By Harry Phibbs
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"Speaker agrees my request to recall Parliament on Thurs. There'll be a clear Govt motion & vote on UK response to chemical weapons attacks."
According to a tweet from Labour Whips (why do Conservative whips not have a Twitter account?) the House of Commons will sit from 2.30pm to 10pm.
For most MPs the news came via an email from easyJet - who evidently have a sharp eye for making a fast buck (or to get a bit of PR they are offering a £60 return flight deal.)
We await news of the text of the motion and of any whipping arrangements. No doubt there will be several Tory MPs who will vote against any military action while others (such as Julian Lewis) will be looking carefully at the wording of the motion to see just what is authorised. Then there will also probably be some Labour MPs who break ranks to support the Government - reflecting the views of Tony Blair.
*UPDATE* easyJet have been in touch to confirm that they will not be making a profit on their "MP rescue service".
By Tim Montgomerie
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On behalf of Conservative Friends of Israel, seventeen Tory MPs signed a letter to The Telegraph today, urging the Government to maintain its position of not dealing with Hamas. Two key sections of the letter are republished below:
"Rocket attacks on Israel’s southern communities have markedly intensified this year. More than 1,000 rockets and mortars have been indiscriminately fired into civilian areas by Hamas and other terror organisations operating under its protection. Israel has a sovereign duty to protect its citizens.
The firing by Hamas of long-range rockets towards Tel Aviv and Jerusalem marks a deplorable escalation. It also provides a further alarming insight into the advanced Iranian-supplied weaponry at the disposal of Palestinian terror groups.
We share the British Government’s concern at the dangerous situation and deeply regret the loss of civilian life on both sides. We also welcome the comments of the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary that Hamas “bears principal responsibility for the current crisis”.
Hamas needs to know that the British Government will not reward its terror tactics, and we hope that getting Hamas to cease terror attacks and renounce violence will form the core of the Government’s policy. We call on the Government to maintain this position steadfastly. With its ideology intact, Hamas cannot be a partner for peace and will ensure that any Middle East peace is short-lived."
By Matthew Barrett
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In the Commons yesterday, Foreign Secretary William Hague gave a statement on Syria, strongly condemning the decision made over the weekend by Russia and China to veto a rather moderate (perhaps inadequate) UN resolution calling for the Syrian government to allow peaceful protests, and begin a new political process.
Mr Hague began:
"Over the last 11 months, more than 6,000 people have been killed. The Syrian regime has deployed snipers, tanks, artillery and mortars against civilian protestors and population centres, particularly in the cities of Homs, Idlib, Hama and Deraa. Thousands of Syrians have endured imprisonment, torture and sexual violence, including instances of the alleged rape of children, and the humanitarian position is deteriorating. It is an utterly unacceptable situation that demands a united international response."
Mr Hague pointed out that the UN resolution could not have been used for military intervention, and should not have been objected to by people wanting a peaceful solution:
"There was nothing in this draft resolution that could not be supported by any country seeking a peaceful end to the tragedy unfolding in Syria. It demanded an end to all violence, called for a Syrian-led political process to allow the Syrians to determine their future, and set out a path to a national unity Government and internationally supervised elections. It did not call for military intervention, and could not have been used to authorise any such action under any circumstances. It did not impose sanctions. It proposed putting the weight and authority of the United Nations Security Council behind a plan to achieve a lasting and sustainable peace in Syria."
By Joseph Willits
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In yesterday's Adjournment debate before the start of the Christmas recess, a mix of topics were raised by MPs.
Chris Skidmore MP (Kingswood), who also wrote on ConservativeHome yesterday about making history a compulsory subject for under-16s, spoke of the study of history reaching a record low. Skidmore said that "in 77 local authorities fewer than one in five pupils is passing history GCSE". Despite these figures already being low enough as it is, there was a need to break them down, he said, "because in places such as Knowsley under 8% of pupils are passing history GCSE".
"Often it is the Daily Mail or academics who discuss what type of history should be studied in schools, whose history should be studied, how history should be studied in the curriculum, whether we should have a narrative form of history or a more interpretive form of history that looks at sources, and whether history should be seen as a framework of facts."
Whilst this debate was important, he warned of history "becoming a subject of two nations" and Britain's isolation in Europe, if people were not united in the view "that history is a crucial subject that binds us as one nation".
By Joseph Willits
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Yesterday in Parliament a debate was motioned, and passed unopposed without a vote, to approve a European document related to Croatia's joining of the European Union. Europe Minister David Lidington began the debate by speaking of enlargement more generally, saying that the Government has long been "a strong supporter of EU enlargement as an effective and dynamic agent of change ... the European Union will remain strong only if it is outward-looking and continues to grow".
EU accession, he said, "has helped to entrench democracy, the rule of law and human rights in parts of our continent where those values and traditions were crushed for most of the 20th century." Enlargement would "create stability, security and prosperity across Europe".
Lidington said that providing accession criteria had been met, it was important that EU membership should be available to any European country, whether it be Spain or Portugal, or a Balkan or eastern European nation. The Minister made reference to Margaret Thatcher's Bruges speech of 1988:
By Joseph Willits
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Yesterday was Phillip Hammond's first opportunity to answer defence questions. Hammond's address to Parliament also followed a recent, first trip to Afghanistan, where the Defence Secretary marked Armistice Day with 3,000 British troops at Camp Bastion. Whilst in Afghanistan, Hammond said:
''British troops are making significant progress in Helmand to rid the country of a brutal insurgency that is a threat to our country and the people of Afghanistan."
In Parliament yesterday, Hammond echoed the remarks he made at Camp Bastion, describing the "fantastic job" and "progress" British troops are "making both in reversing the momentum of the insurgency and in training the Afghan security forces to defend their own country". Hammond's assessment was that "the security situation in central Helmand has improved" and that improvements had been made in the capability and numbers of British trained Afghan national security forces.
Hammond was asked by Nicholas Soames MP, if he had come to a decision about "which particular areas we will specialise in training Afghans after 2015". In response, the Defence Secretary reiterated Cameron's "commitment that Britain will take the lead role in the Afghan national officer training academy" just outside of Kabul, which hold responsibility for training the "bulk of officer recruits to the Afghan national security forces".
By Joseph Willits
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In an over-subscribed Urgent Question debate in the Commons yesterday, on the Palestinian statehood bid, foreign office minister Alistair Burt (standing in for Hague who was in Libya) refused to be drawn on whether the government would officially support a Palestinian bid for UN membership.
On Tuesday, ConservativeHome reported that only 2 Tory MPs, Nicholas Soames and Sir Peter Bottomley had signed an Early Day Motion in favour of a Palestinian state. Upon writing this, the number had increased to four Tory MPs, with Julian Brazier and Eleanor Laing adding their signatures.
The hesitancy with which Tory MPs are having putting their name to the EDM, bears resemblance to the government's caution, because of fears that the bid could ruin the peace process. Alistair Burt stated that it would be "premature to speculate on what the Government’s response might be" before any proposal for membership had been published. Burt also stressed it was "vital that any action in the UN does nothing to endanger the prospect of talks".
Following on from the Arab Spring "the world can no longer claim that change in the Middle East will come slowly and incrementally, or allow the middle east peace process to limp along indefinitely, as it has done", said Burt. Any resolution made between the Israelis and Palestinians, he said, is seemingly "more significant" in relation to events of the Arab Spring.
By Matthew Barrett
On Monday, William Hague opened a debate about the Middle East, North Africa, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Questions about Libya, UN and NATO involvement came up initally, but events in Israel and Palestine - especially the new agreement between Hamas and Fatah - were also raised, with Conservative members firmly advocating that Hamas should accept Israel's right to exist.
Israel is not the cause of the Middle East's problems: "When Osama Bin Laden was killed a few weeks ago, an important article by Robert Fisk appeared in The Independent, in which he made the point that al-Qaeda’s irrelevance has been shown by the fact that the Arab spring was demanding not more Islamic fundamentalism, but freedoms. It is just as important to note that the Arab spring has not been demanding a change in Palestine, essential though that change is; the Arab spring has been demanding the sort of freedoms—freedom of speech, freedom of the press and the rule of law—that are provided and embodied in Israel. My main initial point about Israel is that it is not the middle eastern problem; the autocratic regimes that have been surrounding Israel are the problem."
The Hamas-Fatah agreement could mean larger Hamas influence: "If the new Hamas-Fatah organisation follows the Fatah line I will be utterly delighted. That would mean that we could negotiate with Hamas again and that Israel would have a useful negotiating partner, because all these things must be achieved by negotiation and cannot be achieved by force or unilateralism. If, however, the new united organisation follows the Hamas line, the reconciliation will be either meaningless or significantly worse. This is not a various shades of grey issue, but a black and white one."
Hamas must renounce violence: "At a time when the Arab spring is showing that the Arab people are desperate for freedoms, now is not the time for the United Kingdom or the international community to abandon the Quartet’s principles. They must demand that Hamas should renounce violence, recognise the state of Israel and honour the previous agreements."
Nick Boles (Grantham and Stamford) stated that Israelis must be sure of their future security: "The vast majority of Israeli people also think that a two-state solution is the long-term source of their security, but they will grasp it only if there are guarantees that that state will not threaten the long-term security of Israel. It is not unreasonable to ask for that when only five years ago Israel withdrew from Gaza and Gaza immediately fell into the hands of an organisation that is directly sponsored by Iran and wants to wipe Israel from the map. It is not unreasonable when Lebanon’s Government have been brought down and the new Prime Minister has been put in place by an organisation whose leader only yesterday said that we need to drive Israel into the sea, and that no treaties, no borders, no agreements will stop that happening. It is not unreasonable for the Israeli people to have that expectation."
Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) talked about the severe threat of Iran's nuclear ambitions: "Iran is a state that espouses a jihadist, anti-Semitic, militant theology. It is a leading sponsor of state terrorism across the middle east. Furthermore, it wishes to challenge the United States and undermine the historic undertaking of the Baghdad pact of the 1950s, through which the United States sought to support moderate Arab states. There is no doubt that the Iranian regime not only sees itself as the pre-eminent regional power seeking hegemony in the middle east, but is developing a supra-conventional nuclear missile capacity to consolidate that hegemony and become a rival to the United States in global terms. Iran is close to weaponised nuclear capability, and to being able to move, via a breakout position, from the conversion of low-enriched uranium to high-enriched uranium at the minimum 90% level. Once the regime has achieved that, weaponisation can be achieved relatively simply... A nuclear Iran would destroy the policy objective of global non-proliferation and semi-permanently destabilise the middle east, with countries such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia and smaller Arab states seeking nuclear parity. That argument is enunciated in a report entitled “Global Trends 2025” by the National Intelligence Council. The prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran presents a clear and present danger to Israel and to regional stability, and it is too great a risk. The European Union, the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency must rise to the challenge of preventing that prospect from coming to fruition."
Read the whole debate in Hansard.
The Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Richard Ottoway, opened a very interesting debate about the future of the BBC World Service yesterday. He was speaking after his Committee had issued a report, complaining about World Service cuts of 16%.
The motion was also supported by the Chairs of the Defence, International Development, Treasury, Home Affairs, Culture, Media and Sport and Environmental Audit Select Committees:
“That this House notes the Sixth Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, The Implications of Cuts to the BBC World Service, HC 849; endorses the Committee’s support for the World Service’s invaluable work in providing a widely respected and trusted news service in combination with high-quality journalism to many countries; considers that the unfolding events in North Africa and the Middle East demonstrate the continuing importance of the ‘soft power’ wielded through the World Service; believes that the value of the World Service far outweighs its relatively small cost; and invites the Government to review its decision to cut spending on the World Service by 16 per cent.”
The importance of soft power in international relations: "It might seem odd to quote no less a person than Osama bin Laden on the importance of soft power, but, talking about jihad, he said: “The media war in this century is one of the strongest methods. It’s…90% of the total preparation for battles”. He was talking about the power and influence of media communications—soft power. Soft power is a rapidly growing way of achieving desired outcomes. In the cold war era, power was expressed in terms of nuclear missiles, industrial capacity, numbers of men under arms, and tanks lined up across the central plains of eastern Europe. Today, none of those factors confers power in quite the same way. The old structures are moving on. Cyber-attacks and the more subtle methods of the information age are the norm. Soft power—the power of Governments to influence behaviour through attraction rather than coercion—dominates. That point is not lost on the Foreign Office, high up on whose list of structural reform priorities—the reforms that it believes should have priority—is the “use of ‘soft power’ to promote British values, advance development and prevent conflict”.
The World Service is soft power at its best: "I can think of no better definition or illustration of the need for the World Service, and it is the opinion of our Committee that the cuts to its output are a false economy. If anything, it should be expanded to address the concerns of a changing world, just as the security services and the number of diplomats to key sensitive postings have been expanded."
Cuts in the World Service are steeper than in the Foreign Office as a whole: "Since its inauguration, the World Service has been funded by the Foreign Office. This will end in 2014 when responsibility will be transferred to the BBC. During the intervening four years, the budget is to be reduced from £241 million to £212 million a year. Taking into account inflation, that is a 16% real- terms cut. Last autumn’s spending review announced that the overall FCO budget would fall by 24%. However, a closer look shows that, once the World Service and the British Council are taken out of the equation, the actual cut in the Foreign Office budget is a shade under 10%. In my judgement and in the opinion of the Select Committee, a 16% cut in the World Service budget, compared with 10% in the Foreign Office budget, is disproportionate. I sympathise with the director of the World Service who argued that the service had to some extent been singled out."
Highlights, not verbatim, from the Prime Minister's speech at the beginning of today's Commons debate on imposing a No Fly Zone over Libya. Mr Cameron took a large number of interventions - notably from opponents of the policy such as Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, Caroline Lucas and John Baron. His speech was notable for the number of times he explained why this intervention was different from Iraq.
A bloody massacre has been averted in Benghazi in the nick of time. A historic and proud city has been protected from destruction.
Gaddafi lied to his people and the international community when he declared a ceasefire that he had no intention of fulfilling.
David Cameron reiterated his own British government belief in regime change but said that the Coalition was only committed to establishing (1) a No Fly Zone and (2) protecting the civilian population of Libya.
Spain, Canada, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Italy, Greece and Qatar have joined the Coalition in terms of supplying aircraft, airfields or other military equipment.
PM says Britain won't use uranium tipped munitions or cluster bombs in Libya.
Responding to Tory MP John Baron - who suggested (as in his ConHome OpEd) that Arab states should implement the NFZ - Mr Cameron said that speed was of the essence and without speedy intervention there could have been massive loss of life in Benghazi.
He confirmed that there would be no invading force but did not dissent when a backbench Conservative (Dan Byles) said that there would need to be a "robust search and rescue" force should an RAF pilot go down in Libya.
He said he was disturbed by events in Yemen but pressed on why the UK wasn't intervening in other parts of the Middle East he repeated his line that because we can't help every nation we shouldn't help anyone at all.
Coalition is currently operating under US leadership but will soon operate under NATO and through its established machinery.
Mark Pritchard asked a question about the safety of journalists in Libya (Roy Greenslade has listed those missing and detained). The Prime Minister sympathised and also urged broadcasters to regularly remind the public that journalists in Tripoli were operating under severe reporting restrictions.
There is a long way to go, Mr Cameron said, but many lives have been saved so far by Coalition action. Britain has acted in the best traditions of the nation.
In his reply David Lidington MP, Foreign Office Minister, noted the declining Hindi Service reach and the possibility of use of DfID funds to ensure some continuation of service beyond the planned reprieve:
More in Hansard.
Highlights, not verbatim.
After offering sympathy and support to the people of Japan David Cameron moved on to the situation in Libya. Most interestingly he focused on the case for a No Fly Zone. He said that NATO had made feasibility preparations for a Zone, should one be advanced, since he last addressed the Commons on the subject.
The Prime Minister reiterated the three conditions for an NFZ: (1) Demonstrable need; (2) Regional demand and support and (3) Legality. On (2) he stressed the "very significant" call from the Arab League for a Zone.
Mr Cameron said that allowing Gaddafi to prevail would send a "dreadful signal" to all people striving for liberty in the Middle East and wider world.
He said to those who said Britain has no interest in Libya that if we do not act Europe could end up with a failed state on its southern border - exporting a variety of challenges.
Responding to Ed Miliband on Sir Malcolm Rifkind's call (in today's Times (£))* for the Libyan rebels to be armed, Mr Cameron said that he ruled nothing out but would do nothing that was illegal.
Noone, he said, was talking about western "boots on the ground".
Mr Cameron concluded his statement by saying that Britain would continue to be at the forefront of international efforts to stand with the Libyan people and against Gaddafi's attempts to crush them.
* Mark Pritchard MP's earlier article on the subject: The Libyan people should not be left defenceless in pursuit of freedom
The Foreign Secretary has just addressed the Commons, updating MPs on the situation in Libya.
The execution of the SAS operation was described as "botched" by Labour's Douglas Alexander but more interestingly by Ming Campbell as "ill-conceived, poorly planned and badly executed".
Sir Malcolm Rifkind asked the Foreign Secretary to rule out a no fly zone unless the UN approved one. Mr Hague didn't reply directly, saying only that it must be sought by representatives of the Libyan people, enjoy wider regional backing and be legal.
From the backbenches Tory divisions on foreign intervention were laid bare. Bernard Jenkin encouraged Mr Hague to continue to lead efforts to secure a No Fly Zone and Colonel Bob Stewart urged Mr Hague to ensure any Zone was properly enforced. On the other side of the fence Rory Stewart urged exhaustion of non-military interventions, John Redwood warned of civilian casualties if a NFZ was introduced and Edward Leigh said there was no public appetite for a third intervention in a Muslim country after Iraq and Afghanistan.
By Tim Montgomerie
During Business Questions yesterday, Robert Halfon asked Sir George Young, Leader of the House of Commons, about links between British universities, the British Left and Libya:
"Has my right hon. Friend read my early-day motion 1515?
That this House expresses grave concerns about the extent of funding from Middle Eastern dictatorships for UK universities, including the donations to the London School of Economics (LSE) by the Libyan regime; notes that an estimated 75 million was given to the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies by 12 Middle Eastern rulers, including King Fahd of Saudi Arabia; further notes that 8 million was given to the University of Cambridge by Prince Alwaleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia, to finance a new research centre for Islamic studies in 2008, and that he gave a further 8 million to Edinburgh University for the same purpose; further notes that 9 million was given to the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at the LSE by the United Arab Emirates Foundation, and that 5.7 million was given to the LSE by the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences, to establish the Kuwait Programme on Development, Governance and Globalisation in the Gulf States in 2007; and therefore calls on the Government to establish much stricter guidelines around donations to UK universities, and to put a stop immediately to donations from oppressive Middle Eastern dictatorships with a terrible record on human rights.
My right hon. Friend may also have seen early-day motion 1486, which I tabled.
The motions condemn the extensive financial links between Colonel Gaddafi and at least two British universities, the London School of Economics and Liverpool John Moores, and the links between the progressive left and Gaddafi. Does he not agree that this scandal is akin to that of the aristocrats who appeased and sympathised with fascism in the 1930s, and will he arrange for an urgent statement on, and an independent inquiry into, the funding of British universities by middle eastern despots?
Sir George Young replied: "I understand my hon. Friend's concern, although I am not sure I would go quite as far as he did in drawing that parallel. Universities, however, are autonomous institutions. As a charity, a university must set its own standards for the acceptance of donations, subject to guidance from the Charity Commission. The LSE has expressed regret at the reputational damage caused by its association with the Gaddafi name, and has announced that the sum received will be used to finance a scholarship fund supporting students from north Africa."
Congratulations to Robert for fighting this campaign against the LSE. He has written for ConHome on the subject a number of times, including yesterday.
At 1pm today the Cabinet Secretary completed his review of government papers that covered the release of the Lockerbie bomber. The BBC's report of the review:
"The previous UK government did "all it could" to facilitate the release of Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, a report on the case has said. Sir Gus O'Donnell, the country's most senior civil servant, said there was an "underlying desire" to see Megrahi released before he died. But his report concluded that it was made clear to Libya that the final decision was up to Scottish ministers."
The Prime Minister has just told the Commons that the report shows the decision to release Megrahi was taken by Scottish government and without pressure from Westminster. There was, he says, no conspiracy between BP, the Labour government and the Scottish government to have the convicted murderer of 270 people released. It also shows, however, that the previous Labour government did not tell the full story and, in the words of Gus O'Donnell, had an "underlying desire to see Mr Megrahi released before he died".
Mr Cameron repeated his view - stated at the time - that Megrahi "should have died in jail" and that it was a "bad decision" to release him. Megrahi, dying at home, was not a luxury he afforded people on the PanAm flight. 109 Labour ministers gave, he continued, "insufficient consideration" to the impact on opinion - in America and amongst the victims' relatives - of the release of the worst mass murderer in British history.
Sir Malcolm Rifkind, from the backbenches and Scottish Secretary at the time of the Lockerbie bomb, was more direct, saying the report showed Labour government was "up to it's neck" in the release of Al Megrahi.