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An absence of backbench grovelling to "liberal, practical Conservative" Cameron over Libya

By Paul Goodman
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Grovelling? Yes, let's face it: it happens.  But not yesterday when the Prime Minister was questioned after his statement on Libya.  Read Patrick Mercer on Islamism, Andrew Tyrie on torture, Peter Lilley on getting Libya to pay, Baron on intervention, Chisti on Syria.  Plenty of pertinent questions

Also follow David Cameron being polite to Mark Pritchard, telling Rory Stewart that he shouldn't have gone to Libya recently, and being thrown for a moment by a very sharp question from Andrew Bridgen.  Here are the exchanges in full from Hansard.

"Richard Ottaway (Croydon South) (Con): As someone who had reservations about the principle of intervention, may I congratulate the Prime Minister on a successful outcome in Libya? It was largely achieved by two aspects: first, it was legal; and secondly, it had the support of the Libyan people. Further to the previous question, however, will my right hon. Friend now use it as an illustration to persuade permanent members of the Security Council, such as Russia and China, that a well conducted intervention can be successfully used to restrain autocrats in countries such as Syria?

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he says. Everyone should have misgivings about such operations, and one should never have the naive belief that they are easy or that everything is going to go to plan. That very rarely happens, and we should always be hard-headed and careful about such things. We should also respect the fact that this is not done—this is not completed yet.

Also, I think that we should be very cautious about trying to draw up a new doctrine, because it seems to me that as soon as a new doctrine is established, a case comes up that flies completely in its face, but I do hope that other members of the Security Council will see that there has been success in removing a dictator, and in giving that country a chance of peaceful and democratic progress, which will be good for the world.

The Prime Minister: One should treat all these reports with concern, and we should obviously always look carefully at who we are dealing with, but one of the long-term answers to Islamic extremism is the successful development of democracy in the Arab world.

This is a three-part play: part one is getting rid of bin Laden; part two is greater democracy throughout the middle east; and part three is a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. To think that supporting such dictators helped us to deal with Islamic extremism is to be profoundly wrong. We find that many of the Islamic extremists whom we are fighting or dealing with in Pakistan or, even, in Afghanistan come out of countries such as Libya and Syria, and we should ask, “Why?”

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): As well as the Gibson inquiry, does the Prime Minister see a role for the Intelligence and Security Committee in investigating the allegation, which if true would be shameful and shocking, that Britain had a part in handing suspects over to the Gaddafi regime, even in the context of 2003?

The Prime Minister: It is absolutely a matter for the Intelligence and Security Committee what it examines, but I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) will want to look closely at those allegations. As I say, I do not think that any of us should rush to judgment. We have to remember the situation that the world and this country were in post 9/11, when there was a real concern about people who wanted to damage our country. The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group was allied with al-Qaeda. It is not any more and has separated itself from that organisation. Let us allow the inquiries to take their course and not rush to judgment.

Mr Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): After the liberation of Kuwait, in which Britain also played a significant part, the financial costs of our contribution were fully reimbursed, largely by Kuwait itself. Does my right hon. Friend intend to seek a similar contribution from the Libyan authorities once oil begins to flow?

The Prime Minister: That is not a consideration that we have gone into so far. Clearly there have been costs to the UK from this operation, which are in the region of £120 million, excluding munitions. Obviously, that has been funded from outside the defence budget through the reserve, so it will not impact on other defence spending. My right hon. Friend makes an important point that we can bear in mind.

Mr Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con): May I commend my right hon. Friend for acting in a way that vindicates his policy of Britain acting as an effective global power? May I also commend him for not rushing to a new doctrine or going back to an old one such as liberal interventionism? Does the situation not demonstrate the importance of maintaining armed forces with global reach, so that we can influence global events and project our interests?

The Prime Minister: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. What I would say about doctrine is that if you overdo your belief in a particular doctrine, you will find that the next problem that confronts you will fall completely outside it and you will have to spend a lot of time inventing a new doctrine to deal with it. I am a practical—[Interruption.] Members say that I am a Conservative, and that is right. I am a practical, liberal Conservative—that is what I believe, and I think this was a practical, liberal, Conservative intervention. [Hon. Members: “A new doctrine.”] It is a way of thinking.

On what my hon. Friend says about armed forces being able to project our reach and power, I absolutely agree with him, and we cannot maintain that reach and power by not having a defence review and by sticking with massed battle tanks in Europe. What we need to do is modernise our armed forces and make sure that we have the reach for the challenges of the future. I repeat what I said: far from disproving the strategic defence review, I think Libya proved the case for the sort of changes that we are making.

Rory Stewart (Penrith and The Border) (Con): The most impressive aspect of this intervention is the Libyan pride in what Libyans see as a Libyan event. Will the Prime Minister reassure the House that he will do all he can to restrain the irresistible desire of the international  community to micro-manage and over-intervene? We should remember that in this kind of intervention, less is more.

The Prime Minister: I know that my hon. Friend speaks with considerable knowledge, not least because rather against my will, he spent two days last week in Tripoli. He has seen for himself that the Libyans are managing the transition quite effectively, but what he says about trying to make sure that we understand our role as backing a Libyan plan rather than substituting our judgment for theirs, is the right way ahead.

Jane Ellison (Battersea) (Con): I very much welcome the Prime Minister’s statement. Many of our constituents have probably said over the last few months something along the lines of, “We don’t want another Iraq,” and the post-conflict stage is obviously on people’s minds. Will the Prime Minister give a little more detail on how the lessons of immediately post-conflict Iraq are being applied in this situation?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right that a lot of people have said, “We don’t want another Iraq,” but we should also listen to those people who said, “We don’t want another Bosnia.” The prevention of a massacre was very important in these circumstances.

On the difference between Libya and Iraq, I would say this: because the Libya operation has not involved an occupying force or an invading army, the Libyan people rightly feel that they have done this largely by themselves. Yes, they have had NATO assistance, for which they are grateful, but just as they own the end of Gadaffi, so they are owning the transition to democracy and all the problems of disorder and crime that there will be in the interim. However, from what I can see, they are dealing with those problems well, and we should be with them, but helping rather than telling them what to do.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): For the new constitution of Libya to be legitimate, and indeed sustainable, is it not the case that freedom of speech and religion should be included? In particular, should it not give protection to the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Serbian Orthodox Church, the Russian Orthodox Church and the Greek Orthodox Church?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes a good point, and we have seen, particularly in Egypt, the importance of protecting Coptic Christians and others. I am heartened by what Chairman Jalil has said about respect for human rights and tolerance, and I am sure that he will want to follow those things through.

David Rutley (Macclesfield) (Con): Like other Members, I would like to congratulate the Prime Minister on the leadership he has shown in supporting the will of the Libyan people over the past few months. Will he tell the House what role is envisaged for the Arab League and other Arab nations in the post-conflict reconstruction in Libya in the months ahead?

The Prime Minister: I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s comments. I think that there will be a big role for the Arab League. As I said in my statement—this is one area where we can learn the lessons of the past—I do not think that Libyans want huge numbers of people driving around in 4x4s telling them what to do. Arab assistance can play a huge role in helping Libyans to get back on their feet. However, they seem very keen to do a lot of this on their own.

Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): I think that the whole House will be celebrating the end of the monstrous Gaddafi regime. Will the Prime Minister assure us that he will continue to put pressure on the new Libyan Government to ensure that the killers of PC Yvonne Fletcher are brought to justice?

The Prime Minister: Like my hon. Friend, I feel that this is an extremely important issue for the bilateral relationship between Britain and Libya. At the Paris conference, I spoke to Prime Minister Jibril about this issue and told him how important it was to people in our country. It was an appalling act and a reminder of what the Gaddafi regime was capable of. We should put it alongside the provision of Semtex to the IRA that took hundreds of lives and the appalling act of blowing up an airliner over the skies of Scotland. This regime was capable of appalling things and now there is a chance to find justice for these people. We should pursue that very strongly.

Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con): What does the Prime Minister believe to be the lessons from our intervention when it comes to any possible future interventions, given that the Arab League contains countries such as Syria and that we as a country refused to help the citizens of Yemen and Bahrain?

The Prime Minister: As I said in my statement, I do not subscribe to this idea that because we cannot fix every problem in the world, we should not fix any problem in the world. It seemed to me that, in a totally practical way, here was a problem that we had a moral obligation to try to deal with because we could prevent a massacre—as well as, if you like, an “ought”, there was also a “could”. We were able to do this because we had the support of Arab nations, because we had NATO behind us and because we convinced the UN Security Council to vote for it. When “ought” and “can” come together, there is a pretty good case for action.

Mr Andrew Tyrie (Chichester) (Con): As the Prime Minister knows, I have called for several years for an inquiry into rendition, but I have to say that Sir Peter Gibson’s preparatory work is already a source of concern. Is the Prime Minister aware that he has already decided not to follow the same certification process that Lord Butler used in his inquiry to ensure that he got the right papers, that he has decided against appointing an independent investigator and that, contrary to the spirit of the reply that the Prime Minister gave me when setting up the Gibson inquiry, he will not be looking at detainee transfers in theatre? Will the Prime Minister look again at the protocol, to ensure that Sir Peter can do a proper job?

The Prime Minister: I will look very carefully at what my hon. Friend says, because he has been pursuing this issue with dogged determination over the years, and quite right too. What I would say though is that we are dealing with an inquiry that is almost entirely concerned with the security and intelligence services. This is an extremely difficult area to inquire into, and it has to be done with great sensitivity. I do not want to do anything that puts our country at risk or jeopardises the work of our security and intelligence services. I see this as a package: there was the clearing of the Guantanamo Bay detainee cases, which was vital so that the security services could get on with their work; there was the new guidance, so that our officers in the field knew what they should and should not do; and there is this inquiry to try and clear up the problems of the past. Yes, it is about uncovering any mistreatment or malpractice, which is not to be justified in any way, but it is also about enabling our security services to get on with the job of keeping us safe.

Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con): I commend the Prime Minister’s resolve on this issue. He is right to stress that it is for the Libyan people to determine their future, but the removal of Gaddafi unearths a complex network of tribal alliances, and we are not out of the woods yet. Does my right hon. Friend agree that stability over the next few months will be critical if we are to see a role reversal in which the rebels become the state and the pro-Gaddafi tribal forces become the insurgents?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is quite right to draw attention to the risks involved in moving from a situation in which Gaddafi is in command to one in which he is on the run and the NTC is taking over. There are all sorts of risks, and we should not be complacent or over-confident about what will follow. All I would say is that those who warned that Libya was a country riven with tribal loyalties, divided between Benghazi and Tripoli and prone to extreme Islam have so far not been proven correct. This revolution was not about extreme Islamism; al-Qaeda played no part in it. It was about people yearning for a voice and job, and it is our duty to get behind them and help them to build that new country.

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes a good point, and we have seen, particularly in Egypt, the importance of protecting Coptic Christians and others. I am heartened by what Chairman Jalil has said about respect for human rights and tolerance, and I am sure that he will want to follow those things through.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): The international community has come to the conclusion that the Assad regime in Syria has become an illegitimate regime, and Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Jordan have withdrawn their ambassadors from Syria. How far away are we from reaching that conclusion?

The Prime Minister: I think we should act with others, and in a way that maximises our influence. What has happened among Arab countries, including their progressive recognition that Assad is illegitimate and cannot now take his country forward, is very important, but we still have not got to a position where there is unanimity about that across the Arab world, or indeed in the United Nations itself.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): The Prime Minister has indicated that the British Government is planning to play a role in the vital training of the new military forces of the new Libyan Government. Will the resources allocated to this task be greater or less than those allocated by the previous Labour Government in the training of Colonel Gaddafi’s forces, which enabled him better to repress his own people?

The Prime Minister: That is an ingenious question. The point is that we should wait and see what it is the Libyans want us to do. We clearly have strong capabilities in the training of armed forces and police forces, in advising on having an independent judiciary and the like, and I believe we should make these available and see what the Libyans want. Training the police forces of other countries is a difficult issue. In getting into it, one is often accused of helping a regime that might not be perfect in every sense, but if we do not do it, we lose the opportunity to explain some of the finer points of independent policing and respect for human rights. This is a very difficult issue that we have not yet got right.


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