Bill Presented

Sustainable Energy (Local Plans) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Martin Horwood, supported by Mr Tim Yeo, Dan Rogerson, Joan Walley, Sir Peter Bottomley, Lorely Burt, Caroline Lucas, Sir Alan Beith, Martin Caton, Jim Dowd, Tom Brake and Andrew George presented a Bill to promote energy efficiency; to require local authorities to publish sustainable energy plans; to make provision for a transfer of functions to principal councils; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 25 November, and to be printed (Bill 179).

5 Apr 2011 : Column 915

Electoral Registration, Identification and Eligibility for Voting

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

1.35 pm

Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to improve electoral registration; to introduce identification of voters and other measures to combat electoral fraud; to widen the franchise to allow all those over 18 legally resident in the United Kingdom to vote; to strengthen measures to control negative campaigns by third party groups and websites; and for connected purposes.

There has been much comment recently about our electoral system and the way in which it works. The Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011, which will reduce this House to 600 Members and necessitate the complete upheaval of boundaries, has come into law; the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill is in the other place; and in a month’s time there will be a referendum on the voting system for parliamentary elections. Despite those sometimes controversial changes, there remain other matters that, in my opinion, are as serious or more serious and require urgent attention. The Bill before us is about three of those areas: electoral registration, the identification of voters and the prevention of fraud, and the safeguards against abuse by third-party groups and negative campaigns, including on websites.

On electoral registration, in March 2010 the Electoral Commission produced a report entitled, “The Completeness and Accuracy of Electoral Registers in Great Britain”. It concluded:

“Under-registration and inaccuracy are closely associated with the social groups most likely to move home…under-registration is notably higher than average among 17–24 year olds (56% not registered), private sector tenants (49%) and black and minority ethnic (BME) British residents (31%).”

It also referred to

“a declining motivation to register to vote”

among certain groups, and it said that

“under-registration was significantly higher in Greater London than it was in England and Wales as a whole.”

The situation since 2000 has got worse, and that year under-registration was at 18% in inner London and 11% in outer London, whereas it was at 6.9% in England, 6% in Wales and 7% in other English metropolitan areas. For new Commonwealth citizens and members of ethnic minorities, under-registration was at 17%. As a result, there are clearly problems with the accuracy of the register of electors in different constituencies, and, given the other legislation to which we have already agreed, there are potential difficulties with the elections that will probably be held in 2015. As a result, we will potentially be in a situation where the boundaries that are to be drawn up in the next two years will be based on figures that are not accurate, and as a result there will be, according to some estimates, up to 3.5 million voters missing from the electoral registers throughout the United Kingdom.

The first thing that I wish to do through this Bill is to place a greater obligation on local authorities, and electoral registration officers of local authorities, to ensure that the electoral registration process is carried out more accurately than it has been in the past. Some

5 Apr 2011 : Column 916

local authorities take these matters extremely seriously and get a 95%-plus return of forms from households in their constituencies. Others make less effort and put in fewer resources and get 80%, or even lower, and that then impacts on the nature of the population that is registered and, potentially, on the resources that come to that area to meet the needs of the community. There should be much greater obligations on local authorities. If we are not going to have a national registration scheme, then we should at least ensure that local registration is done more efficiently and effectively, and we need to make sure of that in legislation.

In addition, we have a very strange electoral registration system. Someone who is a British citizen, a Commonwealth citizen with leave to remain in the UK or a citizen of the Republic of Ireland can vote in all elections in this country. Someone who is a European Union citizen from any other EU state except the UK or Ireland can vote in local elections and European elections. However, someone who is a long-standing resident of the United Kingdom who happens to be Norwegian, Swiss, American, Mexican or Filipino, and who is married to a British citizen, has children born in this country and is paying taxes, can have no right to take any role within our democratic process. Those anomalies and inconsistencies need to be addressed. [ Interruption. ] Conservative Members may heckle, but are they content that people who have been living in Britain for 40 or 50 years, with grown-up children, making a contribution to our society, have no democratic rights? We need to address that issue and modernise our systems to bring it into play.

At the same time, we need to look at the measures on how we check against electoral fraud in the UK. Northern Ireland has gone further than England, Wales and Scotland, where the Electoral Commission has brought in a permissive approach. The Political Parties and Elections Act 2009 talked about asking for voter identifiers and said that the issue would be revisited in future, but it needs to be taken further. There have been too many examples of people abusing the electoral system, impersonation and other kinds of activities. We need to check people’s IDs, not just requiring them to give a name and address when they go to vote but asking for a driving licence or a document of some kind with their name on it to ensure that impersonation is not going on.

The other matter that I wish to raise is what happens in so-called non-party campaigns in elections. Last year, the Electoral Commission published a document called an overview which sets out the laws relating to groups that intend to put out literature commenting on candidates or issues during an election campaign but are not fielding candidates. There is a regulated period and various other requirements, but they are not working. An enormous number of groups, local and national, do not register, and some organisations have websites. During the last general election, a group called the Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK targeted Labour MPs and candidates, with downloadable leaflets and other material attacking people whom they were trying to get out of Parliament. It was able to put out tens of thousands of leaflets without any restriction—negative material arguing against sitting Members of Parliament and encouraging people to vote for other candidates. In some constituencies where the result changed, Liberal Democrats or other people were elected having been beneficiaries of this negative campaigning. We should

5 Apr 2011 : Column 917

tighten up the rules to regulate what can be put on the internet. We could also prosecute people who have downloadable material that does not have imprints. We need to ask the Electoral Commission to take these matters far more seriously, and that is why I am proposing this Bill.

1.45 pm

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): I have great respect for the hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes), and I have no problem with some of his Bill, which has the worthy aim of improving electoral registration, together with other measures to combat electoral fraud. So it is with genuine regret that I must oppose it, as I have serious concerns about the last clause, which seeks to

“strengthen measures to control negative campaigns by third party groups and websites.”

Effectively, he is calling for regulation of the internet. He has built a Trojan horse of censorship under cover of making every vote count fairly. His proposal is wrong for two reasons: it would amount to a huge assault on individual freedom of expression, and it is unenforceable.

Last Friday, the hon. Gentleman said in an interview on the “Today in Parliament” programme—I almost choked on my hot chocolate—that he objects to so-called attack websites because they can be

“very effective in the modern world”.

I agree that all election materials must be sourced and that publishers must be clearly identified. He went further when he said:

“It is not just attack websites. I think there should be a framework whereby publishing materials about elections, about candidates—either promotion, or negative campaigning—needs to be brought within the normal election law.”

The interviewer put it to him:

“You do wonder if the cure might be worse than the disease on this. You might stop people who want legitimately to comment on an election, because they have to go through some massive registration process.”

His reply went precisely to the heart of the problem when he said:

“I am not calling for censorship. I am calling for regulation.”

That is a false argument, because when it comes to free expression, regulation is censorship by another name. With free expression, regulation is censorship of the worst kind, because it deters amateur enthusiasts, small neighbourhood groups and free-thinking individuals. Any increase in red tape and bureaucracy would leave the battle of ideas to special interest groups: the rich, the media establishment, those with extreme views, and professional groups such as trade unions and political parties. The hon. Gentleman justifies his reform by saying that

“other election literature is restricted”.

However, I believe that election literature is too restricted as it is. There are too many rules regarding second and third-party endorsements, for example, and the Electoral Commission regulations can be a minefield.

Let us take the case of Phil Woolas, which the hon. Gentleman raised in his interview on BBC Radio 4. He said that that case proves the need for “greater regulation” of election materials, “especially on the internet”. During

5 Apr 2011 : Column 918

the Phil Woolas case, I went on television to oppose his removal by the election court because I saw it as an outrageous attack on parliamentary democracy. I accepted that the judge acted under the law, but the law in this case is wrong—a sitting MP must be removed by voters, not unelected judges. The new recall system will help. If an MP has libelled his opponents, he should of course be sued for libel, but the election of MPs must be up to voters to decide.

My fear is that the Bill almost risks a throwback to the 1950s, when interviewers on television programmes had to ask Ministers, “What wonderful work are you doing today?” The hon. Gentleman’s Bill, if successful, would produce a 21st-century version of that: electioneering on the internet that is bland and without colour. Fortunately, we now live in an open society with social networking and blogging where communication is of paramount importance. The citizen is no longer a subject but an autonomous individual.

We are regularly criticised on Twitter and other social media sites—sometimes outrageous or even libellous things are written, and I have also been a victim of some of the things that the hon. Gentleman described—but that is mostly part and parcel of politics. I do not believe we should bring in a law to stop it, because it is the essence of a free society. Negative campaigning, however frustrating, is part of free speech and we must hope that the truth will ultimately shine through in a marketplace of ideas.

We must ask whether the criminal justice system is the right way of dealing with the problems that the hon. Gentleman has identified. Once we interfere with what happens on the internet, where will that stop? The loss of freedom rarely happens all at once; it is usually incremental. First, we restrict free expression on the internet at election times and then we restrict it altogether.

My second objection is that the provision is clearly unenforceable, as the hon. Gentleman said on BBC Radio 4. Web postings can be made overseas and domain names can be registered in different territories. Even if we restrict one individual from commenting, it will be like the Hydra’s head: another will pop up in its place.

We all know what Voltaire said, but as a good Tory let me quote Hayek:

“In any society freedom of thought will probably be of direct significance only for a small minority. But this does not mean that anyone is competent, or ought to have the power, to select those to whom this freedom is to be reserved.”

That is why, although I have great respect for the hon. Gentleman and support much of his Bill, I cannot let it pass through the House unopposed.

Question put (Standing Order No. 23).

The House divided:

Ayes 30, Noes 86.

Division No. 254]

[1.51 pm


Bayley, Hugh

Burden, Richard

Clwyd, rh Ann

Crausby, Mr David

Durkan, Mark

Flynn, Paul

Gapes, Mike

Gardiner, Barry

George, Andrew

Gilmore, Sheila

Glass, Pat

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Hilling, Julie

Hood, Mr Jim

Hopkins, Kelvin

Jackson, Glenda

Jarvis, Dan

Lloyd, Tony

Llwyd, rh Mr Elfyn

MacShane, rh Mr Denis

Meale, Mr Alan

Michael, rh Alun

Morrice, Graeme


Robinson, Mr Geoffrey

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Stringer, Graham

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Williams, Hywel

Williams, Roger

Winnick, Mr David

Tellers for the Ayes:

Steve McCabe and

Mr Virendra Sharma


Baker, Steve

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Baron, Mr John

Bebb, Guto

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Binley, Mr Brian

Brake, Tom

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Bruce, Fiona

Bruce, rh Malcolm

Byles, Dan

Chishti, Rehman

Chope, Mr Christopher

Clappison, Mr James

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Davis, rh Mr David

de Bois, Nick

Dodds, rh Mr Nigel

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Elphicke, Charlie

Foster, rh Mr Don

Fuller, Richard

Gale, Mr Roger

Garnier, Mark

Gilbert, Stephen

Gray, Mr James

Griffiths, Andrew

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Halfon, Robert

Harris, Rebecca

Hinds, Damian

Hollingbery, George

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Horwood, Martin

James, Margot

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Kirby, Simon

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Latham, Pauline

Laws, rh Mr David

Leadsom, Andrea

Leech, Mr John

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leigh, Mr Edward

Leslie, Charlotte

Lopresti, Jack

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Karl

McIntosh, Miss Anne

McPartland, Stephen

Munt, Tessa

Parish, Neil

Patel, Priti

Percy, Andrew

Phillips, Stephen

Pincher, Christopher

Raab, Mr Dominic

Redwood, rh Mr John

Rogerson, Dan

Rosindell, Andrew

Rudd, Amber

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Smith, Sir Robert

Stewart, Iain

Stuart, Mr Graham

Swales, Ian

Tomlinson, Justin

Turner, Mr Andrew

Tyrie, Mr Andrew

Uppal, Paul

Walker, Mr Charles

Walker, Mr Robin

Weatherley, Mike

White, Chris

Williamson, Gavin

Willott, Jenny

Wright, Simon

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr Peter Bone and

Chris Heaton-Harris

Question accordingly negatived.

5 Apr 2011 : Column 919

5 Apr 2011 : Column 920

Humanitarian Relief and Libya

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Before I call the Secretary of State to move the motion, I inform the House that the time limit on Back-Bench speeches in the debate on humanitarian relief and Libya is 10 minutes. We will then revert to the six-minute limit.

2.4 pm

The Secretary of State for International Development (Mr Andrew Mitchell): I beg to move,

That this House has considered the matter of Britain’s contribution to humanitarian relief and Libya.

At the outset, I pay tribute to the seven United Nations staff who were murdered at the weekend in Mazar-e-Sharif.

The Prime Minister made a firm commitment to keep this House fully informed in respect of our actions in Libya. I am grateful for this opportunity to update Members on the action that the Government are taking, and on our contribution to this and other humanitarian crises.

I begin by reminding the House of the dire consequences that the recent United Nations resolution, resolution 1973, sought to stop. Gaddafi’s forces were advancing on Benghazi: as he told his own citizens “We are coming tonight” and

“there won’t be any mercy”.

He was a leader intent on murdering innocent women and children, and on shattering lives. At that moment, the world was faced with a stark choice: it could stand by and watch, or it could intervene to stop an Arab Srebrenica. We can reflect on the fact that Britain, France, the United States, Arab states and other countries agreed, through the auspices of the UN, that they would indeed face up to that challenge. We should all be grateful to the leaders who had the courage of their convictions and who ignored the soi-disant experts who said that nothing could be done.

Many of us in this House have absorbed the bitter lessons of the international community’s failure to act when the Rwandan genocide was executed ruthlessly over 90 days in 1994. We have no intention of making the same mistake again.

Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con): I congratulate my right hon. Friend and the Government on the robust approach that we have taken on Libya. He mentioned Rwanda, but we also inherited two interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, where the window of opportunity to sow the seeds of democracy was not taken. I urge him to do everything he can at this critical stage to ensure that the vacuum that is created is not filled by gangs that will turn into militias, but that we sow the seeds of democracy before it is too late and there is a repetition of what happened in those two other locations.

Mr Mitchell: My hon. Friend makes an important contribution, and I hope that by the end of my remarks he will feel that the Government have taken account of his point.

The UN enforcement action that we are taking in Libya is necessary, legal and right: necessary, because Gaddafi continues to brutalise his own people in flagrant

5 Apr 2011 : Column 921

breach of an earlier UN resolution; legal, because we have a clear UN resolution that authorises “all necessary measures” to protect civilians; and right, not only because we have a moral duty to intervene but because it is in our national interest to do so. We should never forget Gaddafi’s track record. I remind Members of Lockerbie, of Yvonne Fletcher, and of the supply of Semtex to the IRA.

As I speak, the people of Libya continue to suffer at the hands of Gaddafi’s troops. In Misrata, fighting continues. Although accurate information is hard to obtain, there are reports that up to 200 deaths have occurred in the past week and that hundreds more people have been injured. Access to Misrata remains difficult, but on Sunday a Turkish humanitarian ship, the MF Ankara, evacuated about 250 injured people from Misrata to the opposition-held city of Benghazi.

Over the weekend, I arranged for 2,100 tents from Britain’s stores in Dubai to be dispatched to help those displaced by the fighting, especially around Ajdabiya. The British taxpayer has also supported the International Committee of the Red Cross, which is providing basic necessities to 100,000 people displaced by the violence, and medical supplies and treatment to 3,000 people affected by the ongoing fighting in Libya. Humanitarian experts from the Department for International Development are on the ground on both borders to keep an eye on the situation, and we stand ready to assist further if necessary, as I told the head of the ICRC, Jakob Kellenberger, when I saw him earlier today.

Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet and Rothwell) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend expand on his point about our giving humanitarian aid if we are required to do so? Where would the requirement to do so come from? What would be the spark for our doing so?

Mr Mitchell: As my hon. Friend knows, we watch the matter all the time and are in very close contact not only with the ICRC but with the United Nations system, and particularly with Valerie Amos, who is in charge of the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Britain stands ready to assist in whatever way we feel is appropriate in meeting the humanitarian need.

Dr Andrew Murrison (South West Wiltshire) (Con): What role does my right hon. Friend see for the European External Action Service? To date, Baroness Ashton has managed to brief against the no-fly zone, which goes very much against the grain of EU member states, and so far the EEAS’s record has not been terribly good. What further record might it build up to redeem itself?

Mr Mitchell: If my hon. Friend will allow me, I will come later to the importance of the EU’s role in the stabilisation work that lies ahead.

On top of what I have already described, we have given specific support to those who have fled over the border. Early intervention by Britain and other donors has prevented a logistical challenge from developing into a humanitarian crisis. Indeed, we were able to do rather better than originally anticipated, with British taxpayers funding more than 12,700 repatriations, 6,700 of which we handled directly having chartered our own

5 Apr 2011 : Column 922

planes. That eased pressure on the transit camps and helped migrant workers to return to their own countries and their families. We have also supplied three logistics experts to assist with movements from the border, along with tents for 10,000 people and 38,000 blankets to help those whom I saw on the border shivering in the early morning cold.

Early on in the emergency, I visited the camp on the Tunisian border at Ras Ajdir and met some of the displaced migrant workers who have been leaving Libya in their thousands. What I saw and heard underlined the urgency and real human impact of the situation in Libya. I wish to record today the Government’s admiration of the many hundreds of Tunisian families who, of their own accord, donated food, water, clothing and other supplies to the people who were fleeing from Libya. Those selfless and spontaneous acts of generosity are a touching and inspiring example of the very best of human nature.

Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): The Secretary of State is right to say that a lot was done, including by Britain, to help with the evacuation in the early days. Now, however, the International Organisation for Migration is reporting that it lacks the funds to continue with the evacuation. There are still an estimated 75,000 people who need to be evacuated, so what more is Britain doing directly or through other agencies to ensure that the funding is available?

Mr Mitchell: We watch the situation closely and are in continuous liaison with the IOM. Some 400,000 people have crossed over the borders, and between 10,000 and 14,000 are still on the borders. We are considering carefully how we can help them to return home. As I have said, we will continue to provide strong support. We look at what other countries are doing as well, because we do not expect the British taxpayer to provide the funding all the time. We try to ensure that there is a proper burden-sharing approach to the work of repatriation from the border.

As well as responding to the immediate humanitarian needs of those who are suffering the consequences of conflict in Libya and on its borders, we are focusing directly on plans for building longer-term stability. In the past, the links between humanitarian aid and post-conflict stabilisation have not always been well understood. We must not make the same mistakes that were made in Iraq. The international community must agree and implement a single UN-led plan to rebuild lives, peace and security, and it must have the full support of the Libyan people and strong regional buy-in. It should include preventing violence and providing security and justice; protecting people and institutions; rebuilding infrastructure; and ensuring that basic services such as schools and hospitals can function. That will require clear, strong, multilateral leadership and a shared assessment of what needs to be done.

We have learned lessons from Iraq, and indeed from events in Afghanistan, the Balkans and Sierra Leone. For instance, we have learned that it is crucial that the international system starts to plan for stabilisation sooner rather than later. We have learned that we will need to make the security of ordinary Libyan citizens a priority, and that where it exists, state capacity must be preserved. We have also learned that a functioning Government,

5 Apr 2011 : Column 923

basic services and economic activity are critical. Those are all valuable lessons that will serve us well as we seek to help Libya’s people to rebuild their country.

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the humanitarian role that he and his Department are playing. In line with what he has just said about the need for strong regional buy-in, what discussions has he had with the African Union and the Arab states in particular, for which there should be no shortage of resources, about what they are prepared to do in the immediate humanitarian situation and in bringing stability to Libya in the longer term?

Mr Mitchell: My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. I had discussions only yesterday with Jean Ping, the chairperson of the African Union. Indeed, I speak to him regularly. We have also had discussions with the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, and I had specific discussions on both the humanitarian situation and the stabilisation work with the Turkish Foreign Minister when he was here last week.

Last week’s London conference, under the Foreign Secretary’s leadership, secured an extraordinary level of international consensus. We welcome, in particular, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s offer to lead the co-ordination of humanitarian assistance and planning for longer-term stabilisation support. The Libya contact group, whose establishment was agreed by the conference, will work with regional organisations and the rest of the international community. Britain is ready to play its full part, building on our existing relationships and the work that we have been doing over recent weeks, especially through the stabilisation unit. A British diplomatic mission, headed by a senior diplomat, Christopher Prentice, is engaging with key Libyan opposition groups in the east of the country, including the interim transitional national council and its military council. We are deploying a humanitarian adviser and two stabilisation advisers to join that team, to get the most up-to-date information about the situation on the ground and to identify what more Britain can do to help.

Mr Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): I will not quarrel with any of the points that the Secretary of State is making, and I welcome them. However, will he reveal to the House his views in his heart of hearts about whether we really had enough people in place in the Maghreb countries before the crisis broke? Did we have any DFID aid going there at all? I think the answer is no, and there were no UK Trade & Investment priority relationships with those countries. We are catching up now, but we have been absent on parade for quite a long time. That is true of the previous Government as well—I am not trying to make any partisan point.

Mr Mitchell: I am not sure that I agree with the right hon. Gentleman to any great extent. I do not think any of us envisages bilateral programmes with the Maghreb countries, but it is vital that the EU should engage with them much more in future, particularly on opening up trade and improving market access. We can do a range of things to provide strong encouragement in future.

I was talking about the importance of our work in developing plans for stabilisation. I sought last week to reinforce the message about the importance of early planning, both at the conference itself and in the margins

5 Apr 2011 : Column 924

of it. We are in regular contact and working closely not only with Ban Ki-moon and with Baroness Amos of OCHA, as I have indicated, but with Helen Clark at the United Nations Development Programme, Tony Lake at UNICEF and Josette Sheeran at the World Food Programme.

Of course, as part of its stabilisation Libya will need a strong, inclusive political settlement. As the Prime Minister has said, it must be for the Libyan people themselves to determine their destiny. The international community can help them to do that by bringing together a wide coalition of political leaders within Libya, whether regional groupings, community bodies or civil society, but Libya must find its own voice and shape its own future.

Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): I congratulate the Secretary of State and his Department on what they are doing on the humanitarian front, but as we move forward and plan for the post-conflict situation, can he give the House a guarantee that no obstacle will be placed in the way of the pursuit of the Gaddafi regime’s people, administration or assets by victims of IRA terrorism that, as he mentioned, was sponsored by Gaddafi through the supply of Semtex? They must be allowed to pursue their claims against whomever and whatever assets are out there.

Mr Mitchell: The right hon. Gentleman makes an extremely good point. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has already spoken about the role of the International Criminal Court in those matters. The right hon. Gentleman will have heard what has been said in recent days, not least by the Scottish law authorities about the long arm of the law and police investigations leading where they may.

The role of regional partners is critical. I have held discussions on stabilisation as well as humanitarian relief with Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference. That builds on our coalition Government’s shift towards greater engagement with Gulf states generally. We have offered to host the next high-level meeting of the Development Assistance Committee/Arab Donor Co-ordination Group. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Minister of State is travelling to Abu Dhabi today, where, together with the Emirati Deputy Foreign Minister, he will host a seminar on partnership working in fragile environments.

In the wider region, for example, in Egypt and Tunisia, the role of Europe and the international finance institutions will be crucial. They are significant players and can do much to catalyse economic and political change. We will also work with the EU on creating a new and ambitious economic and trade partnership with the region. That offer, together with any EU aid attached to it, should be made conditional on the delivery of real progress towards democracy, human rights and political and economic reform.

Our vision is simple: we want open, fair and inclusive societies that meet the needs of all citizens, including the poorest and most vulnerable. We want the economic growth that will create the jobs that help young people to see how they can build a future for themselves and their own children International consensus will be particularly helpful in achieving that. We will play our part, recognising that our priority must be to help fragile states to build legitimate, effective and resilient institutions of their own.

5 Apr 2011 : Column 925

Dr Murrison: Will my right hon. Friend note the extremely good example that Morocco set, in particular the speech that King Mohammed VI made on 9 March, which, I hope, will herald some genuine constitutional and political reforms in that country? Will he agree that much of north Africa and the Maghreb must look to such role models?

Mr Mitchell: I agree with the principle of my hon. Friend’s point. Although I have not yet read King Mohammed VI’s speech, I will make a point of doing so afterwards in view of my hon. Friend’s interest in it.

Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) (LD): Given that a major cause of the problem in north Africa is a skilled and educated work force but a lack of employment, does the Secretary of State recognise that international organisations, such as the International Labour Organisation, which the Government have downgraded for core funding but indicated that they would still accept as a partner, may have a role in helping to reconstruct the economies of those countries and giving access to jobs for those who have the skills, but not the opportunity?

Mr Mitchell: The Chair of the International Development Committee makes a good point. Of course, the ILO still receives core funding from the Department for Work and Pensions. His point is picked up in the Government’s multilateral aid review because we will, of course, support any specific ILO programmes, which we judge to provide good and effective progress on the ground and value for money for the British taxpayer.

While most eyes are on Libya, we should not forget the crisis in Ivory Coast, where Laurent Gbagbo continues to cling to power. In little over six months, political unrest has displaced up to 1 million people from their homes and killed hundreds. There are well-documented accounts of significant abuses of civilians, including rape, killings and disappearances. Insecurity continues to hinder the humanitarian response and help is reaching only a small proportion of those directly affected. However, Britain has responded swiftly. We are planning to provide 25,000 displaced people with enough food to last them six months, supply enough tents to shelter 15,000 people, treat 10,000 people for malnutrition, and help 3,000 west African nationals to return home.

As a result of the unrest, more than 120,000 men, women and children have fled across the border into Liberia. That influx has had a major impact on border communities, depleting food stocks to a bare minimum. In some villages, the number of refugees is almost the number of the host community and is likely to increase still further in the coming months.

More than 10 days ago, I agreed significant support for 15,000 refugees in Liberia, including the provision of food and shelter. We are particularly concerned about the number of children who have been separated from their families. Through our support of UNICEF, we are therefore helping to ensure that thousands of children affected by the crisis are protected from violence, abuse and exploitation. We are working to supply water and sanitation to the very large number of people I described on the border.

We will monitor the situation closely and continue to press other donors to play their full part. I have recently discussed the situation with President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf

5 Apr 2011 : Column 926

of Liberia. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary arrived on the Liberian border with Ivory Coast yesterday to assess the situation at first hand.

Humanitarian emergencies can arise from rapid onset disasters as well as protracted conflicts. In recent weeks, we have seen terrible natural disasters in New Zealand and Japan. In each case, we responded to requests from their Governments for help, sending the UK’s international search and rescue teams, made up of firefighters, medical experts and dogs that are specially trained to seek out those who are still alive under the rubble, as well as heavy lifting equipment. We have been able to provide some small help to the people of New Zealand and Japan as they cope with the aftermath of disasters, both cruel reminders that nature does not discriminate on the basis of GDP.

I end with a more general point. The House can be proud that Britain is known across the world for the quality of its response to humanitarian disasters. That is matched by the generosity shown by British people when faced with the overwhelming need of others—a truth that was so poignantly illustrated last year in the case of Pakistan, and just last month in the public response to the Comic Relief appeal. The UK is a world leader when it comes to humanitarian support. However, we should never be complacent. For that reason, I asked Lord Ashdown to carry out an independent review of Britain’s humanitarian emergency response capability. He delivered that report last week.

The review set out Lord Ashdown’s conclusions on how we might equip ourselves for tomorrow’s disasters, which experts tell us unequivocally will increase in scale and severity. The need to anticipate and prepare for disasters has been demonstrated many times and was cruelly illustrated again last year by the relative impacts of the almost contemporaneous earthquakes in Haiti and Chile. The death rates tell their own story: despite the earthquakes being similar in magnitude, 316,000 people lost their lives in Haiti compared with 562 in Chile. Inevitably, the poorest people are the least equipped to prepare and therefore remain increasingly vulnerable.

Lord Ashdown has suggested several ways in which Britain could improve the quality of its humanitarian response. In framing his recommendations, he has focused on how DFID can deliver maximum benefit to those in need while achieving value for money for the British taxpayer. He has proposed some radical changes, which would place resilience to natural disasters at the heart of all our activity.

The Government will now consider Lord Ashdown’s report, and I will consult further on his recommendations. I expect to be in a position to report to the House, setting out a detailed Government response, during the week commencing 17 May. However, I can say to the House today that I agree with the review’s principal recommendation—namely, that our response to a humanitarian emergency must be based on need. The Government are, first and last, committed to respecting and promoting the neutrality, impartiality and independence of humanitarian aid.

In the debate, we reflect on just some of the different humanitarian needs that exist in our world today and Britain’s response to them. Generosity of spirit and concern for the plight of others are as much British

5 Apr 2011 : Column 927

values as stoicism or free speech. I believe that the whole House will join me in underlining that fact, and in working to continue that proud tradition.

2.28 pm

Ms Harriet Harman (Camberwell and Peckham) (Lab): I am grateful to the Secretary of State for introducing the debate at a time of extraordinary humanitarian emergencies, both those caused by natural disasters and those brought about by conflict. I join him in paying tribute to the seven UN workers who were killed in Afghanistan.

There have been terrible disasters in New Zealand and Japan. Our thoughts are with all those who have lost relatives and are struggling to rebuild. Those disasters underline the points that Lord Ashdown’s important report on humanitarian emergency response makes so compellingly. Our ability to anticipate where natural disaster will strike is growing all the time, and we must take action in advance to build resilience. We know that anticipation and advance planning save lives. I pay tribute to Lord Ashdown for his report and look forward to the Government’s response.

The Foreign Secretary updated the House yesterday on the dreadful conflict in Côte d'Ivoire, of which the International Development Secretary spoke. Hundreds have been murdered, and hundreds of thousands have fled their homes. Ivorians are in desperate need of food, clean water, shelter, medical care, and above all, an end to the fighting. Women and children are the most vulnerable. Save the Children has said that at least 500,000 children have been forced to leave their homes. Many have lost their parents and suffered unimaginable trauma. They need protection and shelter, and there is an urgent need for the international community to ensure that is provided.

It is therefore of great concern that aid is being impeded. There are reports of UN headquarters coming under continuous attack and of UNICEF workers being trapped in their office in Abidjan. For the suffering to stop and for peace to prevail, former President Gbagbo must go.

Refugees are flooding into Liberia, which is struggling to cope. The Liberians have shown great generosity, but they need support. The UN has asked for $146 million from the international community, but so far, it has been promised less than a quarter of that. What contribution has the UK made to that UN fund? Many here, not least my Ivorian constituents living in Southwark, will want us to play our part in helping to alleviate such terrible suffering. The UN Security Council is meeting today. The Opposition fully support the international efforts to bring an end to that crisis, which cannot happen too soon.

DFID’s expertise in responding to humanitarian emergencies is recognised around the world, as Lord Ashdown’s report underlined. However, he is right that we need to continue to press for improvements in how both the UK and the international community respond to humanitarian emergencies.

On Libya, although most of the attention has been focused on the armed battle, it was because of the threat of death and injury to Libyan people that the UN agreed to military action. It is right that we continue to

5 Apr 2011 : Column 928

keep our focus on the plight of those in Libya who are playing no part in the fighting, but who are suffering because of it.

Malcolm Bruce: Does the right hon. and learned Lady agree that that action was taken under the UN resolution on the responsibility to protect? Does she agree that that is not a right, it is a responsibility? Does she also agree that had we not taken such action, we would have been in breach of the spirit, if not the words, of the UN charter?

Ms Harman: The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right—not taking such action would have cost many more lives. The humanitarian situation in Libya is dire. Libyans must flee from their homes and many, including children, are being gravely injured and face lifelong disabilities, and many are losing their lives. However, as he says, the situation would have been immeasurably worse had the international community decided not to take action. As the Secretary of State graphically underlined to the House, Gaddafi’s attacks on, and threats to, his own people, and particularly his threat to show no mercy to Benghazi, imposed a clear duty to prevent the slaughter of innocent people, and we support that action.

UN resolution 1973, which authorised military action for a no-fly zone, also required the Libyan authorities to allow full and rapid humanitarian assistance to those in need, and to take all measures to protect civilians and to meet their basic needs. The Gaddafi regime has failed to comply with those obligations. The UN and aid agencies are unable to reach all areas. The fighting makes things too dangerous in some areas, and Gaddafi denies access to others. The UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs has said that hostilities around Tripoli and in the west make even finding out what needs to be done virtually impossible.

We do know, however, that the threats and the fighting in Libya are causing a massive flight of people from their homes. Where the fighting is worst, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that only 10% remain in their homes—90% have fled. Tens of thousands are presumed to have fled to Benghazi to seek refuge from Gaddafi’s troops; more than 70,000 Libyans have fled their country altogether; and more than 300,000 foreign workers have fled the country. Facing upheaval and distress, they have needed food and shelter at the border and transport back to their home countries. That is a huge movement of people, and we should pay tribute, as the Secretary of State did, to DFID for its role in the international effort to help to shelter and protect those who fled.

Those stranded on the border remain a problem—those who cannot afford to go home or those who were in Libya as refugees and who are afraid to go home. Many countries are playing their part in offering refuge to them. For example, Canada is taking 60, Argentina is taking 25, and Finland is taking 70. We should play our part too. How many will the UK take?

There is a particular problem for women from sub-Saharan Africa who were working in Libya, who are facing sexual violence—there are alarming reports of rape and beatings. Can the Secretary of State assure the House that every effort will be made to protect them?

5 Apr 2011 : Column 929

Alec Shelbrooke: Will the right hon. Lady draw on her work on child sex slave trafficking? Has she considered what opportunities exist for people to exploit young women and girls who are fleeing Libya? Does she have any suggestions on how we can prevent them from ending up in this country as a result of such exploitation?

Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, and of course those women and girls are very vulnerable. Those who are foreign workers could be properly sheltered and protected on the borders, and then transported safely home, but the situation for those who remain in Libya remains grave. There are grave problems for those who stayed behind—both Libyans and migrant workers.

In Misrata, water and electricity have been cut off, the hospitals are inundated, and there is a growing problem throughout Libya with the supply of food. Libya imports most of its food, but the fighting has disrupted imports, threatening food shortages and price rises. UNOCHA has expressed particular concern about migrant workers getting the food they need because in many cases, their employment has been disrupted, leaving them with little or no disposable income. The flight of so many foreign workers has also meant Libya facing difficulties without Egyptian nurses, Tunisian construction workers, Palestinian engineers and thousands of Bangladeshi workers.

I join the praise for our armed forces who are protecting people through the no-fly zone, and I strongly support what DFID has done in Libya. We must also continue to back the UN in co-ordinated international efforts to increase humanitarian access to Libya and its borders. I also pay tribute to Islamic Relief, the International Red Cross and the International Medical Corps—humanitarian organisations that are operating in difficult and dangerous circumstances. To get help to those who need it, they have not only to maintain scrupulous impartiality but also to be, and be seen to be, separate from the military effort, which they are.

As well as highlighting the work of DFID, international agencies and humanitarian organisations, the Secretary of State was right to highlight the role of the diaspora community in this country. The Government play a major role, but hard-working people, often in low-paid jobs, are very generous and immediately rush to help those in their country of origin. Those in the diaspora community who rally round when there is an international emergency greatly deserve to be recognised.

The UN says that it needs $310 million funding for the international effort, but it has collected only a third of that. I was glad to hear the Secretary of State say that the UK will play its part in ensuring that other countries contribute to that fund, as we have.

The Secretary of State has rightly highlighted the admirable and selfless support being provided by the Tunisians and Egyptians to refugees fleeing to their borders. As people continue to leave Libya, however, there will be a need for ongoing support for her neighbours—Egypt and Tunisia—as they face the twin challenges of transforming into a new political future and a major influx of refugees. To tackle the urgent humanitarian problems, international support must be properly financed, properly co-ordinated and clearly led, which is why we welcome the acceptance at last week’s London conference of the UN Secretary-General’s

5 Apr 2011 : Column 930

offer to lead co-ordination of humanitarian assistance. We look forward to hearing further details as that is taken forward.

Will the Secretary of State reassure the House that the important Turkish-UK-US humanitarian aid team is fully co-ordinated as part of the UN plan? Are the Government pressing for the clear leadership that Lord Ashdown proposed in his recent report? Is the UK pushing for one person to be put in charge of all international humanitarian efforts? The countries of north Africa and the Arab world have an important role, and the support and active participation of Muslim countries in delivering aid is vital. Can the Secretary of State tell us which countries in the region are providing that humanitarian support? As everyone recognises, the need for the close involvement of the Arab League and the African Union is crucial. At the London conference, the African Union was not represented. After his discussions with the head of the African Union this week, can we look forward to its greater involvement?

Will the Secretary of State also tell the House what the EU military operation set up last week will be able to contribute to the humanitarian effort? As well as an effective response to immediate humanitarian needs, he is right to stress the importance of early and effective planning for post-conflict stabilisation and clarity over who is leading the international effort. Women must be included in peacebuilding and reconstruction, as UN resolution 1325 demands. It was disappointing that at the London conference last week only five of the 46 participants were women. Will he assure us that the UK will do all it can to ensure that in the future women are fully involved?

As the Secretary of State said, it must be Libyan men and women who lead the rebuilding of their country, so I hope that the Government will involve the Libyan diaspora community in this country. They live here, but they know and care about their homeland. Libya is struggling now, but it is not a poor country; it has great potential and capacity.

Dr Murrison: It is of course right that the Government listen to all sources of advice, but would the right hon. and learned Lady accept that her Government listened too much to Iraqi expatriates, émigrés and defectors in the run-up to the 2003 conflict? In part, I am afraid, that resulted in some very misleading conclusions and hampered the reconstruction operation after the acute war-fighting phase.

Ms Harman: I do not accept, as a general point, that Governments, including the Labour Government, have listened too much to diaspora communities. If anything, Governments feel that what they do is most important, and fail to see the efforts of ordinary people who know and care about their country of origin. I would never criticise any Government—past or future—for listening to diaspora communities, which have different sources of information. Obviously, that would form just part of the information that Governments need to gather, but we must listen to those who might not work in the Foreign Office, but who know a great deal and care about their country of origin.

Mr MacShane: We would also be well advised to listen to the Moroccan diaspora communities in Paris and London that are presenting a very different picture

5 Apr 2011 : Column 931

of the corruption and the authoritarian and repressive tactics—sadly, and despite the good intentions of the king—in that country.

Ms Harman: I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend on that point.

In conclusion, we have all seen the terrible events in New Zealand, Japan, Côte d’Ivoire and Libya, and the suffering of the people in those countries. When we see children starving, women at risk of rape and abuse and people trapped under rubble, we cannot stand back as spectators. Ultimately, our humanitarian effort is no substitute for political action in situations such as those in Côte d’Ivoire and Libya, and where there is ongoing conflict, in places such as the Democratic Republic of Congo. However, it can help to alleviate the suffering. Ensuring that those efforts are delivered as rapidly and effectively as possible is vital. What is needed for that is strong leadership and a strong and effective international system.

2.44 pm

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con): I am grateful to be called so early in the debate, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I start where my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State finished—with the UK’s generosity of spirit. I urge him to sell to the British people all the excellent humanitarian work that the UK is undertaking. At this time of economic stringency, a small minority of our constituents are asking, “Why are we spending so much money on foreign aid?” so the British people ought to hear what he is doing around the world. Like the good Samaritan, we as a nation do not walk on the other side of the road; we get involved when a nation is in serious trouble, regardless of whether it is a wealthy nation or one of the poorest nations on earth, which is why the Japanese people were so grateful that we volunteered to send a team to try to recover victims following the earthquake.

Anybody who, like my right hon. Friend and me, has seen the holocaust memorial in Kigali in Rwanda or, even worse, the sheds in Murambi just north of Butare, where during the holocaust women, men and even children were encouraged to enter the newly created secondary school, locked up in sheds and then butchered with machetes, could have no doubt that we should have taken the action that we did in Libya—not to have done so would have been a moral outrage. My right hon. Friends the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for International Development are to be congratulated on leading the world in taking that action.

Gaddafi took over in a bitter military coup in 1969, and has lost close relations in the 1986 bombing and in the current campaign, so he is clearly a hardened individual. As a result, it is extremely unlikely that he will leave until he knows with absolute certainty that the game is up. At present, that is not the situation. Although the no-fly zone has been successfully implemented, all he has to do is occasionally send out his tanks and armoured cars to terrorise his population, and that keeps the coalition forces tied up. We have to accept, therefore, that there will not be a military ending to this dispute; it will have to be politically negotiated. That is where this

5 Apr 2011 : Column 932

debate is important, because not only are we providing the immediate humanitarian aid, but there will be an ongoing need for nation-building aid. That will be really important.

I seek clarification from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development; if he cannot provide it now, perhaps he can seek it after the debate. This morning, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said:

“Our position on Gaddafi is very clear. He has to go. Anything else is a matter for the Libyan people.”

Does that denote a slight shift in the coalition’s position towards regime change? I do not think that there will be a satisfactory outcome to the Libyan situation until Gaddafi leaves, so if that is the coalition’s new policy, I welcome it. At the moment, the rebels do not have the military or other resources to bring about that change, so we have to focus on the diplomatic activity, and use all the interlocutors we can to bring about a settlement. Saif Gaddafi has a role to play, too, because if anyone can persuade Gaddafi to go, it must be his son. He has had considerable experience of western culture and—much more importantly—of peaceful western democracy, including in this country.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is right when he talks about the possibility of recognising the interim transitional national council. We ought to recognise the opposition. Instead of calling them rebels, we ought to call them the opposition; language is really important. The worst people in all this are Gaddafi and his friends. The interim transitional national council and the ordinary people of Libya are those whom we ought to be helping.

As I said in my intervention on my right hon. Friend, it was, after all, the Arab League and the African Union that urged us to obtain the UN resolution and the no-fly zone in the first place. We must keep the Arab League and the African Union up to the mark, which is why I made my intervention. They are the people who should be putting pressure on Gaddafi and helping with the humanitarian aid effort. They are the people who, in the longer term, should be helping with nation building. After all, they have a vested interest in bringing stability to the region.

I pay tribute to what my right hon. Friend said about the ordinary families in Tunisia who have voluntarily given up their homes, giving help, food and shelter for the people crossing the borders. More than 350,000 people have crossed the Libyan border since the crisis began. I am so glad to see that my right hon. Friend is providing them with help, in the form of £8.4 million, 10,000 tents and 30,000 blankets. That is a tremendous effort from the United Kingdom, and one that is to be greatly applauded. However, it is not just the African Union and the Arab League that could be involved. Germany and other European Union countries have so far not stepped up to the mark well enough, but I see no reason why they cannot play their full part—in fact, more than their full part—in the humanitarian aid effort and the nation building to come. The Americans, who pulled out of the coalition for the no-fly zone, could also be playing their full part.

Having said that, it is clearly important for the UN, the EU and other multilateral agencies to co-ordinate the whole effort, because as my right hon. Friend said, it will involve co-ordinating a large number of agencies,

5 Apr 2011 : Column 933

and not just in addressing the humanitarian situation in Libya. As we have seen, there is equally need in Egypt and, even more so, in Tunisia. Tunisia is a far smaller country on the map, but the prospects for bringing about a peaceful democracy there are probably stronger than almost any other Maghreb country. If we focus our efforts there, perhaps that will help in our efforts in Egypt, Libya and other countries.

Many others want to speak in this debate, so I shall sum up. All the actions taken by my right hon. Friend—particularly on the stabilisation unit, bringing about cross-agency support for our humanitarian aid—have been a fantastic effort. They include the Libyan contact group under Christopher Prentice, which my right hon. Friend mentioned; bringing about contacts with the ITNC—perhaps with help from some of our other agencies in the military—and gaining access to those people; as well as building friendships and coalitions to see where we can help to build stability in all parts of Libya. However, the greatest need for humanitarian aid is obviously in those cities and towns that have borne the biggest brunt of the military attack, particularly Misrata and the surrounding cities. Clearly there is a big need for humanitarian aid. I welcome the Turks sending in a humanitarian aid ship. That was a tremendous effort, but surely the international effort must focus on stabilising Libya and trying to keep as many people as possible in humane conditions in their own country, rather than having to airlift them or take them out by sea. Although that is imperative in the short term, our medium and longer-term aim must be to bring about stability and keep those people in their own country.

In closing, I do not think that this campaign will be over in months, as the media would have us believe. We are in it for the long haul—in Libya and in bringing about stability and democracy for the whole of north Africa—but the prize is huge, because stability in that region will bring about stability in the middle east and Africa. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said, what we are seeing is one of the seminal events of the first half of the 21st century. The prize is enormous. From what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development has said today, I have no doubt that Britain will play its part—in fact, well above its part. That is to be wholly welcomed. Please will my right hon. Friend go out and keep telling the British people that, so that they do not complain about how much we are putting into international aid?

2.54 pm

Hugh Bayley (York Central) (Lab): In August last year, the all-party Africa group published a report called “Security and Africa”, as our contribution to the Government’s strategic defence and security review. We reminded the Government that there are a number of security risks in Africa that threaten people both in that continent and further afield, including in Europe. We urged the Government to retain the capacity for military engagement with Africa. We stressed the need for better co-operation between the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development, and the need to co-ordinate policy with our allies in NATO and the European Union.

5 Apr 2011 : Column 934

I am glad that the Government responded positively to our pitch in the strategic defence and security review, and that they have responded to the Libyan crisis in the way that they have. I believe that the military action under Security Council resolution 1973 has saved many civilian lives in Benghazi and other rebel-held towns in eastern Libya, but I do not believe that military power will resolve Libya’s deeper political crisis. On that point I am at one with the hon. Member for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown), who has just spoken. A political solution is needed. The UK should support the Turkish Prime Minister’s initiative to secure a ceasefire and, through political efforts, to reach terms on which Gaddafi will leave office.

I would certainly argue against broadening our military objectives. I do not believe that regime change should be set as a goal or that we should arm insurgents fighting against the Gaddafi regime. If we did either of those things, we would destroy the fragile coalition at the United Nations that came together around the Security Council resolution. If we were to arm insurgents, we would of course strengthen the arms of some modernisers and democrats, but we would also put further arms into the hands of tyrants and dictators, and into the hands of military and civilian personnel from Gaddafi’s regime who have defected.

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): The hon. Gentleman is talking a great deal of very good sense, but does he not recognise that the logical outcome of rightly saying, “We shouldn’t arm the insurgents,” and, “We shouldn’t seek regime change,” will be a total stalemate and that Gaddafi will not leave at all? That is the realistic outcome to expect. Does the hon. Gentleman not think that we ought to frame our policy accordingly?

Hugh Bayley: Before the Iraq war I took the view that the policy of containment had failed to secure Saddam Hussein’s compliance with UN Security Council resolutions and that military action was needed to resolve the situation. In retrospect, I am not sure that that was the right decision. Perhaps containment, although costly and untidy, might have been a better policy. The hon. Gentleman’s analysis is fair, but if it means a long period of stalemate, that might be better than a war whose objective was regime change.

If we escalated militarily, we would also undoubtedly intensify the humanitarian crisis in a way that would conflict with one of the recommendations of Lord Ashdown’s recent “Humanitarian Emergency Response Review”. The review says that “where states have failed,” or “when Governments are belligerent,” there is what Paddy Ashdown’s team call

“a fragile ‘space’ in which humanitarian agencies are accepted”

and able to do their work. He recommends that

“DFID humanitarian policy should be to protect and where possible enlarge this fragile space”.

That would be impossible if the military campaign were to adopt wider objectives.

The majority of the victims to date have not been Libyans. They have been migrants from sub-Saharan African countries such as Chad, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia who came to Libya looking for jobs or, in many cases, to use it as a stepping stone to Europe. The British Red Cross has reported that some 390,000 people have already fled Libya, with some

5 Apr 2011 : Column 935

9,000 currently stranded at Libya’s borders. An article in this week’s


newspaper tells the story of a 31-year-old Eritrean, Tesfa Gebrimehedn, who said that he had suffered attacks from anti-Government protesters who mistook him, as a black man from sub-Saharan Africa, for a mercenary. Gaddafi has employed many people from sub-Saharan Africa as mercenaries. The Libyan police beat up him and his friends and demanded money at roadblocks. The Red Cross reports that there are 100 checkpoints between Tripoli and the Tunisian border. Two friends of his were killed by policemen from the Gaddafi regime, and 5,000 dinars—£2,500—was stolen from him, again by police at one of the checkpoints.

The International Organisation for Migration tells us that 87,000 foreign nationals have already been repatriated, and that 12,000 have been put on flights provided by funding from the Department for International Development. However, I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) that we in the UK need to work with others to create an international plan to provide for the needs of the refugees, and to provide asylum where necessary. It is wrong simply to leave this problem of hundreds of thousands of people fleeing from Libya in the hands of Tunisia and Egypt.

There are some wider questions that I would like to raise about Lord Ashdown’s review. He comes to some wise conclusions, including that the UK needs policies that anticipate humanitarian disasters as well as simply responding to them when they happen. Let us take Côte d’Ivoire as an example. It is now four months since President Ouattara was elected and Laurent Gbagbo refused to accept the outcome of the election. The United Kingdom did some extremely good work before the last election in Sierra Leone to role-play with the President what he would do if he were voted out of office by the electorate. Indeed, he was voted out, and he did leave office.

We certainly need to take steps to anticipate not only military and security problems but natural disasters. Paddy Ashdown’s report talks about the floods in Mozambique in 2006. It describes how Mozambique sought £2 million in aid before the floods to prepare to meet the crisis, and how the request fell on deaf ears. The subsequent cost to the international community of rescuing people from the floods was £60 million. It is blindingly obvious, when the Zambezi river is in spate on the Angola-Zambia border, that it will flood in Mozambique two weeks or so later. There needs to be better co-operation between African countries in anticipating and preparing for disasters.

Paddy Ashdown also talks about the need to build resilience into buildings, so that schools, for example, could double as typhoon shelters. That is a task for UN Habitat. In 2004, at the time of the tsunami, 150 million people were affected by the tsunami and other humanitarian crises. According to the Ashdown report, 263 million were affected by such crises last year and he says that we should anticipate 375 million being affected by 2015. This is partly because of climate change, but also because the global population is rising and people are becoming more and more concentrated in cities. If a disaster strikes a city, the number of people affected is therefore much greater.

UN Habitat is one of four organisations that has lost funding as a result of the Government’s multilateral aid

5 Apr 2011 : Column 936

review. The International Organisation for Migration has also been put on special measures by the Government. It has been told that it must improve or lose its funding. It has been decided that a number of UN agencies that are crucial to dealing with humanitarian crises, including the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, are poorly managed and have now been put on special measures or lost their funding. Surely the challenge is to tackle the poor management and to drive up standards, so that those agencies are better able to meet the needs of the international community. When the Minister replies to the debate, I hope that he will be able to tell us, in relation to the four that are in special measures and the four that have lost funding, what the Government are proposing as a management development programme to increase the capacity of those organisations so that they can do their job in future.

3.6 pm

Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) (LD): I thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for keeping the House up to date on this important activity; I congratulate him and his Department on their quick responses. I shall explore how that will affect the role of the Department. The BBC recently conducted a poll on the public’s attitude towards the engagement in Libya. In the aftermath of Afghanistan and Iraq, I guess that there is a degree of voter fatigue and, perhaps—how can I put it?—an inability to distinguish between different engagements and the reasons for them. That was partly what prompted my intervention on the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman).

We have been engaged in the concept of the responsibility to protect, and in its development in the United Nations, but this is the first occasion on which it has been fully applied. It is true that the shame associated with the experience in Rwanda is what prompted this action, but it took a long time for the concept of that kind of intervention to develop. It is important to explain clearly not only to the British people but to the wider international public that the responsibility to protect means just that. It does not involve a right or a permission; it is actually a duty to engage in a situation such as this. Had we not done so, we would all have witnessed on live television the massacre of the people of Benghazi. Those people who say that they are not convinced that we should be in Libya would have been exactly the same people who would have said, “Why did you stand by and allow this to happen?”

Mr MacShane: I agree with the right hon. Gentleman, but he should not gloss over the record of his fellow Scot, Robin Cook, who, along with many others, developed the responsibility to protect. At the end of the 1990s, he applied it very strongly in the southern Kurdish areas of Iraq. The RAF flew bombing missions, and there was a full-scale military intervention that was approved by the House and initiated by the former Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook.

Malcolm Bruce: I am perfectly happy to acknowledge that fact. I had great admiration for Robin Cook’s activities as Foreign Secretary, and the right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to remind us of them. I hope that he will accept, none the less, that this was the first application of a full engagement under a resolution of this nature.

5 Apr 2011 : Column 937

It is important that that engagement involves more than just a no-fly zone. We are using all the powers required to protect the civilian population. I do not intend to detain the House with a discussion of where it might all end, because none of us knows. We hope that lives will be saved and that space will be created to allow one regime to depart and some other form of government to develop. We also hope that that will be determined by the Libyan people and not by outside interests.

It is also worth mentioning that, yes, Libya is an oil-producing country but we should nail the lie that that is the reason for the international community’s intervention. I really do not believe that that is the reason. Indeed, the amount of oil that Libya produces is a relatively small proportion in world terms and certainly not something that fundamentally drives the price of oil—in spite of its current record highs. We need to get across to people the fact that this is a humanitarian intervention entirely based on the threat to the people of Benghazi and nothing to do with the fact that Libya was and is an oil producer.

It would be helpful if the Secretary of State could clarify in his reply what he believes DFID’s engagement in the region is likely to be in the future. On the basis of the reply he gave to my Select Committee colleague, the hon. Member for York Central (Hugh Bayley), I understand that to date—he might want to update us further—£10.04 million has been allocated to meet the immediate humanitarian crisis. I doubt whether any Member would take issue with that, but we would like to know how much further finance is likely to be committed.

I hope that the Secretary of State agrees that Libya is not a poor country. What it needs is co-ordinated aid and action. What it does not need is overseas development assistance—there are other places and other people who have more urgent need of that. I hope that he will reassure us that development assistance will not apply in Libya. I understand that he has been given a particular role by the Prime Minister to help to co-ordinate the humanitarian relief, and I think that he and his Department are ideally placed to do that.

I understand that the Secretary of State intends to reply to Lord Ashdown’s report in May. He might like to engage with the United Nations to see whether its leadership and co-ordination can be improved along the lines that Lord Ashdown recommended. One suggestion from Lord Ashdown was that the Department for International Development should have a director general to focus specifically on humanitarian relief, resilience and co-ordination. That seems a sensible suggestion that the Secretary of State might wish to take up.

The role of the international community is an important issue. The UK has taken quite a leading role on Libya, but I think I could be forgiven for saying that this is not a hugely British responsibility—other than the fact that we are the kind of people we are. It seems to me that other countries might have as great, or a greater responsibility and that our job should be to co-ordinate and to share the burden, not to take too much of it on ourselves. In the wider context, there are countries whose commitment to international development, support and assistance is rather less than ours, but they could be doing rather more—not least because they lie closer to the affected area so that the impact on them is more direct.

5 Apr 2011 : Column 938

In that context, will the Secretary of State say more about the role of the European Union? We deliver a substantial amount through the direct budget contribution to the EU, in addition to which we give our own development funding to the EU. I believe that in that capacity it receives more than £1 billion a year. The Secretary of State will know of the discussion in the International Development Committee—indeed, we propose to produce a report on the EU as a development partner—about the fact that quite a lot of the core budget to which we effectively contribute willy-nilly to the EU goes towards overseas development assistance in, for example, Turkey. Some EU member states are strongly engaged in arguing that we should give support and assistance to our neighbours. My point for the Secretary of State is that it might not be a bad idea to reprioritise the existing EU budget to take account of the changing situation. It seems to me perfectly reasonable to expect that to happen. I am not suggesting that there should be no more funding for changed circumstances, but we should be careful not to divert too much of our development assistance, which by definition should go to more needy causes.

I intervened on the Secretary of State earlier on the subject of the multilateral review. Let me make it clear that I have no problem with the Government’s decision on the International Labour Organisation, and I completely take the point that the core funding still comes from Her Majesty’s Government, but through a different Department. I was anxious to test the Secretary of State and his reply was entirely where I wanted him go—to the effect that, where the ILO can be a useful partner, as it can be in parts of the world, we should work directly with it. I was reassured by that answer, as across north Africa—indeed, this is also a salutary lesson for what we are trying to do in sub-Saharan Africa—there is no point in giving people skills, hope and aspiration and then failing to deliver livelihood opportunities.

When we boil it down, that is the core of the problem that has led to an explosion in these communities of youngish people who feel—and they are entitled to feel—that they have not been given their space in the sun, which their education and the means of the countries they live in could have provided them. The key to the future must surely be a more dynamic programme designed to give people jobs and opportunities and to share their country’s resources more equally. To the extent that we can help to co-ordinate such a programme and assist with it, that seems to me to be an entirely legitimate role. It is not all about money; it is about engagement, partnership, understanding and allowing people’s aspirations to find their own level rather than imposing solutions from outside.

In conclusion, let me make passing reference to the situation in the Côte d’Ivoire—and, by association and neighbourhood consequence, Liberia. We all welcome the fact that the Government have responded quickly and in a practical way and that the Under-Secretary of State for International Development is evaluating the situation on the ground. That is precisely what we would expect the Government to do, but I hope that the Secretary of State will acknowledge that this should not be a priority area for the UK. It is an immediate crisis and we want to be part of assisting to resolve it, but again other countries and international agencies are better equipped than we are to take responsibility for

5 Apr 2011 : Column 939

the long-term future of the Côte d’Ivoire—as and when, hopefully, a legitimate Government can be put in place without being assaulted and can proceed with its proper job of delivering for the people of the region. Is it not ironic, however, that this is taking place next door to Ghana, which has over the last 12 months had a wholly successful election? The opposition won and the Government were not happy. The Administration changed, however—as far as I am aware, without even a broken nose, let alone anything more serious. It seems an ironic, almost tragic situation, that two countries that are so similar in so many ways and exist next door to each other are finding such a different destiny. One hopes that partnership between those countries will, in the longer run, show how best practice can deliver the best results. To the extent that our Department for International Development can assist in that, I believe that it would have the support of the whole House.

3.17 pm

Dan Jarvis (Barnsley Central) (Lab): The Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq, Tripoli and Benghazi—it is sobering to see how in 2011 those names are again at the forefront of our minds. As we debate national security, humanitarian aid and human rights, we must ask ourselves, “How has it come to this?” Was the international community too hasty to consign their dealings with these countries to history, failing to recognise a role in ensuring stability in those regions? That is a mistake that we repeat at our peril and one that we must not forget as we address the current and very real situation in Libya.

The other day in Barnsley, I was asked why we should be dragged into another foreign conflict—somebody else’s war. I was asked why we should feel obligated to ask our courageous RAF pilots to fly into the airspace above a foreign country in conflict. I was asked why we should send our brave sailors and soldiers aboard warships into the waters of the state responsible for the Lockerbie bombing. Those questions made me consider why—why it was important to my constituents that our country among the international community should take the lead in securing a peaceful future for the people of Libya. Why us?

I then remembered why it should be us. It is because we have no real choice. This country has a long history of standing up for justice and the rule of law, of standing up for the protection of the vulnerable and of standing up for the men, women and children whose own Governments have persecuted and abandoned them. Our country and our people should not walk by on the other side of the street, ignoring the weak, the lost, the unprotected and the dispossessed. Walking on by is not an option because we know that the right thing to do is to stand up for others when we can and when it is legally and morally the right thing to do.

The British Government have a strong tradition of fighting for collective security, not selective security. Whether on the streets of Pristina or Freetown or elsewhere, we believe in standing up for the security of all. When we do act, however, clear objectives and decisive action are essential if the people of Libya are to be protected from a cut-throat regime and a humanitarian disaster is to be averted. Already bodies lie in the streets as lives are cut short by the bloody hand of an ever more desperate dictator.

5 Apr 2011 : Column 940

The doctrine of the international community should be pursued, and never more so than now. People want to know not only that we are right to take action, but that we have clear objectives and are going to succeed. The humanitarian situation in Libya is extremely worrying. Thousands of people on the Libyan borders await evacuation, and within the country humanitarian access is still very limited. Daniel Korski, a former special adviser to the Secretary of State who returned from Libya recently, has said:

“There is less of a crisis than I thought but around the war-caught cities the problem is severe. While we should eschew a larger ceasefire, a ‘humanitarian break’ for Misrata may be worth contemplating to ensure people get out and receive medical attention. We also need to ensure that the opposition forces have medical supplies and perhaps even medical expertise.”

The international community has been caught between applauding the wave of democratic change—which will help, not hinder, our country’s security—and the fear of radical elements which drove our support for authoritarian regimes in the past. Given our history in the region, it is clearly far preferable for any humanitarian intervention to be instigated and led by Arab nations, but we must be ready to assist. The nature of that assistance requires very careful consideration, and we should be extremely cautious about providing any materials that might further inflame the conflict, but it is right for medical and humanitarian supplies to be made available in order to alleviate human suffering.

Unfolding events in Libya present genuine dilemmas. These are difficult judgments for any Government, and the international community, to make. Our country has not always struck the right balance between securing pragmatic but short-term political victories and putting in place enduring legacies that secure peace in the long term, and we must get the balance right now. Gaddafi’s own future highlights the difficult and complex judgments that must be made. Given the Foreign Secretary’s comments last week, I hope that the Government’s commitment to the International Criminal Court will not be sidestepped in the pursuit of a pragmatic political solution for the people of Libya, but I fully accept that such a judgment requires very careful deliberation. Nevertheless, I believe that we must act, because we live in a world in which isolationism has ceased to have a meaningful reason to exist. Specifically today, we have a clear interest in preventing the re-subjugation of the people of Libya to an unbalanced and brutal dictatorship. There is a clear legal and moral imperative to act, and it is in our country’s own national interest for us to do so.

Detailed planning is vital to preparation for the post-conflict period. We must satisfy ourselves that we have made every effort to construct a plan for what will happen when the fighting stops. We must learn the lessons of the past: stabilisation and reconstruction are both political priorities, and we must not “deBa’athify” the state just for the sake of it, but give an incoming regime every opportunity to succeed.

The Government have assured us that detailed work is taking place. That work is vital, but the Whitehall culture does not always lend itself to cross-departmental co-operation. Whitehall agendas can still prevail—joined-up government is still an aspiration and not yet a reality—but Whitehall can also engender a culture of “group think” which sometimes produces templated westernised solutions

5 Apr 2011 : Column 941

that are not robust enough, or are too lofty in their ambitions, to survive contact with complex situations in other parts of the world.

While the Government rightly focus on unfolding events in Libya, in Côte d’Ivoire, in Japan, in New Zealand and elsewhere, we should not forget the ongoing insurgency in Afghanistan and our crucial role in securing a peaceful and enduring political settlement for the people there. However, there must come a point at which the Government’s focus pulls back from the immediate here and now, and they conduct a rigorous analysis of the implications of recent events for “Britain’s role in the world”.

The “question four” moment is the point in the military planning cycle at which, before the final commitment to a plan, a last-minute check of events is conducted to establish whether the strategic or tactical situations have changed to such an extent that it is necessary to rethink or even abandon plans. This is a question four moment: the point at which we should accept that the strategic defence and security review needs—at the very least—a rescrub, or a new chapter setting out the contribution that this country intends to make to the international community and, if possible, the mechanisms that it intends to deploy to best achieve the desired effect. As with any security, foreign policy, defence or development review, critically, if the Government will the ends they must also will the commensurate means.

3.26 pm

Nicola Blackwood (Oxford West and Abingdon) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the debate. Let me begin by adding my tribute to the servicemen and women who are risking their lives in an effort to protect civilians in Libya. Regardless of the international debate on the parameters of the coalition’s intervention, their role is honourable, and their families can be justly proud of their bravery and assured of our support.

As the Secretary of State said, we should not forget why we got into this, and why, even after Iraq, the House voted so overwhelmingly in favour of humanitarian action and the establishment of a no-fly zone in Libya. It was because Colonel Gaddafi’s threats of vengeance on his own people were only too credible in the light of his record so far. It was because he told the world:

“There will be no mercy. Our troops will be coming to Benghazi tonight...If the world gets crazy with us we will get crazy too. We will respond. We will make their lives hell because they are making our lives hell. They will never have peace.”

It was because Benghazi’s 670,000 civilians would probably have been massacred, Libyan troops were already committing atrocities in the outlying areas of the city, and Colonel Gaddafi’s men had received orders to go from house to house and from room to room to burn out the opposition.

We are all anxious not to repeat the mistakes of Iraq and Afghanistan. We are anxious for mission creep to be avoided at all costs, and for the international community’s actions in Libya to present no opportunity for critics to claim that western humanitarian action is code for regime change or wider political interference. Far too

5 Apr 2011 : Column 942

often, however, the international community has stood by when genocide was imminent, paralysed by lack of consensus and fear of precedent. As has already been said, we must ensure that we learn the lessons of Rwanda and Darfur as well as those of Iraq and Afghanistan. We must ensure that we live up to the ideals of the “responsibility to protect”, but we must also ensure that all action that is taken is visibly based on wholly humanitarian motives: that it is based on the moral imperative to protect civilians, rather than on the western temptation to impose our own political solutions.

It must be said that, so far, the system has worked far better and far more quickly than most international responses to state-sponsored violence. The fact that in just six weeks we have secured two Security Council resolutions and NATO control of a broad international military force, and have averted a humanitarian crisis as hundreds of thousands of people have fled Libya, is nothing short of extraordinary. I join my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) in congratulating the Government on their leadership in driving this momentum, and on the care that they have taken to give the House regular updates and opportunities for debate. Nevertheless, a huge amount of work and careful judgment is still required if progress on Libya is to continue in a positive direction. Let me give a couple of examples.

As we have learned in recent years, development and reconstruction are not simply add-ons to a successful military operation. They are, in fact, integral to the success or failure of an operation, and short, medium and long-term planning must incorporate detailed development strategies. I was encouraged to hear the Foreign Secretary’s statement that the issues of urgent humanitarian assistance and the needs of Libya after the conflict were considered at the London conference, and that the British diplomatic mission led by Christopher Prentice will be making regular visits to Benghazi to understand the situation of the opposition and civilians on the ground better. However, may I ask for an update as to how DFID, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence are working to ensure there is a joined-up approach on the early and sustained provision of humanitarian assistance, and what role the UK will be playing in developing longer-term reconstruction strategies for Libya? For example, have these issues been raised with the interim transitional national council, NATO command and control, and the contact group, and will there be an ongoing forum to ensure that Libyan people are included in this process? In addition, there is some concern that at this point the opposition may not have sufficient training, organisation and leadership structures to ensure a smooth transition to a post-Gaddafi Libyan leadership. Given that the military part of this operation is likely to prove the most straightforward, has there been any discussion of UK Government support for capacity building for the ITNC leadership? Investment in that now is likely to bear significant dividends as Libya progresses towards stabilisation.

Another problem facing the international community is, of course, that while a measure of protection can be provided by a no-fly zone and the destruction of Gaddafi’s larger military capability, current coalition activity cannot protect civilians from small arms fire or other forms of abuse and oppression. Given Amnesty’s reports of hundreds

5 Apr 2011 : Column 943

of missing and detained civilians and Gaddafi’s record of torture and violent suppression of opposition, what assessment has the Secretary of State for International Development been able to make of the security situation facing Libyans on the ground in different parts of the country? Are we able to get a sense of the situation from the British mission to Benghazi, the International Committee of the Red Cross, or the reports of those fleeing the country? In particular, I am concerned about reports of 80,000 internally displaced persons, with 9,000 refugees massed at the Tunisian border. Given that a disproportionate number of refugees tend to be women and children, can the Secretary of State tell the House what measures have been put in place to ensure the protection of women and children in these temporary camps? Protection of Libyan civilians does not end at the border, and the history of refugee planning and protection shows that the international community does not always take into account the distinctive needs of displaced women and girls.

Finally, given the recent media coverage of the Libyan woman claiming to have been raped by Gaddafi’s soldiers, can the Secretary of State give an assessment of the incidence of sexual and gender-based violence in Libya? As the shadow Secretary of State pointed out, and as the Secretary of State knows only too well, women and girls suffer disproportionately in times of conflict and are particularly at risk of being targeted in civil war scenarios such as this one. So far, I have seen estimates of the number of dead and wounded, and estimates of the number of internally displaced persons and refugees, but not a single official estimate of the number of women and children subjected to sexual and gender-based violence, despite the fact that such atrocities are endemic in modern conflict. I remind the Secretary of State that while schools and roads can be rebuilt, communities torn apart by torture and sexual abuse are not so easily restored, and if proper restorative justice systems are not put in place early, the lasting legacy of these events will be to perpetuate violence and undermine peace building.

In light of that, will the Secretary of State tell me what consideration has been given to the implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1325 in NATO and the contact group, and in humanitarian responses? As he knows, resolution 1325 calls for the prevention of sexual and gender-based violence and stresses the need to include women in all peace negotiations. It has been worrying that so far in all the statements and speeches of which I am aware there has been no reference to women in terms of the protection agenda or the political process. Is the British diplomatic mission to Benghazi making any efforts to contact grass-roots women’s groups or to establish the risks currently faced by women on the ground? Has the Secretary of State had any discussions on this subject with other UK Departments, or with NATO and UN counterparts?

If the Secretary of State is unable to answer those questions today—I did not give him notice of this speech —perhaps he will agree to meet me, the all-party group on women, peace and security and the Gender Action for Peace and Security coalition of non-governmental organisations, to hear their concerns on this topic. We are taking great care to make it clear that we are complying with Security Council resolution 1973, but the women and girls of Libya—not to mention their

5 Apr 2011 : Column 944

husbands, brothers and sons—deserve to have us take the same care to comply with resolution 1325. We have seen time and again that we will not achieve our goals of peace and security in such regions if we do not include women. If we get just one thing right with the humanitarian planning for the future of Libya, let it be to play our part in fully protecting women and girls, and to do all we can to ensure women are given every opportunity to participate fully in peace building and reconstruction. If I can put it another way: no women, no peace.

3.34 pm

Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): I welcome this opportunity to debate the humanitarian consequences of the Libyan revolution. We have rightly had several opportunities to question the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary specifically about the military and political aspects of the crisis, but, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) said, the intervention in Libya was a military response to a humanitarian situation, and it is also clear that there is an interaction between the military and humanitarian aspects.

It is my understanding that the purpose of UN Security Council resolution 1973 was to neutralise the attacks on civilians, particularly around Benghazi, and, as a corollary of that, to avoid any additional civilian casualties. That was the basis on which I voted for the motion supporting the resolution in this House. The purpose of the resolution was therefore not to act as a support arm for rebel forces or to enable the arming of the rebels, nor to authorise regime change. However, in the weeks since we debated—and passed by an overwhelmingly majority—the motion on that resolution in Parliament, those distinctions have not been entirely clear. It is also far from clear what the outcome of the intervention is likely to be. Is there going to be a coup? Is the country going to be divided into a western and eastern half? Is there going to be a military victory for one side or the other, or is there going to be a continuing military situation, whether involving rebel forces or warring armies, with fighting going on for long into the future, as we have seen in Afghanistan and elsewhere? I was struck by a comment on the humanitarian situation that was made by a representative of an American think-tank, the Centre for a New American Security:

“The ultimate objective of this operation is not particularly clear, and that makes it difficult to think about contingency planning, because you have to start with an outcome you want to achieve, and then work out how you do humanitarian assistance”.

I feel that in an effort to second-guess or influence the outcome of what is currently happening in Libya, there are moves in particular towards arming the rebels. Although the Foreign Secretary made it clear as recently as yesterday that the UK would supply communications, and not military, equipment, US Secretary Clinton has not been as clear. She said:

“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. We have not made that decision at this time.”

There are increasing noises along those lines, however. If the west is intending to arm the rebels, it is clearly not going to arm them without also providing training, given the state of the rebel forces. If we are going to provide training, that inevitably means there will be both a long-term engagement and troops on the ground.

5 Apr 2011 : Column 945

I also note the recent comments of Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton, who said:

“In general terms we are now planning on the basis of at least six months, and we’ll see where we go from there.”

None of these prognoses is particularly welcome given the lesson of Iraq, and in these respects what is happening in Libya looks more and more like what happened in Iraq.

Mr Ellwood: May I urge caution in drawing comparisons with Iraq, whether or not we agree that we should have gone in there? The big difference between the approach of this Government and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to Libya and the previous approach to Iraq is that he is at the forefront in leading a campaign to make sure that good governance is introduced and there is reconstruction and development. That did not happen in Iraq, where, if I remember correctly, Clare Short, then Secretary of State for International Development, sent a diktat to the directors in her Department telling them not to get involved in that operation and campaign because she thought the war was illegal. That put us on the back foot, and kept us in Iraq for many, many more years.

Mr Slaughter: The last thing I want to do is make this party political, and I am sure other hon. Members would support me in that. I am talking not about the detail of what is happening, but about the impression that is being given, which will have a knock-on effect on coalition support. That impression is that the west’s embroilment is going deeper and further, beyond the terms of the resolution, and so it will, in time, fracture that coalition.

I return to the specific humanitarian points and I wish to raise three issues with the Secretary of State. If he is not able to deal with them today, it would be helpful to receive a further briefing from the Government, either an oral or written one, to cover these areas. The first issue is displacement. It is estimated that about 500,000 people have been displaced in Libya as a consequence of the fighting so far, the overwhelming majority of whom—perhaps 90%—are migrants. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, about 80,000 Egyptians and about 20,000 Tunisians have been repatriated. I am somewhat confused by that, because the most recent Library briefing says that up to 1.5 million migrants were in Libya before the crisis and that a substantial number of them were Egyptian. When I was in Cairo two weeks ago, the Egyptian Government and others were saying that we were dealing with a substantially higher number of Egyptians. Can the Secretary of State clarify where those migrant workers and residents are now? This concern for their own citizens in Libya is a substantive reason why the Egyptians have been reluctant to become more involved in the situation, despite having powerful armed forces on the border.

We did a good job, as did the international community, in moving Bangladeshi, Filipino and Nigerian migrants working in the oil and other industries in Libya out at a relatively early stage. As has been mentioned, we have not done such a good job in relation to sub-Saharan African populations. That is partly a consequence of Gaddafi’s policy of opening up Libya in years gone by; he turned away from the Arab world and towards

5 Apr 2011 : Column 946

sub-Saharan Africa, welcoming a tide of millions of immigrants from there. A substantial number, perhaps more than 100,000, remain in Libya and they have very little by way of resources. As has been said, they are the targets for violent attack by Libyans who think that they may be mercenaries or supporters of the Gaddafi regime. My hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Hugh Bayley) gave examples of these serious and damaging violent attacks, and we need to examine the matter. One response for these people is to try to get out of the country by any means possible; hence the boats going over to Italy and Malta. Many people have been lost at sea as a consequence and some have been given a very dusty welcome, with the situation being exploited politically by Berlusconi and others. That is perhaps at the depth of the humanitarian crisis.

We also face the issue of some Libyans crossing the border. Their number is relatively small compared with these other figures, at perhaps 20,000, but perhaps twice that number are internally displaced. If military action escalates, with or without the support of the coalition, the likelihood is that the number of internally displaced refugees will grow hugely. The military action has severe implications for humanitarian relief.

Secondly, I ask the Secretary of State to consider the logistics of the situation. Access to the east of the country is not so bad, and I understand that UNHCR people are going back there later this week, but despite the fact that some UNHCR employees are in Tripoli, the west is almost off limits. The situation in places such as Misrata is very severe. The Turkish ship that courageously went in after waiting outside the dock for four days was going to remove about 100 people. It did take off about 250 seriously injured people and their relatives, but it left many thousands, including about 4,000 Egyptians, who were trying to get on the ship. I would not expect the Secretary of State to comment on what relief operations are planned for Misrata, but clearly it is the most serious situation, as people are being killed every day and no supplies, medical or otherwise, are reaching the town. That is the place in most urgent need at the moment.

Many organisations, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Tunisian and Egyptian Red Crescent, and Islamic Relief, are engaged heavily where they can be, both in Libya and on the borders. I repeat what I said in my intervention: the funds are not necessarily available. I understand that only about 36% of the £310 million flash appeal funds sought have actually been raised, so there is a crying need for additional funding. That is why the evacuation of people from the border camps has slowed almost to a trickle. We face not only a problem of access, particularly in the west of the country, but a problem of funding. Notwithstanding the Government’s efforts so far, they ought to turn their attention to that again.

The final point I shall deal with is the question of justice. A reference has been made to the International Criminal Court, and in my many visits to Gaza I have been struck by the fact that after people have suffered military action, they want to have not only financial and substantive relief, but justice. They also want those who have caused them harm to be dealt with by the rule of law. It is very important that the international community steps in at that point and that even those from the regime who are seeking refuge at the moment will in due

5 Apr 2011 : Column 947

course be called to account. That is as important for the people of Libya in the long term as the immediate humanitarian relief is in the short term.

3.46 pm

Mr Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter)—he asked some pertinent questions and I wish to do the same. We also heard a good speech by the hon. Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis), although I did not agree with a lot of what he said. Many of his arguments reminded me of Tony Blair coming here to justify the Iraq action. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for saying that his speech was one of a liberal interventionist. I am not one and despite the fact that I may not make myself very popular in this debate, I still want to go on asking these questions.

I felt unable to be among the 517 MPs who voted for the Libyan action. I spoke in that debate and asked a number of questions, although they are perhaps incapable of being answered. We were faced with an appalling humanitarian dilemma and I am not suggesting that there is an easy way out. As with Afghanistan and as with Iraq, my view of this action is very much based on the policy of containment and of relying on United Nations resolutions. I hope that before I sit down I will have convinced some people that we should stick to the UN resolution absolutely—no more, no less—and that there should be no question of regime change.

We wrap ourselves in a cloak of high morals, but we should remember that arms sales to Libya—to the Gaddafi regime—since 2009 have totalled £61.3 million. That means that we have provided sniper rifles, bullets, tear gas and crowd control ammunition to the Gaddafi regime that we are now trying to topple. The Foreign Secretary was careful in his use of words yesterday about exporting telecommunications equipment to the rebels. The impression given was that it would be of a purely non-military nature, but there have been reports this morning that some of the telecommunications weapons could be of a highly sophisticated variety to call down air strikes on the Gaddafi forces, so my argument is that we are gradually being sucked into action that goes further than providing humanitarian support. Perhaps the Secretary of State for International Development can assure us that that is not the case.

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will confirm that it was a slip of the tongue when he referred to communications weapons. Does he appreciate that the rebels’ being able to communicate with the coalition forces might help to avoid some of the incidents we have already seen in which wrong identification has led to danger for civilians? It might enable populations to protect themselves under the terms of the resolution.

Mr Leigh: That was a good intervention. It might be that I have misunderstood and that the equipment will be used in an entirely peaceful way to avoid friendly-fire actions and that there is no question of any telecommunications equipment—not weaponry—being used to bring down fire on the enemy, but the point is made.

Another thing that worries me very much is whether, because of the talk of regime change, we are being sucked into supporting people of very dubious credentials.

5 Apr 2011 : Column 948

Let us take the case of Musa Kusa, the former Libyan Foreign Minister, who is probably up to his elbows in blood, in terms of arming the IRA. We are told that no indemnity against prosecution will be given to him, but there have been reports this morning that we are lifting the freeze on some of his assets. How appalling it would be if that man—who at best is morally dubious and at worst may be a mass murderer through involvement with Lockerbie—is allowed to enter and leave this country with a lot of ill-gotten gains. I am reminded of one of the speeches given before the war, by Winston Churchill I think, about the danger that foreign policy can start in the Chancelleries of Europe with a broad, grand staircase and gradually, by twists and turns, descend into the torture chambers of the damned. I am very concerned that we should not get sucked into actions that are morally dubious because we are so intent on regime change that we will use any means to get it.

In the first debate on Libya I asked some questions about our strategy such as what the endgame was, what we were trying to achieve and whether we could impose a solution simply from the air, which had never been done before. I think there was some lazy thinking at the time that the Gaddafi regime was so weak that the mere existence of a no-fly zone would ensure its collapse, but that clearly is not happening. It is obvious that there is a very strange war going on there at the moment. To read the popular press, one would think this was something like the Africa Corps against the Eighth Army, but it is not. It appears to be tiny, pocket-sized groups of irregular troops, and the Libyan coastline is 2,500 km long. There is an appalling weakness in the information that we get, but it is wishful thinking to assume that Gaddafi is simply going to go away.

Something else that was not mentioned in the original debate was where the Italians were in all this. We know where they were originally: Italy agreed to pay £2.5 billion in so-called reparations for colonial rule and apologised for having colonised Libya. It agreed to help to build a pan-Libyan motorway, in return for which—this is the important point—Gaddafi would crack down on north African illegal immigrants to Italy, and it is true that they had almost completely dried up in the past two or three years, but not recently. Obviously, some deal was done between the Italians and Gaddafi that he would stop those immigrants. Italy has made the very serious point all along that if we engaged in the war there was a real danger that we would get a flood of immigrants, and that is now in danger of happening. We saw what happened with Berlusconi and the island of Lampedusa recently; it would be a tragedy indeed if by instituting this military action we created another flight of immigration.

I should also like to know what on earth the United States is doing. It announced yesterday that it was pulling out all its aircraft, but it has 2,132 F-15s, F-16s and F-22s in service. If it has more than 2,000 aircraft, why is it taking its bat away? We have only 62 Typhoons and 136 Tornadoes. It is very difficult to get information out of the Ministry of Defence, but Sir Stephen Dalton, the head of the RAF, said yesterday:

“It’s a heck of a lot to be doing at one time.”

Questions are increasingly being asked about whether we should look again at the strategic defence and security review, as the hon. Member for Barnsley Central suggested in the part of his speech that I agreed with. At the same time as we are embarking on another war, we heard

5 Apr 2011 : Column 949

yesterday that 17,000 military personnel would be cut by the MOD—7,000 from the Army, 5,000 from the RAF and 5,000 from the Navy. I know that

The Sun

newspaper is held in contempt by some of the more thinking Members of the House, but it is unwise for politicians to ignore it. Its headline today is “Don’t you know there are 2 bloody wars on?” That is a retake of a headline it published on 28 August 2009 as an attack on Gordon Brown: “Don’t you know there’s a bloody war on?”

Who are the rebels? We talk about them as though they were jolly members of Sevenoaks Conservative association—[ Interruption. ] There are increasingly reports of flickers of al-Qaeda. There is Colonel Khalifa Hifter, the former commander of the Libyan army in Chad who was captured and changed sides in 1988, setting up an anti-Gaddafi Libyan national army, reportedly with CIA and Saudi backing. For the last 20 years he has been living quietly in Virginia before returning to Benghazi to lead the fight against Gaddafi.

Another odd person is Abdul Hakeen al-Hassadi, a Libyan who fought against the US in Afghanistan before being arrested in Pakistan, imprisoned, probably at Bagram in Afghanistan, and then mysteriously released. The US Deputy Secretary of State, James Steinberg, told Congressmen that he would speak of Mr Hassadi’s career only in a closed session. Let us be careful before assuming the we are not in danger of scoring a spectacular own goal. Those who talk about arming the rebels may well be talking about groups such as the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which is undoubtedly there.

I know that these are appallingly difficult issues and that there is no obvious solution, but I urge the House to bear in mind what this country’s geopolitical interests are. We have never been the colonial power there. We clearly have a humanitarian objective. We may now realise that there is a stalemate, and it might have been wiser to have tried to persuade the UN to try to enforce a ceasefire. Perhaps we did not talk enough about a ceasefire at the time because we were too focused on regime change. I think that we should focus on a ceasefire and accept that it is not for us to impose a solution on Libya. Appalling as the Gaddafi regime is—no one here makes any apology for it—it would seriously destabilise our relations with the Arab world if we were to seek to impose a solution. In my view, we stick to the UN resolution, in terms of a humanitarian ceasefire; we do not insist on any kind of regime change; and we hope that out of that will come some decent and proper future for the people of Libya.

3.57 pm

Mr Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh), who has an independent voice and, as he reminded the House, an independent vote on these matters. Unlike him, I am profoundly in favour of regime change. Much of my political activist life has been committed to regime change, for example against the apartheid regime in South Africa, or in Poland, where I was put in prison by the communists because I wanted regime change there, obviously by peaceful means.

Did we perhaps leave it too late to think of putting other pressures on Milosevic to get regime change there? Had we acted earlier or more decisively, might we have

5 Apr 2011 : Column 950

stopped not only the bloodbaths in Sarajevo, Srebrenica and Kosovo, but many hundreds of thousands of citizens—perhaps as many as 1 million—of the former Yugoslavia having to flee as refugees and asylum seekers? I still have many people in my constituency, as I expect do other Members, who came here from Kosovo because we failed to intervene. I would also like to see regime change in Zimbabwe and Burma. As we look at Ai Weiwei, a great Chinese artist banged up in prison, perhaps a change of approach in the regime in Beijing would not be wholly unwelcome.

I pay tribute to the energy and leadership of the Secretary of State in providing humanitarian aid, but we took some time to get to where we needed to be. The House will record that, incessantly from the beginning of the year, I asked for debates on international affairs in either Government or Back-Bench time. The whole revolt started in mid-December in Tunisia, it spread to Egypt and to Libya and it is now taking off in Yemen, where hundreds of people are being killed and where the Gaddafi of Yemen, President Ali Abdullah Saleh, is saying, “I’m staying. We’ll open fire and my troops will be protected by British body armour as we do so.”

We do not have a coherent and overall response, and we cannot forget the Prime Minister’s arms sales trip and his remarkable statement in Cairo in mid-February, when he said that

“I am not a naïve neocon who thinks you can drop democracy out of an aeroplane at 40,000 feet.”

Well, that is precisely what he then decided to do, as he agreed with the point of view, originally advanced by Lord David Owen, that a no-fly zone would be a good idea.

I do not quite accept the view that all this is a miracle of British leadership. For good or ill, some of us can read papers in other countries, and in The New York Times and in the French and the German press many believe that President Sarkozy was probably the driving force behind much of the UN activity on Libya, inviting the Benghazi resistance committee to Paris, offering it recognition without any consultation with London—and much of it driven by internal French political reasons.

That said, we have a remarkable UN resolution, and it throws into relief the fact that the coalition, for its first period in government, did not have an active foreign policy. It was broadly hostile to Europe, indifferent to President Obama’s United States and very much focused on mercantilism and trade, talking a lot about the BRICs, with the Prime Minister going to India and to China.

But what do Brazil, Russia, India and China have in common? They all failed to support the resolution at the UN, so Britain has to ask itself serious questions about whether we have enough allies and friends throughout the world, and whether we punch too far below our weight, because we have turned our back on alliances in Europe, we are not really that interested in collaborative work with the United States any more, and we think that, if we can send a PM to India or China, that means Beijing and Delhi will fall in behind us as they vote in international forums throughout the world.

We have to look at the structural approach to our foreign policy, and that is why I invite the House to consider this point. I address it directly to the Secretary of State for International Development, whom I

5 Apr 2011 : Column 951

congratulate on staying for the whole debate. It is the first time that I have seen a Secretary of State stay right through a debate, and it is a tribute to the fact that he takes the House seriously and his job very seriously. I invite the House to consider the idea that, rather than just going in with stretcher bearers, aid, blankets and great waves of British generosity and charity after a humanitarian crisis unfolds, we look for more preventive development work.

I propose to the House an idea that I have raised with the Prime Minister in shorter statements and in questions. We should consider creating a UK foundation for democracy development, a properly endowed and resourced all-party foundation, which could help us to put into play some of the ideas that we have discussed in the House today, doing so before the event, however, rather than running—suddenly when a crisis breaks out—after the events on the ground, trying to get a UN resolution, to mobilise our rather limited armed forces and to find humanitarian aid.

We have the excellent Westminster Foundation for Democracy, but its budget has been cut to a little over £3 million—about half a banker’s bonus at the going rate. We have development money available, and we are going to give more than £1 billion over the next four years to India alone. I am a friend of India, I hope, but it has more millionaires and billionaires than we have. It has its own aid and development programme, its own space programme and its own military programme. It gives us no help at all in international forums. In military terms, it has rather more aircraft carriers than we can manage—and so on.

We have within our national budget money to find £50 million or £100 million to create a UK foundation for democracy development. It would have three principal goals, the first being to support economic and business development. The biggest complaint from people in Tunisia and Morocco was that the regimes presiding over those two countries were deeply corrupt in terms of demanding a slice of the economic action. I was told that nobody in Tunisia would employ more than 100 people because the moment their firm got big, the Ben Ali family would arrive and take their share. In Morocco, too, there are very serious complaints. It is not all happy development there, with huge demonstrations on the streets and demands that some of the advisers around the King, who are accused of helping themselves too easily to Moroccan economic wealth, move on. We need to promote good business and free-trade market economics. At the moment, too much Maghreb and southern Mediterranean trade flows north to Europe, and very little is intra-Arab, intra-Maghreb trade.

The second goal of the foundation should be to develop political institutions, which the Prime Minister rightly calls the building blocks of democracy. Apart from the very limited money given to the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, we have no facility in this country to advance this. All our political parties, none of which has any significant money to spend on international work, would then be resourced to try to develop democratic political institutions.

Finally, there is civil society, including the media, women’s organisations, judicial organisations and trade unions. As the Secretary of State is here and has done me the courtesy of listening to my speech, I must protest that, of all the cuts it has imposed, DFID has

5 Apr 2011 : Column 952

taken money away from the International Labour Organisation, which was set up by Britain in 1919, was instrumental in defeating communism and apartheid in the 1980s, and is seen around the world as embodying British values. DFID’s removal of money from the ILO is regrettable.

By bringing in work from other Departments and from hon. Members, we can create something that is in place for the next stages, so that when regime change does happen, as I hope it will in Libya, it comes not from the air—not because of military intervention—but because Britain is there ahead of the crisis trying to promote and develop democracy, open-market economics and the building blocks of a free society with the rule of law and free media and trade unions. Let this Government’s legacy be a foundation for democracy and development to make the world of the 21st century a better one.

4.8 pm

Stephen Gilbert (St Austell and Newquay) (LD): It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, and particularly to follow the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane). Having watched the events across north Africa and the middle east unfold, I share his analysis that we are not even at the beginning point of understanding their historical significance.

Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh), I remain firmly of the view that the international community took the right decision to intervene in Libya to prevent a humanitarian disaster. That intervention was both legal and necessary, and to date it has been robust but proportionate. In fact, the whole emphasis of the international community’s determination to take action has been based on humanitarian grounds: first, the overwhelming need to protect the people in Benghazi from slaughter at the hands of the regime; and now the need to ensure that the people who have been displaced and are suffering as a consequence of the action that the international community has taken are protected.

It is clear that Libya faces a humanitarian crisis, particularly on its borders. It has been estimated that about 380,000 people have left the country since the unrest began and that about 13,000 people are stranded on the borders with Tunisia and Egypt. We know that the UN is still negotiating for access to send its teams to the affected parts of the west of the country and, of course, without that access it is hard to say what might be occurring in that part of Libya.

As the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) said earlier, let us be very clear that the failure of the Gaddafi regime to allow the UN to enter the west of Libya is a breach of UN resolution 1973. For anybody who has any doubt about the nature of the regime that we are dealing with, we now have an individual leader who is refusing the UN the right to access his people and to provide them with humanitarian assistance. That is quite wrong and we must use every avenue possible to stop it, to get access to those people and to provide humanitarian assistance across Libya.

In that context, I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. It is quite clear that he and his colleagues in the Cabinet have taken determined action to take the humanitarian consequences of the military

5 Apr 2011 : Column 953

intervention very seriously. Indeed, DFID has already spent about £8 million helping people to leave Libya and to be resettled. As is customary for us as a nation, the UK was among the first to respond to the crisis on the border, providing shelter for up to 10,000 of the people stranded there. I am sure that Members from all parties will support the fact that the UK was among the first to intervene while encouraging many other countries to follow the lead we have taken, particularly those countries in Europe that are not playing as much of a supporting role in tackling some of the humanitarian issues as they could be and as it would be right for them to do.

I welcome the fact that we were the first country to provide blankets, tents and food supplies to about 100,000 of the people who are most in need. The Government have also provided funding for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, enabling it to provide three medical teams to treat and provide medical support and supplies directly to the 3,000 people affected by fighting in Libya.

Mr MacShane: The Italian Government are proposing to settle thousands of Libyan and Tunisian refugees from Lampedusa in mainland Italy. How many of those asylum seekers does the hon. Gentleman think Britain has taken or should take?

Stephen Gilbert: I am grateful for that intervention, which highlights a key point. We must ensure that we are building conditions in Libya that mean that people feel free to stay in the country and do not feel the need to leave or to be settled. Of course, when we are talking about the resettlement of people it is quite right that the UK should play its fair part and take its fair share of that burden in the future.

The London conference last week brought together 40 Foreign Ministers and international organisations, including the UN Secretary-General, Secretary of State Clinton and the Prime Minister of Qatar. It began to consider some of the issues that have been talked about today by the hon. Member for York Central (Hugh Bayley) and my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown). It asked what the endgame is and what processes we can put in place to ensure that the Libyan people choose their own destinies. The London conference established a political process to support the people of Libya in making that determination and it is quite right that the United Kingdom should play a lead part and continue to give the Libyan people the support they need to make self-determination as much of a reality for them as it is for us.

The London conference, in a coming together of timings, also tackled one of the key recommendations from the Ashdown report, which made it quite clear that the international community needs to lead in humanitarian intervention and relief. I welcome the establishment of the Libya contact group to take forward the work of building up and supporting the Libyan people as they make the transition to self-determination. It is quite clear that the group will provide an important forum for co-ordinating international policy and a focal point for the Libyan people to engage with the international community. That is exactly the sort of proactive leadership

5 Apr 2011 : Column 954

that the Ashdown report recommends, and it is very welcome. It is absolutely right for the UK to be prominent in supporting that process. Of course, it is the UN that has the critical role of ensuring that humanitarian aid gets through to those who need it. Like hon. Members from all parts of the House, I pay tribute to the work of the hundreds of thousands of people from the UN across the world who are often in harm’s way, and in particular to the families and friends of the seven UN workers who were tragically murdered recently.

Let us be clear: the Ashdown report stresses that when the international community considers a humanitarian response, there must be clear leadership and it must set out on a determined course of action. It is right for the UN to take a key role in providing that leadership, supported by international partners including the United Kingdom.

I make a plea to the Secretary of State, to which I hope he will be sympathetic: our commitment to the Libyan people must be for the long term, and must not end when the guns fall silent. We must stay there for as long as it takes to deliver to the Libyan people the benefits of pluralism and the ability to reach for self-determination. I think that that is the will of the House and of the international community. It is right that we are there for Libya for the long term to give it political debate and economic growth. That will create the jobs and the standard of living that mean that the people will no longer flee from their homeland, but will be able to enjoy their country in the way that we enjoy ours.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. I remind Members that Front-Bench speeches will begin at 4.50. There are four speakers to come, so they will each have about seven and a half or eight minutes if the time is divided up fairly.

4.16 pm

Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow my coalition colleague, the hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay (Stephen Gilbert), who spoke with authority about the importance of Lord Ashdown’s report, and the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane), who spoke with enthusiasm and authority about his own opinions. I say that because I am not sure that his Front-Bench colleagues would be so enthusiastic to see as many regime changes as he spoke about.

This is an important debate. The world is watching, including countries that are giving various degrees of conditional support and other nervous dictators. We must get this right, because interventionism—if such a word exists—has got a bad name recently because of our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. As more and more warning lights start flashing red on the Foreign Secretary’s big wall map of the world, we must use our ability to persuade, influence or intervene wisely, ensuring of course that it is legal to do so and that there is regional support.

I congratulate the Secretary of State for International Development and the Prime Minister on their leadership and on their determination to make the right decisions on Libya. We started by ensuring that our citizens were

5 Apr 2011 : Column 955

evacuated, we were the first to call for Gaddafi to go, we were the first to request a no-fly zone, we were integral in ensuring that there was a UN resolution, and of course we hosted the recent London conference, which my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay spoke about at length. These are incredible events and I think that there are many more to come.

Some have compared this Arab spring, as it has been called, to the fall of communism. There are similarities in the way in which the world is changing and the dynamics across the globe are starting to shift. The big difference between the fall of communism and the fall of the dictatorships that we are now seeing is the lack of depth in the structures beneath the dictatorships, which are built on fear. Underneath the communist structure was a party political system and the requisite expertise at every level, from the small village council to the big city. That is absent in these dictatorships, because they are based on fear and decisions are made only at the very top. Remove the dictatorship—remove the dictator—and one is left with a precarious situation.

The Department for International Development and other agencies focus on three main themes: aid and relief, which include the emergency response; development and reconstruction, which involves help with economic programmes; and governance. Other colleagues have mentioned the first two, but I wish to focus on the third, because governance is critical to ensuring that we can sow the seeds of democracy at this early stage.

We must learn from our mistakes, as I have said in a couple of interventions. The current situation is not just about a military campaign, it is also about post-conflict planning, and that can start immediately. It should be stressed that we cannot export western-style governance and impose it on countries. That would be absolutely wrong, as we have seen in Afghanistan and Iraq. We cannot wander into countries, whether it is right or wrong, and expect the governance vacuum to be filled when there is nobody there to fill it. We saw what happened in Iraq. Even though people were delighted to see the back of Saddam Hussein, particularly in places such as Basra, there was no governance and no leadership, so we as liberators were eventually seen as occupiers. Al-Qaeda was able to take advantage of that and cause even more problems, which kept us in the country far longer than we should have been.

Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): I am listening to my hon. Friend’s argument with great interest, and he is absolutely right. As well as learning from our failures, we should learn from our successes. Organisations such as the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, on whose board I previously served, have done great things not in imposing democracy but in helping fledgling political parties to develop, organise and share best practice. Some activity of that type has already been going on in north Africa and the middle east, thanks to organisations such as the WFD and similar organisations from other countries.

Mr Ellwood: My hon. Friend makes an important point. Organisations such as the WFD, and larger ones such as DFID, have been ignored in the past. Their skill sets have been deliberately put to one side because, as I have said, a previous Secretary of State did not want to participate.