee two or three days ago? He and I had an interesting altercation on his assertion that the incorporation of the charter of fundamental rights does not change anything very much. However, for all the reasons that my hon. Friend is giving, to which I referred in that debate, the incorporation makes a substantial difference because it concentrates a mass of precedence from the European Court of Human Rights in the charter, and is thereby adjudicated by the ECJ.

Mr Chope: I am grateful, as always, to my hon. Friend—he is absolutely right.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is possible for a 21-year-old woman to have an appalling driving record and for a 21-year-old man to have an exemplary driving record, and therefore that their insurance premiums should be based on their driving habits?

Mr Chope: My view is that such issues should be sorted out in the marketplace by the people who provide driving insurance. If an insurance company takes that line—I am sure that some do—why can it not be given the freedom to do what it wants in the marketplace? It is absolutely outrageous that a foreign court and not even a British one should try to dictate to us how our insurance industry, which I think is the best globally, should respond to particular risks.

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I note that the hon. Gentleman thinks that that is a good thing, which is in tune with the big advertisement from the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe that appears on the back page of the newspaper to which I referred. The advert says how important it is for more power to be taken away from parliamentarians and given to the European Commission and states:

“Europe needs a community not a pact”.

It goes on about how important it is for member states to

“act in unison under the leadership and direction of the European Commission”,

that there is every evidence that an intergovernmental approach does not work and that the community method is much better. I give full marks to the hon. Gentleman; he is fully in tune with the thinking of European Union Liberal Democrats, but I must tell him that I am fully opposed to all that.

Tom Brake: May I reassure the hon. Gentleman that Andrew Duff and I differ on certain European matters?

Mr Chope: Perhaps we will explore those points of difference, but I note what the hon. Gentleman says.

Sir Peter Bottomley: Having listened to the exchange between you, Mr Speaker, and my hon. Friend, I think it would be in order for him to refer again to a proposal in his Bill. Clause 3, “Judicial notice”—a heading that might be explained—mentions “any rule of international law” in subsection (b). The first debate this morning was a debate on the Wreck Removal Convention Bill. If enacted, that will bring a convention—a piece of international law—into domestic law. How do we avoid a referendum on that under the terms of the United Kingdom Parliamentary Sovereignty Bill?

Mr Chope: Under this Bill, we would not need to have a referendum on the international convention on wrecks any more than we would on any other convention. Clause 2 says that referendums will apply to the implementation of legal instruments that increase the function of the European Union affecting the United Kingdom.

Sir Peter Bottomley: That is the assertion that I am sure is in my hon. Friend’s mind, and not one with which I would necessarily disagree, but the Bill does not say that. It reaffirms

“the sovereignty of the United Kingdom Parliament; and for connected purposes”.

Clause 1, which we have discussed, states:

“The sovereignty of the United Kingdom Parliament is hereby reaffirmed”

for one reason or another. However, clause 2 states:

“No Minister…shall make or implement any legal instrument which…is inconsistent with this Act”—

alternatively, not additionally—

“without requiring it to be approved in a referendum of the electorate in the United Kingdom.”

It was clearly explained earlier—I think my hon. Friend was in the Chamber—that if the Wreck Removal Convention Bill becomes an Act and the convention becomes international law, ratifying the convention will make international law apply to us without our Parliament

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having done anything more. I leave that question with him. If he does not have the answer today, perhaps he will write to me afterwards.

Mr Chope: Perhaps we will deal with that in Committee. I admit to being present during the fantastic speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) in support of her Bill, but I must admit that I was not following every iota of its content, so I am not sure whether what has been said on her behalf by my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) is a valid objection to or criticism of my Bill.

Despite my hon. Friend’s intervention, I will not be diverted from finishing expressing my concerns about the proposals for the admission of the EU to the European convention on human rights. Fortunately, my understanding is that our Government have a veto, and its details are being discussed at intergovernmental level—certainly by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe this week. I hope that the Minister will realise after this debate that we need to be alert and concerned about the implications of what is happening.

I say that because on 19 May 2010, the European Parliament passed a resolution on what it described as

“the institutional aspects of the accession of the European Union to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms”.

Like most such resolutions, it is rather too long for most of us to bother to read—it runs to several pages—but I want to draw the attention of my right hon. and hon. Friends to paragraph K on page 2. It states that the European Parliament stresses that

“the main arguments in favour of accession of the Union”—

the European Union—

“to the ECHR…may be summarised as follows: accession constitutes a move forward in the process of European integration and involves one further step towards political Union”.

If that is the interpretation put on it by the European Parliament, we need go no further than getting a commitment from the Government today that they will not support this, and that in discussions on it they will play hardball, rather than the softball they have been playing up to now over EU powers.

The resolution also states that

“while the Union’s system for the protection of fundamental rights will be supplemented and enhanced by the incorporation…into its primary law, its accession to the ECHR will send a strong signal concerning the coherence between the Union and the countries belonging to the Council of Europe”.

It is actually nothing short of an attempted takeover. My hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash) will probably be alert to the point at which the resolution states that

“accession will also compensate to some extent for the fact that the scope of the Court of Justice of the European Union is somewhat constrained in the matters of foreign and security policy and police and security policy by providing useful external judicial supervision of all EU activities”.

This is all part of the creep and incrementalism of the EU as it tries to put its finger into everybody’s pies.

Mr Cash: Given that the Prime Minister is coming to the House in about 40 minutes, will my hon. Friend bear it in mind that in the context of the matters to which he has referred—foreign and security policy and so on—it is woefully apparent that the EU had absolutely

18 Mar 2011 : Column 602

nothing to offer other than obstacles in dealing with the question of a no-fly zone, or indeed any other matter relating to Libya?

Mr Chope: That is absolutely right. Of course, we know that at the Security Council key members of the EU—France and this country—voted one way, but the Germans did not support us. They did not support us in the Security Council, but that is not the end of our friendship in Europe, and I do not think that our Government should be saying that if they do not do everything that German Governments want to do in Europe, it will undermine European solidarity. It is possible for sovereign countries to disagree on these issues.

At the European Parliament on Monday, I attended a meeting that included Mr Duff, to whom the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) referred earlier. It was a meeting of about half a dozen Members of the European Parliament and half a dozen Members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to look into the details of EU admission to the ECHR. Important questions were posed to which no answers were given. For example, at the moment, a number of EU countries have opt-outs from various parts of the European convention or its protocols, yet the EU is proposing to sign up to the convention in toto and to its protocols. To what extent does that mean that the EU member states that have taken a different view of particular provisions of the European convention will find that, notwithstanding their reservations, they are bound into that regime by the fact that the EU has joined the ECHR?

At a time when we are concerned about prisoner voting rights, for example, and about the administration of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe—will it accept our right to have a bit of latitude in the interpretation of the treaty, or will it insist on forcing through the exact terms of the judgment?—it has been proposed that the EU should join the Committee of Ministers. There is also a proposal that the European Parliament should join in part the PACE, even though the Council of Europe treaty that set up the Council in 1949 expressly provides that the members of the Parliamentary Assembly should be elected parliamentarians from the member countries that join the Council of Europe. The EU is not a country and is not signing up to the Council Europe; it is only seeking to sign up to the ECHR.

I cannot go into all the details now. However, I want to draw my hon. Friend the Minister’s attention to exactly how grave and serious the issue is and how much it threatens to undermine his and the Government’s position, which is to ensure that we do not cede any more sovereignty to European institutions. Indeed, we ought to try to regain control over issues such as the fundamental rights convention and the Fundamental Rights Agency, which we want to bring back under this Parliament’s control. I know that a lot of other people want to join in this debate, but may I just say that the Bill would be a useful way of ensuring that this Parliament has its voice? This Parliament needs to do what the MEPs are doing against us. On every single occasion, they try to extend their remit, so that they have more control. We in this Parliament should increase our power and ensure that we have greater control over what his happening in our name.

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The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr Mark Harper): So far, my hon. Friend has concentrated his speech largely on the EU and the ECHR. However, I would like to pick up on the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley). Does my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) intend to address clause 3(b), which talks not only about European institutions, but about international law and all of Britain’s other treaty and international obligations, which would be affected quite dramatically by the Bill?

Mr Chope: Frankly, I was not going to, but if my hon. Friend is going to use clause 3(b) as a justification for not supporting my Bill, and if he thinks that it should be excluded and that the ambit of the Bill is too wide, I will allow him to dilate on that at length, if need be, during his remarks. I am a perfectly reasonable person, and if he thinks that clause 3(b) goes too far, I might be amenable to an amendment to delete it.

Mr Cash: I think that the Minister might be in grave danger of misunderstanding the Bill’s provisions. It does not say that it will override any international law; all it says is that, under clause 2, if there is any question of an increase in the functions of the EU affecting the UK or if a legal instrument is inconsistent with the Bill, the judiciary would not be able to invoke any rule of international law in order to frustrate that provision. However, we could discuss all this in Committee, as my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) has rightly said.

Mr Chope: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention.

Sir Peter Bottomley: But is our hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash) right? I am not sure that if we read the Bill from beginning to end, which is the way that I normally try to read Bills, we find that it says that. If my hon. Friend thought that he ought to curtail his speech—we thought he had just been clearing his throat—because others want to speak, or because he wants the Government to explain, I am sure we ought to stick by our normal conventions. I know that it is a rule but not a convention. My hon. Friend normally keeps the House going for quite some time when a private Member’s Bill is being promoted, and the Minister does not always have time to complete his speech. I do not see why he should change the convention simply because my hon. Friend is promoting a Bill himself.

Mr Chope: My hon. Friend has failed to look at today’s Order Paper and failed to notice that I do not have one Bill but several, and therefore I have a conflict of interest. If I speak too long on one Bill, I may jeopardise the chance of being able to speak on my next.

Mr Bone: Just before my hon. Friend concludes, I want to put in my bid to be on the Bill Committee. We have heard from several hon. Members that they want to be on the Committee, and I would like to add my name.

18 Mar 2011 : Column 604

Mr Chope: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that and for being one of the sponsors of the Bill, which is supported not just by me but by a lot of hon. Members.

Mr Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con): May I put in a bid for our hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) as well?

Mr Chope: Okay.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab) rose—

Mr Bone: He wants to be on it too!

Chris Bryant: No, this is an application not to be on the Bill Committee. I have heard these arguments so many times that I have no desire to hear them all over again, even if it would give us an opportunity to hear the whole of the Minister’s speech on the subject. May I point out to the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) that greed is a sin? Taking so many private Members’ Bills on one day might be thought somewhat greedy.

Mr Chope: I have been accused of many things, but not greed. People who are frustrated legislators and willing to spend a couple of nights sleeping in the Palace of Westminster to queue up for their tickets may have the opportunity of having their Bills brought before the House. I hope that some of my other Bills on the Order Paper will be debated, not least my Local Government Ombudsman (Amendment) Bill. When I first put that title down last June, I had not anticipated that I would read in my local paper last Friday that the Hampshire county council health and safety people had interfered in the Beaulieu pancake race, so that it is now the Beaulieu pancake walk rather than race. I had not realised that my third Bill would be so relevant to a local story, but now it has a relevance above all else. I hope that we get a chance to discuss it.

Sir Peter Bottomley: I do not think that my hon. Friend should have taken the words of the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant)—who is speaking for the whole of his party, I see—too seriously, partly because we should not accuse someone of greed during Lent, but also because the House should be grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing the Bills along together. It is no different from a group of MPs sharing a taxi: it is simply combining things. My hon. Friend is now talking about his third Bill. What about his second one?

Mr Chope: I will not talk about my second Bill yet. I hope that we will get a chance to have a proper debate on that.

10.34 am

Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con): I am little surprised to be called so early in the debate, not least because I have dilated on this subject on many occasions. [Hon. Members: “No!”] Protests will not put me off doing so again.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) on introducing the Bill, not only because this is such an auspicious time, given that we are now in the midst of debating the European Union Bill, which is still in the other place, but because

18 Mar 2011 : Column 605

of the continuing flow of, I have to say, clearly deliberate attempts by the coalition Government to throw doubt on the sovereignty of the United Kingdom Parliament, some of which have been diverted by the European Scrutiny Committee report. I am extremely glad to note that the explanatory notes to the European Union Bill have been changed, something that has not been mentioned publicly by the Government or the media. The explanatory notes on clause 18, or the so-called sovereignty clause, which we were able to demonstrate it was not, have been revised in the light of the European Scrutiny Committee report. I am glad that they have been changed to get rid of some of the Committee’s gravest objections to how the Government were seeking to apply what is known as the common law principle. I do not need to go into all the detail because we debated it at great length.

Chris Bryant: The hon. Gentleman has referred to clause 18 of the European Union Bill, the so-called sovereignty clause. He will recall that amendments not passed in this House would have gone in the direction of this Bill. Would it not be bizarre if this House were to send two Bills to the House of Lords at the same time that were mutually contradictory?

Mr Cash: It would be highly desirable. This Bill would in fact succeed the European Union Bill in order. We know that any Act of Parliament that is subsequent to a previous Act and is inconsistent with it, particularly in the context of sovereignty issues, overrides the previous Act. Therefore, if this Bill were enacted—if it followed the European Union Bill—it would supersede it. It would thereby also have the great advantage of overriding the manifestly absurd and, I believe, completely unlawful motion—unlawful in constitutional terms—that was passed, which said that this House did not reaffirm the sovereignty of the United Kingdom Parliament. When I use the word “unlawful” in this context, I simply mean that the European Union Bill is still under consideration by both Houses. I am using that expression with regard to the constitutionality of the matter, but it is a very important question and I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has raised that point, because it is important that we get it straightened out.

I come back to the explanatory notes. The report that the European Scrutiny Committee produced, which was unanimous, particularly on clause 18, was based on evidence from pretty well all the pre-eminent constitutional experts on what sovereignty meant in the context of the European Union Bill and in general. There was complete unanimity that the Bill did not contain what was on the tin, that it did not confer sovereignty and that the provision was not needed. However, read in the context of the explanatory notes, the invocation of the common law principle, which is a very profound question that has been raging in academic circles and the establishment for a long time, has the effect of reinforcing the view expressed in certain quarters, particularly in certain parts of the Supreme Court, that the sovereignty of Parliament is qualified by the ultimate authority of the courts, which is not something that the public at large would agree with, to say the least, or, for that matter, that they even knew was happening. The expression “common-law principle” has now been taken out of the explanatory notes, which is a great victory for the European Scrutiny Committee and will help substantially to alter the position in the right direction.

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I am not convinced that the argument has been completely resolved, but the discussions of the kind that we are having today are helpful in further removing any doubt about the question of the sovereignty of Parliament. That is because the sovereignty of Parliament is not a purely theoretical abstraction; it is to do with the practical application of law passed in this House and in the other place for the purpose of implementing legislative proposals emanating from the Government or other sources to reflect the views of the electorate. In other words, this is essentially a democratic question.

In cases in which European Union law, European Court of Human Rights law and European convention law contradict the wishes of the electorate, it must be made clear that the sovereignty of Parliament will override such provisions in a way that ensures that the wishes of the electorate are complied with, consistently with general election and manifesto pledges, irrespective of coalition agreements, and in a manner that guarantees that the electorate’s views are not only understood but put into effect.

Mr Jenkin: I took part in the debates on the European Union Bill, and the European Scrutiny Committee is to be commended for what it achieved in setting the record straight that sovereignty was not a common law principle but a fact of history. However, what we proposed in that Bill, and what is being proposed here, is to put the word “sovereignty” into statute. My hon. Friend’s Committee never took advice on that question, but we rather assumed that this would be a good thing to do. What does he say to those who are concerned that it would actually make the concept of sovereignty justiciable if we placed it in statute, and that we are in danger of drawing the courts into a dispute with Parliament about what sovereignty is?

Mr Cash: I accept that that is an important point, but we have been put in this position, historically and legally, by the manner in which the European Communities Act 1972 has increasingly been eating away at the way in we legislate in this House.

This is a difficult question, and I do not want to get too historical about it, but similar considerations arose at the time of the passing of the Bill of Rights, and also in the proposed constitutional settlement around 1648. At that time, the sovereignty of the monarch was regarded by the Crown as absolute, and there was a question of how to deal with that. Unfortunately, it was dealt with, in the words of Oliver Cromwell, as a matter of “cruel necessity”. Despite the fact that many people did not want it to happen, he took off the King’s head as a symbolic demonstration that the King was no longer sovereign.

Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): I am afraid that I would dispute my hon. Friend’s interpretation of what led to the execution of Charles I. I think it was much more complicated than that.

Mr Cash: I am prepared to accept that it was more complicated than that. I am making a point, but I defer to my hon. Friend. The real point is that the word “sovereignty” in this context has a practical, legal and factual base. We need to assert our sovereignty when it is under invasion, which is exactly what is going on now. I think that that is the simplest way to put it.

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Mr Jenkin: One of the most important points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) was that there is no substitute for Parliament exercising its sovereignty. In that respect, our amendment to the European Union Bill and the Bill before us are a cry of despair. They are not a substitute for Parliament exercising its sovereignty. No amount of legislating for parliamentary sovereignty will match the exercise of our sovereignty. As one of my hon. Friends said to me this morning, it is a bit like the parish council beating the bounds of the parish. It is a long time since we exercised our sovereignty in that way here, but sooner or later we are going to have to do so, to prove that we still have it.

Mr Cash: The question also arises in the context of assertions by the courts. It is important that we respect the independence of the judiciary, but the judiciary in turn must respect the rights and privileges of the elected House of Commons and, indeed, Parliament as a whole. The claims that have been made, which are set out in the European Scrutiny Committee report, clearly demonstrate that moves are not only afoot but under way to qualify the sovereignty of the United Kingdom Parliament and Acts of Parliament. Such moves fall back on an assertion that they are relying on the rule of law. I have asked questions about this repeatedly, not least in a debate in Westminster Hall yesterday on the Bill of Rights, and suggested that we ask these questions: whose law, which law, and how has it arisen?

Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): This country has an evolving constitution that is not written down in any one place. Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a danger of authority slipping away from Parliament unless we restate that?

Mr Cash: That is completely right, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for not only his intervention but his notable contribution to the European Scrutiny Committee, of which he is a member.

The question of amending the Bill gives me an opportunity to set out another short clause that might be added to it.

Chris Bryant: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Cash: I would just like to get this out of the way, if I may, because it is quite a useful and explicit affirmation of what we could do in practice to ensure that there is no doubt about what is being done. The new clause in question could be phrased in this way: “Any Act of Parliament or legal instrument expressly stating that that Act or instrument shall be ‘notwithstanding the European Communities Act 1972’ or ‘notwithstanding the European convention on human rights and the Human Rights Act 1998’ shall be construed by the courts of the United Kingdom as having the effect of disapplying and overriding any Act or legal instrument to which it refers.” That would put the position completely on all fours with the evidence that we have received from the constitutional experts.

For many years, I have said that we need a way to get round the problem of provisions emanating from the European Communities Act 1972, and the treaties and legal instruments made under it, being inconsistent

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with our national interests. To achieve that—in line with cases such as Macarthys


Smith under Lord Denning and Garland


British Rail Engineering under Lord Diplock, which remain good law despite what the Supreme Court has said recently—we need, precedent to an Act of Parliament and in relation to European Union legislation, to use the expression “notwithstanding the European Communities Act 1972” to make it clear that we are legislating subsequent to an existing enactment and expressly inconsistently with it. That would oblige the courts to give effect to the later legislation. There are occasions when it is clear that the Government would want to do that but cannot do it, or do not want to do it, or would prefer the whole subject to go away. I am looking closely at the Minister at this point. There is nobody who wants this subject to go away more than the Prime Minister does.

It is a problem. I recognise the dilemma, and I have to say, in all fairness, that I have absolutely no doubt about the need for the remedy. I understand that there are inconveniences in having the European Union producing legislation that this country does not want, which might have been thought to be a good idea in the past. Some thought that the working time directive was a good idea, but it has turned out to have all kinds of unfortunate consequences. The same could be said of other matters such as the over-regulation of business.

When we were in opposition in 2006, I tabled an amendment to the then Government’s Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, based on the “notwithstanding” formula, in order to improve the opportunities for British business, helping it to grow and get away from unnecessary burdens imposed by the European Union. During the afternoon that I proposed that amendment, a series of Whips’ meetings took place. The Whips came to me and said, “Bill, would you be good enough to allow us to adopt your amendment and to put in Tellers?” When the vote took place on the words

“notwithstanding the European Communities Act 1972”,

teams of the present Government walked through the Lobbies to support my amendment, which they had adopted—and six weeks later on a whipped vote in the House of Lords, they reconfirmed it. There was no doubt about the intention there. The principle is thus established by the European Scrutiny Committee report, by the evidence we received and by the conduct of the Prime Minister who was then the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr Bone: My hon. Friend is generous. Could the whole problem be solved by putting those magic words on the front of every Act of Parliament, thus forcing the courts to interpret the Act of Parliament as the supreme law, not the one from the European Union?

Mr Cash: We could do that, although it might not be desirable or necessary to do it for every Act of Parliament. I shall come on to some cases later, but we are about to go into an adjournment, if that is the right expression, when the Prime Minister will make an important statement on Libya and the UN resolution. I believe my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) made an important point, which clearly summarises the position. It would not need to apply to every Act of Parliament, but only where it was necessary in respect of European Union law or the European convention on human rights—on issues like votes for prisoners, for example.

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Angie Bray (Ealing Central and Acton) (Con): May I ask for a little more clarity? If my hon. Friend gets his way, will it mean that we would no longer have to beat the bounds, so to speak?

Mr Cash: We would not have to beat the European bounds, that’s for sure, but my hon. Friend makes a valid point. The problem has overtaken the history of this Parliament, so it is important that we get back to first principles—that we should legislate in accordance with the wishes of the electorate. My hon. Friends the Members for Wellingborough and for Christchurch, I and many other Members here today have argued for a full and effective referendum to deal with this question in line with the wishes of the electorate, but in between times, we are being affected in our daily lives by a stream—a tsunami—of legislation emanating from the European Union, much of which is an obstruction and an obstacle to the generation of economic growth in this country at a time of austerity when the deficit requires us to improve our legislation in a manner consistent with creating growth and business opportunities. All that shows that this is not just a theoretical question; it is about the practical impact of the European Union on the daily lives of the electorate. [ Interruption .]

I am delighted to see that the House is filling up with Members, but I have a feeling that it has to do with something other than the Bill proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch. However, it provides an opportunity for us to get our case across to the more exalted Members of this House—at any rate, members of the Executive—so that they can benefit from knowing that we are engaged in these difficult times in ensuring that we reaffirm the sovereignty of the UK Parliament.

I also see the Deputy Prime Minister, so I point out to him as he assumes his place that his suggestion that we will not repatriate our laws, despite the Conservative manifesto which said that we would, is in the minds of many people in the Conservative part of the coalition and it is still absolutely on the agenda. We repudiate his suggestion that there will be no “backward step”, as he puts it; we will repatriate, because we will insist on doing so. We will do so through the aegis of the sovereignty of this Parliament when there is a clear threat from European legislation or legislation emanating from the European convention on human rights or the European Court of Human Rights—whether it is on votes for prisoners, or whatever. We will insist that the legislation we pass in this House reflects the wishes of the electorate, not just those of the cognoscenti, the elite, the establishment

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or those who form part of the present coalition. We respect the Executive, but we beg to differ, and we insist that under no circumstances whatever will we allow the sovereignty of the UK Parliament to be overridden by assertions from the Deputy Prime Minister or anybody else.

Mr Nuttall: My hon. Friend heard from many experts when he chaired the investigation of the European Scrutiny Committee into clause 18 of the European Union Bill. Will he clarify that the matters of concern expressed this morning about this House’s loss of sovereignty were confirmed by many of the experts from whom he heard?

Mr Cash: They certainly were; most of the experts took this view.

Now that the Prime Minister has come into the Chamber, may I take the opportunity to congratulate him on the manner in which he asserted in his own way the sovereignty of this country in his determination to ensure there is to be a no-fly zone over Libya? The very fact that he was able to do that, notwithstanding the impediments put in place by the European Union and others, demonstrates precisely what we are saying in this debate—that it is the sovereignty of the UK Parliament that lies at the heart of how we conduct our affairs in this country. In respect of the no-fly zone and related matters, the Prime Minister has done this country a great service. He has demonstrated that, notwithstanding the obstacles put forward by other members of the European Union, we still have residual powers, although I wish they were much greater.

If this Bill were to go through, we would override the amendment that was, unfortunately, passed a few weeks ago, which did not reaffirm the sovereignty of the UK Parliament, and we would put it right. I am extremely glad for the opportunity to debate this matter at this auspicious time.

There are many practical aspects to the Bill, which I shall come on to later. I understand that the Prime Minister has an important statement to make to bring us up to date about Libya. I shall move on to the more practical issues afterwards. I shall seek to demonstrate why we must insist that the European Union does not ride roughshod over the wishes of the electorate, as it has done so frequently in the past. We must reassert the supremacy of this House, whether it be on issues like prisoners’ votes or—

Proceedings interrupted (Standing Order No. 11(4)).

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UN Security Council Resolution (Libya)

11 am

The Prime Minister (Mr David Cameron): With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on last night’s UN Security Council resolution on Libya.

Over three weeks ago, the people of Libya took to the streets in protest against Colonel Gaddafi and his regime, asking for new rights and freedoms. There were hopeful signs that a better future awaited them, and that, like people elsewhere in the middle east and north Africa, they were taking their destiny into their own hands. Far from meeting those aspirations, Colonel Gaddafi has responded by attacking his own people. He has brought the full might of armed forces to bear on them, backed up by mercenaries. The world has watched as he has brutally crushed his own people.

On 23 February, the UN Secretary-General cited the reported nature and scale of attacks on civilians as

“egregious violations of international and human rights law”

and called on the Government of Libya to

“meet its responsibility to protect its people.”

The Secretary-General said later that more than 1,000 people had been killed and many more injured in Libya amid credible and consistent reports of arrests, detention and torture.

Over the weekend of 26 and 27 February, at Britain's instigation, the UN Security Council agreed resolution 1970, which condemned Gaddafi's actions. It imposed a travel ban and asset freezes on those at the top of his regime. It demanded an end to the violence, access for international human rights monitors and the lifting of restrictions on the media. Vitally, it referred the situation in Libya to the International Criminal Court so that its leaders should face the justice they deserve.

In my statement to the House on 28 February, I set out the steps that we would take to implement those measures. Our consistent approach has been to isolate the Gaddafi regime, deprive it of money, shrink its power and ensure that anyone responsible for abuses in Libya will be held to account. I also told the House that I believed contingency planning should be done for different scenarios, including involving military assets, and that that should include plans for a no-fly zone.

Intervening in another country's affairs should not be undertaken save in quite exceptional circumstances. That is why we have always been clear that preparing for eventualities that might include the use of force—including a no-fly zone or other measures to stop humanitarian catastrophe—would require three steps and three tests to be met: demonstrable need, regional support, and a clear legal basis.

First, on demonstrable need, Gaddafi’s regime has ignored the demand of UN Security Council resolution 1970 that it stop the violence against the Libyan people. His forces have attacked peaceful protesters, and are now preparing for a violent assault on a city, Benghazi, of 1 million people that has a history dating back 2,500 years. They have begun air strikes in anticipation of what we expect to be a brutal attack using air, land and sea forces. Gaddafi has publicly promised that every home will be searched and that there will be no mercy and no pity shown.

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If we want any sense of what that might mean we have only to look at what happened in Zawiyah, where tanks and heavy weaponry were used to smash through a heavily populated town with heavy loss of life. We do not have to guess what happens when he has subdued a population. Human Rights Watch has catalogued the appalling human rights abuses that are being committed in Tripoli. Now, the people of eastern Libya are faced with the same treatment. That is the demonstrable need.

Secondly, on regional support, we said that there must be a clear wish from the people of Libya and the wider region for international action. It was the people of Libya, through their transitional national council, who were the first to call for protection from air attack through a no-fly zone. More recently, the Arab League has made the same demand.

It has been remarkable how Arab leaders have come forward and condemned the actions of Gaddafi’s Government. In recent days, I have spoken with the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan. A number of Arab nations have made it clear that they are willing to participate in enforcing the resolution. That support goes far beyond the Arab world. Last night, all three African members of the UN Security Council voted in favour of the resolution.

The third and essential condition was that there should be a clear legal base. That is why along with France, Lebanon and the United States we worked hard to draft appropriate language that could command the support of the international community. Last night, the United Nations Security Council agreed that resolution. Resolution 1973

“Demands the immediate establishment of a ceasefire and a complete end to violence and all attacks against, and abuses of, civilians”.

It establishes

“a ban on all flights”

in the airspace of Libya

“in order to help protect civilians”.

It authorises member states to take

“all necessary measures to enforce compliance with the ban”.

Crucially, in paragraph 4, it

“Authorises member states…acting nationally or through regional organisations or arrangements, and acting in co-operation with the Secretary-General, to take all necessary measures…to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack...including Benghazi”.

The resolution both authorises and sets the limits of our action. Specifically, it excludes an occupation force of any form, on any part of Libyan territory. That was a clear agreement between all the sponsors of the resolution, including the UK, and of course, the Arab League. I absolutely believe that that is the right thing both to say and to do.

As our ambassador to the United Nations said, the central purpose of this resolution is to end the violence, protect civilians, and allow the people of Libya to determine their own future, free from the brutality unleashed by the Gaddafi regime. The Libyan population want the same rights and freedoms that people across the middle east and north Africa are demanding, and that are enshrined in the values of the United Nations

18 Mar 2011 : Column 613

charter. Resolution 1973 puts the weight of the Security Council squarely behind the Libyan people in defence of those values. Our aims are entirely encapsulated by that resolution.

Demonstrable need, regional support and a clear legal base: the three criteria are now satisfied in full. Now that the UN Security Council has reached its decision, there is a responsibility on its members to respond. That is what Britain, with others, will now do. The Attorney-General has been consulted and the Government are satisfied that there is a clear and unequivocal legal basis for the deployment of UK forces and military assets. He advised Cabinet this morning, and his advice was read and discussed. The Security Council has adopted resolution 1973 as a measure to maintain or restore international peace and security under chapter VII of the United Nations charter. The resolution specifically authorises notifying member states to use all necessary measures to enforce a no-fly zone and to protect civilians and civilian populated areas, including Benghazi.

At Cabinet this morning, we agreed that the UK will play its part. Our forces will join an international operation to enforce the resolution if Gaddafi fails to comply with the demand that he end attacks on civilians. The Defence Secretary and I have now instructed the Chief of the Defence Staff to work urgently with our allies to put in place the appropriate military measures to enforce the resolution, including a no-fly zone. I can tell the House that Britain will deploy Tornadoes and Typhoons as well as air-to-air refuelling and surveillance aircraft. Preparations to deploy those aircraft have already started and in the coming hours they will move to air bases from where they can start to take the necessary action.

The Government will table a substantive motion for debate next week, but I am sure that the House will accept that the situation requires us to move forward on the basis of the Security Council resolution immediately. I am sure that Members on both sides of the House call on Colonel Gaddafi to respond immediately to the will of the international community and cease the violence against his own people. I spoke to President Obama last night and to President Sarkozy this morning. There will be a clear statement later today, setting out what we now expect from Colonel Gaddafi.

We should never prepare to deploy British forces lightly or without careful thought. In this case, I believe that we have given extremely careful thought to the situation in hand. It is absolutely right that we played a leading role on the UN Security Council to secure permission for the action, and that we now work with allies to ensure that that resolution is brought about. There will be many people in our country who will now want questions answered about what we are doing and how we will go about it. I intend to answer all those questions in the hours and days ahead, and to work with our brave armed services to ensure that we do the right thing, for the people of Libya, for the people of our country and for the world as a whole.

Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab): I thank the Prime Minister for his statement. From this side of the House, we welcome last night’s UN Security Council resolution and support Britain playing its full part in the international action that is planned.

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The international community has shown clear resolve, and I applaud all the efforts that made this happen, including those of the Prime Minister and the British Government. As I have said since his statement two-and-a-half weeks ago, we support feasible and practical action to help the Libyan people, so, as befits the official Opposition, we will both support the Government and ask the necessary questions that we think the country will want asked.

It is important that the British people are clear about the purposes of the resolution and the basis for the commitment of British forces. Any decision to commit British armed forces is a grave and serious one, and it must be based on a clear and compelling case. In this case, it is based, as the Prime Minister said, on the clear evidence of Colonel Gaddafi brutalising his own people in response to the demand for democratic change.

It is action backed in the region most importantly by the clear resolution of the Arab League, and it is backed now by a legal mandate from the United Nations, so the military action that is being embarked upon has broad support, a legal base and recognises our responsibility to protect the Libyan people. Those are necessary pre-conditions for legitimate and effective action, and it would be quite wrong, given what is happening in Libya, for us to stand by and do nothing.

I want to ask some questions about the objectives of the mission, the military implications of it and the humanitarian context. First, we need to be clear about the purpose of the mission. All of us will welcome the passage of last night’s resolution to avoid the immediate slaughter of people in Benghazi. The whole world is aware of the urgency of the situation, given the avowed intentions of Colonel Gaddafi. Can the Prime Minister reassure us that military action can be taken on a time scale that can make a real difference to the people in Benghazi?

Beyond that, should, as we hope, the effect of last night’s resolution be to stop the advance of the regime, the future of Libya remains uncertain. Will the Prime Minister therefore explain the Government’s broader strategy for Libya’s future, should we succeed in stopping Colonel Gaddafi’s advance, given that last night’s resolution is directed towards a specific aim of the protection of the Libyan people, rather than explicitly towards regime change?

In this House there is agreement that Libya’s future would be far better served without Colonel Gaddafi in power. Does the Prime Minister therefore agree that a range of other measures should continue to be brought to bear on the Libyan regime to support the efforts of the Libyan people in order to undermine the support for Colonel Gaddafi?

We should be working now to sharpen the choice facing the Libyan military, including through action from the International Criminal Court, and to increase the pressure on other members of the regime. We should also be making explicit the risks for countries allowing their citizens to serve as mercenaries, and I believe the UN resolution does recognise that point. We should also continue to make clear to the Libyan people the offer of a better life that lies beyond Colonel Gaddafi.

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May I urge the Prime Minister to ensure that discussions take place at the earliest stage with the Arab League, the European Union and others on a continuing basis for contingency planning for a stable and viable state beyond Colonel Gaddafi?

May I also, in the broader context of the region, emphasise to the Prime Minister that we should continue to show the utmost vigilance about developments elsewhere, including in Bahrain, and that we should make clear the need for reform and restraint, not repression, throughout the region?

Secondly, let me ask about the military action itself. Will the Prime Minister reassure us that all steps are being taken to ensure that those participating in any military action reflect the broad base of support, including from the Arab League? Does he agree that a continuing diplomatic effort will be required to ensure that that happens?

Further, under the contingencies that have been prepared and subject to the operational limits on what the Prime Minister can say, how does he envisage the military chain of command operating?

Thirdly, let me ask about the humanitarian situation in Libya. Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to update the House on the continuing situation of British nationals in the light of the clearly changed circumstances that we now face? We will have all noted with concern the decision of the Red Cross, prior to the resolution, to withdraw from Benghazi. Will the Prime Minister assure the House that efforts will be made to ensure continuing humanitarian access to Benghazi? What plans are being made to facilitate the return of humanitarian assistance?

Finally, let me say to the Prime Minister that, at this time, Labour Members will give our full support to our armed forces. Once again, they are engaging in dangerous and courageous action on behalf of our country, and we salute their professionalism and bravery. They are serving to uphold the will of the international community, including the United Nations, and in their service I believe they will have the support of the whole House.

The Prime Minister: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his support and for the way in which he put that support in his questions. Let me try to answer all the questions he put.

In terms of the time scale and potential military action, the issue is this: the Security Council resolution is absolutely clear in its first paragraph that there should be a ceasefire and that Gaddafi should stop his attacks on his people. But, if that does not happen, then, yes, consequences and “all necessary measures”, as the Security Council resolution puts it, will follow; and we are able to do that on a time scale that I believe will be effective.

In terms of our broader strategy, what we believe we need in Libya is a transition towards a more open society and towards a better democracy, but we have to be clear about our aims. The UN Security Council resolution is absolutely clear that this is about saving lives and about protecting people. It is not about choosing the Government of Libya; that is an issue for the Libyan people.

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Mercenaries are included in the UN Security Council resolution, which is welcome. The right hon. Gentleman’s point about the International Criminal Court was covered by the earlier resolution, which of course is still in force.

In terms of consultations with the Arab League and with Arab countries, there will be a meeting in Paris tomorrow, which President Sarkozy has called. I will attend, and there will also be representatives from across the Arab world to bring together the coalition to help to achieve the goals that the UN Security Council has so rightly voted for.

The right hon. Gentleman says that we must be vigilant elsewhere with all the challenging problems in our world today, and he mentioned Bahrain. That is absolutely right, and the Government are keeping their travel advice and their work helping British nationals in Bahrain, Yemen and elsewhere permanently under review, meeting regularly to try to make sure that we do everything we can to help people as necessary.

In terms of Arab League participation, what we seek is the active participation of some Arab League countries. I believe that we will get that, and from the calls that I have made I have had some reassurances.

In terms of the military chain of command, to be clear, to begin with this is going to be a joint operation, if necessary, carried out by Britain, America and France, with Arab and other participation, and it will be co-ordinated in that way.

In terms of British nationals, as we have announced before in the House, almost all those who want to leave have left. There are some who remain. We have our relationship with the Turkish embassy, which is working with us and for us in Tripoli, and we also have an active consular figure in Benghazi. But obviously, part of the aim of what we are trying to do—to stop Gaddafi entering Benghazi—will be in the interest of those British nationals in Benghazi.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about humanitarian aid. Clearly, a very big aim of the UN Security Council is to make sure humanitarian aid can get through.

Above all, as the right hon. Gentleman said, any decision to put the men and women of our armed forces into harm’s way should be taken only when absolutely necessary, but I believe, as he said, that we cannot stand back and let a dictator whose people have rejected him kill his people indiscriminately. To do so would send a chilling signal to others.

I believe also that we should be clear about where our interests lie. In this country, in particular, we know what Colonel Gaddafi is capable of, and we should not forget his support for the biggest terrorist atrocity on British soil. We simply cannot have a situation where a failed pariah state festers on Europe’s southern border, and that is why we are backing today our words with action.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Kensington) (Con): May I congratulate the Prime Minister on the superb leadership that he and the Foreign Secretary have given both at home and at the United Nations in securing this resolution, without which the people of Benghazi and of Libya would face a humanitarian disaster?

Will the Prime Minister confirm that the UN resolution, which, as he has indicated, refers to

“all necessary measures…to protect…civilian populated areas”,

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will enable our forces to be used not simply to intercept Libyan aircraft but if necessary to attack heavy artillery, tanks and other military units on the ground that might be threatening civilian populated areas?

The Prime Minister: I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his support, and I agree that time is now crucial. It is vital that we have now got this UN Security Council resolution, and that we make very clear the ultimatum to Colonel Gaddafi so that we secure that ceasefire and stop his operations.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked what the Security Council permits us to do. Paragraph 4 refers, crucially, to “all necessary measures” to protect people—“to protect civilians”—and, indeed, specifically mentions Benghazi. The Attorney-General’s advice, which we may discuss in more detail later, makes it very clear that that means we can take measures that will help those things to be achieved. It is very important for us to understand that.

Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): I congratulate the Prime Minister and those in the Foreign Office, including our excellent diplomats at the United Nations, on the work that they have done in securing the chapter VII resolution. The French Government should also be given a great deal of credit, because they too have worked very hard on this.

Will the Prime Minister clarify the role of the African Union, which is referred to in the resolution, as well as that of the Arab League? Given that three African states, including South Africa, voted for the resolution, is there any possibility of the African Union using its good offices to try to find a way of getting Gaddafi out of power without the conflict going on for a very long time?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely good point about the leadership role taken by Nicolas Sarkozy and the French. I think the work that the French, the British and the Lebanese did together on the UN Security Council was vital. I absolutely pay tribute to our ambassador, Mark Lyall Grant, and his team, who did a superb job in marshalling support. Members in all parts of the House will see, when they read the resolution, that it is very, very strong and extremely comprehensive, and I hope that it marks a new start in what the UN will be able to achieve.

We very much hope that the African Union will use its good offices in the way that the hon. Gentleman suggests. African Union missions are still going to Libya, and we think that they will be enormously influential. I was particularly pleased that the three African members voted for the resolution, and I hope that that is a sign of things to come.

Richard Ottaway (Croydon South) (Con): As one of the doubting Thomases of the past few weeks, I congratulate the Prime Minister on his success and leadership and offer him my full support. I also join him in paying tribute to Sir Mark Lyall Grant and his team at the UN for what is a remarkable diplomatic success, which hopefully will mark a turning point in the development of these issues at the UN.

I am sure the Prime Minister agrees that difficult questions remain. At this moment, however, it is incumbent on all of us to stand behind the armed forces, particularly our airmen, who have to implement the resolution.

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The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is entirely right. Of course there are difficult questions. We are embarked on a difficult course, not least because we have set a limit on that course and have said, quite rightly, that this is not about an army of occupation. I think it important for us all to understand that that is a correct limit, and a limit that people across the Arab world want to hear.

I very much echo what my hon. Friend said about Mark Lyall Grant, but above all our thoughts—the thoughts of everyone in the House and, I am sure, everyone in our country—will be with those armed forces and their families who will be preparing, potentially, for difficult days ahead.

Mr Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP): The Government and the armed forces have our full support in this matter.

The Prime Minister mentioned three criteria for determining the appropriateness of intervention, but surely there is another factor: the question of whether we have the capacity and the military assets to intervene in situations such as this. In the light of developments in the middle east in recent weeks, will the Prime Minister and his colleagues have another look at the strategic defence and security review to establish whether our country will continue to have those assets in future?

The Prime Minister: Of course I look very carefully at every decision that we make in defence, and I see it as a personal priority for me as Prime Minister. I would say to colleagues, however, that even at the end of this defence review and the end of this Parliament, we will have the fourth largest defence budget anywhere in the world. We have superbly equipped armed forces, and many of the decisions that we made in the defence review were intended to ensure that they had flexibility: the ability to deploy, the ability to act out of area, extra investment in special forces, and extra investment in transport.

I should also point out that the Typhoons that we are considering using are not in any way involved in Afghanistan. I have been given assurances by the Chief of the Defence Staff that our planning for what may be necessary in Libya does not affect the efforts that we are making in Afghanistan with our allies to bring greater security to that country.

Mr James Arbuthnot (North East Hampshire) (Con): Yet again, my right hon. Friend has shown a breathtaking degree of courage and leadership. I support what he has said and what he has done. Does he agree that, while regime change is not the aim of these resolutions, in practice there is little realistic chance of achieving their aims without regime change?

The Prime Minister: My right hon. Friend puts it extremely well. The aim is clear: to put in place what has been required by the UN Security Council, which is a cessation of hostilities. It is the protection of lives and the protection of people. It is the prevention of a bloodbath in Benghazi. It is to make sure that arms do not get to Libya, that assets are frozen and that travel bans are imposed. It is all those things. Those are the aims, and they are what we must now pursue.

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Of course, like many other leaders the world over, we have all said that Gaddafi needs to go in order for Libya to have a peaceful, successful and democratic future, and that remains the case. It is almost impossible to envisage a future for Libya that includes him. But we should be very clear, in the international alliance that we are building, that the statements in the UN Security Council resolution are our aims. Those are the things that, on behalf of the rest of the world, we are helping, with others, to deliver.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): Abuses of human rights and the oppression of civilians are not unique to Libya. They may differ in degree, but they are not unique. Is the Prime Minister now suggesting that we should develop a foreign policy that would be prepared to countenance intervention in other countries where there are attacks on civilians, such as Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman or Bahrain? I hope that he has thought this whole thing through, because we may well be involved in a civil war in Libya for some time to come.

The Prime Minister: I sometimes want to meet that argument with the answer that the fact that you cannot do the right thing everywhere does not mean that you should not do the right thing somewhere. A more detailed answer, however, is that what is happening in Libya is different. The situation is that of a people rising up against their leaders and wanting a more democratic future, and then us watching as, potentially, those people are destroyed by that dictator.

As I have said, I think that what we see coming together here is Britain acting with others in favour of international law and international governance and the UN and all that is right and fair and decent in our world, yet, at the same time, I believe, very much acting in our national interest, because it is not in our national interest for this man to lead a pariah state on the southern banks of Europe with all the problems that that could entail. So I hope that, not just across the world but across this country, we shall be able to build the broadest coalition for support for the action we are taking, encompassing all those who care about the UN and international law and what is good and right in our world, but who also recognise that a hard-headed assessment of British national interest means that we should not stand aside from this.

Stephen Gilbert (St Austell and Newquay) (LD): I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement and last night’s United Nations resolution. I think it is absolutely right for the international community to take urgent action to protect civilians in Libya. Will the Prime Minister please assure me that our intelligence assets in the region are doing all that they can to monitor the activities of, and communication between, senior regime leaders and commanders, with a view to ensuring that we can prosecute them to the fullest extent of international law?

The Prime Minister: Obviously—as the hon. Gentleman knows—we never comment on security and intelligence matters in the House. However, his point about the International Criminal Court and the need to be clear about the fact that, as I have said, international law

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should have a long arm, a long reach and a long memory and that we should gather evidence for that, is absolutely right.

Natascha Engel (North East Derbyshire) (Lab): Given the unpredictability of the outcomes in Libya and the middle east, and given that all actions have consequences, how can the Prime Minister be so sure that, as a consequence of what we are doing, a complex and dangerous situation will not simply be made worse?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Lady asks a very important question. It seems to me that we have to look at the consequences of doing nothing—the slaughter that could ensue, the oppression of these people we see so clearly on our television screens—and then ask what are the consequences of action. What is so convincing in this case is that the Arab League countries and Arab populations are, I believe, willing the international community on. I think that the opinion on the Arab street is very much that it is good that the international community is coming together and showing that it cares about our democracy and not just your security. I think that we can win that argument, but we will have to go on making it with Arab leaders and Arab populations, and making sure that we communicate with them very strongly why we are doing this and why it is the right thing.

Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex) (Con): I join others in congratulating the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and all the others who have been involved in securing this very tough resolution, and indeed the building of a broad-based coalition to deal with Gaddafi. Does the Prime Minister agree, however, that in the weeks to come it will be important for the country to know that at the same time as trying to deal with Gaddafi, the Government are also intent on forging ahead, with our European partners, in keeping the middle east peace process revitalised and going, so that we can draw the poison from the well?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. A Palestinian leader once said to me, “If you really want to secure the long-term defeat of al-Qaeda, there must be a combination of more democracy and freedom across north Africa and the middle east and a solution to the Israel-Palestine problem.” Those two things together will go to the heart of the problems we face in our world.

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): As someone who has argued all along that any military action should be based on a resolution of the United Nations Security Council, I accept that the situation today is different from yesterday and previously. Nevertheless, despite all that the Prime Minister has said about reservations, no ground troops and so forth, does he recognise that in the country at large there is bound to be great anxiety that we could be dragged, through escalation, into a third war in nine years? Therefore, will the Prime Minister make sure that there are daily—or at least very regular—reports to the House of Commons, so we avoid a third war?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman puts the point extremely well. I agree that there should be regular statements updating the House. We should start with a

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debate on Monday on a substantive motion, so that Members can debate that, and propose amendments if they want. We will be putting down that substantive motion later today, so that colleagues can have a look at it.

On taking the country with us, the hon. Gentleman’s point about legality is vital. We have a legal basis here—the UN, the world’s governing body, coming together and making that clear—and we need to explain that what we are doing is legal, proportionate and right. But I also believe that, as I said a moment ago, to take people with us we have to make the arguments both that it is wrong to stand aside as this dictator massacres his own people and it is in our interests to act, and also that it is in our national interest, because we do not want this pariah state on our borders.

The point the hon. Gentleman makes about no ground troops and no occupying force is vital. That is in the UN Security Council resolution; it is the reassurance that we can give to people that that is not part of our aims—it is not want the UN wants, it is not what the Arab League wants, it is not what Britain wants. That is clearly a limitation on our ability to act, but it is absolutely right, and I think people will be reassured by it.

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): May I also commend my right hon. Friend on his decisive leadership? Why does he think Germany abstained on this resolution, and is Germany going to be interfering in preventing us from recognising the regime in Benghazi?

The Prime Minister: I thank my hon. Friend very much for his support. On the German attitude, to be fair to the German Chancellor, whom I spoke to last night, she has been consistently sceptical about this issue. I do not believe that Germany will in any way be destructive within NATO, because it recognises that the UN has voted for this resolution, on which the Germans, of course, abstained. It is for them to explain their scepticism. Of course arguments can always be made about, “If we are acting here, why not elsewhere?” But as I have said, in this instance the case for action and the world coming together is very strong.

Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab): May I also congratulate the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary on the action they have taken? I hope the Prime Minister will join me in also congratulating President Obama, who by his cautious deliberations has allowed the Arab states to come to the fore, and, unlike his predecessor, has shown proper respect for the United Nations, thus giving a major boost to the rule of international law.

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Lady makes an extremely good point and is absolutely right. I had a very good conversation with President Obama last night, and I think he has shown great leadership on the UN and what is proposed in the new resolution, and on being able to bring together its various elements. The right hon. Lady is right that allowing the Arab League the space and time to come forward and make its own views clear has helped to create a sense of consensus at the UN, where we have the ability to act. But the clock is now ticking, and we now need a sense of urgency,

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because we do not want to see a bloodbath in Benghazi, and further repression and taking of innocent civilian life in Libya.

Mr Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con): I join my right hon. and hon. Friends in congratulating my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on his brilliant success at the United Nations, which is a vindication of the credibility of British foreign policy. Can he say more about the strategic objective, which, as Lord Dannatt and others have clearly stated, must be extremely clear? My right hon. Friend is committed to regime change, but are our allies, and in particular President Obama, committed to regime change?

The Prime Minister: The answer I give my hon. Friend is that almost every leader in the free world has said Gaddafi needs to go—that his regime is illegitimate and there is no future for Libya with him in charge—but we must be clear about the aim of what we are now involved in. The aim is to put in place the UN Security Council resolution, which is about protecting people’s lives and about the steps we are prepared to take to isolate the regime and give that country the chance of a better future. We must restrict ourselves to that aim in meeting this UN Security Council resolution. Obviously, we have a desire, which I and others have expressed, that Gaddafi has no future, but our aim here must be clear, and that is how we must drive this alliance forward.

Mr Tom Watson (West Bromwich East) (Lab): Now that the UN has reasserted its authority with this resolution, it is important that Gaddafi is in no doubt that there is an overwhelming military force to carry it out. In that light, how many countries does the Prime Minister wish to provide military assets, and how many of them come from the Arab League?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. Obviously, we want the widest alliance possible. I do not think it would be right for me to name at the Dispatch Box those countries that are considering participation, but there is a wide number. Clearly, at the heart of this are the Americans, the French and the British, but other European countries are coming forward, and there are also some in the Arab League, including a number I have spoken to, who have talked about active participation—about playing a part in this. One of the purposes of the meeting tomorrow in Paris will be to bring together the widest possible coalition of those who want to support it, and I believe, particularly as this has such strong UN backing, that it will be a very wide coalition indeed.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): Speaking as someone who has watched well-armed Bosnian Serb units smash through civilian populations, may I ask my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister whether Security Council resolution 1973 allows us, under its provision on “all necessary measures”, to avoid the arms embargo and directly arm the people who are fighting against Gaddafi in Benghazi and elsewhere?

The Prime Minister: The first point I would make to my hon. Friend is how welcome it was that Bosnia was sitting on the Security Council and able to vote in favour of this resolution—for good historical reasons.

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The resolution helps to enforce the arms embargo, and our legal understanding is that that arms embargo applies to the whole of Libya. Paragraph 4 authorises member states

“to take all necessary measures…to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack”

in Libya, including Benghazi. That is very strong language, which allows states to take a number of military steps to protect people and harm those who are intending to damage civilians. It could not be clearer, and the legal advice is clear.

Let me make this point as well: while I think we should maintain the convention that the Government are entitled to have legal advice and to receive that legal advice privately, I also think it is right on these sorts of occasions that a summary of legal advice should be published so the House of Commons can see and debate it, and we will make sure that is done well in advance of the debate on Monday.

Mr David Lammy (Tottenham) (Lab): Given that the Gaddafi forces are advancing, what assessment has the Prime Minister made of civilian casualties and what discussions has he had on any post-conflict reconstruction, learning the lessons of Iraq?

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman makes an extremely good point. It is clear that there have been widespread civilian casualties, and I quoted some figures in my statement. It is also clear that if Gaddafi goes into Benghazi the situation could get radically worse, which is why, as I have said, the clock is ticking—the time for action is now. In terms of reconstruction and humanitarian aid, my right hon. Friend the International Development Secretary will be leading a cross-government group to make sure we do everything we can to bring all our resources to bear—we have considerable resources in this area—working with others to make sure that we get humanitarian aid to every part of that country and that we plan for the future.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): One of the factors that caused Gaddafi to abandon his programme of weapons of mass destruction in the 1990s was that he knew he was on the verge of being indicted for war crimes by the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone, so he well understands both the power and the reach of international criminal law. Will my right hon. Friend try to ensure that the International Criminal Court makes it very clear that it is not only Gaddafi who stands at risk of being indicted by the ICC, but all those around him who are most responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point, and we are making sure not only that Gaddafi and his immediate colleagues know they are in danger of going in front of the ICC, but that all those who choose to back the regime and carry out war crimes know that they are also in that danger. In addition, anyone who thinks of being a mercenary, of organising mercenaries or of organising arms shipments to that regime are covered in the same way. Communicating that message in all the ways that we can is vitally important work.

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John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): I support the freedom struggle of the Libyan people and I am a supporter of the United Nations, but I have grave concerns about the use of force by western powers in this region, and both the short-term and long-term consequences. It therefore behoves us to ask the question: what next? In the short-term, in the interests of conflict resolution, is there to be a final offer from the United Nations to Gaddafi for peace talks? If armed conflict goes ahead, what measures are being put in place to ensure the safety of civilians? In particular, may I urge the Prime Minister that there should be no use of depleted uranium weapons, which have damaged the long-term safety of the civilians in Iraq? Given the change of regimes that has taken place in this region, given what is happening in Bahrain and given the continued oppression of the Palestinian people, may I urge him to go to the United Nations and say that now is the opportune time to re-establish a middle eastern conference that looks at the long-term security and peace of this region?

The Prime Minister: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. What the UN is suggesting is very clear. Paragraph 1

“Demands the immediate establishment of a cease-fire and a complete end to violence and all attacks against, and abuses of, civilians”.

Paragraph 2

“Stresses the need to intensify efforts to find a solution to the crisis which responds to the legitimate demands of the Libyan people”.

The point that I would make to the hon. Gentleman is this: if we make this statement and give this ultimatum, and in a way, the UN has given this ultimatum; if Gaddafi does not respond and goes on brutalising his people; and if in those circumstances we say that we are not prepared to use force to protect civilians, with all the backing of the UN, with all the backing of international law, with the Arab League behind us and with the world saying that this is right—if not then, when?

The hon. Gentleman does need to think about this, because although there should, of course, be all sorts of things holding you back before you take action, and there are all the questions you should ask, when there is this degree of international backing, and if Gaddafi will not stop the brutalising of civilians, there is a complete legitimisation of taking action to protect those civilians.

Angie Bray (Ealing Central and Acton) (Con): May I, too, congratulate the Prime Minister on his spectacularly successful leadership and the amazing turnaround that he has achieved? Will he tell the House a little more about the discussions he is having with members of the Arab League about the role that they may be able to play in supporting this resolution?

The Prime Minister: The encouraging thing is, first, that the Arab League came forward so clearly and asked for a no-fly zone. The contact I had, including on my trip to the Gulf, was that so many were so clear that Gaddafi was illegitimate and that what he was doing was wrong. There was a genuine sense of outrage at what he was doing. The key now is to try to encourage the Arab League and its members, and not just in those

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words and great sentiments: we need to encourage them to participate actively, so that the world can see that if action is necessary, there are Arab planes alongside French, British or American planes taking part in the action to protect civilians in Libya. That is extremely important and we should do everything we can to secure it.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): I welcome last night’s UN resolution; this is not Iraq, but it is an important test of the international community’s willingness to protect civilians from the immediate danger of slaughter. Given the importance of keeping the Arab world on board in this endeavour, will the Prime Minister tell the House a bit more about his objectives for tomorrow’s meeting in Paris?

The Prime Minister: The first objective of tomorrow’s meeting in Paris is to bring together in person those Arab leaders that President Sarkozy, President Obama and I have been speaking to in recent days so that we can discuss the importance of having the widest possible alliance to prosecute the implementation of this UN Security Council resolution. That is the most important thing. Even before then, a range of planning activity and, as I said in my statement, logistics activity needs to take place. We must quicken the contacts we have with all those Arab countries, but I hope that tomorrow we will see a visible demonstration of the world coming together to say, “This man must stop what he is doing and if he doesn’t, there will be very severe consequences.”

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): The Prime Minister has made a credible and convincing case for joint action to protect Libyan civilians whose lives are threatened by Gaddafi, a despot with a record of international terrorism and internal terror. However, there is a significant risk of stalemate if a no-fly zone can be established in time and Gaddafi’s air force and helicopters are grounded. Can the Prime Minister say which organisations or nations have indicated that they would be willing to play a part in breaking such a stalemate if indeed it arises?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Of course there is a danger of stalemate, as he says. At that point there could be a role for organisations such as the African Union to try to bring this situation to a close, but as we stand today Colonel Gaddafi has not ceased his attacks on Benghazi or on people in Libya. That provides the urgency for this resolution, the action that we are preparing to take and the ultimatum that we will give. Of course, if he accedes, there could be a role for the African Union and for others.

Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East) (Lab): The Prime Minister talks about the need to think about the consequences of our action or inaction. One possible consequence is that Gaddafi is left weakened and alienated but not defeated. What consideration has been given to that scenario and, in particular, the implications for security and stability in the region and more widely?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Lady makes a very good point, and we have to consider all of these issues. The point I would make is that the reason why Gaddafi is weakened and insecure is because his people rose up

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and said that they wanted no more of him and that they wanted to have a more open and democratic future. I believe that in response to that we have been right, and others have been right, to encourage the Arab world and the north African world to move in a more democratic direction. She is absolutely right to say that from a national security perspective we have to consider all the implications of what is happening in Libya. The Home Secretary will be looking at the consequences for migration and we need to look at the consequences in terms of security policy too. The hon. Lady is entirely right in that view.

Mr Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): Although today’s statement has understandably focused on military and diplomatic issues, a huge humanitarian crisis is already taking place, with a large number of Libyans having already fled and crossed the Mediterranean to Malta, Italy and other places. I was very encouraged by what the Prime Minister had to say about the role of the Department for International Development. Would he recognise that many of us in this House and countless millions of our constituents are equally proud of the very strong soft power that our nation is able to utilise and which we hope it will utilise in these difficult weeks and months ahead?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point, and I will stress again what the International Development Secretary will be doing. Obviously, he will be looking at what has been happening on Libya’s borders—we have discussed that before—but he will also be looking at the issues within Libya itself. There is no doubt in my mind that in this situation soft power has had an enormous effect on giving people a sense that a better future is available to them and that they do not have to put up with the regimes that they have had to put up with for so long. Despite the fact that there may be difficult days ahead, as we grapple with implementing this UN Security Council resolution, we should lift our heads up and believe that there is a more hopeful future for this region and, therefore, for our world.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): I am sure that the whole House will wish the Prime Minister well as he discharges his duties in relation to Libya over the coming days, because he will face many much more complex decisions than those he has already had to take and they will affect life and death in Libya. We all want to see Gaddafi gone and we want to see everybody in Benghazi protected, but is the Prime Minister anxious about Russia’s abstention? Will he make sure that cluster munitions, which are banned for British troops, will also be banned by all those others who are taking part in this, because in many cases it is the aftershock of cluster munitions that devastates the civilian population?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point about cluster munitions. We do not use those munitions and we do not believe that others should either.

On the Russian abstention, and indeed the Chinese abstention, all I would observe is that this is, in many ways, quite a welcome step forward. We are talking here about a very tough resolution on what has happened in another country where people are being brutalised. In

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years gone by, we might have expected to see Security Council vetoes. The fact that we have not is a very positive step forward for international law, for international right, and for the future of our world.

Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con): Time, of course, remains of the essence, and those who are resisting may well need arms rapidly. Paragraph 4 of the resolution, which my right hon. Friend did not mention, says

“notwithstanding paragraph 9 of resolution 1970”,

and relates to the arms embargo. Does not that provide an avenue, through a committee of sanctions of the United Nations, to allow arms to be supplied, as sub-paragraph (c) of paragraph 9 appears to suggest, to those resisting Gaddafi in Benghazi and thereabouts?

The Prime Minister: I always worry when my hon. Friend mentions the word “notwithstanding”; a small chill goes up my spine. I think I am right in saying that the resolution is clear: there is an arms embargo, and that arms embargo has to be enforced across Libya. The legal advice that others have mentioned, and that we believe some other countries were interested in, suggesting that perhaps this applied only to the regime, is not in fact correct.

Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): In the next few difficult months, can we ensure, as well as we can, that we do not damage the Libyan water and energy infrastructure and thereby make things difficult for the wider Libyan population?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, first, to say that in many ways the easy decisions have been made, and now there are the difficult times and the difficult decisions have to be made. I am acutely conscious of that. His point about Libyan resources is entirely right. If Gaddafi will not cease his war on his own people and if military action has to be taken, we need to make sure that that is done commensurate with international law and trying to avoid, wherever possible, collateral damage, civilian casualties, and all the other things that he says. That is absolutely vital in all that we want to do, not least in keeping the largest possible coalition of people in this country and around the world, including in the Arab world, behind what the United Nations has authorised.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I would like to thank the Prime Minister for coming to the House so early to make this statement. He is clearly right to take very seriously the deployment of British troops. In that regard, could not the substantive motion that he has mentioned be debated later this evening or tomorrow morning, before the troops are actually deployed?

The Prime Minister: Obviously, I considered this carefully, and we discussed it at Cabinet this morning. We felt that the best approach was to give time for the tabling of a substantive motion today, which I believe has to be done by 2.30 pm. If we do that in advance, it will give anyone who wants to suggest an amendment the chance to do so, and then there can be a proper debate on Monday. Actually, I considered whether it

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would be better to hold the debate on Tuesday to give people more chance to consider what may or may not have happened over the weekend, but I think that the House will be anxious to have that debate, so I judged, and the Cabinet judged, that a debate on Monday on a substantive motion that can be amended is the right thing to do.

Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): What UN resolutions say and what they are subsequently interpreted to say can be very different. What assurances can the Prime Minister give to the House that it will be different this time, particularly bearing in mind the number of abstentions we had last night?

The Prime Minister: The point I would make to the hon. Gentleman is that this resolution seems to me to be extremely clear in that it has the call for a ceasefire, it has the no-fly zone, it has all necessary measures for a no-fly zone, it has the need to protect civilians, and all the necessary measures for civilians, alongside all the other issues about travel bans, asset seizures and the rest of it. It is a very clear resolution. As I say, I am very conscious that as we go ahead, we want to take people with us. That will inevitably be a difficult path, because every action has a consequence. However, I particularly welcome the fact that the resolution says so clearly that there must not be an occupying force. I think that sends such a clear signal to the Arab world, to the Muslim world, and to people in our own country, scarred by what has happened in the past, that that will not happen again. As I have said, there are some limits on us, but I think that in this circumstance, that is absolutely right.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): I thank my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for his statement. Recent history has shown that commencing military action such as this is rather like entering a maze—it is easier to get in than to get out. Given that the Libyan rebels will always be at risk for as long as Colonel Gaddafi is still in power, will not our involvement therefore have to continue while his regime remains in place?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. Of course, there is always a case that goes something like, “Don’t start down this path because it might involve you taking so many difficult steps to achieve it.” It seems to me that the stronger argument is that it is better to act than to stand back and do nothing, and witness the slaughter of civilians, when that is so clearly not in our national interest. It is better to act than to remain passive. We have set limits on what we are able to do, because we cannot have an occupying force. I believe that what we are doing can help to protect civilians and can, over time, help to bring about a better future for Libya.

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): I welcome the UN resolution, but I oppose Britain’s military involvement in implementing it. The UN resolution is not to secure a no-fly zone for humanitarian protection, but an extraordinary authorisation of regime change. Unless the Prime Minister believes that Libya’s Arab and African neighbours lack the capacity or the compassion for their Libyan brothers and sisters to act independently, why does he insist on putting British military personnel at risk?