7.6 pm

Mr Michael Meacher (Oldham West and Royton) (Lab): It is clear that without UN resolution 1973, there would have been appalling blood-letting in Benghazi. It is also clear that this is not another Iraq, because there is legitimate UN authority for action and there will be no occupying army. It is highly significant that the support has been gained, at least up to now, of the 23 members of the Arab League.

Having said that, and recognising that action of this kind invariably involves high risks, there are several issues on which this House and the British people want assurances. First, although the UN resolution is unquestionably strong, it focuses on the protection of civilians, as the Prime Minister declared repeatedly today. However desirable the end of Gaddafi may be, regime change is explicitly not covered by resolution 1973, contrary to the unfortunate impression that the Defence Secretary has given in a number of interviews that I have heard. There is always a risk of mission creep in matters of this kind, but if we are to retain the support of the wide coalition that has been assembled, it is vital that we are seen to keep strictly to the terms of the resolution and that we do not seek to put interpretations on it that suit our convenience.

A second concern is over the planning for the outcome of the conflict, which certainly did not happen in Iraq. As has been said, there could be a quick collapse if the Libyan military turns against Gaddafi, or there could be a long stalemate if the regime not only declares a ceasefire but observes it and holds on to what it retains in western and southern Libya. In either case, it is

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unclear at the moment—I wonder whether it is clear to the Government—how any intended outcome will be achieved. If Gaddafi is deposed or killed, given the strong tribal structure in Libya, what is to prevent the country from descending into civil war? How will law and order be imposed in such circumstances, particularly if the Libyan military retains its loyalty to the old regime—as some of it will—and refuses to do a deal with the rebels?

On the other hand, if Gaddafi is forced to end hostilities by the overwhelming force of allied air power, which is very likely, and opts to stay put in western Libya, what then? Will the words “all necessary measures” allow us to sidestep the arms embargo and channel arms to the rebels to enable them to carry on the fight, as the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) suggested earlier? The Prime Minister said on Friday that the resolution’s

“very strong language…allows states to take a number of military steps to protect people and harm those who are intending to damage civilians.”—[Official Report, 18 March 2011; Vol. 525, c. 623.]

But that cannot possibly justify arming one side when the other is observing a ceasefire. Equally, using superior allied air power to knock out Libyan army strongpoints if the rebels were to advance on Tripoli would be way outside the essentially defensive context of the UN resolution. In those circumstances, how would the stalemate be broken?

The third problem, which others have mentioned, is that of maintaining the all-important support of the Arab League, and not only during the initial ferocity of the allied onslaught.

Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op): Would my right hon. Friend be sympathetic in theory to the idea of a future UN resolution giving authority to an Arab-led UN force, spearheaded by the Egyptians and the Turks, as a peacekeeping transition force to solve some of the problems that he has mentioned after the first episodes have concluded?

Mr Meacher: There is nothing to stop those countries joining a coalition now, and I am not at all sure that it requires a further UN resolution. I have to say, I think such a result is unlikely.

The continued support of Amr Moussa, the secretary-general of the Arab League, is critical to the allied claim that this is not just another western war against a Muslim country in the Arab world, but rather action against a tyrant who has lost all regional backing and whose people are rising up against him. There are already ominous signs that Mr Moussa’s support may be wobbling, on the ground that the Arab League saw the UN resolution as an essentially defensive concept. The Arab League must not only be continually consulted but actually listened to, and its needs and demands must be taken account of in allied action.

My last point concerns the precedent that is being set. Of course every case is different, but the western powers and the UN did not intervene when there were arguably much stronger cases for it in Rwanda, in the Shi’ite uprisings against Saddam in southern Iraq in 1991 or in the three-week war and extensive killing in

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Gaza. As many Members have asked, where will the new doctrine this time around lead?

The argument about selectivity and the application of moral principles has been widely voiced in the middle east. If protecting civilians against a dictator who is seeking bloodily to suppress demand for democratic reform is the prevailing policy, how can that doctrine not be applied to interventions in Bahrain, Yemen, Algeria or elsewhere? That question has been asked repeatedly, but it has not received an answer.

Those are all difficult questions, but I submit that it is better that they be faced up to now, before the initial jingoism—an unpleasant sensation that is being pushed in some of the media—perhaps gives way to dismay and disarray in the weeks and months ahead.

7.14 pm

Alun Cairns (Vale of Glamorgan) (Con): Like all Members, I am worried and concerned about activities in and surrounding Libya. I am worried about the disregard for basic human rights shown by the Libyan army and the Gaddafi regime, and concerned about the potential longer-term commitment that we may have embarked upon.

I pay tribute to the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Defence and the Foreign Secretary for their work and actions in securing and ensuring that the foundation on which the conflict has been drawn is very different from that on Iraq. It seems only a short time ago that many people were judging and criticising the so-called “loose talk” about the need for a no-fly zone. Some opponents even mocked the calls for one. Such judgments only show the risk of seeking to make short-term political points out of very difficult international situations, and I hope that Members of all parties will have learned a lesson from that.

Last Thursday night, the passing of UN Security Council Resolution 1973 changed the terms of the debate. The success in delivering the resolution is remarkable, particularly bearing in mind the statements and comments made by some allies beforehand. The support of the Arab League was critical, and the change of heart of the United States was essential in delivering the consequences of the resolution.

None the less, we need to recognise the concerns and doubts expressed by those who abstained, and the initial comments made by the Arab League subsequent to military action, which have since been clarified, because they indicate how things could develop. The resolution has secured the legality of the actions that have been taken, but their legitimacy and longer-term consequences depend on maintaining the broadest possible coalition.

The delay by the United States in clarifying its position was damaging, but diplomacy won it over. In spite of the abstentions of some nations, dialogues with those countries—Germany and India, and even Russia and China—need to be maintained. It is unlikely that they will ever U-turn on their positions, but as the Gaddafi regime resorts to the most inhumane tactics we can only hope to win their tolerance in private.

The reporting in the UK and elsewhere of the action that has been taken has taken many different tacks. There have been some spectacular pictures showing how effective military actions have been in removing anti-aircraft capabilities and military hardware from

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the Gaddafi regime, and showing the positive impact that our forces have had. None the less, we should never be seduced by such stunning and incredible images. Our defence technology is impressive and astonishing, but judgments about using it must be taken in the context of the wider difficulties that it can bring in the longer term.

Not only must we maintain the legal case, but the moral, political and public cases should always be at the forefront of our mind. Colonel Gaddafi is a master of propaganda and of using it to motivate some of his civilians. Many Arab nations will be sympathetic to his calls. Outgunning Colonel Gaddafi by moral, political and public means in the Arab nations is as important as outgunning him by military means. The UN resolution means that we do not need to defend the political or legal case for our military action, as was required in the Iraq conflict, but we do need to maintain our case and win over doubters in the Arab nations. Many of those nations have significant military resources, and it is essential that they should be used to help us achieve the UN objectives.

Finally, I wish to reflect on 9 April 2003, the day when many of us were fooled by our own propaganda. It was the day when the statue of Saddam Hussein was torn down by the US forces and hundreds of Iraqis were seen hitting the structure with the soles of their shoes in celebration. They were described as “elated”. That and similar images and reports led me, and I am sure many others, to believe that almost all the Iraqi people were relieved at our military intervention. History teaches us that such things are not always true.

The Government’s actions to date have been exemplary, as has been noted widely by Members of all parties. It is up to all of us to ensure that they remain so, with the broadest possible coalition of support and the acknowledgment of the doubters.

7.19 pm

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): I welcome the debate today. It is important that Parliament plays a key role in deciding whether this country is involved in wars. I endorse the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) made in an intervention about war-making powers. The House has a right to ask the Government many questions about the enterprise on which we are embarked and where it will lead. We should not be fooled by newspapers telling us, in a gung-ho and frankly offensive way in the case of The Sun and the News of the World,that the public are behind this. I am far from convinced of that. The public are concerned about public expenditure and the money that has been spent on the armed forces for the enterprise, and they are very worried about where it leads because they have been through the miserable experience of Iraq and they also have deep concerns about Afghanistan. It is therefore appropriate in today’s debate to have a serious discussion about where the action will lead.

An opinion poll in Metro this morning—I do not know how scientific that is—suggested that 58% of those questioned were against British involvement in Libya. Although I do not know how accurate that is, many people are very worried about the action. We must ask questions about the troops that we have committed through the Air Force. How long will they be there? What command structure are they currently under?

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That is far from clear. Several air forces are involved, and it is not clear who is co-ordinating them, who is in charge or who decides what targets to bomb at what stage. That is enormously worrying.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) asked several questions about cluster bombs and depleted uranium. Cluster bombs are illegal. Children are still dying in Iraq and Afghanistan because of the use of cluster bombs in the past. Depleted uranium was used in the Gulf war in 1991 and that has led to a high level of cancers in southern Iraq. I hope that no other forces are using depleted uranium weapons, because of the long-term effects.

What is the mission all about? Only three weeks ago, we were training Libyan forces and selling arms to Libya. British companies were happily trading with Libya and British universities were happily accepting vast sums of money from Libya until a few weeks ago. It is an awfully short time in our relations with Libya in which to go from hero to zero. The rest of the world may be concerned about that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) intervened on the Prime Minister to ask about the endgame. One hopes that there will be an urgent ceasefire and some kind of political settlement in Libya, and that Libya’s independence as a state will be preserved. However, there is another scenario: a client state in the east around Benghazi; and a pariah state in the west around Tripoli, led by Gaddafi, and a source of constant conflict, disturbance and danger in the region. That is eminently possible, with oil companies trying to get their hands on the huge resources that are there.

Mr Allen: Is my hon. Friend as concerned as I am about the composition of what is currently called “the rebel force”, which is a catch-all for anti-Gaddafi forces? Many of us could support that as a concept, but is my hon. Friend a little worried that we could end up with something even worse than the current regime? Libya is not a repressed democracy. We have not spent the past 30 years building up a democratic base there. It will not be Nick and Dave who take over, but unknown people. We are not sure about the endgame and we should be careful what we wish for.

Jeremy Corbyn: My hon. Friend makes a valuable point. I do not know the politics, aims, ambitions or anything else of the people in Benghazi any more than I suspect he does. We should be cautious about going to war on behalf of a group of people whom we do not know or understand and of whose aims we are not aware. Many were Ministers in the Gaddafi Government, again, only three weeks ago. It is a very short time.

There is a danger that we do nothing about Bahrain because of close economic and military involvement, despite the US fifth fleet being there. There is a danger that we say nothing about Saudi Arabia because of the vast arms market there. The former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, felt that Saudi Arabia was so important that he stopped the Serious Fraud Office investigation into the al-Yamamah arms contract. In Yemen and Oman, people are dying. They thirst for exactly the same thing. I was at a conference this morning of Bahraini opposition groups who made strong points. They said that they were not campaigning about human rights in Bahrain yesterday, but last year, the year before, the year before

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that and so on. Indeed, I first met Bahraini opposition groups who were concerned about the overwhelming power of the king in 1986 at a UN human rights conference in Copenhagen.

Mr MacNeil: Does the hon. Gentleman believe that action in Libya now helps the case for action in the countries that he mentioned later?

Jeremy Corbyn: I do not believe that it does, because the economic interests in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain far outweigh any humanitarian concerns. I simply do not believe that it will happen.

However, we must use the opportunity to reassess our foreign policy, our arms sales policy and the way in which we get into bed with dictator after dictator around the world. We should also think for a moment about the message that goes out on the streets throughout north Africa and the middle east.

When Israeli planes bombed Gaza during Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09, I did not hear any calls for a no-fly zone over Gaza. F-16 jets pounded Palestinians, killing 1,500 civilians. We have to understand the bitterness of that period and the experience of the Palestinian people because many in the Palestinian diaspora, living out their lives in refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt—all over the region—want the right to return home. They see the double standards of the west: interested in supporting Israel at the expense of the Palestinian people; currently intervening in Libya but doing nothing to support the Palestinian people.

We are in an interesting period in history. There was an Arab revolution in the 1950s, supporting the principle of pan-Arab unity. Nasser was one of its leading figures. That degenerated into a series of fairly corrupt dictatorships that still run the Arab League. None feels very secure when they attend Arab League meetings. Indeed, they go home as quickly as possible afterwards, lest there be a coup.

We are seeing a popular revolution for accountable government, peace and democracy on the streets throughout the region. We have been on the wrong side in selling arms and supporting dictators. We have not thought through the implications of what we are doing now in Libya. I suspect that we might end up in a Libyan civil war for a long time and that this is not the only occasion on which we will debate the subject in the House. This is the easy bit; the hard part is yet to come.

7.28 pm

Stephen Gilbert (St Austell and Newquay) (LD): We clearly live in interesting times. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), because I share his analysis.

From Morocco in west Africa to Bahrain in the Gulf, we are seeing people grasp for freedom—proud people, many of whom have lived for too long under a veil of oppression. They are willing to put their lives on the line for the simple rights that we in the House and in this country take for granted.

I believe that it is right that we as a country use our military capabilities to stand with those who seek freedom and reform in Libya. Our values demand our active

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support for people who will no longer tolerate a corrupt regime that keeps them in ignorance, poverty and conformity. In the long term, as my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) pointed out, our national interest will be best served by standing with those who share our values and against those who seek to suppress self-determination.

Let us be clear. Gaddafi is a brutal dictator, who has systematically murdered his own people simply because they dared to dream of freedom from his oppressive tyranny. He has murdered children and women and men and boys. He has shown that he is unfit to govern, and he should go.

My thoughts are today with the men and women of our armed forces who are in harm’s way. I pay tribute to their bravery. They are fighting for peoples whose courage and bravery in standing up unarmed against oppression is an inspiration to many across the region and the world. I have no direct experience of war. In that respect, my generation has been luckier than most. I have studied international politics and visited parts of the world that have been torn by conflict, and spent hours listening to people who have served their country. I know that there is no glamour in war. If the House forgets that for a single moment, it should reflect on the powerful contributions of my hon. Friends the Members for North Warwickshire (Dan Byles), for Milton Keynes North (Mark Lancaster) and for Keighley (Kris Hopkins).

Many in our community think that we should not get involved in other countries’ problems, but Libya is different from Iraq. We could not have stood by and watched Benghazi, a city the size of Glasgow, be wrecked by Gaddafi’s henchmen. Unlike Iraq, the UN is clear that action must be taken to protect civilians, and the international community has the backing of many Arab countries.

Mr Cash: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that people in Benghazi could still be massacred unless they are allowed to be armed? Resolution 1973 provides a means for that to happen through the committee on sanctions. Does he think that that should be used?

Stephen Gilbert: To some extent, I share the hon. Gentleman’s analysis that resolution 1973 could institutionalise stalemate. Although our short-term actions are tactically successful, we need a clear strategic plan. The Government must address that, and I am sure the Defence Secretary heard the hon. Gentleman’s ideas about one such avenue.

There is no such thing as a good war, but there could be such a thing as a just war. My grandfather fought Nazism in the very desert over which our planes are now flying, and he was right to do so. In standing up to this brutal warlord using our capabilities to protect civilians, we are doing the right thing today.

There are, however, lessons to learn. For too long, it has been common to assume that people in north Africa and the middle east live under dictatorships and repressive regimes because they in some way choose to do so. Over the last few months, we have seen the end of the myth of Arab exceptionalism and an unprecedented grasp for freedom by people who no longer want to live under tyranny and in fear.

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This is not the end of regimes in Libya and elsewhere that cling to power without the consent of their people, but it is doubtless the beginning of the end for them. Thousands of brave souls have been prepared to stand up and to lose their lives for things that we take for granted, such as the right to speak our minds, to meet with whom we choose and to vote for a political party of our choice. It is therefore right to stand with those people in their struggle.

I join hon. Members who have said that we need a full review of our foreign policy in the region and beyond to ensure that we use all our capabilities to stand with those who want the right to choose their own Government. We cannot act everywhere, but we must no longer condone regimes that suppress their people or supply them with the tools and training to do so.

I urge Ministers to make it perfectly clear to Gaddafi and his commanders that we are watching them, and that we will prosecute them to the fullest extent under international law for any crimes and atrocities they commit. Clearly, the action on which we are embarked needs to create more than a stalemate on the ground, as one of my hon. Friends said earlier. The steps we have taken have led to tactical success, but our long-term strategy needs to be clear. We also need to look beyond that to a concerted international effort to deliver to the region the benefits of pluralism. After the second world war, the Marshall plan lifted Europe out of poverty. We now need similar for north Africa and the middle east. I welcome the prominence that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister gave to that in his remarks.

There is no doubt that we place a burden on our armed forces, with their continuing obligations in Afghanistan and elsewhere. We ask a lot of them, but they always rise to the challenge. Clearly, they are doing a fantastic job in difficult circumstances, but it behoves the House to remember that their resources are not infinite. If we want them to take on more challenges, we need to ensure that they are correctly resourced. I therefore welcome the use of the NATO command structure, which is a tried and tested vehicle for the delivery of no-fly zones, but I would also welcome further clarity on the rules of engagement that will be employed. We need to give our forces the best chance of defending themselves and prosecuting the UN resolution.

As this Arab spring unfolds before us, it is vital that we put our shoulder to history and stand with those who want the most basic rights—the right to choose their own destinies and to live without fear. My hope is that in all they do, the Government will help and not hinder the flourishing of this Arab spring.

7.35 pm

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): I found it touching that the hon. Member for Keighley (Kris Hopkins) and others expressed trepidation about entering a debate when we are sending troops into battle. I have been in the House for 14 years now, and I have done that on four occasions. I can tell them that it gets no easier. The more I have experience of conflicts and the more I understand the human suffering involved, the more I am committed to peace and conflict resolution, and the more I oppose such military interventions.

There comes a time in all such conflicts when the collateral damage—a disgraceful term—is reported to us, and evidence comes to light of families and children

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who get killed and maimed as a result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. When coffins draped in the Union flag come back, all hon. Members will ask, “Did we do enough to avoid the conflict? Did we do enough to ensure peace?” That is why my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) and I tabled an amendment today. I appreciate that it was not selected for debate, Mr Deputy Speaker, but because it has been referred to, I should like to refer to it as well.

The amendment sought to demonstrate that we are using every means possible—straining every sinew—to gain peace, and not, as the Prime Minister set out, just doing that before the conflict. Often, the most successful peace talks are those that take place when military action has already been undertaken.

Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): My hon. Friend says that we should do everything we can to avoid conflict, but the conflict has already happened. The people of Benghazi are under attack, and the people of Tripoli are suffering from the Gaddafi regime’s repression. In that sense, standing out of the conflict is also taking a position.

John McDonnell: I am saying that we should secure peace now that the conflict has started. I oppose Britain’s involvement in the middle east because we have a century and a half of involvement—in pursuit of the region’s mineral wealth—that is steeped in blood, murder and maiming. We do not have the credibility to intervene constructively.

Nevertheless, the conflict has started, and our role is to secure peace as quickly as possible. That is why the amendment seeks to secure peace through negotiations. Already, there have been offers of mediation, in particular through the ALBA group of Latin American nations. We should take that offer. The amendment also states—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. Passing reference to the amendment is allowed, but we must not have a detailed debate on it.

John McDonnell: May I refer to those points to which the Prime Minister referred? He said that he would support the sentiments of the amendment, particularly in respect of ensuring that we keep civilians out of harm’s way. When I asked him about depleted uranium, he assured me that we do not use it, but we have used it consistently over time, and it has caused all sorts of harm to people in the middle east. This country, along with France, objected to the international ban on the use of such weapons, but I hope that the Prime Minister’s statement today means that we will now support the ban.

The Prime Minister said that he supports what we say about the need for a middle east conference. We need to engage to try to secure peace and stability and to promote democracy in the region. My view is that we need to do all we can to demonstrate our commitment to peace. The military action has already caused deaths. We do not know whether they are civilians, but the reports from Tripoli are that they are not dividing people from Gaddafi, but actually consolidating his support. The sight of the same countries that invaded Iraq killing Arabs again is of immense value to Gaddafi in his argument that this is another crusader invasion.

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We have heard already that the Arab League is falling apart, with different statements coming out in different languages to hide the dissent. The UN is also dividing, with Russia and China, as we speak, urging that military action cease. They are not abstaining, but are convening the Security Council to try to end the action. NATO itself is displaying divisions as well. We have also heard statements from Turkey refusing to take on a longer term role. I have to say that statements in the House and by Ministers are increasingly confusing about the objectives of the military action. The UN resolution does not refer to regime change, but ministerial statement after ministerial statement clearly lead to that conclusion. Although the resolution states that there will not be a troop invasion or occupation, we now know that there is the potential for special forces and boots on the ground. That is all playing into Gaddafi’s hands by calling up images of a foreign invasion.

The charges of hypocrisy cannot go away. There is the lack of action in Yemen, Bahrain and Oman. I am talking not about physical action, which I would oppose anyway, but about the mealy-mouthed ministerial statements. There has been no threat to use the international courts against these killer regimes or to seize their assets, and there has been no threat even of diplomatic isolation. Neither has it helped that the images are still fresh in people’s minds in the middle east of our Prime Minister’s recent tour of the region to sell arms to these barbaric regimes. Finally, of course, my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North has mentioned the hypocrisy of refusing a no-fly zone when Gaza was invaded. We now face the prospect of a long-haul engagement in military action in Libya.

We risk being dragged into on-the-ground bloody combat, followed by a counter-insurgency struggle and then vulnerability to a lengthy terrorist campaign. It will all threaten the peace and stability of the region and have consequences for our own people and the global economy. That is why the message today from the Chamber should be that we seek peace, that we want to ensure the safety of civilians and that our concern is for the peace of the region and the promotion of democracy overall. I urge the Government to take up the offer of mediation from the ALBA countries. I urge the Chamber to send the message that we strive in every way possible to bring all parties together to seek peace. In that way, we might yet have the opportunity to restore some credibility to the role of this country in the middle east. I do not believe that that will be done as a result of the bombs and missiles now hurtling down on the Libyan people and causing death and destruction.

Mr Allen: On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Will you speak to Mr Speaker to ensure that the rights of the House are properly represented, so that in future, when a motion is put down by the Government, who are meant to be being held to account by the House, sufficient time is allowed for amendments to be organised and tabled by people in the House of a different view? We all have reservations. No one has spoken tonight and said that they are 100% certain about what we are doing. If we allow other voices and amendments, and if we allow colleagues to accumulate sufficient signatures, would it not be in order to have a debate with amendments

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that could be voted on and which could present a different point of view in the House from the choice we are presented with tonight?

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): There was an amendment on the Order Paper, but it was not selected by Mr Speaker. However, the hon. Gentleman’s comments will be made known to him.

7.44 pm

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): If I am to follow the good example of those engaging in genuine debate, I should refer to previous comments made tonight. Two of the speeches that have been much praised so far—quite rightly, in my view—were those from the right hon. and learned Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) and my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart). They were praised not only because of their excellent delivery, but—one would like to think—substantially because of their comment and analysis. If I try to marry those two speeches, I come out with two propositions: intervention should be for humanitarian purposes only, and strict limits should be imposed on how we become militarily involved.

As will emerge as I develop my argument, I believe that the most likely result of such an approach—if it is what hon. Members want—would be not dissimilar to what was set out by the hon. Members for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) and for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell). That might surprise some hon. Members. I shall come back to that point in a moment, but I wish people to think about it a little. It is one thing to praise a speech about having limited objectives in a war, but it is quite another to proceed as if there will not be consequences of limiting those objectives in the way that we should rightly limit them.

In the early 1990s, when I was not in the House, I looked on in horror at what was happening in Bosnia, and I was particularly ashamed of the fact that our Foreign Secretary of the day, when asked why we would not go to the help of the moderate Bosnian Muslims and would not even allow them to have the weapons with which to defend themselves, replied that we did not wish to create a “level killing field”. I thought that that was a disgraceful statement.

Mr Cash: Yes, disgraceful.

Dr Lewis: My hon. Friend agrees that it was disgraceful.

I looked on with horror and impotence while the world and Britain stood by. Then, partly for that reason, in 1998, during my first term in the House, I was one of just three Conservative Members—if I remember correctly, the others were the now Lord Cormack and the late Michael Colvin—who actually called for military intervention against Milosevic in relation to Kosovo a year before the intervention actually happened. I therefore have a track record of supporting humanitarian intervention. I say that because I have grave reservations about what we are doing now. I will—very reluctantly—support the motion in the Lobby tonight, but I want hon. Members to realise the consequences that are likely to follow.

In such a situation, we need to ask ourselves four questions: who should intervene, how should the intervention be carried out, who should pay for it and

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what will be the result? Who should intervene? The answer is: those who are willing and strong enough to do so. How should it be done? Here we get to the nub of the matter. We can intervene in such a conflict by using what has been called air power but is actually the use of precision weapons from the sea and the air. We can intervene using such power only, which is what we say we are doing, or by introducing troops. If we confine ourselves to using precision weapons from sea platforms or the air, we should not expect Colonel Gaddafi to disappear.

The question of who should pay is terribly important. Throughout our years of opposition, we said that Labour Governments had let defence fall too far down our list of priorities. However, I have not noticed us proposing to increase the proportion of GDP we spend on defence. I note that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence is here. I have asked the Foreign Secretary this question twice, and he has brushed me off twice. Will this campaign be paid for out of the existing core defence budget, or will it be met by additional funds from the Treasury reserve? We have to know.

Finally, what will be the outcome? It will be entirely dependent on whether ground troops get involved. We have ruled out ground troops. If the Arab League wishes to see Gaddafi removed, it may have to supply ground troops, but we will not do so. We are left with a situation in which we are making a limited intervention to stop people being massacred. However, let us not fool ourselves into thinking that this will result in the removal of Colonel Gaddafi. Unless there is a coup or ground troop involvement by Arab states, Colonel Gaddafi will probably survive. He will lose control of part of the area, and we will have a long-term commitment to look after the remainder of Libya. For that, payment must be found.

7.50 pm

Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): I am glad to follow the hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), because he gave what I thought was his version of Tony Blair’s Chicago speech of 1999. Where Tony Blair had five criteria, the hon. Gentleman seems to have four, but the consequence would still be the interventionist view that I know he has held for many years.

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman should be so pessimistic about the consequences of what is happening in Libya. None of us can predict what will happen. He is quite right that the Gaddafi regime may persist for some time, in some form or other. He is also possibly right about the alternative outcome of partition, which other hon. Members have mentioned. Another view is that we could be moving towards what might be described as “Somalia with oil”, which would be the worst possible outcome. Therefore, we in Europe should be particularly concerned about what is happening in Libya, because it is geographically on the borders of the European Union. Libya is not remote or a long way away; it is of vital, direct, national and European interest to us.

In that context, I want to praise the work of our diplomats in the UN, who have worked hand in glove with French diplomats in the UN to get the Security Council resolution. What has been done through co-operation between Britain and France, as the two European permanent members of the Security Council,

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is vital. Unfortunately, the Defence Secretary has left his place, but at least the Foreign Secretary is here.




The Foreign Secretary will know that I have given him his correct designation today, unlike when he appeared before the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs last week.

I wanted to ask the Defence Secretary about co-operation between the UK and France on the defence front, because clearly there is a new understanding and agreement. If, as is expected, the lead of the operation is transferred from the United States, there will be interesting questions about where it should go. Turkey appears to be blocking any development of a NATO-based command. What will happen then? Is an alternative arrangement possible? Clearly the European Union is not capable of performing that role and, given Germany’s position, would not be likely to do so. What will happen to control of the forces that are brought together? There will be a continuing US role, even though it wants to step back, and those forces will include other European states, the Qataris and others who will enter the coalition. Britain and France will be working at the core of that coalition, but we need to know how that will work in practice. Perhaps we could have an indication of that in the winding-up speeches.

In the time left to me, I want to concentrate on what the development of the Security Council resolution means for the future of international co-operation. There were four groups among the 15 members of the Security Council. There was Britain and France, which clearly saw early that an intervention had to be made to stop the massacres and the killing of hundreds of thousands of people in Libya. Then there was the United States, which clearly saw the same thing but, because of internal, institutional problems—and, I suspect, because the Obama Administration rightly want to take a multilateral approach to international politics, in contrast to the predecessor, Bush Administration—did not want to play the lead role.

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): Given the previous US regime’s role, does my hon. Friend accept that if the US President had been involved, that might have hindered our ability to get a resolution?

Mike Gapes: I do accept that, but I think the US Administration left it pretty late before finally making up their mind to move. It would have been helpful if the prevarication had not gone on for quite so long, but in principle I agree with my hon. Friend.

Then there was a third group, made up of countries in the Security Council that supported the action, even though many of the countries in their region were unhappy. Three African member states—South Africa, Gabon and Nigeria—voted for action, despite the fact that the African Union collectively has not taken the same position. That is significant. There was also Lebanon, representing the only Arab voice in the Security Council.

Then we have the fourth group, made up of China and Russia—traditionally, one of them would have vetoed the resolution, but they chose not to—and Germany, which, as we all know, has its own national view and history. Germany does not wish to put its forces in harm’s way and has always been reluctant to take a role in any international involvement. Indeed, I remember the angst in the SPD—the German Social Democratic

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party—even when it debated sending people to peacekeeping missions outside Europe. Then there are Brazil and India, which take a more traditionalist view about non-intervention, which is similar to that of China and Russia.

My point is that, because of the responsibility to protect, which was agreed in 2005 and 2006, and because of the way this debate has been framed, the UN has passed a watershed. The interventions to defend the Kurds in Iraq in 1991 and 1992 were made without a Security Council resolution. The intervention in Kosovo was also made without one, as was the intervention in Iraq, but today we have a new approach, and I hope that it is a model for the future.

7.57 pm

Mr Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): I have some reservations about what we are doing. I am pleased to see the Foreign Secretary in his place; I hope that he will answer some of the reservations that have been voiced today.

My first point is a House of Commons point, because I received an absolute assurance from the Leader of the House two weeks ago on the Floor of the House that before we went to war in future, there would be a substantive vote in the House of Commons. When we went to war in the Falklands, the House of Commons sat on a Saturday. We have to establish the principle—this is not just a House of Commons point; it is a serious and important constitutional point—that in future when we go to war, the House of Commons should vote first.

Secondly, I have a number of questions about what we are doing in this operation. I voted against the Iraq war, because although it was ostensibly about dealing with weapons of mass destruction, in fact, as we know, it was about regime change. A lot of people have said that the current situation is very different, but is it? We are told that it is about humanitarian objectives, but is it not, in fact, about regime change, just as in Iraq? We need to ensure that our objectives are entirely and only humanitarian, and about protecting the people in Benghazi.

In one sense, the current situation is very different from the situation in Iraq, because at least there we were determined to go in and achieve regime change. Speaker after speaker has asked what we are going to achieve with the current operation. People say that we cannot always foretell the future and that that is not an excuse for doing nothing, but surely if we set off on a journey, it is generally a good idea to know the destination. Planes do not occupy ground. Missiles can destroy tanks, but they do not destroy regimes. Bombing Tripoli might bolster the regime’s support among the population there—indeed, it already has.

I have already asked the Prime Minister on the Floor of the House—no answer can be given—what will happen if the current operation just produces a stalemate. What will we do then? Will we be able to resist the moral pressure to get more and more involved, and to send in troops? There is absolutely no enthusiasm in this country for getting involved in a third war in the Muslim world. Aircraft can stop things happening—they can stop tanks entering Benghazi and I will support the operation to that extent—but they cannot make things happen.

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A lot of lazy thinking has gone on along the lines that the regime was so unpopular that simply imposing a no-fly zone would make it fade away. Will that happen? Where is our strategic interest in Libya, which after all is 1,500 miles away? What are Egypt and Tunisia doing? They are its neighbours. Why is there not a single Arab plane in action at this moment?

We know that the first casualty of war is truth. The second casualty may well be a UN resolution, so that we are sucked into something far beyond what we have voted for. What are Russia and China doing, or rather not doing? Why is Iran silent? Is it because it supports Islamist irregulars in the east and is already there? Why would Gaddafi need to contest a no-fly zone if he can simply infiltrate troops? Is this a humanitarian war or is it a military war to change the regime? Will our efforts simply make Libya into another long-term brutal Sudan-type war?

It is often assumed that there are good guys and bad guys, but in fact Cyrenaica, in the east and controlled by the rebels, has always been separated from Tripolitania in the west. The two parts only became one state in 1934 and there has been a long-term dispute or semi-civil war between them for a long time. Indeed, in the 18th century Tripolitania invaded Cyrenaica and there were many massacres. History is extremely complicated; this region is very complicated, and we need to understand what is going on.

I was pleased to see the Defence Secretary in his seat. The old adage from Theodore Roosevelt is:

“Speak softly and carry a big stick”,

but we have been in danger of speaking loudly and breaking our sticks in two in the strategic defence review. Reading the British press, one would imagine that the whole world is hanging on to our words. They are not. I was reading the French press, and there was little mention of Britain. In Italy, no doubt, they believe that Berlusconi is taking the lead. There is only one capital that matters and that is Washington.

Oratory is not enough; we need air power. How many Tornados do we have? I believe that the strategic defence and security review was a disaster—as big a disaster as the Nott review, which was finally overtaken by the Falklands war. I hope that this operation overtakes the disastrous defence review. France has an aircraft carrier; Spain has an aircraft carrier; Russia has an aircraft carrier; the USA has 11 aircraft carriers; and we have to fly a round trip of 3,000 miles to impose our military force. By the way, all we have done is send three Tornados and two cruise missiles.

Dr Julian Lewis: I am glad that my hon. Friend raised that point, which I did not have time to raise. Although it is true that in this case we can get by from land bases, when it comes to the fuel costs of flying a single mission, a Harrier from a carrier would have cost £5,750, one from Sicily or southern Italy costs about £23,000 and one from the United Kingdom costs £200,000.

Mr Leigh: My hon. Friend makes the point. We could have had a carrier just 100 miles off the coast. The Prime Minister could have been sending our power. The Army is primarily a projectile of the Royal Navy and the defence review has been an attack on our traditional maritime and air power. I hope that we will use this operation to learn lessons about that.

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In conclusion, I believe that we should review the strategic defence review, and that we should state firmly that our operation is simply and only a humanitarian exercise to save people in Benghazi and that there is absolutely no intention of our trying to achieve regime change.

Zac Goldsmith (Richmond Park) (Con): Would my hon. Friend welcome, as I would, an absolute assurance from the Government that if they feel compelled to escalate our involvement in Libya, this House will be given the opportunity to vote again on this matter?

Mr Leigh: I have already said that that is a very important constitutional point. I know that I am just a House of Commons man, but most of the time that is all I have been allowed to be. There is nothing wrong with that, and we on the Back Benches have to say loudly and clearly to the Government that if there is any escalation, we must be consulted through a substantive resolution and that what we are talking about tonight is simply a very limited humanitarian operation using only warplanes, with no question whatsoever of our being dragged into third war in a Muslim country. I hope that point will be made loud and clear by the House of Commons.

8.5 pm

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): I apologise for my absence during the early part of the debate, but along with other hon. Members I had to attend a meeting of the Committees on Arms Export Controls. The House will probably understand that events in the middle east and beyond show pretty conclusively the importance of the work of that Committee, and others, in scrutinising UK policy on arms exports.

Many hon. Members have posed the very reasonable question of what we are getting into with the operation in Libya, and Iraq has come up time and time again. Indeed, the spectre of Iraq haunts us all. I was opposed to the invasion of Iraq—I remain of that view—but I also hold the view that the issues we are dealing with today are very different. This action was not preceded by speeches about axes of evil. There have been no off-the-shelf neo-con theories in which the answer was clear in advance and all that remained was the question that allowed that answer to be put into effect—the answer being that we would end up going to war.

In this case, the entire middle east is going through a transformation that we have never seen before—a huge upsurge in popular protest calling for rights and democracy—and the response in Libya was not only violent repression by the Gaddafi regime but a chilling warning that there would be the wholesale slaughter of civilians in Benghazi not in weeks or months but in days. Parallels are always dangerous at such times, but the parallel I thought of at the time was not Iraq but something that I came across soon after I was elected in the early 1990s—the scenes in Srebrenica and elsewhere in Bosnia. It seemed to me that we could not allow that to happen again.

In 2005, the United Nations, as a result of the experience of Bosnia, Rwanda and other places, agreed that the international community did and does have a responsibility to protect. That is right and this is a test of our

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willingness to do that. Our objectives must be clear. The UN framework established in the resolution passed on Thursday is open to interpretation, but it is more specific than many we have seen recently. We must also be aware that events are dynamic. We need a much clearer strategy of how to go forward and how to respond.

I hope that we will listen to the wise words of the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) about the need to be humble as well as confident and to be limited in our rhetoric and in what we know we can achieve. We should listen to what the hon. Member for Milton Keynes North (Mark Lancaster) said about needing to think through the issues to do with stabilisation and our role in it.

We must be aware of the vital role of the Arab League and the Arab world. Without their support, the UN resolution simply would not have been possible, but now, after the events of the weekend, the comments that were made and the clarifications that were made on the back of those comments, we must have a much closer understanding with the Arab League about how we go forward. We need to recognise and put in place the liaison arrangements that will be necessary to enable and encourage the Arab League to play a much more active role in what transpires from now on rather than being cheerleaders for us. However, the Arab League must also accept that it has responsibilities so that not only Libya but Yemen, Bahrain and other countries in that part of the world can move forward.

We also need to understand, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Katy Clark) said, that we need to address not just Arab Governments but the Arab people. When they express their objections to what is happening in this part of the world, the term “double standards” comes up time and again.

While it is right for people to speak of the importance of pursuing the middle east peace process at this time without soft-pedalling, it is also true that “process” is not enough. The former Palestinian ambassador to the United Kingdom, Afif Safieh, put it usefully some years ago when he said it was not enough to have an endless peace process, and that what was needed was an enduring peace. I think that what the people of the Arab world are looking for from us to counteract the impression of double standards that we have given is not just condemnation of, for example, Israeli settlement building, but a resolution to do something about it; not just condemnation of death and destruction in Gaza, but action to ensure that 1.5 million people are no longer forced to live in a kind of open prison.

We need to address those issues, not just for the sake of our credibility, but to establish an understanding with the peoples of the middle east that will allow them to transform their region in the way that they want and allow far more justice in the world—and that will allow far more stability in our world.

8.11 pm

David Morris (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Con): Like my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Dan Byles), I will vote very reluctantly. Every time a military conflict takes place, death is involved along with ramifications for future generations, and everything hinges on what we say in this Chamber. We all know that this Chamber is the nerve centre of the country.

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Although we are debating the motion, I really believe that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary were right to take the actions that they have taken. We cannot stand by and watch people who are not that far away from us, geographically—on the shores of Europe—suffer as they are suffering. We are dealing with a man who, time and again, has violated human rights. Time and again he has killed his own people. He has killed people on our soil. People have been killed through his orders, indirectly, and by his regime, certainly.

Members on both sides of the argument have said that we should have had more time in which to discuss the motion, but cries for help have no time. Those cries for help are coming from 2,000 miles away, which is not very far, and we have to help people. We have to be part of this.

Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman is listening to the cries for help from the people of Bahrain who have been murdered by Saudi Arabian troops, the people in the south of Syria who have been murdered by troops, or the people in Yemen who have been murdered by another dictator there. Why select these cries for help to listen to?

David Morris: Because it is the right thing to do; that is why.

Michael Connarty: Why select them?

David Morris: It is the right thing to do at this time and in this case.

Let me tell the House a story of which I have personal knowledge. A good friend of mine who was a radio officer on a ship jumped off it into the ocean when he saw a British destroyer come past. The military on the ship from which he jumped threw grenades at him, one of which hit him but bounced off and, thankfully, did not explode. He swam for his life, and our boys pulled him out of the sea. He came to this country, and was thankful for that. He has been here for nearly 30 years. Just think of that. Let me tell the House something else. When the students were bombing Manchester in the 1980s, that man lied to everyone that he was Italian, because he was in fear of his life. That is the kind of regime that we are discussing today, and the kind of regime that we want to sort out once and for all.

What else happened in the 1980s? Yvonne Fletcher was shot on our own soil in front of the television cameras. Some people have very short memories, but I do not have a short memory, and what worries me is that if we had not acted as we have so far, massacres would now be occurring in Libya.

This is not about the moral high ground. We pulled a mission yesterday—or over the weekend, or whenever it was—because civilians were involved. We do not attack human shields. We should think about what we are doing here. Yes, we are putting our troops into a theatre, but we are also saving people’s lives, and we are sorting out a dictator who should have been sorted out years ago. This man was responsible for Lockerbie. Do Members remember that? I do. He was never brought to book. Dare I say it, but some Members wanted to appease that regime—and here we are today, having to take up the mantle to sort it out again.

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I was outraged when Yvonne Fletcher was shot. What can we do about all this? We can do the right thing. When Members go through the Lobbies tonight, they should think about what has happened in the history of Libya and how it has affected this country and the middle east, and they should do the right thing.

8.16 pm

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this crucial debate. I also welcome the opportunity to pay tribute to the men and women in our armed forces, whose courage and commitment are beyond question. However, I think we owe it to them, and indeed to all in the middle east and north African region, to ensure that the role that Britain plays is beyond reproach or misunderstanding. That means that it must be consistent, that it must be principled, and that it must be likely to do good rather than harm. Measuring the military intervention that has taken place so far against those benchmarks, I am not sure that they are being met.

Let us take consistency. I have heard no serious answers to the charge that we are being enormously selective in the battles that we are choosing to fight. The Prime Minister has been asked whether military intervention in Libya signals a new direction for British foreign policy, and whether we might expect similar action to be taken against other oppressive regimes. Libya, we are told, is special. We are also told that the fact that we cannot do good everywhere should not be an argument against doing whatever we can. I consider it critical that if we choose to move in this direction, we should do so with clear principles that are as independent of self-interest as we can possibly make them. The fact that we are operating in the same week as invading Saudi forces are executing unarmed democracy protesters on the streets of Bahrain raises serious questions.

In considering whether our action is truly principled, we surely have to say why we think it appropriate to continue to sell arms to the region. I do not apologise for returning to that issue, because the Colonel Gaddafi who has been rightly described today as a murderous dictator has not suddenly become one. He was already a murderous dictator a few months, or weeks, ago, when we were happy to sell him tear gas, crowd control equipment, ammunition for wall and door-breaching projectile launchers, and plenty of other military equipment as well. In the nine months leading up to September last year, the United Kingdom issued millions of pounds’ worth of arms export licences for Libya, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

We cannot ignore our own complicity in arriving at this point. We cannot continue to arm regimes that abuse their own citizens, and try to claim the moral high ground when addressing the conflicts that those same arms have helped to perpetuate. As recently as last month, Ministers attended the IDEX—international defence exhibition—arms fairs in Abu Dhabi, and in less than six months the United Kingdom will host its own arms fair in London, where, no doubt, regimes that abuse their own people will once again seek to buy the tools of their repression. I hope very much that the commitment that we are hearing today—the commitment to upholding human rights in the middle east—will extend to our policies on arms exports, so that we can finally not just review but end the policy of selling arms to repressive regimes.

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We need to ensure that intervention has a better chance of doing good than of doing harm. The motion asks the House to support the Government

“in the taking of all necessary measures”.

Like United Nations Security Council resolution 1973, it commits us to a course of action that is dangerously open-ended. It does not define success, unless it is the over-simplistic success of removing Gaddafi, but if that is our measure we risk simply repeating the errors of our recent history. UN resolution 1973 does not appear to rule out the use of ground forces in support of the rebels or in helping to protect civilians. That is a fairly wide definition. Earlier in the debate, we heard an interpretation of the resolution that suggested it provided for the arming of rebels as well. It is extremely over-optimistic to expect an air campaign to be decisive; hence, presumably, the scope to escalate any campaign further. I believe that could be fatal to the chances of an early peace and I am deeply concerned about the falling away of support so early in this mission. I refer not only to the secretary-general of the Arab League, but to the fact that Egypt and Algeria do not want to be involved in this action, that the US does not want to lead on it and that France’s speed of action seems to suggest that President Sarkozy is motivated at least in part by his domestic concerns.

There is a real risk of our making matters worse. If there is a stalemate—if Gaddafi does not fall in the next few weeks—we could face a civil war, a partitioned Libya and even a potential breeding ground for al-Qaeda. Given the west’s colonial past, its history of adventurism and support for dictatorships in the region, its failure to enforce UN resolutions in Palestine and the legacy of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, I think its motives in Libya will always be in doubt. The Prime Minister himself said a few days ago that a no-fly zone was not a simple solution but one of a series of steps needed to make sure that we

“get rid of this regime.”—[Official Report, 16 March 2011; Vol. 525, c. 291.]

How can that be that be read as being anything other than, in effect, support for regime change, which falls well outside the terms of the UN resolution?

I hope that in the Government’s summing up there will be further clarification of the inconsistencies between what is in the UN resolution and what is in the Government’s motion. I hope that they will review their trade and foreign policy through the screen of a genuinely ethical foreign policy and I hope that we can support the urgent convening of a middle east peace conference.

8.21 pm

Paul Uppal (Wolverhampton South West) (Con): I thank all right hon. and hon. Members who have contributed to the debate this evening. It has been a substantial and broad debate and many issues have been thoughtfully covered. I congratulate the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, who is in his place, on the leadership they have demonstrated, especially in the embryonic formation and eventual birth of resolution 1973.

Just a few weeks ago, I was struck by the difficulty and pertinence of these issues when I examined a broadsheet newspaper. The front page showed a picture of an elderly Libyan gentleman with his arms outstretched,

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appealing to the west and asking why it would not help. In the middle was a cartoon picture of the Prime Minister—a rather pejorative one, I am afraid—with a little representation of Muammar Gaddafi sitting on his nose in the form of a fly. The Prime Minister was pointing a loaded revolver at the fly. That illustrated how difficult this issue has been. The hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) made a pertinent point when he said that much consensus has been built. I think that John Simpson has referred to the Arab League as a usually timid and, if truth be told, disparate body. It is not always easy to get resolve, but I am heartened by the fact that the Prime Minister and many other leaders have taken a lead on this.

Mr Robert Buckland (South Swindon) (Con): Is it not striking to note that the preamble to the lengthy and comprehensive resolution 1973 determines that the situation in Libya continues to constitute a threat to international peace and security? The notion that this is an intervention in a domestic war is therefore wholly wrong.

Paul Uppal: My hon. Friend makes the point very eloquently and I could not agree with him more wholeheartedly.

We all have a personal history and personal experiences that form our political opinions. Just last Wednesday, I came to the end of a very long political journey when I took a group of sixth formers from my constituency to Auschwitz-Birkenau. It was a cathartic day and a very personal experience, which I think will stay with me for the rest of my life. On reflection, there were many lessons to learn about that journey but one thing was more pertinent than anything else in my discussions with those sixth formers—they wondered how we had let that tyranny and oppression come to fruition.

The Leader of the Opposition referred to the holocaust in his speech, and I realise that some hon. Members might think it too much of a stretch to relate that situation to this one, so let me give another example. My maternal grandfather gave me many things, including a love of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, a mischievous sense of humour and a very personal story that strongly resonates with me to this day. At a time of partition in northern India, he stood against a mob who were determined to burn out their Muslim neighbours. They said, “We will go from house to house and there will be no mercy.” Those words have rung very loud in my ears over the past few days because they bring home what is right and what is wrong. To my pride, my maternal grandfather stood against the mob and said, “If anyone attacks this house, it will be an attack on my household,” and to this day that Muslim family is still in that village.

I have referred specifically to some personal issues and other right hon. and hon. Members have highlighted how difficult this issue is. I know that there might be charges of hypocrisy and that people are asking why we are choosing Libya and not Bahrain, why we are not addressing the situation in Yemen and why we are choosing to act in this specific situation, but we can only deal with the situation as it is presented to us. Colonel Gaddafi has shown that he is prepared to use his own people as human shields. He is prepared to go from door to door and show no mercy.

I appreciate that these are difficult issues, but it is absolutely necessary to do the right thing. The choice is simple and stark and has been laid out eloquently by

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both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. The choice, as in the terms of this motion, is to do something or to do nothing and I for one think that we do the right thing by acting.

8.26 pm

Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op): I support the UN no-fly zone and the early intervention to take out Gaddafi’s machinery for the mass slaughter of hundreds of thousands of near-defenceless civilians without apology. The world could not stand by as Gaddafi used air power, tanks and soldiers to inflict wholesale massacre on those fighting for a peaceful, democratic future for Libya. UN resolution 1973, which sanctions the use of “all necessary measures” to protect civilians, needs to destroy Gaddafi’s military assets. We need to take out the tiger’s teeth.

I appreciate that some members of the Arab League fear that this could turn into a western invasion—some sort of neo-colonial crusade—but they and we need to remember that the authorisation of this resolution is specific and does not include that sort of invasion. We should work hand in hand with the Arab League with sensitivity to recent history. I also appreciate that we need an endgame in mind and a means to deliver that end game, but it is necessary to disarm that despot, who is intent on mass murder, even if we simply withdraw after that. If we did not have an endgame, but stopped the mass murder and then withdrew—not something that I would advocate—that would be better than simply standing aside and doing nothing, saying, “We don’t have an endgame, so let them die.”

The ultimate endgame would, of course, lead to a Libya at peace with itself, with a new constitutional settlement involving and embracing all its communities. However, that settlement must emerge over time from within, informed by Libyans at home and abroad. I certainly take the view that we parliamentarians should consult our Libyan constituents and communities, the Arab nations and the Arab League about our actions and about the shape of a Libyan future that embraces different communities—different ethnically, racially, and by gender—now, rather than later. Let us remember, however, that a United Nations resolution does not sanction ground forces delivering regime change, and certainly western ground troops would play into Gaddafi’s hands; their use would be seen as a grab for oil and as neo-colonialism.

We have talked this evening about United Nations action leading to stalemate. What would happen then? I have consulted quite closely a large Libyan community in Swansea, and they—or some of them, at least—are calling for an Arab-led peacekeeping force, probably spearheaded by the Egyptian army and the Turkish under a United Nations flag, after the disarming process to maintain the peace and oversee a transition. Obviously, that would need a further United Nations resolution, but it is something that we need to bear in mind when looking to the future.

Members have asked how we can justify intervention in Libya but not Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and other places with repressive regimes. This is not a completely satisfactory answer, but the fact is that one has to do what one can. There are certain things beyond our

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limitations. As has been said many times already, if we cannot do everything, it does not mean that we should not do anything. I believe that the action reflects the United Nations at its best, working together, gradually stepping forward in history. It is a step towards building a unified world based on a fundamental respect for humanity, and a future that we all share. I simply say: let us step forward together, with care, to share that future.

8.30 pm

Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con): I begin by paying tribute to the air crews and other servicemen and women who, as we engage in jaw-jaw in the House, are engaged in war-war of a most dangerous kind. I also pay tribute to the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary for keeping up the pace and securing the United Nations Security Council resolution.

Just a week or so ago, no-fly zones were not particularly fashionable. They did not have many admirers in Washington, the capitals of Europe, or indeed some quarters of this House, but as Harold Wilson observed, a week is a long time in politics, and I suppose that means that in diplomacy a week is an eternity, because we have now secured this United Nations resolution, which can bring real, not abstract, hope to those thousands, possibly tens of thousands, of people in Libya who might otherwise have been killed by Gaddafi.

We have already heard some voices in this House say tonight that perhaps we are going beyond the United Nations resolution, as if somehow it is just the no-fly zone that matters. It would be naive to suppose that we could impose safely and quickly a no-fly zone without first destroying targets on the ground—air bases, surface-to-air missile sites, and command and control installations. That will at the very least ensure that our aircrews, who are trying to save the lives of others, are best protected. It is also naive to suppose that keeping the al-Quwwat al-Jawwiya—the Libyan air force—on the ground will do the job. In Benghazi, about 8,000 civilians alone have been killed by the heavy weaponry of Gaddafi’s ground troops. Unless we can take out those tanks and heavy weapons, we cannot defend lives.

We are now in a conflict situation, and it is right that the House should ask questions about the Government’s objectives. There are four key objectives. We should enforce the UN resolution—that may be obvious. We need to protect lives, and that is what we are doing, not simply through the actions that we have taken, but through the actions that we have not taken. As my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (David Morris) said, the fact that we did not go through with the Tornado strike earlier today demonstrates clearly that we are keen to ensure that civilian lives are protected. Gaddafi knows that, and that is why he is using human shields, willingly or unwillingly, to protect his installations. That is why we must make sure that his armed columns do not get into Benghazi or other built-up areas, where it is much more difficult for our precision weapons to protect civilians while taking out his soldiers.

It is also important that we internationalise this operation as far as we can. The other day, thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski), I had the pleasure of meeting members of the Shura Council of Saudi Arabia. They said that they

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could not enforce a no-fly zone or deal with Gaddafi alone, and that they needed our help. We told them that we understood that, but that we, too, could not act alone and that they needed to be involved. I am pleased that Qatar is now becoming involved in the operation, but I hope that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will use all his undoubted eloquence to prevail on the Saudis and the Egyptians to play their military part in the operation, so that we can send a message to the Arab world that this is not some sort of NATO-inspired adventure but a serious international effort to protect the people of Libya from butchery by their President.

We must also ensure that the public here understand that our objectives are limited and temporary. I spoke to some of my constituents over the weekend and, as my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) said, there is no appetite for a protracted ground war or even a protracted air operation over Libya. I was pleased, therefore, to hear the Prime Minister make it clear that we will stick to the terms of the UN resolution. We are now engaged in the conflict. We have made a decision. The price of action is condemnation by some, but the price of inaction is the inevitable deaths of many. I think that we have, with regret, made the right choice. I hope that the House will support the Government tonight, and say that a few condemnatory remarks are a price worth paying.

8.36 pm

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): I hope that, in a few weeks, the House will be able to rejoice that Gaddafi has gone. Few dictators have committed so many acts of psychopathic wickedness over such a long period of time. Many hon. Members will know of his atrocity at Abu Salim prison in Tripoli, where he marched 1,270 prisoners into a compound, locked the gate and instructed his soldiers to open fire from the courtyard rooftops. The gunfire and grenades rained down for more than two hours until all 1,270 people were dead. But that was in the dying days of John Major’s Government in June 1996, and Britain took no action.

I welcome resolution 1973. To take action now is right, but it would be disingenuous to claim that action was not possible without Britain’s military participation, involving just three planes. The question is not whether action against Gaddafi is right but whether it is we who have the primary duty and responsibility to take it. It is the families of many of those slain 15 years ago at Abu Salim who began this revolution in Libya, inspired by others across the region who had dared to rise up and demand justice and dignity from their leaders. I praise their courage, but I recognise that this is a civil war in Libya. In that respect, it is categorically different from other conflicts involving ethnic cleansing and religious domination by one faith over another. This is neither Bosnia nor Rwanda. UN resolution 1973 has authorised international interference in a civil war in which there has been no genocide and no ethnic cleansing: no Halabja there.

The resolution purports to allow no more than the humanitarian protection of civilians, but all acknowledge that the Libyan population will not be secure from harm until the country is rid of Gaddafi. Coalition leaders, when asked whether Gaddafi was a legitimate target, have been equivocal in their response. In such circumstances, the rose of humanitarian protection begins

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to smell of regime change, and by that name it is not so sweet. This became apparent to Amr Moussa over the weekend when he said:

“What is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone, and what we want is the protection of civilians and not the bombardment of more civilians”.

Perhaps the Arab League was too optimistic, because that is precisely what is likely to happen, if not by British and coalition missiles then by the rebels. It is naive to think that we can stop one side fighting in a civil war and not expect the other to take advantage. In a civil war, the tragedy is precisely that civilians are killed, if not by one side, then by the other. I do not believe that the international coalition will be even-handed in stopping rebel forces advancing in the same way.

The Prime Minister said in his statement on Friday that if we will the ends, we must also will the means. To will the means, however, does not entail the proposition that we must be the means. Many people in the UK are asking, “Why does Britain always have to get involved?” In two days, we will hear the Budget and the Chancellor will explain to the country why it is necessary to cut thousands of jobs to tackle the deficit. Those men and women who have been made redundant will no doubt sympathise with the Libyan people, but they will ask, “What has this got to do with Britain?” North Africa is not on our borders. It is not in our direct sphere of influence. Libya poses no direct threat to the UK, and we have no historical responsibility as the former colonial power, so why are we spending millions of pounds on cruise missiles, and endangering the lives of British soldiers to implement the resolution? It is ironic that many people asking these questions will be among the 17,000 military personnel who were judged to be surplus to requirements in last October’s defence review, when the Government cut £4 billion from the defence budget.

There is no contradiction in welcoming the enabling authority given by UN resolution 1973, which allows those who have a direct interest or who have historical responsibilities as the former colonial power to act in Libya and, at the same time, to insist that we have no such direct interest or responsibility. Today, we are debating this after the event—we have taken that responsibility before a vote in the House, yet no one in government has sought to explain the policy of the rebels, on whose side we now find ourselves. We know that they are against Gaddafi, and that is a good start, but we certainly have no knowledge that they intend to replace him with an open, tolerant, liberal democracy. The whole of north Africa and the middle east are changing more rapidly than at any time since Suez. Shi’a minorities in Yemen and Bahrain have been shot or silenced by an invasion from Saudi Arabia. Iran is known to be eager to get involved. Egypt and Tunisia have effected home-grown revolutions and even Syria is experiencing serious internal tension.

In that extraordinary context, the Government have judged it right and in Britain’s interest to involve our forces in military action. I pray that in a week’s time Gaddafi is gone, and I pay tribute to the valour of our armed forces, but I believe that the Government were wrong to ask this—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. I call James Morris.

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8.42 pm

James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis) (Con): I congratulate the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, and everyone who, with patience and painstaking fortitude, has brought the UN resolution to fruition. I pay tribute, as other hon. Members have, to our armed forces who are implementing that resolution. That type of work is what protecting British national interests is all about. As other hon. Members have said, every generation needs to define what is in Britain’s national interest. In the modern world, our national interest encompasses security, humanitarian issues and commercial interests. It demands that, as a nation, we are prepared to build alliances, to contemplate military co-operation with other nations, and to deploy our unique soft and hard power assets. We are doing so in relation to Libya. We were right to act, but we were right not to act alone.

It was right to agree a resolution with clear parameters for engagement and with broad-based support, which means that, in this context, the international community can act without the United States necessarily taking the lead. It is an example, too, of Anglo-French co-operation, with Britain and France being seen to be in the lead. It confirms that we do not live in a unipolar world. Britain, in the modern world, with a new definition of our national interests, must be as flexible and co-operative as possible to protect its national interest.

As other hon. Members have pointed out, recent experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan have given the British people good grounds for caution about our country taking military action and being involved in foreign intervention. When I speak to my constituents in Halesowen and Rowley Regis, they are concerned about our commitments in the world. They have become weary in relation to Iraq and Afghanistan because they saw no clarity about the missions or their end point. We must not make the same mistake again with Libya.

It is vital that we avoid the tendency that has characterised some of our military interventions in the recent past to use over-optimistic language and to engender inflated expectations about what we can achieve and, in some contexts, a downright delusion about the lengthy effort required to achieve a successful outcome when we make the grave decision to intervene in the affairs of other countries. That mindset and language characterised our initial involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Our new modern national interest demands that we are pragmatic, realistic and straight with the British people about what we are trying to achieve through the resolution. We must see the debate tonight, and the United Nations resolution, in the context of Britain adopting a broader strategy towards the middle east, a region which in recent times has been subject to turbulence and unpredictability, forcing on Britain a posture of ambiguity in foreign affairs, and obliging us to live with that ambiguity and make decisions within that context.

Although we are taking military action under the UN resolution, we must also be determined to use our influence through alliances and through our soft power assets to help build functioning civil societies and democracy in the countries of the middle east. It is in our national interest to utilise those soft power assets simultaneously with making a focused decision to take the action that we are taking in Libya.

The resolution that we are debating tonight is clear and pragmatic. It has broad-based support and I believe

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it is in Britain’s national interest to take action against Gaddafi now, but at the same time to be mindful that in doing so, we are making a grave decision that must be combined with Britain using its soft power assets throughout the middle east to promote democracy and build civic society.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. Before I call the next speaker, I inform the House that I will take one more six-minute speech, then I will drop the time limit to four minutes to try and get in as many speakers as possible.

8.48 pm

Mr David Lammy (Tottenham) (Lab): Clearly, all war is evil, and we should remember that when we talk about the business of war. But some evil is necessary. In reflecting on the vote tonight, we should bear that in mind. Some of the language in our media over the past few days has left me cold. It is indicative of a country that has not experienced bombing for well over 60 years, but for those who are poor and who see bombs raining on their country from up above, with necessary supplies disrupted and real fear in their hearts, the urgency and seriousness of what we are talking about is very great indeed.

In reflecting on how to vote, I think of how this all began on 17 December 2010 with one man, Mohammed Bouazizi, who burned himself to death because of the oppression he saw and experienced in Tunisia. That set off a wave of activity across the middle east. In supporting this, we line up with him and with the young people of the region––the 29% of the population aged between 15 and 29 who have had enough. They are educated, too often unemployed, and concerned about an ossifying political system that does not seem to relate to their experience. They want to do something about the dictators and the lack of democracy across the region. That is the test. Those are the people we support, despite the UN resolution that is the subject of today’s motion. In doing so, we should recognise the changed circumstances in which we have such a debate and the kind of scrutiny that is expected of us.

Any action taken must clearly be proportionate. We must be mindful of the fact that the British public at large do not expect there to be large-scale civilian death as a result of our action. Any action must be proportionate and multilateral. This generation is mindful of the imperial past of our country and those countries that are part of the allied effort. That is important. That is why the multilateral approach is the right one. Against that backdrop, it is concerning that the Arab League, although it is prayed in aid, seems neither present, nor wholly behind what is happening. It is concerning that the African Union, too, clearly wants to disassociate itself from the bombing of Libya. How are we to present a multilateral force if those two major players are not part of it?

The generation of young people on the streets in the middle east, who are in communication with their generation in this country, ask two other major questions. First, what are the criteria by which we intervene? Why not Darfur or Zimbabwe? What is our position on Yemen and Bahrain? Is there consistency when we intervene? They are entitled to some answers on the new and changed circumstances, particularly in the context in

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which we are talking not about being invaded ourselves, but about intervention that is perhaps necessary in this new age. Secondly, that generation also asks for some consistency, integrity and principles in the UK’s position on arms. Just as we have taken noble positions on nuclear proliferation, the time has come not just for another review, but for statutory implementation on arms. We must ask ourselves why in the last year for which figures are available Europe spent €343 million arming Libya, involving companies from the UK, Italy, Germany and France. It was unacceptable when my party was in government, and it is unacceptable now.

8.54 pm

Richard Drax (South Dorset) (Con): It is a privilege to follow the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy).

First and foremost, my thoughts extend to our armed forces policing this no-fly zone and to their families. Our stated purpose is to save lives, and I am delighted that we have taken such a high moral and legal stand. I, like many here today, hope that we succeed in that worthy aim, and I commend the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary on their courage. All too often, leaders get it in the neck for failing to take the lead, but in this case they have, and I commend their courage, as other Members have.

I am, however, instinctively cautious, not least because there are so many deserving cases out there. We must remember that the resolution would not exist at all without the backing of the Arab League, therefore planes from those nations should be in action and soon. I welcome the news that Qatar is sending four warplanes, and I hope that Egypt and Saudi Arabia will follow suit. Should we lose the support of the Arab League for the resolution, it will put our Prime Minister and this country in a horrible predicament.

One of the burdens of the freedom we cherish is that we cannot idly stand by and watch while evil rides out, unleashing its vile intent. For that reason, I support any humanitarian relief that we can give to those fleeing Gaddafi’s brutality, but I do wonder where we will be operating next. Hon. Members have mentioned Zimbabwe, Liberia, Rwanda, Bahrain and Yemen. What if Saudi Arabia goes? I will leave the House with that thought.

The duty of any Government is to protect the nation, her people and her interests. Libya is of strategic significance, I believe, but I am concerned that we are walking on a knife-edge. Yes, we should be concerned about a pariah state festering on Europe’s southern boundary; wounded, Gaddafi’s regime would be even more dangerous. We must not forget his recent statement about uniting with al-Qaeda in a holy war against us. Let us not forget his support for the IRA and, of course, the murder of Police Constable Yvonne Fletcher and Lockerbie. The list goes on. But what if Gaddafi holds out in his western stronghold while menacing Benghazi? What happens then? Will that test the west’s resolve? I suspect it will.

In those circumstances and out of frustration, could an unintended consequence mean boots on the ground? Lessons from the recent past cannot be ignored. This is potentially much more than a no-fly zone, and that is where many of us have concerns. Currently, we know

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almost nothing about the insurgents or who, if Gaddafi were to fall, would take his place, but we have all learned to fear a vacuum in the Arab world. There is not going to be a brave new world in Libya where western democracy rules, and we would fool ourselves if we thought that.

I have such a short amount of time to speak, and I want other Members to come in, so I will put the spotlight back on defence. Our Secretary of State for Defence is not in his place, but the Foreign Secretary and a Defence Minister are. Owing to what is going on around the world, I call on our Front Benchers to reconsider the defence review. We have a duty to look after our armed personnel, and if we send them into harm’s way we have to make sure they have the arms and equipment to do the job on our behalf. Defending freedom has never ever come cheap.

As a soldier, I did not see active service. Although I was in Northern Ireland three times, I did not have a bullet fired at me personally, but speaking to friends who have, and given that many Members have asked about clarity, I can assure the House that the first thing that disappears when one makes contact with the enemy, is clarity.

8.58 pm

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): It is sobering to think that, as we debate this motion tonight and allied aircraft are yet again deployed in action, there are inevitably men and women, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, who will not be going home tonight. They may, unfortunately, be allied air personnel; they will almost certainly be Libyan military personnel; and tragically they may very well be Libyan civilians who left home this morning to go to work but, for whatever reason, will not be returning.

I know that the Treasury Benchers and the Opposition Front Benchers take their responsibilities incredibly seriously: I know that the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and his colleagues do not relish, or seek jingoism in, their actions and the operations on which they must decide; and I know that the House recognises that my right hon. Friends the Members for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) and for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mr Alexander) seek to carry out the duty of an Opposition, which is to cast a critical eye over the actions of the Government, and will not pursue political opportunism, because that is not in order in this debate.

Much has been said about why we are doing this, and Members on both sides of the House have questioned the wisdom of it. I came into politics because 20 years ago this summer the west stood by and took no action when Yugoslavia tore itself apart. We saw footage from Srebrenica, Sarajevo and other places of the massacre of men and boys, women and children, and the west did nothing to stop that. I cannot possibly imagine what it must have been like to live in that country during those times. I therefore very much welcome the fact that the Government have stepped up and provided some leadership in this action. The Secretary of State will know that Opposition Members stand willing to provide support to the Government in pursuing that course.

I was very lucky to make my maiden speech on the same day as the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), whom I have found inspiring over the past 10

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months, both as a colleague on the Defence Committee and as a speaker in the House. I hope, if he will pardon my saying so, that in 10, 15 or 20 years’ time we do not have a situation where there are more Members like him who will have had to go in after the west did not take action to pick up the pieces of its indecisiveness. I will support the motion, with some reservations about casualties, but pleased that the west is taking action.

I will not speak about the defence review, which has already been covered, beyond saying that we will return to it in a future debate. However, I urge the Secretary of State to keep under review the issue of the warships and aircraft that we have. I pose two questions. First, will he give an absolute guarantee that the operational costs will be met from the Treasury reserve, not from departmental budgets? Secondly, will he give a guarantee that work is now under way between the Department for International Development, the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence on the reconstruction of Libya once the action has ceased?

9.2 pm

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): Colonel Gaddafi does not do peaceful. Benghazi may be relatively safe for the moment, but what about elsewhere in Libya? That really worries me.

As my—dare I say, with some trepidation?—hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty) suggests, I have had experience in this respect. I remember very well that when I was the military commander in Bosnia in 1993, a little girl of six was brought to my house by a delegate from the International Committee of the Red Cross. She had been in a prison camp for 10 days. The Red Cross delegate said to me, “This girl needs shelter.” I said, “I’m the military commander.” She said, “You’ve got plenty of room in your house, and you’ve got two soldiers who look after you.” The soldiers turned to me and said, “We’ll look after her, sir.” They took her away, put her in a bath and washed her, and cared for her. They put a bed for her between their two cots. Three days later, that girl did not want to leave. I am worried that what had happened to her might be happening to people in Tripoli tonight. She was dragged out of her bed at 5 o’clock in the morning, with her mother, father and brother, told to get downstairs and made to lie on the grass by brutes with rifles. As she told it, her mother, father and brother lay down and did not get up again. This weekend, I spoke to members of the opposition in Tripoli, and you can bet your bottom dollar that Mr Gaddafi will be sending his thugs searching around there tonight.

What can we do to help? We cannot invade, we cannot assassinate—it is up to the Libyans to decide what we do. I have seen people with pitchforks try to take out tanks. How are those people going to be protected? They need help. Perhaps the Arab League could help a little more in that respect. Perhaps it could go forward. We cannot do it.

Nobody knows the endgame—we all realise that. If we were God, perhaps we would, but we do not. We live in hope. We do not have the endgame plotted out carefully.

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We acted morally on the highest authority in the world—the Security Council of the United Nations. Thank goodness we did, because last Friday Colonel Gaddafi suggested he was going to go through houses in Benghazi and butcher everyone who opposed him. That did not happen. We have, by our actions, saved life. Politics can sort things out hereafter, but one thing is quite clear: there will be a lot more people around to watch what happens from now on than there would have been if we had done nothing last Friday. Thank you very much, Prime Minister. Thank you very much, Foreign Secretary. Thank you very much, the Opposition, for your full support. It is deeply appreciated by all of us.

Let us hope that someone has the brains of Methuselah and that we find out what the endgame is in due course. Perhaps the Foreign Secretary has the brains of Methuselah.

9.6 pm

Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) (Lab): I have listened to all the Members who have spoken in this debate since 3.30 this afternoon. I rise to my feet with trepidation because I am in the minority of the few Members who do not think that this action is wise. I will explain why.

I believe that although the Prime Minister and the leader of my party are genuine and sincere in their desire for humanitarian intervention in Libya, many in this House and outside are not genuine in that desire but are itching to have a go at Colonel Gaddafi and Libya because of their support in the distant past for the IRA, the Lockerbie bombing, al-Megrahi and other reasons. I am afraid that many of those people are using this situation as a fig leaf for intervention.

Another reason, and I know that people do not like hearing this, is oil. Oil plays a massive role in this matter and in our economic and strategic interests in Libya. There are, of course, Members in this House who hold views like those of the hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), whom I heard last week say that he is proud to intervene in as many Muslim countries as we want to.

I urge caution because there is too little information about the real situation in Libya. Comparisons have been made with Iraq. Many people said that we did not know what the real situation was in Iraq; that the war would not be easy or straightforward; that we could not just go in, blast them and take over—end of story; and that everybody would run into the streets to welcome us. That is what we were told then, and we were told that we needed to do that war. The same drums are beating now for Libya.

There is the suggestion that the whole of the Arab League and everyone in Libya is saying, “Come and help us.” They are not. The states of the Arab League have their own vested interests. They are not that concerned about humanitarian issues. We talk about the rebels in Libya. Who are these rebels, when did they come about and how many are there? How deep is the resistance and the rebellion? Why is this not just seen as a civil insurrection that is going on in a country? Do we know what we will get in place of the regime?

I know that everybody is saying that we cannot tell what will happen at the end of the war, because when one starts a military intervention one does not know what will be the end. However, we should know exactly

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what we are going in for and exactly what we are trying to achieve. Everybody has a romantic notion of a no-fly zone, but, as Robert Gates said, it is a euphemism for war. If we want to maintain no-fly zones we have to send in many Scud missiles and bombs, and nobody can say that there will not be any civilian destruction as a result of all the bombing. It is wrong for everyone to pretend that the no-fly zone and strategic air drops will prevent civilian casualties. There will be massive civilian casualties, and we will have exactly the situation that we had in Iraq.

I always urge people to understand—even in the case of Iraq, although I was not in the House at the time—that we in this country and this House do not really understand the middle east and north Africa. We are meddling in things that we should not meddle in, because there are so many uncertainties. In the past 10 or 12 years, America, ourselves and others have spent trillions of dollars on being involved in conflicts in the middle east, and what have we left? We have not resolved any of the situations involved or made countries any better than when we went into them.

9.10 pm

Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): Gaddafi will not lose any sleep over anything that is said in the House, but I hope that those around him, whether they be civilian or military leaders, will take note. I was grateful to the Prime Minister, when I intervened on him about five and a half hours ago, for agreeing that those who continue to stand by Gaddafi could face their day before the war crimes tribunal. They will be hunted down and found, and they will have to answer for their actions.

Last week, I was in Afghanistan visiting our brave members of the armed forces in Helmand province. I am concerned that, as with Iraq, we will take our eye off the ball in Afghanistan. The Foreign Secretary will recall that in opposition we constantly raised concerns about the fact that our armed forces were under strength and overstretched, and we are now having cuts in the defence budget. I say to our Government that if we are to have a major role on the world stage, we must ensure that we have the forces and resources to deliver. I repeat that we must be careful about what happens in Afghanistan if we get too heavily involved in Libya. However, I back the motion and will support it.

The armed forces covenant forms part of the Armed Forces Bill, which is still proceeding through the parliamentary process. The feedback that I bring from the front line, from Camp Bastion and Lashkar Gah, is grave concern not just about the freezing of armed forces pay, which was the subject of a written statement today, but about the cuts to allowances. If we wish morale to be maintained, the Government need to look again at that.

I shall read a brief excerpt from a letter handed to me in Camp Bastion. It states:

“I joined the Armed Forces in 1982 and have progressed through the ranks from a Private soldier to a present day Major…I have never in 28 years service, complained in private or public…I am one of the very large silent majority of Armed Forces personnel that choose to serve Queen and Country. We love every day at work and truly believed that those who employ us, deploy us, or represent us, would always do their very best to look after both mine, my colleagues’, and where possible my family’s short and

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long-term interests…all my future financial plans that have been based on leaving the Army, with an immediate pension aged 55, are under attack.”

The letter goes on to spell out how that long-serving Army major, formerly a private, is now seeing his financial prospects under threat.

Time prevents me, unfortunately, from reading an excellent article by Lord Gnome in the wonderful organ Private Eye, but suffice it to say that it refers to the many occasions on which the Labour Government sold arms to Libya and Colonel Gaddafi.

9.14 pm

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): I am glad to have the opportunity to speak in this important debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) on her brave speech.

I will support the Government in the Lobby tonight, partly because I genuinely believe that only swift action at the weekend avoided a bloodbath in Benghazi, and partly because I am convinced that we have a solid legal basis for the military action. That has not always been the case.

However, the Government would be wrong to take this evening’s vote as some sort of blank cheque. I point to the unsettling lack of real Arab involvement in the deployment so far. We know that the Arab League countries have plenty of military kit because we sold them most of it. Why is it not being deployed? Why are not senior Arab military people involved in the deployment?

Western-led bombardment of a Muslim country plays to the Gaddafi narrative of crusader invasion. We can knock Gaddafi, but that has a genuine visceral impact on the countries involved. There will be civilian casualties—there always are in such deployments—and it will not take many for public opinion in Arab countries to turn against the deployment. We should bear that in mind.

Let me remind the House of Colin Powell, the American Secretary of State who tried to argue against Iraq with his colleagues Bush and Cheney. He reminded them of the Pottery Barn rule. Pottery Barn is a chain in America that sells china. The rule is “You break it, you own it”. If we intervene with a massive military deployment in north Africa, we will inevitably own the development of the story from here.

I am not at all sure that civilians can be protected with Gaddafi in power. I do not know how Gaddafi can be removed through air bombardment alone. The British people are very humane and I think that they understand that we intervened swiftly to save lives in Benghazi. However, I do not believe that there is a will or a willingness among them for us to get dragged into a long-running civil war in north Africa because we follow the logic of our rhetoric.

I will vote for the letter of the resolution. It is not a blank cheque. It is not the will of my constituents or British people generally to give the Government a blank cheque. We have done the right thing so far, but, as other hon. Members have said, we want Front Benchers to return to the House for a full debate before we take any further steps, which could get us involved in a third war in a Muslim country in a decade.

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9.17 pm

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): I welcome the debate and want to make three points, given the time available. I want to consider why we got here today, the resolution, and the role of the United Nations.

I accept that it is not only the past 10 years of policy on Libya that has caused the current problems. Indeed, we can go back to the 1950s, when the British first installed King Idris on the throne. Although he was liked and popular, he was weak. Gaddafi emerged on the scene in the late 1950s. I mentioned last week in the middle east debate that my father shook Gaddafi’s hand as he walked down the streets of Tripoli as a popular colonel. The coup against King Idris was bloodless; he was in Turkey at the time. Astonishingly, there was an American air base near Tripoli, but the Americans did nothing to stop the coup. The west has therefore been getting it wrong about Colonel Gaddafi for many years, and in the past few years, it got it even more wrong.

I welcome the United Nations resolution and the Prime Minister’s leadership. The no-fly zone was essential to stop a massacre of the citizens of Benghazi in particular. However, we need to go further because there is a strong likelihood, which I mentioned earlier, that Gaddafi may use mustard gas. The policy to try to contain his weapons of mass destruction went wrong. If it happens, we do not want another Halabja, which I visited not long ago, on our hands.

I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) that we must supply weapons to the resistance fighters. We cannot just leave them to Gaddafi’s troops, albeit under a no-fly zone. We must also ensure that all kinds of humanitarian aid reaches the citizens of Tripoli and Benghazi and the surrounding areas.

The Leader of the Opposition said earlier that he was unsure whether this is a watershed moment in our international affairs, but I think it is. The UN has so often failed us and not intervened when it should have done, but the Libyan situation is an example of the UN behaving differently and acting in an almost united way. That is why it is a watershed moment—it marks an important moment in our international affairs.

The hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) said that I believe in intervention everywhere, and she is not wrong. I believe in muscular enlightenment, and that it is our duty to promote freedom around the world. That need not always happen militarily; we can also use soft power—hearts and minds. However, it must be our role in the world to promote freedom, human rights, the rule of law, tolerance and women’s equality wherever we can.

9.21 pm

Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): I returned last night from a visit to Egypt, where I had the privilege of seeing Egyptian democracy in action. On Saturday, that country voted in a referendum on the amendment to its constitution. From visiting polling stations, I can say that what the Prime Minister said in his opening speech is quite correct. It is a fine example of a new democracy, from the enthusiastic queues to the independent scrutiny by the judiciary of the polling process.

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I also had the opportunity to talk to people at all levels about the wider implications of the Egyptian revolution for the middle east, including Palestine, Bahrain, Yemen and Libya. I talked not only to the interim Government and to Amr Moussa, but to the opposition forces, from the youth coalition to the Muslim Brotherhood. Not one person or group to whom I spoke was opposed to the letter of the UN resolution, which is perhaps unsurprising given the empathy of the people in Tahrir square for the people of Benghazi.

Before coming to the House today, I met Arab Muslim community leaders to take their views. They, too, were broadly in favour, but they expressed views that ranged from, “We should do anything necessary to get rid of Gaddafi”—one can understand why Libyans living in Britain take that view—to, “We are already exceeding the limits of the resolution,” in the sentiments that Amr Moussa has expressed.

In the brief time available, I should like to develop those caveats. First, the basic picture shows western planes bombing a Muslim Arab country and killing people, including civilians. That is why it is so important to get the support of the wider Muslim and Arab community. I hope we have done that through the Arab League resolutions.

Secondly, the problem of double standards will not go away, whether in respect of Yemen or the atrocities that have been committed over the years in the middle east, including the massacre in Syria in 1982 by the late President Assad; the massacre at Sabra Shatila by the Maronite Christians with the support of the Israeli Government; or the massacres in Gaza two years ago or in Lebanon in 2006, when, to my Government’s shame, we did not even call for a ceasefire. Those double standards need to be addressed if we are to have the confidence and support of the Arab people of the middle east.

Thirdly and finally, on the limits of our aims and actions, it is not good enough for the Government to say that they are not prepared to talk about targeting. I understand why they would not want to do it. However, on the same day the Defence Secretary said that assassinating Gaddafi might be a possibility, General Sir David Richards said, “Absolutely not!” They have to address this issue.

Amr Moussa made a perfectly reasonable point. We are there to protect the lives of civilians, so we must take every possible step to ensure that our military action does not kill civilians. That is not inconsistent with the resolution. I agree with the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) that we cannot know what the outcome will be. Nevertheless, we have to take this action. However, we have to be aware that it will be a very long haul, and we have to be there not just in the days ahead, but in the months ahead. That is what the people of Libya will expect from this country.

9.25 pm

Mr Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con): Brevity demands bluntness, for which I hope the Government will forgive me. I support the motion, but I think that we need to be honest about the consequences of what we are taking on. First, we have crossed a threshold, and by approving this motion, the House is crossing it with our political leaders. Hon. Members

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should have no illusions: there is no such thing as limited war, in all its bloody terror and dirt. Secondly, I remind the House that

“no one starts a war—or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so—without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it.”

So wrote Karl von Clausewitz.

The Government must admit that on that there is some doubt and the potential for confusion and indecision. The Prime Minister set that out again today when he outlined the limited aims of the UN Security Council resolution alongside our aspiration to remove Gaddafi. The former Chief of the General Staff, General Lord Dannatt, wrote at the weekend:

“Unless the military planners are crystal clear about the strategic objective to be achieved then the focusing of effort is going to be misaligned from the outset.”

That is a danger we face today. He talked of how military planners are

“trained to work out the implied tasks as well, to ensure that the campaign plan fulfils entirely what the higher authority's intentions are. In this case, the specified task is the protection of civilians, but the implied task—and the end-state to be achieved—must be the removal of Colonel Gaddafi and his regime”.

At times, the Prime Minister seemed to be talking as though we could just implement a no-fly zone and go home. Of course, we will have to maintain a no-fly zone until the political situation is resolved. How else is the stalemate to be resolved?

We have a duty to be clear. Either the removal of Gaddafi is the legitimate military aim, or I put it to the Foreign Secretary that we must drop it from our public statements and focus our words on the more limited task we are setting our military. We cannot do both. Clausewitz again:

“The political object is the goal, war is the means of reaching it, and the means can never be considered in isolation from their purposes.”

The UK has to balance the will to obtain a preferred outcome—Gaddafi’s removal—with the wider issue of security and stability.

This action derives its political credibility because of support from Libya’s fellow Arab nations. Can we afford to risk losing their support or that of the United States, which acts as underwriter for the military effort? I submit not. We can succeed in preventing the atrocity in Benghazi, but should the Arab League walk away from the confrontation with Gaddafi, why should it be our fight? We had better fix our goal and military strategy accordingly rather than invite mission creep by over-extending that rhetoric.

In the meantime we must settle the other vital questions that the Prime Minister started to address. Who is in command of this operation? I would like NATO to be in charge. Who is in command of the communications strategy? Where is the Jamie Shea—he was so effective in the Balkans—of this operation? Finally, how are these matters being considered by the Government? The Public Administration Committee, which I chair, conducted an inquiry into how Government strategy is decided. Strategy is not about setting certain policies in stone; it is about the ability to adapt plans to changing circumstances. To that extent, it is not about whether we reopen the strategic defence and security review; it is about how the SDSR should be adapted to changing circumstances. We have already had six strategic shocks since the SDSR.

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9.29 pm

Mr Douglas Alexander (Paisley and Renfrewshire South) (Lab): I believe that this debate has done justice to the seriousness of the motion before the House this evening. The House has benefited from speeches reflecting the huge experience, knowledge and concern that hon. Members bring to this debate and this decision. We heard cogent cases made by former Defence Secretaries on both sides of the House. My right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North East (Mr Ainsworth) spoke with wisdom and authority in expressing his reluctance to put British forces in harm’s way once again. The right hon. and learned Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) spoke with his characteristic clarity and insight on the importance of the United Nations. His insight was matched by one of his old sparring partners, the former Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw), who rightly urged that consideration be given now to issues of reconstruction.

Given the time available, I hope that the House will forgive me if I do not acknowledge all the contributions that we have heard in this debate. As the Leader of the Opposition made clear, we will support the Government in the Lobby this evening. We do that not because we are eager for conflict or simply because we wish to show support for our forces; we do so because we believe that this action meets three criteria: it is a just cause, with a feasible mission and with international consent. We support United Nations Security Council resolution 1973, and we are determined to see it enforced.

That determination to offer our support is matched by our determination to scrutinise this Government and ask the questions that the public deserve to have answered. Support for the enforcement of the United Nations mandate; scrutiny of the Government’s conduct in its implementation—this is, and will remain, the approach of the Opposition. When military force is contemplated, Governments cannot expect—nor are they entitled to expect—unquestioning support. It is through serious and sustained scrutiny that, as the Opposition, we best serve the men and women of our armed forces. That is why, in the time ahead, the Government must ensure that this House is regularly updated. Voting for the deployment of our servicemen and women is and always should be a last resort. The personnel of our armed forces in action in Libya now and in the days ahead will be in our thoughts and prayers.

Robert Halfon: Would the right hon. Gentleman support at some stage giving arms to the opposition to Gaddafi?

Mr Alexander: That issue has already been the subject of some debate in the House today. The terms of the Security Council resolution are clear, and as I will seek to emphasise in my winding-up speech, we are under an obligation to adhere to the terms of that resolution.

I believe that it is the duty of the Government to act in what they judge to be the national interest, and that it is the duty of the Opposition to support them when they agree in that judgment. Concerned voices in this House—such as those of my hon. Friends the Members for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) and for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi), and the hon. Members for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) and for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas)—are not only appropriate to this place;

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they are appropriate to this debate. Let me therefore acknowledge from this Dispatch Box that the Opposition recognise the heavy responsibility that the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Government have to bear in these difficult days.

The terms of the motion before the House make it clear that the Government seek explicit approval for an explicit objective. That objective is to implement UN Security Council resolution 1973, through “all necessary measures” to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under threat of attack in Libya, and to enforce the no-fly zone. The background to the approval of the resolution has been well documented and well rehearsed today. In the context of the broader Arab spring, and in the wake of popular protests in Tunisia and Egypt, people in both eastern and western Libya took to the streets to demand a better future. In response, popular protests were repressed and the protesters beaten, imprisoned or killed. Hospitals were attacked and patients disappeared.

On Thursday, Gaddafi’s troops arrived outside Benghazi, a city of roughly 700,000 people. Gaddafi promised to

“cleanse the city of Benghazi”.

He told the people there:

“We will have no mercy and no pity.”

Leaders of the transitional national council in the city said there would be a “massacre” that would

“be on the international community’s conscience”.

Although Members will have real and legitimate questions about what happens next, let us be in no doubt what would have happened last weekend if there had been no action from the international community. Not to have acted would itself have been a choice and would have led to terrible consequences. That is why, even at such a late hour, it was vital that the international community came together to act and I pay generous tribute to the work of the Government in achieving the adoption of Security Council resolution 1973.

Let me turn next to the mission and its limits. The authorisation given in that resolution was for measures to implement a no-fly zone and to protect the civilian population. Following the passage of the resolution, the US President made very clear what was expected: a ceasefire must be implemented immediately; all attacks against civilians must stop; Gaddafi’s troops must be pulled back from Benghazi, Ajdabiya, Misrata and Zawiyah; and humanitarian assistance, electricity and water must be allowed through. Gaddafi has ignored that expectation and so the Government are asking today for the endorsement of a mission subject to very specific limits, which are laid down in resolution 1973. They do not ask for—and would not be entitled to—a mandate to pursue armed regime change.

Everyone in this House, including senior Ministers, must recognise the importance of the words they choose and speak with care and clarity. So given the earlier remarks of the Defence Secretary about the possible targeting of Gaddafi and the categorical rejection of this position by the Chief of the Defence Staff, I hope that the Foreign Secretary, when he winds up, will bring both clarity and coherence to the Government’s position. The House deserves it and our armed forces need it.

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We should all be mindful that this conflict will be fought on the airwaves as well as in the air. To maintain pressure on Gaddafi and sustain international support, the House should be crystal clear that the mission is to protect Libya’s population, not to choose Libya’s leadership. That decision should rest only with Libya’s people.

Let me also raise the issue of ground forces. Security Council resolution 1973 is clear that although it authorises the protection of civilians, that authorisation excludes

“a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory”.

The communiqué from the Paris summit concludes that

“we recall that UN Security Council resolution 1973 does not allow for any occupation of, or attempt to occupy the Libyan territory”.

The US President went further in saying

“we will not—I repeat—we will not deploy any U.S. troops on the ground.”

Last week, the Prime Minister said

“no ground troops and no occupying force”.—[Official Report, 18 March 2011; Vol. 525, c. 621.]

No one asks for—and no one would be entitled to—a mandate for an occupation of Libya, but Members deserve clarity, which I hope the Foreign Secretary can provide, about in which circumstances, if any, UK personnel would be authorised to enter Libyan territory.

We will support the Government tonight not simply because it was vital to avoid what the right hon. and learned Member for North East Fife warned would be the “slaughterhouse of Benghazi”. The impact of that decision—the decision we take tonight—will be felt not only in Tripoli but in other capitals across the region and across the world. I believe that for the United Nations, this now represents a test of faith as well as of strength. In the face of the global challenges we face, we need strong and effective multilateral institutions, so the United Nations should be the focus both of diplomacy and of action.

The lasting shame of Rwanda, Somalia, Srebrenica and East Timor cannot, of course, be removed in one Security Council resolution, but this resolution can give new life to the doctrine that developed in response to those failures—the responsibility to protect. That should not hide the fact that military action almost always leads to the loss of life, but it should give us courage that the motion tabled today reflects the broadest consensus of international views, approved by the highest multilateral body. If we believe in a responsibility to protect, if we believe that multilateral institutions should be used for the protection of civilian life, discussion should be followed by decision and by action.

Many Members from both sides of the House have mentioned the situations in Bahrain and in Yemen, which are both deeply concerning and deteriorating. Notwithstanding its historical ties, Britain must be unequivocal in its condemnation of the violence, and must make it clear to both the Bahraini and the Yemeni Governments that a security response cannot be an alternative to political reform.

The commencement of military action should not be a signal that the time for diplomacy is over. This crisis will test not just our military strength, but our diplomatic skill and stamina. It is vital that the diplomatic work continues to hold together this precious coalition. I welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement

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of regular political-level meetings of the coalition, and I would welcome a clear and continuing role for the Arab League.

I hope that the Foreign Secretary will be able to update the House on the work that is being done to sustain support in the region, to increase pressure on the countries that have allowed their citizens to become mercenaries in Libya, and to sustain non-military pressure on the regime. Our commitment to Libya’s future, through our membership of the European Union, must be serious and long-term. The whole House will wish to know what work is under way on contingency planning for post-conflict reconstruction. What are the structures equal to this immense task, who will lead the work, and how will the House be assured that this vital work is being done? We should also bear in mind that Britain needs to be working, now, on a trade, aid and civil society response in case the Libyan people choose a new future.

The House has the privilege of discussion, but it also has the responsibility of decision. All of us who will support and stand with the Government tonight must have the humility to acknowledge that, at this moment of decision, we cannot say for certain what lies ahead. Intervention, even in support of humanitarian ends, brings with it unforeseen and uncertain consequences, but by our decision tonight we will be supporting action that has already prevented the foreseeable and certain killing of many Libyan citizens. We will also be supporting action that has broad support in the region and is underpinned by a Security Council resolution that authorises the necessary force required to protect the Libyan people.

We have a legal, political and moral mandate to act to protect civilian life. That is the international community’s responsibility, that should be Britain’s choice, and so that must be the House’s decision. I urge all Members to support the motion.

9.42 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): We have heard 50 speeches tonight, and I have listened to the vast majority of them. Every single one has raised proper questions and issues. It will, of course, be impossible to respond to all of them in the 16 minutes that remain, but I will do my best to respond to the general themes and to some of the specific questions.

The debate has naturally focused on UN Security Council resolution 1973 and the situation in Libya, but many Members have pointed out that there are wider conclusions to be drawn, and a need to address our policy on the entire region. The right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw), for instance, referred to the dramatic changes that have taken place throughout the region: changes that may already constitute the most important event of the early 21st century—even more important than 9/11 or the 2008 financial crisis—in terms of their possible consequences.

If many of the countries of the middle east turn into stable democracies and more open economies, the gains for our security and prosperity will be enormous. If they do not, the potential breeding grounds for terrorism and extremism will prosper. That is why it is so much in our national interest to address these issues, and why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I have

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argued that the response of the whole of Europe must be as bold, as ambitious and as historic in its intentions as these events are in their nature. We should be holding out to the countries of the middle east the prospect of free trade, areas of customs union and a new economic area with the European Union. We should be providing it with incentives and acting as a magnet for positive change in that region.

We can be optimistic about the prospects for positive change in many of those countries. In Egypt, the Egyptian army’s decision to protect the people kept the spotlight firmly where it was supposed to be—on a Government who had to listen to people’s aspirations. In Tunisia, too, after deplorable violence against unarmed protestors, the Government crumbled, accepting the will of the people and beginning a transformation of the political system. The situation in Libya is completely different. In the past three weeks we have heard reports of soldiers being burned alive for refusing to obey orders to crush the protests. We have seen the use of mercenaries to slaughter civilians, the cutting off of food, electricity and medical supplies to population centres and the broadcast of televised threats to purge whole cities and to hunt down people in their homes. Just today, after the announcement of a second ceasefire by the Gaddafi regime, Reuters has reported that Gaddafi’s forces fired on a crowd of unarmed people late today in the centre of the city of Misrata. In Ajdabiya, there have been reports of body thefts, with military casualties being made to look like civilian casualties. Al-Jazeera reports that Gaddafi’s forces continue to shell the town of Zintan heavily and that they have given residents two hours to surrender or face total execution. That is what passes for a ceasefire according to the Gaddafi regime.

It is against that background that the House has today weighed carefully the arguments that we have presented for and against our military actions. There has been nothing gleeful or gung-ho about the atmosphere in the House and there is nothing gung-ho about the atmosphere in and decisions of the Government. The great majority of hon. Members who have spoken today have spoken in support of the Government’s actions and the motion, and many explained that they did so with reluctance or regret. The Government have approached this issue with the same sense of gravity.