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House of Commons
Tuesday 3 May 2011
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
The Secretary of State was asked—
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Henry Bellingham): There has been a visible uplift in our relationship with the Commonwealth, and we have been working with key partners to reinvigorate this unique organisation. In particular, we support the work of the eminent persons group, and I look forward to its recommendations on how to build up the role of the organisation ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in October.
Julian Smith: Following the stunning showcase of Britain last Friday, does the Minister agree that diplomats and ambassadors should have a massive spring in their step as they promote trade and investment in the UK, to the Commonwealth and beyond?
Mr Bellingham: I agree completely with my hon. Friend. Last Friday was a remarkable event; it was Britain at its very best. I was in Guinea at the time, which is not yet a member of the Commonwealth. I watched part of the royal wedding on France 24 on a television in the deepest and darkest part of Guinea, and there was huge interest from everyone who watched that programme.
Stephen Metcalfe: Does my hon. Friend agree that given that there is more than $3 trillion of trade each year inside the Commonwealth, the organisation should be recognised as a beacon of trade globally and UK companies of all sizes should be encouraged to seek out commercial opportunities within the Commonwealth?
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Mr Bellingham: Since the election nearly a year ago, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and his ministerial team have been to more than 30 Commonwealth countries, of which I have visited seven. I assure my hon. Friend that on the agenda for those meetings were trade diplomacy and building up business and enterprise with those countries. The Commonwealth has a vital role in pursuing the Doha development agenda.
Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): The Minister will know that the Commonwealth Secretariat, which works for more than a third of the world’s population, is run on a shoestring, yet we give billions to the European Union. Would our money not be better spent on maintaining our links with all the small countries and other Commonwealth countries, which have close links, deep loyalty and close family ties to the UK? In other words, should we not put the Commonwealth before the European Union?
Mr Bellingham: The Commonwealth does a first-class job, and it is exemplary in providing excellent value for money from its Secretariat here in London. I am delighted that the multilateral aid review by the Department for International Development concluded that the Commonwealth has a unique place in the international system and can play an even more significant role in development.
Mr Virendra Sharma (Ealing, Southall) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if the Commonwealth is to be reinvigorated and live up to its ideals, it needs to take a tougher line against member countries such as Sri Lanka, which committed war crimes against its Tamil civilian population according to the recent UN report? Should the Commonwealth not call for an independent international investigation into those war crimes, and suspend Sri Lanka from the Commonwealth unless it co-operates with such an investigation?
Sir Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that the forthcoming centennial conference of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association provides an admirable platform for my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary to expound this Government’s positive view of the Commonwealth and the CPA’s role in it?
Mr Bellingham: A resounding yes. An organisation that concentrated originally on Anglophone countries now attracts a keenness to join from countries outside the Anglophone sphere. Recently, Rwanda, a Francophone country, joined, as did Mozambique, a Lusophone country. Countries are queuing up to join this excellent organisation.
Libya (Post-conflict Reconstruction)
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The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): The post-conflict stabilisation and peace-building effort in Libya will be an international effort, co-ordinated by the United Nations in support of the Libyan people. The UK has undertaken early, cross-Whitehall planning, supported by the stabilisation unit, focusing on how we can support the international effort. Staff have been deployed to the region to provide stabilisation expertise on Libya and Arab partnership programmes.
Dan Jarvis: We must learn the lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan, where in my experience we sometimes contributed what we were able to deliver rather than what was needed. What conversations is the Secretary of State having with Cabinet colleagues to ensure that should Britain make a contribution to post-conflict reconstruction in Libya, it is as effective as possible?
Mr Hague: We are certainly having those conversations, and the hon. Gentleman is quite right to say that there are lessons to be learned from previous situations, including Iraq. The National Security Council is already working well on the matter, and of course my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development plays a very strong role on the subject. We are working with the UN already, and the UN is making good progress with stabilisation planning, but of course it is constrained in what it can physically do on the ground by the absence of peace and a political settlement in Libya. However, the planning is taking place and the UK is playing an important supporting role.
Mr Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the best first step towards the reconstruction of the country would be peace and a ceasefire? Will he therefore assure the House that all his efforts are pointed in that direction rather than just at regime change?
Mr Hague: Our efforts are devoted to implementing UN resolution 1973, which begins by calling for a ceasefire and an end to violence. Of course, that means a genuine ceasefire in which the regime not only really does cease fire but pulls back its forces from the areas where it is attacking the civilian population. It is in the search for that ceasefire and the protection of the civilian population that we are doing what we are doing in Libya.
Mr Hague: As I said, the UN is leading on the matter, and it will spearhead the reconstruction effort. The Department for International Development is handling the details of the British contribution and support, but if we have more information about companies’ involvement, I will write to the hon. Gentleman about it.
European External Action Service
5. Stephen Gilbert (St Austell and Newquay) (LD): What recent discussions he has had with his EU counterparts on the role of the European External Action Service; and if he will make a statement. 
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The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): I am in regular contact with my European counterparts about the work of the External Action Service, and with the EU High Representative, Baroness Ashton.
Stephen Gilbert: The Minister will be aware of the growing number of countries in Africa and the Pacific that do not have representation from either the UK or other European Union member states. Does he agree that the European External Action Service could provide representation to European nationals in those countries?
Mr Lidington: My hon. Friend talks about the EEAS’s role in consular representation. Of course, under the treaties, that competence is given explicitly to member states rather than to European institutions, but it is quite right that the EEAS should, in line with the treaties, support the work of EU member states, especially by signposting EU nationals who are unrepresented to embassies or high commissions of another member state where they can obtain representation.
Mr Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): During the ratification of the Lisbon treaty, the right hon. Gentleman was opposed to the European External Action Service. Does he agree that recent experience in north Africa and elsewhere in the world demonstrates the need for positive co-operation with our European partners?
Mr Lidington: Neither I nor my party has ever quibbled with the idea that there should be effective European co-operation between member states. The test of whether the External Action Service is effective will be, in large measure, whether the High Representative and her staff can work effectively with member states’ Foreign Ministers, because only when member states reach a genuine common position does the High Representative have a mandate to act.
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): The UK continues to take a leading role in international efforts to protect civilians in Libya. The case for action remains compelling. Gaddafi’s regime persists in attacking its own people and wilfully killing its own civilian population. We have taken diplomatic action, including co-chairing the Libya contact group, and have played a key role in military action by NATO and provided more than £13 million of humanitarian aid to the Libyan people.
Jason McCartney: With the no-fly zone over Libya having been in place for more than a month now, will the Secretary of State join me in praising Royal Air Force air and ground crews for their role? What level of sorties is now taking place compared with when the action started?
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Mr Hague: Yes, I certainly join in what my hon. Friend says about Royal Air Force air and ground crews, and of course the Royal Navy is also playing an important role in the vicinity of Libya. The number of sorties continues to mount, with hundreds over the weekend, and the UK continues to play a very strong role, including through strike sorties. I am pleased to say that more nations have been involved in those strike sorties, reflecting the continued increase in the tempo of the military activity and the strengthening of the international coalition.
Mr Hague: These are early stages for the deployment to which my hon. Friend refers. What I can say is that we are confident that that military liaison advisory team is giving real and worthwhile assistance to the transitional national council for the objectives of helping with headquarters operations—how to organise headquarters and logistics—which I set out in my announcement. That is beginning to have some effect, but it is too early to give a definitive account.
Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): Considering the killing of one of Gaddafi’s sons and his very, very young grandchildren, is it not the case that, despite the denials that have been made, the policy of NATO is now first and foremost regime change, and secondly to kill Gaddafi himself?
Mr Hague: We want Gaddafi to go, and virtually the whole world wants him to go—let us be in no doubt about that—but the incident to which the hon. Gentleman refers was an attack on a command and control location. NATO has increased the number of air strikes against the command and control functions of the Libyan regime, which in our view is wholly legitimate within the implementation of resolution 1973, and such attacks will continue.
Sir Menzies Campbell (North East Fife) (LD): My right hon. Friend will remember that the support of the Arab League, and indeed that of virtually the whole House of Commons, was based on an understanding of the limitations contained in resolution 1973. Is he concerned that even the appearance of targeting Colonel Gaddafi may cause that support to be loosened?
Mr Hague: No, and there is no indication that that is leading to such a thing. In fact, I held discussions with the secretary-general of the Arab League, Mr Amr Moussa, in Cairo yesterday. Indeed, the restrictions in the resolution were the product of discussions between him and me on the day that the resolution was passed at the UN. He is supportive of how the resolution is being interpreted, and the Arab League continues to support our efforts. Arab nations will be strongly represented at the contact group meeting in Rome on Thursday, which I will attend. I hope I can reassure my right hon. and learned Friend on those points.
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are on record as saying that Libya’s future would be better served with Gaddafi gone.
The Government have stated that the UN mandate allows for the targeting of command and control operations that threaten civilians, but for clarity, will the Foreign Secretary tell the House whether he agrees that the resolution excludes the direct targeting of individuals, and will he publish an updated summary of the legal advice, so that the House can be fully informed on those matters?
Mr Hague: I do not think that it would be right to expand on what I have already said about targeting. Whether individuals are targeted depends, of course, on how they behave, and whether they are part of command and control centres, and on where they are at the time. I do not think it right to provide a running commentary on targeting, and nor is it militarily sensible to do so, and I therefore do not want to expand on my earlier answers.
Of course, the Government will consider requests made in the House in respect of the legal advice. We published very clearly a note on the legal advice at the time of the 21 March debate. However, again, I do not think that it would be right for Governments to start to publish legal advice on a regular basis every few days, but we will consider any requests that are made.
Mr Alexander: Let me see whether the Foreign Secretary can be a little more forthcoming on this question. I understand his earlier answer—he said that it was too early to give a definitive account of the work being undertaken by British military officers on the ground in Benghazi—but will he undertake to publish the terms of reference under which they are operating?
Mr Hague: They are operating on the basis that I set out in the House of Commons. Last week, I think, when the House resumed, I made a statement on these matters and set out their purposes in a few sentences. Those are their purposes; they have not gone with an entire book of terms of reference. They have gone as a military liaison and advisory team to give their expertise on the organisation of logistics, headquarters and so on, as set out last week. There is nothing further to expand upon.
Richard Ottaway (Croydon South) (Con): In my right hon. Friend’s discussions with the Arab League, did he convey the message that although it rightly called for a no-fly zone over Libya, there is widespread disappointment over its silence on Bahrain and Syria?
Mr Hague: Certainly, I discussed the wider region. In particular, we had a detailed discussion about the situation in Syria. I absolutely condemn the Syrian regime’s actions over recent days, particular in relation to the city of Deraa and similar places that have been under attack by the Syrian army. I have urged the Arab League to take a strong line on this. Arab League Foreign Ministers are meeting on Thursday. After the contact group meeting in Rome, they will meet in Cairo, and they will discuss Syria then.
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The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): I have regular discussions with Secretary Clinton on the situation in Libya, as on all other international issues. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has similar discussions with President Obama, and my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary was in Washington last week. I look forward to seeing Secretary Clinton in Rome on Thursday.
Mr Jones: Has the Foreign Secretary had discussions with his American counterparts on the possibility of arms being smuggled to the Gaddafi regime from countries neighbouring Libya? Has there been an intelligence assessment yet about the possible influence of anti-western elements that might want to exacerbate the situation in Libya?
Mr Hague: Certainly, I have had discussions with Secretary Clinton and representatives of many other nations about the smuggling of arms or mercenaries into Libya by land routes. That is under discussion. I do not have anything to announce today about it, but clearly where such things are taking place, they are in breach of UN Security Council resolutions, so we reserve the right to take action. We have made representations to neighbouring countries in connection with these matters, and we will certainly continue to pursue them.
Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con): What evidence can the Foreign Secretary disclose showing that the target of the missile strike that killed three of Gaddafi’s grandchildren was a command and control centre, and was being used for military purposes?
Mr Hague: I do not believe that it would be right to disclose evidence regarding each separate military operation, for obvious operational and security reasons. It would make those operations more difficult to conduct, if we felt we had to disclose evidence about them.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that, as it now appears to the whole world, the alliance has given up on a diplomatic solution, and is now involved in regime change and targeting individuals within the Libyan Government? Does he not think that at some point there will have to be a political solution led by the Arab League and the African Union? Does he not think it time to apply pressure in that direction, rather than continue the bombing of civilian targets?
Mr Hague: The hon. Gentleman refers to the bombing of civilian targets, but NATO and its allies have saved probably thousands of civilian lives from the intentions of regime forces that indiscriminately attack civilian targets. If we followed the course he recommended, civilian casualties would be immense indeed, because of what the Gaddafi regime would do to people across Libya. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the international coalition is very strong on, and supportive of, the actions we have taken. As I said, more countries have moved their aircraft into strike activity. Of course, however, there must be a political settlement, but Colonel Gaddafi can open the way to that by departing from power.
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military action against individual targets, however loathsome we may find the individuals?
Mr Hague: We are in complete agreement about the meaning of legal advice on these matters, and about the need—I stress this again as I stressed it to the House last week—to stay clearly within the United Nations resolutions in order to maintain the legal, moral and international support we have for these actions. So there is no disagreement between the UK and the United States. However, I do not think it is right to speculate about individual targets.
Middle East Peace Process
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Alistair Burt): My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary discussed the peace process and the need to return to direct negotiations with Palestinian President Abbas during his recent visit to London. We made it clear that we believe that only a negotiated settlement will secure a sovereign, viable and contiguous Palestinian state, living in peace and security next to a safe, secure and recognised Israel.
Alistair Burt: Briefly, yes. It remains our view, from all the available evidence, that the Iranian regime is interested in instability and disrupting the efforts of nations to build the necessary security and confidence between themselves that we all wish to see. So far, Iranian influence has rarely proved to be advantageous to the world community, but we live in hope.
Mr James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): While the cause of peace will have been assisted by the Palestinian Authority’s response to the weekend’s news from Pakistan, does my hon. Friend share my concern about the reported comments of the leader of Hamas in condemning the operation?
Alistair Burt: Yes, indeed. The events of the weekend were an opportunity for the world community to come together and condemn those who had united Christian, Jew and Muslim against their murdering misery over the years. It is disappointing that Hamas did not take the opportunity to do that, as so many others did.
Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): Is the Minister aware that at 12.30 pm last Friday at Nabi Salih on the west bank, a peaceful demonstration against illegal settlements by Palestinians and Israelis, including women and children, was attacked by the Israeli army, which hurled hundreds of gas bombs and sound grenades at them, fired at them with rubber bullets and had a vehicle that hurled sewage at them? Will he condemn this kind of savagery and make it clear to the Israelis that it is impossible to have peace if Israeli troops behave in this abominable way?
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Alistair Burt: I am not aware of the particular incident that the right hon. Gentleman raises, but there is no doubt that in the past, where there have been incidents involving people peacefully protesting—as we believe it is right to do—against settlements that we consider to be illegal, we have condemned such action, and we will continue to do so. This case only goes to illustrate, however, the need for both sides to return to negotiations based on parameters, because the spiral of violence—particularly what we have seen recently on both sides—is just leading to more misery before a settlement can be concluded.
Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): Following what has just been said, and given Hamas’s commiseration on the death of Osama bin Laden as a holy warrior, will the Government confirm that they will have no direct or indirect talks with Hamas until it renounces terror and violence, recognises the state of Israel and abides by previous diplomatic agreements?
Alistair Burt: We have no plans to change our position on Hamas. The Quartet principles that my hon. Friend sets out remain the benchmark towards which Hamas should move—that is, a rejection of violence, a recognition of the state of Israel and an acceptance of previous agreements.
Stephen Twigg (Liverpool, West Derby) (Lab/Co-op): There is real concern about the continuing lack of progress towards peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis. What is the Government’s assessment of the impact of last week’s reconciliation talks between Fatah and Hamas on the prospects of a peaceful transition to a two-state solution, and what role do they see for the European Union in this crucial period?
Alistair Burt: It is difficult to see the impact at this stage, because not all the details are available. It must always have been the case that at some stage there must be Palestinian unity, because there cannot be a sensible two-state solution unless all parts of what is deemed to be Palestine are involved. Therefore, the fact that Fatah and Hamas have come to some agreement is something that might provide a step forward. However, it is crucial that that should lead to progress and to both Palestinian wings continuing to reject violence, continuing with the peace process and recognising the state of Israel. As yet, Hamas has not made any move in that direction. We hope that the reconciliation will eventually lead to progress towards a democratic Palestinian state that will indeed reject violence and wish to live in peace and security with its neighbour, but we must judge it by its actions.
Hazara Population (Pakistan)
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Alistair Burt):
The Hazara community in Balochistan has been the subject of sectarian terrorist attacks for some years, although they lessened to some degree in 2010. We remain concerned, however,
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about the protection of minority communities and minority rights in Pakistan, and about the general instability in the Balochistan region.
Mark Lancaster: I am grateful to the Minister for that answer, and indeed for his meeting with members of the Hazara community in Milton Keynes recently. Is he prepared to get a representative of our high commission in Islamabad to meet the Hazara leaders in Pakistan, to ensure that their voice is heard and that the UK is well placed to end this persecution?
Alistair Burt: My hon. Friend is absolutely right; we keep an eye on this matter, and we should do so. Last year, representatives from our high commission met Syed Nasir Ali Shah, a member of the Parliamentary Assembly for Quetta, and Jan Ali Changezi, who is also a Parliamentary Assembly member and the Minister for Quality Education in Balochistan. We take these issues very seriously, and we are aware of concerns that have been expressed by the community here and in Pakistan. We will continue to raise these issues in support of minority communities. We hope that the inter-faith committees that might be set up by the Pakistan Government will include Hazara representation.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr Jeremy Browne): The earthquake and tsunami of 11 March have had a devastating impact on Japan. As of 27 April, 14,508 people have been confirmed dead, and 11,452 are still missing. There are no confirmed UK casualties. The UK has mobilised various resources to help the Japanese Government. We have sent a search and rescue team and provided other forms of support to the Japanese Government, including nuclear assistance. We receive regular reports from the Japanese authorities regarding ongoing work to make safe the Fukushima nuclear plant, and we are ready to offer further technical assistance as required.
Charlie Elphicke: Japan is a major friend, ally and trading partner of the UK, and it is right that we should be there for a friend in need. Will the Minister tell us what help is being given to assist its economic recovery, and what steps are being taken to help following the nuclear disaster?
Mr Browne: I completely agree with my hon. Friend’s assertion about the deep friendship between the United Kingdom and Japan. We have expressed that friendship and it has been evident in our actions. Our economies are intertwined, but we are also leading the debate within the European Union on a free trade agreement between the EU and Japan.
Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): Has the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority in the UK been asked to supply any expertise on the decommissioning of contaminated water at the plant? I understand that that is one of the more considerable problems that the Japanese authorities are facing.
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Mr Browne: We have made it clear to the Japanese from the outset that we are willing to offer any expertise that might benefit them, but it is worth reminding the House that Japan is an extremely sophisticated country with an extremely developed economy and highly reputable scientists. It is therefore able to make many of those decisions for itself.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr Jeremy Browne): There has been significant progress on building the bilateral relationship with India since the Prime Minister’s visit to India in July 2010, with increased co-operation across the full scope of activities.
Helen Goodman: Given the desirability for the UK and India of increasing the trade between the two countries, will the Minister tell the House what progress has been made on the negotiations for an EU trade agreement?
Mr Browne: I completely share the hon. Lady’s objectives. India is rising in importance, and that is most evident economically. Insufficient progress has been made, but progress is still being made and Britain is at the forefront of trying to conclude the negotiations as soon as possible.
Mr Browne: Discussions are under way, and we would greatly look forward to welcoming such an eminent political leader to this country. There are no fixed plans at this point, but we hope to advance such plans as soon as possible.
Emma Reynolds (Wolverhampton North East) (Lab): We welcome any progress made on the EU free trade agreement with India. However, as recent events have highlighted, a trade policy is no substitute for a broader foreign policy. Will the Minister therefore tell us what other foreign policy priorities the Government are pursuing in respect of our relationship with India?
Mr Browne: I accept that the relationship between our two countries goes beyond economics, although that is increasingly important. We share historical links; we share interests in global security; we share democratic and institutional relations; we share cultural ties; we share sporting links; and I understand that you, Mr Speaker, are expected to visit India later this year further to strengthen relations between our two countries.
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The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): It is vital to acknowledge that no true stability can result from the repression of legitimate demands for political participation and the rule of law. Nothing can justify the use of lethal force against peaceful demonstrators. We are supporting peaceful reform in Tunisia and Egypt, just as we are opposing violence elsewhere and urging all Governments in the region to respond positively to popular calls for better governance.
Nadhim Zahawi: The security of the middle east depends on many factors, one of which is a responsible but independent media. With that in mind, I was shocked to see that, throughout yesterday, al-Jazeera’s Arabic channel, which broadcasts “Al-Jazeera English Live” in this country, allowed messages of hate, violence and revenge against the west to be posted on its coverage. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that broadcasting such messages is highly irresponsible and, indeed, illegal?
Mr Hague: I did not see the reports to which my hon. Friend refers. Clearly, he has seen reports that he found very disturbing and I hope that he will take those up directly with al-Jazeera. Al-Jazeera now broadcasts a very wide variety of material, but I hope that it will in no way encourage hate or the commissioning of crimes; we must be vigilant against that.
Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): Further to an earlier answer, what assessment has the Foreign Secretary made of the internal politics of Hamas and of whether there are conflicting voices—on the one hand about building a technocratic Government and conducting elections on a unity basis and, on the other hand, supporting and praising bin Laden?
Mr Hague: It would be surprising if there were not differing voices and internal tensions on these subjects. Clearly, many issues are moving in the middle east, with the changed situation in Egypt and pressure on the Syrian Government. Hamas has been encouraged by the new Government in Egypt to enter into the political reconciliation with Fatah, as discussed earlier. I believe that it might also feel less secure in its position in Syria. These are forces now at work on Hamas, and it is important in the light of the changes in the middle east that, as the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) has been saying, it makes concrete movement towards acceptance of Quartet principles, which the whole world looks to it to respect.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Alistair Burt): We are aware of discussions that the UN special reporter on torture, Juan Mendez, has had with the United States Government, but the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has not had any discussions with him on the case of Bradley Manning.
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wrote to the Foreign Secretary three weeks ago. She has not yet had a reply. She asked for consular assistance and for somebody to visit her son in the very bad conditions in which he is being held. She also asked for any help that could be given, in Washington and elsewhere, to the family if they so request it. At the very least, Mrs Manning, who is very concerned by the situation of her son, should have had the courtesy of a reply.
Alistair Burt: The right hon. Lady knows from her Adjournment debate on precisely this subject that Bradley Manning does not consider himself a UK citizen and his lawyer has made it very clear that he does not consider that he has any contact with this country. We cannot therefore discuss his nationality and we are limited in both what we can say and what we can do in this case. Bradley Manning’s lawyer is well aware of the circumstances and of the United Kingdom Government's position.
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): I am in regular contact with Secretary Clinton about the whole situation in the middle east. I met her most recently at the NATO Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Berlin on 15 April.
Clive Efford: It is feared in some quarters that the deal brokered in Cairo between Hamas and Fatah is influencing America’s attitude to the new regime there. Has the Foreign Secretary had an opportunity to hold any discussions about that with his American counterpart? In particular, has he discussed the future of aid for Egypt and of assistance with the delivery of free and fair elections in the near future?
Mr Hague: I believe the United States to be supportive of what the interim Government are doing in Egypt. Everything that I saw yesterday suggested that we should be supportive, as did the meetings that I had with Field Marshal Tantawi and the new Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Egypt. They are trying to bring about a transition to democratic government in Egypt, but they face formidable economic problems, which I think will pose the most difficult challenge of all during the coming year or two. It will be very important for western nations to engage with the Government of Egypt and work together on their economic future, and I have received no indication that the United States is planning to do anything other than that.
Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): The Foreign Secretary has hit on the issue of the change and why it came about. That change swept across the whole of the middle east, but the economy and jobs were a key issue in Egypt in particular. What steps has the Foreign Secretary taken, and what discussions has he had with his United States counterparts, to ensure that something constructive will happen, and will happen soon?
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future of change in the middle east and how we should support that change—and Egypt is at the heart of that, for the success of the change there will be a key determinant of what happens in other countries—will be at the forefront of our discussions with President Obama and, indeed, the discussions at the G8 summit which will follow his visit.
Diamond Extraction (Zimbabwe)
19. Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): What recent steps he has taken to ensure that diamond extraction standards in Zimbabwe comply with the monitoring standards under the Kimberley process. 
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Henry Bellingham): The FCO hosted an EU Kimberley process planning meeting ahead of the Kimberley process meeting in Dubai on 14 April. We are working with the EU to push for a robust agreement to ensure Zimbabwean compliance with the Kimberley process, and that includes strengthening the role of the Kimberley process monitor. The good news is that we have helped to secure broad international support for a new monitoring team led by Mark van Bockstael.
Oliver Colvile: Does my hon. Friend agree that the proceeds of the diamonds should go to the Zimbabwean treasury? What pressure can be placed on the Zimbabwean Government to ensure that civil society is included in the decision-making process?
Mr Bellingham: The Marange diamond proceeds have the potential to bring literally hundreds of United States dollars into the Zimbabwe exchequer. Last year $38 million—the first tranche—did get through, but I am disturbed by reports that hard-line elements are benefiting from the Marange mine. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend: it is essential for us to have a strong civil society involvement, and that is why the appointment of a new civil society focal point will play such a vital role in increasing transparency.
Zac Goldsmith (Richmond Park) (Con): Is the Minister frustrated by the hampering of our negotiations on Zimbabwe diamonds as a result of our having to reach agreement through the sluggish EU? Does he agree that it would be better for us to adopt a more robust position on our own terms?
Mr Bellingham: It is worth bearing in mind that since the start of the Kimberley process, roughly 99% of the world trade in rough diamonds is now Kimberley-compliant. That is a huge improvement on the previous position. As for my hon. Friend’s point about the EU, he has made a very interesting suggestion, and I will certainly examine it.
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The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): We have excellent co-operation with Turkey on a wide range of issues, as was reaffirmed in the strategic partnership signed last July by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and Prime Minister Erdogan.
David Rutley: Given Turkey’s important role in helping the United Kingdom foster stronger relations with Arab nations at this time of instability, what steps is my right hon. Friend taking to engage Turkey further both in providing increased humanitarian aid in Libya to those who need it and in helping to enforce the arms embargo against the Gaddafi regime?
Mr Lidington: Turkey has already been active on both counts. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is in frequent contact with Foreign Minister Davutoglu about how to strengthen our co-operation both in supplying effective humanitarian aid to people in need inside Libya and in planning for the reconstruction of that country in the future.
Mr Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): Britain is Turkey’s best friend in the European Union, yet relations between the EU and Turkey continue to be bedevilled by the issue of Cyprus. What efforts is the right hon. Gentleman making to persuade both Cyprus and Turkey that a better relationship between the two of them will help the reunification of the island and Turkey’s membership of the EU?
Mr Lidington: The urgent need for progress towards a settlement in Cyprus is on the agenda at every conversation that either I or my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary have with both our Turkish and Cypriot counterparts. I am sure that that will continue to be the case, and I hope that once the forthcoming Cypriot and then the Turkish elections are over, all parties concerned will redouble their efforts to reach the solution that all communities in Cyprus need to see.
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): Yesterday I visited Cairo to underline the United Kingdom’s support for what the people of Egypt have achieved in the last three months and for their democratic and peaceful future. Across the middle east, this Government will continue to offer their support to ensure that the countries of the region can meet their people’s legitimate aspirations and that events do not result in the suppression of those aspirations, as we are seeing in countries such as Syria.
I thank the Minister for his response with regard to the treatment of minorities such as the Hazara population in Pakistan. What can also be done to encourage and support the protection of the rights of minorities more widely in Pakistan, such as Hindus,
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Christians and women, in the light of accounts of human rights violations, such as forced conversion, forced marriage, beatings, rape, false imprisonment and even murder?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Alistair Burt): My hon. Friend makes serious points about the concerns over human rights in Pakistan. They are points that the United Kingdom Government take up, which have of course been more sharply in focus in recent weeks given, sadly, the murder of Shahbaz Bhatti, the Christian who was Minister for minorities in Pakistan, who was known to a number of us in this House. We are all concerned about the circumstances there, but the Government are working with us and we will continue to support efforts to protect all minorities in Pakistan from the issues that my hon. Friend raised.
Mr Douglas Alexander (Paisley and Renfrewshire South) (Lab): The House is aware that the Prime Minister will shortly give a statement on the death of Osama bin Laden, but I hope the Foreign Secretary will agree that the success of the Arab spring could yet be an even more significant blow to al-Qaeda. Given that, will he update us on the work being done to stop the repression of demonstrators in Syria? In particular, when will the European Union act, and will the Foreign Secretary give an undertaking to work to ensure that Syria does not take Libya’s vacated place on the UN Human Rights Council?
Mr Hague: I fully agree with the right hon. Gentleman. Indeed, this is a moment for people across the middle east to reflect that in so many countries it has been possible to bring about peaceful and democratic change—that may yet happen in more countries—and that the violent philosophy of al-Qaeda that only violence and death can bring about change is bankrupt and should increasingly be vanquished across the middle east. That does, indeed, bring us to Syria. The UK is at the forefront of pressing for action by the European Union. At the end of last week, we secured agreement on an arms embargo and the revocation of the association agreement that had been put in place with Syria. We are now working with our European partners on targeted sanctions such as asset freezes and travel bans—I will be discussing those further with the French Foreign Minister this evening—and we are also highly active at the United Nations Security Council on this issue, although the right hon. Gentleman will understand that Syria is a difficult issue at the UN Security Council and that some of the members, including permanent members, require a good deal of convincing that the United Nations should be taking any action.
T4.  Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): British business continues to be bogged down by regulation and directives from Brussels. What plans does the Minister for Europe have to work with ministerial colleagues to challenge that over the coming months?
The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington):
My hon. Friend is right in his analysis. Securing less costly, less burdensome regulation on European businesses, especially small and medium-sized enterprises, is a priority in our engagement with our European counterparts for every Minister in this Government, from the Prime
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Minister downwards. I am delighted to be able to assure my hon. Friend that the Prime Minister’s initiative in that respect is gaining increasing support from other Heads of Government across the European Union.
T3.  Rosie Cooper (West Lancashire) (Lab): Described as the single greatest advertisement for Britain, the value of the BBC World Service cannot be underestimated, especially given that Syrian demonstrators hold up placards with “Thank you BBC” on them. Will the Minister therefore consider making the appropriate representations to stop the disproportionate reduction in the BBC World Service output before it is too late?
Mr Hague: Nothing disproportionate has happened or will happen to the BBC World Service. The reduction in its spending between 2007 and 2014, the period for which the Foreign Office is under spending restraint, will be exactly the same as the proportionate reduction in the rest of the Foreign Office family and a good deal less than that for the British Council. It is important that we save money across the public sector—we have had to do so given the behaviour of the previous Government—but the World Service has a secure future, as does the Arabic service. Transferring the BBC World Service into the licence fee funding arrangement means that it has a secure future for the long term.
T5.  Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con): Piracy off the west coast of Africa, particularly the coast of Somalia, continues to grow. It represents a clear threat to the lives of seafarers and costs international commerce billions of pounds. What steps does the Minister envisage taking, with the Government of Somalia, to bring to an end this dangerous form of robbery?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Henry Bellingham): Obviously, a long-term solution to the problem of piracy lies on the land, which is why we are working so hard to provide a stable Somalia. We have taken the lead in the international contact group on piracy, and last year we provided £6 million in support of regional prosecution and prisons capacity and some new equipment for the improvement of the Seychelles coastguard. We are taking the lead, and I hope that other countries follow it.
T8.  Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab): Let us be clear about the impact of the spending cuts on the Arabic division of the BBC World Service. In one month it will be forced to reduce its daily output of live TV news from 15 hours to seven and of live radio from 12 hours to seven, and it will also lose 44 of its Arabic staff. In the light of the recent monumental events across the Arab world and the integral role of the BBC World Service as a provider of impartial information, will the Foreign Secretary act now to save this valuable service?
The answer really is the same as the one I gave a few moments ago: we have to operate within all the spending constraints involved in repairing the budgetary catastrophe left to us after last year’s general election. Unfortunately, that has consequences for the World Service too, but the Arabic service, along with so many other services of the World Service, will not just be
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secure for the future; it can be developed further for the future, along with BBC World, which is also of importance in the Arab world, because we have secured its long-term future within the BBC licence fee.
T6.  Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): The recent report to the Secretary-General of the United Nations made it clear that war crimes had been committed in Sri Lanka by both the Tamil Tigers and the armed forces of the Government of Sri Lanka. What action do our Government propose to take in the UN and the Commonwealth to make sure that Sri Lanka, a member of the Commonwealth, upholds the rule of law and that war crimes are punished?
Mr Hague: This is a vital subject and it is crucial for the long-term health of Sri Lanka that these problems are addressed as a part of reconciliation for the long-term future and in bringing different communities together in Sri Lanka. Our Government strongly supported the commissioning of the report by the Secretary-General. We are considering that report carefully, but in the meantime we look to the Government of Sri Lanka to respond to it in detail and make it clear how they intend to proceed.
T10.  Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): In the light of the second bombing of the gas pipelines from Egypt to Israel and Jordan, what conversations has the right hon. Gentleman had with the new regime in Egypt to stress the importance of the 30-year peace treaty between Israel and Egypt?
Mr Hague: The hon. Gentleman is quite right—of course that is important. I had lengthy discussions yesterday with the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Egypt. Regional peace and the future of the middle east peace process are absolutely integral to this matter, so they formed an important part of our discussions. As part of that, we look to Egypt to respect that treaty with Israel, and it is in no doubt whatever about our position on that.
T7.  Mark Lancaster (Milton Keynes North) (Con): Will the Minister join me in commending the work of FCO Services for both the UK and international Governments and will he confirm that there are no plans to move the organisation from Hanslope park in Milton Keynes?
Mr Bellingham: I pay full tribute to FCO Services and all its staff at Hanslope park in my hon. Friend’s constituency. They are highly professional and it is an impressive trading fund, with a profit for the last financial year that will exceed its £4 million target. It now gets a quarter of its income from other Government Departments and is also bidding for contracts overseas, so it is one of the jewels in the FCO crown.
Tony Lloyd (Manchester Central) (Lab): The situation in Syria has naturally been overshadowed by events in Libya and almost totally by the news from Pakistan yesterday. Clearly the deaths of so many people and the actions of the authorities in Damascus have been gross and unacceptable. Will the Secretary of State tell the House what pressure he has been able to bring to bear on those who have a voice in Damascus—those in the Arab League, for example, and, importantly, our good friend Turkey?
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Mr Hague: Yes, this is a very important subject. We have of course made our own views clear directly to the Syrian Government. Last Wednesday evening I called the Syrian Foreign Minister and communicated directly to him the views of the United Kingdom about the unacceptable violence against protestors. I urged the Syrian authorities to go down the route of reform rather than repression, but, sadly, they are increasingly taking the route of repression. The hon. Gentleman is right that Turkey plays an important role and there have been Turkish representatives in Damascus over the past week, again urging reform. As I mentioned earlier, I took up the subject with the Arab League in Cairo yesterday to urge it to use its best efforts to encourage Syria down the right path.
T9.  Eric Ollerenshaw (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Con): Two weeks ago, Bosnia’s Serb Parliament agreed to a referendum questioning the legitimacy of the Bosnia and Herzegovina state court, which deals with war crimes. Does the Minister agree that that potentially undermines the Dayton peace accord and could set off the worst crisis in the 16 years since the war finished? What is he doing with our allies to ensure the peace and stability that has been achieved so far will not now be squandered?
Mr Lidington: My hon. Friend is right that that is a potential challenge to the Dayton accord and it is not something that the British Government regard as acceptable. We are emphasising to our European partners and other members of the international community that we all need to work to strengthen the statehood of Bosnia and the integration of its communities within a single country, and we should be prepared, if needs be, to invoke the Bonn powers to make it clear that what the Republika Srpska is now proposing is simply not acceptable.
Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): In his response to the Chairman of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs about the Arab League’s response in Syria and Bahrain, the Foreign Secretary stressed the importance of consistency in our response to the Arab spring. How is it adequate simply to urge dialogue on both sides in Bahrain, given the Bahraini Government’s outrageous and continuing human rights abuses?
Mr Hague: That is not the only thing that we are doing. Of course, we have made our protests clear based on credible reports—and there are credible reports—of human rights abuses over the Easter period. I also spoke to the Bahraini Foreign Minister, Sheikh Khalid al-Khalifa, and made our protests. In Bahrain, there is still hope of dialogue and the situation is therefore different from some of the others in the middle east. Serious efforts at dialogue have been made by some of those who are now in authority, so we call again on them—on the ruling family and ruling group in Bahrain and on opposition groups—to enter into such a dialogue, which is the only viable way to a future for Bahrain.
Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD):
Gaddafi’s forces have been bombarding Misrata’s port, preventing essential food and medical supplies from reaching the population for four days now. Elsewhere in Libya, aid convoys have been intercepted and attacked, and supplies
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stolen. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that creating safe corridors for humanitarian aid is within the terms of the United Nations Security Council resolution 1973 in order to protect civilians? What will the coalition do to make sure that vital aid gets through to the people who so desperately need it?
Mr Hague: We have done a great deal to make sure that aid gets through, to take people out of Misrata, including vulnerable people such as migrants who have been concentrated near the port, and to get humanitarian aid in. However, my hon. Friend is right that that has been more difficult in recent days, again because of the barbaric actions of the Gaddafi regime. It is much preferable, of course, to take in humanitarian aid separately from military activity, for very good reasons which she will fully understand, but if that becomes impossible we will have to consider other ways.
Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): Returning to the question of Hamas, does the Foreign Secretary agree that the reported comments of Ismail Haniya yesterday were appalling and are already being seized on by enemies of peace on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide? Does he agree that we must not be deflected from the cause of peace but must recognise the potential for unity between Fatah and Hamas and recognise that peace is ultimately built between enemies, not with friends?
Mr Hague: Peace is indeed built between enemies rather than friends, but as the hon. Gentleman rightly points out, that cause would be assisted if it were possible to show across many different divides in the world a good deal of unity about what happened on Sunday night and about the removal from the scene of the author of some of the world’s greatest terrorist acts. It would have been better for Hamas to have joined in the welcome for that, as that would have been a boost in itself to the peace process.
Mr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con): Judge Goldstone recently retracted the central finding of his UN report that Israel had intentionally targeted Palestinian civilians. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to inform members of the UN General Assembly of Judge Goldstone’s reconsideration of his report and admission about his inaccurate conclusion?
Alistair Burt: We know that Judge Goldstone would have much preferred the Israeli authorities to have co-operated with his report, which would have given it a different flavour. His comments are extremely important, but it is equally important to make sure that an investigation on both sides into the incidents, as he recommended, is done. He was satisfied that the Israeli Government had done their best to fulfil that commitment, but Hamas, we are afraid, has done nothing at all to fulfil that commitment.
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The Prime Minister (Mr David Cameron): The death of Osama bin Laden will have important consequences for the security of our people at home and abroad and for our foreign policy, including our partnership with Pakistan, our military action in Afghanistan and the wider fight against terrorism across the world. Last night, I chaired a meeting of Cobra to begin to address some of these issues, the National Security Council has met this morning and I wanted to come to the House this afternoon to take the first opportunity to address these consequences directly and to answer hon. Members’ questions.
At 3 am yesterday I received a call from President Obama. He informed me that US special forces had successfully mounted a targeted operation against a compound in Abbottabad, in Pakistan. Osama bin Laden had been killed along with four others—bin Laden’s son, two others linked to him and a female member of his family entourage. There was a ferocious firefight and a US helicopter had to be destroyed but there was no loss of American life. I am sure the whole House will join me in congratulating President Obama and in praising the courage and skill of the American special forces who carried out this operation. It is a strike at the heart of international terrorism and a great achievement for America and for all who have joined in the long struggle to defeat al-Qaeda.
We should remember today in particular the brave British servicemen and women who have given their lives in the fight against terrorism across the world, and we should pay tribute especially to those British forces who played their part over the past decade in the hunt for bin Laden. He was the man who was responsible for 9/11, which was not only an horrific killing of Americans, but remains to this day the largest loss of British life in any terrorist attack. He was a man who inspired further atrocities, including those in Bali, Madrid, Istanbul and, of course, here in London on 7/7. He was, let us remember, a man who posed as a leader of Muslims, but was actually a mass murderer of Muslims all over the world. Indeed, he killed more Muslims than people of any other faith.
Nothing will bring back the loved ones who have been lost, and of course there is no punishment at our disposal that can remotely fit the many appalling crimes for which bin Laden was responsible, but I hope that at least for the victims’ families there is now some sense of justice being served, as a long dark chapter in their lives is finally closed. As the head of a family group for United Airlines flight 93, put it, we are
“raised, obviously, never to hope for someone’s death”,
“willing to make an exception in this case...He was evil personified, and our world is a better place without him.”
Britain was with America from the first day of the struggle to defeat al-Qaeda. Our resolve today should be as strong as it was then. There can be no impunity and no safe refuge for those who kill in the name of this poisonous ideology.
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places such as Yemen and the Maghreb will want to demonstrate that they are able to operate effectively, and of course there is always the risk of a radicalised individual acting alone—a so-called lone-wolf attack. So we must be more vigilant than ever, and we must maintain that vigilance for some time to come.
The terrorist threat level in the UK is already at severe, which is as high as it can go without intelligence of a specific threat. We will keep that threat level under review, working closely with the intelligence agencies and the police. In terms of people travelling overseas, we have updated our advice and encourage British nationals to monitor the media carefully for local reactions, to remain vigilant, to exercise caution in public places and to avoid demonstrations. We have ordered our embassies across the world to review their security.
Let me turn next to Pakistan. The fact that bin Laden was living in a large house in a populated area suggests that he must have had an extensive support network in Pakistan. We do not currently know the extent of that network, so it is right that we ask searching questions about it, and we will. But let us start with what we do know. Pakistan has suffered more from terrorism than any other country in the world. As both President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani said to me when I spoke to them yesterday, as many as 30,000 innocent civilians have been killed in Pakistan, and more Pakistani soldiers and security forces have died fighting extremism than international forces killed in Afghanistan.
“counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding.”
I believe it is in Britain’s national interest to recognise that with Pakistan we share the same struggle against terrorism. That is why we will continue to work with our Pakistani counterparts on intelligence gathering, tracing plots and taking action to stop them. It is why we will continue to honour our aid promises, including our support for education as a critical way of helping the next generation of Pakistanis to turn their back on extremism. Above all, it is why we were one of the founder members of the Friends of Democratic Pakistan, because I believe it is by working with the democrats in that country that we can make sure the whole country shares the same determination to fight terror and terrorism.
I also spoke yesterday to President Karzai in Afghanistan. We both agreed that the death of bin Laden provides a new opportunity for Afghanistan and Pakistan to work together in order to achieve stability on both sides of the border. Our strategy towards Afghanistan is straightforward and has not changed. We want an Afghanistan capable of looking after its own security without the help of foreign forces. We should take this opportunity to send a clear message to the Taliban: now is the time to separate themselves from al-Qaeda and participate in a peaceful political process.
The myth of bin Laden was that of a freedom fighter, living in austerity and risking his life for the cause as he moved around in the hills and mountainous caverns of the tribal areas. The reality of Bin Laden was very
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different: a man who encouraged others to make the ultimate sacrifice while he himself hid in the comfort of a large, expensive villa in Pakistan, experiencing none of the hardship he expected his supporters to endure.
Finally, let me briefly update the House on Libya. In recent weeks we have stepped up our air campaign to protect the civilian population. Every element of Gaddafi’s war machine has been degraded. Over the last few days alone, NATO aircraft have struck 35 targets, including tanks and armoured personnel carriers, as well as bunkers and ammunition storage facilities. We have also made strikes against his command and control centres, which direct his operations against civilians. Over the weekend, there were reports that in one of those strikes Colonel Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Arab Gaddafi, was killed. Let me be clear that all the targets chosen were clearly within the boundaries set by UN resolutions 1970 and 1973. These resolutions permit all necessary measures to protect civilian life, including attacks on command and control bases.
This weekend also saw attacks on the British and Italian embassies. We utterly deplore this. The Gaddafi regime is in clear breach of the Vienna convention to protect diplomatic missions, and we will hold it fully to account. We have already expelled the Libyan ambassador from London. The British embassy was looted as well as destroyed and the world war two memorial was desecrated. The UN has felt obliged to pull its people out for fear of attack.
Gaddafi made much of his call for a ceasefire, but at the very moment he claimed he wanted to talk, he had in fact been laying mines in Misrata harbour to stop humanitarian aid getting in. That is the regime—that is the man—we are dealing with. We will continue to enforce the UN resolutions until such time as they are fully in place, and that means continuing to turn up the pressure—sanctions pressure, diplomatic pressure and military pressure.
Bin Laden and Gaddafi were said to have hated each other, but there was a common thread running between them: they both feared the idea that democracy and civil rights could take hold in the Arab world. While we should continue to degrade, dismantle and defeat the terrorist networks, a big part of the long-term answer is the success of democracy in the middle east and, of course, the conclusion of the Arab-Israeli peace process. For 20 years, bin Laden claimed that the future of the Muslim world would be his, but Libya has shown, as Egypt and Tunisia did before it, that people are rejecting everything bin Laden stood for. Instead of replacing dictatorship with his extremist totalitarianism, they are choosing democracy.
Ten years on from the terrible tragedy of 9/11, with the end of bin Laden and the democratic awakening across the Arab world, we must seize this unique opportunity to deliver a decisive break with the forces of al-Qaeda and its poisonous ideology, which has caused so much suffering to so many across so many years. I commend this statement to the House.
Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab):
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement and join him in strongly endorsing the sentiments expressed yesterday by President Obama. The Opposition wholeheartedly
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support the action taken by the United States to bring Osama bin Laden to justice. We are grateful to President Obama for taking the decision and to the US special forces who carried it out.
At this time we remember the harrowing scenes of death and destruction of 9/11, and we remember, too, all the other atrocities carried out by al-Qaeda before 9/11 and since, including in Nairobi, Dar es Salaam, Bali, Istanbul, Madrid, Amman and, of course, the 7/7 bombings here in London. The world is a better and safer place without bin Laden commanding or inciting acts of terror. We should never fall for the idea that he somehow stood for a particular community or faith. In each case the objective was the same: to kill and maim as many innocent men, women and children as possible, of all faiths and all backgrounds.
Our response now must be to seek to use this moment, not to claim premature victory in the fight against terrorists, but to heal the divisions he sought to create. We should do that by rooting out the perpetrators of terror, by reaching out to all those willing to accept the path of peace and, at the same time, by ensuring continued vigilance here at home.
All parts of the House will welcome the co-operative and calm response of the Pakistani Government over the past 48 hours, but there remains a great deal of uncertainty about who was aware of bin Laden’s presence and location in Pakistan, especially given his proximity to Pakistani military bases. Pakistan’s leaders continue to take a brave stance against terrorism, but when the Prime Minister talked to President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani, what discussions did he have about ensuring that the security apparatus in Pakistan fully supports their anti-terrorist efforts?
The developments of this weekend remind us why we took military action in Afghanistan, which under the Taliban gave shelter to bin Laden and to al-Qaeda, but those developments should also, as the Prime Minister said, reinforce the need for a lasting political settlement in Afghanistan as the only long-term guarantee of peace and security. Does the Prime Minister agree that we need greater urgency in the search for a political solution and to engage with those parts of the Taliban that are ready to renounce violence? Does he think that there are ways in which we can sharpen the choice facing the Taliban, including by deepening the political process in Afghanistan?
On Yemen and al-Qaeda’s remaining strongholds, we must do everything to combat terrorism and to increase pressure on their supporters, and we must also support movements that make it less likely that terrorism will take root, for is it not clear that the most effective long-term answer to al-Qaeda’s ideology of hatred is being provided by the peoples of north Africa and the middle east? During the Arab spring they have not been turning to an ideology of hate; they are demanding the right to control their own destinies with democratic reform and economic progress.
In that context, will the Prime Minister update the House on progress that has been made in consolidating the democratic gains in Egypt and Tunisia? What is being done not only to ensure that those Arab leaders who have promised reform stick to their commitments, but to force those still resorting to violence and repression, as in Syria, to stop doing so?
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On Libya, it is clear that we cannot abandon the Libyan people to Colonel Gaddafi’s revenge, but will the Prime Minister also take this opportunity to reassure the House that, in all our words as well as actions, it will be clear that all the steps we take are in the terms of UN Security Council resolution 1973? Does he further agree that doing so is right in principle and essential to maintaining regional support for action to enforce the will of the Security Council?
On Israel-Palestine, does the Prime Minister agree that the reaction of Hamas, calling the killing of bin Laden an example of American oppression, is deeply regrettable? Does he agree that we should continue to make efforts to restart the middle east peace process? What discussions has he had with President Obama and the other leaders on that important area?
Finally, I support the Prime Minister’s call for UK citizens to show increased vigilance at this time. Al-Qaeda has suffered a serious blow, but it remains a threat. Can I also take this opportunity to offer my thanks and the thanks of the Opposition to the police and security services, which work tirelessly in public and behind the scenes to keep us safe, as well as to British forces throughout the world?
Above all, let me say this: 9/11 was one of the most horrific events of our generation, and for the victims and their families, including in this country, nothing can remove the pain that they feel, but the death of Osama bin Laden sends out a clear message that, in the face of terrorist acts, the world will not rest until justice is done.
The Prime Minister: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his statement and for the way he has made it. He is absolutely right to praise the police and security services, particularly those in the security services who never get public recognition for the work that they do to keep people in our country safe.
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to talk as strongly as he has about 9/11 and the memories people have of it. I am sure that everyone in the House remembers exactly where they were and what they were doing on that day, and how they felt, and he is right that we should use this moment to try to heal many of the divisions in our world.
On the specific questions, the right hon. Gentleman asks about Pakistan and the question, which I think will come up a lot, about who knew what and what we will do to find out who knew what. What matters most of all, as I said, is to back the democratic leaders of Pakistan, to work with them and those involved in security and military matters and to try to hold discussions with them together, which is what I did on my last visit to Pakistan.
On Afghanistan, the right hon. Gentleman asks how we can increase the urgency of a political settlement. That is absolutely the right thing to do, and again part of the answer lies in Pakistan and the discussions we can have with it to encourage all those involved to give up violence, to accept the basic tenets of the Afghan constitution and, critically, to renounce any link with al-Qaeda.
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was in Egypt yesterday. One of the key ways of doing this is through the European Union, and Britain, along with others, is pushing very hard for a total update of Europe’s relations with its neighbourhood to make them more attractive and something that has proper conditions attached to them.
On Syria, the right hon. Gentleman asked what more can be done to step up the pressure. I agree that what is happening in Syria is unacceptable. We are leading a process in Europe of setting about applying proper pressure—an arms embargo and taking the association agreement off the table—and we are looking at further steps, including travel bans and asset freezes, and other things we can do to show that what is happening in Syria is unacceptable.
On Libya, the right hon. Gentleman asks whether we will stick to UN resolution 1973. Yes, we will. What I would say, though, is that this does not mean just sticking with the existing set of things we are doing. All the time, we should be asking what more we can do to raise the diplomatic, military and sanctions pressure; and within all necessary measures to protect civilian life, I believe that there are many more things we can do and should do to keep the pressure up.
The right hon. Gentleman is right that Hamas’s reaction is very regrettable. I do believe, though, that the middle east peace process is, if you like, the third leg of the strategy to fundamentally defeat al-Qaeda. The first leg is the attack on the terrorist network—the blow so successfully dealt yesterday—and the second leg is democracy and progress in the middle east, in north Africa and in Muslim countries, but the third leg is a middle east peace process that works. I am seeing Prime Minister Netanyahu tomorrow evening, and we will do everything we can in our power to encourage both sides to recognise the historic times that we are living in and the historic chance there is to forge a deal that will last.
Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Kensington) (Con): The Prime Minister has rightly paid tribute to the United States special forces who carried out yesterday’s remarkable operation. Will he make a similar tribute to the United States intelligence agencies, without whose patience and professionalism the actual location of bin Laden would never have been achieved?
The Prime Minister: My right hon. and learned Friend is entirely right. Clearly, this was a painstaking operation—if you like, a painstaking piece of detective work—that went on for many, many months. I can tell from speaking to President Obama that this was not some chance opportunity that came up but a piece of very careful work put in place over months and an operation clearly carried out with great professionalism and skill.
Mr Jack Straw (Blackburn) (Lab): The Prime Minister rightly talks about three strands of a strategy to deal with the continuing problem of al-Qaeda. May I suggest that there is an additional strand, to pick up his point about the pernicious ideology of al-Qaeda, which in many ways remains the most enduring threat posed by al-Qaeda, notwithstanding the demise of its leader? Although there is no silver bullet, so far as here at home is concerned we need to continue programmes to deal with underachievement by some—not all—Asian heritage groups in schools and underemployment of them at work in order to reduce the opportunities for their minds to be taken over by this ideology.
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The Prime Minister: I agree with the right hon. Gentleman, although I would say that there are two additional strands. One is dealing with problems of poverty, inequality and underachievement, which absolutely must be done, but separate from that is the whole bin Laden/al-Qaeda/extremist Islamist thread of painting Muslims and Muslim communities as somehow being in perpetual victimhood and saying that they can never successfully co-exist in western democratic societies. It is absolutely key that we target that ideology and challenge it, because in the end it is only by challenging the ideology that we will win this battle.
Sir Menzies Campbell (North East Fife) (LD): While understanding the satisfaction, and even elation, of those who lost family members in the inferno of 9/11, does my right hon. Friend agree that the sober reality is that some things are unchanged by the death of Osama bin Laden? The threat remains, jihadism must be confronted, and adequate resources, effective international co-operation and good intelligence remain essential.
The Prime Minister: My right hon. and learned Friend is right. There is still a severe terrorist threat—there is still an al-Qaeda threat—and we should not overestimate what has happened, but clearly the end of bin Laden, who was the leader and inspiration of this movement, is a massive setback for al-Qaeda and for its terrorist affiliates, and I think it is worth putting that on the record. Clearly, we now have to go further and deal with the remaining senior leadership of al-Qaeda who are in the tribal lands in Pakistan. We then have to address the affiliates in places like the Arabian peninsula and in the Maghreb. But as my right hon. and learned Friend and the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) said, dealing with the pernicious ideology will be just as important as defeating the terrorists themselves.
Mr David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough) (Lab): I endorse everything that has been said this afternoon. In the light of the agreed short-term risk, does the Prime Minister agree that the resources of the security and policing services in Britain should be focused entirely on this issue? In the light of the words of the Deputy Prime Minister this morning that the proposed changes to the police service are not set in stone, will the Prime Minister consider a pause in the Government’s changes to the police service so that it can concentrate on what really matters to the British people?
The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman is obviously going a bit wider in his questioning. To me, it does not seem right to say that all the police’s attention should be on this issue; we have a serious situation in Northern Ireland as well. At all times, we are balancing the risks. On the police reforms, I say to Opposition Members that we have seen a successful model in London with the Mayor, which the previous Government put in place. That is a system in which the police feel more accountable to an elected individual, and I look forward to extending that across the country.
Richard Ottaway (Croydon South) (Con):
Pakistan is a divided and complex country, and the death of Osama bin Laden will only exacerbate tensions there. Does the Prime Minister agree that our priority should be to
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assist Pakistan to remain a stable state, if only because first, it is a nuclear power, and, secondly, it will have a crucial role in any settlement in Afghanistan?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is entirely right. Of course there are frustrations, and questions will be asked about who knew what in Pakistan and about how this man could have lived in such a large house in such a comfortable-looking community so close to military installations. I am absolutely clear that the British interest is in working with the democratic politicians of Pakistan to deal with the shared issues of combating extremism; ensuring that we are dealing with a safe, rather than a dangerous, nuclear power; and, as my hon. Friend says, reaching a settlement in Afghanistan so that we can bring Britain’s brave troops home.
Mr Bob Ainsworth (Coventry North East) (Lab): The brave and incredibly skilled individuals who carried out this operation deserve our profound gratitude, as do all those who put their lives on the line to protect us, including our own armed forces. In tackling the wider ideology of al-Qaeda, does the Prime Minister think that there are actions that we need to take abroad, as well as those that we need to take at home? The reconciliation track in Afghanistan is enormously important, and surely this operation gives us the opportunity to step up that activity. Did he talk to the President of the United States about that, and if he did not, will he do so?
The Prime Minister: I absolutely agree with the right hon. Gentleman that this is an opportunity, particularly in Afghanistan. Having discussed this matter with President Obama on many occasions, it is clear that there are two tracks that we should be pursuing. There is the military track, where we are building up the Afghan army and police, and having success against the insurgency in Afghanistan, where our troops are performing magnificently. At the same time, there is a political track, where we are saying to the Taliban that it is time for them to give up violence, break the link with al-Qaeda and enter a political process. Both tracks can continue simultaneously, but the death of bin Laden and the work with Pakistan present a greater opportunity for the second track to yield success.
Mr Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that although the remarks by Hamas were as repugnant as they were wrong, the moves by the new masters of Egypt towards opening the border with Hamas-controlled Gaza are nevertheless the clearest possible illustration of just how important is the third corner of the triangle that he outlined? There will be no support from moderate Arab opinion without a long-term solution that offers justice for the Palestinians.
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is clearly right. We have to take the positive, optimistic view that although there will be all sorts of difficulties in the days ahead, Palestinian unity between Fatah and Hamas should be a step forward, and we must make sure that it is. What follows is trying to persuade the Israelis and others that although there are all sorts of uncertainties in the world today, this is an opportunity to take steps towards peace, as they will be dealing with more democratic neighbours.
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Hazel Blears (Salford and Eccles) (Lab): The Prime Minister will know that the vast majority of Muslims in this country entirely reject the violent ideology of al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. Will he therefore confirm that in the review of the Prevent programme, he will ensure that he puts in place a series of practical programmes to build the resilience of our young people to messages of hatred and extremism? Will he also confirm that he takes really seriously, as I know he does, the challenge to that ideology, on which I believe we have to do far more work to ensure that we really make an impact?
The Prime Minister: The words the right hon. Lady has uttered have been ringing through our review of Prevent. The problem has been not so much that a minority of British Muslims actually back al-Qaeda as that there has been a pernicious ideology among a minority of some communities that has given some comfort to the stories that al-Qaeda provides about victimhood and the rest of it. We have to address that issue in order to drain the swamp in which al-Qaeda has been swimming, if I can say so without mixing my metaphors.
Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): Although it is clear that Osama bin Laden was deeply malign and it is good that that influence has ended, does the Prime Minister agree that the rule of law is very important and it is a great shame that we were not able to bring him before a court?
The Prime Minister: I listened very carefully to John Brennan’s briefing, and he made it clear that the forces were prepared to take bin Laden alive and capture him, but only if they were not actually in a firefight and at risk themselves. I think the Americans were completely justified in what they did and I think the world is much better off without bin Laden.
Mr Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP): In the context of counter-terrorism, if our allies can take out bin Laden in Pakistan and we can hit targets in Libya, why cannot we arrest a balaclava-clad terrorist who stands in a graveyard in Londonderry, in the United Kingdom, and threatens to kill police officers and destroy the political process in Northern Ireland?
The Prime Minister: As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I take a very strong view that what we saw in Londonderry is not acceptable and is an offence that the police should pursue. The Police Service of Northern Ireland is now well funded, well backed and an excellent police service, and I would encourage it in its work.
Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): Not withstanding the huge military sacrifices of the Pakistani army and the Pakistani people, in the Prime Minister’s conversations with President Zardari, did the President give him an assurance that should an evidence trail emerge from any subsequent investigation into the bin Laden compound that links some elements of the Pakistani state with the possible protection of bin Laden, the individuals involved will be brought before the courts in Pakistan?
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they did not know that bin Laden was living in Abbottabad and that they did not have such an understanding. I clearly made the point that the Pakistanis were going to be asked a lot of very searching questions by friends and foes alike over the coming days and needed to be prepared to answer them, but I come back to this basic point: what is in our national interest? Is it in our interest to have an enormous bust-up and argument with Pakistan over this, or is it in our interest to say, “Right, we’re going to work with the forces of democracy in Pakistan that want to fight terror and terrorism”? That must be in our interest, and it is what we should adhere to.
Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): Earlier, the Foreign Secretary tried to reassure the House that the future of the World Service was secure, but it is undeniably a diminished World Service whose future is secure. Given what has been said about counter-terrorism ideas in emerging democracies, will the Prime Minister strategically review the role and budget of the World Service?
The Prime Minister: Lots of Government Departments had very difficult settlements because, I am afraid, of the financial situation that we inherited. I think the deal with the World Service involving the BBC provided secure funding for its future. Of course it is having to make some economies, but I think it is perfectly possible to make economies and provide a good service at the same time.
Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): Although I welcome the Prime Minister’s emphasis on the battle of ideas, does he share my concern that all too many people in all too many Muslim communities do not even accept that bin Laden was responsible for 9/11? What does that say about the failure of the west to get the counter-narrative and the counter-propaganda out worldwide and effectively?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes a good point, and that is very much what I was discussing with the right hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears). Many in that minority of the Muslim community take the view that bin Laden was not responsible for 9/11. That does not mean that they actively back bin Laden; it just means that they have bought in to a narrative of Israeli plots and the rest of it. We must challenge that narrative. We cannot have young people growing up in our country believing that nonsense, and it is incumbent on all of us in the work we do in our constituencies—in mosques, community centres and so on—to challenge that thinking whenever it comes up. We should not believe that we are challenging cultural sensitivities in doing so—we are not. We are making a very clear point about what it means to be part of a modern democracy.
Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): A lot of the coverage of Osama bin Laden’s death has referred to him as “evil”, and although we all hate the man, may I congratulate the Prime Minister on, I think, deliberately avoiding that sort of religious language? Osama bin Laden was not engaged in a holy war or crusade, and do we not need to hear a lot more Muslim clerics make that absolutely clear?
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The Prime Minister: I think we do. I am not sure that I avoided the word “evil”—I will always take religious advice from the hon. Gentleman, who has more experience in that—but his point is a good one. We must remember that al-Qaeda’s narrative is not Muslims against the rest of the world, but Muslims against Muslims, before moving on to the clash of civilisations with the rest of the world. It is hopeful that we are seeing Arab and Muslim states saying that what they want is not that sort of sharia law society, but to move towards the building blocks of democracy, which will make for a better and more peaceful world.
Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con): I visited the UK Bali memorial today—a tribute to the innocent victims of just one of the many terrorist bombings that defined the past decade. News of bin Laden’s death did not fill me with any sense of victory, for the world is no safer, but I did feel that we are starting a new chapter and that the world is a better place. Bin Laden’s removal is long overdue. Is it not telling that the Arab spring is calling not for a seventh-century caliphate, but for a change towards a non-violent, democratic and secular society?
The Prime Minister: I thank my hon. Friend for his question, and I know that he suffered a loss in that Bali bomb. We can never bring back someone who has been lost, but he is right that the best tribute we can pay to the people who were lost in the murderous attacks in New York, London, Istanbul or Bali is not only to roll up the terrorist network that has created so much hatred, poison and death, but to see the Arab and Muslim world move towards democracy and freedom. That would be the most fitting tribute of all.
Mr Pat McFadden (Wolverhampton South East) (Lab): Bin Laden is dead, but the ideology he represented is not, even though al-Qaeda has been a follower rather than a leader of the Arab spring. Does the Prime Minister accept that parts of that ideology—the perverted use of victimhood and the warped sense of faith—are often used as justification to kill others of the same faith? Is he aware that that ideology is sometimes shared by those who are not active supporters of terrorism? Does he therefore accept that even though bin Laden is gone, the struggle against the ideology he represented must continue at a political, an ideological and a security level?
The Prime Minister: I very much agree with the right hon. Gentleman and I hope there can be cross-party consensus on that. It would really help if we recognise in the review of Prevent and in what we do to deal with that ideology that it is not enough to say that we will prevent violent extremism, because we need to prevent extremism as well. Sometimes in the past, we have made a mistake in thinking, “Let’s talk to the extremists in order to stop the really violent ones,” but that is like trying to get the British National party to help to deal with a violent fascist. That would not be sensible in that context, and it is not sensible in dealing with extremist Islamism either.
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of people in this country know that something stinks about where bin Laden was found and where he has apparently been living for the past five years. If this country is to continue to support and encourage Pakistan financially and morally, the Pakistani Government need to come clean about what has happened.
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes an important point. Just because we are long-term friends and partners with Pakistan, as we should be, it does not mean that we cannot deliver a fairly tough message every now and again. When I went to Pakistan recently, one message I delivered was that it was unacceptable that so many people in Pakistan did not pay their taxes. It is not easy for us in the west to take money off our taxpayers to give to Pakistani education—vital though that is—if Pakistan is not collecting taxes from its own people. Dealing with corruption, making the country more transparent and ensuring that wealthy people in Pakistan pay their taxes should all be part of our bilateral agenda.
Malcolm Wicks (Croydon North) (Lab): When the Prime Minister visited Pakistan recently, he announced various lines of co-operation, including technical co-operation on roadside improvised explosive devices. In the light of very recent events, will the Prime Minister review that co-operative agreement, lest technical knowledge gained could be passed rather quickly into the hands of terrorists in Afghanistan and elsewhere, with consequent threats to British and other lives?
The Prime Minister: Of course we consider all those things very carefully, but Pakistan has lost thousands of soldiers fighting extremists in south Waziristan and the Swat valley, where they are trying to root out a similar sort of Taliban to the one we are fighting in Afghanistan. We have to understand when we are talking to President Zardari that he lost his wife to extremist terrorists. Of course we must be careful in all that we do, but working with the Pakistanis so that they can combat extremism in their own country is clearly in our national interest.
Mr Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con): May I commend my right hon. Friend’s tone towards Pakistan and his saying that we should deal with that country constructively and co-operatively? Should we not bear in mind what President Zardari himself has pointed out—that only 11% of the population of Pakistan has ever voted for radical Islamic parties, and that 85% is explicitly opposed to al-Qaeda? On that basis, there should be common interest and common cause between our two countries.
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is entirely right. Indeed, we need to co-operate not just on combating terrorism, but on the other matter we have been discussing today—combating the narrative of extremism. The same problem as the one we have been dealing with in our country exists in parts of Pakistan, albeit in a larger and different way.
Mr Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley) (Lab): Although everybody welcomes the death of this evil man, does the Prime Minister not agree that the west should take two steps back when it wants to interfere in other people’s affairs?
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The Prime Minister: The problem with that philosophical view of British foreign policy is that we live in too much of an interconnected world. The idea that we can just put the barrier up and say, “What happens in Pakistan or Afghanistan does not affect us” is wrong. The fact is that 1.4 million people of Pakistani origin live in Britain and travel between here and Pakistan. The fact is that we were threatened by terrorism sourced from Afghanistan and the tribal lands of Pakistan. I am afraid that that sort of “stop the world, I want to get off” foreign policy option no longer exists in this interconnected world.
Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Wellingborough is a fully integrated, interfaith community—in fact, this week we have Sikh, Hindu, Muslim and Christian candidates standing for the Conservative party at the local elections. [Interruption.] Does the Prime Minister agree that in my community of Wellingborough, yesterday’s events will be wholly welcomed?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes an important point. I think someone shouted, “What’s that got to do with it?” but it is important that all parties try to ensure that they are fully representative of all parts of the community. As we have learned in the Conservative party, it is not enough just to open the doors and invite people in; we have to go out and ask people in, so that we can say to people in every community that they are represented in whatever party they would like to support for whatever reason they would like to support it.
The Prime Minister: I can tell the hon. Lady that an arrest was made in connection with a group of people at Sellafield today. That is a matter for the police, but if there is further information to update her with, perhaps my office can contact her.
David T. C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): Bin Laden may have gone, but other members and supporters of al-Qaeda continue to live openly in the United Kingdom, protected by the European Human Rights Act 1998. Does the Prime Minister agree that we can put a lot more faith in US special forces to protect us than the bureaucrats of Brussels?
The Prime Minister: I have some sympathy with what my hon. Friend says. We are trying to deal with the problem in a number of ways. First, we are trying to sign a treaty with Pakistan on deportation with assurances, so that we can deport people of Pakistani citizenship and origin who may threaten this country back to Pakistan to be dealt with there. I discussed that with Prime Minister Gilani and President Zardari when I was there recently. However, we are also trying to reform the European Court of Human Rights from within, and my hon. Friend will be pleased to know that our right hon. and learned Friend the Justice Secretary had a very productive set of meetings with other Council members and there was widespread support for reforming the Court, so that it pays more attention to decisions taken by national courts.
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Stewart Hosie (Dundee East) (SNP): I thank the Prime Minister for his statement and for early sight of it. The conclusion was that what Libya demonstrated, as Egypt and Tunisia did before it, is that people are completely rejecting everything that bin Laden stood for. My hon. Friends and I fervently hope that that is true. Will the Prime Minister update the House on the concrete steps being taken to foster democracy and respect for human rights in north Africa and throughout the middle east?
The Prime Minister: I think there are bilateral actions that Britain, as an old and successful democracy, should take and links that we should make, such as updating the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, as we have discussed in this House before. However, the biggest step would be for the European Union radically to overhaul its programme of help and assistance to north African and middle eastern neighbours and countries. Frankly, its programme up to now has been quite expensive—there is no shortage of money being spent—but it has not been successful in putting in place those building blocks of democracy. That is what we should be working on.
Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is imperative to provide every possible military, diplomatic and development assistance to Pakistan, not only to build democracy in the longer term, but to help to improve security in the shorter term, which is inextricably linked with a successful exit strategy from Afghanistan?
The Prime Minister: I agree that we need to build those links. Clearly there has to be a two-way relationship: we must not be too transactional about it, but we need to be clear with the Pakistanis about what we hope to gain from the partnership that we enter into. Clearly, work on counter-terrorism is vital to Britain’s national interest, but we are prepared to do a huge amount with Pakistan to help with matters such as the education of children. There are 17 million children in Pakistan not at school today. If we want to keep them away from extremism and, indeed, if we want to deal with problems of migration as well, it makes sense for us to continue our aid programme.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): Every terrorist attack is a disaster; every resulting war is a tragedy. Does the Prime Minister not agree that we should now think quite seriously about the whole strategy adopted over the past 30 years? Bin Laden was financed by the west in the war in Afghanistan in 1979; he had relations with US oil interests after that, and later he became the terrorist threat that he remained for the rest of his life. Do we not need to think seriously about where the west is putting money, who it supports and what eventually comes round to bite us in the back because we have not analysed what is happening in those countries and those societies?
The Prime Minister:
Of course the hon. Gentleman is right that we have to learn the lessons of successes and failures of the past and try to apply them for the future, but it seems to me that there are some constants in all this, one of which is that the promotion of democracy and freedom, along with what I call the building blocks
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of democracy, is almost always and everywhere a good thing to do. In as much as we learn the lessons of interventions of the past, I hope that we hold on to that.
Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD): It is entirely right that the Taliban should heed the calls from the Prime Minister to separate themselves from al-Qaeda and participate in a peaceful political process. What practical mechanisms exist whereby, in doing so, the Taliban can pursue a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan?
The Prime Minister: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. There are practical steps in place through the reconciliation and reintegration procedure that is available in Afghanistan through the President’s peace council. That enables Taliban fighters effectively to put down their weapons and join the political process, as long as they accept the basic tenets of the Afghan constitution. However, as well as that low-level reintegration, we need higher-level reconciliation, where we say to the Taliban, “If you accept the tenets of the constitution, give up violence and cut your links with al-Qaeda, there is a political path open to you,” because ultimately, insurgencies tend to end through a combination of force of arms and a simultaneous political process.
Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): Do not the six years of treachery by powerful people in Pakistan prove that the links of blood, religion, language and ethnicity between Pakistan and Afghanistan are far, far more powerful than the friendship of convenience between us and those countries, which depends on a continuing sacrifice of blood and treasure by us? Have not our excessive optimism and trust delayed the day when we can do a deal and bring our brave boys home?
The Prime Minister: I do not accept that analysis, because it can lead us to believe that the best option for Britain, and indeed America, is to cut ourselves off entirely from friendships, partnerships and co-operation with those countries and leave them to their own devices. That has been a mistake in the past. The lesson to learn is that long-term partnerships to help those countries are actually in our interests.
Paul Uppal (Wolverhampton South West) (Con): The Prime Minister spoke about the myth of Osama bin Laden. One of the most powerful recruiting sergeants for al-Qaeda was the idea that he had moved away from a decadent western lifestyle to that of a penitent holy warrior. Is the Prime Minister heartened, as I am, by the truth that he was a hypocrite and that that hypocrisy runs through the core of the ideology of al-Qaeda?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes an important point. The idea that bin Laden was a hermit bravely living in a cave directing the insurgency has been given the lie completely, as we see now that he was living in a luxury million-dollar villa in a fairly suburban part of Pakistan. I hope that people who have somehow revered this man will now see the true picture of someone who was hypocritically living pretty high on the hog while expecting others to suffer hardship.
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He is right that questions will have to be asked about who knew what, but the central tenet of what he says is that our relationship with Pakistan is not a friendship of convenience, as some of my hon. Friends believe. In fact, Britain and Pakistan have an unbreakable common interest in combating terrorism, and in many other areas. What more can be done to ensure that that is understood here in Britain and, importantly, in Pakistan?
The Prime Minister: It is about the hard work of building a strong partnership that is for the long term and not concentrating too much on the short-term transactions that two countries might want to undertake. The fact is that we have a shared interest in fighting terrorism, expanding trade, combating poverty, improving education and ensuring that the people-to-people links between our countries are strong. The more we discuss those matters with democratically elected politicians in Pakistan, the more the common interests will grow. I do not think that that is an impossible dream, as the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) suggested; it is practical politics and completely in our national interest.
Angie Bray (Ealing Central and Acton) (Con): May I turn the Prime Minister’s attention to Libya? He mentioned that he was seeking to tighten up the sanctions. What does he think about those countries that are not exactly signed up to the United Nations resolutions and that have been allowing Gaddafi to get hold of assets and funding by letting them slip through their countries and into Tripoli?
The Prime Minister: We think that that is unacceptable, and that, as well as implementing resolutions 1970 and 1973, there are opportunities to tighten sanctions—on oil and oil products, for example—to ensure that the regime comes to its senses and realises that it cannot go on terrorising its own people. In the coming days, we will look at ways of stepping up the action that we are taking, as well as encourage others to enforce measures already in place.
Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): The Prime Minister has referred several times to the need to combat the global jihadist Islamist ideology. In that context, will he have urgent discussions with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and ask it not only to reverse the reductions in the BBC’s Arabic language services, but to implement an idea that has been talked about for quite a while—namely, to introduce a BBC Urdu channel to broadcast in Pakistan?
The Prime Minister: I heard the Foreign Secretary dealing with that matter extensively during questions. Many of the budget reductions being made are regrettable, but they are all part of ensuring that government is affordable and that we deal with the deficit that we inherited. I am quite clear that the settlement for the BBC is fair and that the BBC has to ensure that that money goes further in providing many of the excellent services that it does.
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The Prime Minister: We are getting good support from members of the Arab League: both the Qataris and the United Arab Emirates are providing planes, and logistic support is coming from some other members of the Arab League. The key is that the contact group, which my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary helped to set up, has already had a number of meetings and further ones are forthcoming. In those meetings, the support of the Arab League and Arab countries for what is happening in Libya is still extremely strong—
The Prime Minister: No, it is not declining. It is still strong because Arab League countries know what they are dealing with in Gaddafi. When they watch what he is doing now—mining the port in Misrata, shelling and killing his own citizens—they know that is completely unacceptable and they are right to back the coalition.
Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): Will the Prime Minister say in which part of the world any possible retaliatory attack is most threatening? Do the Government have any plans to deploy UK military resources to combat that threat?
The Prime Minister: The whole point of the Cobra meeting last night was to review the evidence and concerns about potential retaliatory attacks. Clearly, we have to be on our guard across the world against attacks, whether they be here in the UK or on British assets or embassies in any other part of the world. We keep the threat picture permanently updated and keep permanently under review the advice we give to our embassies and the stance we take here. Certainty is never possible in these matters, but we try to be as vigilant as we can be.
Gavin Barwell (Croydon Central) (Con): My right hon. Friend said that our objectives in Afghanistan remain unchanged. Does he believe that the death of bin Laden might allow us to achieve those objectives more quickly and hasten the day when our servicemen and women can come home?
The Prime Minister: I do not think it should automatically change our timetable; I think we should stick to that timetable. As I said, however, as well as the military track we are pursuing, there is also the political track of encouraging the Taliban into a political process. I would think that that will be helped by the fact that bin Laden is no more, as the futility of maintaining the link with al-Qaeda is seen. If the Taliban sever that link, there is every prospect of a political settlement, which prospect can clearly lead to British forces coming home. I do not think we should imagine that the timetable will be different, but we should work hard to take every opportunity brought about by the end of bin Laden.
Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): The Prime Minister famously once accused the Pakistani Government of facing both ways. Is it not now clear that, whichever way they were facing, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence was clearly focused on Abbottabad and the security compound there, and that the co-operation of which he spoke must now have as part of its condition the root and branch reform of the ISI? If not, the fight against terror will be doomed from the beginning.
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The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. As I said in my statement, it is clear that bin Laden had a “support network” in Pakistan. Those are the words that John Brennan used, and they are absolutely right. We do not know the full extent of that support network or exactly where it reached; what we do know is that we should do everything we can to support the democrats in Pakistan who want the entire country to face the same way and work hard to combat terrorism in every way possible. That is what we should do.
Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): I welcome the content and particularly the promptness of the Prime Minister’s statement. The Foreign Secretary confirmed earlier that military action against individuals such as Colonel Gaddafi should take place only within the confines of proper legal authority. Does the Prime Minister expect it to be confirmed that that was also the case for the undoubtedly courageous action against Osama bin Laden?
The Prime Minister: The legal position and the legal advice are a matter for the United States. It was a US operation with US troops, so it is entirely a matter for that country. I think we should focus today on the fact that the world is undoubtedly better off without that man still being at large.
Dr William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): I think the Prime Minister for his statement. Will he inform us whether intelligence sources confirm that Colonel Gaddafi is planning to use chemical weapons against the people of Libya? What further steps can be taken against the tyrant Gaddafi?
The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman has raised an interesting point. I believe that there have been press reports of gas masks being distributed by some in the Libyan regime, but we have no information about whether those reports are reliable or are linked with anything else. Obviously, however, we keep a close eye on everything that is happening in Libya, and on any threat that the regime could use such weapons in any way.
Mr Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): Of course we reject the al-Qaeda characterisation of western policy as an attempt to impose our views on the Muslim world, but in order to win hearts and minds—particularly in the Arab world—will my right hon. Friend make it clear that it is no part of our long-term policy to impose or get rid of a particular regime in Libya, and that our aim is to secure a ceasefire, a settlement and, ultimately, peace, even at the cost of a divided country? I suspect that what most Libyans want is peace.
The Prime Minister:
My hon. Friend has made a good point, which is linked to the point made at Question Time by the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn). We are not there to pick a Government for Libya—to say, “You can have this sort of Government but not that sort of Government.” We are there, basically, to put in place United Nations resolutions 1970 and 1973, and to allow the Libyan people to choose their own Government in their own way. It may well be, in the end, a Government with whom we do not have 100% agreement, but one of the lessons that we have
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learnt in recent years is that that is how to make progress, rather than our trying—as I have put it in the past—to impose such things from above.
Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op): The Prime Minister spoke of the myths about bin Laden. Is he not concerned about the possibility that the swift burial of bin Laden will lead to conspiracy theories and further myths about whether he is still alive?
The Prime Minister: I think that the United States made a sensible decision on the basis that this was in line with all the correct Muslim practices for burial—a luxury, incidentally, that bin Laden never allowed any of his victims. This was done in an appropriate way, at sea, and I think that the Americans are to be commended for doing it in that way.
Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): In the context of the rumours of conspiracy theorists, does the Prime Minister agree that it would be inappropriate and potentially unhelpful if the United States authorities released detailed and possibly gory footage of the operation in Pakistan?
The Prime Minister: I think that it is, in the end, for the United States to decide exactly what to release about the operation. All that I would say, on the basis of my limited experience, is that there are some conspiracy theorists who will never be satisfied. Some people still believe that Elvis will be found riding Shergar. You will never satisfy some people. I think that what the Americans have done so far is pretty sufficient in explaining to all reasonable people that bin Laden is no more.
Richard Fuller (Bedford) (Con): On that bright September morning in New York, no one really seemed to give a fuss about anyone else’s religion, but over 20 years Osama bin Laden was responsible not only for the murder of innocents but for a raising of disadvantage for Muslims in many parts of the world. Does the Prime Minister agree that terrorists like Mr bin Laden abandon their faith the moment they determine to slaughter innocent people, and will he recommit himself to an open, inclusive society in this country, which includes our Muslim citizens?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend has put it extremely well. The fact is that there is no place in Islam for this sort of murderous ideology. It is against what Islam is meant to be all about. I hope that the argument that we can get across to people now is that that was an entirely blind alley for so many young people to go down, and that there is an alternative to the repression and frustration that they felt about regimes in north Africa and elsewhere: the democratic awakening that is taking place, which—as I said earlier—is one of the ways in which we will defeat al-Qaeda in the long run.
Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): Does the Prime Minister agree that, having suffered such a grievous loss—that of his wife—the President of Pakistan is totally on side in the battle against international terrorism, and that somehow or other we must help him to rid his governmental structure of people who are sympathetic to al-Qaeda, or indeed the Taliban? I do not know how we can do that, but perhaps the Prime Minister does.
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The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend has put his question in the right way. A long-term commitment on the part of this country and, crucially, the United States to Pakistan is what is needed to help to convince Pakistan that together we will defeat this menace and give the country some prospect of peaceful progress. I have no doubt that that is President Zardari’s view. As my hon. Friend has said, the President has suffered from terrorism himself, and has shown considerable courage in sending Pakistani troops into the Swat valley and south Waziristan to defeat terrorism. So yes, Pakistan does need our help and long-term commitment so that we can deal with this issue together.
Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): What concrete steps are the UK Government and their allies taking to counter any propaganda campaign that may be launched seeking to portray bin Laden as a martyr?
The Prime Minister: That is a good point, and how the Americans have behaved over the burial—the fact that it was done in a proper Muslim way, and so forth—will help in that regard. Frankly, I do not think there is any magic button we can push or any magic campaign we can run. It is for all of us to make sure that people understand the evil this man did, the pernicious ideology he was pushing, and the fact that it led to a complete dead end for a generation of young Muslim men. If we make that argument, we can win that argument.
Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con): Bin Laden’s death will be a severe setback for al-Qaeda, but as the Prime Minister knows, there are relatively few al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, and there are real differences between the Taliban and al-Qaeda, which could be worth exploring to provide a way forward. Will the Prime Minister therefore do more to urge the Americans to have open, meaningful, non-conditional talks with the Taliban? As we showed in Northern Ireland, it is possible to fight and talk at the same time.
The Prime Minister: The point I would make to my hon. Friend is that while there are clearly differences between the Taliban and al-Qaeda, there are at the moment still links between them. The Taliban are not currently willing to break the link with al-Qaeda, but that is a key step that needs to be taken in making sure that they can enter some sort of political dialogue and settlement in Afghanistan. It is not acceptable to ask Afghan democrats, and President Karzai and others, to have conversations with people who, even at the end of those conversations, are still going to be committed to violence and overthrowing all of the Afghan constitution, and who are going to be linked to a group of terrorists—al-Qaeda—which has done so much damage not just to Pakistan, but to Afghanistan itself.
The Prime Minister: I am not going to row away from points I have made in the past, but the point I would repeat today is that it is in our interests to work with democrats in Pakistan so that all of that country, and everyone within it, is facing in the same direction in combating extremism, as their democratically elected politicians so clearly want to do.
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Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the overwhelmingly vast majority of Muslims, both here in the UK and around the world, will welcome the fact that this evil criminal has been brought to justice? We must remind ourselves of that, to avoid stigmatising one particular group in society.
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and it should ring out from this Chamber today that one of the groups of people who should be most relieved at the passing of bin Laden is Muslims all over the world, because he killed more Muslims than people belonging to any other faith. The point has been made right across the House today that only a minority of a minority of a minority, as it were, backed al-Qaeda, and another small group of people bought into some of the pernicious ideology it was peddling. We have to deal with both those problems, and it is remarkable how much common ground there has been on that on both sides of the House today.
Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): From one Essex man to another! Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister confirm that the Government will take strong action against any conveyor-belt Islamist groups or individuals that use what has happened to bin Laden to promote jihad or other forms of violence?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes a good point, and as we have discussed today, we must combat not just violent extremism, but extremism itself. I think there has in the past been a sense of a conveyer belt, with some extremist groups and organisations taking people into a career of jihadism, and we will never deal with that unless we deal with the conveyor belt itself.