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House of Commons

Wednesday 30 March 2011

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

International Development

The Secretary of State was asked—

UN Women (Funding)

1. Lisa Nandy (Wigan) (Lab): What criteria he plans to use to assess the strategic plan for UN Women when determining the funding to be allocated to it. [49661]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Mr Andrew Mitchell): We recently reviewed the value for money of British taxpayers’ funding to all multilateral agencies through the multilateral aid review. We will use the same broad criteria to assess UN Women’s strategic plan.

Lisa Nandy: Currently, new funding pledges to UN Women for 2011 amount to just $55 million, less than 10% of the target set by member states in 2010. In order for this important initiative to succeed—and so that the UK can say it played its part in its success—will the Minister heed the calls of Voluntary Service Overseas and others to provide adequate funding urgently?

Mr Mitchell: The hon. Lady is absolutely right to flag up the importance of this new agency and the fact that it has strong cross-party support. The United Kingdom played a key role in its establishment. We have provided transitional funding, and when we see the strategic plan in June, we will then fund it. I have no doubt at all that, in consultation with other funding bodies, we will be able to play a very full part.

Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD): UN Women’s strategic plan is guided in part by millennium development goals 4 and 5. The Secretary of State has kindly just received from me Bradford-on-Avon Oxfam’s Mothers Matter card for mother’s day. Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to restate to the House his Government’s commitment to working internationally to achieve MDGs 4 and 5 on maternal and child health?

Mr Mitchell: Yes, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. At the first international summit the Prime Minister attended after taking office following the election of the coalition Government, he flagged up the importance of MDGs 4 and 5 very directly. Oxfam’s campaign is an

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outstanding success. It is extremely important, and we will be following through on many of the aspects Oxfam has specifically mentioned when we have the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation replenishment conference in London on 13 June.

South Sudan

2. John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): What support his Department plans to give to development of the infrastructure of South Sudan in 2011-12. [49662]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Mr Andrew Mitchell): Our main infrastructure investments in 2011-12 in southern Sudan are expected to be in roads in rural areas, primary and secondary schools, teacher training centres, health care centres and other facilities to reduce insecurity and increase access to basic services.

John Mann: Here we have a brand new country about to form—it will do so on 9 July—that wants to join the Commonwealth. Its people speak English, and it has great links with the United Kingdom. Should we not shift part of our budget in order to allow this new country to get developing fast?

Mr Mitchell: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. That is why we have focused very specifically on our support for the referendum. We are working very closely with President Mbeki on the issues of the border. We have had many discussions about the very points the hon. Gentleman mentions, most recently when I saw Salva Kiir on my visit just before Christmas, and we will be strongly supporting the new state in a whole series of different ways once it is set up.

Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) (LD): What engagement does the Secretary of State have with the African Development Bank and the World Bank on infrastructure development for southern Sudan—which, as he says, is desperately needed—given that the UK is a major contributor to both those organisations? What will their commitment be, and how will the Department for International Development co-ordinate with them?

Mr Mitchell: The Chairman of the departmental Select Committee is absolutely right to identify the crucial role that will be played by both the World Bank and the ADB. I recently had discussions on this very subject with Donald Kaberuka, the head of the ADB, in Addis Ababa at the African Union summit, and we will ensure that strong priority is given to infrastructure development. After all, this is a country with less than 28 km of tarmac roads.

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): Is the Secretary of State aware that there has recently been a big increase in land purchase by foreign investors in South Sudan? Although foreign investment can, of course, be very beneficial in the right circumstances, land speculation threatens food supplies and price stability not just in South Sudan but globally. What will the Secretary of State do to ensure that people in countries such as South Sudan do not become victims of land grabs by speculators?

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Mr Mitchell: The hon. Gentleman rightly recognises one of the challenges for South Sudan. There is an array of challenges, on all of which Britain and the international community will seek to assist Salva Kiir and his new Government. I should make it clear to the hon. Gentleman that that country’s oil revenue gives it the opportunity between now and 2015 to make more progress on all these millennium development goals than any other country on earth. Britain will be playing its full part in trying to bring that about.

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con): At a meeting yesterday, a former Foreign Secretary of Sudan said that when the new Government take over in July the desperate need will be for government advice and training, as well as infrastructure. What plans do my right hon. Friend and his Department have to provide that advice and training?

Mr Mitchell: My hon. Friend is absolutely right: supporting democratic and accountable government will be at the heart of what we are trying to do in South Sudan. When I was in Juba to open the new British Government office there before Christmas, I was able to see some direct technical assistance that Britain is giving. As he says, we will need more of that.


3. Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): What estimate he has made of the likely change in the level of official development assistance to Lesotho following the closure of his Department’s bilateral aid programme in that country. [49663]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr Stephen O'Brien): The DFID bilateral programme in Lesotho has delivered impressive results in, for example, reducing HIV prevalence in Lesotho’s important garment factories from 37% to 27% in just three years. Notwithstanding the planned closure of our bilateral aid programme, we will continue to provide some £10 million in aid each year to Lesotho through multilateral channels. Our assessments indicate that official development assistance to Lesotho is likely to grow substantially in the years ahead.

Roberta Blackman-Woods: Churches in my constituency have a link with Lesotho that goes back many years. I recently met a delegation from Lesotho in Durham who told me of their grave concerns about the Government’s decision to stop bilateral aid. Would the Minister be willing to meet a delegation from Durham to discuss how Lesotho can continue to be supported by the international community?

Mr O'Brien: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question, because I know that the Durham-Lesotho link has been an important, effective and long-standing connection of support between the two Anglican dioceses. The bilateral programme is very small, and many multilateral channels will remain available. We believe that they will grow, and that is where the future of Lesotho’s better development will be derived. I would be more than happy to meet a delegation of her constituents to explore how this approach can be additive, rather than negative, which is what she is worried about.

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Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): The UK will soon be spending 0.7% of GDP on international development. Following the recent review all of DFID’s money is committed, so if people want more money spent somewhere in the international development framework, it behoves them to explain where they want that money taken from in the DFID budget. We cannot have continuous requests for more and more spending unless people are prepared to acknowledge where they want spending reduced.

Mr O'Brien: My hon. Friend makes an important point, particularly in relation to bilateral programmes. Of course, opportunities are provided through challenge funds, not least the global poverty action fund, and other funds that are available for those with an interest to continue to apply to. That will allow them not least to influence the way in which the multilaterals deploy their resources to which we contribute.

UK Anti-corruption Champion

4. Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle upon Tyne North) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Justice on the implications for development of his role as the UK’s international anti-corruption champion. [49664]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr Stephen O'Brien): My right hon. Friends have had many discussions, including in specific meetings on this important role—yet another meeting will be held on it shortly. We agree about the importance of a cross-government champion. To be credible when working with our developing country partners in tackling corruption, it is vital that we have strong systems in place in the UK.

Catherine McKinnell: I thank the Minister for that answer and welcome the news that the coalition is finally publishing guidance on the Bribery Act 2010, because delays to its publication have been very damaging to our reputation abroad. Given the devastating effects that corruption has on developing economies, can he confirm that the guidance has not been watered down to create loopholes for subsidiaries and joint ventures, and so the Act can be implemented, in the words of the Foreign Secretary, “rigorously, effectively and fairly”?

Mr O'Brien: I am delighted to stand here as the guidance is being published, something that has happened pretty rapidly under this Government after we waited for 13 years for something similar from the previous Government. Far from being diluted, the guidance has taken all the representations into serious consideration and it is now something on which we can work. We very much look forward to seeing it in place as the bedrock on which we can build.

Ms Harriet Harman (Camberwell and Peckham) (Lab): Openness and transparency are vital in the fight against corruption and in tackling exploitation of developing countries by global companies. It is a travesty that where there is massive wealth, such as in oil or minerals, local people do not benefit from it. The Government have said that they will support new European Union regulation to make companies disclose exactly how much they pay to the developing country’s Government

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for the right to extract natural resources, but what is needed is action. Will the Government take the lead on driving through the EU transparency regulation, and will he ensure that companies listed on the London stock exchange report the payments they make?

Mr O'Brien: I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Lady for raising this issue. As she knows, it is being addressed through the extractive industries transparency initiative on which I attended a meeting in Paris recently and to which there is now increasing commitment. In addition, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said on 20 February that we would work with our EU partners to look precisely at what we can do to examine the very obvious example that is coming from Dodd-Frank in America, but making sure that is done at an EU level.


5. Helen Jones (Warrington North) (Lab): What recent representations he has received on the effects of corruption on the economies of developing countries. [49665]

6. Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): What recent representations he has received on the effects of corruption on the economies of developing countries. [49666]

The Minister of State, Department for International Development (Mr Alan Duncan): My ministerial colleagues and I have frequent meetings with non-governmental organisations and others who stress the importance of tackling corruption. Corruption threatens economic growth in developing countries, wastes resources and deters investment. The coalition Government will not tolerate corruption and will do their utmost in all their development programmes to eliminate it.

Helen Jones: I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. We welcome the publication of guidelines on the Bribery Act, for which organisations such as the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development have campaigned for some time, but will he tell the House how he expects the Act to be properly implemented given that the Serious Fraud Office is facing 50% cuts and many of its members have resigned, including the head of anti-corruption? What discussions has the Minister had with his colleagues in the Ministry of Justice about this?

Mr Duncan: I am sure that the hon. Lady appreciates that that is primarily a matter for the Treasury rather than the Department for International Development. We believe that corruption is bad for development, bad for poor people and bad for business, and today’s written ministerial statement lays out concrete guidance for the implementation of the Bribery Act to which we look forward.

Greg Mulholland: I, too, welcome the publication of the guidelines on the Bribery Act and wish to pay tribute to the leadership and personal commitment of the Secretary of State on this issue. However, I want to raise the issue of country-by-country reporting. The Government have said they are committed to that but that they will seek to do it through the EU. Can the

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Minister say how the UK will provide the leadership to ensure that we have the same system as that in the United States?

Mr Duncan: The Chancellor of the Exchequer has already been driving this issue very hard and DFID fully supports a process that is designed to reach agreement at EU level. We want such legislation to require, for example, extractive industries to disclose all their payments to the host Government. That is a very important step and the impact of such measures is greatest when applied to the widest range of countries.

Rushanara Ali (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab): We all agree that tackling corruption is vital to ensuring that development delivers for the people who need it most. As the Government are finally publishing the guidelines on the Bribery Act, may I press the Minister again to assure us that the guidelines will not water down that important legislation?

Mr Duncan: On the contrary, the guidelines are very strict as the hon. Lady will see when she reads the written ministerial statement that is being published today.

World Bank Spring Meetings

7. Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): What objectives he has set for the outcomes for his Department’s policies of the World Bank spring meetings. [49667]

The Minister of State, Department for International Development (Mr Alan Duncan): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will personally attend the spring meetings. Our objective is, on the back of our support for the recent funding round for the World Bank’s operations in poor countries, to take forward the outcome of our multilateral aid review and to ensure that the World Bank delivers more effectively in fragile and conflict-affected countries.

Mr Burrowes: I thank the Minister for that reply. The president of the World Bank has said:

“If you think about almost any poverty and development issue, you will find water at the center of it.”

Last week, I, together with the Secretary of State and constituents, joined Tearfund and Water Aid’s Westminster walk for water to highlight the lack of access of hundreds of millions of people to clean water and basic sanitation. Will the Minister stand on the shoulders of those who have walked for this great cause?

Mr Duncan: It is often a great advantage for me to stand on someone’s shoulders! Much of the international effort on water and sanitation is indeed led by the World Bank which, over the past 10 years, has provided 113 million people with access to an improved water source, and 5.8 million with improved sanitation facilities. With our support and that of others, the World Bank will over the next three years provide up to 44 million people with improved access to water sources. As part of our partnership, we will press it to be even more effective in what it does.

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Mr Speaker: As the Minister will understand, I know his feelings very well.


8. Caroline Dinenage (Gosport) (Con): What plans he has for future levels of development aid to India. [49668]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Mr Andrew Mitchell): I have frozen the India programme at current levels until 2015. Working closely with the Government of India, we will target our support on three of the poorest states. Our programme will change to reflect the importance of the role of the private sector.

Caroline Dinenage: Despite the undoubted poverty in India, the Indian Government have nuclear weapons, a space programme and their own programme for foreign aid. What can we do to encourage the Indian Government to spend more money on the things that they should spend money on, rather than on the things that they want?

Mr Mitchell: My hon. Friend is right to ask whether India has reached the point where we should end our development programme. Our judgment is that we are not there yet. As she said, India has more poor people than the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. It also has the biggest Government-led pro-poor, anti-poverty programme anywhere in the world, and through our programme, we are strongly encouraging more of the same.

Anas Sarwar (Glasgow Central) (Lab): Will the Secretary of State outline what representations he has received from the Indian Government about his plans to spend 50% of DFID money on the private sector? Is that an aspiration only for India, or is it for other developing countries too?

Mr Mitchell: As the hon. Gentleman will know, the nature of development is to try to move countries off welfare development on to pro-poor, private sector investment, as that is something that helps poor people to lift themselves out of poverty. The decisions on the Indian programme were made in close consultation with the Indian Government, and take account of our priorities and theirs as well.

Global Action Poverty Fund

9. Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): How many organisations have (a) applied for and (b) been granted funds from his Department's global action poverty fund. [49669]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr Stephen O'Brien): In the first round, 366 eligible applications for funding were received for the impact and innovation windows of the global poverty action fund. Announcements on the first successful projects will be made next month.

Fiona Bruce: I thank the Minister for his reply. Many small charities make a tremendous difference in developing countries, often with limited funding. What can be done to publicise the excellent opportunities for them to apply to the global poverty action fund?

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Mr O'Brien: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is an opportunity for many small UK-based organisations that often struggle to access DFID funding. The best thing to do is to go to the DFID website, but I would also would urge her and Members across the House to publicise through their constituency communications the fact that this is a real opportunity for their local charities to make a sensible application of that sort.

Mr Speaker: Order. There are far too many noisy private conversations in the Chamber. I remind colleagues that we are about to discuss humanitarian aid to the people of Libya.

Libya (Humanitarian Aid)

10. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): What humanitarian aid his Department is providing to the people of Libya. [49670]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Mr Andrew Mitchell): We have provided funding for the International Committee of the Red Cross, which has sent in three medical teams, medical supplies to treat 3,000 people affected by fighting, and essential relief items for up to 100,000 of the most vulnerable.

Ann Clwyd: As the Minister knows, a team from Amnesty International has been in Libya for the past month, and it has found evidence of hundreds of missing and detained people. Given Gaddafi’s track record of extreme cruelty and torture, will he try to ensure that, at the very least, the ICRC has access to those detained people, so that news can be given to their families and they can have some contact with them?

Mr Mitchell: The right hon. Lady, who rightly always champions these issues, is entirely correct, which is why we and the United Nations have called strongly for unfettered access for humanitarian agencies. We continue to call for that access to be given throughout Libya.

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): The potential humanitarian crisis in Libya is one of those that should be influenced by the important report by Lord Ashdown on our response to humanitarian crises. I know that the Secretary of State welcomed the publication of that review. Can he give us some idea of the time scale for a Government response to this important piece of work?

Mr Mitchell: My hon. Friend is right. Lord Ashdown’s review of the way Britain conducts its humanitarian and emergency relief is outstanding. The Government will now consult and take six weeks to consider all the implications of that, and then report back to the House.

Naomi Long (Belfast East) (Alliance): Many sub-Saharan Africans work as migrant workers in Libya and do not have the resources or the opportunity to be repatriated. One of my constituents, who works with the Somali community in Belfast, has contacted me as members of that community are very concerned about their relatives. What are the international community and our Government doing to try to stem that aspect of the humanitarian crisis?

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Mr Mitchell: The hon. Lady is right to identify the migrant communities leaving Libya, especially through Tunisia, as particularly vulnerable. That is why Britain, along with others, has flown tens of thousands of them home to their countries and families. Britain has been involved in repatriating more than 12,500.

Humanitarian Assistance (Libyan Borders)

11. David Morris (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Con): What recent assessment he has made of the humanitarian situation on Libya’s borders with Tunisia and Egypt. [49671]

13. Joseph Johnson (Orpington) (Con): What recent assessment he has made of the humanitarian situation on Libya’s borders with Tunisia and Egypt. [49673]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Mr Andrew Mitchell): More than 350,000 people have crossed the Libyan borders since the crisis began. Early action by Britain and others has ensured that a logistical crisis has not, so far at least, developed into a humanitarian emergency.

David Morris: I thank my right hon. Friend for the work that he has done so far on the issue. Obviously, it is not for me to remind him that the eyes of the world are on that region, and that we must get it right for the people there.

Mr Mitchell: My hon. Friend is entirely correct. Britain was one of the first countries to provide blankets and tents for those who were caught out in the open on the borders. Following that, as I said in answer to the previous question, we were at the forefront of the international community in providing flights to repatriate migrant workers from both borders.

Joseph Johnson: One of the biggest challenges facing Egypt’s transition to democracy is the fragile state of its economy, with capital rapidly leaving the country. Can the Secretary of State please say what he will do to stop the additional pressure on the Egyptian economy from the influx of refugees from Libya, which is draining it of remittances and pushing up already high unemployment?

Mr Mitchell: My hon. Friend is right to identify a most important issue. I have made clear Britain’s significant contribution to ensuring that migrants are flown home. On the other points that he mentioned, some of that is a matter for the Paris Club of creditors, the other international financial institutions and the significant funding available from the European Union through the neighbourhood funds.


12. Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): What discussions he has had with his EU and UN counterparts on the development implications of the state of emergency in Yemen. [49672]

The Minister of State, Department for International Development (Mr Alan Duncan): We are in close contact with EU and UN counterparts. Recent instability is limiting the ability of DFID and other donors to run

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development programmes in Yemen. DFID is continuing to support the social fund for development which helps low-income groups to secure basic services such as health, education and water. We are also supporting humanitarian contingency plans. We do not provide any money directly to the Government of Yemen.

Keith Vaz: I thank the Minister for his answer. As he knows, a state of emergency was declared in Yemen last week. As it remains one of the poorest countries on earth, it is essential that the excellent work that has been undertaken by the Government through the development programme continues. Can the Minister ensure that, subject to the security of people there, this work will continue?

Mr Duncan: We share the right hon. Gentleman’s objectives in trying to deliver assistance wherever we possibly can, which we are continuing to do through the social fund for development, which is not Government-run. We have, however, had to withdraw our DFID staff from Sana’a given the security situation, but we remain committed to doing everything we possibly can to help the people of Yemen once the security position and the political position become clearer and appropriate.

Tax Avoidance (UK Companies)

14. Katy Clark (North Ayrshire and Arran) (Lab): What recent representations he has received on the effect on the economies of developing countries of the tax avoidance practices of UK companies. [49674]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr Stephen O'Brien): Ministers discuss taxation and development with various parties, with the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury most recently meeting Christian Aid on 8 March. Discussions on protecting developing countries’ tax bases also take place in the OECD tax and development task force and the G20 development working group.

Katy Clark: The Minister will be aware that developing countries lose more through the tax avoidance of multinationals than they receive in aid each year. The Business Secretary has in the past supported country-by-country reporting of both profits and tax paid. Is that something the Minister would consider?

Mr O'Brien: I can certainly confirm that we expect all companies and individuals to pay the tax they owe in the countries where it falls due. There is a lot of work now going on, particularly with the G20 development action plan and the global forum on tax transparency, precisely to address the issues that the hon. Lady rightly highlights, and which we must all seek to find the most effective ways of tackling.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


Q1. [49646] Jackie Doyle-Price (Thurrock) (Con): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 30 March.

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The Prime Minister (Mr David Cameron): I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in paying tribute to Major Matthew Collins and Lance Sergeant Mark Burgan from 1st Battalion the Irish Guards. They died in Afghanistan last Wednesday after their vehicle was caught in a blast from an improvised explosive device. They were both hugely respected, passionate and dedicated soldiers, and they will be greatly missed. Our thoughts and deepest condolences should be with their families, friends and colleagues.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, and further to my duties in this House I shall have further such meetings later today.

Jackie Doyle-Price: I pay tribute to our fallen heroes, and I am sure that I speak for many in the House when I say that we have to remember the debts we owe our brave armed forces, particularly at this time.

Is the Prime Minister aware that 14 Opposition Members signed an early-day motion congratulating UK Uncut, despite that organisation’s refusal to condemn Saturday’s violence? Will he join me in urging those Members to withdraw their names?

The Prime Minister: I thank my hon. Friend for her question. First of all, we should be absolutely clear that the scenes in central London of property, shops, banks and livelihoods being destroyed were completely and utterly unacceptable. The police should have our full support for the way they policed the march and the action they took. I think that it is important for people to understand that UK Uncut refused to condemn this violence and Opposition Members should remove their names from the early-day motion.

Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab): I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Major Matthew Collins and Lance Sergeant Mark Burgan, who died in Afghanistan. They showed enormous bravery and courage, and all our thoughts are with their family and friends.

May I start by asking the Prime Minister about the ongoing situation in Libya? In particular, will he tell the House what his policy is on arming the rebels?

The Prime Minister: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question. Before starting, perhaps on behalf of everyone in the House, I congratulate him and Justine on the happy news of their forthcoming wedding and, along with everyone, wish them a long and happy life together.

I can report that the situation on the ground is extremely fluid. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that the ceasefire is still being breached, and it is absolutely right that we keep up our pressure under UN Security Council resolution 1973. I can confirm to the House that the coalition took action yesterday against regime forces harassing civilian vessels trying to get into Misrata. Yesterday and overnight the RAF flew 24 sorties, and Tornado aircraft destroyed artillery and an armoured fighting vehicle near Sirte.

The right hon. Gentleman asks about arming the rebels. I have said before in this House that we must do everything to comply with both Security Council resolutions. As I told the House, the legal position is clear—the arms embargo applies to the whole territory of Libya—but at the same time UNSCR 1973 allows “all necessary

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measures” to protect civilians and civilian populated areas, and our view is that that would not necessarily rule out the provision of assistance to those protecting civilians in certain circumstances. As I have told the House before, we do not rule it out, but we have not taken the decision to do so.

Edward Miliband: I thank the Prime Minister for that reply and am sure that the matter will be explored further in the Foreign Secretary’s statement at 12.30 pm. I also thank him, and indeed all Members, for their kind wishes on my forthcoming wedding, which I am very much looking forward to. I might have to come to him in the next couple of months for advice, because I know that he knows how to organise memorable stag nights.

Let me turn to a different issue: tuition fees. The Prime Minister said that universities will charge £9,000 in tuition fees only in exceptional circumstances. How many of the 23 universities that have announced their plans are planning to charge £9,000?

The Prime Minister: I am sure that there will be a free exchange of advice. When I was Leader of the Opposition, I would have done anything for a honeymoon, and the right hon. Gentleman probably feels the same way. However, we wish him well.

On tuition fees, the point about the £9,000 is well made. Universities can charge £9,000 only if they go through a number of steps to prove that they really are improving access to universities. I do not have the figures available, but I am very happy to give them to him when I do.

Edward Miliband: This is an important point, because when the Prime Minister was selling his tuition fees policy he reassured people that there would be a basic threshold of £6,000, but that “in exceptional circumstances” some universities would be allowed to charge £9,000. Of the 23 universities that have announced their fees, 18—more than 80%—plan to charge £9,000. It is not the exception; it is the rule. I am afraid—not for the first time—that this policy has not been implemented competently. The next problem he faces with this policy is that it will cost the Treasury more money to fund the loans. Will he guarantee that that money will not come from university budgets or through a reduction in student numbers?

The Prime Minister: It is worth reminding the House that university tuition fees were first introduced by the Labour party. There are two important points about this threshold. First, each university will have to spend £900 per place on access requirements. Secondly, the Office for Fair Access will decide whether universities can go to that £9,000 threshold. Very tough rules have been published and placed in the House for people to see. On the additional money that will go into higher education, the right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: because of the system we are introducing, we will be spending more overall on universities. However, the key thing is that because of the reductions in spending we are having to make elsewhere, this is the only way to guarantee that we have well-funded universities, well-stocked libraries, well-paid lecturers and good universities to take on the world.

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Edward Miliband: I asked a very simple question: where will the money come from, given that the Government have miscalculated the level of tuition fees? Universities up and down the country are worried that the Prime Minister does not think that an 80% cut in the teaching budget is enough and that he will come back for more.

Policing is another area of public services that I do not think the Government are getting quite right. The police Minister was asked eight times on the radio this morning whether the number of front-line police officers would fall. May I ask the Prime Minister whether there will be fewer front-line police officers in the years ahead?

The Prime Minister: According to Home Office statistics, if all forces achieve the current best average for visibility and availability, it would increase the number of officers available by 8,000.

Edward Miliband: I do not think that people will understand what that answer was supposed to mean. The Prime Minister should listen to the chief inspector of Lancashire police:

“We cannot leave the front line untouched”.

That is because of the scale of the cuts. Two thousand police officers are being forced out under the A19 rules. Sergeant Dave Hewitt:

“'I will be walking away from the force, unfortunately not through choice… As far as I’m concerned I’m still young and I wanted to continue being a neighbourhood sergeant.”

That sounds like a front-line police officer to me. May I ask the Prime Minister the same question? Does he expect there to be fewer front-line police officers in the years ahead? Yes or no?

The Prime Minister: There is no reason for there to be fewer front-line officers. Both parties agree that the police budget has to be cut. I heard the shadow Chancellor on the Marr programme say that

“we would have made cuts to policing”.

The Labour party would have cut policing, and we have to do so, so the question is: how do we make those cuts? We say that we have to freeze police pay for two years, reform police allowances and cut their paperwork. The Labour party opposes all those things, so it would have to make deeper cuts in police numbers. That is the case.

Edward Miliband: It is very simple: we proposed 12% cuts in the policing budget; the Prime Minister is proposing 20% cuts. Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary said that if we go beyond 12%, that is likely to lead to cuts in front-line officers, which is exactly what is happening up and down this country. The truth is that he used to claim that the Conservatives were the party of law and order, but now he is cutting the number of police officers up and down the country. It is the wrong choice for the police, the wrong choice for communities and the wrong choice for the country as well.

The Prime Minister: Not for the first time, the right hon. Gentleman is completely wrong. The difference between a 12% reduction and what we are proposing is the freeze in police pay and the reform of police allowances, which he refuses to support. Has anyone seen a more ridiculous spectacle than the right hon. Gentleman marching against the cuts that his Government caused? I know Martin Luther King said he had a dream—I think it is time the right hon. Gentleman woke up.

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Sarah Newton (Truro and Falmouth) (Con): From his visits to Cornwall, the Prime Minister will appreciate the high regard for the coastguard service there and around the UK. I am reassured that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), has said that the current modernisation proposals are not a done deal. Does the Prime Minister agree that it is very important to get the plans right?

The Prime Minister: I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. She is a Cornish MP, and I am sure that she and the whole of the House would want me to say how much we feel for our colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray), who lost her husband in a tragic fishing accident. That demonstrates the extraordinary risks that people in coastal communities take, and our hearts should go out to her and her family.

We want to make changes only if they improve the coastguard support that people in fishing communities and elsewhere get. That is what the reform is about: trying to ensure that the real impetus is on the front line. If that is not the case, we will obviously have to reconsider the reforms, and that is why they are being reviewed. What I would say to everyone who cares about this issue is: work with us to make sure we get the maximum amount in those lifeboats and other ways of helping our fishing and other communities.

Q2. [49647] Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): Does the Prime Minister acknowledge the serious concerns that have been raised about the adverse implications and complications for cancer patients under the proposals in the Welfare Reform Bill of replacing disability living allowance with personal independence payments? Will he therefore investigate with Ministers the case for creating a straightforward cancer care and support allowance, which would be available to those who have been diagnosed with cancer and are either undergoing or awaiting treatment?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Lady asks an important question. We will look carefully, as the Government medical adviser is, at DLA and its interaction with people with cancer. However, I think that everyone, in all parts of the House, should recognise that DLA does need reform. The fact is that there are 130,000 people on DLA who have not had a claim revised at all since the benefit was introduced in 1992. There are 750,000 people who have had the same claim for 10 years and no contact from the Department. There are 21,000 people of working age getting DLA because they are on drink or drugs, so reform really is necessary, but making sure that we assess people with cancer properly is definitely part of that reform.

Dan Byles (North Warwickshire) (Con): May I congratulate the Prime Minister on what appears to have been a successful London conference on Libya? What measures are being taken to ensure that we can expand the coalition of countries taking part in action to include regional players such as Qatar and others, which is vital if we are to maintain regional support?

The Prime Minister: I thank my hon. Friend for his question: it was a successful conference yesterday, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will make

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a statement about it later. There were more than 40 delegations, widespread representation from the Islamic world and a common message from everyone at the conference about broadening and deepening the alliance, and enforcing UN Security Council resolution 1973. There was also new support, with equipment, including from the Swedes, who are making eight aircraft available. We are on track, and there is very strong support for what is being done, but we need to keep up the support, particularly in the Arab world.

Q3. [49648] Ian Austin (Dudley North) (Lab): Families who have lost their jobs have been able to apply for emergency loans to tide them over, so why, when unemployment is at a 17-year high and is predicted to get worse, does information leaked to me show that the Government plan to cut the fund tomorrow, and why, just like last week’s cuts to winter fuel payments, was this not announced in the Budget?

The Prime Minister: We are putting in place the biggest and boldest programme since the great depression to help unemployed people. That is what the Work programme is all about, and the hon. Gentleman should work with us to make sure that it can help everyone, including those in his constituency.

Q4. [49649] Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con): Taking into account the high levels of deprivation in Lowestoft in my constituency, and in Great Yarmouth, coupled with the unrivalled potential of the East Anglian coast for creating jobs in the offshore energy sector, does the Prime Minister agree that those prospects would be significantly boosted by the creation of an enterprise zone?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes a very articulate case for an enterprise zone. I am delighted that we have introduced 21 enterprise zones, and clearly there is a case that colleagues can make for more. There are real strengths in his area in terms of green-tech jobs, which I know he supports, and I am sure that the Chancellor will have heard his message.

Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): Dozens of families in my constituency were put out of their homes overnight and remain out of their homes as a result of terrorist activity, the latest in a long line of such incidents in Northern Ireland recently. Will the Prime Minister join me in condemning that terrorist activity? As well as supporting the police and the Army with resources, does he agree that, as we approach the Assembly elections in a few weeks’ time and mark the first full term of uninterrupted, stable devolution in Northern Ireland for generations, the best answer that we can give to such people is to reject them, reject their policies, reject their wanting to drag us back to the past and to keep Northern Ireland moving forward?

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman speaks with support from all parts of the House for what he says—with both points that he makes. First, we have to be eternally vigilant against terrorists in Northern Ireland and elsewhere; we should do that, and he knows that the British Government will give every support that they can to the Northern Ireland Executive. Secondly, the best proof of success, and that there is a non-violent

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path, is to show the success of our democratic institutions, which he, his colleagues and all parties in Northern Ireland are doing.

Q5. [49650] Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): Yesterday, councillors on the Yorkshire and the Humber joint health overview and scrutiny committee were told by senior doctors that, if Leeds loses its children’s heart surgery unit, ambulance transfers will be unsafe and could prove fatal. Given that the report into the review of children’s heart units—commissioned by the previous Government, of course—contains factual errors, and given that there is a question over the impartiality of the board that made the final recommendations, will the Prime Minister now agree to halt the process? If not, does he think that the only option is judicial review?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to speak up for his constituency, which could be affected by that review, as indeed could mine. We want to make sure that the review is as transparent as possible and involved and engaged with parents and with everyone in communities. There are many times, however, when rather bogus arguments are put forward for specialisation in the NHS, but, in a really complicated case such as child heart surgery, there are cases for specialisation, and, as passionately as we all want to defend our own hospitals, we have to think about clinical safety and what is best for children. He is absolutely right to speak up for his hospital, as I am for the one that serves my constituency, but we have to have some understanding about the complexity of what we are dealing with.

Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op): Does the Prime Minister understand that unilaterally setting the minimum price for carbon in Britain will drive out inward investors such as Tata Steel in Swansea? Carbon trading by its very nature requires a common price, not a unilateral one, so will he suspend that price and send his Chancellor into the European Union to negotiate a common price and ensure that we have a level playing field for inward investment?

The Prime Minister: I respect the hon. Gentleman’s views, but I do not agree with him. I think the steps taken in the Budget are right, and we should judge companies such as Tata by the investments that they make. I have been hugely heartened by the fact that Tata is putting more investment into the UK. Its Redcar plant closed under the previous Government, but it is going to reopen in part because of the investment that Tata is making. I will of course listen to the hon. Gentleman, but I think that Ratan Tata knows a bit more about his business than he does.

Q6. [49651] Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): My constituent Geoff Jacobs is in Parliament for The Prostate Cancer Charity’s action day to remind us that prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men. With only three out of 10 men being aware of the prostate-specific antigen blood test, and with 10,000 men each year dying of the disease, does the Prime Minister have a dream—of better outcomes for the increasing investment in the NHS?

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The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this issue. He is right that it is a dream we can have, but the fact that prostate cancer is such a massive killer is a nightmare for many families and many people in this country, and we really do need to do something about it. That means better early diagnosis, better testing, and better access to drugs. All those things are contained in our plans for the NHS.

Q7. [49652] Dr Alasdair McDonnell (Belfast South) (SDLP): The Prime Minister will be aware of the large number of women across the UK, including a number in my constituency, who are in their late 50s—58 or 59—and on low incomes, and he will be aware that speeding up the equalisation of the state pension age will affect some 2.9 million of them, with many having to wait two years and, as a result, lose up to £10,000. These are usually people on low incomes and in marginalised economies. Does the Prime Minister intend to put in place any measures to cushion the severe effects on these people on low incomes and their stretched financial circumstances?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Of course, the equalisation of the pension age does ask people to work for longer in their lives, and it is a big change. But I think that because people are living longer, it is right that we make this change to make sure we can have a good, strong and affordable pension system. The biggest thing we are doing is linking the pension to earnings rather than prices, which means that someone retiring today will be getting £15,000 more over the next period than they would have done under the old plans—so one is partly to pay for the other.

Q8. [49653] Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): The last Government left us with one in five young people unemployed. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the new university technical colleges will help to transform the lives of young people and are a matter of social justice as well as economic efficiency? Will he support Lord Baker in supporting the strong bid of Harlow college to have a UTC so that Harlow—

Mr Speaker: Order. We get the gist of it.

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to speak up for Harlow and to speak up for university technical colleges, which I think are going to be a great innovation in our country. I pay tribute to Lord Baker for the work he is doing, and to my right hon. Friend the Education Secretary and to the Chancellor, who put extra money in the Budget so that 21 of these colleges can open in our country, including, I hope, in Harlow.

Chris Leslie (Nottingham East) (Lab/Co-op): The coalition agreement promised that the NHS budget would increase in real terms each year. Since the spending review, inflation has spiralled very high and we now face a real-terms cut of £1 billion for the NHS. What is the Prime Minister going to do about that?

The Prime Minister: We said that NHS spending would increase in real terms each year, and it will.

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Q9. [49654] Mr David Amess (Southend West) (Con): As we approach Good Friday, we might reflect on the role of Pontius Pilate. With that in mind, will my right hon. Friend reassure the House that he would never address crowds on Hyde park corner protesting about reductions in spending if he had been responsible for the economic mess that was the cause of the reductions in the first place?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend puts it extremely well. Far from standing on the shoulders of the suffragettes, or whatever nonsense we heard at the weekend, the fact is that the Leader of the Opposition is sitting in a great big pool of debt that was his creation, and he has got absolutely no idea what to do about it.

Q15. [49660] Helen Jones (Warrington North) (Lab): In 2009, the Prime Minister promised families with disabled children, in his own words,

“a crack team of medical experts—doctor, nurse, physio—”


“act as a one-stop-shop to assess families and get them the help they need.”

Can he tell the House how many of these teams have been set up?

The Prime Minister: What I can tell the hon. Lady is that it was very much something based on my own experience of having repeated assessments when you are trying to get help, benefits and social work, and in the special educational needs Green Paper that precise idea is rapidly becoming Government policy.

Q10. [49655] Caroline Dinenage (Gosport) (Con): Despite some unhelpful local party political mischief-making about the future of our valuable Sure Start services, will the Prime Minister join me in welcoming Hampshire county council’s proposals to protect front-line Sure Start services while saving public money by cutting back-office costs?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The key thing is that the head of Sure Start services has herself said that there is money available in the Budget to keep Sure Start open. That money is not being reduced.

Chris Williamson (Derby North) (Lab): On 24 March last year, six weeks before the general election, the Derby Telegraph reported that the Prime Minister had accused me of distributing inaccurate information about Conservative plans for the winter fuel payment. It turns out that I was right and he was wrong, so, unless he is going to overrule his Chancellor, will he take this opportunity to apologise to the millions of pensioners who rely on the winter fuel allowance and to me for his unfair censure?

The Prime Minister: I cannot believe that I accused the hon. Gentleman of anything because I had absolutely no idea who he was. While we are at it, we promised that we would keep the winter fuel payments and we have kept the winter fuel payments. We promised that we would keep the cold weather payments and we have kept the cold weather payments. We promised to uprate the pension in line with earnings and we increased the

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earnings link. We said that we would keep the bus passes and the TV licences—we did all those things. Yes, he did mislead his electors at the election.

Q11. [49656] Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): Queen’s award-winning Norbar Torque, rally-winning Prodrive and global award-winning CTG—Crompton Technology Group—are all manufacturing businesses based in Banbury. They are all doing so well that they want to move into larger premises, but they also have immediate skill vacancies that they need to fill. What collectively can we do to try to ensure that people who are unemployed elsewhere in the country and who have skills know of the skills they—

Mr Speaker: Order. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but we do have other Members to accommodate.

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is right to raise this issue and the reaction of the Opposition shows that they are not interested in manufacturing, skills, technology and ensuring that we expand those things. We will have 250,000 apprenticeships over this Parliament, the university technical colleges will make a difference and it is very good news to hear about the expansion of manufacturing in his constituency.

Q12. [49657] Yvonne Fovargue (Makerfield) (Lab): The Welfare Reform Bill proposes to introduce a £50 civil penalty for claimants who make a mistake in completing the application form. At the same time, advice agencies have stated that they are facing a perfect storm of funding cuts and many fear that they will not be in existence to help the vulnerable in completing the forms. Does the Prime Minister think that this is fair?

The Prime Minister: I would make two points to the hon. Lady. First, it is fair to say that the Government are not cutting the money that we put into citizens advice bureaux, for exactly the reason she gives. I urge all councils to do what my local council has done and find savings in bureaucracy to ensure that they are putting money into citizens advice bureaux. As regards her point about fines for people who misclaim benefits, I am afraid that I think that it is right. Far too much in our system is lost from fraud and error and I do not think that taxpayers go to work, and work hard, in order to fund benefits to which people are not entitled.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North East Fife) (LD): May I urge my right hon. Friend to display extreme caution in the supply of arms to the so-called rebels in Libya? The legal position is by no means clear, as his previous answer to the Leader of the Opposition made eloquently obvious. In addition, the political consequences of doing so, particularly among the nearly 40 countries that were represented at the successful conference in London yesterday, are very difficult to predict.

The Prime Minister: My right hon. and learned Friend is right to be cautious and sceptical and I think we should consider this decision with huge care. Although the legal position is clearer, there are some strong arguments like his to which we would have listen. Yesterday, however, I met Mr Jabril of the interim transitional national council and I was reassured to see that those people who are forming an alternative Government in Benghazi

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want it to be interim and transitional. They are democrats, they are not tribal, and they want to see a future for the whole of Libya where the people have a choice in how they are governed. I was encouraged by what I heard.

Q13. [49658] Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East) (Lab): Last week, I had the privilege of meeting a group of 25 women studying English for speakers of other languages courses in Lewisham. They and I share the Prime Minister’s desire that every migrant in the UK should speak the language of their new home. Given the Prime Minister’s belief that the practical things can make a big difference to community cohesion, will he commit today to putting a stop to this Government’s short-sighted cuts to English language courses?

The Prime Minister: We will have to take some difficult decisions over student numbers, and the priority should be to ensure that our universities can go on attracting the best and the brightest from around the world. [ Interruption. ] I will come on to the hon. Lady’s point. That is why we have said that there should be a post-study work route. However, it does mean that we should be tough, particularly on those colleges that are not highly regarded. The fact is that over the last year, about 90,000 students were coming to colleges that did not have proper regard at all.

Q14. [49659] Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): A multinational is applying to build an incinerator the size of a football pitch some 500 metres from the small market town of Middlewich in my constituency. There is no need for this provision; it will involve importing waste and it has been unanimously rejected by the local planning committee. Does the Prime Minister agree that the concerns of local people over the negative impact that it will have on their town should be afforded paramount importance when the proposal is considered on appeal?

The Prime Minister: I agree with my hon. Friend that local considerations should be taken into account. That is one reason why we have made the changes to the Infrastructure Planning Commission. It is important that local communities have their say, and she has put the case extremely strongly.

Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Lab): When all the local MPs met the North Staffordshire chamber of commerce last week, it asked us why north Staffordshire was not on the list to have a local enterprise zone. Does the Prime Minister understand the need for job creation in Stoke-on-Trent, and will he arrange for his colleagues in local government and at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to liaise with us and the Treasury to ensure that we get that investment when the new list is announced in July?

The Prime Minister: I completely understand the point that the hon. Lady makes, particularly in relation to Stoke, where the Potteries—[ Interruption. ] I wish that the shadow Chancellor would occasionally shut up and listen to the answer. [ Interruption. ]

Mr Speaker: Order. Other Members can now follow the Prime Minister’s advice to the shadow Chancellor. We need a bit of order.

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The Prime Minister: I may be alone in finding the shadow Chancellor the most annoying person in modern politics—[ Interruption. ] No, no. I have a feeling that the Leader of the Opposition will one day agree with me, but there we are.

Where were we? The Potteries, yes. Clearly, there are massive issues because of the decline of the Potteries. I completely understand the need for Stoke to have that support. It is very important that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Joan Walley) is working to bring together the Potteries communities, including MPs and the local enterprise partnership. I will certainly ask my right hon. Friend the Chancellor to look at whether it can be in the next lot of enterprise zones, because we want to help the Potteries communities she represents.

Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) (LD): In the light of the announcement by Statoil this week that it is cancelling £6 billion of investment in the North sea following the Budget, will the Prime Minister ensure that Ministers at the Treasury and the Department of Energy and Climate Change engage with the industry to explain how the field allowances might be adjusted to ensure that this valued investment goes ahead and that jobs are not lost?

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The Prime Minister: I will certainly look carefully at the point that my right hon. Friend makes. The point that I would make about Statoil is that the regime in Norway has higher duties and taxes on petrol than the UK does. The key point is that when companies in the North sea made investment decisions, the oil price was about $65 a barrel, and it is now about $115 a barrel. I think that the break we are giving the motorist by cutting petrol tax—including for people in his constituency, many of whom rely on their cars—will be hugely welcome.

Mr Speaker: We come to the statement by the Foreign Secretary.

Chris Williamson rose—

Mr Speaker: Order. I say to the hon. Gentleman, who is a new Member, that points of order, without fail, come after statements. The hon. Gentleman—

Chris Williamson rose—

Mr Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman will have his opportunity at the appropriate time, but not at the inappropriate time.

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Libya (London Conference)

12.33 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on the outcome of the London conference on Libya and related events.

I informed the House last Thursday that planning was under way to transfer coalition operations from US to NATO command and control. On Sunday, NATO allies decided to take on full responsibility for the implementation of all military aspects of Security Council resolution 1973, including the civilian protection mission, along with the no-fly zone and arms embargo operations which are now under NATO command. The transition to full NATO command is under way. The North Atlantic Council will provide executive political direction for the military operations, and is meeting later today. I hope the whole House will welcome the speed with which NATO has moved to put in place the planning and launch of those three demanding operations more quickly than was the case for Bosnia or Kosovo.

There are currently 16 nations contributing assets to coalition operations, including nations from the middle east region. Fifteen nations have now committed a total of nearly 350 aircraft, and vessels from 10 nations are supporting the arms embargo. Yesterday, Sweden announced that it would contribute eight fighter aircraft, and the United Arab Emirates publicly announced its contribution of 12 air defence fighters on Friday last week. The NATO Secretary-General has issued a request for further contributions, which we hope other countries will consider seriously.

UK forces have undertaken more than 160 aerial missions over Libya since operations began, in addition to missile strikes. We are continuing to target the military hardware that Gaddafi is using to kill his own people. Over the weekend, in addition to patrolling the no-fly zone, RAF aircraft destroyed a number of main battle tanks and armoured vehicles near Misrata. The RAF also took part in a successful coalition mission against an ammunition storage facility store near Sabha early on Monday morning.

As evidence of the care that we are taking to minimise the risk of civilian casualties, yesterday I received a letter from the local council in Misrata thanking Britain and our allies for the targeted strikes and the enforcement of the no-fly zone, which are alleviating pressure on the people of Misrata. The letter stated that the local council could

“testify for the effectiveness and the accuracy of those strikes and confirm that there has been not a single case of civilian injury let alone death in and around Misrata”

as a result of coalition activity. That is testament to the skill, experience and precision of our armed forces, and the whole House will join me in paying tribute to them. Our country literally could not do without them for a single day, and they are doing a great job in support of the civilian population of Libya.

The situation on the ground remains fluid. Regime forces have intensified their attacks, driving back opposition forces from ground that they had taken in recent days. Misrata also came under heavy attack yesterday, with further loss of civilian life, including children, from mortars, sniper fire and attacks on all sides from regime

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tanks and personnel carriers. The Department for International Development has been involved in funding the successful provision of humanitarian assistance to the city, and we are urgently examining options for the provision of further assistance. One obstacle to humanitarian support for the people of Misrata has been regime vessels trying to blockade the port. Those vessels were attacked by coalition aircraft yesterday and four of them were sunk and one was beached.

To underline our grave concern at the regime’s behaviour, I can announce to the House that we have today taken steps to expel five diplomats at the Libyan embassy in London, including the military attaché. The Government judged that were those individuals to remain in Britain, they could pose a threat to our security. We also remain strongly committed to supporting the International Criminal Court in its investigations into crimes in Libya and to ensuring that there is no impunity for barbaric acts against the Libyan people.

In my last statement to the House, I confirmed that I had invited the envoy of the interim transitional national council, Mahmoud Jabril, to visit London. He did so yesterday, for meetings with me and with the Prime Minister and to launch the council’s vision for a democratic Libya. I will place a copy of that document in the Library of the House.

A British diplomatic mission also visited Benghazi on Monday and Tuesday this week, headed by a senior British diplomat, Christopher Prentice. The purpose of the mission was to meet key Libyan opposition groups in eastern Libya, including the ITNC and its military council; to gain a greater insight into the political and security situation; to explain British Government policies towards Libya; and to discuss future governance arrangements in Libya, including identifying what Britain can do to help. The team met the president of the ITNC, Mustafa al-Jalil, among others. It has now left Libya, and further missions will follow shortly.

Yesterday, delegations including more than 30 Foreign Ministers, the UN Secretary-General and representatives of the Arab League, the European Union, NATO and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference met in London. Our Government went into the conference with three objectives, all of which were met. The first was to strengthen and broaden the international coalition committed to implementing Security Council resolutions 1970 and 1973. This was achieved. Many more countries were involved in the conference and supporting our objectives than at the time of the Paris summit 11 days ago.

Secondly, we aimed to focus attention on the delivery of urgent humanitarian assistance to alleviate suffering in Misrata and at Libya’s borders, and to plan for the needs of Libya after conflict. The conference agreed priorities for a humanitarian response and welcomed an offer from the UN Secretary-General to lead the co-ordination of humanitarian assistance and planning for longer-term stabilisation support. Turkey, other key regional players and international agencies offered to support that work and take it forward.

Contingency military planning also continues in the EU to enable support to humanitarian operations, if so requested by the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, as agreed at the European Council last Friday. It is right that we start planning now to support Libyans over the long term to build a peaceful and prosperous future.

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Thirdly, we argued that the conference must agree the need for a political process, led by the Libyan people, that helps to create the conditions in which the people of Libya can choose their own future, supported by the international community. Military action is not an end in itself. The announcement of a political programme by the ITNC was an important first step in that process. The conference was also attended by the UN Secretary-General’s special representative for Libya, Mr al-Khatib, who travelled to Libya last night. The conference agreed that Gaddafi has lost all legitimacy, and to continue efforts to isolate him and his regime by considering additional sanctions on individuals and companies associated with the regime.

We agreed to establish a Libya contact group to take that work forward. The contact group will provide leadership and overall political direction to the international effort to support Libya; act as a forum for co-ordinating international policy on Libya; and provide a focal point in the international community for contact with the Libyan parties. Qatar has agreed to convene the first meeting of the group, which we will co-chair. Thereafter, the chairmanship will rotate between the countries of the region and beyond it.

Security Council resolution 1973 laid out very clear conditions that the Gaddafi regime must meet, including the establishment of an immediate ceasefire, a halt to all attacks on civilians and full humanitarian access to those in need. Participants in the conference agreed to continue their efforts until all those conditions are fulfilled. The Libyan regime will be judged by its actions and not by its words.

The London conference showed that we are united in our aims—seeking a Libya that does not pose a threat to its own citizens or to the region, and working with the people of Libya as they choose their own way forward to a peaceful and stable future. It also demonstrated clear international support for the people of Libya. With that support, there is every prospect of focused and sustained assistance to the people of Libya as they seek to determine their own future.

Mr Douglas Alexander (Paisley and Renfrewshire South) (Lab): I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement, although I regret that a copy of it was not made available timeously ahead of Prime Minister’s questions. None the less, I place on record my appreciation for the work of Foreign and Commonwealth Office Ministers and officials in facilitating yesterday’s London meeting.

The meeting made progress on a number of fronts on which the Opposition had specifically sought action. The establishment of a friends of Libya contact group is something that I have advocated for some weeks, and I now welcome it. Let me re-state our support for the work of our armed forces—both the RAF and the Royal Navy—in implementing UN Security Council resolution 1973. I also join the participants in the summit in welcoming the UN Secretary-General’s offer to lead the co-ordination of humanitarian assistance and planning for longer-term stabilisation support.

Although progress was made yesterday, comments from both inside and outside the conference have raised real questions for the Government. First, from the outset of this crisis, the Opposition have been keen that the Arab League and the African Union play a strong

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role. The Arab League was an early supporter of a no-fly zone, and African members of the Security Council supported resolution 1973. There will therefore be concerns that Saudi Arabia failed to attend yesterday’s conference, and although we welcome the presence of representatives of Tunisia and Morocco, there were few African states at the table and no representative of the African Union. Can the Foreign Secretary explain that and update the House on what work is being done to broaden and deepen the coalition of support for action beyond those who attended yesterday’s conference?

Secondly, the question regarding the arming of rebels of the eastern part of Libya has two parts: would it be legal, and if it were, would it be advisable? Yesterday, the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, said on the legality of arming the forces of eastern Libya:

“It is our interpretation that 1973 amended or overrode the absolute prohibition of arms to anyone in Libya so that there could be legitimate transfer of arms if a country were to choose to do that.”

Two weeks ago, in a debate following the passage of resolution 1973, the Prime Minister was asked the same question about the resolution by the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart). He replied that

“our legal understanding is that that arms embargo applies to the whole of Libya.”—[Official Report, 18 March 2011; Vol. 525, c. 623.]

The summary legal memorandum that the Government provided to the House for the debate on United Nations Security Council resolution 1973 is silent on this question. Yesterday, the Foreign Secretary appeared to be moving closer to the US position, saying:

“Those resolutions in our view apply to the whole of Libya, although it is consistent with resolution 1973 to give people aid in order to defend themselves in particular circumstances.”

Will he therefore give the House his view on the legality of arming anyone in Libya under the terms of both Security Council resolutions? Given the importance and significance of this issue, will he also undertake to update the summary legal memorandum and to place copies of it in the Library of the House of Commons, so as to set out definitively the Government’s position on the interpretation of the Security Council resolutions?

The issue of the legality of arming the rebels sits alongside the issue of its advisability. NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe warned yesterday:

“We have seen flickers in the intelligence of potential Al Qaeda, Hezbollah”.

This is therefore a pressing and urgent question for the Government. I hope that the Foreign Secretary will agree with me that, to date, the case has not been made on the advisability of taking this course of action. Of course we would all prefer a Libya without Gaddafi, but, given our lack of knowledge about some elements of the rebel forces, does he agree that we must proceed with very real caution on the question of armaments? Can he confirm that all efforts are being made to identify the risk of links to al-Qaeda? Further, can he confirm whether Libyan nationals, including from eastern Libya, have been involved in the insurgency that opposed our troops in Iraq or in the continuing conflict in Afghanistan?

The other question that has been raised in the past day is that of Gaddafi himself. The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has said that he is “one hundred per cent” certain that his investigation will lead

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to charges of crimes against humanity against Gaddafi and his regime. Yesterday, however, the Foreign Secretary’s ministerial colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), said that Britain

“would not stand in the way”

if Gaddafi were to leave the country. Can the Foreign Secretary set out the Government’s position on whether they would now be prepared for Gaddafi’s escape from international justice in order to prevent further bloodshed?

On 21 March, the Government received a specific mandate from the House for a specific mission in Libya, as set out in Security Council resolution 1973. I welcome the fact that post-conflict planning is now more firmly on the international agenda after yesterday’s meeting, but may I take the Foreign Secretary back to what the US President said when resolution 1973 was passed? He said that the resolution

“authorizes the use of force with an explicit commitment to pursue all necessary measures to stop the killing, to include the enforcement of a no-fly zone over Libya. It also strengthens our sanctions and the enforcement of an arms embargo against the Qaddafi regime.”

President Obama continued:

“The resolution that passed lays out very clear conditions that must be met. The United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Arab states agree that a cease-fire must be implemented immediately. That means all attacks against civilians must stop. Qaddafi must stop his troops from advancing on Benghazi, pull them back from Ajdabiya, Misrata, and Zawiya, and establish water, electricity and gas supplies to all areas. Humanitarian assistance must be allowed to reach the people of Libya.”

Can the Foreign Secretary therefore confirm whether, in the view of the British Government, the achievement of those conditions set out by President Obama still represent the fulfilment of the mission? Hon. Members on both sides of the House would welcome a Libya free of Gaddafi’s tyranny, but the consent of the international community—and the consent of the House—was given for a specific mission, with specific aims and limitations.

As I said at the outset of this crisis, the Opposition will provide support for the enforcement of the UN resolution and sustained scrutiny of its implementation. In that spirit, I ask the Foreign Secretary to provide greater clarity in his reply, particularly on the questions of the legality of arming the rebels, the character of some of the anti-Gaddafi forces, the role of the International Criminal Court and the limited nature of this mission.

Mr Hague: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for continuing the wide support for the idea of a contact group. It received unanimous support at the conference yesterday, which is why it was so easy to proceed with it and, indeed, with recognising the role of the UN Secretary-General in offering to lead the co-ordination of humanitarian assistance.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the attendance or otherwise of the Arab League and the African Union. The Arab League was well represented at yesterday’s meeting. The Secretary-General, Amr Moussa, was not able to come and he explained to me why he could not, but he sent his chef de cabinet, an ambassador, who made a powerful speech at the conference on the Arab

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League’s strong support for implementing the UN Security Council’s resolutions and for the action taken so far. No one should be in any doubt about the position of the Arab League. It is true, of course, that the African Union did not attend; there were divisions within in it over whether it should. We are in constant touch with the African Union and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development is in almost daily touch with its chairman. I have had several conversations about this issue with President Museveni of Uganda. Clearly, the African Union does not have a united position, but we will invite it to engage with the contact group that we are establishing and we will keep our regular communication going.

On the question of arming the rebels, the Prime Minister made the position clear at Prime Minister’s questions. We have said that everything we do must comply with the Security Council resolutions, which also relates to the right hon. Gentleman’s last point. It is a point I make constantly—that everything we do must be consistent with those resolutions. It is acting strictly in accordance with UN resolutions that gives a legal, moral and international authority to our deeds, which has not, of course, always been there before. As I have already told the House, and as the Prime Minister said in the debate a couple of weeks ago, the legal position is that the arms embargo applies to the whole territory of Libya. At the same time, our legal advice is that resolution 1973 allows all necessary measures to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas and that this would not necessarily rule out the provision of assistance to those protecting civilians in certain circumstances. Clearly, there are differing views internationally about the legal position, but I have explained what is the view of the British Government. As the Prime Minister told the House, we do not rule it out, but we have not taken any decision to provide that assistance.

In response to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell), the Prime Minister also indicated at Prime Minister’s questions that the Government would indeed proceed with caution on this subject, as the shadow Foreign Secretary asked us to do. Questions of advisability, as the right hon. Gentleman quite rightly says, are different from questions of legality. We will always be very conscious of that. Of course, if we changed our policy, we would certainly want to inform the House, but we are not currently engaged in any arming of the opposition or rebel forces.

Of course we want to know about any links with al-Qaeda, as we do about links with any organisations anywhere in the world, but given what we have seen of the interim transitional national council in Libya, I think it would be right to put the emphasis on the positive side, as the Prime Minister did earlier. From everything we saw from our meetings with members of the council yesterday and from telephone conversations I have had with other members, I believe it is sincere in its commitment to a pluralistic, open Libya. The council published yesterday what is in effect its manifesto, which states its commitment to freedom of expression and freedom of the media, to the development of political parties and civil society and so forth. I think we should welcome that and I think there is a genuine and strong desire in Libya among the opposition groups to bring those things about. It would give the wrong impression

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of those groups, from everything we have seen and everything that our diplomat, Christopher Prentice, saw in Benghazi, to accentuate any allegations of links with other groups outside Libya rather than to accentuate those intentions that they clearly hold dear to their hearts.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the International Criminal Court. I mentioned in my statement how strictly we uphold its work. The United Kingdom has always done so under successive Governments and it will continue to do so. That does not mean that we can control what happens to Colonel Gaddafi, but we are not proposing to grant him any exemption from the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. That was something that we proposed should be part of UN resolution 1970.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the conditions set by President Obama on behalf of the coalition when the military operations began. Yes, those conditions still apply—the conditions of a real ceasefire, not just a pretend ceasefire. It does not mean the regime sitting in the middle of a town like Misrata and still being engaged at close quarters with the civilian population it is trying to kill. Clearly, a credible ceasefire involves disengaging from those areas. Events have moved on since President Obama made his statement, which was about not advancing on Benghazi. Since then, that has become less relevant, although we do not know whether it will become relevant again. We understand and interpret the requirement for a ceasefire and an end to violence in terms of those general conditions, which involve disengagement in order to fulfil the UN resolution. That reinforces our continuing rigid approach to enforcing the UN resolution and to staying within the UN resolution. We must also keep the international unity and moral authority that our conduct of affairs so far has given us on this issue.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Kensington) (Con): May I strongly disagree with the shadow Foreign Secretary and welcome the statement by the American and British Governments that military supplies to the insurgents would be permissible under the UN resolution if that were appropriate to protect civilian-populated areas? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the physical safety of the people of Tripoli and other parts of Libya will be ensured only if there is a speedy end to this civil war leading to the departure of Gaddafi, and that that cannot be achieved by coalition air power alone, but only if the insurgents—they are no longer rebels, as there is no longer any legitimacy for the Government in Tripoli—are properly assisted to bring this war to an end as soon as possible so that a no-fly zone is no longer required?

Mr Hague: I can go so far with my right hon. and learned Friend. He is quite right about the utter absence of legitimacy for the Gaddafi regime now, and I accept his welcome for the statement of the legal position on the supply of arms that we have set out; the United States Government also provided their version of that position. Nevertheless, I underline what I said to the shadow Foreign Secretary—that questions of advisability and policy would have to be examined in this regard, not just questions of legality. One can make the argument that my right hon. and learned Friend makes, but one can also make the argument that introducing new weapons into a conflict can have unforeseeable and unknown

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consequences both for the immediate future and for the longer term. Such considerations would have to be very carefully weighed before the Government changed their policy on this matter.

Mr Jack Straw (Blackburn) (Lab): May I reinforce the appreciation of my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mr Alexander) for the Foreign Secretary by offering my congratulations to the right hon. Gentleman on the way in which he has handled this conference? The fact that the Foreign Secretary did it on an inclusive basis is, as I saw on a visit to Turkey last weekend, much acknowledged and appreciated in that country and across the region. With that in mind, I turn briefly to the issue of arms supplies to the rebels. First, does the right hon. Gentleman accept that, however interesting it is for us to debate the issue of legality, the decision about the legality of any such action and the interpretation of the dense texts of these resolutions is a matter for the Attorney-General and for him alone? Secondly, does he accept that if it is lawful, it becomes a matter of advisability, as he says, and that what is critical in all this is that in making any decisions, the international coalition—especially the support of the Muslim and Arab world—is paramount?

Mr Hague: Yes, I think that I can happily agree with all of what the right hon. Gentleman has said. Maintaining that breadth of international coalition is very important. We have said all along that the support of the Arab League and the participation of Arab nations—the Organisation of the Islamic Conference was represented strongly yesterday—were of huge importance, and they will continue to be of huge importance. We must not take actions that jeopardise that support.

I also strongly take the right hon. Gentleman’s point about Turkey, which played a major role in our conference yesterday. I shall have further talks with the Turkish Foreign Minister this afternoon and with the Turkish Prime Minister tomorrow. The coalition Government continue to build the strongest possible bilateral relationship with Turkey, as we have done over the past 10 months.

Richard Ottaway (Croydon South) (Con): I congratulate the Foreign Secretary on a successful conference, which was an important milestone in allowing the Libyans to decide their own future. As for the arms embargo, does he agree that there is a big difference between arming the rebels to enable them to protect themselves, and arming the rebels to enable them to attack Gaddafi, which is tantamount to regime change?

Mr Hague: Certainly there would be a big difference between those positions. My hon. Friend should bear in mind what I said earlier, and what the Prime Minister said, about our interpretation of Security Council resolution 1973—that it does not necessarily rule out the provision of assistance for those protecting civilians in certain circumstances. This is very much about protecting civilians. It is not about weapons that would be used primarily for attack, and it is certainly not about a general arming of one side in the conflict. So yes, there is a clear distinction between those actions.

Mr Bob Ainsworth (Coventry North East) (Lab): As the Foreign Secretary has acknowledged, the issue of arming the insurgent groups has three dimensions. The

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first is legality, the second is our shallow knowledge of all the people involved in those insurgencies, and the third is the impact on the international community, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mr Alexander) persuaded the Foreign Secretary to discuss. Can he give some indication of the feedback that he has received from different partners in this operation about their attitude to the arming of the insurgent groups?

Mr Hague: I agree that there are those three dimensions, but I believe that it is for other countries to state their positions. I do not think that it would be right for me to go through a checklist of countries and announce any attitudes that they have expressed to Her Majesty’s Government in private—I do not think that that would be very diplomatic—and I therefore fear that I cannot give the right hon. Gentleman the information that he has requested. I can say, however, that although there is a variety of views on the issue, all the nations involved in the conference are of the same mind. That was made clear during the press conference that I held with the Prime Minister of Qatar last night. However those nations interpret the resolutions, it is not their policy at this moment to engage in arming particular groups in Libya. I believe that there is an international consensus on that.

Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con): Some of us remain of the view that the west’s intervention is as much about regime change as it is about humanitarian aid. Will the Foreign Secretary make absolutely clear whether it is the Government’s view that UN Security Council resolution 1973 would allow a no-fly zone, in effect, to follow the rebels should they wish to attack Tripoli, and also allow the west’s fighter planes to hit Gaddafi’s ground forces in Tripoli if that were to be the case?

Mr Hague: I disagree with some of my hon. Friend’s assumptions. This is not a western intervention but the enforcement of a United Nations resolution for which African and Arab nations voted, and Arab nations are participating in the enforcement of that resolution. The no-fly zone applies to the whole of Libya, and it is in force over a very wide area of Libya. Of course that includes Tripoli, and will continue to include Tripoli whatever the circumstances on the ground. As I keep stressing, air strikes against ground forces of the regime have been and will continue to be used—in accordance with the UN resolution—on forces that are attacking, or can be used to threaten to attack, or pose a threat of attack, to civilian and populated areas.

Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): Earlier this week the Prime Minister told us that the African Union would be represented at the London conference, although he did not know the individual concerned. The Foreign Secretary has referred to some internal difficulties in the African Union, but has said in earlier answers that it has a potential role in providing for a ceasefire or a peaceful solution. Can he tell us more about why the African Union did not attend, and when the British Government were informed that it would not do so?

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Mr Hague: The position of the African Union on attendance changed several times during the days preceding the conference, owing to internal disagreements. Only at the last moment—the night before the conference, I believe—was it certain that the African Union would not attend. Nevertheless, as I said earlier, we are engaged in constant dialogue with the African Union, and it has an important role to play. We will continue that dialogue, and I hope that the African Union will join a contact group.

I do not think that the basis of the disagreements within the African Union comes as any surprise. Yesterday’s conference expressed strong support for the implementation of the resolutions and for the actions that we are taking, including the military action, under operative paragraph 4 of resolution 1973. Some African nations find that difficult. Some of them have been the closest of all nations in the world to the Gaddafi regime, and it is not surprising that that creates some tensions in the African Union and makes it more difficult for it to engage in a conference of this kind.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): Last week I had contact with someone who opposed Colonel Gaddafi in Tripoli. Having had some experience of what people such as the members of Colonel Gaddafi’s security organisation may be doing, I am quite concerned about what is happening in the streets and alleys of Tripoli. Has my right hon. Friend any knowledge of what action Gaddafi is taking against likely opponents within Tripoli?

Mr Hague: My hon. Friend is right to raise those fears. A report produced yesterday by Amnesty International quotes its middle east and north Africa director as saying:

“It appears that there is a systematic policy to detain anyone suspected of opposition to Colonel al-Gaddafi's rule, hold them incommunicado, and transfer them to his strongholds in western Libya”.

He is also quoted as saying:

“there is every reason to believe that these individuals are at serious risk of torture and ill-treatment.”

Given the reports from Amnesty International and other reports that have appeared in the media, and the kind of things that have been communicated to my hon. Friend, I think we can be confident that this is a regime with absolutely no regard for human rights, for human life, or for the welfare of the people of its own country. That is why, in the eyes of virtually of the whole world, it has utterly lost its legitimacy.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): I am slightly concerned about the fact that the Foreign Secretary appears to be taking advice on human rights from the President of Uganda on behalf of the African Union, because Uganda’s human rights record is, to say the least, questionable. Does the Foreign Secretary not acknowledge that we are now involved in a civil war? Anyone listening to his statement from outside will have recognised that Britain is supporting the insurgent forces in Libya.

Is there any endgame? Does the Foreign Secretary intend to send in ground forces? Does he intend to arm the insurgent forces? It seems to me that we are being increasingly sucked into a conflict with no obvious end

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in sight other than a great deal of bloodshed. Can the Foreign Secretary say something more about diplomatic efforts to bring about an internal ceasefire and an internal settlement in Libya, rather than pouring in more and more arms and weapons?

Mr Hague: I assure the hon. Gentleman that I did not call President Museveni to ask for his advice on human rights. As I explained earlier, I called him to discuss the African Union’s attendance at the London conference. The hon. Gentleman must not place a different interpretation on what I said. In fact, I must correct what he has said in a couple of respects. He ended his question by saying that we were pouring more arms into Libya, but it follows from everything that I have said so far that we are not pouring more arms into Libya.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the end of all this. Let us remember that the purpose of resolution 1973 is to protect civilian life, which is what we have been achieving. Had we not passed that resolution and acted on it quickly, the loss of civilian life would have been dramatically greater, and the humanitarian crisis with which we would now be dealing would also be dramatically greater. Even at this stage, the achievement of those things in the last 11 days is something that people of all points of view should be able to welcome. Even the hon. Gentleman might say a word of welcome about the way in which people’s lives and human rights have been protected.

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): I too congratulate the Foreign Secretary. Being a bit more of an optimist than the shadow Foreign Secretary, I strongly welcome the vision of a democratic Libya published by the interim transitional national council. Does the Foreign Secretary welcome in particular its commitment to intellectual and political pluralism, the rights and empowerment of women and the rights of minorities, and what practical steps are we taking to build the ITNC’s capacity for democratic government?

Mr Hague: I certainly join my hon. Friend in welcoming that statement. It includes other provisions as well as those he mentions, and the ITNC has given much time and serious thought to it. It is not a rushed document: ITNC members have debated it among themselves and prepared it carefully. I encouraged them to publish it yesterday because I think it showed, alongside the London conference, that it is the people of Libya who will lead and decide their own future. It is a very encouraging document in that regard. Our diplomatic contact with the ITNC, including the visit of our diplomats there on Monday and Tuesday of this week, has included looking at how we can support it in developing capacity for, and ideas about, securing democracy and a free society in the future. Developing such links will be a prime objective of the further missions we are now planning to Benghazi.

Mr Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): Why cannot the Government be clear about not rearming the insurgent groups in Libya now that the NATO commander has testified to the US Senate that he cannot rule out infiltration by al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups? As an historian, the Foreign Secretary knows that in the 1980s another ally—America—decided to arm Osama bin Laden to get the Soviets out of Afghanistan, and now British troops are dying on the mountains of Afghanistan because of that error. Don’t repeat it.

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Mr Hague: I shall put the hon. Gentleman down as being opposed to the arming of the rebels—but he must not get too excited about things that we have not done. Such questions of advisability are the very questions that would need to be assessed. As I have said, if we changed our policy on this we would say so to the House, and we would then be able to debate that. The hon. Gentleman is right that in history there are examples—more than the one example he gave—of weapons being given to people in good faith and then being used at a later stage for other purposes that their original owners had not desired. That is one of the considerations that have to be borne in mind.

Mrs Anne Main (St Albans) (Con): May I urge the Foreign Secretary to resist the siren calls of the shadow Foreign Secretary about looking at the backgrounds and links of the people operating in Libya as insurgents? Otherwise we shall be accused of picking favourites. I urge my right hon. Friend to make every effort to continue both his encouragement for democracy strengthening and our sitting on the sidelines, while also being vigilant about the human rights of the civilians in Libya.

Mr Hague: It is very important that it is the people of Libya who determine their own future. That is very clear, and my hon. Friend underlines the point. We are not trying to determine the future Government. It is clear that the ITNC has brought together a wide spread of groups and figures in the opposition and that they genuinely represent the opposition forces in Libya at present, but that is not to say that exactly that combination of people would turn out to be the future Government of a free Libya. As my hon. Friend says, we will not pick winners, but we will support an open process of political transition in Libya.

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): The Foreign Secretary presents quite an upbeat picture, but what assessment has he made of the Deputy Prime Minister’s observation that the current action could well result in the creation of a hostile Islamist Government in Libya?

Mr Hague: It is very important that not only in Libya, but in north Africa as a whole, the UK and the European Union take the bold and ambitious approach that I described earlier, in order to act as a magnet for positive change—for civil society, open political systems, the building up of small and medium-sized enterprises, and all the other building blocks of democracy—but we cannot guarantee the outcome, of course. That is why we must make sure Europe provides a very big and effective magnet for those changes. If we fail to do that, not just Libya but any of the other countries in the region could become breeding grounds for terrorism and extremism. I think we should be on the optimistic side of this situation in which millions of people are seeking greater freedom, openness and democracy, but we should also be alert to the dangers if they do not succeed in getting those things.

Mr Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): I strongly agree with the shadow Foreign Secretary and his measured words, and urge extreme caution on my right hon. Friend. Would it not be a double win for al-Qaeda, and would we not start losing support in the Arab world, if

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we were seen to impose a solution on Libya and at the same time give arms to people who could prove to be Islamist insurgents in the future?

Mr Hague: I can assure my hon. Friend that we will not be engaged in imposing any solution on Libya. We will carry out necessary operations to implement the UN Security Council resolutions, but we are not in the business of imposing a solution, or a Government, on Libya. Indeed, if we were, we would lose that wider Arab and regional support, of whose importance he rightly reminds us.

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): Everyone would like to see the end of Gaddafi and his regime; that is not in question. It is a murderous regime, and has been for 42 years; that is not in doubt. However, has the Foreign Secretary noticed that there have been more critical voices today than at any time since the situation in Libya started? There are such critical voices both here and on the international scene because, despite what the Foreign Secretary has been telling us, there is a growing impression that the coalition forces are, in fact, involved in regime change, which is totally outside the terms of the resolution—and, indeed, outside international law.

Mr Hague: I would defy the hon. Gentleman to find any action taken by the coalition that is not in line with the UN Security Council resolutions. Everything we have done is in line with those resolutions. That was endorsed by everybody at the conference yesterday, and that will remain the case. The extreme care being taken to avoid civilian casualties is very clear, and a great contrast to the behaviour of the Gaddafi regime. It is important that we constantly underline these points in order to get that message across to the wider world, as well as in our own country, and the Government will continue to do so.

Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): In the light of reports that rape is being used as a weapon of war by Gaddafi’s forces, and the appalling recent incident of the arrest of a rape victim who dared to speak out, can the Foreign Secretary give us more information on the aspect of the political programme announced by the ITNC addressing how the voices of Libyan women will be heard and how they will be active participants, given that UN Security Council resolutions 1325 and 1880 make it very clear that involving both men and women is essential for successful post-conflict peace building?

Mr Hague: My hon. Friend draws attention to one very well-publicised case of recent days that has shocked the whole world, and there are reports that such treatment of women by the Gaddafi regime is much more widespread. That is another indication of the regime’s absolute disregard for, and lack of any understanding of, human rights. As our hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) pointed out earlier, it is a good sign that a commitment to women’s rights and the involvement of women is in the ITNC’s vision for a democratic Libya. That is in a culture and a country that does not have a strong tradition of women in leadership roles, but let us hope that it will be a characteristic of a future freer Libya.

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Mr Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry North West) (Lab): I thank the Foreign Secretary for coming to the House so promptly and giving such a full account of events at the London conference, as he promised he would. A growing impression is being given as a result of his and the Prime Minister’s comments today—and Secretary of State Clinton’s remarks yesterday—that we are edging our way towards arming the rebels in certain circumstances. What are those circumstances? Also, since the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister have said that that would, in the Government’s view, be legal, presumably the Attorney-General has given a view on it. As far as many of us are concerned, either we must go back to the UN—I am sure the Foreign Secretary would not relish that prospect—and get a clarification of what has been called the dense text of the resolution or, at a minimum, the Attorney-General’s legal opinion on the circumstances in which we might arm the rebels should be sought and published.

Mr Hague: The Government’s understanding of the legal position is the one that I have set out: it lies in the exact words that I used earlier. The Prime Minister used the same words, and I used similar words on the television last night. That understanding is, of course, based on the Attorney-General’s views. As an experienced Member and former Minister, the hon. Gentleman knows the position on Government publication of the legal advice, although he also knows that we have been more forthcoming about that than has sometimes been the case in the past. The advice that I have given to the House—the statement of the Government’s position—is very much based on the legal advice and can be taken as the Government’s definitive view on the matter.

Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con): Will the Foreign Secretary note that I am glad to hear that the Government have moved somewhat since my exchanges with the Prime Minister a week last Friday, when resolution 1973 was published? May I also say that we cannot have it both ways, and that the Sanctions Committee is also involved in this? Have any suggestions been made to approach it with a view to ensuring that what is done is legally done, in accordance with the best legal advice?

Mr Hague: As my hon. Friend will understand, we are not proposing, at this point, to change our policy on this. If we did so, we would want to be absolutely satisfied that that was not only advisable but legal. We would need to be sure of that and able to assure the House of it, so I will bear his advice in mind.

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): During the debate in this House on Monday of last week, Members on both sides expressed their concern about mission creep. That concern has been heightened by today’s debate on potentially arming the rebels. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that if the impression is given that NATO-led forces are taking sides in what is becoming a civil war, that will be deeply counter-productive to the cause of a lasting peace?

Mr Hague: I will put that in a slightly different way, which is that it is very important to stick to the UN resolution. I think that that is at the heart of what the hon. Lady is saying, and it is very strongly the view of the Government. Although NATO is providing the

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command and control, it is clear that Arab nations are also taking part in this operation and many others support it. After all, the whole of the Arab League, with only one dissenting voice, called for a no-fly zone and the protection of civilian areas in Libya. As I assured the House earlier, we will always act in a way that maintains that broad international support. We are certainly not engaged in any mission creep. We are engaged in the protection of civilian areas, the enforcement of a no-fly zone, the delivery of humanitarian aid and the enforcement of an arms embargo. That is what we set out to do, and that is what we are continuing to do.

James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis) (Con): The Foreign Secretary talked about the British diplomatic mission to Benghazi. Does he agree that Britain can play a leading role there in building necessary links and thinking through issues associated with a post-conflict democratic settlement?

Mr Hague: Yes, we absolutely can. We have diplomats and development advisers who are very well placed to do that. As I have mentioned before, doing that across the whole of north Africa in a way that is not patronising to the countries involved but which brings genuine expertise in the building of civil society and political pluralism is an important part of our role.

Mr Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): My colleagues and I fully support resolution 1973, but the reinterpretation of it in respect of arms to the rebels does suggest mission creep and is in danger of shattering the political consensus. It has been suggested in some quarters that the rebels have also asked for British troops to help with training. Can the Foreign Secretary give us a cast-iron assurance that there will be no British troops on the ground in Libya in any circumstances?

Mr Hague: Let me reassure the hon. Gentleman somewhat on that point. He knows that the UN resolution is clear that there must be no occupying force in Libya or any part of Libya. Let me give him further reassurance: in my meetings with the interim transitional national council, the opposition in Libya, they have not asked for our troops to go to train them, and we are not doing that at the moment. For the reasons that I gave in the House last week, I will not exclude our ever having any forces of any kind anywhere, in small numbers, on Libyan soil, because we have already had to do that: in order to rescue our nationals from the desert a month ago, we had to send the RAF and special forces into desert locations. Circumstances can arise in which such limited operations have to take place, but there will be no ground invasion of Libya and no occupation of Libya, and the request to which the hon. Gentleman refers certainly has not been made to me.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): At this important and successful conference what discussions took place about the situation in Yemen? As the Foreign Secretary knows, Libya has 6 million people whereas Yemen has 23 million people, and a state of emergency was declared there last week. When he last came to the Dispatch Box he promised to continue the dialogue with Yemen’s president and people. Is there not a role for the international community to play to ensure that that continues?

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Mr Hague: Yes. Yemen was not the subject of yesterday’s conference, although, as the right hon. Gentleman can imagine, it was the subject of some of our discussions in the margins. Certainly Secretary of State Clinton and I discussed Yemen, among other subjects, in the morning. We continue to look to the various parties in Yemen to settle their differences peacefully. We do not want to see civil conflict in Yemen or the collapse of all authority in Yemen, which really would raise the much greater spectre of a terrorist threat to the United Kingdom on a vastly greater scale than anything we have discussed in the House so far this afternoon. The British Government are heavily engaged in this situation and our ambassador in Sana’a, in particular, is doing an outstanding job in giving very good advice and conveying all the views of this country to the President and to the other various factions involved in Yemen. So we are doing our best to use our good offices to bring about a more peaceful situation there.

Mary Macleod (Brentford and Isleworth) (Con): May I commend the work that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has done on Libya and the London conference? May I also commend the work of our armed forces, whose skill and expertise has meant that there has not been a single case of civilian injury, which is incredible? Can he confirm that we may use our armed forces to deliver humanitarian aid to Libya—if we are not already doing so—and thus make sure that we are supporting civilians as much as possible?

Mr Hague: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We have not, so far, been using our armed forces to deliver humanitarian aid, although contingency planning done by various nations includes the ability to do that. However, it is better, if at all possible, to deliver humanitarian aid in a way that does not get that aid involved in the conflict that is going on in Libya. So we are trying to get that aid in by supporting other organisations and by some direct deliveries from our allies. As the Secretary of State for International Development made clear at his Department’s Question Time, that has enabled us to provide essential supplies for a very large number of people already.

Hugh Bayley (York Central) (Lab): What assessment have the Government made of the risk of civilian casualties if the insurgent forces were to get to Tripoli and start fighting, street by street, for control of the capital? What likelihood is there that the political track would create some kind of solution and a ceasefire before that situation arose?

Mr Hague: Obviously, what we are hoping for and looking for is a genuine ceasefire—that is what the whole world wants to see. If the Gaddafi regime would accept that on the terms that I was discussing earlier with the right hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mr Alexander)—it should not be difficult to do that—we would have a ceasefire and everybody would be able to proceed from there. All I can say about the opposition forces and the danger of civilian deaths from their activities is that, so far, we have no record of their being engaged in attacks on civilians. For one thing, they have not made frontal attacks on civilian areas and, for another, where they have managed to gain territory they have generally been welcomed by the

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local people. It is certainly part of the beliefs of the opposition that in most of the western towns and cities of Libya there would be a very strong welcome for the opposition forces. So they have avoided civilian casualties in their own operations so far, and we look to them to continue to do so.

Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con): I appreciate that my right hon. Friend might need to be careful with his answer to this question. Given the news from Misrata of further attacks on civilians, can he give an estimate of the munitions supplies and military capability that remain available to Gaddafi and of the effectiveness of the blockade of munitions from land and sea and by air?

Mr Hague: I will have to be a bit careful with my answer. Clearly, events such as the attack by coalition aircraft on a major ammunition storage depot in the early hours of Monday will have made a difference to the ammunition supplies of the Libyan regime. It is very difficult to quantify that, but it will have made a significant difference. Equally, the successful attacks on regime vessels that were seeking to blockade Misrata yesterday will have made a significant difference to their ability to blockade that city. It is not possible to put a precise statistical estimate on the things my hon. Friend is asking for, but one can say with a fair degree of confidence that, if it had not been for coalition activity, the citizens of Misrata would by now have sustained many, many more casualties. Indeed, it is entirely possible that the city would have been taken over by regime forces, with desperate consequences for many of its inhabitants.

Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): The Foreign Secretary says that coalition and British forces should follow the letter of the UN resolution, and indeed the resolution of the House, but are they doing so? Reports coming out of Libya suggest that we are supporting offensive actions by the rebels, and there are mixed messages about regime change, including from the Government Front Bench. Does he accept that there will be a breakdown in the broad consensus either in the UN or in this House if there is not clear evidence that only humanitarian and protective ambitions are being achieved?

Mr Hague: No, I do not accept any of the premises of the hon. Gentleman’s question. What we have just seen at the London conference is a serious broadening and deepening of support for what we are doing under the United Nations resolution and I have stressed the importance of maintaining that. He can be sure that British forces and our allies are acting entirely within the UN resolution and I am not aware of anyone who is able to bring to the House any evidence that they are doing anything other than that. He would do well to support our forces in the difficult job they are undertaking rather than to entertain the idea that they are doing something different.

Mr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con): Although there is widespread agreement that Gaddafi has lost all legitimacy, it is increasingly unlikely that he will step down voluntarily. Apart from the no-fly zone, what does the coalition force propose to bring an absolute end to the conflict?

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Mr Hague: I must be clear with my hon. Friend, as I have been with other hon. Members, that our military mission is defined by the United Nations resolution. As one or two Members have pointed out, neither the mission nor the resolution includes regime change. Yes, we think Gaddafi should go, as does any rational person on earth—it is impossible to see a viable future for his country while he remains there—but in our military activity we will stick absolutely to what is laid out in the UN resolution.

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): I note that the Foreign Secretary has not told us how much of the Gaddafi hardware now being targeted by coalition forces was provided by those countries in the first place. He also knows that in the debate of 21 March the Government clearly resiled from calls to arm the rebels and offered assurances regarding regime change and questions about the future governance of Libya. They also told us that there was international consensus on a clear and focused interpretation. Does he agree that those interpretations have been moving and varied since then, and is not the spin shift of the past 10 days evidence that the Government and the coalition are struggling to defy gravity and are being sucked into mission creep?

Mr Hague: No, that is entirely wrong. I wish the hon. Gentleman could have come along to the conference yesterday. If he had, he would have seen the degree of international support—indeed, unanimity—for these things, which is quite extraordinary for an international event involving such a varied group of nations from both sides of the Atlantic and around the middle east. That international consensus has been strengthened, the international focus on the UN resolution is as strong as it was at the beginning and our commitment to operate within it is as strong as it was at the beginning, so we are not engaging in any mission creep.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): First, may I congratulate the Foreign Secretary on the way in which he has handled the overall situation? Will he clarify one point about the UN resolution’s mention of protecting civilians under attack in Libya, “including Benghazi”? Why expressly mention Benghazi and not Misrata or Zawiya?

Mr Hague: That is a fair question. The mention of Benghazi is a product of the days in which the UN resolution was drafted and agreed at the UN Security Council, when the most specific threat to the largest number of people was to the civilian population of Benghazi. My hon. Friend will remember that at that time the Gaddafi forces were advancing rapidly on it, so when the resolution was agreed it was easy to put Benghazi in it. As he knows from reading that paragraph, its provisions apply to all the other civilian-populated areas of Libya; the inclusion of Benghazi was not meant to exclude any other areas.

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): May I press the Foreign Secretary to say something more about the contact group, specifically the size, frequency of meetings and the ministerial level at which those meetings will take place?

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Mr Hague: The membership of the group will be decided in the coming days. Clearly, as Qatar is hosting the next meeting and we will co-chair it, we will work closely with the Qataris on the membership of the contact group, which will need to be internationally agreed. It should certainly include international organisations such as the Arab League, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, the United Nations, the EU High Representative and the African Union if they want to be associated with it, and it also needs to include key nations from both sides of the Atlantic and from the middle east and north Africa region. It will need to include at least a dozen nations—perhaps a few more—to be of a size that can be cohesive and able to work together. I envisage it meeting for the first time within the next two weeks, certainly. We will be represented at senior ministerial level, which means by me or the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), if I have duties elsewhere. I think it will be a very useful and important group for the high-level political oversight of the whole work of the coalition.

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): I thank my right hon. Friend for his mojo on Libya. Given what my hon. Friends the Members for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) and for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) have said about the terrible treatment of civilians in Libya and about the prisons and torture there, did my right hon. Friend have any discussions yesterday with the other countries about bringing to justice those who are perpetrating war crimes, particularly about ensuring that Gaddafi is not allowed to go into exile but is brought before the International Criminal Court?

Mr Hague: We have had those discussions all along. As my hon. Friend knows, there is a reference to the prosecutor of the ICC in resolution 1970—the first of the two resolutions passed on these matters. Just as we remain strongly attached to the implementation of resolution 1973, we are also firmly committed to the implementation of resolution 1970 and we want people to know that we are not going to be advocates of impunity for those crimes.

Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): May I pay tribute to the work that our servicemen and women—the RAF and the Navy—are doing once again on our behalf and the way in which they are carrying out those operations, minimising civilian casualties? We endorse the careful and cautious approach of the Foreign Secretary and the Government because of the concerns about al-Qaeda. Will the Foreign Secretary address the issue that was raised earlier about the role of fighters from eastern Libya in Afghanistan and elsewhere? What knowledge can he bring to the House about that and the role of al-Qaeda links in Libya today?

Mr Hague: I am grateful, as the whole House will be, for the reaffirmation from all sides of support for the work of our armed forces. The right hon. Gentleman is quite right to refer to that, but I cannot give him specific information about people in eastern Libya fighting in Afghanistan. As he knows, there are fighters in Afghanistan on the Taliban side drawn from a wide area around the world, but it would not be accurate to represent the

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eastern part of Libya as a major factor in that or a major area for the recruitment of such people. As I say, it would be most accurate to place the accent on the positive and democratic side of the opposition in Libya rather than on any other side.

Rory Stewart (Penrith and The Border) (Con): May I strongly and respectfully disagree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind)? The UN resolution is not some law that has passed through a Bill Committee of the House of Commons; it is a contract between us, Germany, Brazil and India. We should be very, very careful not to push the letter of the law, but to stick to the spirit of that resolution. If anyone is to arm the rebels, may I respectfully suggest that Britain should not be in the lead?

Mr Hague: My hon. Friend makes some powerful points. He is right that in looking at a UN resolution one must bear in mind not only the precise words with which it was drafted but the circumstances in which it was agreed and any understanding at the time, and we shall certainly do so.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement. It is clear from television pictures that a humanitarian catastrophe is waiting to happen—no water, no electricity, no food, medical supplies dwindling, and those who have been injured, shot or blown up by other forces queuing up at the hospital. What steps has the right hon. Gentleman taken to ensure that technical support is given to civilians in Libya so that they can resume some normality in their lives?

Mr Hague: We are giving a lot of support. We are giving financial support to organisations that are involved in supplying such aid. We have provided a specific amount of supplies for up to 100,000 people, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development indicated earlier. We have other projects under way to support the bringing of direct help to some of the people in the most desperate situations. However, the hon. Gentleman will understand that I cannot announce in advance what they are in case the Gaddafi regime tries to prevent them, but he can be assured that we are giving a lot of attention to the issue.

Dan Byles (North Warwickshire) (Con): I, too, warmly welcome the news that there have been no civilian casualties so far as a result of the action that we have taken, which is a testament to the skill and delicacy of our pilots. The Foreign Secretary will be aware that the closer the fighting gets to the urban centres in the west of Libya, particularly around Tripoli, the harder it will be to avoid civilian casualties as a result of fighting on the ground and from the air.

I urge the Foreign Secretary to hold robust conversations with the Arab League and other regional players to ensure that we know where the tipping point is between air action to support civilians and air action in support of offensive ground action by the rebels, because it is a grey area—