CONSERVATIVE
New Forest East

MILITARY ACTION AGAINST LIBYA – 21 March 2011

Dr Julian Lewis: If I am to follow the good example of those engaging in genuine debate, I should refer to previous comments made tonight. Two of the speeches that have been much praised so far – quite rightly, in my view – were those from the right hon. and learned Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) and my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart). They were praised not only because of their excellent delivery, but – one would like to think – substantially because of their content and analysis. If I try to marry those two speeches, I come out with two propositions: intervention should be for humanitarian purposes only, and strict limits should be imposed on how we become militarily involved.

As will emerge as I develop my argument, I believe that the most likely result of such an approach – if it is what hon. Members want – would be not dissimilar to what was set out by the hon. Members for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) and for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell). That might surprise some hon. Members. I shall come back to that point in a moment, but I wish people to think about it a little. It is one thing to praise a speech about having limited objectives in a war, but it is quite another to proceed as if there will not be consequences of limiting those objectives in the way that we should rightly limit them.

In the early 1990s, when I was not in the House, I looked on in horror at what was happening in Bosnia, and I was particularly ashamed of the fact that our Foreign Secretary of the day, when asked why we would not go to the help of the moderate Bosnian Muslims and would not even allow them to have the weapons with which to defend themselves, replied that we did not wish to create a “level killing field”. I thought that that was a disgraceful statement.

William Cash: Yes, disgraceful.

Dr Lewis: My hon. Friend agrees.

I looked on with horror and impotence while the world and Britain stood by. Then, partly for that reason, in 1998, during my first term in the House, I was one of just three Conservative Members – if I remember correctly, the others were the now Lord Cormack and the late Michael Colvin – who actually called for military intervention against Milosevic in relation to Kosovo a year before the intervention actually happened. I therefore have a track record of supporting humanitarian intervention. I say that because I have grave reservations about what we are doing now. I will – very reluctantly – support the motion in the Lobby tonight, but I want hon. Members to realise the consequences that are likely to follow.

In such a situation, we need to ask ourselves four questions: who should intervene, how should the intervention be carried out, who should pay for it and what will be the result? Who should intervene? The answer is: those who are willing and strong enough to do so. How should it be done? Here we get to the nub of the matter. We can intervene in such a conflict by using what has been called air power but is actually the use of precision weapons from the sea and the air. We can intervene using such power only, which is what we say we are doing, or by introducing troops. If we confine ourselves to using precision weapons from sea platforms or the air, we should not expect Colonel Gaddafi to disappear.

The question of who should pay is terribly important. Throughout our years of opposition, we said that Labour Governments had let defence fall too far down our list of priorities. However, I have not noticed us proposing to increase the proportion of GDP we spend on defence. I note that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence is here. I have asked the Foreign Secretary this question twice, and he has brushed me off twice. Will this campaign be paid for out of the existing core defence budget, or will it be met by additional funds from the Treasury reserve? We have to know.

Finally, what will be the outcome? It will be entirely dependent on whether ground troops get involved. We have ruled out ground troops. If the Arab League wishes to see Gaddafi removed, it may have to supply ground troops, but we will not do so. We are left with a situation in which we are making a limited intervention to stop people being massacred. However, let us not fool ourselves into thinking that this will result in the removal of Colonel Gaddafi. Unless there is a coup or ground troop involvement by Arab states, Colonel Gaddafi will probably survive. He will lose control of part of the area, and we will have a long-term commitment to look after the remainder of Libya. For that, payment must be found.